Renowned apologist Ravi Zacharias, president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and author of THE GRAND WEAVER, offers tools for laypersons to defend their faith in BEYOND OPINION, a collection of essays from various scholars, full-time apologists and staff members of his organization.
Interestingly enough, Zacharias begins his book by offering an “apologetic for apologetics.” Christians, he notes, have gotten less interested in defending the faith; “you can’t argue anybody into the kingdom” is one rebuttal he says he has heard. But he believes in apologetics and their importance, as well as the hard intellectual work of wrestling with issues and objections surrounding Christianity.
In the book, Zacharias and his contributors attempt to answer these questions: Why doesn’t life add up? Why doesn’t the pursuit of pleasure add up? Where is it all meant to add up? Big questions, and a lot of ground to cover, but there is plenty here to get you started.
Zacharias divides the book into three components of discipleship: difficult questions posed by skeptics and those from other religions, internalizing the answers (spiritual transformation), and living out answers with compassion for the lost and passion for the gospel.
Given the timeless nature of apologetics, BEYOND OPINION feels contemporary in places, especially in addressing the specific way arguments against Christianity have been framed after 9/11. (This event has changed the way all religion is viewed, some of the authors argue, not just views of Islam). There are plenty of ideas about addressing the concern that the Bible is pro-war and pro-violence. The book also looks at eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age), challenges from science and from youth, the question of evil and suffering, the Trinity, the role of doubt and cross-cultural challenges.
The lineup of contributors are mostly gleaned from RZIM or Oxford University, and include Alister McGrath, a former atheist writing on atheism, and Sam Solomon, an adjunct associate for RZIM who offers a timely look at Islam and its relationship to Christianity. Zacharias takes on one of the more difficult questions in the book, “The Existential Challenges of Evil and Suffering.” His response incorporates such ideas about moral order, the need for pain, the importance of the cross, and draws on G.K. Chesterton and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to make his points.
Reader be warned: This is presented as an approach to apologetics “at a popular level,” but it still offers plenty to challenge the reader. Some of the contributors are more academic than others; all require focused reading. The various authors work hard to integrate personal anecdotes and stories into their essays, but academic lingo and formatting creeps in (“in conclusion…”). Still, there are rich rewards for those who mine the book for help.
And, as Zacharias admirably reminds readers, apologetics is not just for experts. “Do not underestimate the role you may play in clearing the obstacles in someone’s spiritual journey.” He also cautions that sometimes “the more sophisticated we get in our study and understanding of apologetics, the more often we miss the moment and the impact.”
Zacharias commendably acknowledges that “not everything is argued. Some realities are felt deeply….” He calls for apologetics to respect “the romance of the ride” (borrowing from ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE) while still remembering the nuts and the bolts of faith that keep it running well. He also notes that “apologetics is not to be a single lane approach.” In other words, one size doesn’t fit all. Hearing from a variety of voices here fits with that intent.
This is a good resource book for Christians who want to be well-equipped with knowledge about their faith and the faith of others, and to think more deeply about arguments and objections against Christianity. It’s also a good reminder to “walk the talk” with compassion and love for those to whom we reach out.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on January 1, 2008