Confessions of a French Atheist, Guillaume Bignon. Carol Stream: Tyndale Momentum, 2022.
Summary: The story of a software engineer, volleyball player, and musician who thought he had it all until his encounter with a fashion model who was a Christian.
Augustine was a gifted teacher, skilled rhetorician, a natural leader and a ladies man. The subject of this memoir sounds very like him. A software engineer for a Wall Street financial firm, a competitive volleyball player, a musician–and also a ladies man. And like Augustine, Guillaume Bignon titles the account of his turning to faith Confessions.
It all began on a Caribbean vacation when he encounters a beautiful fashion model, Vanessa, from New York (he was living in France at the time). They were romantically drawn to each other but she will not sleep with him and insists on going to church. These are deal breakers for him and he determines that he has to argue her out of her faith, to embrace the atheism that is his own persuasion. All is going well until she says, “But you haven’t even asked me what I believe!” So he listens to her compelling, even miraculous story, but concludes that he has to investigate for himself. He starts reading the Bible…and likes it. When shoulder injuries sideline him, he visits the church in Paris she attended on a visit with him. When he attempts to leave, he is overcome with chills, goes back to meet the pastor and begins a series of conversations.
Like Bishop Ambrose with Augustine, Robert Baxter patiently walks through all Guillaume’s questions from the Bible and then comes to the big issue in his life–sexual morality. He works through intellectual issues like faith and science. He wrestles with the possibility of miracles, including the greatest miracle, the resurrection. He begins to recognize that he believes many things because they are reasonable but not certain and that Christian faith could be like that.
He moved to New York, taking a Wall Street job to be closer to Vanessa, even as he is drawing closer to Christ. He comes to understand why Jesus died and why he died for him–the weight of his own sin. He came to terms with the many women he’d hurt. He confesses his sins, and is baptized by Vanessa’s pastor. His faith survives the end of his relationship with Vanessa and, alone in New York, he studies apologetics every chance he gets as he writes his friends about his newfound faith and answers their questions. As in his journey to faith, he relates in the book the insights he was gaining. One thing led to another–a divinity degree, a Ph.D in philosophy, opportunities to speak about his faith, and an encounter with an au pair in Paris, who became his wife.
I enjoyed two aspects of this account. One was his own journey to faith, the questions he asked, the insights that were convincing, and the ways God moved in his life from head to heart and back again, bringing heart and mind together in his apologetic witness. The other thing I liked was the portrayal of the spiritual friends, Robert and Vinny who walked alongside him on his journey, never forcing, but waiting for the Spirit of God to break through. Even Vanessa’s story and the witness of her chaste life was significant, but it was God who broke through.
There is much to be learned here about adult conversion in a post-Christian era in Guillaume’s questions and doubts and the patient witness of those who were alongside in his search. There is much here we can learn as we ask what it might mean to be friend like these friends to someone who seemed to have it all but is being pursued by God.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.