A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Thomas Hext
By combining both academic rigor and pastoral sensitivity, the late Melvin Tinker (d. 2021) has sought to equip the reader with thoughtful and orthodox answers to commonplace questions raised by friends and neighbors about historic Christianity and our often-confusing social environment. Into the burgeoning yet shallow white noise of competing worldviews this calm, clear and constructive compilation will assist and refresh those mainly inside but also outside the church in their search for a faithful understanding of “touchy topics”.
Tinker was an evangelical Anglican who ministered to the congregation at St John’s Church, Newland in the northeast of England from 1994 until 2020. During his career as a clergyman based in an urban center, he wrote over a dozen books with particular emphasis on evangelical alienation within a modern and increasingly postmodern milieu. The insights gained from these two careers, one as an evangelical minister and another as a writer on Christianity and culture, made him uniquely qualified for the task of writing about current belief controversies.
In ten chapters, none of which are longer than twenty-five pages, Tinker tackles ten serious and wide-ranging objections pertaining to: the existence of God, the trinity, compatibilism, the problem of evil, all the way to the meaning of sex, and modern, innovative interpretations of tolerance. Some questions are presented in a more challenging form: “Is God a delusion?” and “If God is so good, why are things so bad?” Meanwhile, others are presented as general inquiries: “What is the church?” and “Is God female?” The title Touchy Topics presupposes a potential breakdown in communication should there be a misstep by one or more participants. As such, however, Tinker couches the question, his method of formulating an apologetic response follows a loose two-step pattern that keeps the conversation on track.
He begins by explaining the historical and cultural context for the development of the question at hand. In the case of “Is God a delusion?” the Freudian analysis of Christian theism as a comforting self-deception is noted by Tinker for its influence on typical explanations for religious adherence by atheists and agnostics.
Second, Tinker analyses the question and underlying critique for consistency. If there he discovers spurious argumentation, such as that of the concealed wish, he reveals it and points out the inconsistency before providing a biblically underwritten reason for the evangelical Christian position. Tinker cites the famous “Bulverism” essay and critique by CS Lewis. Concealed wishes either undermine all beliefs including that of atheists or they undermine none. Alternatively, alleged hidden wishes may merely partially taint and do so to all. In any case, the conversation can only proceed without appeal to speculation about motives.
Questions without such obvious weaknesses are examined with more biblical and theological rigor such as those covered in chapters four and five: “If God is so good, why are things so bad?” and “If God is sovereign, how can man be free?” respectively. These age-old conundrums are carefully treated by Tinker who, in the case of the former, calls upon the God-ordained events of “good Friday”, and their role in our justification, with the evident horror of the crucifixion of the Son of God.
Similarly, in the case of the latter, Tinker lays out in detail texts that explain divine causal responsibility for all that comes to pass alongside those that clearly state human culpable responsibility for sin. These groups of texts call into question the assumption that free will means libertarian free will.
Faithful Christians who are interested in talking with unbelieving acquaintances about the gospel yet lack confidence to answer the skeptic would benefit from a wonderful introduction to that task by studying this work by Melvin Tinker. His professional life was dedicated to applying incisively biblical and theological reasoning to answer difficult questions and helping his brothers and sisters in Christ to have more confidence in doing the same.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
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TOUCHY TOPICS, by Melvin Tinker