Let me preface this by saying that I don’t read a ton of fiction, but I recently read Cornelius Plantinga’s Reading for Preaching and I became convinced that as a preacher I need to read more fiction. So when I came across Trevin Wax’s Clear Winter Nights I knew I should pick it up. I knew Trevin was a blogger and really enjoyed reading his blogs but I had no idea what to expect from him as a fiction author, lets just say I was delightfully surprised.
Now this book is no masterpiece. It is no Gilead (even though it has an old pastor imparting wisdom to a young family member), but hey I didn’t really expect it to be. What I was expecting though was a story about dealing with doubts. It’s a story of dealing with the type of doubts many young Christians face coming out of college. Trevin portrayed these doubts pretty well. I do college ministry and I have had to walk through these types of questions and doubts with many students over the years.
Summary (No Spoilers)
It’s the story of Chris, a young college graduate who is dealing with “questions.” He really has the world ahead of him: ministry opportunities, a great fiancé, and a heritage of faith; but something has happened to him. Doubts have began to creep in. He no longer knows what to believe, or even if he still believes. He has grown tired of faking like he has it all together. He wants to finally let his guard down, but he doesn’t feel safe doing so. That is until he spends a weekend with his grandpa, Gil, who used to be the pastor of a Baptist church. What follows is a weekend of honest questions (both Chris and Gil are asking the questions) and honest answers.
- It’s compelling & realistic – Chris deals with all sorts of questions ranging from Christian hypocrisy, the crusades, homosexuality, anti-intellectualism, and even the nature of the gospel. If I had a nickel for every time a college student brought up one of those questions to me I would have many nickels…. I love the fact that Trevin Wax really seems to have a pulse on current objections and hesitations that a college aged student would have about Christianity.
- It’s a great apologetics handbook – I don’t know if Trevin Wax was trying to write up an apologetics handbook, but that is sort of what he did. They say that one learns best by watching others do that thing, well in this book we get to watch Pastor Gil doing apologetics for his grandson Chris. On pages 74-78 you see Pastor Gil in action defending the Christian claim to exclusivity. On pages 101-113 you get a lesson on apologetics and homosexuality. I didn’t expect to learn from this book, but I definitely did.
- Its full of great quotes – Here are a few: “The greater your acknowledgement of your sinfulness, the greater your appreciation of God’s grace.” (68) “Fix the worship problem, and evangelism starts coming naturally.” (78) “Don’t be true to yourself. The self you’d be true to is rotten to the core.” (112) And there are many more great quotes, but I will let your read them yourself.
- Its too clean – I don’t mean I want profanity and sex and violence, I mean that the resolution is too clean. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I don’t really believe the end of the book.
- Chris lacks depth – Let me explain. There are some characters in certain books and movies that are utterly predictable. They are walking stereotypes. Chris is one of those characters. Pastor Gil on the other hand is not. He is a character with flesh and blood. Pastor Gil has “depth” so to speak. Usually in a fictional story you want the main character to be the 3D character and the other supporting characters to be 2D, but in this book it seemed as though the main character had less depth than the supporting character.
- It starts off like a typical Christian film – Some of you might not think that is a bad thing, but trust me it is. I have seen many Christian movies that start off like this book: attractive young college guy takes a walk with his cute petite blonde girlfriend, he expresses his doubts about the faith he grew up with, she cries, and he goes on a journey to rediscover his faith. That’s the typical first scene of many Christian films, thankfully Clear Winter Nights departs from that cliché script after the first few pages.
I was not disappointed by this book but maybe that is because I didn’t have very high expectations. Nevertheless I do recommend this book with one caveat…
Let me just end with two things:
- If you are looking for a great story with a lot of depth, you won’t find it here. The story is predicatble and the characters aren’t very deep. All that to say, I can’t recommend it as a great story or a great work of fiction.
- If you are looking for good theology in story form, read this book. A lot of people have been talking about doing theology as narrative lately, Trevin Wax takes his shot at it, and is quite successful. He treats many theological topics, and puts them into dialogue form. For that reason I recommend this book, its useful for anybody dealing with the sorts of issues that Chris is dealing with in this book.