Virtual Voices

Weekend Reads: On atheists, the Catholic Church, and freedom from porn

Books

Saving Casper

By Jim Henderson and Matt Casper

Tyndale Momentum

Bring an atheist to church enough times, show him “the lights, the music (and in one case, an actual fog machine),” and he will ask you, “Jim, is this really what Jesus told you guys to do?” Or so says Jim Henderson, the Christian half of Saving Casper: A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Caring Versus Scaring Evangelism (Tyndale Momentum, 2013). Matt Casper, the atheist half, has plenty to say, too—mostly about how relationship is primary and how would-be evangelists need to establish and maintain a personal connection before and during any attempt to share the gospel with an unbeliever. That point, of course, is valid, but one wonders why Henderson and Casper (who also authored Jim & Casper Go to Church) spend most of the book trying to make it. Actually, of course, Casper’s question above—the one Henderson felt was important enough that he opens the book with it—is the really interesting one.

What did Jesus actually tell the church to do—in worship, in evangelism, in ecclesiology in general? After asking the question, Henderson simply drops it. What’s interesting to him is getting an atheist’s reaction to the church and then applying that information to make the church (and individual Christians) more welcoming. “Free coffee for atheists; free donuts for agnostics; free donuts for all.” Casper asks: Why can’t the church show that it’s serious about hospitality by putting out signs like that? Of course, he has been the beneficiary of Christian hospitality: A Catholic family he didn’t know let him move into their home for a few weeks while his mother was dying in Evergreen, Colo.

If Casper can teach us anything, it’s this: Non-believers notice whether Christians take the Bible seriously. If we do what Jesus commanded, they’re impressed. But they can see right through a fog machine.

Jacob’s Ladder

By Peter Kreeft

Ignatius Press

Peter Kreeft didn’t write a logic textbook for nothing: In his presentation, Roman Catholic apologetics are straightforward and consistent. In Catholic doctrine, the Roman Church is the continuing Incarnation of Christ—literally, His body in the world. That’s why Kreeft says the church is supremely authoritative and infallible in its declarations. Thus, the book’s title, Jacob’s Ladder: Ten Steps to Truth (Ignatius Press, 2013), is, as Kreeft makes clear, a reference to climbing the church as Christ all the way to full commitment to the Catholic Church.

Like some of Kreeft’s other books, this one is written mainly as a dialogue between Libby, a 23-year-old relativist, and Mother, a large woman with a heart of gold and a generous but rigorous mind. Together, they find that the first step on the ladder is passion—you must care before truth will be meaningful to you. Each rung is climbed by means of intuition: What does your mind say? What does your heart say? Through simple investigations and thought experiments, Mother shows Libby that the heart and mind are united in desiring truth, which leads to meaning. The meaning of the universe is love—which operates by means of laws, or principles. But those laws teach us that God is the source of truth like the sun is the source of sunlight. We find His revelation to the Jews, and then the greatest Jew, Jesus. Here, Kreeft continues, we must move from Jesus to the one infallible institution He founded—that is, the Catholic Church. This, argues Kreeft, is simply a matter of historical record, not theological interpretation. Of course, his version of the historical record is itself theologically driven.

For those unsure about their Protestant convictions, this book is quite dangerous. For non-believers who want to stay non-believers, it’s downright deadly. 

Finally Free

By Heath Lambert

Zondervan

Heath Lambert offers serious help and genuine answers for those who are trapped in pornography. Chairman of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, pastor of Christian living at a community church, and a counseling professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Lambert knows what he’s talking about. Two things drive the counsel he offers in Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Zondervan, 2013): the Word of God and Lambert’s own vast experience as a counselor.

His book is fundamentally about cultivating a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. If your heart and your vision are filled with Christ, then you cannot continue living a porn-using lifestyle. One will drive out the other. But if you pursue Christ only as a means to an end—even a good end like living a morally upright life—you do not have this true relationship with Him. His grace forgives, and it also transforms. But you must know Him well to become like Him.

Lambert questions those who have been using pornography but feel bad and want to stop. Why? Are you afraid of the consequences, or do you actually hate the sin? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to completely cut off your ability to access the sin? Are you willing to accept the fact that all porn users are arrogant and to repent of that sin? Are you willing to acknowledge that this is not your only sin, and to throw yourself on the mercy of Christ for all your guilt?

Curiously, Lambert writes only to those who are already Christians, but his gospel presentation is clear and powerful for non-believers, too. Thankfully, the book is written in a clean, temptation-free style. It contains success stories and holds out the hope that is in Jesus Christ for every sinner. 

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb grew up on a ranch in northern Colorado and is currently pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. He lives in Greenville, S.C.

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