Over his long ministry in the missioners’ network York Course co-founder John Young has identified numerous witnesses and stories that serve to build Christian conviction. This revision of his best seller The Case Against Christ has new riches that were being presented in my own sermons days after completing John’s book. It is a preacher’s gold mine!
The story of Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s vocation flowing from the impact upon him of the Jesus of Nazareth film fitted Holy Week, just as the perceived appearance of an additional person on Shackleton’s life-saving march fitted Eastertide. Preachers and chloroform have an affinity! Did you know the first surgeon to use the anaesthetic properties of chloroform, Sir James Young Simpson (1811-70), asked to name his greatest discovery wrote: ‘It is not chloroform. My greatest discovery has been to know I am a sinner and that I could be saved by the grace of God’.
John would appreciate humour in this review because he has seven ‘take a break’ joke pages interspersed among his 300 pages. I liked the joke about the pews that rolled to the front as they filled up, with a trap door opening under the pulpit after 15 minutes! And the little boy who finds an old leaf in a family bible and holds it up ‘Mum, I think I’ve just found Adam’s suit!’
Humour apart Lord…Help My Unbelief is tackling an extremely serious matter: the fashionable culture of unbelief and how we can shake its complacency. I particularly valued the examination of the resurrection, deemed ‘the heart of the matter’, in Michael Ramsey’s words: ‘no resurrection, no Christianity’. Hans Kung’s observation that no founder of a religion lived in so restricted an area or died so young is trenchant, as is John’s assessment that the astonishing growth of the Christian movement is ‘a big fact’ requiring a sufficiently big explanation: ‘Resurrection is exactly the right size’.
Among the many contemporary witnesses to Christian truth quoted are: BBC’s John Simpson, aided by his Anglican faith to come to terms with a colleague’s death in a war zone; Francis Collins, former Head of the Human Genome Project, who sees ‘no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us’ and Eglantyne Jebb whose encounter with God in Christ spurred a quest for social justice so that Save the Children grew out of her work for starving children.
John Polkinghorne writes a chapter with a critique of Richard Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’ noting Dawkins’ striking admission that ‘we, alone on Earth, can rebel against the selfish replicators’. His inference that we should so rebel witnesses a deeper power at work than his ‘selfish gene’ and links to an altruism championed by religion. As said elsewhere in the book, a scientific explanation of the world does not disprove that of religion, ‘to suggest that it does is like arguing that the scientific explanation for a boiling kettle proves that no one wants a cup of tea! The two explanations are complementary. They stand side by side and fit together’.
This book is a great apologetics’ resource with potential to engage enquirers and lift Christians off their back foot even if, as it says in conclusion, ‘Christianity isn’t an intellectual puzzle to be solved. It is a relationship to be enjoyed and a way of life to be embraced’.
The Revd Dr John Twisleton St Giles, Horsted Keynes 5th April 2012