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If God Then What? Wondering Aloud About Truth, Origins & Redemption

6 February, 2013

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Andrew Wilson, If God Then What? Wondering aloud about truth, origins, and redemption (Nottingham: IVP, 2012)

A colleague of mine asked me to read this book and tell her what I thought of it.  I am glad she did and glad I did.  This is a delightful book: by delightful I mean it ‘gladdens’, ‘pleases’, and ‘rewards’.  It is a delightful book about Christian faith and how one might go about commending Christian faith to contemporary people (in this sense, apologetics).

First, I liked his writing style.  Andrew Wilson writes with clarity and charm.  Clearly, he knows his stuff, has read widely; but he also communicates complicated things clearly.  I got his point.  He does so with charm.  His style is conversational – I could easily imagine discussing things with him over a coffee or a glass of red wine or a Guinness (he likes these he tells us).   He has a splendid sense of humour.  In his prose he raises questions, admits complexity, acknowledges he hasn’t proven everything, and anticipates possible objections.  Wilson sounded neither arrogant nor simplistic.  Avoiding either is a hard task nowadays.

This is because, second, he understands well what many contemporary western people think (or don’t think as he argues).  Putting it this way sounds cliché.  What I mean is: he employs logic and expresses an appreciation for scientific method; but he also recognizes that logic goes only so far.  Equally, Wilson readily acknowledges some of the foolish, even wrong, things Christians have done in the past and do in the present.  What this adds up to is the sense that Wilson could easily relate to people’s questions and they, in turn, could appreciate the tone in which he responds.

Third, I appreciated Wilson’s approach in the second half of the book.  I didn’t expect it.  Wilson puts forth a clear historical evidence case for the Resurrection (he contrasts NT Wright with Geza Vermes).  I tend to be nervous with the approach that says, ‘here is the historical evidence that proves the event.’  This has always struck me as a bit reductionist and modernist (as if evidence alone does the trick of persuading).  Wilson, however, takes the same evidence but asks questions about what ‘evidence’ means and, more importantly, what constitutes ‘proof’.  He also (brilliantly, in my opinion) works backwards from the Resurrection of Jesus.  In other words, he asks the ‘so what?’ question: if the bodily resurrection and appearances of Jesus are the best explanation of the empty tomb what are the implications and consequences – both positively (it means this) and negative (it nullifies this).

Finally, and I realise some will be disappointed with me, Wilson didn’t directly argue his case by citing lots of Scripture. Please, bear with me here: behind all his points stands the testimony of the Bible.  In his discussion of Jesus’ resurrection and empty tomb his method clearly appeals to the Bible’s witness (including a textual fragment in Dublin). But methodologically Wilson wants to begin with a priori presuppositions and ask questions about these presuppositions — both his readers and those of his own.  Now I understand why some will baulk at this method.  I am going to go out on a limb here and choose to believe Wilson would continue beyond this book to thinking about the Bible and how someone could read the Bible.

For whom, then, is this book?  Anyone – Christian, sceptic, atheist or whatever – who wants to think will manage this book.  Wilson wears his background reading lightly but avoids giving Christianity-lite.  I am glad my colleague asked me to read this.  I am glad I read this little book.

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