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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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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:

Just Listen

By Timothy Fox

“Everyone should be slow to speak, quick to listen….” James 1:19

I admit, I hate asking Christians for advice or to share my troubles. They just don’t listen! You pour out your heart and they respond with trite statements like “Smile, Jesus loves you!” “Everything will be okay!” “Trust in God!” “Jeremiah 29:11!” While you’re talking, you see in their eyes that they aren’t even listening; they’re thinking of some Christian-ese slogan or random Scripture to share. And while they may be well-meaning, they don’t help. If anything, you leave feeling more frustrated that you had your problem disregarded or minimized. And sometimes you don’t really need advice. You just want someone to care.

Just listen

But what does this have to do with apologetics? Everything.

For instance: A kid from youth group expresses his doubts about God’s existence to his pastor and the pastor responds “Just have faith.” What does this do to the youth? It shows him either 1) his doubts and concerns aren’t worth responding to, 2) the pastor doesn’t have the answer, 3) or worse, there is no answer. Then what happens the next time the youth has a doubt? He keeps it to himself. And the next one. And the one after that. Eventually, doubt will build until he abandons his faith completely.

That’s why the first job of an apologist is to listen. To individuals and to the culture. What are the questions people are asking? What are the big issues facing society? Apologetics isn’t just an academic discipline. It’s about helping people. We “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5) out of love because we want to remove any mental obstacle standing between an individual and Christ. Because we respect people’s doubts and concerns. And because we have them too.

Here are three things that listening allows you to accomplish:

1) Listening shows that you care about people’s questions and concerns. But not only that, it shows that you care about them. Sometimes people don’t want advice; they just want someone to pay attention to them. Remember the cliché: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is especially true in apologetics. We get so wrapped up in DEMOLISHING ARGUMENTS!!! that we end up destroying relationships instead. But what’s the point in having all the answers if no one is willing to hear what you’re saying? If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them first.

2) Listening enables you to answer the questions people are actually asking. You can lecture people all day on the evidence for God’s existence and never reach the true reason they won’t accept Christianity. If someone is troubled by all the pain and suffering in the world and you’re pontificating on the fine-tuning of the universe, you’re talking past them, not to them. Apologetics is personal. It answers someone’s specific questions. An apologist who doesn’t listen to people is irrelevant and useless. A good apologist need not have all the answers, just the one a seeker is actually looking for.

3) Listening teaches you what people really believe. I can’t stand when someone presumes to tell me what I believe, so we shouldn’t do it to others. “Oh, you’re a _____? Then you must believe _____.” Never assume. You may think you’re DESTROYING!!! someone’s worldview when you’re really straw-manning them. Want to know what someone actually believes? Ask them. Then you can have a meaningful conversation. You may even learn something in the process.

We apologists are great at gathering information. But we also need wisdom. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8:1: “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” What use is tons of apologetic knowledge if you’re not actually helping someone overcome objections to the gospel? We only tear down arguments so that we can build up faith. Apologetics is a labor of love, one that begins with an open ear and a closed mouth.

So what’s the first step in becoming an effective apologist? Just listen.


 

Visit Tim’s website @ FreeThinkingMinistries.com

Stuff Atheists Say: Believing in God Is Like Believing in Santa

By Timothy Fox

Welcome to the second installment in my series, Stuff Atheists Say! (Read part 1 here.) This series is dedicated to bad arguments and statements that some atheists (the internet troll type) make to derail a conversation and avoid having to put forth any arguments or evidence of their own. My intention is not to smear every nonbeliever as there are many thoughtful and honest questions that skeptics ask which need to be answered. In fact, there are many atheists who are just as tired as these nonsensical statements as I am! That’s why I want to clear up some of these pointless slogans once and for all. So on to the second one:

Stuff Atheists Say: Believing in God Is Like Believing in Santa

Bad “argument” #2: Believing in God is no different than believing in Santa Claus.
Or maybe you’ve heard it stated: “I don’t need to disprove God any more than I need to disprove the existence of leprechauns.” Or fairies. Or any other type of mythical creature. The point of this statement is to equate God with any other imaginary being that is ridiculous to seriously believe in.

The Santa Delusion

So is believing in God really the same as having an imaginary friend? An invisible sky daddy? Maybe, if believing in a fat man in a red suit who delivers presents in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer to every child in the world is the same thing as believing in a God who created the universe from nothing, brought life from non-life, and grounds objective moral values and duties. If so, then yes, they’re exactly the same.

But if believing in God is so ridiculous, you know what’s even more ridiculous? Giving lectures against his existence. Having debates about it. Trolling blogs and internet chatrooms. Writing popular-level books promoting unbelief. Meanwhile, I don’t see anyone penning The Santa Delusion or The Tooth Fairy Is Not Great.

And I guess that the overwhelming majority of humans throughout all of time are as deluded as little children. Because every culture across history has had some kind of religion or believed in a deity of a sort.  We discuss God’s existence in the classroom, at the dinner table, and over a coffee (or beer). From philosophers to scientists, with believers, skeptics, and everyone in-between. Silly humans.

No, Seriously

But let’s take this argument seriously. Is belief in God really no different than belief in Santa? First, how justified are we in believing in Santa Claus? What would it take for someone to actually think that he exists? Evidence. And here the atheist says “Correct! There’s no evidence for either of them! That’s why it’s ridiculous to believe in God or Santa!” But is the evidence for Santa Claus and God really the same? Well, if Santa does exist, we would know what to look for: a fat man in a red suit delivering presents Christmas Eve. But what about God? If God exists, do you know what you would look for? Before stating that there is no evidence for something, make sure you know what kind of evidence there should be if that thing does exist!

For it to be reasonable to believe that Santa Claus exists, he would have to be the best explanation for the existence of Christmas presents. But is there another, better explanation? Perhaps someone else put the presents under the tree, like parents. Maybe the gifts just popped into existence from nothing. Or maybe they’ve been there for all eternity! You can probably see where this is going. How did the universe get here? Did it just pop into existence uncaused, has it always been here, or is it reasonable to believe that something, or someone, caused it to begin to exist? God is the best explanation for all of reality. And even if you disagree, it’s still a legitimate option, is it not?

But maybe Santa exists and he’s just hiding. That’s why he has never been observed, just like God! Again, what are the reasons to believe that Santa exists? Are there any? Because there are very good reasons to believe that God exists, such as the cosmological argument, moral argument, fine-tuning argument, etc. Can you honestly say the same about Santa? Of course not.

Furthermore, what are the consequences if Santa doesn’t exist? Then kids must get their Christmas presents another way, because we know from experience that presents exist (unless you were on the naughty list, I guess). But if there’s no God? Then the universe came into existence uncaused from nothing for no reason. Life came from non-life and consciousness from non-consciousness. There are no objective morals and values. Exactly the same? No. Not a chance.

Conclusion

I hope we can all see how ridiculous it is to equate God with some imaginary or mythical being. It’s not as trivial as who delivers Christmas presents or trades cash for teeth; we’re talking about the First Cause who created and upholds the entire universe. There are good reasons and arguments for God’s existence. So to those who say that belief in God is no different than belief in Santa Claus, please stop. You’re the ones making ridiculous claims, not us.

For another good and thorough treatment of this issue, check out the Reasonable Faith article Is God Imaginary?

 

For More Articles like Stuff Atheists Say: Believing in God Is Like Believing in Santa visit Tim’s site at FreeThinkingMinistries.com

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