Early Thoughts on "Beyond Opinion"

I am not a huge fan of apologetics.  So is is a bit odd that I picked this book to read and review.  I am not trying to be disingenuous, but rather I hoped that the focus would be on the subtitle “Living the Faith We Defend“.  But this book still started with some of the assumptions that I dislike about the general field of apologetics.  In the introduction Ravi Zacharais tries to introduce the purpose, but only succeeds in marginalizing an important part the the audience.   He asserts that we are “fashioned by God to be thinking and emotional creatues.  The emotions should follow reason, and not the other way around.”  But it is unclear to me why he would start with that assumption.  Aren’t some drawn to God because of emotional issues?  And some drawn by intellectual issues?  The correct response would seem to be to address those with emotional issues with emotional responce and those with intellettual issues with an intellectual response.  But as Zacharias points out just a few pages later, the intellectual issues may hide a deeper emotional issue or vise versa.  A complete person is made up of both emotion and intellect, it is not possible, or even desirable, to separate the two.  Christianity should encourage a view humans as complete, not broken pieces.

The second issue I have with apologetics is that most of the time it minimizes the actual issues that it brings up or does not actually present the questions fairly.  Just pages into the first chapter, Amy Orr-Ewing tries to dismiss Foucault’s isssues with knowledge and power by just asserting that if Foucault really believed his own ideas then he should have just kept quiet so he would not assert his power over anyone.  This completely misses Foucault’s point.  He was not asserting that we should not have ideas so that we do not assert power, but that the very act of having an idea is a form of power.  We as Christians believe this.  That is the root of apologetics.  We believe that the words and ideas of scripture, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can change people.  The ability to change someone with an idea is the very definition of power.

It continues on so that by page 10, the author has tried to show that we can find the objective historical truth of long distant events, that we can know the permanent significant idea of words and that she has solved the problems of the cannon and many gnostic gospels.  Of course I am being a bit facetious here.  But thoughtful Christian philosophers have spent entire careers dealing with just parts of one of these ideas.  Of course a book like this cannot adequately deal with all the ramifications of these ideas.  But a book like this that attempts to use “real integrity” (as it says it is doing) should admit that there really are issue to be dealt with and 10 pages is barely enough space to introduced them, let alone adequately address them.

All I have done at this point is finish the first chapter.  Each chapter is written by a different member of Ravi Zaharias International Ministries or people that have taught with them.  According to the back cover, Ravi Zacharias decided that this book needed to be written when he “was…sharing his faith with a Hindu when the man asked: “If the Christian faith is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?” The question hit hard, and this book is an answer.  Its purpose is to equip Christians everywhere to simultaneously defend the faith and be transformed by it into people of compassion.”  I hope that is really what the rest of the book is about.

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Beyond Opinion was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.  The book will be given away when I have finished the review.

6 Comments

Thanks for sharing early insights about the book!

Is the general premise of the entire book based on this: "Ravi Zacharias decided that this book needed to be written when he “was…sharing his faith with a Hindu when the man asked: “If the Christian faith is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?”

If so, I think his initial assertion – as you've noted – is problematic because it's too narrow (for lack of a better word). You mention:

"He asserts that we are “fashioned by God to be thinking and emotional creatues. The emotions should follow reason, and not the other way around.” But it is unclear to me why he would start with that assumption."

One of my big problems with apologetics is that certain areas of it operate on the premise that the audience accepts that God exists. If they don't, no argument following a premise based on that assertion holds any merit.

Have you read anything by Dr. William Lane Craig? His work is largely based on proving the existence of God. One of his major contributions is the Kalam Cosmological Argument and though a lot of what he continues to contribute is based on that particular argument, he's got *loads* of apologetic material that, in my opinion, hold much more merit against skeptics than what other authors offer. He gets into biology, physicals, space/time, etc – really good stuff.

Reasonable Faith is his major book on apologetics (third edition is out now, I believe) and he has another book called On Guard which attempts to cater more towards lay people (their words, not mine). He's got some seriously good podcasts up at http://ReasonableFaith.org, too.

Okay. Long comment, I know, but I get into some of the apologetic stuff.

    I have not read anything by Craig, but I have heard some good things about it. I don\’t think the reason for writing is wrong. Many people object to Christianity because they do not see Christians as changed. So teaching people to be changed is not bad. But people\’s view of hypocrisy is not an intellectual argument, it is an emotional one. There may be some intellectual issues, like the fact that Christians believe that no one is perfect, so we holding us up to a standard we do not believe in is unfair, but mostly the Hindu was objecting to basic behavior.

    I think that many people, myself included, want to universalize their own thoughts and feelings. Zacharias is brilliant. I have heard him speak several times and read at least one other of his books. But he seems to assume that because he is attracted to intellectual arguments that everyone else is too.

I have read a few of Ravi Zacharias' books. I would highly recommend Can Man Live Without God, but some of his other works were not nearly as good. I would say that I do enjoy apologetics. It appeals to my intellect and helps me answer question I have about my faith in Christ. I generally don't use them as ammunition to blast some unsuspecting non-Christian. My favorite write on the subject is Peter Kreeft.

    I think development of your own faith is a great use of apologetics. I have no objection to that. I am not really in favor of arguing people into the kingdom. First, I do not think it work very often. Second, the very preparation of people to evangelize in that way I think distorts the reality of evangelism and furthers the idea that we need special gifts and training. I think it also make us think it is our role and not the Holy Spirit that actually does the work of evangelism.

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