Friday, December 17, 2010

Thoughtful and Richly Persuasive - Review "Beyond Opinion"

Title: Beyond Opinion
Author: Ravi Zacharias, and others.
Published: Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, 2007.
Reviewed by: Conrade Yap
Date: 17 Dec 2010

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We DefendIt is not easy to combine the rich talents of so many different writers. Neither is it that straightforward to unite them amid a very diverse set of challenges and cultural differences. This book is one of a kind, for it manages to do both well. It is comprehensively thought out in structure, gently persuasive in style and richly fitting for our society. It is wide enough to reach a majority of cultures, yet deep enough to challenge even the most specialized fields.

Normally, a book on apologetics tends to be seen primarily as a philosophical treatise or simply a multi-page paper weight to defend the Christian faith. “Beyond Opinion” is different. There is something very practical for everyone. It has a ready answer for some of the most perplexing questions of this age. While readers may not necessarily agree with the answers, be prepared to be challenged in terms of the approach taken. The book’s main point is that true apologetics is not simply about opinion in the head, but conviction in the heart. It is not simply about defending the faith in words, but living out the faith in life. It is not about winning arguments but winning over people as friends. In other words, true apologetics is 'beyond opinion.'

A) The Structure
Zacharius uses his excellent communications skills well. In this book, he demonstrates an effective use of threes. He begins with three distinctive purposes for apologetics, according to the principles of the organization he founded in RZIM. He weaves in his formidable arsenal of expertise available in RZIM worldwide, via three logical approaches:

1. ‘Giving an answer’;
2. ‘Internalizing the question and answer’;
3. ‘Living it out.’

In the first two parts of the book, he allows the rich variety of talent and giftings in RZIM to share about the critical matters of our age. Matters such as the salient aspects of postmodernism, atheism, islam, Eastern religious thought and science. Issues like the gratuitous kinds of evil and suffering, and many of life’s perplexing questions and cross-cultural problems. He ends with three powerful challenges for the reader to take away.

B) The Style
This is where the book demonstrates its brilliance. Over all major continents, from Europe, America and Asia, the author combines the best of the West, with the pluralistic cultures in the rest of the world. Each writer comes with their own expertise and persuasiveness. Some like Amy Orr-Ewing adopts a more philosophical approach. Alister McGrath brilliantly nourishes the argument with rich historical backgrounds. LT Jeyachandran offers a fascinating overview of the range of Eastern thought. Stuart McAllister draws a lot from his experience of being imprisoned, to reveal a type of faith that emanates human gentleness amid persecution. His experience of learning precious insights on prayer, reflection and struggle comes after traumatic ordeals during his time inside the 'furnace of doubt' (p258).

With many other very well written essays, the book can double up as an anthology of world thought and culture, and a Christian challenge to  accompany them. Deeply biblical and widely practical, the different styles within the book should appeal to a majority of readers from all walks of life.

C) The Substance
Some of my favourite quotes are:

  • "This rejection of certainty with regard to history is part of a larger movement characterized by disillusionment with any kind of certainty." (Amy Orr-Ewing, p7)
  • "Belief of some kind is inescapable; faith is necessary. As such, authority is a governing reality in all of our lives." (Joe Boot, 177)
  • "There is a sense in which the rational is the basis, but then issues of meaning, investigation, language, emotion - all of these come to play at some point." (Ravi Zacharias, p333)

I believe this book is an essential read for all thoughtful Christians. It can help us be less complacent about our Christian world, and to gain more understanding of the pluralistic cultures around us. For those who finds the 360 paged book daunting, begin with a relevant chapter in Part ONE. Choose another chapter in PART TWO. Finally, read all PART THREE and Zacharius’s introduction and conclusion. You will have gotten off to a pretty good start on your journey toward becoming a better apologist for Christ.

Christians are NOT opinionated bigots. Instead, they are servants with Christ's opinion, called to live out the gospel humbly, being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. This book is a practical aid to do that. For some of us in Christian educational circles, "Beyond Opinion" is an essential read.

Rating: 5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


The Hedonese said...

Gr8 review. I met the author at Bali some years back and truly an inspiration

YAPdates said...

Hi "The Hedonese,"

Thanks for your feedback. Have a merry Christmas.


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