Why Jesus? (A Review, or an apology for not liking the book to all my friends who are Ravi fans)

I read this book as part of a Goodreads group I am a member of.  Though I finished it over a week ago, I have not been able to write a review of it because I still cannot figure out what I think.  I should like it.  I work in campus ministry, my desire is for people to know Jesus, I enjoy apologetics and trying to answer questions people have.  Others who do the same work as I do tend to be huge fans of Ravi’s work.  Further, I am sure I agree with Ravi on the essentials of Christian faith.  So again, I should like this book.

I did like parts of it.  There were many gems here and there.  Yet, the style of writing and argument ultimately left me unsatisfied.  I think part of it was that as I was reading, more and more I wondered who this book was for.  At one point he was talking about  the temple in ancient Jerusalem and the corruption that took it over.  Such stories make me think this book is not for people without prior knowledge of scripture.  He wrote as if his readers knew the story, and while I did, I know many people, both Christian and non-Christian, would find the whole thing confusing.  Solomon?  So I don’t think this book is meant to be given to a spiritual seeker who is relatively unfamiliar with faith.  But then, who is it for?

Overall, I found his writing style very random.  Back when I first learned about Ravi, years ago when I was in college, a friend said he much more enjoyed Ravi as a speaker then as an author.  I read one book by Ravi in college and though it was interesting, I did not keep coming back to it like I did books by other apologists.  Perhaps it is his random writing style, which as I read this book I recalled from the previous one.  He’ll randomly bring up some author (At one point he wrote, “Of course Neale Donald Wasch’s book…” – Who?  He never mentioned this person before) or make some anecdote that has little to do with what he’s saying (such as bringing up the building of a mosque near ground zero in New York).

One of my Goodreads friends has said Ravi is subtle.  Maybe that’s the case and maybe I just don’t get it.  And maybe this review is sounding apologetic because I know when I post it on Goodreads I’ll get a hard time.  But when I read an apologetic book one judgment I give is whether I would recommend this book to someone.  I recommend Tim Keller and CS Lewis and Francis Schaeffer all the time.  I can’t imagine a situation I’d recommend this book in.  Or to return to the question above, I am not sure who this book is for.

I suppose if I met someone who really loved Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, then I’d offer this book.  Maybe such a person is the targeted audience.  But that reveals another reason I think I struggled with this book.  I have never met anyone who reads Chopra, and I don’t think any of my students watch Oprah.  I think Ravi’s point is more that these two represent a cultural move, their ideas have permeated culture, or they represent the sort of ideas that permeate culture.  This is probably true, and elements of this “new spirituality” are dangerous.   Yet after a while I felt like I was learning more about what is wrong with Chopra then I was with what is right about Jesus.  If I was someone who had read Chopra, all the information on him may be helpful.  To me, it became nearly petty.

Before I give some positives, I’ll also say I found Ravi’s lack of footnotes frustrating.  For example, when he writes, “Hindu apologists say,” I want a reference because I’d love to read Hindu apologetics.  I have never seen a Hindu apologetics book and I recall learning in religion classes that Hinduism does not really engage in rational apologetics like Christianity does.  So I’d be interested in learning more.  At another place, he mentions Richard Niebuhr’s famous quote that says liberal Christianity gives us “a God without wrath who took Man without sin into a kingdom without righteousness through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”  But Ravi, sort of randomly, to use my word of the day, applies this to Chopra and religious ideas in general.  Is Ravi saying liberal Christianity is connected to the “new spirituality”?  Is he being this subtle and I just don’t get it?

Ravi’s goal is to respond to the “new spirituality” with the gospel of Jesus.  Within this he does make some great statements, such as:

God has put enough into this world to make faith in him a most reasonable thing; but he has left enough out to make it impossible to live by reason alone” (Zacharias, Ravi (2012-01-25). Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (p. xvi). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition)

Why Jesus? He is the Lord who makes reality beautiful and helps us to find him, even in the darkest corners of the world; not because of what we know or who we are or what we have accomplished, but because of who he is. He is truly the “Hound of Heaven” who says, “Thou dravest love from thee that dravest me” (Zacharias, Ravi (2012-01-25). Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (p. 225). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition).

I also like how he makes the point that many are okay with the idea that Jesus went to the East to learn from gurus, but would be revolted by the idea that eastern deities (such as Krishna) came west.  He makes a strong case that Eastern religion, which often appears so tolerant, is actually just as exclusive as the west.  Along with that, he works hard to balance reason and rationality with experience and spirituality.  It is not the “spirituality” that is the problem, is it the type of spirituality being promoted that places humanity at the center.  Sometimes apologists over-emphasize the rational side of things, but Ravi manages to resist this.  He even praises some in the Christian mysticism tradition, such as St. John of the Cross.

Finally, I am wondering what the place of a book like this, or any apologetic book, is.  Ravi spends much of the beginning of the book critiquing television and films.  He argues that the new spirituality has been promoted in this medium.  If he is right, then he has little hope of changing much by writing a book.  Or at least, writing a book is just the first step.  Christian apologists can write all sorts of fantastic books, but until other Christians find a way to bring these ideas into the real world, in ways understandable to those who will never pick up such books, we’ll be fighting a losing battle.  In other words, if Ravi, and those like him, do their job then it is up to others to translate these ideas in appealing ways via television and the internet.

Overall, for all I was frustrated with in this book, it is still a decent offering in the apologetic sphere.  Those who have read or are fans of Chopra and Oprah could benefit from it.  It is not ever going to be among my favorites, but I am sure I learned more than I may realize now.  Let’s say two stars, since three is basically my default and this was a little lower then expectations, to me.


2 thoughts on “Why Jesus? (A Review, or an apology for not liking the book to all my friends who are Ravi fans)

  1. While I understand the basis of your critique it surprises me just a little bit. I will certainly agree that listening to Ravi is very different from reading him. I have said that for years. I will also point out that this is a very different tone than anything else he has written. It is also far more nuanced than most of his material. However, his major thesis which addresses both a media-driven spirituality along with a culturally palatable “easternism” is a point well taken and I would argue a point well-made. As far as Oprah and Chopra are concerned, whether you and I read and listen to them, millions do. And even for those of us that don’t their worldview is, if I may quote John Piper, “in the cultural air we breathe.” For what it is worth I am actually taking a book club from our church through “Why Jesus?” a chapter at a time and finding great fodder for discussion.

    Nonetheless, I appreciated the thoroughness of your review.

    1. Thanks for the friendly comment…I feared the worst 🙂

      It is good to hear you are taking a book club through it; maybe that is the way to utilize a book like this.

      Maybe I just read it at a bad time. Like you said, his thesis is that this spirituality is “media-driven”. For a long time I’ve been wondering about the usefulness of apologetics in that while we may have more logical arguments, we lose because no one reads our books! I tried to hit that in my review. Admittedly that is not Ravi’s fault. My cynicism is: how can we promote the real Jesus in a way that will reach those who don’t read Ravi books?

      I guess I’ll have to come back to it in a few months and think through it again…

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