I never really had a conversion experience. That hallmark of evangelicalism escaped me, born as I was into a family of churchgoers. I prayed a prayer when I was four and received a small, pink Bible, and that was that. My experience growing up in the church has been a very good one, but I recognized the stories of countless friends of mine in Chris Walker, the protagonist of Trevin Wax's new "Theology in Story" novel, Clear Winter Nights: A Journey into Truth, Doubt, and What Comes After.
I was drawn into the story of Chris's grappling. Post-college, he is engaged and helping to launch a new church in his Knoxville neighborhood, but his deep-seated doubts prevent him from fully committing to either his work or his fiancée. A weekend with his grandfather, Gil, a retired preacher, promises to challenge Chris's doubts from the beginning. Gil is meant to be old-timey, singing hymns and referring to "King Jesus," while Chris, a recent college graduate, is consumed with intellectual objections to the claims of Christianity and, by extension, the faith of his grandfather.
Part of what is difficult to discern in Clear Winter Nights is just where Chris's struggle with his faith comes from. He has learned not long ago that his father, whom he had revered for years, cheated on his mother years ago. Yet that event is never directly linked to the upheaval of Chris's Christianity, which feels like a conveniently manufactured crisis throughout most of the book. We also see Gil systematically deal with every one of his doubting grandson's objections to the Christian faith—the practice of evangelism, the exclusivity of truth, homosexuality, morality—within the space of two ...1