Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: "Has Christianity Failed You?"

As I begin this latest book review, let me first admit my bias: Ravi Zacharias is one of my favorite authors. If you are unfamiliar with him, I suggest you check out his bio. I remember as a young pastor being faced with questions, the answers to which I did not have. I discovered Ravi's writings and recordings at the advice of my younger brother. The first couple of books I read required the assistance of a dictionary, as Ravi's vocabulary far exceeded mine. One of the things I have most appreciated of his writings was his ability to stretch my mind without losing my interest.

His latest work, "Has Christianity Failed You?" differs from his previous works in that it is aimed at lapsed Christians. Normally his target audience is those who are looking for a more scholarly approach to apologetics or to seekers of truth in general. This book arose from a talk by the same name he gave at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, his current base of operations. He was shocked to find 4,000 people packed into the theater with lines of people turned away, and tickets being scalped on the street. This subject had obviously hit a chord. In exploring the letters and survey responses before and after the event, Ravi decided that it was a subject worth speaking to.

In the introduction, Ravi explains that there are many reasons that people have turned their backs on the faith in which they were raised. For some it's a negative experience at church, for others it's a lifestyle choice, for some it's an inability to hold to their faith in an age of reason. The reasons are many, but the sense of loss is real. One of the questions Ravi asks is this: "Is it actually possible to still make sense out of life once one has denied one's faith in Christ or has shunted Him aside?"

Fittingly, the first chapter is titled "Who Is Jesus?" Ravi has the ability to cut straight through all of the emotion and vitriol and get straight to the point. This is truly the question. To paraphrase Larry King, "the answer to this question defines reality." If Jesus is mythological or a mere man, the question "Has Christianity Failed You?" has no meaning - it doesn't matter. But Ravi explains that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of ultimate truth. As Ravi recounted of C.S. Lewis' experience: "His greatest realization after he had finally recognized who Jesus is and what He offers to every human heart was that he had not come to a place or accepted a belief; he had come to a person - and that person is the very person of God." Some are disappointed with Christianity because they have come to a religion, but have not found the relationship.

His second chapter, "What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?" speaks to the simple truth that to be a Christian means to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and explains the implications of that. This chapter quickly moves into a classical Zacharias approach. He deals with different worldviews and approaches to truth and demonstrates the superiority of the Christian worldview. (For those who have never experienced Ravi's logic, go to this link for a brief video of him answering a question at the University of Illinois). It is within this understanding of the world that we find meaning, purpose and ultimate truth.

He then moves to a chapter called "Points of Tension." In this chapter he takes on many of the assumptions of our culture, including moral relativism, scientism, personal autonomy, et al. Then he deals with some of the challenges that we face as human beings living in an often hostile environment. How do we rationalize our pain with belief in a loving God?

His chapter "Looking Incoherence In The Eye" asks the hard questions of those who would abandon their faith. Here's a quote from the chapter: "A friend of mine in India, who lives in a meager little place, once told me he always prays for America because 'it must be hard to trust in God when you already have so much.'" His premise is that, yes, there are difficult questions to answer sometimes, but there are answers.

His next chapter is a specific answer to the book, "The Reason-Driven Life" which has received a lot of attention lately. The author, Robert M. Price, was a former evangelical who wrote his book as a response to Rick Warren's "Purpose-Driven Life." I appreciate Ravi's unwillingness to avoid this discussion as the book has influenced many. I'm reminded of the time when many of Jesus' followers were leaving Him. He turned to His 12 disciples and asked if they would leave also. Peter replied "To whom shall we go? Only you have the words of eternal life."

His last two chapters are questions: "Does Prayer Make Any Difference?" and "Has Christianity Failed You?" Here a warning is given to the church. "The church is prone to one extreme or the other in her responses to the world - either legalism that destroys the wounded, or relevance that has no substance and is relevant to nothing." We, as church leaders, must be careful with how we lead the church and how we handle people.

Here is his final argument in a nutshell: "The choice for you, if you are among those who think Christianity has failed you, is either to look at Jesus Christ himself and trust God to carry you through the struggles you experience and to bring you to a place of contentment and victory, or to turn your back on this loving Savior, using the failures of the church to justify your unbelief, and to face a meaningless, purposeless existence without any guide to bring you into a future in the presence of God himself - and, sadly, to be brought under the scourge of a freedomless worldview that imposes its belief on all."

This is not an easy read for most people, but it's well worth the effort. I would especially recommend it for those who do feel that Christianity has failed you. You're not alone and there are answers.
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