A review of Beyond Opinion. Edited by Ravi Zacharias.
Thomas Nelson, 2007. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books)
This is a collection of essays by members of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries team. Except for two Oxford Professors – Alister McGrath and John Lennox – all the other authors are part of RZIM, working fulltime in various places around the globe.
In the fourteen essays contained here the authors seek to connect Christian apologetics with Christian living. Subtitled “Living the Faith We Defend”, the heart of this book is to show that good apologetics is not just providing the right answers, but is about living a life that reflects the one we seek to defend.
The authors remind us that we are called to defend the faith, by meeting intellectual and worldview challenges. But we are also to be a living example of the faith, and show the reality of a Christ-transformed life. Providing honest answers to honest questions is obviously what apologetics is all about. But as Zacharias reminds us, “the role of the apologists is to win the person, not just the argument”.
The various essays featured here cover many important areas. Some of the major topics covered include postmodernism, atheism, Islam, eastern religions, challenges from youth, challenges from science, the problem of evil and suffering, cross-cultural challenges, and the place of doubt.
One of the chapters by Zacharias, on the church’s role in apologetics and the development of the mind, is alone worth the price of the book. The task of getting the church of Jesus Christ to actually use its mind for the glory of God is a most pressing need. Indeed, the title of Zacharias’s radio show, “Let My People Think” has to be one of the great challenges facing believers today.
He begins the chapter by reminding us of the need to lead well-rounded apologetic lives: “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 failure on our part to live it out.”
He mentions a Hindu friend he had known long ago and his objections to the gospel. He felt Christian conversion was just a move to moral reform, without any supernatural element to it. He asked a question which really troubled Zacharias: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians?”
Zacharias says Christians must first be willing to grapple with the difficult questions of the sceptics, and work through them ourselves. Then we must internalise the answers and live out these answers before a hurting and hungry world.
But we must not ignore or downplay the many honest questions which sceptics have. It is vital that we interact with them. “There is an exponential growth of knowledge in our time,” says Zacharias, “and it is part of our Christian calling to work hard at understanding as much as we can the themes that must be addressed.”
Yet this is rarely happening in the church today. Zacharias takes a dim view of the Christian mind. Walk into any Christian bookstore and the great majority of titles are simply fluff and froth, lacking in any theological or intellectual substance.
And in an age of intellectual mushiness, and a war on truth, Christians more than ever need to stand up for Christianity’s absolute truth claims. Says Zacharias, “The first and foremost task of the apologist, then, is to stand for truth and to clarify the claims of the gospel.”
Other chapters can be mentioned. L.T. Jeyachandran’s article on Hinduism, Buddhism and the New Age Movement is a helpful and concise introduction to the Eastern worldview. Danielle DuRant’s piece on idolatry and self-deception provides helpful insights and observations.
Taken together, the different parts of this book make for a powerful whole. They deal with intellectual and ideological issues, but also cover them from a personal and practical point of view. This is the way apologetics should be done: reaching both the head and the heart. This book is a most welcome addition to the apologist’s library, and deserves a wide reading.
4 Replies to “A review of Beyond Opinion. Edited by Ravi Zacharias.”
I read the book and like you Bill, I found that as always, Ravi pushes faithfully for moral absolutism… The problem with this approach is it is far too modernist for todays society.
We need to communicate the absolute truth of the gospel as Jesus did. That is to say we need to communicate the truth of Jesus, as he himself does it. Not as a moral code, but rather a truth based on knowing Jesus himself. There is a relational element of absolute truth, it is not merely a stubborn modernist form of legalism denying progress.
The problem with you and the many other absolute rantists Bill is you say things like “in an age of ‘intellectual mushiness…” as if to say the postmodern mind of deconstructivism offers us nothing… This is a very slippery slope. Deconstructivists and post constructivists don’t simply deny truth as they are often misquoted for doing, but rather they deny inheriting unquestioned truth.
Rather than slamming the challenges from the relativist aspects of our culture we should welcome them. Jesus is the great deconstructivist of all time – not Derrida, not foucalt. It is Jesus who deconstructs power (Php 1), kingship (John 18) and love (1 John).
Beyond opinion in my opinion needs more of absolute Jesus, not just absolute morality.
C.S. Lewis rightly warned about the great danger of “Christianity and…” Whether it is Christianity and socialism, or Christianity and liberalism, it always dilutes Christianity and reduces it to merely another ism. Thus we have had Jesus the guru, Jesus the Marxist, Jesus the unionist, Jesus the pacifist, and so on. Now it seems, incredibly, that we have Jesus the postmodernist and Jesus the deconstructionist.
Ravi and I are neither modern nor postmodern. How could we be? Jesus transcends all these silly passing fancies. What we seek to be is biblically Christian, not slaves to yet another trendy philosophy or ideology.
The centrality of both absolute truth and absolute morality is what defines biblical Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. If believers today want to water that down in the name of yet another passing ism, they can go ahead. It will simply be yet another very sad and unnecessary example of “Christianity and…”
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
First of all I need to apologise. One of my friends read my post and said it sounded disrespectful – this was not my intention. I do thank the Lord God for what he is doing through your ministry and I do very much respect you for your biblical approach to all these issues and more often than not, the way you communicate.
Secondly I don’t mean to label Jesus “the great deconstructionist” – or add any other label to him. I love him and serve him without agenda, but I do believe sometimes we fall into the trap of preaching morality at people, and not preaching Jesus. I think in John 8 Jesus describes himself as truth. Truth therefore is not merely an absolute moral code, but a person we can know and love and serve and submit to.
I don’t think I am trying to advocate “another very sad and unnecessary example of Christianity and…” but rather get people talking about Jesus and less about morality.
Cheers, Nathan Clarke
Whether consciously or not, your views seem to be typical of those found in the emerging church crowd. I have discussed them elsewhere. One thing I have found quite worrying about this new movement is its continual practice of creating false distinctions of false dilemmas. They continually insist that we must choose between alternatives which the Bible nowhere demands.
For example, they foolishly say we must choose either relationship or law. Sorry, the Bible never forces us into such a false dichotomy. The Christian has a love relationship with Christ alright, but it is not antinomian. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” said Jesus. Jesus made no phony distinctions between loving relationships and obedient, holy living.
And Jesus is God. God is the most moral being in the universe. Indeed, his character is a collection of moral attributes. He is holy, he is just, he is pure, he is righteous, he is true, etc. So we can never separate morality from God.
If your concern is about believers working for social and cultural issues involving moral considerations, I see no problem there at all. Who says we should have nothing to do with the moral issue of the day? The history of Christianity has always been the history of believers telling people the good news of Jesus Christ, and working for moral and social reform.
Wherever Christian missionaries went, the both preached the gospel, and were up to their ears in moral and social work, such as prison reform or helping women and children, or literacy campaigns, or setting up hospitals, or opposing immoral practices such as suttee in India, etc.
Christians have every right to enter the public arena and push for morally virtuous policies, just as anyone else does. Indeed, Christians have earthly obligations as well as heavenly obligations. Thus I fully reject this idea that somehow believers must just shut up and allow the world to go down the tubes, morally and every other way.
William Wilberforce rejected that unbiblical advice, and spent his life promoting the gospel and fighting against the moral evil of slavery. If a drug dealer wants to set up a heroin injecting centre next to my home, or a pornographer wants to use my land to shoot his porn films, or a pedophile wants to check out my children, you can be darn well sure that I will do everything I can – both as Christian and a citizen – to oppose these “moral” issues.
So sorry, but I utterly reject false dichotomies which Scripture know nothing about. But as I say, I have written on all this elsewhere, if you want to take it further.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch