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Need to know

Books | Books explore the intersection of faith and knowledge

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

Clifford Williams tries to justify his Existential Reasons for Belief in God by its subtitle: A Defense of Desires & Emotions for Faith (IVP, 2011). He succeeds partially. Sure, desires are important. Yes, rationalists undervalue emotion. And yet, as the apostle Paul rightly argued, facts matter: If the resurrection did not occur we are pitiful idiots to profess Christ. Paul ruled out the wish-fulfillment defense-that we yearn for Him so He must be there, and that if we don't believe we'll be disconsolate in facing our mortality. As I was coming to Christ in 1975, I read Christian existentialists like Gabriel Marcel. They helped a little but hindered more.

Dallas Willard's Knowing Christ Today (HarperOne 2009) stares down secularist dogma that morality is "harmful to any prospect of a full and free life." Willard sets out the "stark alternative: Either the physical universe was not produced by anything or it was produced by something that is not physical-something spiritual in that minimal sense. The former cannot be, so the latter is the case." This means we should pay attention to the will of the producer, God.

Willard refuses to accept the notion that we can only know things by scientific testing. We can know things about ourselves. (For example, I know that without Christ I'd be thoroughly rotten, and that Jesus twice in my 60 years has made me radically change direction.) We can know things about the world. (I know that our existence is miraculous, that bad people salted by Scripture become better, and that those with power often act in beastly ways.) Willard is right to say that we cannot satisfy ourselves with feeling. We need to know.

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Willard also notes that "moral standards have come to be regarded as mere displays of social and economic power and those who employ them as blind or hypocritical." He wonders why we should grant any legitimacy to professors who preach on the hypocrisy of others, particularly because "they do not seriously study the spiritual life in those who actually live it. They content themselves with psychological 'explanations' of the 'saints' they happen to know about, with citations of what 'science says.'"

After reading Willard, I picked up a new study Bible sent to me and was delighted. The ESV Study Bible was WORLD's Book of the Year in 2009, but the HCSB Study Bible (Holman, 2010) is also useful, with study notes, maps, and charts all emphasizing Christianity's factual basis. I particularly liked its boxes that bring out the meanings of Hebrew and Greek words.

Plumbing the depths

Michael Wittmer's Christ Alone (Edenridge, 2011) is a lucid response to Rob Bell's Love Wins. Wittmer notes that "to understand God we need full and equal parts of divine love and divine justice," yet Bell is one-sided. A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life's Hardest Questions (IVP, 2010) provides highlights of Veritas Forums on dozens of campuses over the past two decades that have helped students recognize God's existence.

Edgar Andrews' Who Made God? (EP, 2009) deals with savants who can't detect God through their instruments and therefore think He doesn't exist-and yet, as Andrews writes, "If the God of the Bible does indeed exist, the first consequence is that the ultimate origin of material things will never be explicable in material terms."

Brian Hedges' Christ Formed in You (Shepherd, 2010) is a solid account of how God changes us. He notes that suffering is not good but God "tailor-makes our suffering" so bad things work together for our good. Philip Graham Ryken's Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Crossway, 2010) is a clear introduction to the book that shows how nothing works apart from God.

Kelly Kapic's God So Loved, He Gave (Zondervan, 2010) describes well the generosity of God. Jean Bethke Elshtain's Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (Basic, 2008) shows our frequent response: We selfishly declare our independence from Him.

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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