Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The End of Reason

A parishioner recently gave me a copy of The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists, by Ravi Zacharias (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). I read it yesterday afternoon. The book is really a response, in letter form, to new atheist Sam Harris’ book, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006). Zacharias’ book is an easy read, (mostly) clear and concise, and basically an accessible summary of the classic arguments of Christian apologetics over-against atheism. There is nothing profoundly new in this book, though Zacharias does make some well-reasoned, articulate arguments that make this book worth a read.

Essentially, Zacharias argues that without God, one cannot explain the origin of either matter or life. Life, having come about by accidental chemical reaction, is purely mechanical without God, and therefore has no inherent meaning. So also, morality, without God, has no objective standard by which to be measured. Rather, one must become his or her own moral lawgiver, and the basis of his or her morality will be purely subjective. Finally, without God, there is no basis for hope. In the end, there is only death and oblivion. So we suffer in this world and have nothing to look forward to save the end of the mechanical process that brought us to consciousness. There is, finally, no justice, no deliverance, no salvation, only an eternity of non-being.

Zacharias is certainly not a Lutheran, but clearly comes from the Evangelical camp. He seems to be open to some form of theistic evolution (this observation coming from one who otherwise knows little about Ravi Zacharias, but read p. 37), even though his arguments clearly support special creation. But my biggest criticism is that Christ is incidental to Zacharias’ argument. The book is neither Christ-centered nor cross-focused, to borrow a phrase from our friends at Issues, Etc. While the problem of pain is a sub-theme throughout the book, nowhere is there any proclamation of Christ as the God who becomes one with us in our pain by taking on our flesh, taking our pain into Himself, dying for the sin that causes all pain, thus restoring us and healing us. In other words, the theology of the cross is missing. The closest Zacharias comes is a conversation he recounts with a co-founder of Hamas on p. 126, where he mentions Jesus’ death as God’s gift, but fails to mention why that gift is important. In answer to the problem of pain, he skips over Jesus’ suffering and death directly to the resurrection. And, of course, the resurrection is the answer, but only after Good Friday.

Be that as it may, however, here are a couple of interesting quotes:

Pleasure, not pain, is the death knell of meaning… We have all come to know that our problem is not that pain has produced emptiness in our lives; the real problem is that even pleasure ultimately leaves us empty and unfulfilled. When the pleasure button is pressed incessantly, we are left feeling bewilderingly empty and betrayed” (p. 40).

In response to Harris’ charge that God is no better than a murderer, since He takes life and allows evil: “There is one fundamental difference between God allowing a death to take place and me taking another life: God has the power to restore life; I don’t” (p. 66).

Finally: “And be careful not to judge a philosophy by its abuse. The difference between someone who calls himself or herself a Christian and yet kills and slaughters and an atheist who does the same thing is that the Christian is acting in violation of his or her own belief, while the atheist’s action is the legitimate outworking of his or her belief” (p. 68).

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