Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life’s Hardest Questions

Discovering truth in a university setting

A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life’s Hardest Questions (http://www.veritas.org/)
Editor: Dallas Willard
Publisher: IVP Books (books.ivpress.com)
Pages: 326

Despite all the advances in knowledge, universities, with their reliance on science, at best deal uncomfortably with questions about truth and meaning. In 1992, inspired by Harvard’s motto, Veritas (truth), a small group of Harvard Christians led by Chaplain Kelly Monroe hosted a weekend of lectures and discussions at the university that explored some of life’s most important questions. That first Veritas Forum was the impetus for more than 100 universities in the US, Canada, the UK, France, and the Netherlands for holding their own forums.

Being hosted by Christians, their purpose, as summarized in part of their mission statement, is no surprise: “We seek to inspire the shapers of tomorrow’s culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ.”

The book features presentations on a range of topics from leading Christian thinkers with varied backgrounds. The late Richard John Neuhaus, Os Guinness, Timothy J. Keller, Alister McGrath, Hugh Ross, N. T. Wright, Dallas Willard and Ronald J. Sider are among the contributors. Each chapter identifies the forum location, date, subject and speaker(s). Sometimes the format is a debate that provides a Christian and a secular position. Pete Singer represents the latter in debating, “Does Atheism or Theism Provide the Best Foundation for Human Worth and Mortality?”

This volume brings together the best Veritas lectures. It’s a delight to read such highly developed and civil arguments. Non-Christians open to a faith perspective will most likely appreciate the winsome tone and the thoughtful basis for Christian conviction. Since the presenters were addressing general audiences, the material in most cases is easy to follow and not too technical.

The openness and frankness is astonishing. Where else in our society can you find this kind of dialog? It’s a shame that rational discussion about these topics is generally not tolerated in public settings.

The Veritas Forums are obviously meeting a need in our culture that secular institutions are unwilling or unable to address. The campuses serving as hosts deserve credit for facilitating these valuable events.

Some of the speakers include their personal stories of conversion, which provides context for their thought. One of the more dramatic is given by Mary Poplin in her talk, “Radical Marxist, Radical Womanist, Radical Love: What Mother Teresa Taught Me about Social Justice.” Her quest for meaning led her to India to work alongside Mother Teresa. What this radical professor learned gave her the desire to become a Christian.

One may not agree with all of the ideas. Francis Collins supports a non-literal reading of Genesis in his attempts to reconcile creation and science. Ronald J. Sider’s holistic approach to the gospel is a challenge to find the right balance between evangelism and social action. Regardless of one’s persuasion, communication of the logic and reasoning behind the various views makes this rewarding.

Pilate famously said to Jesus, “What is truth?” However he may have meant it, this book is an excellent resource for wrestling with that question and all its implications. More often than not, it succeeds in pointing the way toward personal discovery.

Might this book even encourage a love of the truth? That is something that all can aspire to gain. If this book like the forums that it represents nurtures that in the hearts of readers, it will provide a valuable service.
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