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Courage for cowards

But it's not a handbook full of clever methodology

Issue: "Against all odds," May 30, 1998

This column is not devoted to book reviews-and the record will show that in 12 years, I've regularly resisted the urge to promote the works even of good friends. In fact, when a year-and-a-half ago I sang the praises here of Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, it was the first time in more than 400 columns that I'd focused on a particular volume. I had no idea at that point who Michael Behe was. His book went on to win some high awards-and remains must reading for any thoughtful person. Here's my second recommendation in 12 years: The Embarrassed Believer, by Hugh Hewitt, maintains (in 30 brief chapters that fit with plenty of white space in less than 200 pages) that we Christians have in cowardly fashion handed not just the argument for our biblical faith, but the whole playing field, over to our unbelieving opponents. And Mr. Hewitt suggests how we should take both of them back. In a strange sort of way, The Embarrassed Believer has some unpredictable parallels with Darwin's Black Box: Both books came from unlikely sources. Hugh Hewitt is an award-winning host of a nightly television news program on the PBS outlet in Los Angeles. Just for that reason, he probably has higher visibility and may be better known than Mr. Behe was a couple of years ago. But as a mainline Presbyterian, Mr. Hewitt is as unlikely a candidate to holler "Courage!" to the troops as Mr. Behe, a Roman Catholic academic, was a couple of years ago. Nor is Word Publishing particularly known for going out on limbs. You expect television hosts to be all things to all people. You don't expect them to have strong opinions of their own; or if those opinions are strong, to be coherent; or if they are coherent, to be biblical. In the same way you've come to expect academics to be beholden to their colleagues, you expect media people to grovel for the approval of their peers. Maybe it's Mr. Behe's and Mr. Hewitt's refusal to do so that gets my attention. But forceful as both writers are, neither is mean-spirited. Their sharp jabs are for the pitifully shallow thinking of their opponents, not for the opponents themselves. They stick to the subject rather than sticking it to folks who disagree. For Mr. Hewitt-who is also a lawyer with an educational background at both Harvard and the University of Michigan-the subject he calls us to stick to is the content of our biblical faith. This is no handbook on methodology in witnessing, or something a wee bit deeper to help get your psychological act together as you try to relate to other people. It's a call instead to root your witness in the truth of the Bible, and to stop waffling over matters that are critical. Mr. Hewitt, for example, devotes one chapter to hell and another to blasphemy in public discourse. To the extent that we, in this modern age, try to explain away a terrifying vision of hell, or to minimize references to such a kind of punishment, we weaken our witness. To the extent that we tolerate colleagues in any setting constantly using our God's name as a swear word, we weaken our witness. It's pretty basic stuff. And it rings very true. As a journalist, Mr. Hewitt talks day in and day out to culture-shapers who, he says, have eliminated faith from their thought processes. But he holds believers almost as responsible for that development as he does nonbelievers. We're the ones who, through default, have accepted those terms for the debate. We've agreed too often to be silent. We're embarrassed-and in many cases our embarrassment is rooted in ignorance. We simply don't know the answers we ought to know. So Mr. Hewitt calls for churches and pastors to preach and teach both theology and church history. He suggests a curriculum for third-grade Sunday school students, including learning nine components of an appropriate order for a worship service, and why a time of confession should come before the sermon and the offering. He takes on hard issues-like why God not only permits but orders suffering, and whether we really believe that people who haven't heard the gospel are eternally lost. This isn't just basic stuff; it's the heavy stuff of the books of Job and Romans. And it still rings true. There's certainly no political agenda in the Hewitt approach. There's no set of "issues" to be negotiated with Congress, and no new hero to be elected as president. Instead, he says quite simply: "Declare your faith. Defend it. Dissent from the culture around you when that culture cannot be reconciled with your beliefs. It's really not that hard. No desert crossings. No burning at the stake. Probably not even that much embarrassment." The tragedy is that even declaring, defending, and dissenting are beyond the experience of so many of us. Some will criticize The Embarrassed Believer for wandering a bit from subject to subject, or for treating ponderous issues a little too jauntily. So unlike Augustine and C. S. Lewis (two of his heroes), Mr. Hewitt almost certainly won't be read 50 years from now. That's OK-so long as a few thousand people read him this year and take seriously his advice for activating our faith in the marketplace.

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Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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