As you might expect, N. D. Wilson's first full-length nonfiction book for adults, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World (Thomas Nelson) , is as jumbled and chaotic as the proverbial carnival ride for which it's named. "A Tilt-a-Whirl is one of the few carnival rides that appears to follow a random pattern of motion," writes Wilson. In this spirit, theology, mythology, poetry, observation, dialogue, and philosophy are flung together on these pages in a barrage of color, motion, and sensory detail that threatens to derail readers after the first few pages.
But those who give up will miss an intriguing book. Perhaps Wilson's credentials are a clue to his writing style. The son of prolific Calvinist writer-pastor Douglas Wilson, he's the author of several books for young readers, managing editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine, and a fellow of literature at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. Tilt-a-Whirl reflects Wilson's childlike wonder as well as his penchant for wrestling with difficult topics. It may also reflect boredom with literary straitjackets.
Wilson invites the reader to partake in the intricate beauty of the world while remaining open to its endless absurdities and darker aspects. If he muses on the wonders of snow, he makes sure you also know that dogs pee on it. If he reflects on the Nativity, he reminds us that the baby Jesus was laid to rest in an "animal food bowl." For comparison, think Donald Miller meets Annie Dillard meets Max Lucado.
Precisely for these types of contrasts, Wilson takes infinite delight in the created world and its Creator. As he careens from topic to topic like a metal sphere in a pinball machine, and dialogues on everything from philosophers to the life of ants, Wilson affirms the hand of God in all things.
He tackles the age-old problem of a good God and a suffering world. "If God is the creator God, then he bears responsibility. If he is the cause, the Artist of all reality, then what is on his canvas points back to him whether he put it there with the meticulousness of a Dutch Master or dumped cans of paint into a fan like some undergrad artist desperate for grant money."
From the question of evil he moves to, "What is the world? What is it for?" He ponders hell, which he assures us is real: "Hell will be wherever he is not." Wilson spoofs our view of "cute" as he points out the darker side of kittens and hilariously ponders our sanitized view of angels as grandmotherly types in embroidered slippers.
For Wilson, the life we have been given is our narrative, and our challenge is to act well up through the final scene. He describes it with the exhortation of a revivalist: "When we die … God is also there, shaping the story, off the stage and on the stage… . To his eyes you never leave the stage… . Look to him. Walk toward him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long. There will be butterflies."
Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is a wild ride. It's worth the price of the ticket.
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is available at ChristianBook.com and other retailers.
Wilson wrote articles for Christianity Today on atheism debates between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson.
On the Road with Atheism | Christopher Hitchens squares off with Douglas Wilson. (October 31, 2008)
On the Road with Atheism II | Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson, together again. (November 3, 2008)
On the Road with Atheism III | Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson walk into a bar … (November 4, 2008)
Christianity Today also has more book reviews.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.