Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus : a book review

Seeking Allah Finding JesusHaving just finished Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, I’ve been contemplating how to review it. Scanning through the reviews on Amazon, I noticed that it is doing well. People are responding positively to Nabeel’s autobiographical account of his life as a Muslim and journey to Christ. The insight he sheds on the Muslim religion, culture, and the importance apologetics played in preparing him to truly see and trust in Jesus Christ, is both educational and uplifting. It gives a window into the difficulties of growing up as a third culture child, also showing the struggle many Muslims in the West face in a post 9/11 world. I affirm all of this, so what more could I add? Just this; after finishing the book, sniffing loudly from the tears I was shedding, I wished there was a way for me to beg, and possibly require, everyone to read it. Granted, I love books and there are many I wish everyone would read. However, this book has now reached the top of that list.

As I was reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus certain words kept running through my mind, popping up consistently like mile markers on the highway. They became words that formed a theme for me, ones that touched both my head and heart with their joy and poignancy. These words form the basis for why I wish everyone would read this book. Continue reading

Is Man of Steel a Christian movie?

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*Spoiler Alert: Warning, this blog discusses specific, key scenes in Man of Steel.

This past weekend Man of Steel, the latest revamp of Superman, opened with great box office success. Having just returned from seeing the film I can say that I highly enjoyed it, both as a story and for its visual effects; though there were a few moments too corny for my taste.

Yet spectacular special effects and cheese aside, what intrigued me the most about the film were the rumors of strong Christological and biblical themes woven throughout the movie. One pastor has said, “When I sat and listened to the movie I actually saw it was the story of Christ, and the love of God was weaved into the story.” Continue reading

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

January Book of the Month: Jesus and Muhammad

It is my goal in 2013 to review one book at the end of each month that I am currently, or have just finished, reading.  The book I have chosen to highlight for January is Jesus and Muhammad: Profound Differences and Surprising Similarities by Mark A. Gabriel, PhD.

When I initially stumbled across Jesus and Muhammad I was both curious and skeptical. I was curious to see how Gabriel would handle discussing these two men who represent the world’s largest religions; and I was skeptical, wondering if he would portray them accurately and with fairness. As I read, my curiosity was more than satisfied and my skepticism was laid to rest. Gabriel has written in a fair, balanced, and honest way, paying specific attention to the lives and teaching of Jesus and Muhammad. Continue reading

In the Midst of Peril

Today is not an easy day for me, which I’m sure many can relate to. In the midst of difficulties questioning God’s goodness is not reserved to the Atheist and Agnostic. Every Christian I know, including myself, has at one point or another faced pain. And in the pain we’ve wondered where God disappeared to. If he is good and just, why does he allow certain things to happen? If he loves us, why doesn’t he step in and stop the pain? It’s a very personal question that touches us all. As an apologist, I wrestle with this not only intellectually, but spiritually and emotionally.

In this post I don’t want to give you all the intellectual reasons on why you can trust that God is good (though I will recommend you listen to Lee Strobel’s talk on why God allows suffering here.) Instead, I want to share with you a thought close to my heart and a prayer.

One of my favorite verses is found in John’s Gospel. On the night Jesus was betrayed, a few short hours before he went to the cross, he looked at his disciples and said something very profound. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is a big promise from a man about to die. Yet it is a promise he can make and keep because he did not stay dead. He is alive. He has defeated, is defeating, and will ultimately defeat all that is wrong and evil; not only the evil out there, but the evil within me. He is my reason for hope and trust in the goodness of God, because he is God, the Word made flesh.

The prayer I want to share with you comes from a book called Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. It’s not nearly as archaic and boring as the title sounds. It’s an amazing little book filled with prayers that beautifully show what it looks like to know God and to communicate honestly with him. Wherever you are in questioning God’s goodness, I hope it speaks to you as it has me.

Peril

Sovereign Commander of the Universe,

I am sadly harassed by doubts, fears, unbelief,

In a felt spiritual darkness.

My heart is full of evil surmisings and disquietude,

And I cannot act faith at all.

My heavenly Pilot has disappeared,

And I have lost my hold on the Rock of Ages;

I sink in deep mire beneath storms and waves,

In horror and distress unutterable.

Help me, O Lord,

To throw myself absolutely and wholly on thee,

For better, for worse, without comfort,

And all but hopeless.

Give me peace of soul, confidence, enlargement of mind,

Morning joy that comes after night heaviness;

Water my soul richly with divine blessings;

Grant that I may welcome thy humbling in private

So that I might enjoy thee in public;

Give me a mountain top as high as the valley is low.

Thy grace can melt the worst sinner, and I am

As vile as he;

Yet thou hast made me a monument of mercy,

A trophy of redeeming power;

In my distress let me not forget this.

All-wise God,

Thy never-failing providence orders every event,

Sweetens every fear,

Reveals evil’s presence lurking in seeming good,

Brings real good out of seeming evil,

Makes unsatisfactory what I set my heart upon,

To show me what a short-sighted creature I am,

And to teach me to live by faith upon thy blessed self.

Out of my sorrow and night

Give me the name Naphtali –

‘satisfied with favor’ –

Help me to love thee as thy child,

And to walk worthy of my heavenly pedigree.

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.


The Apologetic of Not Knowing

For any lover of British humor Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic movie. The unique comedy of the film follows King Arthur and his knights as they search for the Holy Grail. As Arthur and his men draw closer to the end of their quest, they come across an old and dangerous footbridge guarded by an old man. In order to cross the bridge the brave knights have to answer three random and ridiculous questions. If they fail to answer correctly or have no answer at all, they fall into the ravine to their death.

This movie is not typically known to cause one to stop and ponder the deeper issues of life. Yet I believe the footbridge scene is a good example of how many people view apologetics and why they are afraid to share their faith. Apologetics is the word used to describe sharing the rich intellectual evidence Christians have for trusting in the historicity and truth of the claims Jesus and the Bible make.

For years I was afraid to share my faith and the hope that I had in Jesus. I was afraid that I would be asked a question I couldn’t answer correctly or wouldn’t know the answer to at all. I thought that if I didn’t have an answer to the tough questions it might mean my faith wasn’t real. Maybe I’d find out that my faith was blind and irrational. Or I thought that if I couldn’t answer a tough question I would forever hinder that person from knowing the truth. If I had no answer I’d fall into the ravine to the death of my faith and the faith of others.

Over time I have learned that there are answers to the tough questions of life. My faith is not blind. My lack of apologetic knowledge will not thwart God’s salvation purposes. Yet with all the ‘answers’ I have learned, one of the most significant lessons I have gained took me by surprise. To honestly answer a question by saying, “I don’t know,” is refreshingly liberating. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is a great apologetic for the Gospel in not knowing.

To admit there are things I don’t know can create many significant opportunities to share with others what I do know. I may not know the philosophical arguments for how a good God can allow suffering. But I do know that Christ in His goodness suffered on behalf of humanity. When He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he demonstrated that he knows personally what it means to feel rejected and alone. I do know that in the Bible God has promised to correct every wrong and bring justice to the earth.

“I don’t know” creates a natural invitation to investigate questions with the one asking them. Rather than brushing the inquiry aside I can ask the questioner to search for the answer with me. Not only will this investigation hopefully help answer the seeker’s question, it will also strengthen my faith as I see the reasonableness of what I believe.

To humbly admit I don’t have the answer also demonstrates that my faith is not based solely upon my limited understanding. Though what I believe rests on sound reason, “I don’t know” shows that my faith finds its basis in the personal Triune God.  While I will never know the answer to every question life produces I can still have confidence in my faith. This is because it rests upon a relationship with the trustworthy character of God, not my limited knowledge.

C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[1] You don’t have to know the scientific process of the earth’s rotation to have confidence in the sun’s daily appearance.  In the same way, you don’t have to know the answer to every question to have confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When the questions do come, which they inevitably will, you can face them with excitement and confidence. You can use “I don’t know” to know more than you ever thought possible.


[1] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, Harper One, 2001: p. 140