Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review of 'Who Made God?'

Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler, eds. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 239 pp.

Who Made God? is a well-conceived project responding to a comprehensive set of probing questions regarding the Christian faith. The editors have envisioned a worthwhile endeavor. Their execution, however, has considerable room for improvement. As a whole, the answers provide a superficial treatment of the issues, and are unsatisfactory for deep-thinking reflective believers, seekers, or skeptics. Indeed, some of the responses in Who Made God are noticeably inferior to the more helpful articles contained within The Apologetics Study Bible.

The overall weakness of the volume cannot obscure the brilliance of some individual chapters. The unquestionable star in this collection is chapter three, William Lane Craig’s contribution on “Tough Questions about Science.” His answers are concise and to the point. Craig’s endnotes and bibliography effectively point one towards deeper responses and additional resources. Each of his nine answers is worth quoting to seekers and skeptics, but the last two answers, “How Long Are the Days of Creation in Genesis” and “Is the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution True?” deserve special mention. In response to the former question, Craig points readers towards historical theology, and argues that “Historically, neither most Jews nor Christians interpreted Genesis 1 as referring to twenty-four-hour time periods.” (67) He affirms the viability of both the literalist and non-literalist reading, and concludes that “the Christian is free to follow the evidence where it leads.” (67) The beauty of this conclusion is in the contrast with “the naturalist. For if God does not exist, then evolution is the only game in town. . . . the naturalist’s conclusion is determined in advance by his or her philosophy, not by the evidence.” (67) Craig demonstrates that commitment to scientific truth lies on the side of the Christian. Indeed, when one removes the presupposition of methodological naturalism, the evidence for neo-Darwinism is not in the least compelling (70). Craig’s chapter does a masterful job of introducing the reader to the issues involved in questions surrounding atheistic evolutionary theory. If each author approached their chapter with the same degree of skill and sense, Who Made God? would be an exceptional compilation instead of muddling in mediocrity.

Lee Strobel’s contributions (chapters four and five) represent another high point within this work. Strobel has responded to the same questions more extensively in his previous works, The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. The reader should seek out those volumes rather than relying solely on Who Made God? for answers. Strobel provides nothing new or revolutionary in his contributions to this anthology. Nonetheless, he does respond clearly and concisely on a surface level to many of the common questions about Jesus Christ.

Similarly, Jeyachandran’s contributions regarding Eastern religions were very helpful. The reader will appreciate his insights, and especially his helpful suggestions of contact points with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His discussion of how Eastern religions appeal to the heart (155-58) points to the need for an personal existential approach to apologetics and evangelism. As well, Jeyachandran encourages Christians to use the Hindu motif of “sacrifice” to introduce the biblical model of sacrifice and atonement (159). While his chapters did not provide a comprehensive overview of Hinduism or Buddhism, he did introduce them effectively and conveyed helpful insights for communicating the Gospel to followers of Eastern religions.

Ron Rhodes opens his contribution on evil by acknowledging that “abbreviated treatments always run the risk of superficiality.” (33) He explicitly urges readers to consult “the more exhaustive works cited in the endnotes and in the suggested resources.” (33) Rhodes is the only author who acknowledges this fundamental shortcoming of Who Made God? and provides a corrective to it. Furthermore, Rhodes provides excellent (though brief) treatments of a range of issues concerning evil. Rhodes suggests that natural disasters and death would not have been part of the natural order if it were not for the sin of mankind in the Garden of Eden (37). Rhodes is clearly right that human death is a result of the fall. The death of animals, however, is not explicitly attributed to mankind’s rebellion. Indeed, God’s threat of death to Adam in Genesis 2 logically requires Adam to have a concept of “death”—animal death would have provided the necessary referent. Furthermore, the fossil record indicates that animals experienced death long before the creation and fall of mankind. Geology demonstrates that natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.) also predate humanity. Rhodes’ suggestion reveals his commitment to young-earth creationism, a position which may be correct, but is not the only theological position amongst evangelical Christians.

Apart from these chapters, the material in Who Made God? is not particularly helpful. The chapter on “Black Islam” may have some apologetic benefit in segments of America, but is unusable in my native Canadian context. There is no “Black Islam” in Canada to speak of—our Islamic context is Arabic or southeastern Asian, and predominantly Sunni. Nonetheless, I agree with White’s conclusion that Sunday morning segregation in America (particularly in the Southern states) is appalling, and represents a blight upon American Christianity (200). It saddens me that there is not a more intentional effort within denominations like my own Southern Baptist Convention to rectify that situation by promoting inter-racial worship and fellowship.

As an admirer of Norm Geisler's past work in apologetics, I expected better from him than his contributions to this volume. The title question of the book was dealt with in a cursory, unsatisfactory manner (23-24). A few years ago fall a young man in our church, who has progressed from staunch atheism to being a seeker, asked this precise question in a Sunday school context. I sought out Geisler’s answer in this volume as a response, and was greatly disappointed. His response could have been much stronger and yet not considerably longer if he had engaged some deeper material. For example, he could have discussed the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes, or the necessity of a “first cause” or an “uncaused causer.” Geisler’s treatment of the issue may satisfy a curious eighth-grader (actually, having a curious sixth-grader myself, I have to say Geisler’s answer doesn't even satisfy him), but it will not engage an intelligent adult skeptic or seeker. Moreover, Geisler does not even refer to the reader to alternative resources to obtain a more in-depth treatment of the question. In the “Resources for Digging Deeper” section, Geisler does refer the reader to four of his own works (203); but he does not provide endnotes regarding where to pursue individual questions. A specific reference to an article or work (including page numbers) would be more helpful. As it is, Geisler leaves the reader with a low-grade response to a piercing question, and provides no direction towards further support.

Geisler’s other contributions suffer from this problem as well as additional ones. He minimizes some objections and questions, and avoids harder issues. For example, he first responds to the question, “Are There Errors in Bible Manuscripts and Translations?” relatively well (120-21). He correctly points out that no substantial transmission errors exist in the manuscripts that we have. Where there are discrepancies between manuscripts, it is almost always obvious where the error lies. Geisler avoids, however, the deeper problem regarding different manuscript traditions. The Greek manuscript of the prophet Jeremiah is considerably shorter than the Hebrew manuscript tradition, and is missing two lengthy sections. The different textual traditions of Jeremiah are noted in The Apologetics Study Bible (1086), and represent one of the central critical arguments against the inerrancy of Scripture. Geisler’s evasion of this issue is ill-advised, and leaves the reader poorly-equipped to deal with the question.

Similarly, Geisler’s discussion of the Qur’an (150-51) is unsatisfying. He rightly points out that the Qur’an contradicts the Bible, and thus they cannot both be inspired Scriptures. He does not, however, perform the relatively simple task of demonstrating, without presupposing the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy, that it is the Qur’an which is faulty. The Qur’an claims that “Jesus did not die on the cross” (150), contradicting the teaching of the Bible. Why does Geisler not reference the overwhelming consensus of secular historians confirming Jesus’ death by crucifixion? Geisler’s response makes it seem as though the Christian and Muslim both appeal to their own holy book to defend the death (or non-death) of Jesus, with no ability to adjudicate between them. Yet history confirms the Bible and denies the Qur’an. Sadly, the reader of this volume will not be equipped with that beneficial knowledge. Nor will the reader be informed that Muhammad claimed the Qur’an as his “miracle” (151) in response to Christian criticisms of the lack of miraculous confirmation of the Qur’an. Nor will the reader be equipped with refutations of that Qur’anic claim! Simply put, Geisler’s treatment of Islam was unhelpfully superficial.

Finally, Geisler’s contribution in chapter seven (Tough Questions about the Bible, False Prophets, and the Holy Books of Other Religions) duplicates much of his own contribution in chapter six (Tough Questions about the Bible). It would be understandable if he was unknowingly providing similar answers as a different author in this anthology. Duplicating his own materials (e.g. 114-18 and 132-33), however, is inexplicable. On the other hand, Geisler does provide solid, worthwhile responses to some questions (e.g. The Jesus Seminar, 124-27).

Who Made God?, despite having some positive contributions, ultimately flounders on the inadequate responses to some major questions. Its superficiality, combined with the general lack of direction towards further resources, renders the compilation disappointingly unhelpful. The vision behind the project is commendable, but evangelical apologetics has a lot better to offer than is provided here.

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