C.S. Lewis: A Life, by Alister McGrath – Book Review

9781414339351_p0_v2_s260x420For as long as I can remember I the world of Narnia has captivated me. I have read the story of the Pevensie children and those that came after them literally hundreds of times throughout my childhood and into my adult years. I was the girl who consistently checked the back of her closet (I didn’t have a wardrobe) with the hope that I would meet Aslan or enjoy afternoon tea with Mr. Tumnus. I would offer up a brief prayer to God, reasoning that if he could do anything he could send me to Narnia, and then plunge behind my clothes. Sadly, I never got through, but I never gave up trying either.

As I grew older I discovered that the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, wrote many other books, both fiction and non-fiction. Lewis was already my friend through Narnia, and I grew to appreciate him on a deeper level as I read his other works, such as: Mere Christianity, The Space Trilogy, An Experiment in Criticism (less popular, but one of my favorites), God in the Dock, and Miracles. Lewis quickly became my literary hero. He communicated in ways that resonated with my intellect and my imagination.

It came as no surprise that when Alister McGrath – one of my apologetic heroes – chose to write a biography on C.S. Lewis entitled C.S. Lewis: A Life, I waited eagerly for its publication and then for my copy to come in the mail (thanks Amazon). Having studied under McGrath in Oxford – Lewis’s long-term and my short-term home – made my excitement all the more palpable. Into my hands in Wisconsin came a book about one of my favorite people, written by one of my favorite people, located predominantly in my favorite city. Continue reading

How Should I Respond to Religious Pluralism?

religious pluralismReligious Pluralism has become common in our daily lives. Not only do we live in a religiously diverse nation, one that claims to uphold each individual’s right of choose their faith, we also live in a culture that has adopted the belief that all religions are fundamentally the same.  I’m daily confronted with the reality that many people believe all religions are true, teach the same thing, and lead to the same place.

Yet any serious student of religions will quickly be able to see that religious pluralism as a belief system is contradictory and cannot sustain itself. Religions that make contrary truth claims on everything from the nature of God, the material world, morality, humanity, and eternity cannot be fundamentally the same; it’s impossible. Also, to claim that all religions are equal in their beliefs is to misunderstand and misrepresent the rich variety of religious observance.

Still, the belief that “all roads lead to Rome” is prevalent and for the Christian poses a unique challenge. How do we communicate what we believe, and why we believe it, in a way that remains true to the message of the Bible and at the same time respects the diverse worldviews that surround us? As I have thought through this question, I believe there are four principles that can help Christians explain their faith graciously in a culture that promotes the worldview of Religious Pluralism. These principles form the acronym DARE Continue reading

“Churches for Apologetics” Petition

Recently I wrote a blog post on the rise of the Nones, those who claim no religious affiliation, in American society. The number of youth and young adults who question the truth of Christianity is growing. Interestingly, as more young adults under the age of 30 claim no religious affiliation, their hunger for a life of meaning and significance has not diminished. What do they stand for? Many don’t know, and some are apathetic, not caring to find the answer. But for every person who is apathetic about what they believe and why, there are just as many who are searching for the answers to life’s hardest questions.

As a Christian, this leads me to ask fundamental questions. What do I do with this information? How should I respond personally, and how should local churches respond? How do we provide a questioning generation with the answers they need? How do we demonstrate that the good news of Jesus Christ answers our deepest emotional, intellectual, and practical needs,  giving our soul something to stand for? Continue reading

Kids without God: Atheist Website for Children

The American Humanist Association has launched a new website for children and teens called “Kids without God,” which is getting a large amount of attention in both theistic and atheistic circles. Being a Theist myself, I was curious to see what this website was like. The children’s section is full of bright primary colors, an upbeat message that kids can be good without God, videos of the great “scientist” Bill Nye (the Science Guy), and fun science experiments kids can do at home.

For a Christian apologist, the website is like a candy store. There are so many fallacies, inconsistencies, and holes that could be poked through it that it’s hard to know where to start or stop. Others have taken time to point out some of these fallacies, which I will link to at the end of this post. For now, there are three general observations I’d like to make. Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath

There are many books worth reading on apologetics. It is often overwhelming and often hard to know where to start.  Having recently finished Alister McGrath’s[1] latest book, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith, I would suggest that this book is a good place to begin.

Apologetics 101

Have you ever wondered, “What is apologetics and what does it have to do with me?” Have you struggled with how to answer the hard questions surrounding your Christian faith? Or are you skeptical of Christianity, asking the hard questions yourself? In Mere Apologetics, McGrath sets out to begin answering these questions. Structured as an introduction to Christian apologetics, the book rests on the Great Commission’s call to “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19-20). McGrath recognizes that with Jesus’ command come many questions and challenges.

How can Christians explain their faith in terms that make sense to people outside the church? How can we counter misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the Christian faith? How can we communicate the truth, attractiveness, and joy of the Christian gospel to our culture?[2]

These are the issues McGrath addresses, showing the vital role apologetics play in sharing the reasons for the hope Christians have in Jesus Christ.

Outline of the Book

McGrath’s book flows in logical sequence, making it easy to follow and understand. Chapter one looks at the question, “What is apologetics?” providing a working definition of apologetics, its themes, limitations, and relationship to evangelism. Chapter 2 moves to the history of apologetics in contemporary culture, specifically related to Modernity and Postmodernity. In chapter 3 McGrath discusses the theological basis of apologetics, giving a biblical understanding of God, humanity, and the art of communication. With this foundation laid, Chapter 4 shows why it is important to know your audience, avoiding a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all apologetic mindset.  In chapters 5 and 6 McGrath looks at the reasonableness of the Christian faith and shares various “clues” that point to faith and invite apologetic engagement (including Creation, Morality, Beauty, and Relationality). Chapter 7 looks at how these clues help present the gospel in a many ways; including explanation, argument, stories, and images. Finally, chapter 8 looks at two major questions about faith (Why does God allow suffering, God as a crutch), and chapter 9 concludes with words of wisdom on developing a personal apologetic style.

Why Read Mere Apologetics

The power of this book is that it keeps the joy and privilege of introducing people to Jesus Christ as its heart and soul. Apologetics is more than simply defending Christianity against objections. It communicates “the excitement and wonder of the Christian faith” and translates “the core ideas of the Christian faith into language that makes sense” to those outside the faith.[3] McGrath strongly emphasizes the relational and imaginative side of apologetics, which is refreshing in a world that largely sees this discipline as coldly academic and boring. McGrath shows that the opposite is true. Apologetics breaths life and color into the already breathtaking beauty of the Christian gospel.

Apologetics is not about inventing the rationality, imaginative power, or moral depths of the Christian faith. It is about pointing them out, and allowing people to see them clearly and appreciate them for what they are.[4]

Whether you are a Christian, seeker, or skeptic, this book will help you to see the rationality and beauty of the Christian gospel. There are reasons to hope and believe.


[1] McGrath is president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and professor of theology, ministry, and education at King’s College, London. A former atheist, he is now widely known for his written work, including responses to the New Atheism, as well as debating New Atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. His respect in the academic world is significant in light of his deep commitment to Jesus Christ and bold, yet respectful, defense of the Christian message.

[2] Mere Apologetics, p. 14

[3] Ibid, p. 21

[4] Ibid, p. 47

Four Letter Words: Hope

“It is well we should become aware of what we are doing when we speak, of the ancient, fragile, and (well used) immensely potent instruments that words are.”[1]

So says C.S. Lewis in his less known, yet brilliant, work Studies in Words. This statement has captured my attention and imagination these past days.  I have this mental image of people spitting out words like bullets with no particular care about what they are saying or who they hit. Words, whether spoken or written, have the potential to wound like bullets or refresh like water on the parched soil of our souls.

This concept of words bringing a curse or a blessing has led me to contemplate the power of four letter words. But I’m not thinking of the four letter curse words that are most likely popping into your head at the moment. I’m not referring to the ones that are so flippantly spoken in everyday life, being the dominant vocabulary of movies, television, and music. I’m thinking of other four letter words which also have immense power to harm or heal. I’m thinking of words like hope, love, wait, and faith (I know that’s a 5 letter word, but it applies to this thought). These have become four letter words to me because while they are words meant to offer blessing, when used flippantly or at the wrong time they can feel like a curse. For example, for anyone who longs for marriage or parenthood, the often made comment of “Just wait on God’s timing,” while true, often rings hollow and does little to encourage in the midst of the wounds of longing. Or for the person going through deep suffering, to tell them to “not give up hope” or “You need more faith” may as well be like telling them to fly to the moon. It’s impossible.

This past week I’ve been immersed in conversations surrounding the four letter word Hope. We use it so haphazardly. We hope we make our flight on time. We hope traffic is light. We hope our favorite sports team beats their rival. And in the same breath we hope our loved one survives cancer. We hope we don’t lose our job in a struggling economy, or that we find a job. We hope our children grow up with strong character. We hope tomorrow is better than today. We hope we’re not wasting our life. We hope that whatever we are placing our faith in doesn’t fail us in the end.

So often we use the word hope and we mean nothing more than wishful thinking. It’s a word we use to communicate uncertainty and wish about the future. And when our hope shatters, we have no idea what to do or where to turn.

Into this concept of hope as wishful thinking, the Christian understanding of hope invades our hopelessness, shining brightly in what is often a very dark world. The Christian understanding of hope begins with an acknowledgement that the world is not the safe and good place we long for (which I think we can all agree on).  It does not ignore our pain. It confronts our pain at its very foundation of our own brokenness and inability to right what is wrong in our world and in us. It assures us that we can, with confident expectancy, look forward to the day when right-ness will replace all that is wrong and every tear wiped from the eyes of those who have looked to Jesus to mend what only He can fix.

Andy Bannister of RZIM Canada recently made this point so well. The Christian hope finds its stability in God’s reality and character. He is the only ground for, basis of, and object of true hope. Because its hope based upon the Person of God and knowing Him, the reasons for hope are as far from wishful thinking as one can get. [2] The uniqueness of this hope is that its founded on something outside of us and our world. All other worldviews look either within or without in the search for a better tomorrow. Only Christianity looks upward, acknowledging that there is nothing within us or in our world that can fix the darkness we live in.

As the Apostle Paul said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Yet the message of Christian hope doesn’t end here, because “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Because of Christ, this four letter word of hope speaks a blessing and not a curse. We may use it carelessly, but the message of confident expectancy it communicates is anything but flippant.

_________________________________

[1] C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words, Cambridge University Press, 1961,  p. 6.

[2] Notes from Andy Bannister’s talk, “Hope and Thinking,” at the RZIM Summer Institute, June 13, 2012. http://stayintheconversation.org/rzimcanada/

Is Christianity Arrogant?

Recently I was at a barbecue where I talked with a woman who had many questions about Christianity. Like many of us, there were things she did not understand or agree with. As we were talking, the topic of Christianity’s arrogance came up. How can Christians claim that their religion is the only true one? This seems like the height of presumption considering the many religions in existence. Who is the Christian to say that he or she is right and everyone else is wrong? As a follower of Jesus, this really got me thinking. I’m used to looking at and discussing if Christianity is reliable and worthy of acceptance, but I don’t often ask myself if Christianity is arrogant.

Do I believe Christianity is arrogant? The short answer is no. But to explain why I say this, we need to look at four distinctions.

Distinction #1: Arrogance vs. Conviction

I live in a culture that acknowledges the individual’s right to decide which religion they will follow, if any. We strongly oppose anyone imposing their religious beliefs upon us and telling us what to believe or not believe. Because of this, I think we’ve often mistaken conviction for arrogance. The Merriman-Webster Dictionary defines Arrogance as:

“An attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.”

While there are sadly many Christians who act this way when they communicate what they believe, the Christian faith is not based upon presumptuous claims or assumptions. Rather, it’s based upon the conviction that Christianity is true. What do I mean by conviction? Again, Merriman-Webster’s definition is helpful:

“A strong persuasion or belief; the state of being convinced.”

The heart of conviction is not arrogance but humility. When you’re persuaded that someone or something has the right answers, you want to live and act in a way that is consistent with your belief. For example, growing up we had a wood stove in our house. My parents warned me many times during the winter months that if I touched the stove while it was in use I would burn myself. They were not making a presumptuous claim by telling me this. Rather, they were communicating their strong belief for my protection, a belief I quickly became convinced of when I disregarded their message and burnt my hand. In a similar way, Christianity rests upon the strong belief that the message of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Bible is true. It is this conviction about the Christian message, not arrogance, which motivates the Christian’s beliefs.

Distinction #2: The Messenger vs. the Message

While Christianity rests upon conviction and not arrogance, it is sadly true that Christians can, and many do, communicate their message in an arrogant way. This is where it is important to distinguish between the messenger and the message.   Just because I communicate something in an arrogant way does not mean I am wrong. Similarly, communicating in a humble way does not make me right. We need to carefully check the message’s reliability for itself. Is the message of Christianity consistent in what it affirms rationally, emotionally, and existentially? It’s also helpful to see that the Bible itself commands that the message of Christ be communicated with humility. Arrogance is not an option. 1 Peter 3:15 says,

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (emphasis mine)

Here we see conviction wed to gentleness and respect. Not even a hint of arrogance should surface.

Distinction #3: Truth Claim vs. Opinion

At this point you might be thinking, “OK, I get that someone can come across in a way that is contrary to what they’re trying to communicate. But I still think the message of Christianity is arrogant when it says it’s the only true religion.” To this response I think it’s important to distinguish between a truth claim and an opinion. If Christianity and the other world religions are merely a matter of personal preference and opinion, than yes, Christianity’s claim to exclusivity is arrogant. BUT, if the message of Christianity is true then it is not arrogant, because something that is true cannot be presumptuous. If Christianity is true its claims are no more arrogant than saying that 2+2=4.

Distinction #4: Truth Claim vs. Truth Claim

This brings me to my last distinction in evaluating this question of Christianity’s demeanor, that of truth claims vs. truth claims. Christianity is not the only religion that makes exclusive claims. In fact, every major religion claims exclusivity. For example, Christianity believes Jesus is both fully God and Human, while Islam believes Jesus was a prophet but not God. Judaism believes the promised Messiah has not yet come, while Christianity believes the promised Messiah has come. Atheism believes there is no God – Christianity believes there is a God. Many more examples could be given to show that all belief systems are exclusive. They cannot all be correct. Even the belief that there is no one true religion is a truth claim that is exclusive.  To say there are many ways is to deny that there is only one way, which is exclusive. So on this basis; if Christianity is arrogant, it is not alone in its presumptuous claims. All belief systems make statements that they believe are true, containing beliefs that are exclusive.

Bringing it All Together

After looking at these four distinctions, I believe Christianity itself is not arrogant. Rather, it is the belief that the message of Jesus Christ as told in the Bible is reliable and worthy of acknowledgment and trust. Though this belief has often been communicated in an arrogant way, it in and of itself is not arrogant. Like every religion, it rests upon truth claims that need evaluation. One then has the choice to either accept or reject the message.