I'm halfway through this.
This book is written in a warm, conversational tone and it covers some important topics for Christians to think about. However, Wilkinson makes some serious errors in thinking, and those errors would be quite damaging to the Christian church if more people took some of the things he says on board. (Although I won’t go into that side of things here, I’ll merely discuss his ideas).
Wilkinson writes about the limits of reason, and how reason and the senses on their own create a flat world, devoid of any clarity about ideas of meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose cannot be empirically proven. He uses this discussion as a springboard to talk about the third dimension, ie: revelation.
However I’m not convinced that things are as simple as Wilkinson makes out. Why does “reason” have to only involve the “senses”? On the contrary, reasoning about something is simply thinking about something. We can reason about things that go beyond the mere senses, and in fact there are entire disciplines of philosophy that do just that. Wilkinson himself is offering us “reasons” of sorts to accept Christian revelation in this book, but one assumes he doesn’t think his own “reasoning” falls prey to his own critiques of reason? Perhaps the discussion would’ve been clearer if Wilkinson had referred to the hard sciences here instead. But of course, he wouldn’t do that because he’d be unable to make the same critique of the limits of the entire concept of “reason” without referring to it as reason. It'd be much more obvious to any reader that his discussion needs to get broader if he did that. I agree with much of what he has to say about the limits of science, but science and reason are not coterminous. This is not mere semantics.
So after critiquing reason, Wilkinson moves onto revelation. He believes we need the third dimension of revelation to give us meaning and purpose which can’t be attained from the two dimensional world of “reason” alone. Revelation gives us the “why” of life whereas “reason” gives us the “how” of life. (And again, perhaps Wilkinson should have said science, which would have been more accurate). But Wilkinson commits a familiar error here. He introduces a very crucial topic but doesn’t adequately define it. He merely says that “Revelation” is the disclosure of a person and that it answers the why questions.
This quote disappointed me:
“When someone reveals something, he or she draws back the curtain on it’s purpose. Someone explains why the object is there. The problem with revelation is that there is no proof; we have to accept the person’s word”. (p56).
The Christian message is the message of God becoming flesh. Jesus walked among us. The central Christian claim is that of the resurrection. As the Apostle Paul wrote, without it our faith would well and truly be in vain. The Resurrection was, historically, the beginning of Christianity. It is the cornerstone of Christianity and, further than that, it is therefore the KEY to Christian revelation itself. It was an event that took place in history. It was God’s son literally interacting with the senses of the people who witnessed it.
This is why as a fellow Christian, reading the quote about “Revelation” above was deeply troubling. There is an obvious, serious, concerning problem with Wilkinson’s thesis: It simply does not make sense of the Christian message. Wilkinson is a Christian pastor, but he is wheeling out grand statements about abstract ideas like “revelation” that do not make sense of the Christian teaching itself! Christian revelation is not SIMPLY revealing the “why” of life, and “drawing back the curtain” on the purpose of the universe. Christian revelation is not an ethereal philosophy of life or a list of moral teachings. The key event informing Christian revelation is an event that happened in place and time. Now, the resurrection cannot be “proven” 100% one way or the other. But it can be investigated by the tools of history. It is not something that is completely sheltered from “reasoning” one way or the other as Wilkinson would so clearly and evidently like it to be.
Part way through the book, after Wilkinson’s threads start coming together in major arguments about reason and revelation as I’ve (fairly, hopefully) stated above, something dawned on me that hadn’t hit me earlier. Ironically, Wilkinson is actually doing the opposite of what he wants to achieve with this book. Wilkinson thinks we are at risk of “robbing Christianity of it’s distinctive flavor” (p35). We’re trying to make it friendlier by robbing it of difficulties. We want to be able to tell people “it fits entirely in your brain!”(p35). But ironically, it is Wilkinson who is trying to fit God into a box. According to Wilkinson, “Christianity does not conform to human logic” (p24). Wilkinson recounts his own faith story, in which he prayed to God “I choose to believe in you, even though I have no reason to”. (p20). But surely he must realize that this is not everyone’s experience? There are many Christians who have, in fact, come to faith through or partly through reason and arguments. C.S. Lewis was an Oxford Professor in his 30’s when he became a Christian, and he ended up as possibly the most widely read Christian author of the 20th century. Mortimer J Adler was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, and he became a Christian in his 80’s.
Stories like these (and countless others) should teach us that God is BIGGER than we think. God can use experiences like Wilkinson’s to reach people, but he can also use reason, science and arguments to reach people as well. Wilkinson is trying to fit faith into the “absurd” box, whilst telling us how much he despises those who try to fit faith into the “logic” box. God doesn’t fit into Wilkinson’s box anymore than he fits into anyone else’s. The truth is that everyone’s experience of God is different to other people’s, and that is perfectly OK.
Christianity doesn’t confirm entirely to human logic at all points. Wilkinson is right about that. But that’s largely because God is an infinite God and we are finite beings. How could small, rationally limited people like us fully understand and explain an infinite being? If there is an infinite God, it wouldn’t make sense for us to be able to “fully grasp” him/it. On the contrary, you’d have to ask yourself whether anyone who thinks they know it all about this God is in fact kidding themselves. Wilkinson would agree with that much as well.
We see like we’re seeing through glass dimly. Dimly indeed. But that doesn’t mean Christianity is, on the whole, “contrary to reason” or that there are “no reasons” to believe!