Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

I don’t recall the last time I sprinted to Barnes and Noble to shell out full price for a book. Come to think of it, I can’t remember sprinting for much of anything.

But that’s exactly what I did when I heard N.D. Wilson’s new book had been published early and was stocked in stores earlier than expected. I jumped in the car, drove to the nearest B+N, jogged over to the Christian / Inspiration section, scanned past Osteen’s big smiley cover shot, and down until I found the “W”s. There, out of sight on the floor-level shelf, was the store’s one copy of Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World (Thomas Nelson 2009). Happy Father’s Day to me!

Wilson is a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College and the managing editor for Credenda/Agenda magazine. He’s the son of Douglas Wilson. And of all the children’s fiction authors my family reads, Wilson is one of our recent favorites. His books are a gift for families who enjoy reading together (Leepike Ridge and 100 Cupboards). [Although Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl is not for children. I kinda guessed from the table of contents that it wasn’t, and this suspicion was confirmed by one or two vulgarities.]

The framework for the book is mixed metaphor, and Wilson piles on the metaphors with each page. Life is a bit like a carnival, a serious carnival. Or life is like the four seasons. Readers who seek a literary buzz of metaphorical intoxication will find it hard to put this book down, and once they do, may find it impossible to touch their nose with their fingertips.

Notes reads like C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, Wilson pries our sleepy eyes open to the marvelous work of God all around us—in the snowflakes, leaves, galaxies, laughter, sunshine, ants, thunder. Wilson stops us to appreciate God’s creative handiwork one molecule and one insect at a time.

But like Lewis, Wilson nudges us into deeper waters to discuss the origin of evil, God’s purposes behind personal tragedy, the vanity of human philosophy, and the absurdity of evolution. As I have already shown you on this blog, Wilson is quick to slap philosophers around like Kip Dynamite in a Rex Kwon Do (see the post Nietzsche’s Pity for an example).

Notes is interesting as an autobiographical sketch, capturing the complexity of the inner life in short and clean sentences.

Notes is good as Theology, singing a song of praise to our sovereign God who created the wonder and majesty before our eyes.

Notes is very good as literature, featuring stunning metaphors that pile and build as the book develops.

Notes is a good example of how to develop from general revelation towards the substitutionary death of Jesus for sinners.

Notes is a very good apologetic. It may be, in the words of my friend Justin Taylor, a gospel tract for postmodern times. It will prove valuable when discussing the gospel with skeptics, atheists, or even Christians who are not running barefoot through fields of God’s creative wonder.

But unlike so many contemporary apologetic works, Wilson is careful to preserve God’s active judgment in the condemnation of sinners (see p. 179). Far too often, followers of C.S. Lewis have followed him in his ambiguity here. Wilson is careful and clear.

I suppose if I could suggest one disappointment it would be this. I kept waiting for Wilson to turn his attention to the spectacular, awe-inspiring, work of God’s voice captured in two words spoken over the blood-bought sinner—”Not guilty!” Luther rightly teaches us that justification is God’s spoken declaration. His “Not guilty!” judgment is as real as the phrase “Let there be light!” This God-spoken, reality-making, “legal fiction”-shattering, voice of God over the sinner is one of the most wonderful acts of God. Yet it was a wide-eyed wonder in God’s spoken world that seemed to go missing.

All said, Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl is a rare treasure. Few living writers I’ve read match N.D. Wilson in imagination, creative articulation of orthodox theology, and ability to write in a simple prose style. That his attention has turned—however briefly—to an adult audience has resulted in a wonderfully modern, C.S. Lewis-like treasure.

Enjoy it, but beware. The book’s conclusion may leave a bad taste in your mouth.


Happy reading.


Title: Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World
Author: N.D. Wilson
Boards: paper
Pages: 203
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Year: 2009
Price USD: $14.99 / $10.19 from Amazon
ISBN: 9780849920073