Book Review: Heaven Without Her

HeavenI first became aware of Heaven Without Her: A Desperate Daughter’s Search for the Heart of Her Mother’s Faith by Kitty Foth-Regner when Sherri reviewed it here. I commented that I was putting the book on my TBR list, and the author graciously contacted me and offered to send me both this book and another of hers, The Song of Sadie Sparrow.

This book is part memoir, part apologetics. Kitty grew up with a loving Christian mother, but she rejected the gospel. She felt God wasn’t real and Christianity would just get between her and her idea of fun. She became a feminist and an agnostic, developed a good writing business, had lots of like-minded friends and a significant other. Life seemed good.

Then her aging mother became sick and was not expected to live. Kitty couldn’t bear the thought that she might not see her mother ever again. To Kitty’s credit, she didn’t just mouth a false profession. She couldn’t agree to Christianity if she didn’t believe it was true. But she was willing to investigate it. So she dug, read, and studied not only Christianity but also other religions from every conceivable angle, such as the existence of God, creation vs. evolution, the veracity of the Bible, and more.

The book tells how she got “so lost” in the first place and how, point by point, God dealt with all her objections and brought her to Himself.

A few quotes:

The most dangerous lies are those that contain a healthy dose of truth.

It didn’t take me long to make the most important aspect of radical feminism my own–all the me-centered principle that made my ambitions, my feelings, my intellect, and my freedom my number one priorities.

It was time to quit wondering and take some action.

Later, I would read in Philippians 4 about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” It was like that: peace that I hadn’t felt since I was a little kid, before I knew the heartbreaks and fears and humiliations that can happen in this world. The sort of peace you feel when you know someone much bigger than you is in total control, loves you to pieces, and will take care of you always.

My friendship with several hyper-feminists were among the casualties of my conversion. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut. But I figured that a friend doesn’t let a friend live without hope; a friend shares the gospel.

Kitty ends the book with a list of recommending resources for anyone wanting to research the same questions and concerns that she did.

I’ve heard people criticize creation and apologetic ministries because they are not the gospel, and it’s only the gospel which “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, ESV). That’s true, but the seed of the gospel is the Word of God, according to the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15), and apologetics ministries pull out some weeds and rocks in the soil of people’s hearts and minds so the seed can better take root.

I’m thankful for Kitty’s sharing her testimony and the truths she learned in her book, and I can highly recommend it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: He Is There and He Is Not Silent

SchaefferWhen I first saw the title of He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer, I thought it sounded like something from the Psalms, a response to a deep heart-cry of someone who needed God and found Him.

It’s not that, at least not like the Psalmist’s expressions. It’s a book of philosophy and apologetics. It’s actually the third book in a trilogy, The God Who Is There and Escape From Reason being the first two.

Elisabeth Elliot once said of some of C. S. Lewis’s writing that she could follow it, but it took several careful rereadings to grasp it well enough to be able to express what he said to someone else. That’s how I feel about this book. I could follow the thread of his arguments, but I couldn’t possibly reproduce any of them for you. You can get a brief overview of one chapter at Wikipedia and probably other places. Wikipedia’s overview sums it up nicely: “He Is There and He Is Not Silent is divided into four chapters, followed by two appendices. The first of these chapters deals with metaphysics; the second, morals; and the third and fourth, epistemology. The first appendix concerns revelation and the second the concept of faith.”

Honestly, reading sentences like, “The reason for the modern dilemma is that men have moved from uniformity of natural causes in an open system — open to reordering by God and man — into the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system” makes my head feels like it is about to explode (and some of the comments on Goodreads reassure me that others felt the same way). But it is good to stretch one’s brain sometimes, and I am glad for such masterfully written books because I do know people who think like this about these things, and it is good to know that Christianity not only stands up to scrutiny, but, as Schaeffer shows, it is the only reasonable answer to the many issues that he brings up. He and his wife hosted a lot of people, many of them students, in the 60s and 70s, and I am sure these kinds of things came up in their discussions.

I admit I am an intensely practical person, so when someone asks, “How do we know we are really here?” I am liable to think, “Maybe look in the mirror? Or pinch yourself. Hard.” This was written in 1972, well before The Matrix, but I guess some people really do wonder if reality is close to that kind of scenario.

It wasn’t until the fourth chapter, “The Epistemological Necessity: The Answer,” that the clouds began to clear. It’s the only chapter where I marked any quotes. Here are a couple:

The Bible teaches in two different ways: first, it teaches things in didactic statements, in verbalizations, in propositions…Second, the Bible teaches by showing how God works in the world that He Himself made. We should read the Bible for various reasons. It should be read for facts, and it should also be read devotionally. But reading the Bible every day of one’s life does something else — it gives one a different mentality…Do not minimize the fact that in reading the Bible we are living in a mentality which is the right one, opposed to the great wall of this other mentality which is forced upon us on every side — in education, in literature, in the arts, and in the mass media.

When I read the Bible, I find that when the infinite-personal God Himself works in history and in the cosmos, He works in a way which confirms what He has said about the external world (p. 78).

The strength of the Christian system — the acid test of it —  is that everything fits under the apex of the existent, infinite-personal God, and it is the only system in the world where this is true. No other system has an apex under which everything fits.That is why I am a Christian and no longer an agnostic. In all the other systems, something “sticks out,” something cannot be included; and it has to be mutilated or ignored. But without losing his own integrity, the Christian can see everything fitting into place beneath the Christian apex of the existence of the infinite-personal God who is there (p. 81).

The Christian should be the man with the flaming imagination and the beauty of creation (p. 87).

I’ve had this book on my shelf for something like 30 years. I am thankful for the TBR Challenge, which encouraged me to scour my shelves for unread books and finally get to them. If you like philosophizing, this book is for you.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

SeekingIn Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity Nabeel Qureshi first gives a window into a loving and devout Muslim home, with all its practices, disciplines, and teachings, as well as a peek into the perspective of growing up Muslim in a non-Muslim culture.  Wanting to be a faithful representative of Islam, having been taught critical thinking in school and having a mind geared for it, he often turned the arguments of some of his Christian classmates on their heads, bringing up aspects they had not thought about before and were not ready to defend.

In college God brought to him “an intelligent, uncompromising, Non-Muslim friend who would be willing to challenge” him, someone who was “bold and stubborn enough” to deal with him but also someone he could trust “enough to dialogue…about the things that mattered to [him] the most.” Nabeel and his friend, David, were both on the forensics team and knew how to get to the heart of an argument and draw out and refute key points. For the most part they did this with each other’s worldviews good-naturedly, but when a given topic became too heated, they’d table it for a while. Muslims particularly have trouble with the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the connection between Christ’s death on the cross and how it atoned for others’ sins. For three years Nabeel studied the Bible and its claims and others’ claims about it, fully confident that he’d be able to disprove those claims, and then to study the history of Mohamed and the claims of the Quran, fully confident that Islam would be justified. Though he was obviously biased toward the Quran, he really wanted to know the truth. He discovered the Bible’s claims were justified and Islam’s to be on shaky ground.

For some time he resisted acting on this knowledge. Being a Muslim was a matter of identity as well as religion: his whole life, everything he had always believed, his relationship with his family and community, everything would be turned upside down if he became a Christian. Yet he could not continue on, knowing what he now knew. In one of the most beautiful and touching passages in the book, he was seeking time to mourn before making the decision he knew he had to, and he opened the Bible for guidance this time, not simply to look for information to refute. He came to Matthew 5:4, 6:

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Nabeel writes further:

There are costs Muslims must calculate when considering the gospel: losing the relationships they have built in this life, potentially losing this life, and if they are wrong, losing their afterlife. It is no understatement to say that Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross.

But then again, it is the cross. There is a reason Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

Would it be worth it to pick up my cross and be crucified next to Jesus? If He is not God, then, no. Lose everything I love to worship a false God? A million times over, no!

But if He is God, then yes. Being forever bonded to my Lord by suffering alongside Him? A million times over, yes!

All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing.

I feel I must comment on one aspect of the story that I questioned at first and I am sure other readers might as well: When Nabeel mentioned early on being “called to Jesus through visions and dreams,” I admit I inwardly winced and wondered what kind of story I’d be reading. For reasons too long to go into here, I am of those who believe that once God gave us His completed Word in writing, then dreams, visions, tongues, and the like fell away as unneeded.  The few modern instances I have ever heard or read of that seemed most in line with Bible truth were in cultures which didn’t have the Bible, often didn’t have a written language at all. Another problem with relying on dreams Nabeel discovered himself: one questions what it really means (his Muslim mother and Christian friend had completely opposite interpretations for what Nabeel’s dreams meant), wonders how much was due to wishful thinking, asks “Could I really hinge my life and eternal destiny on a dream?” etc. If that’s all he had to go on to become a believer, I would question what he was really trusting, but these dreams came after years of intense searching and study. In an appendix by Josh McDowell on this topic, he states, “Dreams and visions do not convert people; the gospel does,” but he explains, “In many Muslim cultures, dreams and visions play a strong role in people’s lives. Muslims rarely have access to the scriptures or interactions with Christian missionaries.” As in Nabeel’s case, “the dreams lead them to the scriptures and to believers who can share Jesus with them. It is the gospel through the Holy Spirit that converts people.”

One of many passages that stood out to me was in the chapter “Muslims in the West,” which described how Muslims view the West and Christians and, because they think both have corrupting influences and Westerners they are against Islam, they tend to keep to themselves. “On the rare occasion that someone does invite a Muslim to his or her home, differences in culture and hospitality may make the Muslim feel uncomfortable, and the host must be willing to ask, learn, and adapt to overcome this. There are simply too many  barriers for Muslim immigrants to understand Christians and the West by sheer circumstance. Only the exceptional blend of love, humility, hospitality, and persistence can overcome these barriers, and not enough people make the effort.”

I didn’t agree with everything Nabeel’s Christian friend said in the section about the Bible, in regard to believing some sections in the Bible were added later and not part of the original canon, but I do acknowledge that some do believe that.

There are multiple good aspects of this book: the window into another culture and mindset and the understanding of the difficulties a Muslim would have in coming to Christianity; the example of David and other friends who shared truth kindly and politely rather than belligerently or condescendingly, who genuinely cared about Nabeel as a friend rather than a “project”; the  wealth of information Nabeel found and shared from his studies which give a valuable apologetic (supplemented by several appendices>); and the touching yet agonizing conversion of a soul truly hungering and thirsting after the one true God.

This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: Mere Christianity

Mere ChristianityI first read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis some seven or so years ago and tried to write a review, but ended up mainly just listing quotes, which is not a review. It wasn’t hard to read or to follow — for the most part Lewis’s thinking was actually pretty easy to track, and he writes in a logical, almost conversational style rather than like a theology textbook. It was more a matter of there being too much to take in and process and too many goods things to share to reduce it to anything like a review. I read a quote by Elisabeth Elliot (which I neglected to keep track of) something to the effect that she could understand Lewis by reading him through the first time, but needed to read him again to be able reconstruct his arguments. I feel the same way. I’m thankful The Cloud of Witnesses Challenge sponsored by Becky at Operation Actually Read Bible spurred me to pick this up again. I feel I got much more from it this time, maybe just because of a second reading, maybe because of several years of (hopefully) maturing in the meantime, maybe because our church has been talking about “Coffee Shop Apologetics” on Wednesday nights using some of Lewis’s material here and there.

It is interesting to read how Lewis came from an atheistic background and what the Lord used to convince him that Christianity was the truth. Although this book is not his “testimony” per se, he does touch on his own personal journey to faith.

The book is divided into four sections: “Right and Wrong as a Clue to Meaning in the Universe,” in which he argues for Christianity and why it is the best solution to universal moral and logical dilemmas, then “What Christians Believe,” “Christian Behavior,” and “Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Originally the various segments were radio talks in the 1940s which were then tweaked to better fit written form.

I have many more places marked than I can possibly share here. Goodreads has a list of several quotes from the book, some you’ll recognize as classic Lewis. One of my favorite quotes about love comes from this book. Here are a few others hat stood out to me:

From the chapter “We Have Cause to Be Uneasy”:

For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we must need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger -according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.

From the chapter “The Practical Conclusion”:

[The Christian] does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.

From the chapter “Social Morality”:

I may repeat “Do as you would be done by” till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbor as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself until I learn to love God.

From the chapter “Sexual Morality”:

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity-like perfect charity-will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

From the chapter “The Great Sin”:

Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says, “Well done,” are all pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, “I have pleased him; all is well,” to thinking, “What a fine person I must be to have done it.”

That was immensely helpful to me. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this, but sometimes when you receive a compliment, then you feel a rush of pleasure, that feel guilty for that pleasure and feel you need to redirect the attention to the Lord, and in trying to do so sound awkward and overly pious. For that reason, when someone, say, sings a solo in church that I enjoyed, I try to tell them it blessed my heart rather than just “I enjoyed your song this morning.” Though I mean the same thing by both sentences, the second one makes people feel awkward and self-conscious. This thought did help me to understand it’s not wrong to feel pleasure in pleasing someone else or accepting a compliment.

From the same chapter:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is a nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who tool a real interest in what you said to him….He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

From the chapter “Charity”:

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act to-day is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or, anger to-day is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.

From the same chapter:

Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

From the chapter “Hope”:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.

From the chapter “Faith”:

But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for [Christianity]. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments when a mere mood rises up against it.

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

From a second chapter titles “Faith”:

And, in yet another sense, handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you (emphasis mine).

From the chapter “Nice People or New Men”:

But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man…

If what you want is an argument against Christianity (and I well remember how eagerly I looked for such arguments when I began to be afraid it was true) you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, ‘So there’s your boasted new man I Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls-of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbours or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anaesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or `the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?

There were a very few places I disagreed with him. In “The Perfect Penitent” he thinks the theory “about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us” is a silly one and says he doesn’t understand the point of punishing an innocent person for a guilty one, though he says he can understand it better in terms of paying a debt. I’m not sure how he could have missed the teaching that God’s just letting us off the hook would be a violation of His justice and righteousness, and Christ’s innocent death satisfied that justice (Romans 3:24-26). In “The Practical Conclusion” he says “a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it,” which I would disagree with very much. When we’re saved we are born again: we don’t get unborn. Our spiritual life may get weak and sickly with neglect, and we do need to nurture that life and mature in it, but we don’t lose it. Then in “Counting the Cost” he says that God said in the Bible that we are “gods” and “He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature…which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness)”. I’m not quite sure how to take him there. Both Psalm 82:6-7 and John 10:34-36 have the term “You are gods,” and, frankly, I am not quite sure what is meant in those cases, either. The Bible talks about us becoming one with the Father and Son and becoming partakers of the divine nature, but we don’t become Deity like Christ is. I don’t think Lewis is saying that we do – I am just not sure what he is saying. If you’ve read his Space Trilogy, you know he portrays the mythical gods and goddesses as some kind of created being more powerful than humans but not like angels, either. Perhaps all he is talking about it what we’ll be like in glory: perfected yet still less than God the Father and Jesus Christ. And in “The Practical Conclusion,” he says that three things that spread the “Christ-life” to us are baptism, belief, and communion (the Lord’s Supper). I would say only faith does: the others are matters of obedience and blessing, but they are symbolic and not life-giving in themselves (see the outline for “Why We Know Baptism Does Not Save.”)

Much more could be discussed, on these points or others in the book. Despite those few caveats mentioned, I feel this is a valuable book and one of those Christian classics that everyone should read at least once, probably several times over.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: Walking From East to West: God in the Shadows

Walking From East to WestWalking From East to West: God in the Shadows by Ravi Zacharias first came to my attention when Sherry recommended it to me. I had heard Ravi speak on the radio several times and appreciated his ministry and his way of thinking, and I generally like biographies and memoirs, so I was glad to pick this up.

The book came about when his publishers asked him to write his memoirs “in the simplest terms, with your heart on your sleeve.” In the beginning of the book, Ravi shares these lines from James Russell Lowell’s “The Present Crisis“:

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

Ravi shapes his story by pointing out God “in the shadows,” God at work throughout his life even when he did not perceive Him.

Ravi’s story begins in the East, in Chennai (formerly Madras) in India. His earliest religious associations were bound by fear but also by the rich heritage of the cultural stories, myths, and celebrations. His mother was spiritual but also superstitious. They even had an astrologist do readings of the family once, revealing a “cultural mix of religion, superstition, and ‘cover all bases’ mentality with regard to the supernatural.” A couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses were allowed to teach the children to read, especially the Bible, and the children were awed until they got to their teaching that only 144,000 were going to make it to Paradise. When Ravi realized that there were more than 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, so that not even all of their people were going to make it, much less the people they were teaching, he rejected their study as well as Christianity. He didn’t know then that there were differences between different sects, and between sects and cults.

His father had a powerful position in the government, and his siblings all seemed to have leadership personalities. Being successful professionally and influentially was one of the highest values of his culture. For various reasons, Ravi’s father did not seem to have the same esteem for him that he did his other children. He had names of endearment for the others, but not for Ravi, and Ravi was “consistently on the receiving end of his rather violent temper.” This, of course, made him even more hesitant around his father than he already was naturally, and made his father react against him further. His father told Ravi he was a failure and repeatedly told him in so many words that he would never amount to anything. Ravi felt the same way: even the astrologer mentioned gave him a disappointing reading. He felt an intense loneliness and inferiority even with friends, because they were all “either rich or brilliant, and I was neither. While they were always at the top of the class, I never did well in studies.” They always had money to spend, and he didn’t: he could only participate in what they did if they paid his way. No one “bared their heartaches or inner struggles” in his culture, so he kept it all inside.

He found something of an escape in sports, where he did excel, especially in cricket, though his father never came to any of his matches. He thought about playing professionally, but even the professional cricket players could not make a living at it and worked at other jobs. Ravi had been so poor at his studies that by his teens, when he was supposed to be finding his way in life, he had no idea what to do, and his father’s consistent belittling and his increasing sense of loneliness were all coming to a head.

About this time his sister started attending Youth For Christ rallies and invited him along. He was bored at first but came again when his sister was singing with a group that night. Then he heard a message on John 3:16 that spoke to his heart, and he responded to the invitation and prayed to receive Christ. Things were still vague and fuzzy for him for a long while.

Ravi went on to college but fell into his old habits of not studying and began to fail. His lack of purpose and sense of shame and failure finally led him to attempt to take his own life. As he recovered in the hospital over several days, a Youth For Christ leader brought his mother a Bible with a passage marked for Ravi. This leader had not known of the suicide attempt (no one did), but the passage he marked was John 14:19: “Because I live, you will also live.” When Ravi was well enough to receive it, “the words hit [him] like a ton of bricks.” He grasped at the hope in it and prayed that if God would get him well, he “would leave no stone unturned in [his] pursuit of truth.”

God continued to work in his heart, and he began to attend Youth For Christ functions more  often. He had never been a reader, but now he began to devour Christian biographies and Bible commentaries. “For the first time, I felt my mind being stretched – and I loved it. I realized that thinking could be fun, and with that simple realization I was sent headlong into the lifelong discipline of reading.”

A friend of his father’s was a hotel manager and great chef, and Ravi admired him and decided he wanted to follow in his footsteps. His father pulled some strings to get him into the Institute of Hotel Management. He excelled and now felt he had a purpose, both life and in a profession.

As he continued to grow spiritually, reading, attending Youth For Christ and a new church, eventually he went with a team to a Youth Congress, part of which was a preaching contest. His friend who was designated to preach could not due to a conflict, so Ravi was asked to fill in with only three hours notice. Some of the men in that assembly recognized God’s hand on him and encouraged him. He still didn’t think that was what God was calling him to do, but he went on more preaching ministries and teams with Youth For Christ.

His family moved to Canada after his father’s retirement, and God continued to lead Ravi to people, churches, and organizations that helped him grow, and where he met his future wife. He continued studying and working in hotel management, but began to sense that “[his] priorities and [his] ‘heartbeat’ were changing toward other things.”

One thing that stood out to me was the encouragement from older Christians that God used in his life. He writes, “I don’t think older Christians can ever fully know what an important role they play in the affirmation of younger believers. When you’re just a youth, it means so much to have someone who’s farther along the road say to you, ‘I see something in you, and I want you to be encouraged in it.'”
As he continued preaching as opportunities came, many people told him they felt he was gifted with evangelism. He was encouraged but didn’t know the difference then between being an evangelist and “just preaching.” But he knew that “a special sensation rose up in me as I preached. I had an intense urge to persuade….I knew I wanted to preach to people who were on a quest, people whose minds were challenging what they saw around them, who were hurting on the inside, and who needed someone to speak to those issues.”

Eventually God led him to become a full-time preacher, to overseas opportunities to preach, and eventually into apologetics. Of the last, he said that people talk about truth having to get from the head to the heart for one to be converted, and that was true, but after he was converted, the truth traveled from his heart back to his head again, and he developed a “hunger to know the great depths of truth behind my faith.” He wanted to understand all the whys and wherefores of the faith, and his reading and study helped him find answers. “Most of the preaching in evangelism was geared to the ‘unhappy pagan.’ What about the ‘happy pagan, I thought, ‘the one who has no qualms about his life?’ Life was about to change for me in my heartfelt desire to preach to the skeptic” and intellectuals.

Eventually God led him (and provided in a miraculous way!) to form “a ministry that would communicate the gospel effectively within the context of the prevailing skepticism. It would seek to reach the thinker and to clear all obstacles in his path so that he or she could see the cross, clearly and unhindered…I wanted to address those struggling people – the Thomases of the world –  who saw life as not making sense. If the church didn’t place a value on a person’s questioning, then we were effectively absolving ourselves of any responsibility to that person. At the same time, if the skeptic’s questions weren’t honest, we had to address them in ways that exposed his or her dishonesty. Apologetics had to be about much more than answering questions – it had to focus on questioning the questions and clarifying truth claims.” “It is up to the thinking Christian to train the mind, take seriously the questioner, and respond with intelligence and relevance.”

I know some people demean apologetics, since it’s not the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), but I’ve always agreed with Ravi’s thought here that it can help prepare the way for the gospel plus it can help clarify truth for the believer as well.

The ministry borne out of all this was Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). Ravi had another name in mind, but the others involved felt the ministry should have his name and “stand up behind your integrity, or fall with the lack of it,” a scary proposition indeed.

Regarding some of the dangers that came about in his ministry (including death threats), he says, “You have to learn that you cannot claim a path just because it is less intimidating. You must keep in mind that God does have an appointment with you, that there is a cost to serving Him. At the same time, you have to be wise and not careless. To deny the reality that there are some places where you cannot go is to play the fool. More important, if you have not learned to pay the smaller prices of following Christ in your daily life, you will not be prepared to pay the ultimate price in God’s calling.”

A few more quotes that stood out:

“Successes are hollow if you do not know the author of life and His purpose.”

After telling the United Nations that there are four absolutes that we all agree to, love, justice, evil, and forgiveness: “Only on the cross of Jesus do love, justice, evil, and forgiveness converge. Evil, in the heart of man, shown in the crucifixion; love, in the heart of God who gave His Son; forgiveness, because of the grace of Christ; and justice, because of the law of God revealed.”

“There are some wonderful things from your painful past, things with a beauty you may not have realized at the time.”

“Caution laced with wisdom and commitment must always be the key to the onward step.”

“Jesus wasn’t just the best option to me; He was the only option. He provided the skin of reason to the flesh and bones of reality. His answers to life’s questions were both unique and true. No one else answered the deepest questions of the soul the way He did.”

“Sometimes in the shadows of one’s self lie the problems, and in the shadows of one’s shaping lie the answers.”

A lot of the explanation behind the differences in Eastern vs. Western thinking was quite interesting.  There is a plethora of fascinating information here, including various testimonies of God at work (including Ravi’s own father’s salvation) and how we led in Ravi’s personal life, family, and ministry.

I know some of my readers would wonder, so I’ll have to say here that, no, I wouldn’t endorse every single person and ministry mentioned in the book, but there is no denying the hand of God in the life and ministry of Ravi Zacharias. I loved reading this book and highly recommend it to you.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)