Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend

By Ravi Zacharias, Thomas Nelson Publisher, 360 pages.

The various evangelical Protestant authors of Beyond Opinion demonstrate their deep commitment to converting the secular culture that surrounds them. They boldly wade into the most contentious issues facing all of society, including pornography, loneliness, and lack of community.

Common to all writers is the commitment to respecting the person, atheist or Muslim, Buddhist or secularist, with whom they discuss the gospel. Rather than winning intellectual arguments, winning a soul for Christ is the primary task.

As Zacharias and other writers note, apologists must challenge faulty worldviews. Often behind a question, such as why a good God permits evil and suffering, is a deeper assumption about life. Zacharias notes that Jesus' technique when being challenged by doubters was to "question the questioner." In other words, speak to the underlying assumptions, rather than to the first question.

Beyond Opinion is refreshing because the writers do not fear secularists or ornery atheists. They demonstrate how their own arguments have advanced beyond the childishly simplistic reasoning of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others who angrily denounce religion and believers. Examining the underlying issues, they wonder: if God does not exist, why are atheists so angry at Him?

Christian apologists must keep fixed on the real goals of their ministry: "The apologetic task is first and foremost a spiritual conflict that sometimes shows itself through competing worldviews that seek to undermine faith in Jesus Christ." This demands knowing the errors of secular or atheistic thinking, and responding with clarity, with the simple truth of the Nicene Creed.

One major spiritual struggle is with modern society's loss of the sense of sin. Salvation cannot be offered to people who don't think they need to be saved. Perhaps a chapter on how Christians can encourage a sense of sin without overemphasizing guilt would have rounded out the argument.

Repeatedly, Beyond Opinion reveals the wealth of experience from countless dinner-time arguments with aggressive anti-Christians. On one occasion, in a formerly-communist Eastern European country, after hours of fruitless argument, the Christians offered to pray with the nonbelievers, who hesitantly accepted. The prayer changed the mood deeply. The atheists were affected, and stayed up until morning arguing amongst themselves about God. One gave his life to Jesus that night.

Avoiding complication, some apologetic techniques are simplistic but effective. Just as God's existence cannot be proved, neither can His non-existence. Atheists and agnostics are only fooling themselves if they think they have found some truth. They too have a faith - in their atheism or agnosticism.

Thus Richard Dawkins' claim that belief in God is similar to belief in the Easter Bunny fails to stand to scrutiny. No one comes to belief in the Easter Bunny in their adulthood, but countless people come to Christ in these years. Dawkins' faith in his atheism is immature and incomplete, in contrast to the faith held by the Christian.

The authors' reverence for the Bible is also refreshing for readers who have become used to deep disrespect of the sacred. Beyond Opinion offers an antidote to the troubled, rude secularism of our age.

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