‘Gilead’ and Christian Apologetics

‘Gilead’ and Christian Apologetics

Bring it on!
It’s all happening on the Christian Apologetics-front. Paul Whitfield has preached at Hills Bible Church on responding to the New Atheists. The Global Atheist Convention is on in Melbourne, and the Reason for Faith Festival is up and about in response to it. Bring it all on, I say! Let me surprise you all, then, by offering a novel – yes, a novel – as an apologetic tool.

Marilynne Robinson is described by Christianity Today as a “narrative-Calvinist.” Being a Calvinist is an excellent start, but who ever heard of a “narrative” Calvinist? Well, she manages to sneak in multiple references to The Institutes of the Christian Religion in all of her novels. But Dave Hunt and Roger Olson could probably achieve the same feat if they really wanted to. You’ll have to read Robinson to find out what that’s all about. Anyway, I have only read one of her novels: Gilead. What makes Gilead helpful for apologetics? It’s a little hard to put one’s finger on it.

I can’t explain why
I am not a literature expert, and don’t have the vocabulary to describe this sort of thing adequately. I do know that while reading this book, I worshiped the Lord in my spirit. It made me feel things, made me think things, forced me to look at things in a different way. I looked at trees differently. I smelled food differently. And I can’t explain why. I felt affected by this book. God is really glorified in Gilead, and  the human condition and many of its deep complexities are illustrated in a way systematic theology and debates will never be able to. This story of a Calvinist pastor in a small town is simply dripping with the goodness, loneliness, painfulness, and the beauty and troubles of this life.

You might have read other works which affected you in a similar way. I think that books like Gilead have a massive role to play in apologetics. We are not merely minds attached to bodies. We have hearts, also. Richard Dawkins may not be very “affected” by the debate with George Pell on Q&A. On the other hand, Gilead might be just the thing that makes him reach for his Bible


You can buy Gilead from Amazon in print or Kindle format or buy it at Audible in audio format.


  1. Martin Pakula

    Thanks Simon. I haven’t read that, but I’m glad you brought it to my attention. John Grisham, at a lesser level, is similar, I think. His best selling novels sometimes have Christian characters and ideas. But older novels are often full of Christian themes. Robinson Crusoe is an amazing Christian book. Modern TV versions gut it completely of its Christian content, but the original is magnificent.

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