Andrew Wilson’s If God Then What: Wondering Aloud About Truth, Origins & Redemption is a small, likeable and profound book that does not seek to bludgeon the lost into submission. Wilson prefers to call them back to God with a twitch upon the thread. The book is short – it would be ideal for Kindle – and its style is conversational. This has been described as “quirky”, but it is a clever rhetorical tactic. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, for example, casually chats with readers about his conversations with Nobel Laureates.
In contrast Wilson discusses the DVDs he has viewed recently, his favourite authors, his school days and his holidays. In both cases the reader is taken into the author’s confidence. But Dawkins always seems like an academic talking down to lesser mortals. Wilson talks to us as our equal; he is as puzzled and awestruck by the universe as we are. Unlike Dawkins, he has stumbled upon his answers, and feels no need to boast about the discovery.
This gentle tone is perfect for our times. People are growing tired with the certitude of the New Atheists, and their shrill denunciations of feeble minded believers. Wilson begins his book with a warning: beware of groups so confident in their own opinions that they refuse to listen to anyone else’s. He doesn’t explicitly say that he is referring to the New Atheists at this point, but they certainly meet his description. Unlike the New Atheists Wilson doesn’t lecture or bully his readers towards his conclusions. He offers evidence and a plausible interpretation of that evidence. The rest is up to us.
And as Wilson outlines the evidence for God from our “finely tuned” universe, for example, or the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, we are left wondering why secularists find Christianity so implausible. Principled disagreement is one thing, but in Britain at least, secular elites just seem sure that Christian orthodoxy is a privileged superstition. Have they listened to the evidence? It seems unlikely. This book will not argue the sceptical reader into the Faith, but they will not be able to dismiss Christians as mindless dogmatists afterwards.
Crucially, Wilson is not using apologetics to argue unbelievers into the Faith, but to bring them to faith, and there is quite a difference. At the heart of the book is an argument about hope. This universe is doomed if there is no-one beyond it sustaining it. “Amen”, nods the nominal Christian, “we must hope in heaven.” But Wilson points out that this is cold comfort. The message that we should do our best so that God may reward us in the life hereafter is a counsel of despair. If that is all God can offer, then evil has won on Earth. Death will swallow the human race, then all life, and then the very stars. Furthermore, when we “do our best” we are abject failures; the gap between who we ought to be and who we are is unbridgeable.
Ah, but what if someone can make a bridge for us? What if someone could atone for our failures? And what if that same person rose physically from the dead, to show that one day God would restore this physical universe to endless life? Wilson argues that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is essential for true hope, for above all, there is strong evidence that this Gospel is true. Martyn Lloyd Jones called preaching “logic on fire”. If that is so, If God…Then What? is a master class in preaching.
Wilson’s book is also remarkable for what he manages not to say. Wilson is a well-read man; he has obviously devoted time to reading technical literature about the design argument, the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, the nature of the miraculous, and much else besides. Yet he does not burden the reader with the weight of his learning. In each chapter he says just enough to let the reader know that Christians have a reason for the hope that is within them; but he also makes it apparent that there is much more that could be said in defence of the faith. This leaves the reader hungry to know more. Certainly, it left this reviewer hoping that Wilson would write more on these subjects, and soon.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Graham Veale is Head of Religious Education at City of Armagh High School. With David Glass, he runs the apologetics group Saints and Sceptics. Their articles can be read at www.saintsandsceptics.org