Thursday, October 27, 2011
Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: a book review
I recently read Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World by Nathan David (N. D.) Wilson, son of pastor Douglas Wilson.
Nate Wilson teaches at New Saint Andrews College (where he also studied), formerly edited Credenda/Agenda, and blogs at www.ndwilson.com. The book has its own web site at www.notesfromthetiltawhirl.com and has recently been made into a “bookumentary” film. A (not very helpful) “study guide” is on offer, but (annoyingly) only if you subscribe to a mailing list.
Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and Wilson expresses the unexpected, bizarre, almost incomprehensible grandeur of the universe in a madcap Chestertonian sort of way using the metaphor of the Tilt-A-Whirl:
“What the hell is this place? Just looking around, I can tell you that whatever is going on, spheres are a theme, and so are insects. We are on a sphere, spinning around a much bigger sphere (which happens to be burning hot enough to singe my face, even at this distance) while other spheres of various sizes do the same kind of thing, and a smaller, sad, little-dead-poet sphere with acne scars spins around us, lighting the night, causing the oceans to heave their bosoms and pant, and increasing violent crime (really)...
Welcome to Carnival. Ride the wheel back down. Come out from the shadows and lopsided trailers. There’s a story to tell, a world of surprises and questions to explore, a personality often searched for to be unearthed and understood in the reality around us. And there’s someone behind it, uncomfortable answers to the how’s and why’s and what’s.”
Wilson writes wonderfully well at times. He has also read a lot about science and philosophy (and it shows), although he gets the occasional detail wrong (atoms are not “mostly space,” for example).
The book is targeted at atheists, on the one hand, and the Platonist strand in Christianity, on the other, thus making C.S. Lewis both Wilson’s ally and his enemy. However, since it is largely a personal stream-of-consciousness book, the arguments are not quite as well articulated as those of Lewis (on the Christian side) or books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (on the non-Christian side). However, he does have the whole crazy, beautiful, amazing world to back up some of his points.
Much of Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl is concerned with the problem of evil. In handling this, Wilson is not quite as scholarly as Lewis, or quite as gritty as, say, Madeleine L'Engle: it is perhaps a little easy being an optimist if you’re happily married with kids and living in Idaho.
Still, it’s the kind of book that could start a few good conversations. See The Gospel Coalition, Theologymnasium, Green Leaf Blog, Light Along the Journey, and Miscellanies for other reviews.