Working in and around the Christian publishing industry, I am constantly frustrated by requests for resources that are appropriate to give as gifts to people who do not identify as Christians, but may be interested in reading something that resonates with their current worldview, or communicates in terms more familiar to other materials they are currently reading.
But then, when something arrives on the scene from outside the fold — not bearing the Seal of Approval of a publisher like Moody, or Zondervan or Baker or Tyndale — I find myself straining for clues that will verify that the title in question is sufficiently Evangelically kosher; and that the author is worthy of my unconditional recommendation.
I’m not sure you can have it both ways. If a book is going to absolutely connect with people of other faiths, there are times it’s going to seem foreign to those of us deeply embedded in modern church culture.
Ellis Potter’s book 3 Theories of Everything (2012, Destinée Media) arrived in my mail last week from Switzerland as the clear winner in my “curiosity of the month” category. At a trim 112 pages, nothing was stopping me from reading it cover to cover, but who was this author and where was he going with this?
It turned out not so important where he was going as where he was coming from. A visit to the website of Eastern Europe Renewal provided this:
Mr Potter, a native Californian now residing in Switzerland, is a former Buddhist monk who became a Christian under the influence and ministry of the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Mr Potter’s dramatic conversion came about as a direct result of several intense, personal discussions with Dr. Schaeffer during the turbulent seventies.
In 3 Theories of Everything, Potter looks at the overarching structure of many popular religious worldviews, which can be classified into one of the following: Monism, Dualism and Trinitarianism. Looking at each, he then shows the ways in they succeed or fail to succeed in explaining the world around them, with a particular emphasis on the problem of suffering.
The book would be of special interest to anyone who has experience with Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Astrology, Meditation or New Age religions; as well as anyone who has done basic reading in Philosophy including cosmology or metaphysics. Here’s a fairly accessible sample
Freedom and form is another pair of opposites that we see in the world. A good illustration is gravity. Gravity is one of the basic forms, or structures, of reality but it gives us a certain freedom. If gravity were not here and I began to walk, I would float and spin and soon I would be dead. Form or structure is necessary. Let me give you an equation to express this idea:
total freedom = death
There is nothing postmodern about this equation. Postmodernism as usually understood and practiced in western culture regards freedom as the highest value and sees the purpose of freedom as fun and play. But freedom cannot really be valuable or life-giving unless it is accompanied by form. If you want to be totally free to fly you can go to the top of a building and jump. You can say, ‘I am free;’ but you won’t be free, you will be dead because you have not respected form. But if you study the various forms of reality — the laws of properties that give reality, structure and shape, such as gravity, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, metallurgy, jet propulsion, stress, torque and so on — then you will be able to build an airplane and fly across the ocean. That’s a great freedom, but the freedom is connected to form. Freedom and form are not independent of each other in reality. Again, their relationship is complementary rather than competitive. (pp. 48-9)
Having worked through alternative worldviews, Ellis gently builds a case for the Christian worldview incorporating a fresh (but orthodox) retelling of the fall, the incarnation and the atonement.
But then, as a bonus, the author appends answers to 45 questions that have been asked in seminars he has given in different parts of the world; some clearly arising from Christians and others from skeptics. He is not unwilling to tackle things like, ‘Is it possible you might one day find a different answer and abandon Christianity?’ In answering that most candidly he defines Christian commitment, while at the same time indicating the scenario to be unlikely. In another question, he’s asked if his years as a Zen Buddhist monk informs his present occupation as a Christian pastor. His answer would make a few people I know uncomfortable, but in the answer that follows immediately after, he says he identifies theologically as close to Baptist or Brethren.
Again, this is that book that I mentioned at the beginning; a rare gem of a book for that person not ready for Paul Little or Erwin Lutzer or Josh McDowell; and for reasons of length and style and the writer’s background, I think this would also be a good book to give to a man who is looking at faith questions from a distance; or with whom you want to begin a deeper conversation. It’s also a pre-apologetic title fitting for a college or university student.
3 Theories of Everything by Ellis Potter is available for bookstores to order worldwide as a print-on-demand book through Ingram Publisher Services, the largest book distributor in the world; in paperback at $13.99 U.S.
Read another excerpt from the book at Christianity 201.