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Book Review: The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl

By Timothy Fox

I’ve waited for this book for a long time. I’ve been listening to Greg Koukl – one of my personal apologetics heroes – on the Stand to Reason podcast for years and he would occasionally mention this book he was working on, The Story of Reality (originally entitled Credo). I had been (not so) patiently waiting for it ever since.

In a sense, I felt like I’ve read the book before since it contains ideas Greg weaves throughout all of his podcasts and talks. But now we have a full survey of the Christian worldview in one location. And it’s fantastic.

Story of Reality Koukl

Content

The Story of Reality is obviously about a story. But not just any story, the Story, with a capital S. Greg argues that Christianity is not just a mere religion; it is a complete understanding of all reality. And as any story is comprised of four major components – introduction, crisis, resolution, and ending – so does the Story: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. If any of those pieces are missing from your understanding of the Story, you have an incomplete view of Christianity.

So what is the Christian Story? Greg explains it through the five parts of his book: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection. The Story begins with God because He is the main character, the creator of all things. This part explores competing explanations of what reality is composed of, Matter-ism (materialism) and Mind-ism (pantheism).

Part 2 tells how God crafts man in His own image, which makes humans beautiful and valuable. But man disobeys God, triggering the crisis of the Story and bringing pain and suffering into the world. So now mankind is both beautiful and broken. This explains what every human knows about reality: there is something deeply wrong.

Part 3 introduces us to the Hero, Jesus Christ, the God-man, who came to fix what mankind broke. It answers two important questions: Who is Jesus? and What did Jesus come to do? Greg also briefly discusses a common modern objection that Jesus never existed as an actual person of history.

Cross teaches how the Hero saves us, by sacrificing Himself through a brutal crucifixion. Jesus bears the punishment we deserve by making a divine trade with the Father. All we do is place our trust in Him and accept God’s saving grace.

In Part 5, Greg uses what is known as the minimal facts approach to show that Jesus’ resurrection is a true historical event. The resolution of the Story shows mankind’s two alternatives: perfect mercy or perfect justice. We can either accept God’s offer of salvation or face his wrath as a just God.

Assessment

In my opinion, The Story of Reality offers the best way of explaining Christianity: as a complete Story or worldview. You cannot take the parts you like and leave the ones you don’t. Similarly, there may be aspects of reality that are difficult to understand but best fit within the Christian Story and not into others, like the pieces of a puzzle.

Greg tells the Christian Story simply and thoroughly, packing a ton of truth in under 200 pages. Every part is divided into multiple chapters which span only a few pages each. If you have ever listened to Stand to Reason, you know how skilled Greg is at explaining complex topics, which also applies to this book, making it very readable. This book is appropriate for Christian and seeker alike, so buy a copy for yourself and your unbelieving friend.

Conclusion

Greg has created a hard decision for me. Whenever anyone asked for a recommendation for an apologetics book, my number one choice without hesitation was always his previous book, Tactics. That is the book to learn how to navigate any conversation with ease and grace. But now I’m torn because The Story of Reality is so foundational. It surveys the entire Christian worldview simply and thoroughly while handling common objections.

Maybe next time some asks for my number one apologetics resource, I’ll just flip a coin. But either way, the top honor belongs to Greg Koukl.

―Tim Fox (FreeThinkingMinistires.com)


To purchase “The Story of Reality” visit STR.org

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Sexual Morality In A Christless World

How would you make a case for Christian sexual morality in a secular setting? Specifically, what would you say if you were asked to speak on the Christian view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in a university classroom? This is exactly the opportunity that motivated pastor Matthew Rueger to start researching and studying Christian sexuality in depth, and ultimately to write the book Sexual Morality in a Christless World.

Sexual Morality

Rueger begins the book by recognizing that the world has radically changed and that Christians increasingly find themselves being considered outcasts and radicals by the secular elite. In light of this reality, he asks a probing question: “Will we mirror the ancient Christians who were not afraid to stand out in the crowd and say, ‘Not for me?’ Are we willing to be ostracized, excluded, secretly derided, and maybe even openly mocked simply because we are Christians? We need to be; our children need to be.”

And yet Rueger rightly notes that for Christians—and in particular Christian students—to stand boldly for biblical morality, they need to first understand why it makes sense. It is critical to understand why God created sex to be experienced between one man and one woman for life, and why this model is still best for society today. This is the exact same approach John Stonestreet and I take in our book Same-Sex Marriage. In order for Christians to speak out confidently for a Christian ethic on marriage and sexuality, we must first understand why God designed sex to be between one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship.

Sex in Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman sexuality was primarily tied to the idea of masculinity and the male’s need for domination. Thus it was permissible for men to have sex with his slaves, whether male or female. Rueger explains: “It was understood that he would be visiting prostitutes of either sex. A strong Roman male would have male lovers even while married to a woman. In the Roman mind, man was the conqueror who dominated on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom.”

And this domination often carried into sexual relationships between adult males and adolescent boys (pederasty). In the Roman mind, sex with boys was often viewed as intellectually superior and a purer form of love than sex with women.

While there are exceptions, women were often viewed as physically and mentally inferior to men. Their value was often tied to their ability to have children. In fact, in the primary creation story accepted in the classical world, which came from Greek mythology, woman was created as a punishment for man (the story of Pandora). This is radically different than the biblical view in which Eve is created as an equal companion to Adam (Genesis 2).

Sexual Exploits of the Caesars

In perhaps the most interesting section of the book, Rueger chronicles the sexual exploits of the Roman Caesars, who both reflected wider culture and helped advance its debauchery. There are stories of Augustus Caesar inviting senators to dinner, and then excusing himself to sleep with their wives. Tiberius practiced pedophilia and is said to have funded a special public office that concentrated on his sexual pleasures. Caligula lived in an incestuous relationship with his sisters. And Nero engaged in public cross-dressing, incest, rape, and other kinds of sexual assault.

It is important not to overstate the debauchery of ancient Rome. There were certainly many good people who resisted wider sexual norms. But citing such differences does reveal how radically countercultural Christian sexual morality was in the first century. And it also shows the courage of the first Christians who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way to advance the greater good in general, and the gospel in particular.

Secular Morality Today

Rueger speaks some chilling and prophetic words for Christians today: “Secular society is moving ever closer to Rome in its assessment of Christianity. The message of Christ is despised, and Christians are seen as bigoted and unloving. Christians today can learn from the Christians who lived in the Roman Empire of St. Paul’s day. The bubble of social acceptance for Christian morality has burst, and now we must be prepared to suffer. Those who speak God’s truth in love will be hated. They may even be prosecuted in some instances” (p. 41).

What I have discussed so far only takes us through the first two chapters in his book! Rueger also contrasts early Christian sexual morality with Jewish morality. He explores some of the key New Testament passages that lay the biblical foundation for sex and marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, 1 Peter 3:1, 7, and Matthew 19:4-6. And he also considers common objections against the biblical sexual ethic. In each case, he shows how Christian sexual morality both elevated women and cared for children, even though it was considered extreme at the time.

Overall, I found Sexual Morality in a Christless World to be insightful, timely, and challenging. Despite what we increasingly hear in our wider culture, the Christian ethic is both reasonable and good. And this is a truth we cannot hide, but must teach to our children and proclaim from the rooftops.


Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


Resources for Greater Impact

Correct NOT CLEAR

Correct Not Politically Correct (Why Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone)

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4PsNEWDVD4P’2 & 4Q’ (The Quick Case FOR Natural Marriage & AGAINST Same-Sex Marriage)

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Book Review: No God But One: Allah or Jesus? by Nabeel Qureshi

By Timothy Fox

Are Christianity and Islam different paths to the same God? Is Jesus really divine or just another prophet? Which is the true word of God, the Koran or the Bible? In No God But One: Allah or Jesus? (NGBO), Nabeel Qureshi explores many of the most common questions involving Islam and Christianity to show “the differences between Islam and Christianity have great implications, and that the evidence of history strongly supports the Christian claims” (11).

Nabeel Qureshi

But this book is not merely academic; it’s personal. Nabeel calls NGBO a “summary of fifteen years of research that wrenched my heart and transformed my life.” The content and tone will be familiar to anyone who read his first book,Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (SAFJ), which chronicles his journey from a devout Muslim to follower of Christ. While Nabeel says that book is “the heart of my story, detailing the relationships, emotions, and spiritual struggles in my search for God,” NGBO is “the mind of my story, examining the religions and their claims” (11).

Another similarity with SAFJ is the use of personal experiences to frame deep theological issues, making NGBO both engaging and easy to read. As I read his previous book, Answering Jihad (read my review here), I was amazed at how Nabeel approached such a difficult topic with great sensitivity, clarity, and brevity. The same goes for his latest. A lesser writer could have used four times the amount pages to convey the same information but Nabeel makes his points simply and with ease, moving briskly from one topic to the next while still providing a thorough response.

Content

NGBO is divided into two main sections, each framed around a key question. The first is “Are Islam and Christianity Really All That Different?” Nabeel discusses five points of contention between the religions: sharia vs. the gospel, Allah’s unity vs. the Trinity, Jesus vs. Muhammad, the Koran vs. the Bible, and Jihad vs. the Crusades. But again, this is not just scoring points in a religious sparring match; it’s the result of a lifetime of careful study: “A decade of experiences as a Christian contrasted with my first twenty-two years of life as a Muslim leaves me no alternative conclusion: Christianity is very different from Islam” (169).

After establishing the vast differences between the religions, the second question is “Can We Know Whether Islam or Christianity Is True?” The case for Christianity rests on three facts: Jesus’ death, resurrection, and deity. Nabeel states “If all three are true, we have good reason to accept the Christian message” (173). To establish the truthfulness of Islam, he focuses on its holy book and prophet: “If we can determine that the Koran is the word of God, or if we can determine that Muhammad is a messenger of God, then we have good reason to accept Islam” (175). Nabeel explores these five points by using the historical method and interacting with the works of leading scholars.

But what if you are already a committed Christian and have no interest in Islam? This book is still important for you as the objections to Christianity that Nabeel answers are not unique to Muslims. Many a skeptic has questioned the reliability of the New Testament or accused the concept of the Trinity of being incoherent. And don’t forget that Nabeel began as a critic of Christianity and raised all of these objections himself.

Conclusion

NBGO ends with a third, deeply personal question: “Is it worth sacrificing everything for the truth?” Because accepting the truth comes with a price. Here in America, we think changing religions is as simple as switching political parties. However, “Leaving Islam can cost you everything: family, friends, job, everything you have ever known and maybe even life itself” (349). Nabeel learned this firsthand, as did Fatima, a young Saudi woman whose courageous and heartbreaking story sets the tone for the entire book.

No, Christianity and Islam are not two paths to the same God. They present radically different views of God and salvation and only one can be true. So who is God, Allah or Jesus? Nabeel concludes:

“There is no God but one, and He is Father, Spirit, and Son. There is no God but one, and He is Jesus” (349).


Resources for Greater Impact:

Book Review: Answering Jihad by Nabeel Qureshi

By Timothy Fox

“There is a better way forward, a way that upholds both truth and compassion.”

Compassion is probably the last word you would expect to find in a book about jihad. But that’s exactly what Nabeel Qureshi desires for us to show Muslims in Answering Jihad. In this book, he does just what the title states: respond to various questions and misconceptions surrounding the role of jihad in Islam. But he does this with compassion and respect. He sets the tone for his book in the introduction (you can read an excerpthere) as he calls us to “understand our Muslim neighbors and show them the love and compassion that all people deserve, devoid of fear and distrust”, as well as “to treat Muslims with the utmost dignity” (20). So if you’re looking for fearmongering and a call to arms against radical Islam, this isn’t the book for you.

But contrary to what our culture leads us to believe, Nabeel thinks it is possible both to love Muslims and to criticize Islam. It is his gracious delivery that will hopefully cause readers to give his views a chance, no matter how contrary they may be to deep-seated prejudices and beliefs. More than once I found myself being challenged, all because of his charitable treatment and thoughtfulness about difficult topics.

Content

Answering Jihad is divided into three parts consisting of six questions each. Every chapter revolves around a question that Nabeel answers thoroughly and concisely. You’ll be amazed at how much information could be packed into such a short volume (173 pages including appendices and a preview of his next book).

Part 1 is a survey of Islam and jihad, exploring the history of the religion and its connection to violence. For example, Nabeel tackles the modern slogan that Islam is a “religion of peace,” arguing that “violence is writ large throughout the pages of Islamic history, including its foundations.” But he reminds us that “this does not mean our Muslim neighbors are violent” (33). What Islam teaches and what Muslims practice may be very different things, as there is a “great diversity of Islamic expression.” This is why he can state that “Islam is not Muslims, and one can criticize Islam while affirming and loving Muslims” (27). Again, Nabeel calls for understanding and compassion.

Part 2 explores modern jihad and radical Islam. Nabeel analyzes the factors that contribute to an individual becoming radicalized and while he desires love and understanding towards Muslims, he is also not afraid to speak the truth about Islam. He looks at groups such as Al-Quaida, ISIS, and Boko Haram to determine how much of their actions are rooted in the Islamic faith and boldly states “When leaders and media members insist that these groups are not Islamic, they are either speaking out of ignorance or intentionally engaging in propaganda” (88).

As a Christian apologist, I was most intrigued by part 3, which examines the connections between Christianity and Islam. I was especially interested to read Nabeel’s response to whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God (spoiler: no) and how jihad compares with the Crusades (spoiler: it doesn’t). Is there violence and warfare in the Old Testament? Yes, there is. But Nabeel carefully distinguishes between the roles such violence plays in the history of both religions and whether violence is acceptable for the Christ-follower today. Ultimately, “The final marching order of Islam is jihad. The final marching orders of Christians are grace and truth” (125).

Conclusion

If there’s anything even remotely negative at all to say about Answering Jihad it would probably be in regards to its short length. However, that was intentional. It is not meant to be a complete and final answer to the problem of jihad, just to concisely answer many of its most pressing questions. And in this, the book definitely succeeds. Plus, its short length only adds to its readability and accessibility.

Answering Jihad is an important, timely book and no matter who you are, it will challenge you. If you are a Muslim, you are encouraged to examine the life of Muhammed and what the Quran really teaches about violence. If you are a Christian, Nabeel reminds you of Jesus’ command to love your enemies, which “might perhaps be the most powerful answer to jihad at our disposal today”, even at the risk of our own lives (20). And everyone is challenged to befriend those who are different than us instead of fearing them. Nabeel concludes that the only way forward is through truth and love.


You can read more about Answering Jihad and find exclusive pre-order offers at www.answeringjihad.com.

And if you haven’t read Nabeel’s fantastic first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, which recounts his journey from Islam to Christianity, what are you waiting for?

Visit Timothy’s website: FreeThinkingMinistries.com