N. D. Wilson. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World. Thomas Nelson, 2009. 224 pp.
How can I describe this Notes From the Til-A-Whirl? It is about philosophical questions, but it is not a philosophy book. It includes narrative, but it is not a storybook. At times it is poetic, but it is not a poem. Sometimes theology appears, but I would not put in under the theology section. The best way to describe this book is a creative worldview book. He seeks to answer the questions: What is this place? Why is this place? Who approved it? Are the investors happy? Am I supposed to take it seriously?
N.D. Wilson, an editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine and also a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College, does this in the most interesting way. He paints pictures with words. He trys ”to find unity in cacophony…It is intended to be symphonic: dissimilar voices and instruments moving from dissonance to harmony” (xi). And as he says, “This book does not go straight. It is not a road in Wyoming … I was trying to write to the body and to the senses as well as the mind. Did I? It's a tricky goal, and perhaps I shouldn't admit having aimed so high” (xi).
Wilson begins by looking at how philosophers have explained the world. He speaks of Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Voltaire, and Kant. He acknowledges that this world is beautiful but also broken. Some think this world is an illusion; others think it is made of cosmic silly string. Wilson says that this world is made of “Words. Magic words. Words spoken by the Infinite, words so potent, spoken by One so potent that they have weight and mass and flavor. They are real” (23).
Wilson reminds his readers that God has not stopped speaking. He tells us to walk outside because here in the natural revelation God has spoken. ”He gave you senses. Use them. He will parade His art” (31). Next he again explores the question of how this beauty came to be. He takes a little time to make fun of it happening by chance.
A good portion of the book wrestles with the problem of evil. Two chapters are devoted to this subject. Evil is that which God hates. Rightly, Wilson turns to the Bible to answer this question. He answers the way Paul does. How can the created complain to the creator? Or as Wilson puts it, “If we live in art, struggling in the boundary between the shadow and light, unable to see the whole, how can we begin to judge? How can we presume to talk about a better painting, a better novel, when we see only a single line, a single page, and it brings us grief? (85). He calls the problem of evil not a logical problem but an emotional one, an argument from heartache.
Finally, Wilson directs his attention to death and hell. He acknowledges that all will die; the question is what happens next. Wilson believes there is a hell and those who reject God will go there. They choose to go there by rejecting God. He says, “Heaven or Hell is about love and hate. Do you love God or do you hate him? Is he foul in your nostrils” (176)?
What To Make of It?
Some will love this book, others will be confused by it. Wilson jumps subjects, returns to subjects, paints pictures, leaves you laughing, and describes mole rats. But he has warned you. He told you all this in the preface.
I found the book to be lotion to dry skin (look I am even starting to write like him). The subtitle to the book is wide-eyed wonder in God's spoken world. Wilson opened my eyes to things I am looking straight through. I enjoyed someone who could see beauty, think about who made it, and then bring it to life through words. It did not have a thesis or three point outline, but that is what made it enjoyable. He put biblical truths in creative ways.
Would you go to Heaven? There is a sign you must stand beside where the man with the cigarette takes the tickets. There is a height you must achieve.
You must be wretched. That is your ticket your only qualification. It is an exclusive ride, but wild, with weather you've never seen, and deafening light. Perhaps unsafe.
Is He Biblical?
So he is creative, but is he biblical? Yes I think he is, for the most part.
His view of Hell did make me pause. Although he did not go into great depth he seems to take C.S. Lewis' view, which is a half-truth. Wilson emphasizes that “Hell is voluntary” (175). He says that people choose hell and that it is a place they hate, but have no desire to leave. In one sense Wilson is right. Hell is a place where God's grace will be withdrawn and people will be left to their own corrupt desires. They choose Hell in the sense that they reject God.
But the Bible continually speaks of people being thrown into hell (Rev 20:15; Mark 9:27; Matt 13:42). A place people do not want to be (Matt 8:12; Rev 20:14). They want sin, not the consequence of sin. God sends people to hell. He is the judge. This truth must be balanced with the fact that people choose Hell by rejecting God.
I would recommend reading the book with wide-eyes. I would get tired of reading this type of book on a regular basis, but enjoy the gift God has given us in gifted writers who have thought well about God, the world, and ants. Wilson begins the book by calling himself a Traveler. Take the journey with him, I think many will find it a wild and refreshing journey.