Has Christianity Failed you? Ravi Zacharias (Zondervan)
When Ravi Zacharias was asked to talk on the question, ‘Has Christianity failed you?’ at an Open Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, he was staggered that some 4,000 turned up, with many lined up outside. So as someone whose international ministry as an apologist has helped thousands into Christianity, he writes to address those who have left, or are thinking of leaving the faith – a problem that is increasing within the US, as it has been in the UK over recent decades.
The book has much to commend it. It presents an orthodox evangelical faith in a gracious and warm style. A university graduate grappling with the particular issues addressed, will find approaches and answers that would stretch them. For example, chapters entitled ‘Points of Tension’ and ‘Looking Incoherence in the eye’, look at pain and suffering – a common problem for those told that having trusted Christ, all their problems disappear. He looks at how a loving God allows evil to exist in His followers’ lives and in the world at large. The chapter ‘Does Prayer make a difference?’ focuses on some of the intellectual arguments regarding prayer including so called ‘unanswered prayer’ and relates some moving examples. It is meat and two veg for this experienced apologist and handled well. He quotes the great and the good helpfully and himself without being distracting. He clearly understands that those who have left the faith need tender handling.
My main concern about the book is what is not included. It makes sense to focus in the first chapter on ‘Who is Jesus?’ looking at the titles: Son of David, son of God, son of Man and Saviour. But in ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ he looks at the intellectual underpinning of the faith and the postures that can be adopted on the nature of human reality with an excurses into philosophy. Yet little on what you might expect – such as following Jesus, the presence of the Spirit, fellowship, witness and service.
He spends a whole chapter critiquing Robert M Price’s book, ‘Reason Driven Life’ which pours scorn on Rick Warren’s bestselling book, ‘Purpose Driven Life’ Maybe the author has judged the subject matter correctly for a US audience, but unless you were especially aware of the book by Price, it was hard to understand why this would merit a whole chapter in a seven chapter book.
There are a number of books in the last decade that outline recent research on why people have left Christianity or are disillusioned by it. Books such as ‘Unchristian’in the US, ‘Gone but not forgotten’ and its sequel in the UK, and notably Churchless Faith and its sequel in New Zealand. Yet this book includes little or no comment on some of those findings. If Christianity has failed you because you faced spiritual abuse, church conflict, heresy or leadership failure – the book has nothing to say.
Many who believe ‘Christianity has failed them’ know the arguments that Zacharias espouses, but have abandoned the faith because of a lack of reality within their own life and the church community that they are a part of. Zacharias appreciates that many believe Christianity has ‘failed them’ because they have not been taught to be disciples of Jesus. But the book is not sufficiently clear about the kind of Christianity that is taught in the Bible and which many experience. To use a cliché, the book was OK in giving you reasons why you’d be OK ‘if you died tonight’, but didn’t do enough to explain that true faith teaches you ‘how you can live tomorrow’.
In short, the book lacked the sort of insights that would be second nature to those who have grappled with the real issues of those who drift away. It left me asking whether this was really the right topic for this eminent and gifted evangelist to have tackled. Read his other excellent material but you might want to give this one a miss.