Unbreakable: What the Son of God Said About the Word of God, by Andrew Wilson

9781909611863

It’s not often you get to quote Spinal Tap when reviewing a book on Scripture. But the Rothko-minimalist front cover of Andrew Wilson’s latest offering can be best summed up by paraphrasing Nigel Tufnel:

It’s like, how much more red could this be? And the answer is none. None more red.

Unbreakable is a punchy little book on the doctrine of Scripture. 65 pages (plus endnotes), cheaper than a Starbucks latte, and with less froth too!

On a subject so large as the Bible, you might wonder what one could possibly hope to achieve with such a short word-count. The answers is: much. Andrew Wilson’s approach is innovative and extremely helpful for changing the shape of the conversation on the trustworthiness of the Bible. He summarises his position succinctly:

I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus. (p10)

Taking Jesus’ own view of Scripture as the starting point, Andrew looks at the authority, inspiration, unbreakability, coherence, centre, canon, fulfilment, clarity, challenge, sufficiency and danger of Scripture, before ending with some guidelines on how to interpret Scripture.

To be honest, your best bet is just to go and read the thing, as I’m currently in danger of writing a post longer than the book itself! But if you’re curious while you’re waiting for the postman to deliver a copy, check out this interview Andrew did with Trevin Wax. You can also hear Andrew debate this topic with Brian McLaren, if you wish, although personally I’d just read the book and their exchange of articles, as a good deal of the conversation essentially goes:

Brian McLaren: I think we will really disagree on this!
Andrew Wilson: I’m not sure we disagree quite as much as you might think…
Justin Brierley: Please can’t we find something you disagree on, lest my show be rendered pointless!!

(I’m being a little flippant, of course. But not a lot…)

Here are three things I particularly liked about Unbreakable:

The Story of Scripture.

Andrew’s summary of the Bible is great. Simple, short, creative and compelling. And a brilliant way to open the book. You can check it out here on The Gospel Coalition blog.

The Clarity of Scripture.

I personally found chapter 8 both challenging and helpful. It is so easy for us to assume that when Christians disagree over what the Bible teaches, it’s because the Bible is unclear. But as Andrew shows, when Jesus encountered misunderstanding in the people he was teaching, he never blamed the Bible for being unclear; he suggested the problem was something to do with the hearers themselves (e.g. Matt 13:15; 15:16; 16:9-11, 23; Mark 7:13; Luke 9:45; 24:25-26; John 5:39-40; 8:43).

As someone who teaches the Bible and is regularly asked my opinion on difficult topics, I found this a refreshing reminder that the ‘problems’ of Scripture may not be to do with Scripture at all. Maybe the Bible wasn’t written to answer every one of my questions? Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions in the first place? Maybe the problem is my end – I’m not thinking clearly enough, or my ego is getting in the way of what should be obvious.

This chapter should humble us all!

The Interpretation of Scripture

The epilogue provides five simple principles for interpreting Scripture. I personally think they’re fairly uncontroversial – although of course they may lead to some controversial discussions and conclusions! – and in two-and-a-half pages Andrew has managed to lay out a good, clear common-sense framework for doing theology.

The brevity of the book – and of the epilogue in particular – will leave you wanting more, and with a lot of questions unanswered. And of course, I would love to hear how those five principles get applied to a whole range of theological questions! But it should also leave you feeling challenged to approach the Bible a bit more like Jesus did: as the coherent, trustworthy, life-giving, unbreakable word of God.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

    I began reading it but stopped at the above quote “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus.”

    But which Jesus is Wilson talking about? Clearly he trusts the Jesus of the Bible (not the ‘Jesus’ of the Qur’an or the ‘Jesus’ of existentialism or the ‘Jesus’ of Bultmann or the ‘Jesus’ of Strauss et. al.). As such this foundational starting point becomes obviously and viciously circular. If the epistemology is going to be that superficial then I doubt the rest is worth reading personally.

    The ‘debate’ with McLaren was also disappointing I felt. They obviously have huge differences on how to view Scripture but spent so much time desperately trying to find points of agreement that most who have not studied theology will be left wondering if there’s much difference.

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    1. liamthatcher says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree about the McLaren debate – I didn’t think it was as strong as it could/should have been. But I often find that the format of those Unbelievable debates leaves me frustrated anyway!

      As for your main point… You stopped reading a 65 page book 3 pages into the introduction?! I’d suggest it might be worth picking it up again for the last 62 pages – what do you have to lose?

      Wilson is certainly talking about the Jesus of the Bible, but Unbreakable is not designed to be a detailed apologetics book on the reliability of the Bible, but rather a short popular-level book on Jesus’ own view of the Bible to the extent that we can ascertain that through the gospels and other relevant literature.

      He puts it like this in endnote 2:

      “Some would argue that we cannot know what Jesus was like, and how he spoke and acted, unless we assume the Bible is infallible first. But this is not the case. We have four ancient documents, the four Gospels (which record eyewitness testimony of what Jesus said about the Scriptures), as well as dozens of early Christian texts (which reveal a similar commitment to scriptural authority), and numerous other Jewish sources (which indicate that Jesus, as a Jew, would likely have had a high regard for the Law the Prophets and the Writings). Given the controversies that happened in the first few decades of the church, over scriptural matters like circumcision, food laws and so on, we can be confident that if Jesus had criticised the Hebrew Bible or implied that it was wrong in some way, we would know about it.”

      His point, I think, is that we can know with some degree of certainty what the historical Jesus said about Scripture, and therefore what his own view of Scripture was. (And we can know that without having to hold exactly the same view ourselves, hence it’s not entirely circular). And if we trust Jesus (for various reasons, which may again not involve us signing up first of all to the infallibility of Scripture – apologetics, historical reasons, evidence for the resurrection, experiential reasons based on the transformation he has made in our life etc) we ought to care what view he had of Scripture. Our trust in Jesus should lead us to examine what Jesus said about Scripture. And if we find – as Andrew does – that Jesus had a very high view of Scripture, then we have a choice to make: should we adopt a view that is different to that held by Jesus, or should we trust that the one we have come to believe to be the resurrected Lord gets the last word on this, and we should adopt the same view as he held.

      I don’t think that’s an argument that’s likely to convince everyone, but it’s one that people who claim to be followers of Jesus should at least give a hearing to, in my opinion.

      And also, he does also tackle the question of whether one can believe in Jesus without first believing the entire Bible to be true in his (longer) book If God Then What? which I would also recommend checking out.

      Hope that helps a little. Thanks again for your comment.

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      1. aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

        Thanks Liam,

        I agree it’s not usually good form to give up on a book due to one comment early on but it was so frustrating to read that’s what happened. I don’t endorse this as a practice.

        You’re quite right to point out it’s a popular level book but that is precisely the problem. It’s quips found in books like these that Christians end up using all the time and I think that is profoundly unhelpful because when they then use them on thinking persons they will come undone.

        Reading that footnote helps but if you pay attention it really does negate the quip. He does not believe the Bible because he believes in Jesus after all. He believes there are strong historical evidences which support what the Bible says about Jesus. I have no problem with that. But then it’s not true to say something like “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus.” At best it’s ambiguous and at worse misleading. He should have opted for something less catchy. He bases his beliefs on the historical and archaeological evidence which often lends support to what the New Testament says about Jesus. Because of that he believes the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are really his words. So it appears he does believe in Jesus because he believes the Bible to be an authentic representation of Jesus’ teachings after all.

        My apologies if this sounds pedantic.

        Thanks for replying.

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