Thinking Out Loud

November 3, 2015

You Be the Editor: How Would You Refine This Presentation?

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

I grew up megachurch. Our youth group didn’t bring in a band for music nights, we had our own. (This is long before youth worship teams, so this was a bit rare.) At least once every few months, when they weren’t on the road playing for other churches, we would have them play for us.

One night I remember with great clarity. The band members would take turns and “do a verbal” between songs, and one very quiet moment included something I am sure I remember word-for-word. One of the singers, a guy who was just a year or two older than me, turned to the audience and said three things. (He didn’t number these, but I wanted to be able to isolate the various parts. In the original form, this was one continuous spoken paragraph.)

  1. The Bible says Jesus is coming back.
  2. I believe he’s coming very soon.
  3. I don’t think I will ever die [because of Christ’s return; meaning was implied but clear]

So here’s the question. How would you refine this? I recognize these were kids in a youth outreach band, not trained theologians or paid evangelists. I also realize it’s easy to sit back and critique things when you’re not the person on the platform. I understand the compulsion some people have to nitpick over a particular choice of words.

But still…

I only ask because now, with the benefit of a decade or two, I see this very differently. I see some definite areas for improvement. Take two days to think it over, leave comments, and we’ll come back to this on Thursday.

September 28, 2015

Resolving the Four Different Versions of the Sign on The Cross

sign on Jesus' cross

A few weeks ago here I reviewed the new book by J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene and back in 2013 we looked at his first book Cold Case Christianity. Of all the various possible approaches to Christian apologetics, the methodology used by this cold case detective is really resonating with reviewers and readers as the internet is abuzz with positive responses from the denominational spectrum.

Still there are times when I look back at my reviews — especially after a book really takes off — and wonder if I could have done more to whet my readers’ appetite for the author. So when I saw this excerpt sitting unattended in an unlit corner of the blogosphere, I figured, ‘Hey, Wallace is all about crime, let’s do some stealing.’ I think you’ll agree what follows is worth reading, and since my own detective work reveals you guys don’t always click through, the excerpt is here in full. (Click the title below to read at source.)

Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them here at One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

“This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)
“The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)
“This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

In evaluating alleged “contradictions” of this nature, I think it’s important to remember a few overarching principles related to eyewitness testimony (I describe many of these principles in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity). Even though I accept and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, inerrancy is not required of reliable eyewitnesses. In fact, I’ve never had a completely inerrant eyewitness in all my years as a homicide detective. In addition, I’ve never had a case where two witnesses have ever agreed completely on the details of the crime. Eyewitness reliability isn’t dependent upon perfection, but is instead established on the basis of a four part template I’ve described repeatedly in my book and on my website. But beyond these generalities, much can be said specifically about the variations between descriptions of the sign over Jesus’ cross. I take the following approach when evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, and the same methodology can be used to evaluate these signs:

• Identify the Common Details
When interviewing multiple eyewitnesses, I listen carefully for common features in their testimony. In every witness observation, some details are more important than others; some aspects of the event stick out in the mind of the observers more than others. In this case, one expression is repeated by all four authors: “the King of the Jews”. Why does this one aspect of the sign appear repeatedly without variation? These words describe the crime for which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified because He proclaimed Himself a King; He was executed for His alleged rebellion against Caesar. This is consistent with the trial accounts we have in the Gospels and also accurately reflects the actions taken by the Roman government against other popular rebels. While we, as Christians, now understand God’s plan related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels are simply recording the one most prominent feature of the sign: the description of Jesus’ crime.

Cold Case Christianity• Recognize the Perspective of Each Eyewitness
Every witness offers a view of the event from his or her unique perspective. I’m not just talking about geographic or locational perspectives here, but I am also talking about the personal worldview, history and experience every witness brings to the crime. All witness testimony is colored by the personal interests, biases, aspirations, concerns and idiosyncrasies of the eyewitnesses. In this particular case, an important clue was recorded by John to help us understand why there might be variation between the accounts. John said, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” The sign was written in a variety of languages and we simply don’t know how much variation occurred between these translations. The perspective and life experience of each author now comes into play. Which translation was the author referencing? Even more importantly, what were the concerns of the author related to the event? Some witnesses are more likely to repeat a victim’s name than others (if, for example, they knew the victim personally). Others will focus on something about which the witness had firsthand knowledge. I’ve seen an incredible amount of variation between reliable accounts on the basis of nothing more than personal perspective.

• Consider the Conditions of the “Interview”
In working cold cases over the years, I’ve read my fair share of investigative supplemental reports containing eyewitness accounts. I’ve come to recognize the role interviewers have on the accounts given by eyewitnesses. Years later, when re-interviewing these same eyewitnesses, I’ve uncovered additional information simply because I asked questions neglected by the first interviewer. When evaluating an account from the past, it’s important to recognize the location, form and purpose of the interview. This will have a direct impact on the resulting account. Something similar must be considered when evaluating the description of the sign on Jesus’ cross. We simply don’t know precisely the purpose of each author or the conditions under which each author wrote his Gospel. Why, for example, is Mark’s version of the sign so brief? Why, for that matter, is Mark’s entire Gospel so brief? Was there something about Mark’s personality accounting for his brevity (there does seem to be some evidence of this given the short, emotionally charged nature of his account), or was something even simpler involved (like a shortage of papyrus)? We’ll never know for sure, but we simply cannot assume each author was writing under the exact same conditions. No two witnesses are interviewed in precisely the same way.

• Differentiate Between Complimentary and Conflicting Accounts
When comparing two eyewitness accounts, I am more concerned about unresolvable contradictions than complimentary details. In fact, I have come to expect some degree of resolvable variation in true, reliable eyewitness accounts. While there are clearly variations between the sign descriptions in the Gospels, these dissimilarities don’t amount to a true contradiction. Consider the following reasonable message on the sign:

“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

If this was the message of the sign, all four Gospel accounts have captured a complimentary, reliable summation of the sign, even though there is some expected variation between accounts. None of these accounts contain an unresolvable, troublesome claim like:

“This is Judas Iscariot, the King of the Jews”

If one of the accounts contained this information, we would truly have a conflict worthy of our attention. There’s a difference between complimentary variation and conflicting description.

• Assess the Opportunity for Collusion
Whenever I am called to a crime scene as a detective, the first request I make of the dispatcher is to separate the eyewitnesses before I get there. I request this so the witnesses won’t have the opportunity to talk to one another about what they’ve seen. Witnesses will sometimes try to resolve any variations before I get there. I don’t want them to do this; that’s my job, not theirs. Instead, I want the messy, sometimes confusing, apparently contradictory accounts offered by every group of witnesses in such a situation. There have been times, however, when witnesses have the opportunity to consult with one another for several hours before I arrive on scene. When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. When people have the opportunity to align their statements, yet still refuse to do so, I know I am getting the nuanced observations I need to properly investigate the case. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. They display the level of variation I would expect to see if they were true, reliable eyewitness descriptions.

If the four authors of the Gospels had written precisely the same words throughout their Gospel accounts, skeptics would be no more confident in their content. In fact, I suspect, critics of the New Testament would be even more vocal in their opposition. The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. This level of dissimilarity should give us confidence in the accounts, rather than pause. Why are there four versions of the sign on Jesus’ cross? Because the accounts are written on the basis of eyewitness observations. They demonstrate the characteristics we would expect if they are reliable descriptions of a true event in history.

~J. Warner Wallace

Both Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene are available from David C. Cook Publishing where you buy quality Christian products.

March 24, 2015

To the Person With an Un-Churched Friend

img 032415Dear _________,

Your friend dropped by the Christian bookstore last week when I happened to be there. Every once in awhile, I get into a conversation with someone who really opens up; who really wants to share something, and this was one of those times.

Your friend has a lot going on inside her. There’s a battle raging between the more conservative values she was raised with, and her desire to be a more progressive, rational humanist, liberal wife and mom. She gets nothing out of church, but she goes to please her husband. She thinks it’s good that her kids are getting some type of faith focus in their Sunday School, but bristles at the absolute exclusivity of Christianity and worries that perhaps they are getting brainwashed.

And then, she has you.

You probably don’t see yourself as such, but you are her one spiritual anchor in a sea of confusion and questions. You are the person she talks about as a Christian influence in her life, more than her husband or any author or TV personality. You are the only Bible she reads.

And you are part of the problem.

First, you leave no room for her questions. Your faith and personal theology are so neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow that you seem to have trouble seeing life from her perspective. This is how it was, is, and ever more shall be would be a statement describing your intransigence. Don’t get me wrong, the scriptures are clear, God is unchanging, and if the buck is going to stop somewhere, solo scriptura is not a bad place to land the plane.

But you need to meet her in the middle if you’re going to bring her back to your starting place. You have to have the conversation. She wants to have the conversation with you. If you don’t have empathy for her situation, you need to at least pretend to have some sympathy for whatever has brought her to her present spiritual state.

She needs to see compassion. She needs to see that God is a God of grace, and that grace extends toward her.

Second, you need to embrace her in a spiritual sense. Instead, you regard her has some toxic influence in your life that should not be permitted. You shut her down when she starts saying things that you don’t approve of or using language you can’t condone in your house. At that point, all you offer her is your own self-righteousness.

You are afraid to listen. Your world is probably saturated with Christian books, Christian radio or podcasts, and Christian television. When your friend starts talking with you, her words are so totally foreign to your everyday experience that you are afraid of being polluted by them. You want to spend your entire Christian life at the conference; at the retreat; at the worship service.

Jesus got his hands dirty. He hung out with political zealots, tax collectors and prostitutes. There’s a lesson there, I think.

Third and finally, you need to invest in an intense study of Christian apologetics. You may be shutting her down at every turn because you have nothing to offer her. The idea of ‘always being ready to give a response’ is lost on you. It’s easier to put your hand in her face and tell her you don’t want to talk about it.

When the gang gets together for a social evening, you win every round of Bible Trivia, but when it comes to discussing your faith with seekers and skeptics, Atheists and Agnostics, you’ve got nothing.

You’ve preached to the choir for so long you haven’t noticed the audience behind your back.

Listen _________, your friend needs you. She needs you to be her link to a world of Christian belief that she is missing right now, but she needs your love and your time and your willingness to enter into her spiritual world.

The Bible can take her challenges. Our doctrine and theology can deflect her doubts. Christian resources can answer her questions.

But right now you are her contact point, and as a team, we’re all counting on you not to drive her away. Or you can continue to make a mess of it, and hopefully somebody else can pick up the pieces.

September 29, 2014

Currently Reading: Apologetics Beyond Reason

James W. Sire is the author of the landmark apologetics book The Universe Next Door (1976) and the more recent A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics (2006) and has been an editor at InterVarsity Press (IVP) for several decades. In the first chapter of Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really is Believing he explains that it might be time to chart a different direction.

Apologetics Beyond Reason - James SireFor those in our culture who put their trust in human reason, these apologetic approaches have worked well. Many Christians today read and benefit from them. Without the, thoughtful Christians would have too few resources to analyze the clever arguments and glossy lifestyles presented by our culture’s media, its pundits, its fraudulent experts and its passionate prophets of health and wealth.

But many in our postmodern world have come willy-nilly to distrust reason, and the arguments of the modern Christian rationalists now seem irrelevant, doubtful, lifeless. The approaches of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesteron avoided this fate by clever and imaginative grasps of the paradoxes of the human condition. The value of human reason for them was to permit a conclusion to be wrested from within a framework of paradoxes. It took account of the human desire for simplicity, tied the reader in knots and then showed how Christian faith both accounted for the knots and then untangled them. Their work has attracted readers from across the intellectual spectrum from the simple to the sophisticated.

But highly sophisticated rational apologetics itself is limited to those who can understand it…

…There is another limitation in many arguments Christians use to prove the rationality of belief in God. The God who is “proved” is only a transcendent, impersonal God, maybe a Creator, but not necessarily personal. Only a God whose existence is important to human understanding or human flourishing is worth troubling about. The arguments may support deism as a worldview but be silent about the existence of a fully Biblical God. Of course, such arguments can be stepping stones to a fuller argument for the God of the Bible. And that’s no small matter…

Apologetics Beyond Reason pp. 16-17

He then continues along this line mixing the writings of classical literature and philosophy with his own story.  I’m only part of the way in, but it’s a type of subjective apologetics, or intellectual testimony. My words, not his; or at least not so far.

January 6, 2014

We Track a Story People Were Willing to Die For

Crucifixion of St. Peter (Wikipedia Commons) Click image for link

Crucifixion of St. Peter (Wikipedia Commons) Click image for link

This appeared back in August — that’s forever ago in blog years — at Nailing It To The Door, a blog by Dan Martin. It was the eighth in a series of posts titled, Why I Believe; this one being The Testimony of Witnesses. To read this at source and then navigate to find the other parts, click this link.

There is no question in my mind that one of the most compelling reasons to believe specifically the accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings is the testimony of those who were there.  This is, I’m quite sure, a problematic claim for those who object to faith; I’ve encountered many rants on the unreliability of the gospel accounts, though I find that the same people who protest about the unreliability of the gospels tend to be far more credulous when looking at any other ancient written histories.  But there are two particular things about the Apostles and other first-century Christians that I find highly compelling.

The first is specific to the Evangelists who wrote the four canonical gospels (and I really do mean the canonical ones; I’ve read a number of the others and they differ so much in character that the judgment of the councils in rejecting them seems to me quite sound).  C.S. Lewis probably said it best in his 1959 lecture “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism:”

“I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one [of the stories in the Gospel of John, for example] is like this… Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative.” (see the full essay here; quote on p. 155)

Put perhaps a little more simply, the gospels just don’t look like anybody else’s idea of what mythical or divine characters ought to be, do, or say.  Weird and off-center as they might seem now, they were even weirder and less-probable in the time they were written.  Things only turn out that oddly if they’re either real (truth really is stranger than fiction) or very creatively written.

But even more compelling to me is the fact that the authors and their other compatriots were willing to die for the truth of what they had written or said.  And die they did, in some pretty horrible ways.  According to tradition and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563):

  • Philip was crucified
  • Matthew was “slain with a halberd”
  • James the brother of Jesus was beaten, stoned, and clubbed to death
  • Matthias (elected to replace Judas) was stoned and beheaded
  • Andrew was crucified
  • Mark was “dragged to pieces”
  • Peter was crucified upside-down
  • Paul was beheaded
  • Jude was crucified
  • Bartholomew was beaten and then crucified
  • Thomas was speared
  • Simon the Zealot was crucified
  • John was “cast into a cauldron of boiling oil,” survived, and was later exiled to the island of Patmos; “He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.”
  • Barnabas is said to be martyred, though the means of his death is not reported.

These guys, unlike later generations of Christians killed by the thousands under various rulers, knew exactly what they were dying for.  They claimed to have seen and heard it themselves.  If they were faking it, they sure were willing to take their deception to a really crazy, extreme end.

I’m not saying that death alone testifies to truth.  Many hundreds and thousands have died for falsehoods throughout history … I think of the infamous Jonestown mass suicide in the 70s … but the difference, at least as I see it, is that these people were deluded by a charismatic leader who ordered them to their deaths.  Jesus did no such thing, and in fact he was already dead and gone (if we presume fakery) or dead and raised (if we accept the Gospels) before any of the apostles faced their deaths.  These men went willingly to gruesome deaths because they couldn’t recant the truth of what they’d spent their lives teaching.

There are, of course, many more martyrs since the first century.  While I have no desire to diminish their testimony, it seems to me that it’s of a different category.  Except for however they may have experienced the Holy Spirit in their own lives, the thing for which they died was removed from them in that they no longer could testify to having seen Jesus with their eyes, heard his teachings from his very lips with their own ears, and even sat and broken bread with him.  No one, however intense their experience, has had the same level of personal, experiential linkage to Jesus Christ that those first-century apostles had.  And when they were invited to either confess to their lie or die in pain, they insisted it was no lie and accepted the consequences.  Two millenia later, that testimony remains, to me, difficult to refute.

November 1, 2013

C.S. Lewis: Still Very Much Alive

Filed under: apologetics, books, children — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

If you die on the same day as someone more famous, you probably don’t make the evening news. Your newspaper obituary will probably be hidden away on a back page, if space allows it to run at all. So it was with C. S. Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis, after whom the Staples office supply store is named

Clive Staples Lewis, after whom the Staples office supply store chain is named

Much will be made with month about the 50 year anniversary of the passing of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, but only on Christian websites and blogs will you read about Lewis. In some respects, I like to think it keeps him very much alive; that Lewis is at the same time one of our best classic writers and one of our best contemporary writers.

But a blog post a few days ago at Faith Village suggests that Lewis’ appeal is more focused in the United States (and Canada) and less so in his native Britain:

Lewis may be the most popular Christian writer in history, with millions of copies of his books sold, the vast majority in the United States where his influence is far greater than in his native country.

Many readers of the Narnia series have no knowledge of Lewis the Christian apologist, while others who enjoy books like Mere Christianity often forget the connection to the children’s fantasy series.

It’s not uncommon to read other authors where his approach to the claims of Christ are reiterated, or hear them interviews such as this one with U2 frontman Bono:

…Bono imitated C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, where Lewis argued that Jesus had to be a lunatic, liar or Lord.

“When people say ‘Good teacher,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Really nice guy,’ … this is not how Jesus thought of Himself,” Bono said. “So, you’re left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who He said He was or a complete and utter nut case.”

“And I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God…”

The 50th anniversary of his death has already been remembered in Oxford, England with a September festival,  with guest speakers such as Alister McGrath:

“Lewis is now read by more people today than during his lifetime. What makes people keep reading him?” said McGrath.

Answering his own question, McGrath ranged over the ‘three Lewises’ – Lewis the Oxford don, Lewis the Christian writer, and Lewis the creator of Narnia.

“The latter two are why he is remembered,” said McGrath, a professor of theology at King’s College London.

In addition to The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’s best known writings include The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed and Mere Christianity.

McGrath praised Lewis for his skill in explaining the Christian faith in a way that “made sense” while still managing to “engage the imagination”.

“Lewis does need to be heard,” he said.

On Narnia, McGrath said academics were still unsure as to what motivated Lewis to write a series of children’s books seeing as he did not have children of his own and there was, he asserted, some evidence to suggest he did not particularly like children.

“Maybe Lewis is saying: I wish I had this kind of thing when I was younger, I might not have lost my faith,” he speculated.

We’ll have more on the Jubilee celebration of C. S. Lewis’ life and death later this month.

September 7, 2013

Apologetics Fail: Berating Your Audience

Filed under: apologetics — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:17 am

My wife and I have been discussing writing about the title of this 2009 book for some time, but honestly, words fail us, and we’re both prolific writers. What were they thinking? Oh wait, they were accusing their intended audience of not thinking.  Here’s the publisher marketing for Ray Comfort’s You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics

You Can Lead an Atheist To EvidenceThere is a new breed of atheist which our educational system is pumping out like mad. These are militant atheists who have an agenda to eliminate Christianity from the face of the earth. Believers are in a war and we need powerful weapons to “fight the good fight of faith.” This book reveals not just the weakness of the atheists’ arguments and the solid foundation on which the Christian stands, but does so with humor and warmth. Few books take the time to address the atheist’s conscience. By way of a lively Q&A format, “You Can Lead an Atheist” gives empirical evidence for the existence of God. Not only that, this book shows the existence of God can be proven and anyone can do it!

Fine. But do you need to be totally condescending in the book’s title? The subtitle is interesting, too. Angry skeptics? Maybe the reason they’re angry is because you just called them stupid.

I’m sorry, but as much as I agree with the existence of God, as an atheist I would be totally offended by that title, and as a Christian… I am totally offended by it as well.

If I’ve learned anything from discussions with skeptics, agnostics and atheists, it’s that they are not lacking in any critical faculties. Thinking? Maybe they think too much, but last time I checked having intellectual doubts was not a crime. I hated the book’s title when it was released four years ago, and I hate it now.

May 30, 2013

A Homicide Investigator Looks at History’s Most Famous Death

Cold Case ChristianityEvery decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience. Josh McDowell did it years ago with Evidence That Demands a Verdict; Frank Morrison with Who Moved the Stone? and more recently Lee Strobel brought a large audience to the discussion with The Case for Christ series.

Enter former Los Angeles County homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (2013, David C. Cook).  Like Strobel, Wallace was a skeptic turned believer, and like McDowell, Wallace leaves no stone unturned in his study of the reliability of scripture, from obscure passages to those central to core doctrine.

The book is divided into two parts, the nature of cold case investigation — and this case is 2,000 + years old, and the particular evidence that the Bible offers. But first one other book comparison, and you won’t see it coming. Years ago Philip Keller wrote A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. People loved that book because there were particular insights that only one who tended sheep could offer toward interpretation of the text that begins “The Lord is my shepherd.” In many respects, Cold Case Christianity offers the same type of intimacy with the subject matter that only an insider who has worked in this vocation can contribute. So if you feel you’ve read enough apologetics titles to last a lifetime, allow me to offer you one more! 

It’s important to note that Wallace approached this originally from the perspective of an atheist. While the evidence in this case is compelling, I found the first part of the book (which is more than half of the total) most interesting. Possible recipients of this book would include men (Father’s Day is coming) and anyone who reads mysteries or watches mystery or suspense or programs related to the justice system on video or TV.

In a sense, in Cold Case Christianity you, or someone you know who is sitting on the fence in terms of belief, are the jury. So the other possible recipients of this book would be anyone who is investigating Christianity; including people who might not read other books in the apologetics genre.

The second part of the book is the evidence itself. Here, Wallace brings in much from non-Biblical sources, satisfying the oft-voice complaint that some apologists are simply using the Bible to prove the Bible.

J. Warner Wallace is now part of the ministry of Stand To Reason, and posts articles and blogs at . This is a handbook I intend to keep within reach and will no doubt refer back to many times.

February 22, 2013

David Gregory Makes it a Trilogy

Filed under: apologetics, books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:15 am

Night With A Perfect StrangerAlthough there has been a publisher change between the second and third books, David Gregory’s Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and A Day with a Perfect Stranger now has third companion title,  Night with a Perfect Stranger  (2012 Worthy Press hardcover).

I got to know David through the first two books, and then followed him to the nearly 400-page novel The Last Christian, which I reviewed here.  The first two books were also used as the basis of two movies, but with some significant plot changes. I explained the mapping of the two books to the two films here.

So it was interesting to follow David back to the much shorter (120 or so pages) format of the earlier titles.

I actually borrowed this book because I wanted to read it. I’m not aware of Worthy (the publisher) having any kind of review programs. So having mentioned it here let me use bullet points to highlight a few things:

  • The basic premise you have to agree to is that Jesus can appear to people today in the flesh. Yes, of course you disagree that this happens, but you need to suspend that issue to enjoy the book.
  • While this continues to be “apologetics fiction,” the main theme here is the nitty gritty of living the Christian life, of keeping up the zeal we have at major turning points when spiritual disciplines or church life become routine.
  • Tied to this is the nature of God’s dealings with us and the nature of God’s presence.
  • Like the first book — but not the second — there is more appeal here to the male reader, but not at the expense of women who will enjoy this as well.
  • This one is less static; there are more locations; there is more action.
  • There is a fun reference to “that book where God is an African-American woman,”  and readers of “that book” and others like it will enjoy this.
  • The back cover of the book, above the bar code, doesn’t indicate the title as fiction which, in terms of literary genre, it clearly is. Not sure why.

At $14.95 U.S., hardcover gift books like these are not cheap, but they are certainly worth giving to the right person who is struggling with a present Christian life that doesn’t equal past Christian experiences; or is simply longing, as we all do, for something more.

December 28, 2012

Why Mere Christianity Still Works: An Analysis

Mere Christianity C. S. LewisYou’re expected to review current books online, and this review is therefore 60 years too late. However, John Stackhouse has saved the best wine (so to speak) for the last (of the year) with a landmark analysis of the continuing popularity of the C. S. Lewis bestseller Mere Christianity.

I know not everybody clicks through, so I’ll include a few highlights here, but if you treasure good writing, you need to read the article now, because it is every bit as delightful as the book itself. 

john_stackhouseStill here? Okay, those highlights include:

  • A somewhat disjointed set of C. S. Lewis’s views on a wide range of theological, philosophical, and ethical matters, the book became the most important and effective defense of the Christian faith in its century.
  • The first reason why MC should not have worked is rather basic: It doesn’t deliver what its title promises. It does not do even what John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity does—namely, outline at least the basics of evangelicalism’s understanding of the gospel.
  • A second reason why… it is, after all, an extended set of philosophical and theological arguments. Even worse, it is front-loaded with its densest material, a reworking of the moral argument for the existence of God…
  • MC works because Lewis was a master at two rhetorical arts, which he combined fluently: argument and depiction.
  • Lewis can both show and tell. He can tell us what he thinks we should think, and then make it appear for us in an image that usually lasts long after the middle steps of the argument have vanished from memory.
  • What seems effortless for Lewis is actually extraordinarily difficult to emulate. The market is now flooded with books by Ph.D.s who cannot write an interesting and intelligible paragraph, and by wannabe pop apologists who just aren’t very smart.
  • People today do want arguments, but they want them the way Lewis delivered them: in plain language, about issues that matter, in a methodical step-by-step fashion, and with illustrations that literally illustrate and commend the point being made. For scholars to write this way today is at least as much of a challenge as it was in Lewis’s day.

Okay, that’s enough bullet points (aka spoon-feeding!) You really do need to read the article.

C. S. LewisBut then, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, you need to read Mere Christianity. I would suggest taking a chapter at a time; no more than one per day and don’t try to rush through it. Even better, if you can find an interested friend or relative, read it out loud to them daily for several days. (It was, after all, originally a radio broadcast.)

It may also whet your appetite for apologetics, a subject frequently discussed here, that is simply too foreign to too many Christ-followers. I encourage you to develop a taste for it.

If you make it through MC and do indeed find yourself wanting more, I would suggest your next stop be Classic Christianity by Bob George, a man who also knows the power of a good illustration.  Review here.  Excerpt here.

Images: I figured it rather obvious which one is John Stackhouse, Jr. and which one is C. S. Lewis, but, for the record, they appear in that order.  (Actually, the first image is the book in its most recent North American paperback edition from HarperCollins.)

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