Book Review: A Christian Mind: Thoughts of Life and Truth in Jesus Christ
A Christian Mind: Thoughts of Life and Truth in Jesus Christ is a refreshing apologetics text that, somewhat ironically, doesn’t really read like an apologetics book. It is a totally different style, full of fresh thoughts without heresy. The introduction admits that it’s not truly “new;” it is full of fresh approaches to various issues and a different way of looking at Christian thought. As the author hopes, there were several times throughout the book where one can say, “That’s interesting; I hadn’t thought of it that way before!” The format of this text is a series of (fairly short) essays on a wide variety of subjects. Because it’s a series of essays or somewhat more accurately, a series of individual blog posts, it is easy to read and can easily be read out of order. It can be read from the beginning or one can pick and choose an essay to read. If one chooses to read it in order the arrangement of the chapters is intentional and quite different than the typical apologetics book. It starts with Christ, and as such it starts off with a bang.
Part 1 starts off with a great essay on the story of Christ being “Too Good To Be False.” This essay picks up from C. S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma” and presents an interesting twist on the typical phrase “too good to be true.” There are other gems like, “The Humbling Insult of God’s Unconditional Love,” “The Truth Holds Us,” “God is a Soul Builder,” and “We’re Called to be Great” just to name a few of the best essays in this section. God’s love is certainly not generally considered insulting, but it does take a considerable amount of humility to not fall into the heresy of legalism. As Gilson says, “We don’t just want to be loved; we want to be good enough to be loved.” The essay about the Truth holding us is an interesting twist on what it means to know the truth of God. The uniqueness of the Christian message and its claim of being the true way to know God is difficult to hold on to in today’s pluralistic society. But, that seems to be too arrogant. It is not an arrogant thought if we look at it as God’s truth (Truth) holding us. The chapter on God being a “soul builder” is one of the first apologetics-sounding chapters because it presents an answer to the “problem of evil.” The last chapter in this first part is an emphatic encouragement towards greatness. This is not a blanket call to greatness but a tempered admonition of: “Let’s put aside weakness masquerading as humility. Let’s lay aside fear, and take up faith and courage instead. Let’s choose to be as great as God has called us to be, so his glory may shine brightly and widely” (emphasis added).
Part 2 focusses on the more practical side of thinking Christianly. It is full of a variety of practical lists and getting practical Christian thought into our churches and ministries. The first chapter in this section is ten essentials, which includes: “Recognizing that the truth of God in Jesus Christ is always our reference point,” “Honoring questions,” and “Learning how to think well,” among other quality guidelines for thinking as a Christian. The second chapter of this section focuses on the purposes and motivations of the Christian apologist. The next list is very practical ideas about how to get apologetics into your church and ministry. Though this particular chapter is aimed at pastors, lay church members can use these pointers to encourage their pastors to be a more apologetics-focused church. This section is focused on several lists. Ten essentials, nine practical ways, and five reasons; all these lists present practical guides for apologetics.
In part 3 the text really starts to sound more like a stereotypical apologetics book. Here starts the positive side of apologetics. The first of three positive arguments center around “The Two Most Overlooked Apologetics Verses In the Bible,” Genesis 1:1 and Exodus 3:13-14a. It focusses on the uniqueness of the Genesis account of a creation out of nothing, and the advanced philosophical phrasing of “I AM WHO I AM.” The next argument for God presents a twist on what is typically a negative argument against God, “The Divine Hiddenness Argument For Christianity.” The argument is difficult and fairly lengthy, seventeen points, but an interesting inclusion because of its twist on what is generally considered a negative argument. The summary says it well, “The world has just the properties we would expect if it were created by a God who wanted belief in him to be supported but not compelled by the evidences.” The third “positive” argument is closer to what is called “negative apologetics” because it is actually a response to the question, “What Would It Take For [You] To Give Up Belief In Jesus?” This is a complicated question but Tom Gilson gives a relatively simple answer. By way of answer he gives a list of all the things that would have to be different than they are right now to show that Christianity actually doesn’t rightfully explain reality. If there were somehow a better explanation for all the things listed in the text it would be possible that Christianity could be false.
Part 4 attempts to stay in the realm of positive apologetics by tackling the ideas of intelligent design. It starts off with a bang (pun intended) and answers some of the creation debate. In fact, he answers it in much the same way as this author does, with, “I don’t know, and that’s okay.” Perhaps it’s because this author was once a music major like Tom Gilson speaks of being some time ago. This section goes on to shore up arguments and evidences for Intelligent Design, though not without some criticism, and pokes holes in evolutionary theory.
The penultimate section presents more negative apologetics. It starts off with a defense against the use of the term “magic” and other terms (“invisible friend,” “crutch,” “irrational,” “intolerant,” “arrogant,” “judgmental,” and others) to describe Christianity. The next negative position is a response to a common skeptic’s ploy, that is, the rejection of Christianity because of a dislike for the Old Testament. In a sense Tom Gilson is saying that rejecting Christianity because of certain difficult Old Testament passages is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is a distinct change of tone in this section with a short story critiquing naturalism followed by another twist on an anti-theistic argument, “Says The Madman: Humanity Is Dead, And We Are Its Murderers” (“humanity” instead of “God” as Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote). There are three chapters dedicated to responding to Boghossian’s false idea of Christian faith. The very word “faith” is under attack and these chapters respond very well to that attack.
Finally we have the part 6, where Tom Gilson “close[s] the book with three less closely-connected articles on moral improvement, and religious freedom in America.” In reality there are more than three entries left in the book though. The first of these remaining articles is about how tolerance fails as a virtue that can guide us and glue us together. Then an admonition to “Practice What He Preached,” meaning that we Christians should follow Christ’s teaching. The book ends with a few articles on ethics, morality, and freedom.
All told this is a quality book with genuine twists on anti-theistic arguments and creative arguments for God in general and Christianity specifically.