Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey by Bob Seidensticker is an easy book to sum up: it’s a novel about apologetics. Such an undertaking has intriguing possibilities, but unfortunately Seidensticker can’t quite pull off this combination. Apologetics is mostly about telling; good fiction is about showing — and in this novel the two make for uneasy bedfellows.
Set in turn-of-the century California, the novel follows the “spiritual journey” of an assistant pastor and his struggle to maintain the faith that “saved” him as he discovers that its foundations are built on much shakier ground than he once thought.
Seidensticker covers a great deal of apologetic ground, presenting the major arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, the person of Jesus and his resurrection and the problem of evil. But within the context of fictional conversations and debates, he is unable to do much more than scratch the surface of these deep issues. A typical exchange:
Jim drank from his teacup. “But the Design Argument forces you to come at this from the other direction since designers are always more complex than what they design. If a complex world must have been created by an even-more-complex God, then what created God?”
“Yes, I see that, but I think the argument makes an exception for God.”
“So ‘simple things must come from complex things … except for God’ is your argument.”
“Well, it’s not necessarily my argument.”
“Ah–good to see that distinction.”
Seidensticker seems content to present a standard Christian position, followed by the standard Atheist rebuttal, and then leave his characters reeling from the “truth” they have just been shown. His presentation of Christian “faith” lacks subtlety, nuance and intellectual rigor: for Seidensticker, Christian apologetics are merely a facade that can’t stand up to reason and logic.
But rather than critique the apologetic discussions themselves, my main issue was with the stilted narrative. The contrived story simply wasn’t engaging, the plot twists were soap-opera-ific and the writing was belabored with earnest attempts at descriptive narrative:
Paul turned to smile at the people climbing the worn wooden steps. Several women stood in the sun, chatting and comparing outfits. A trolley clanged its bell a block away, and Paul knew to expect a small surge of parishioners. He felt remiss for not greeting them, but this interview was important.
If you want apologetic fiction that’s about conveying a message through the story rather than merely tacking a story on top of apologetic arguments, try C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
Or, if your cup-of-tea is straight-up apologetic debates, there are plenty to be found online.
Cross Examined is tepid fiction and lax apologetics. It simply isn’t audacious enough to succeed as a work of literary, spiritual or intellectual engagement.