Many people have found comfort in nothingness. Nothing to believe in, nothing to hold you back, nothing to stop you from doing what you want to do. Nothingness can have quite an appeal. It’s the battle cry of the New Atheism; there’s is nothing in this universe worth believing in. It’s the banner of the existentialists; there’s nothing in this world except what you make it to be. And its the choice numerous people have made when confronted with questions of doubt regarding faith in God. Isn’t religion just a distraction for those who can’t deal with the nothingness of life? How can a good God allow suffering? Is he really in control? Sometimes “nothing” seems like the best answer.
Dan DeWitt, dean of Boyce College at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, understands this dilemma. In his book Jesus or Nothing DeWitt presents readers with an opportunity to assess their choices. Part apologetics and part pastoral commentary, Jesus or Nothing seeks to “encourage believers in their love of the gospel, challenge skeptics in their rejection of it, and assist Christian parents and leaders as they contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (17).
Using Colossians as a grid and relating the tale of “Zach,” the Christian turned atheist, DeWitt weaves philosophy and theology with pastoral anecdote to help readers approach the question at hand. His two worldviews approach (Jesus or Nothing) is similar to Jewish and early Christian “two-ways” literature. There is a way that leads to life and one that leads to death. Choose wisely. To propel his argument, DeWitt relies on 17th-century thinker Blaise Pascal and his famous wager argument. DeWitt helpfully dissects the crux of the wager: calling people to a life of fulfillment through faith in God. This is no mere intellectualism–a rich flourishing Christian life is on the line.
The stakes are high, and DeWitt is hoping you’ll bet on Jesus. To this end, he takes readers by the hand and flies through various arguments regarding God’s existence and questions of metaphysics. There are no lengthy syllogisms or logical equations here, but Dewitt extends the invitation to readers to use their minds and engage their hearts. Only a Christian “theory of everything” can make sense of what we see and experience. DeWitt asserts, “Jesus is central to the explanation of everything, from beginning to end.” (39).
DeWitt also helps us to see the implications of presuppositions. As college freshmen enter their first philosophy or religion class, understanding presuppositions is key. Presuppositions undergird all scientific and philosophic endeavors. What people believe about God radically informs their opinions about nature and the universe. DeWitt’s most helpful chapter in this succinct text is chapter five. Without God, there is no objective meaning. DeWitt remarks, “In short, we have meaning below because there is a God above.” (85). Jesus provides significance for life. DeWitt declares, “But if the gospel is true, then he offers much more. The grave is not conclusive. Death is not supreme. Nothing will not prevail.” (88).
At the end of the book DeWitt reveals the true identity of “Zach.” “Zach” is all of us who have wrestled with questions of meaning and God’s existence. This literary device, inviting readers to walk in “Zach’s” shoes, helps us understand the complexity of the issue at hand and also helps us minister to other “Zachs” around us. Using this character to draw people into the text is one of the book’s greatest strengths and should help readers of all ages engage more thoughtfully with the concepts and ideas presented.
Jesus or Nothing is approachable and ever-so practical. Dan DeWitt, writing with an academic background yet guided by a pastoral commitment, addresses with sensitivity the questions young adults are asking. Youth pastors should hand their junior and senior high students this book and insist on reading it together. Young adult pastors should consider this text as well for small-group study. Regrettably, all the small group questions are at the back of the book instead of the more natural placement at the end of each chapter. This should not hinder study too much, but it would have made it that much more helpful. I would also love to have seen a handful of key resources for further reading at the end of each chapter. These points are minor, however, and shouldn’t prevent close interaction. Those who are looking for higher level apologetic texts should look elsewhere. Those beginning the conversation with an atheist friend or encouraging one in the midst of the “nothingness” battle should turn to DeWitt for help in the fight.
Thanks to Crossway Books for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!