Book Review: A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World

by Leslie Keeney

I try to read most new apologetics books—at least the ones released by reputable publishers. Right now, I’m playing catch-up and working through my pile of review copies from the last few months. Since A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World by Alex McLellan (IVP 2012) was the last book to show up on my doorstep, I decided to work backwards and use it to jumpstart my mad dash to get in as many as I can before the Spring Semester starts.

Alex McLellan is the Founder and Executive Director of Reason Why International, a Bible teaching and apologetics ministry. He also serves as an associate with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Josh McDowell Ministries, giving presentations at churches, camps, colleges, and schools. McLellan obviously knows a few things about talking to non-Christians about the gospel. In fact, the biggest strength of this book is that the ideas presented in it are clearly and cleverly explained; you could give this book to any of your friends and there’s nothing in it that they wouldn’t understand—and they’d have a smile on their face the whole time

McLellan’s “method” of apologetics is a metaphor called “The Jigsaw Guide.” “If we want to see the big picture,” says McLellan, “we don’t need every piece of a puzzle. All we need is enough important parts that stand out and fit together.”  The author emphasizes that no one needs to be discouraged by the fact that they will never find all the pieces. Instead, they should focus on what they know is true and snap those pieces into place first.

We can never see the whole picture, says McLellan, but we can know enough to make intelligent decisions about how the world works.

McLellan, like me (and probably like most apologists), is a big believer in the correspondence theory of truth—that there is an objective truth out there and that our job is to get as close to it as we can with our limited senses, experiences, and reason. It is heartening to hear him ask over and over again not “does it work,” but “is it true?”

His dedication to that truth runs throughout the book. In a particularly memorable illustration he demonstrates both his commitment to objective truth and his ability to find creative ways to communicate those ideas to his readers. In referring to an often-forgotten scene

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near the beginning of The Return of the King, Gandalf is worried whether Frodo is still alive, but Aragorn tells him to trust what his heart tells him. McLellan then compares that scene to a hypothetical situation in which his own son, Asher, disappears. When his wife says “Asher is fine. I just listened to my heart,” the author responds:

What kind of father would I be if I breathed a sigh of relief, sat down, and poured a cup of coffee? It will come as no surprise to find out that I am not interested in what Sheryl’s heart has to say about the matter. I want to know the truth about the safety of our son, and I will not rest until there is a good reason to believe he is safe and sound.

McLellan has gift for telling engaging stories that illustrate what he’s trying to say. He also manages to come up with a few insights that I had never heard before (which is hard to do, considering all the apologetics books I’ve read). For example, to the ubiquitous story of the blind men and the elephant, he adds the insight that no matter what the wise men say, it does not change what the elephant actually looks like.

One of the highlights of the book—and something I don’t recall ever reading before—is a discussion about whether or not people can actually change what they believe. While a lot of modern apologetics training assumes that a person can just change their belief system in one earth-shattering “aha” moment if the arguments are persuasive enough, McLellan asserts that people can’t just choose what they believe.

No matter how hard we try, writes McLellan, we can’t make ourselves believe that there’s an elephant in the middle of the room if there’s not…

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