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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: Is God Just a Human Invention by McDowell and Morrow

Atheism has seen a resurgence in the last decade or so in its publicity—if not also its popularity—due in large part to the New Atheism (names like Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett and Harris) and most recently Stephen Hawking with his argument against the existence of God in The Grand Design. Yet for every volley leveled at theism in general and Christianity in particular, there is are equally capable minds ready to pick up the gauntlet and offer return fire.

Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow aren't charting new territory in this book. Far from being a criticism, however, I found this to be one of the greatest strengths of the book. These two authors are thoroughly well versed in the arguments and works of other Christian thinkers and quote liberally from writers like C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Dinesh D'souza, Alister McGrath and Paul Copan. A brief postscript section called "Why It Matters" follows each chapter and features other such thinkers as Gary Habermas, William Dembski, Randy Alcorn and Greg Koukl.

The book is broken up into two sections: "Responding to Scientific and Philosophical Challenges" and "Responding to Moral and Biblical Challenges". Each chapter is imminently accessible to even those unfamiliar with the topics at hand. For this reason, none of the arguments get very in depth, but the authors have done the heavy lifting and offer a couple titles at the end of each chapter if you feel up to the challenge as well.

Christian apologists have well reasoned responses to the New Atheists' charges and this book is as good an introduction as one could want. McDowell and Morrow are standing on the shoulders of many brilliant minds and have made a substantial offering in their own right. This book is a perfect reference for those familiar with the arguments, a perfect primer for those who are not, and a perfect loaner for the believer and skeptic alike.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Skeptics, apologists, those looking for an introduction to the arguments and counter-arguments of the New Atheists.

This book was a free review copy provided by Kregel Publications.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Five Reasons Why a Thoughtful Person Would Start Their Religious Quest With Christianity

1. Christianity is testable. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) In Christianity objective evidence exists and matters. It literally hangs the entire religious system out for objective scrutiny, inviting people to test it. You can make decisions for or against the Christian worldview based on objective evidence. This explains perhaps why Christianity is the object of "affection" for atheists when attacking religion. How long will it take you to investigate the claims of Christianity? It might take a week, it might take years, but at least you can investigate them.

2. Salvation in this system is free. There might be glimmers of grace in Hinduism and Buddhism, but every other major world religion is about doing stuff that is going to please some deity. Only Christianity turns the popular view of religion as moral conformity on its head and offers a relationship with God that is not based on our moral performance.

3. Christianity paints a picture of the world that matches reality. Of course, this is a huge claim that cannot possibly be tested in all its applications. However, we can begin to test this thesis using one of the more popular arguments against the existence of God, the problem of evil. Specifically, one should look at the way that different worldviews handle the issues of evil, pain and suffering. Most eastern religions portray evil, pain and suffering as "illusion" that you need to overcome and transcend. Christianity takes evil, pain, and suffering seriously. Christianity says not only is evil, pain, and suffering real but God takes it so seriously that he gets down with the the sufferer in their pain to bear them up. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate picture of this.

4. Christianity allows you to live a holistic life. In Christianity, we get to use our minds in our worship, we get to think about God. We use our minds to worship God, we are to reason and it's supposed to make sense. You worship God with the same mind that you approach every other aspect of your life, you don't need to compartmentalize. In eastern traditions (those religions that most often make the claim of being holistic), your reason might actually be an impediment in your religious progress.

5. Christianity has Jesus at the center. Jesus is the universal religious figure that every major religion wants to co-opt. If you're a Buddhist, you might claim that Jesus is an incarnation of the Buddha or at least an enlightened teacher. If you're Hindu, you might believe that Jesus is an avatar of Vishnu. If you're in Islam, if you read the Koran, Jesus emerges as a figure greater than Mohammad himself. If you're on a religious quest, it makes sense to start with the religion that centers around the greatest universal religious figure in human history.

This was a presentation developed by Craig Hazen as presented on one of my favorite weekly podcasts, Stand To Reason, hosted by Greg Koukl. (Note: Greg was absent the week of this conversation, but you can click here to listen to the entire three hour call-in program or skip to the last hour to hear the interview with Craig Hazen.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Two Books by Eugene Peterson

While many may only recognize the name of Eugene Peterson in connection with The Message, he has written more than twenty other books that have had a considerable impact of their own. In fact, were it not for one of these two books, he may never have written The Message at all.

Peterson wrote A Long Obedience in the Same Direction thirty years ago and it's fifteen chapters are based on the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), Psalms that were most likely sung as Jewish pilgrims made their ascent to Jerusalem for their holy feast days.

Each chapter begins with one of the fifteen Psalms in The Message translation which provides the framework for the chapter. In fact, it was actually the work done during the writing of this book that, as Eugene says, "provided the impetus for embarking on the new translation".

This form is at times refreshing and at other times distracting. Refreshing because it reads a bit like an expository sermon, dealing with the text as it is written and in sequence, chapter by chapter. Distracting because, as far as a book on discipleship goes, it doesn't have a simple list of logical steps to follow. But, after all, when does discipleship ever work like that?

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: A supplemental read with The Message, anyone looking for a discipleship devotional

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Living the Resurrection is just three chapters long as Peterson describes how the resurrection meets us in the three sacraments of Sabbath, communion and baptism. Though this seems a simple enough of a concept, I found myself struggling to follow the ideas and themes throughout. In fact, I didn't even realize the three central ideas of Sabbath, communion and baptism until it was explicitly stated on page 94. While is a short 123 pages, I must confess it began to feel long since it is only broken up into three chapters (I am a sucker for long books with short chapters).

Peterson seems to write in a more flowing, poetic style rather than the straight-forward, logical form that I am accustomed to in most of my reading. While this is certainly not bad, being aware of it will certainly aid in finding enjoyment in the book (of which there is plenty to be found). The insights and the flashes of beauty in this work come not like the crescendo of a solid argument, but like the subtle turn of a word or phrase that may make you think of your everyday Christian life in a new light.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Fans of Eugene Peterson and The Message

This book was a free review copy provided by NavPress.