Ravi Zacharias: ‘Beyond Opinion’

June 16, 2008

As a former skeptic, I have a particular interest in Christian apologetics: the defense of the Christian faith. I’ve read and recommended many excellent books on the subject but want to call your special attention to one I’ve most recently read because of the uniqueness of its approach and content.

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend” is a compilation of essays by renowned Christian apologists compiled and edited by my friend and Christian philosopher and apologist, Ravi Zacharias, that together “suggest a new vision for Christian apologetics in this century.”

I love apologetics because it helped me overcome certain intellectual hurdles that I believed, rightly or wrongly, were obstructing my faith. As I delved into the subject, I was immensely gratified to learn that most of my doubts and questions had been asked and answered by biblical scholars who embraced, rather than dismissed, such challenges.

If, for example, you can’t reconcile the notion that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God could permit evil and suffering in the world, you might be surprised to discover that your concerns are hardly new. Such questions have troubled people for millennia. Brilliant and scholarly works exist addressing such questions, as well as seemingly problematic scriptural passages.

Many mistakenly believe that Christian belief, because it involves faith, is unsupported by reason and evidence and that becoming a Christian requires checking your intellect at the door and accepting Christian truth claims unquestioningly. But anyone who has truly studied Christian theology and apologetics — I hadn’t during my skeptical days — understands that Christianity rests on a powerful body of evidence and that reason and intellect are its allies, not its enemies.

Before you cavalierly assume that there are unanswerable contradictions or unfathomable paradoxes, before you reject Christian theology out of hand because you witness Christian hypocrisy, before you dismiss the Bible as merely a wonderful piece of literature with some instructive moral stories, do yourself the favor of reading it for yourself. And read what other believing, conservative scholars and theologians have written on the subject.

You will come away enriched beyond your greatest expectations and no longer able to say that Christianity is for dummies — or ducks the tough questions. Debunking the stereotype of the Christian as a nonthinker and that Christianity discourages intellectual examination, Ravi says, “We are fashioned by God to be thinking and emotional creatures. The emotions should follow reason, and not the other way around.”

Ravi also reminds us, at the outset, that while even in the area of apologetics, “There is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and that “all that has happened before so often happens again,” we must not forget that “the people to whom it is happening are new, and the answers, however old, must never sound stale.” Indeed, he notes, “Two of the chief defenders of the faith in the Old Testament and in the New — Moses and Paul — were both well-versed in the language, the thinking, and the philosophy of their cultures.”

I found “Beyond Opinion‘s” approach to be different from most other apologetics books, which are written to and for the skeptic or to the believer who wants ammunition to reinforce his faith. “Beyond Opinion” is written more for the apologist himself — as a veritable handbook on how to approach the nonbeliever, wherever and however you may find him.

In his introduction, Ravi Zacharias tells us that he has learned over the years in his apologetics and evangelistic ministry that reaching people sometimes requires more than just answering all of their questions with “logic, Scriptures, personal stories, poetry” and the like. To be an effective apologist, you have to understand “how to relate to the questioner and how to make sure that the answers are couched in a relevant context.”

The Bible, of course, gives us our lead in this area, where the apostle Paul taught and demonstrated that you have to approach people where they are in life, trying to understand and relate to their culture, customs and belief systems as you minister to them. That is, says Ravi, “You start with where the audience is. If there is an intellectual barrier, you start there. If there is a sensory barrier, you start there.” This is because “sometimes the very presence of God is barred by our presuppositions and our intense and constant desire for triumph.”

Applying that principle, Ravi has included separate chapters from various respected apologists on how to approach atheists, youth, Muslims, New Agers, practitioners of Eastern religions, and challenges from science — all of this in just the first of the book’s three sections.

I wish I had the space to share just a snippet from each chapter, but I don’t, so please read it yourself, whether you are a doubter or a believer, and enjoy. It is amazing.