Review: Eyes to See

Eyes to See, Tim Muehlhoff (Foreword by J. P. Moreland). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: An exploration of how God acts in the ordinary elements of everyday life, the idea of common grace, and how we may be encouraged as we recognize these ways of God at work.

When we think of the idea of God at work, we often look for the extraordinary, and we may wonder why we do not see more of that. Tim Muehlhoff believes in this extraordinary work, but he also wants to help us recognize the ordinary, yet beautiful ways God is at work in everyday life. Classically, this is the idea of common grace, the goodness God pours out on all creation: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

Muehlhoff goes beyond the sun and the rain in exploring God’s everyday goodness. He begins with inventions and the instances when human beings arrived at similar solutions to problems, for example the stethoscope. He considers a number of human inventions, and while not arguing this as a proof for God, proposes that there are many instances of this hidden goodness meeting the needs of the world.

In subsequent chapters he turns to different realms in which we see this goodness. In science, we understand the incredible fine-tuning of the universe and our particular location on earth that makes life possible, and also the wonderful breakthroughs to sustain life, such as the accidental discovery of penicillin and the developments of antibiotics and vaccines to complement our amazing immune systems. He calls our attention to the power of art to help us recognize both providence and fallenness in our world when we are otherwise oblivious to it. He weighs the power of words and communication not only to hurt but to heal and illumine with quotes from Hinduism, Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius, Luther Standing Bear, and even atheist Sam Harris. He does not shrink from addressing the horror of war and even discusses Israel’s war against the Canaanites, drawing on the work of Paul Copan. He observes strong tradition of just war, the Geneva Conventions, and the beginnings of the Red Cross. Amid evil, goodness remains and eventually triumphs.

Throughout the book, he addresses objections and comes back to this in the final chapter, preceding his epilogue. He addresses:

  • Is everything common grace?
  • How can we know for sure?
  • Why doesn’t God act sooner?
  • Does common grace limit God’s activity?

Muehlhoff offers a discussion that is concise, carefully reasoned and illustrated with numerous examples from contemporary culture. He concludes the book with the hope that knowing God’s abundant work in everyday life will cause us to “see the world with wonder as we encounter good gifts daily” and fill our mouths with telling the deeds of this God.

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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.

Review: Do Muslim and Christians Worship the Same God?

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?, Andy Bannister. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2021.

Summary: A comparative study of the worldviews of Christianity and Islam that concludes that the two do not worship the same God.

Years ago, a very thoughtful student, from a country where Christians were a minority in a largely Muslim country, asked me whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. After all, Allah is the Arabic term for God and Islam traces its roots back to Abraham, one of the three Abrahamic faiths. And in fact, many commentators, promoting good will between the faiths, have proposed this idea. Miroslav Volf, for example, in Allah (Goodreads review) contends that he would say “yes, with different understandings of the God we worship.”

Andy Bannister first began wrestling with this question when he got involved speaking about his faith at the Speakers Corner in Hyde Park in London as he was engaged by a number of Muslim questioners. He eventually pursued a Ph.D in Qur’anic Studies. His careful analysis of the Qur’an and a comparison of the worldviews of Christianity and Islam led him to conclude “no.” He concluded that the differences were so great that the affirmative failed to do justice to either set of beliefs.

First of all, he deals with the obstacle of asserting that is arrogance to assert that one’s faith is true to the exclusion of others. He observes how we want to be reasonably certain of truth in many other areas of life, for example medical treatment, and we don’t consider it arrogant when a doctor prescribes a course of treatment. We want this. We don’t want a tolerant, inclusive doctor who says, “whatever.” The real issue is how we treat those with whom we disagree. Are we gracious and humble in stating our convictions or cocky? Arrogance is a behavior that need not be associated with a belief that something is true.

Bannister then outlines his approach, which is to consider the answers to four basic worldview questions:

Is there a god, and, if so, what is god like? He states that the God of the Bible is relational, knowable, holy, love, and has suffered. He contends that the Qur’an rejects, ignores, or overwrites each of these with a different portrayal of Allah.

Who and what are human beings? Whereas Christianity understands Christians as made in the image of God and made to enjoy relationship with God and to reflect God’s character to all creation, Islam would hold that while humans are elevated, one relates to Allah as servant to master rather than child to father.

What is wrong with the world? Christians believe that our nature is deeply affected by sin, which separates us from relationship with God and each other and the rest of creation. Islam sees us as made, not for relationship, but for obedience to Allah, but we are weak and fallible and often disobey his commands.

What is the solution? The idea of salvation is alien to Islam. Allah guides one in the right way and the obedient are rewarded with a pleasure-filled paradise, although one where Allah’s presence is not mentioned. Christians believe that our situation as alienated rebels is so desperate that self-help or even God-guided self-improvement is not adequate. We need saving or rescuing. God’s rescue plan is the sacrifice that dies in one’s places–sacrifices in the Old Testament that point to the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s once-for-all, perfect sacrifice, restoring us to a relationship with God.

He goes on to discuss Jesus, who is referenced in 90 verses in the Qur’an. He observes the unusual character of Jesus compared to other prophets that makes him something of a misfit in the Qur’an, but not in the Bible, where he is more than a prophet, revealing the character of God as God-with-us.

He concludes by describing Christianity as the most inclusive exclusive faith in the world–an open exclusivism where all who repent and believe are welcome, and only those who refuse are on the outside. He explores the nature of forgiveness–costly for the one who forgives but free to the forgiven, something that cannot be repaid, bought or earned. Bannister proposes that many of the longings for God which Muslims pursue may only be met in Christ–the longing for intimate love and compassion and forgiveness and relationship. His invitation is to come home.

Bannister combines extensive knowledge of the Qur’an, which is quoted in translation throughout with a clear analysis of fundamental differences that is not belligerent but matter of fact, and proven out in many personal interactions with Muslims. He also has a delightfully cheeky sense of humor, illustrated when he talks about playing Cluedo, known in the U.S. as Clue. He writes:

“For example, if you announce, “The killer was Miss Scarlet, using the dagger, in the conservatory’, and I disagree stating it was ‘Professor Putin, with a nerve agent, in the potting shed’, then we can immediately notice a few things. First, we cannot both be correct: our two theories disagree on every key detail and cannot both be right. Second, despite our fundamental differences, we are still both trying to answer the same basic questions; we agree about the questions–we just disagree about the answers. (And third, with theories like mine, I should probably avoid holidaying in Moscow.) (p. 35).

Throughout, we find this combination of careful, reasoned argument leavened with wit and warmth that makes this an enjoyable read. It is helpful as a resource if you’ve asked or been asked the title question, and particularly if this is in the context of friendships with those who embrace Islam. Bannister sees fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam but does so without demonizing Muslims but rather shows the utmost respect. Such an approach, I believe leads to dialogue that moves beyond the superficial to the substantive, allowing the exploration of each faith on its own terms, rather than those superimposed by the patronizing “let’s all just get along because we really are all on the same journey up the mountain.”

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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.

Review: Reimagining Apologetics

Reimagining Apologetics, Justin Ariel Bailey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A case for an apologetics appealing to beauty and to the imagination that points toward a better picture of what life might be.

When most of us hear the term “apologetics,” we think of reasoned argument for why one should believe, indeed, reason that compels belief. Yet in this age of epistemic uncertainty, such argument often elicits suspicion and may turn people ways from faith rather than remove obstacles to it.

Justin Ariel Bailey doesn’t dismiss the value of this traditional approach to apologetics, which he calls “Uppercase apologetics.” What he proposes instead is that some may be drawn to consider Christian faith through the imaginative, the telling of a better story or the painting of a better picture of an authentic Christian life makes better sense of the human condition. He frames it this way:

“By reimagining apologetics, I mean simply an approach that takes the imaginative context of belief seriously. Such an approach prepares the way for Christian faith by provoking desire, exploring possibility, and casting an inhabitable Christian vision. When successful, it enables outsiders to inhabit the Christian faith as if from the inside, feeling their way in before attempting to criticize it by foreign standards. Whether a person ultimately embraces the vision that is being portrayed, imaginative engagement cultivates empathy. It enables a glimpse, even if just for a moment, of the possibilities that Christian faith facilitates for our life in the world.”

Justin Ariel Bailey, p. 4.

The book is broken into two parts. The first is more philosophical in elaborating the relationship of apologetics and the imagination. Bailey begins with the work of Charles Taylor, and the disenchantment of the modern world under secularity. He treats secularity as a crisis of the imagination that reasoned argument alone cannot address. He then turns to Schleiermacher as a pioneer of an imaginative apologetic that sought to “feel our way in,” albeit at the expense of a connection to truth. Bailey argues that such an approach with a thicker theological ground is possible. He then deals more properly with the nature of imagination itself and how it is shaped by creation, fall, and redemption.

The second part then considers two writers, George MacDonald of the Victorian era, and Marilynne Robinson of our own, and how their writing models imaginative approaches to Christian faith in the face of the Victorian “crisis of faith” and the contemporary “new atheism.” MacDonald wrote his works with his friend John Ruskin in mind. Using the Wingfold trilogy, he shows how MacDonald sought to awaken his readers to a vision of virtue leading to a vision of God and his world. Bailey sees Robinson revealing a capacious vision of authentic Christian life in her characters. Then he looks at the Calvinism of both writers that sees the world filled with the presence of God that makes sense of our homesickness for God.

Bailey concludes with identifying three elements of an apologetic of the imagination:

  1. Sensing. Imagination as an aesthetic sense and gives primacy to the aesthetic dimension.
  2. Seeing. Imagination as orienting vision that invites exploration of a more capacious vision of the world
  3. Shaping. Imagination as poetic vision that situates the human project within the larger redemptive project of God.

He points to Makoto Fujimura’s idea of “culture care” as a model for how this apologetic may work in commending the faith through appealing to beauty, for seeing this care for beauty in every aspect of life, and reflective of the creative and redeeming beauty of God.

I believe Bailey is onto something. I think of the power of stories like Narnia Tales, or in the case of C.S. Lewis, the fiction of George MacDonald to capture the imagination and open it up to Christ. What does this mean for the apologist? Here, Bailey’s book is only suggestive and needs a follow up. It doesn’t mean buying everyone copies of MacDonald’s and Robinson’s works. At the very end he points to the work of understanding the stories of others and relating our stories to those. I also think, when people are ready, that the narratives of the gospels are also powerful stories, where we allow people to situate their stories within the Jesus story. I hope Bailey will do further work in this area, offering believing people more help in telling their stories and the story. What this work has done is offer the grounds for that work.

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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.

Review: Narrative Apologetics

Narrative apologetics

Narrative ApologeticsAlister E. McGrath. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: An argument for and description of narrative approaches to offering a defense for the faith.

Most of us, when we think of apologetics, the making of a case for Christian belief, think of approaches that offer arguments or evidences that warrant Christian belief. This has its place in contending that Christian faith is rational, rather than a leap into irrationality. At the same time, apologist Alister E. McGrath observes both the power of story in our culture, and how much of the scripture consists of narrative, of story and how, from the prophet Nathan to the parable-teller Jesus, story has been a key element in conveying the purposes of God to people. McGrath joins with storytellers like G. K. Chesterton, J.R.R Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis to contend that the “big story,” the “Story of a Larger Kind,” that makes sense of all of life and tells a better story, may serve to create receptivity to following Christ, and making the Christian story one’s own.

McGrath begins by laying a theological case for narrative by drawing on H. Richard Neibuhr’s observation that when early Christian communities defended their faith in Christ, they used narrative to do so. He defends the idea of the great story or metanarrative against post-modern commentators by arguing that the narrative of Christian faith is not rooted in hegemonic modernist rationality but a story of God’s telling through the incarnation of the one who epitomized what it means to be in the image of God in human flesh, yet who humbled himself unto death, entering deeply into the human condition of suffering and sin.

He offers examples from Chronicles of Narnia that function as apologetics addressing the objection of God as projection, portraying the incarnation, and visualizing sin. He gives four examples of biblical narratives that articulate aspects of the grand story: the Exodus, the Exile, the story of Christ, and one of the parables of the kingdom, and then offers a list of a number of others.

He turns to strategies and criteria for narrative apologetics. He quotes C.S. Lewis who proposes that “to break a spell, you have to weave a better spell,” that is, tell a better story, one that makes better sense of the world, and offers a better sense of one’s place, purpose, and destiny within it. It means both proposing a metanarrative, and critiquing rival narratives. He then proposes four elements of narrative around life’s meaning:

  1. Identity: Whom am I?
  2. Value: Do I matter?
  3. Purpose: Why am I here?
  4. Agency: Can I make a difference?

In his concluding chapter he proposes the weaving of three types of narratives into a narrative apologetic: personal narrative, biblical narrative, and cultural narrative. In the last category, he speaks of literary writers, citing a few example. He admits these are but a tip of the iceberg, but he could also have suggested film and other visual storytelling media. A more extensive appendix of suggested works would have been helpful.

One other addition I would have appreciated is an example, perhaps a talk where the elements he has outlined are incorporated, and perhaps either commentary that identifies the elements, or an exercise where the reader must do so and observe how they are woven into an apologetic message.

While a model might have been helpful, what McGrath has done is both lay a foundation, and offer a blueprint of what a narrative apologetic consists. The challenge of understanding the cultural story, and telling a better one is matched by the conviction that such stories may be found both in our lives and in the scriptures, and even in dialogue with the stories our culture tells. Of course all of this is premised in Christians understanding in what story they are called to live, and not mistaking the culture’s story for the “Story of a Large Kind.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: How Reason Can Lead to God

how reason can lead to God.jpg

How Reason Can Lead to GodJoshua Rasmussen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: Argues for a “bridge of reason” that leads us to God, based on the foundation of reality.

I’ve never believed that one can prove the existence of God. At the same time, I believe it can be shown that faith in God is reasonable, rather than contrary to reason. I also would acknowledge that some propose that it is reasonable that there is no God. All I’ve ever been able to commend is that the sincere seeker of truth weigh these reasons, and act upon whatever is persuasive to them.

This is a book that lays out a reasonable argument in the form of a “bridge of reason.” The image is important because the author would argue that reason rests upon a foundation and the nature of the foundation both makes sense of our reason and is persuasive of the existence of a God at the foundation or source of all.

First of all, he argues for the self-sufficiency of reality and that this foundation meets nine possible objections. This self-sufficient reality is eternal, that is it never came into existence but is the source of all that exists. The tools of simplicity, explanatory depth, and uniformity point to a “purely actual” foundation that is a unity without gaps or limits. Furthermore, this foundation explains the existence of mind, matter, morals, and math (that is, logic or reason). Indeed, this foundation may be argued to be the perfection of these from which all derives, and hence a perfect foundation.

Rasmussen then considers problems with this foundational theory. The greatest, as in almost every argument for the existence of God is the existence of evil. Here, he argues for the possibility of God having good reasons for the existence of evil, particularly as a result of the creation of “kingly creatures” able to govern their own lives with the possibility of ruling badly. He devotes a chapter to this objection, and then an additional chapter to eight other objections.

He finally pulls all of this together through an argument from limits that points to the existence of perfection. He states:

Here is an idea: perfection–by the light of its simplicity and positivity–points to its own possibility (i.e. consistency). Something cool follows: by the logic of possibility, perfection must be instantiated. In this way, perfection points by its own nature, to its instantiation.

He works out this argument step by step in more or less non-technical but closely reasoned language. A person with training in logic will especially appreciate Rasmussen’s presentation, and perhaps also pick it apart! Certainly those who question the existence of reality, or our capacity to perceive reality beyond ourselves would have difficulty with his argument. However, I suspect they also have trouble with existence, because they act as if other minds, and other objects exist.

I am not a philosopher but it seems to me that he does something fairly novel. His is neither a cosmological or ontological argument for the existence of God. It is something like a Cartesian argument from reason, yet focuses on the foundation of existence that our capacity for reason is based upon.

One question I had was around his argument for the self-existence of the “blob of reality” at the foundation of all. I’m not quite sure of how Rasmussen distinguishes God and created reality. It seemed at least possible that his argument could give warrant for panentheism, the idea that all is in God, an idea not considered within orthodoxy by many Christians.

Rasmussen does not contend for this and I think he does a service both for skeptics, and for apologists in proposing yet another line of reasoning rooted in reason itself and our common experience, for the reality of God. I’ll be interested to see how his ideas are received among philosophers, and how he continues to develop his “bridge of reason.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Cultural Apologetics

cultural apologetice.jpg

Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted WorldPaul M. Gould, foreword by J. P. Moreland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019.

Summary: Contends that in our disenchanted post-modern world, the apologist needs to engage in a culturally aware apologetic that appeals to goodness, truth, and beauty.

One thing anyone engaged in Christian witness for any length of time in a western cultural setting will tell you is that the landscape has changed. While the message of the gospel has not changed, the culture in which the message is shared has. Paul Gould’s one word description of that change is “disenchantment.” From a world shot through with the presence and majesty of God, the embrace of materialism and naturalism as all-encompassing accounts of the world results in a sense of the absence and irrelevance of God, and a culture that is sensate, focused on the physical senses, and hedonistic, focused on our desires. I found this intriguing, particularly considering the growing fascination with dystopian apocalypses, and conversely,  with fantasy and alternate worlds, that might suggest a longing for re-enchantment or despair of its possibility.

Gould contends that in this context, there is still a place for apologetics, but not that of past generations, focused exclusively on rational evidences, although these still have a place in Gould’s proposal. Gould contends for what he calls as cultural apologetics. By this, he means the “work of establishing the Christian voice, conscience, and imagination within a culture so that Christianity is seen as true and satisfying (italics in text).”

The author believes that a cultural apologetic that does this appeals to a universal longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. It is an apologetic that appeals to the longing of truth through reason (voice), that appeals to the longing of goodness through conscience, and that appeals to the longing for beauty through the imagination. The aim of this to foster the awakening of desire (satisfying) and a return to reality (truth) that constitutes a “re-enchantment” eventuating in the decision to trust and follow Christ.

Gould focuses a chapter each on imagination, reason, and conscience, employing C.S. Lewis’s approach of both “looking at,” and “looking along,” the latter considering the reality to which truth, goodness, and beauty point. The chapter on imagination draws upon Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care (reviewed here), that makes the case for how beauty may open the hearts of people to faith, exemplified in Masaaki Suzuki’s recognition that the music of Bach is a kind of “fifth gospel” that has led to interest in or the embrace of Christianity among many Japanese. The chapter on reason contends there is a case to be made for recovering the lost art of persuasion and sounds at first glance the most conventional of the three. However, Gould moves beyond classic arguments to appeal to the plausibility structures and sacred cores of one’s hearers. The appeal to conscience addresses the longings for goodness, wholeness, justice, and significance and seeks to demonstrate in practice and examples how Christianity has made the world a better place and why that is so.

Addressing barriers to belief is an important part of this approach. It includes the internal barriers of anti-intellectualism, fragmentation, and unbaptized imagination within the Christian community. It also involves the external barriers of the belief that science disproves God, that objects to the exclusivity of Jesus, that believes God is not good, and considers the ethic of the Bible archaic, repressive, and unloving. Gould offers brief responses to each of these barriers and then describes the “journey home” from initial enchantment through disenchantment to re-enchantment as we join the “dance of God.”

One of the things I appreciated about this work amid the strains of anti-intellectualism in significant swaths of evangelicalism was the affirmation of intellectual leadership. He writes, “If we are to be strategic in our cultural apologetic, we must work to cultivate Christian leadership and a Christian presence within the halls of the academy. The perceived reasonableness and desirability of Christianity depends upon how effectively we accomplish this task” (p. 143).

I also appreciate the integrated appeal to goodness, truth, and beauty. It seems that we often prefer one of these to the inclusion. If reasoning about truth alone is not helpful, abandon it for beauty or goodness. Gould recognizes that to be human means we long for all three. Also, the posture of culture care, as opposed to culture clash assumes that people are drawn by desire rather than overcome by arguments.

Finally, Gould reframes rather than retreats from the apologetic task. It seems to me that this is vital in an age where many are not merely indifferent to Christianity but vigorously opposed, and willing to make a case against the Christian faith. He reframes apologetics in a way that challenges the church to live into its heritage: to abandon trivial banality for a rich artistic imagination, to abandon a slovenly anti-intellectualism for vibrant intellectual engagement, and to abandon moral compromise for a fragrant goodness. It seems to me this would be good both for the church and the world.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Faith in the Shadows

Faith in the Shadows

Faith in the ShadowsAustin Fischer (Foreword by Brian Zahnd). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: Explores how one may live a life of faith in Christ in the midst of doubts and questions.

Austin Fischer was a pastor who struggled with doubts and feared they might lead him to abandon his faith. Then he came to this pivotal realization:

“People don’t abandon faith because they have doubts. People abandon faith because they think they’re not allowed to have doubts.”

In this book, Fischer explores how it is possible to be a Christian for whom doubt is the path to a deeper and more honest faith. He begins with the mistaken notion that faith requires certainty, and the misbegotten quests for the proof that answers every question and defenses of hyper-literal readings of the Bible. So many who go down that road leave the faith when certainty fails them. Instead, Fischer invites us to be “ants on a rollercoaster” who throw up their hands “in equal portions of terror, bliss, and surrender.”

He observes how Job teaches us to doubt by telling God the truth about our doubts. In the end, he was commended by God as speaking rightly of him. Fischer writes of evil, not as a problem, but as a crisis, and of a God who is there on the gallows who fights back against evil. He writes of Jesus who forgives sin, heals disease, casts out evil, and conquers death. Rather than starting from sovereignty and the glory of God that makes evil a problem, he begins from the freedom God gives and the love of God, that bids us resist evil. He explores the times when God is silent, and offers no easy answers but simply waiting, with the hope that Christ waits with us.

He then turns to a trenchant critique of fundamentalism, drawing heavily on Mark Noll’s work in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind about the intellectual retrenchment and rigid ways of reading scripture that developed. He argues this simply gave people more ways to lose their faith. He explores the challenges science has posed, particularly when it dismisses the idea of God, moving from a method to a metaphysic. He argues that the real place where people often have the most problem is with stuff–affluence that gives us the luxury to consider God superfluous, in a way rare among the poor.

He deals with hell, in which he agrees with a congregant that he believes in hell, but is not happy with it. He explores the idea that the love of God is wrath to those who hate God and heaven is hell to them. Paraphrasing Barth, he claims that “anyone who does not hope for universal restoration is an ox, but anyone who teaches it is an ass.” Ultimately, Fischer argues for the priority of the way of love in dealing with our doubts, that our love for the beauty of Jesus means “we would rather be wrong about him than right about anything else” and living in curious wonder rather than certainty.

There is so much that seems right about this book (perhaps because Fischer agrees with my own way of thinking in so many ways!). Working among graduate students and faculty, I’m surprised how many that are resistant to Christian faith came from very fundamentalist backgrounds and concluded that because they could not attain the certainty required, that they could not be Christians. I’ve witnessed the incredible relief of students when it was affirmed to them that they could doubt and still be Christians and that doubt didn’t preclude faith, especially when one believed enough to voice one’s doubts to God. I also prefer the approaches of resisting evil to debating it as a problem, and proclaiming the gospel rather than speculating whether all will be saved in the end.

Most of all, I loved the insight that faith is not the absence of doubt but the presence of love. It tracks with my own experience of watching doubting folks remain in community, continuing to care for each other, continuing to learn with each other from scripture, praying with and for each other, and moving to a deeper place of faith.

This book is classified as an apologetics book. It is, but not the sort you would expect. It doesn’t give answers that “demand a verdict” even though it explores some of the toughest questions Christians face. It offers instead reasons for hope in Christ in the midst of a messy world, and ways to live one’s faith when God is silent and doubts impose. For most of us, this may be the most necessary apologetic of all.

Review: An Introduction to Christian Worldview

an introduction to christian worldview

An Introduction to Christian WorldviewTawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary: A work designed for classroom or personal study, defining the idea of worldview and its importance, delineating the Christian worldview and responding to critical objections, and outlining and critiquing other major worldviews according to criteria established in the first part of the book.

I was first introduced to the idea of worldview in the summer of 1974 during my collegiate years. I heard an early presentation of the ideas that would form the core of James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door (now in its fifth edition). These gave me a critical tool as a student studying in a public university. Sire’s seven basic worldview questions helped me read critically the different texts of my courses and discern the different ways of seeing and engaging the world reflected in those texts. Not only that, I found I could apply these ideas as I watched films, or advertising, or engaged with different-believing friends. Worldview helped me understand why people would talk past each other on issues like abortion or sexual ethics. As you can see, “thinking worldviewishly” was, and still is, a powerful tool in my “intellectual workshop.”

This new work, designed to serve as a textbook for a college-level course on Christian worldview, builds on the work of Sire and others. It is organized in three parts. The first introduces the whole subject of worldview, dealing with definitions and what the authors consider the four major worldview questions that are important to answer:

  1. What is our nature?
  2. What is our world?
  3. What is our problem?
  4. What is our end?

The authors go on to discuss how worldview operates in our lives. They discuss confirmation bias, experiential accommodation, and how worldview shapes our pool of live options. They note circumstances under which we adjust our worldview or even convert, noting that this is more likely when our worldview assumptions are unexamined, which leads to a discussion of the benefits and pitfalls of worldview study. The final chapter in this part focuses on the critical work of worldview analysis–how worldviews hold up under scrutiny. Three criteria are developed:

  1. Internal consistency: logical coherence.
  2. External consistency: evidential correspondence.
  3. Existential consistency: pragmatic satisfaction.

These criteria are then applied to analysis of both the Christian worldview and the other major worldviews discussed in the book.

Part two focuses on the Christian worldview. First it is considered narratively around the story of creation, fall, redemption, and glorification, with a preliminary discussion of revelation. Then, using the four worldview discussion questions noted above, Christianity is discussed propositionally. One thing I noted, which may be a defect of the four question schema, is that significant space under “what is our nature?” is devoted to God’s nature. Certainly this is necessary to understand our nature, but it suggests that a prior question, like Sire’s “What is prime reality–the really real?” may be an important one to ask. I found this so with the other worldviews as well. The third chapter in this part then uses the three criteria of worldview analysis to critique Christian belief. Numerous possible objections are considered, particularly that of the problem of evil, and responses are given.

Part three then considers western and global alternatives in two chapters with a propositional description of each worldview using the four worldview questions followed by use of the three analytic criteria on each worldview. The western worldviews considered are deism, naturalism, and postmodernism, and the global alternatives are Hinduism and Islam. It was striking to me that 125 pages are devoted to the Christian worldview, and less than 100 to the other five considered in this book. Far more space was spent both in outlining the Christian faith, and responding to possible critiques. It might have been interesting to have a response from proponents of these other worldviews to the critiques of those worldviews, as was the case in the objections raised to the Christian worldview. That would “keep it real.” Space limitations may have come into play and the authors may have deemed it more important that Christians be able to understand and defend their own worldview.

The conclusion challenges people to embrace a consistently Christian worldview, rejecting various “worldlyviews”:  scientism, hedonism, consumerism, blameism, apatheism, dogmatism, universalism, functional atheism, and conformism. This list acknowledges the growing realization that worldviews, as they discuss in the beginning, are not mere matters of propositions but also the orientation (conscious or not) of the heart.

This work incorporates several elements that make it particularly useful as a text. Sections conclude with reflection questions on what one has read. The end of each chapter includes as “mastering the material” section identifying key learning objectives for the chapter, a glossary of terms possible term paper topics from the chapter, and a core bibliography for the chapter. The text includes occasional sidebars illustrating concepts from film or contemporary culture.

This work is clearly designed as a text for a “worldview academy” or Christian college course on worldview. I think it could also be used individually or in a collegiate ministry or adult education context. It is a valuable work in helping students identify the “unexamined,” both in terms of Christian faith, and other worldview assumptions and heart orientations intermixed with these. While I would add a question on prime reality, the four questions and three analytic criteria are clear and memorable. For those who would teach or lead courses, I hope either written materials or live representatives of other worldviews might engage the critiques of those worldviews in this book. This happens all the time in graduate student education, and the Christian student will be better prepared for this eventuality if they are exposed to it as undergraduates.

Consciously examining one’s worldview, learning to think critically about worldviews, and think Christianly, and bringing Christian assumptions to all of life have been a powerful influence in my own life. A resource like this, far more systematic than my initial exposure to these ideas (a talk drawing on a seminar Sire had given before his book was first published) can’t help but equip students to think rigorously about these matters. Hopefully this will bear much fruit in discerning reading, viewing, and acting, and in engaging the views of others.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Our Deepest Desires

Our Deepest Desires

Our Deepest DesiresGregory E. Ganssle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary: Makes the case that Christian faith, truly understood, is most congruent with our deepest human longings.

Gregory Ganssle believes that one of the most important questions we can ask is “what sort of person should I be?” and two other related questions: 1) what sort of person do I want to be? and 2) what sort of person am I becoming? These get at our deepest desires and commitments, the vision of the good, the true, and the beautiful toward which we aspire to live. In this book, Ganssle makes the argument that some of the basic human longings common to many of us are most congruent with the Christian faith. It is not that those who are not Christians, and Ganssle especially has atheists in mind, cannot embrace and pursue these longings. He argues that in fact they do, despite the fact that these longings are often dissonant with an atheist or materialist worldview, whereas they are consonant with a Christian worldview. He does not argue that this shows that Christian faith is true or that this “proves” Christian faith, but only that Christian faith is consistent with our deepest longings. He says, “There are many people who think that Christianity is false; I want to help people see that they really want the gospel to be true.”

Ganssle looks at four types of longings that he believes are consonant with the Christian story. The first is our value of persons and longing for relationship, that he sees grounded in a God who is personal and relational, the triune God, whose relationships are marked by submission and self-giving. The second is what might be called the problem of goodness, that we want goodness, even when we are faced with evil, that goodness seems somehow primary, that we want to be thought of as good, and and that goodness is good for us. The gospel is a story that grounds goodness in God, that accounts for our rebellion against it, and enables us to be what we long for.

We also long for and are drawn to beauty. We have a deep impulse to create things of beauty, that mirror the Creator. We long for beauties beyond what this earth offers in ways that suggest we are made for another world. And finally, we long for freedom, to live consistently with our sense of our best self, and the gospel proposes we are set free by truth, by a truth-shaped life, and enabled to live freely in the face of death because of hope. Ganssle concludes by proposing that if this case seems to make sense of our longings, then the next step is to determine whether the Christian faith is true.

What I like about this is approach is that he explores aspirations that are common to most or all of us. He raises what is a genuinely important question–how do we explain these aspirations? Are they just an artifact of our evolution and can they be explained in purely material terms? While he proposes that Christian faith is the best explanation, he recognizes that some may conclude differently and that each must decide what makes the best sense of our longings for love, goodness, beauty, and freedom.

His book poses a challenge for Christians as well. Does the kind of people we are becoming reflect the loving, good, beautiful, and liberating story we proclaim. Do we value people above programs–all people? Do we love goodness so passionately we pursue justice where it is lacking? Are our communities places that both celebrate beauty and evidence our hope in the beauty of the new creation? Are we consciously working to undo the personal and systemic evils that bind and limit people? In short, are we story-shaped people who find the fulfillment of our deepest longings in the story we proclaim? That, it seems to me, may be our most powerful apologetic.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.