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Heat vs. light and love

Books | Author argues that Christians should put reason in its proper place

Issue: "Upside down," April 9, 2011

As a person saved solely by grace at age 26, I started enjoying John Wilkinson's No Argument for God (IVP, 2011) as soon as he conveyed well a likely first reaction to Christian doctrine: "God died on a cross. Read it again-God died" (p. 11).

The book continues in that "as others see us" vein concerning the Christian idea of atonement: "God sent himself to pay himself for the sins against himself. How does that add up?. . . If I borrow your car and get in a wreck, it is one thing for you to forgive me. It is quite another for you to write me a check so that I can hand the check back to you and then we are even" (pp. 11-12).

And what about our services? "People (some of them complete strangers to one another) sing songs, read stories from an ancient book, and listen to a speech on how to live. . . . Most churches feature a cross-a symbol of an ancient execution. Strange. . . . At the conclusion of the time together, someone passes a plate or a basket to collect money. If this were your first time seeing all of this, it may look to you like an elaborate scam" (p. 23).

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So does this mean we give up on evangelism or change our forms of worship? No, of course not. It means that we don't fool ourselves by thinking our apologetic arguments will save sinners-only God can do that by changing hearts. It means, as Wilkinson puts it, that "faith is difficult . . . it requires humility and forces us to accept that we are not as smart as we think" (p. 34). Smartypants debates impress some people, but they are far less effective in communicating the truth of Christ than compassionate deeds and words.

So do we ignore our reason? By no means: Wilkinson advises that we just "rid ourselves of the idea of its supremacy [and] return reason to its proper place" (p. 142). If our reason could understand everything about God, He'd be a small god. If we could make sense of Christianity right away, it wouldn't be very deep. If we exist in four dimensions and God operates in many more, a religion to be true has to recognize the logic in some things that appear illogical to us.

Wilkinson's summary is good: "All the things that Jesus taught are analogies that help us grasp what things are like beyond our world of five senses" (p. 10). Sometimes we try to build up faith in God detail by detail, but that only works if we first accept through God-given faith the basic presuppositions. Think of any miracle in the Bible that nonbelievers rail against or try to explain away: They're all easy for a God who created everything out of nothing, but to believe the small we must first believe the big.

Three things should comfort us in our evangelism. First, we don't miss the forest for the trees: "Which would you rather know-the breadth of the galaxy and the number of stars in it, or why the galaxy is here?" (p. 65).

Second, we have what we need to believe, and should not think that "God's voice was commonplace in ancient times. Remember that these occurrences were not daily-try counting up the number of times that God speaks to people in the Old Testament and then divide that by the number of centuries that we are talking about" (p. 122).

Third, each of us can offer "the most persuasive truth that a person can encounter: the three-dimensional presence of Christ in you. You can have all the conversation in the world about the depth of a relationship with God, but if it is not observed in your life, then both of you are misled" (p. 160).

Apologetics are important, but rationalistic debates tend to provide heat. Lives show light and love.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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