Readers of this blog may have noticed David Robertson’s name pop up here and there in links to things he’s written. For some of those readers, his name on this book alone will result in the tab being closed. That would be a shame. Regardless of what you might think of David’s blogging, speaking or opinions, this book is well worth reading.
Early on, David writes;
“The story is told of a Christian student in the University of Edinburgh who thought he would be what Christians call ‘a good witness’ by going into his philosophy lecture early and writing on the blackboard ‘Jesus is the Answer’, before heading out of the lecture theatre. (This was some time ago – if you are under forty ask an older person what a blackboard is!) When he returned with his fellow students he was somewhat pleased to see that his chalk-written words were still there for all to see. But underneath someone had written ‘What’s the question?’. I so believe that Jesus is the answer, in a way that goes far deeper than you could possibly hope or imagine, but first we have to ask the questions.”
This vignette gives a sense of the book. Originally concieved as a response to Christopher Hitchen’s God is Not Great – and David interacts with that book, and others, throughout – Magnificent Obsession is instead a positive book, as the author shares some of the reasons why he follows Jesus. There is a healthy dose of humility throughout the book – both in its epistolary format whence David clarifies things from earlier chapters, and constantly (and rather Englishly, in my opinion) self-deprecates his own learning. Whilst I read this book as a Christian, and found it both encouraging and thought provoking, the book is arguably aimed at the thoughtful non-Christian, whether atheist agnostic or ‘other’, and this is important.
One reason why I enjoyed this book so much is the wide reading of the author, and a surprisingly thoughtful cultural awareness both within and without the church. From opening with Mumford and Sons lyrics, recognising history, poetry and more, to offering a suggested soundtrack, films to watch alongside it, and a deep and wide list of books. This came not in the form of a lengthy bibliography, but rather a letter of recommendations to a friend, the kind of thing you might write to someone you care about. David’s engagement in the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition is also notable – with a particular surprise being his frequent and warm quotation of Pope Benedict XVI’s work, on Jesus. This books also nudges up against some contemporary debates and flashpoints in and around evangelicalism, with a provocative but in this readers opinion fair-minded approach to the work of Rob Bell, C. S. Lewis and other authors whose work is often seen as either unquestionably true or false, rather than nuanced.
The second reason that I enjoyed this book so much is that it reminded me of my first love – Jesus – through the lens of one of my earliest ‘intellectual’ loves, apologetics. David is concerned with truth, but he is not aiming to convince people that he is right. Rather, and I felt this came out throughout the book, Magnificent Obsession is a book (a little like The Reason for God by Tim Keller, who heartily endorsed this book) that offers a range of arguments and evidence to invite the reader to consider the claims and kingship of Jesus. As someone convinced of these claims, and who seeks to live and speak for Jesus, I found the book encouraging and refreshing – whilst also learning a few things I’d not come across before.
I have two types of friends – those who know what they think about Jesus, and those who don’t. I think this book could be profitably read by both. As someone who thought he knew what he thought about Jesus, I found Magnificent Obsession to be a shot of refreshing dynamite to my brain. David beautifully and calmly unpacks the evidence for Christ – and infuses it with a spiritually shaped around and by the Bible. I could see this book being particularly helpful for encouraging discipleship of younger people – stretching their brains and pointing them to Jesus. I can certainly think of a few friends who would benefit from it. Given the robust and Bible-drenched style of David’s writing, this may not be the best book to give to a militant atheist friend, but again I can think of a number of thoughtful friends of various forms of non-belief, who I would relish the opportunity to discuss the book with.