Review by Dr. Jay Lorenzen, Faculty Commons Leadership Team and retired Air Force Academy Political Science Professor
Laurie and I needed help. You’d think we would have figured this marriage thing out. It’s been over 36 years since we said “I do.” We’ve got four married kids, 11 grandkids, and a desire to walk with God. But we had grown lazy over the years. The river of years was carrying us downstream to a port where an “ok” marriage seemed all we could hope for.
Tim and Kathy Keller helped turn us around. Their book, The Meaning of Marriage, pointed us back upstream and put oars in our hands. Why float down to some kind of “qualified lesser” marriage? Marriage is “hard, it’s also glorious” the Kellers write. And God intends it to be an adventure worth all our blood, sweat, and tears. This book reminded us that God actually planned to take both the humbling defeats and the exhausting victories of our lives lived together and mysteriously display his glory and his Kingdom to the world.
One simple point, in particular, grabbed us.
When God brought the first man his spouse, he brought him not just a lover but the friend his heart had been seeking.
Marriage-as-friendship miraculously combines natural and supernatural elements for the Christ-follower. When our spouse becomes not just our lover and financial partner but our best friend, we move toward adventure and fulfillment–a journey where we help each other become our glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.
Here are some more of their “friendship” insights:
- Actions of love lead to feelings of love.
- Marriage is a friendship to be nurtured with constancy, transparency, and a common passion. It cannot be merely about itself; but something both friends are committed to and passionate about besides one another. For Christians, that commitment and passion is for Christ.
- Each spouse should commit to being a vehicle for the great work that Jesus is doing in the life of their mate.
- Your spouse IS the “someone better” you’re looking for! This is true if you see him or her in terms of the glory God intends for them, a work to which you are called.
Laurie and I wished we had understood more of this. The years of floating downstream might have been fewer. But we’re thankful now to take the oar in hand and by God’s enabling to work upstream toward both a better and more fulfilling marriage.
Book Review by Bryan E. Dowd
Division of Health Policy & Management
University of Minnesota School of Public Health
These are two very different books linked by a similar goal. Both authors assure us that their work is not intended to convince anyone that deism or theism, much less Christianity is true. Day even opens his book by declaring, provocatively, that he doesn’t care whether the reader goes to Hell or not! Instead, both authors simply are trying to correct popular but erroneous views of the history of Christianity and its cultural influence. Both authors regard the “New Atheists,” particularly Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, as contemptible propagators of factual errors who either are unable or unwilling to do the hard work of historical scholarship. To that list, Hart adds Jacques Le Goff (despite referring to him as otherwise brilliant), Edward Gibbon, Jonathan Kirsch, John William Draper, Andrew Dickson White, Charles Freeman, and Ramsay MacMullen. Day argues that despite Dennett’s egregious errors, he distinguishes himself from his compatriots by admitting that there are some things he does not know.
Despite their common goals and common foils, the authors differ in their approaches. Hart focuses primarily on the early history of Christianity while Day covers the waterfront from the time of Jesus to the present day. Hart is concerned with ideas and their consequences. Day also critiques a variety of ideas, but is concerned primarily with data, and presents reams of it, some of it original and intriguing.
Hart is an academic historian. Day represents the new generation of investigative bloggers who wears his lack of advanced degrees on his sleeve and mocks the errors of his academically-certified adversaries. While both authors’ impatience with the new atheists leads to a bit of name calling, neither engage in mere ad hominem attacks or what C.S. Lewis labeled “Bulverisms,” e.g., “you say that only because you are a (fill in the blank).” Both authors have an engaging writing style. Hart’s will appeal to a more academically inclined audience, while Day’s is entertaining, in-your-face, sprinkled with jokes (hopefully the reader will be able to distinguish the jokes from the serious critiques), and likely to appeal to younger readers.
The two authors emphasize different themes and offer different views of a “post-Christian” secular world. One of Hart’s general themes is that what many people think of as religion-inspired violence really is state-inspired violence in which the church was willingly or unwillingly complicit. He reminds readers that the Crusades were episodes in a history of conflict beginning with the Muslim conquests of the 600s. (Oddly overlooked by critics of “colonialism.”) Similarly, the Spanish inquisition was a matter of Crown policy and an office of the state. The Grand Inquisitor himself was a civil, not ecclesiastical, appointee and civil courts prosecuted heresy as treason. The Catholic Church often intervened to dampen the secular courts’ excessive cruelty. During the “religious” wars of Europe, the state regularly accepted help from religious rivals and received none from regimes with similar confessional stances. And, interest in witchcraft actually coincided with a decline in the authority of the Christian church. Thus overall, violence increased as the state became more powerful and as the church surrendered its moral authority, reaching its climax (we can only hope) in the twentieth century when the state achieved true cult status, demanding unwavering support from its citizens, purging the public sector of its religious influence, and in the case of atheistic regimes, murdering 100 million of their own citizens in less than 50 years. Hart characterizes the current state of affairs within these regimes as “absolute state” and “total war.”
As Hart shifts his focus to Christianity’s relationship to reason, he shows that rather than impeding science, Christianity facilitated it and preserved it in the monasteries during the middle ages. Pope Urban III’s confrontation with Galileo was a clash of colossal egos, not the ecclesiastical suppression of rationality. Urban actually funded Galileo’s research (and that of some of his relatives) and ironically it was the Church that was insisting on scientific evidence that the Copernican model was correct, proof that Galileo was unable to provide because Urban was correct on a technicality. Hart also notes that states unchallenged by the authority of the Christian church have produced more than their share of horrific “science” and had the Church been successful in impeding it, humanity would have been much better off.
Hart concedes that ancient pagans were more tolerant than their Christian contemporaries, but their tolerance was not what most moderns celebrate: the ancients were tolerant of disease, starvation, homelessness, and the murder of unwanted infants, disproportionately girls, who were left to die of exposure or to be devoured by wild animals. He notes that the Christian “rebellion” was a rebellion from within the pagan ranks. The gods rejected by early Christians used to be the Christian’s gods. Christians were viewed by pagans as the atheists of their time.
Hart’s enumeration of the benefits conferred on society by Christianity reminded me of Monty Python’s skit “What Have the Romans Done for Us Lately,” in The Life of Brian. In addition to promoting and preserving modern technology and science and the modern research university, we can add the development of a “social morality” (something the pagans never accomplished), an institutionalized obligation to care for widows, orphans and the poor, a culture of generosity towards their non-Christian neighbors that embarrassed Julian the Apostate (a convert from Christianity to paganism), the concept of the universal and intrinsic worth of all human beings, the end of the “divine right” of kings, abolition of slavery in the Western world, and so forth. Christianity has so transformed our moral consciences that it is virtually impossible for modern Western society to imagine the pagan world. The early pagans would have found the values and virtues that we take for granted not merely objectionable, but inconceivable.
Regarding a “post-Christian” future, Hart notes with faint optimism that at least the future indeed will be “post-Christian” so that for a short period, some vestige of Christian values might suffice to ward off the state’s most voracious impulses. However, despite pop cultural trends to the contrary, we cannot now return to a pagan culture. Christianity has made it impossible to believe in the pagan gods, and all that appears to remain is Nietzsche’s will to power yielding a frightening future where knowledge is the new morality, science chaffs at any moral constraint and “reason” is elevated to godliness regardless of reason’s ambitions.
Day covers many of the same topics as Hart, but includes some of the more recent misrepresentations of Christianity and some novel lists and data analyses. My personal favorites are his six events that would falsify Christianity (in response to the criticism that there are none) and his reanalysis of Sam Harris’s data on voting patterns and crime rates that reflected what analysts refer to as the ecological fallacy. Harris analyzed voting patterns and crime rates at the state level and Day reversed the result by analyzing the same data at the county level. Day’s Appendix A contains a convenient list of atheist leaders who killed at least 20,000 people (not including wars).
Day’s treatment of the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition is similar to Hart’s but Day likes numbers and military history and adds some detail about the events between November 1478 and 1480 that led up to Ferdinand’s appointment of two inquisitors. The Turkish fleet attacked Otranto, killed 20,000 people including the archbishop (killed in the cathedral), sawed the garrison commander and a bishop in half and beheaded 800 captured men who refused to covert to Islam. Ferdinand’s response was to protect the state from treason, which, at that time, happened to take the form of people pretending to be Christian while holding other beliefs. Day reminds us that the number of victims during 345 years of inquisition was less than half the number of Catholic clergy killed during the Spanish Republican Red Terror in 1936. But how many people are even aware of the latter carnage?
Day does not consider all forms of atheism irrational. His three forms of “rational atheism” are (1) Somerset’s parasitic atheism in which the post-Christian culture “free-rides” on its Christian roots, at least in the short term; (2) Nietzsche’s will to power; and (3) Michel Onfray’s primacy of desire. For Day, these forms of rational atheism represent a progressive descent into madness and his vision of the post-Christian society.
Day borrows heavily from the work of philosopher Alvin Plantinga, and I wish he would have cited him, if only to encourage more people to become familiar with his work. The idea that if Christianity is true, Christians have a good warrant for believing it is true (whereas the same cannot be said of naturalism-materialism) is pure Plantinga, as is the result that if we reject all the common arguments for the existence of God we likely also will have to give up our beliefs in other minds!.
The purpose of a review is to encourage people to read the books, not to serve as a substitute for them, and I hope that this review has been provocative enough to have that effect. Saving civilization from itself may be too lofty a goal, but perhaps we at least could get the history of the rise and fall of Western civilization straight.
Don Davis, Library Science,
University of Texas, Review of —–
I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us about Their Path to Jesus, by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Within the past few years two books have appeared that deal squarely with the issues involved in the proclamation and reception of the Christian gospel to the young generation reaching maturity in the twenty-first century. They have different objectives, utilize different data, and perhaps aim at different audiences. Yet their essential conclusions fit together very conveniently, providing some solid information on which new strategies might be developed to implement the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. They both agree that many in the current generation, those in their late teens and early twenties, are skeptical and wary of evangelical Christians
Kinnaman and Lyons condense the findings of a number of surveys conducted over several years by The Barna Group and the Fermi Project. These sought to isolate the issues that Outsiders, defined as those who do not identify themselves with a church or the Christian faith, consistently raise as unpleasant and unattractive perceptions of Christians. The book devotes one chapter to each of six such themes—describing the data for the finding, suggesting reasons and giving examples of the trait, and pointing to some ways in which the situation might turn around. In all, the book synthesizes some 14 studies, conducted between 1995 and 2007 with a combined sample size of more than 60,000 persons.
Everts and Schaupp in recent years interviewed some 2,000 college-age people, asking them about the particulars of their journey in Christian faith to become followers of Jesus. They found that most persons had passed through five milestones, or crossed five thresholds, along that pathway. Knowing and recognizing where any person is on this continuum or spectrum enables one to see how to relate meaningfully at a given state in initial faith development and to perceive the next steps to take or thresholds to cross.
This short essay does not allow for elaboration of the themes of these books, which must be read in their entirety, fully digested, and deliberately implemented to have their full value. But the major points are worth underscoring—and provide a summary that may stimulate further reading.
The Barna Group volume reveals that Outsiders have a negative impression of Christians as a whole. This appears in six broad themes:
(1) Hypocritical. “Outsiders consider us hypocritical—saying one thing and doing
another—and they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes.”
(2) Too Focused on Getting Converts. “Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about
(3) Antihomosexual. “Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for
gays and lesbians.”
(4) Sheltered. “Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with
(5) Too Political Outsiders perceive Christians as being “overly motivated by a political
agenda, that we promote and represent conservative interests and issues.”
(6) Judgmental. “Outsiders think of Christians as quick to judge others.” (29-30)
The study of college students who became Christians reveals that a process is normally involved—a process that proceeds progressively through five thresholds:
(1) Move from distrust to trust. “Somewhere along the line, they learned to trust a
(2) Move from complacent to curious. “The fact that our friends actually came to trust a
Christian didn’t necessarily mean that they were at all curious about Jesus. . . .
“then something wonderful and mysterious happened.”
(3) Move from being closed to change to being open to change in their life. “This
always seemed to be the hardest threshold to cross.”
(4) Move from meandering to seeking. “Even when our friends became curious about Jesus and open to change in their life, it didn’t necessarily follow that they began actively, purposefully seeking God. It was more natural for them to meander.”
(5) Move to cross the threshold of the kingdom itself. “They needed to repent and believe and give their life to Jesus.” (23-24)
The issues that the Barna folks identified as barriers the Outsiders consider in dismissing Christians, along with the gospel they embrace, seem to mesh with what the student staff workers portray as steps to overcome that reluctance. Learning to know and to trust a Christian seems to be the primary antidote to countering their negative caricatures. This can lead to curiosity about Jesus and the Christian faith, openness to life change, purposeful seeking, and, finally, real belief. Of course, the positive benefits of knowing well a single Christian, or several of them, assumes that that the believer is real—genuine, authentic transparent—in his or her life, including relationships. The fact that self-identified Christians as a group communicate such negative stereotypes to those they would like to affect is just cause for considerable concern.
For evangelical, intentional Christians to dismiss the findings of the Barna authors as simply excuses or defensive maneuvers by Outsiders would be a serious misreading of the culture they claim to care about. Getting seriously involved with Outsiders and allowing them to know us and vice-versa could well be the key to changing their perceptions. Though this will not be easy for many, it would be worth a try. In fact, it may be the only way, the Jesus way, even if it takes a long time.
© 2010 Donald G. Davis, Jr., Prof. Emeritus of Library History, University of Texas at Austin