Saturday, August 25, 2007

Humble Apologetics, by John G. Stackhouse

This was recommended to me by a friend and I found it to be excellent. The book generally got better as I turned the pages. At first Stackhouse had a habit of saying things about pluralism, postmodernism and consumerism that I already knew but when I reached the second and third parts of the book where he speaks of conversion and communicating apologetically, I was hooked. I found myself whispering “yes” out loud in those parts of the book as he clearly articulated many points that I’ve thought in my reflections on the proper use of apologetics in evangelism as well as the nature of conversion. Reading this book was like emerging from forty days in the proverbial desert of conservative evangelical thought on this aspect of Christianity.

This book clearly refuted the evangelistic methods of Ray Comfort in my mind. (If you don’t know who Ray Comfort is consider yourself fortunate.) Ray separates evangelism and apologetics in his mind, embracing a crude caricature of the former while completely discounting the latter. In reality, apologetics and evangelism go together because one has to put on the evangelist’s hat to communicate the good news of the gospel and use apologetics when one is challenged about the veracity or goodness of that news. Apologetics, meaning the art of defending the faith and advancing the faith intellectually to others, needs to be conducted with humility always in mind, since God incarnated himself here on Earth in humility. Also, the current challenges of postmodernism and pluralism to the Christian message can’t be dealt with if we are puffed up with pride. The apostle Paul had this principle in mind when he spoke to the Corinthians not in “lofty words” but in “fear and trembling.” Intellectual honesty was also stressed in this book. When engaging our non-Christian peers we must remember that the whole of Christianity does not depend just on our efforts or our words. We shouldn’t try to bring people to a “crisis point” where they either choose to accept or reject Christianity. Instead we must remember that most will not change their whole worldview just because someone presents a good argument. Engaging the evangelism and apologetics is a team effort and we are only called to play a part. In actuality, real change in that unbeliever’s life can only come through the providence of the Holy Spirit.

This book has successfully inspired me to actually engage with my neighbors on these matters. I think that was the main strength of the book. One doesn’t have to have all the answers, but can focus on nudging others towards the faith without being overly pushy. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We are just clay vessels called to be co-workers of Christ in this venture. I heartily recommend this book for anyone who is struggling with how one ought to go about engaging in apologetic discussions with non-believers. I also think this applies to believers as well who need encouragement and care to proceed along the path of sanctification in the faith.

Book Review: Simply Christian, by N.T. Wright

I have to say that I was disappointed by this book. The book is broken up into three sections. The first focused on the echoes of God’s voice in our desire for justice, morality, beauty and truth. The second focused on the story of God through Israel culminating in Jesus Christ. The third was about Christian life and practice. I think that Wright was aiming to write a Mere Christianity type book a la Lewis style. When it came to presenting the story of God’s work in Israel and the person of Christ, I think Wright did an excellent job far surpassing Lewis. I think my disappointment probably was due to listening too many of Wright’s lectures before I read this book so I already anticipated pretty much everything he said. I would loan this book to interested non-Christians although I am leery of some details of this book.

Firstly on page 72 Wright makes a move that is common to Christians who are historians of the first century. I admire him for honestly saying that he is telling the story of Israel from the point of view of a first-century Jew. Thus he side-steps the modern debate about whether the Old Testament events of Moses, the exodus and all that other stuff really happened or not. Since Wright has a whole chapter on the story of Israel, this raises a lot of doubts in ones mind right off the bat. If the story of Israel is fundamentally legend then doesn’t that have serious implications for Jesus and the veracity of Christianity? I don’t think just saying that a “first century Jewish” perspective is enough. Wright ought to have at least dealt with the issue rather than avoiding it. Avoiding the issue opens up a serious hole right in the beginning of Wright’s argument.

Also, while Wright does mention contemporary moral problems such as U.S. imperialism, world peace and whatnot, he doesn’t mention abortion at all. Mentioning contemporary issues in being a Christian without mentioning abortion is more than a little disingenuous. The doctrine of hell is also absent. Besides a few brief comments in a few of his lectures, hell does not come up at all. The only thing he says in his lectures is that we have a medieval conception of hell that is a heritage gained more through Dante more than Christ. Otherwise, there is no talk of hell at all in this book. Since I am struggling with this very issue in my faith right now, I find Wright’s avoidance of this doctrine very troubling.

For these reasons this book was an annoying read. Wright spoke of the desire of justice being a universal basic want of all people but I don’t think he does justice to the issue of OT historicity, abortion or hell. Such topics need to be discussed, not avoided.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Let me say up front that there will be no spoilers in this brief review, just my general comments about this book and the end of the Potter series. Overall I think this book was good. I found it better than the fifth or sixth book but not as good as the first four (which in my opinion were the best in the series.) For me, fiction has to be very economical with words since long drawn out stories (think Fellowship of the Ring) are tiring and unnecessary. The Christian symbolism in this story was well done and I commend Rowling crafting such a good series with a powerful Christian subtext. I would say more but I’d rather just encourage everyone to read this book/series for themselves. Don’t rely on the movies alone since they (as typical for movies) don’t do justice to Rowling’s books.