Ravi Zacharias: ‘Beyond Opinion,’ Part 2

June 19, 2008

In my most recent column, I introduced you to “Beyond Opinion,” a Christian apologetics book, edited by Ravi Zacharias, that offers suggestions on how to approach the skeptic, depending on the skeptic’s background or reasons for doubt or non-belief. Before leaving the subject, let me give you a stronger flavor of this interesting apologetics method and this fascinating book.

Ravi tells us an effective apologetic “pays very close attention not just to the question but to the questioner. That, in turn, leads to the relevance of the answer.” He cites Jesus’ walk on the Emmaus road as an instructive example.

The disciples find themselves walking with the risen Lord, wholly oblivious to his identity and telling him — with unmatched irony — that he must be the only one in the world unaware of what had happened in the past few days (Jesus’ death and resurrection), when, in fact, he was the only one who fully comprehended it and its significance.

Instead of just dramatically proclaiming, “It is I,” Jesus “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Why did he take that approach? It’s not that he hadn’t proclaimed his identity at other times, e.g., John 4:26. Rather, “Jesus did what was needed in this moment: he pointed out to these two disciples a vast context of fifteen hundred years to show why the event on Calvary had to take place.”

Among other things, he opened their eyes to understand why their presuppositions clouded their vision of who he was. They were expecting the Messiah to bring political deliverance, crushing their Roman oppressors. Instead, they crucified him. But he showed them he had come to offer a different kind of deliverance, which only his sacrificial death could achieve. As an apologist, it’s best if you — like Jesus — approach people mindful of their circumstances and their possible presuppositions.

The first six chapters of “Beyond Opinion,” written by separate apologists, address six different obstacles to the Christian faith, from postmodernism to atheism to science.

Amy Orr-Ewing cogently demonstrates the logical incoherence of postmodernism. Postmodernists, she says, suspect all authority and reject all worldviews except their own. That is, they deny all worldviews except their own uncompromising, authoritarian and certain position that there can be no reliable worldview.” They fail their own test.

Orr-Ewing challenges the postmodernist’s assault on ultimate meaning and even language. She tackles the theoretical, historical and existential questions about the textual authority of Scripture, showing that the Bible stands up to rigorous challenge, unlike the so-called Gnostic Gospels, such as the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas, used so eagerly by people today à la “The Da Vinci Code” to debunk the Bible. Can you imagine the irony in people smugly denouncing the reliability of the Bible, citing heretical works that “were compiled and written much later than the canonical gospels … only exist in fragmentary form, and were rejected as specious at the time?”

Are you beginning to see the barrier that one’s presuppositions can impose?

Alister McGrath, a former atheist writing on the challenges from atheism, relates that his “own journey to the Christian faith has had a major impact on how (he) approach(es) apologetics.” A light went on for him about the intellectual foundations of atheism when he came to realize that atheism is “actually a belief system,” not “a factual statement about reality.”

McGrath believes that many atheists are nonbelievers because of their negative image of God, an image he believes is unwarranted by Scripture. When one atheist told him he “could never believe in a vicious, violent God!” McGrath responded: “And neither could I. Shall I tell you a little bit about the God I do believe in?” McGrath traces the historical rise of atheism in the West and shows it accompanied a period when the church seemed to be more interested in its own power than in the welfare of the people. Now that we’ve witnessed the atrocities committed by godless regimes in the 20th century, the apologetics climate has changed in that respect.

Alison Thomas provides a powerful, but chilling exposé of the anti-Christian indoctrination on college campuses today. As a fairly recent graduate, she tells parents how to equip their children to resist these influences to reduce the likelihood that they’ll follow the familiar pattern of losing their faith before they graduate.

In his chapter on the challenges of Islam, an Islamic scholar and former Muslim shares fascinating and indispensable information on the Muslims’ belief system. Those like Barack Obama, who believe we can rely on the representations of people such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could benefit immeasurably from this chapter.

The chapter on science obliterates the myth of a conflict between science and religion and demonstrates that a belief in an orderly universe (as in the Judeo-Christian worldview) is “germinal to science.”