Preparing heart and mind to defend the faith
Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith That We Defend
Author and General Editor: Ravi Zacharias
Managing Editor: Danielle DuRant
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Normally, I would never recommend starting a book by reading the last chapter. Beyond Opinion is the rare exception. In the conclusion, Ravi Zacharias summarizes basic considerations and saves his acknowledgments to contributors for last. This serves as a fitting guide and a wonderful foretaste of the expertise to be found here.
Aside from this being an essential handbook for the 21st century apologist, I was struck by the quality of the contributions, which come from a multitude of individuals associated with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Those familiar with Zacharias know that he is one of the foremost Christian thinkers of our time. Reading these chapters, it is readily apparent that his associates are of the same spirit and write with the same competence and integrity. I am tempted to give Zacharias credit for assembling such an outstanding team, but I am sure that he would rightly give the glory to God. If Zacharias was to part from the scene today (God forbid!), his ministry would be in good hands and be a vital force to serve the Church for many years to come.
Apologetics is all about defending the Christian faith. It seeks to provide answers to seekers and skeptics alike. This is not a Josh McDowell Evidence that Demands a Verdict type of book that outlines what Christians believe and provides the evidence. It’s geared toward preparing the heart to engage the world with a vibrant faith that is seen as well as heard.
It does, however, delve into different belief systems. There are excellent overviews of postmodern belief, atheism, youth culture, Islam, eastern religions and challenges from science. But right from the start Zacharias identifies the biggest challenge: “As I have said many times, I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the inability on our part to live it out.”
Alister McGrath identifies this as an important factor in the rise of atheism, “One of the fundamental factors leading to the rise of atheism is a perception that belief in the divine does not lead to a morality that is clearly superior to that offered by secular culture.”
Again, the same theme emerges in a different light where Alison Thomas, in writing “Challenges from Youth,” quotes Nancy Pearcey, “In a world of spin and hype, the postmodern generation is searching desperately for something real and authentic. They will not take Christians seriously unless our churches and parachurch organizations demonstrate an authentic way of life—unless they are communities that exhibit the character of God in their relationships and mode of living.”
The importance of community is highlighted in different places throughout the book. This relational side of the Christian life comes into focus in L. T. Jeyachandran’s fascinating “The Trinity as a Paradigm for Spiritual Transformation.” God is a relational being. Taking that as a starting point, Jeyachandran makes the argument that “our emphasis on devotion to God tends to be an individualistic one and, in more than one unfortunate sense, is no different from the pursuits of Eastern religions. Religious showmanship today is often taken to be a sign of true spirituality. Against this backdrop, I submit that in the exercise of spiritual disciplines of every sort, we need to give to and receive from one another and thus, truly reflect the Trinitarian God whom we worship. Further, the Bible presents the understanding of true virtue as relational—summed up by the simple word love (1 Cor. 13; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), which cannot be actualized except in relationships.” This corrective may not be new, but it cannot be emphasized enough in our highly individualized society.
This is one among many examples of how practical each writer makes the subject matter. It’s no less true for Zacharias in tackling the challenge of evil and suffering. He quotes one of his favorites, Malcolm Muggeridge, to show the importance of perspective, “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained…. This, of course is what the cross signifies. And it is the cross more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.”
Zacharias follows another favorite, F. W. Boreham, in his line of reasoning. Regardless of where he starts, he ends at the cross. The simple reason is that it explains more than many realize. I struggle to understand all the implications, but I’m challenged to see more as Zacharias points out, “What emerges from all of these thoughts is that God conquers not in spite of the dark mystery of evil, but through it.”
Reality is seen through the vantage point of the cross. Danielle DuRant provides a healthy dose of it in her perceptive analysis of idolatry, denial and self-deception. Stuart McAllister shares a trying personal experience that brought him to the end of himself as he explains the role of doubt and persecution in spiritual transformation. Zacharias brings the final words as he shares on the role of the church in apologetics and the development of the mind.
The contributions are uniformly excellent. They stimulate the mind, convict the conscience, and challenge the heart.
Monday, February 14, 2011
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