Jesus Among Secular Godsby Ravi Zacharias, Vince Vitale
Length: Approximately 7 hours. To read (248 pages).
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We live in a current cultural climate that doesn’t know what it believes about God and the world. There are so many different viewpoints, and we are asked to view them all as equals. In Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale’s thorough and apologetic work Jesus Among Secular Gods we get a glimpse of many different worldviews and how they fail in key points the God of the Bible does not. Through this book we see broad strokes on worldviews including atheism, humanism, and relativism. The end of each chapter and the final chapter of the book look at how the Bible speaks to the issues of these worldviews.
Who should read this?
This book would be profitable for each Christian believer. All of us could benefit in the world we live in from more apologetics and tools to help us defend our faith. This book would also be helpful for intellectual non-believers in seeing the failures of all other worldviews compared to the Bible’s.
The questions about the meaning of life can be some of the most debated or neglected topics of the time. Some to choose to take dogmatic stances without facts, while others ignore the big questions on life, citing difficulties finding real answers. In the work Jesus Among Secular Gods authors Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale provide readers with an apologetic guide to differing worldview viewpoints. They seek to show the folly of these worldviews, while showing the power of the God of the Bible and the truthfulness behind a Biblical worldview.
The authors begin the book by addressing the “altars against God” that permeate the culture around us. One of the keys in this chapter is the writer portraying the lack of true dialogue we see despite all of the differences there are. Much debate and conversation is shut down to avoid any confrontation. The altar of tolerance is a great crutch that leads to nowhere in our culture.
Zacharias writes here, “History has taught us to beware of extremists in any camp that sacrifice cordial conversation at the altar of demagogic enforcement” (4). They are looking in this book to show how the worship of these worldviews leaves many of life’s questions unanswered. Having a worldview that can answer life’s questions is crucial to navigating through it.
Most of the rest of the book is a critique of the many different prevalent worldviews we see today. The authors begin with discussing atheism; the belief there is no God at all. Much of this section features Richard Dawkins and his work God Delusion. The main arguments made by atheists for there being no God is all of the evil and corruption we see in the world around us.
Arguing from a free will perspective Vince Vitale here presents the many problems and unanswered questions that atheism has. In contrasting atheism with teachings of Jesus he writes, “For the atheist, man becomes God; the body becomes the soul; time becomes eternity; the profane becomes sacred. In the teachings of Jesus, eternity, morality, accountability, and charity define our nature of our existence and the pattern of our behavior” (60).
Vitale also looks at two other major worldviews of our time in Scientism and Pluralism. The latter really drives home the point that all we need is scientific data for answering life’s questions and for disapproving of a God. The author here points us to the absurdity of proving through science the lack of a divine being.
He does this by presenting the bridge from science to God through the universe as knowable and the regularity of the world. In a strong apologetic tone we also see the pitfalls of following the idea of pluralism. He addresses three major fallacies in this chapter that lead to pluralism. Firstly, that all of the major religions of the world are fundamentally the same.
Next, intellectually they are equal in their claims to be truth. Lastly, they all have the same impact on the world we live in. Using several passages of Scripture and again strong apologetics Vitale defends the position that pluralism fails us at all points. He says here, “Only a God who reveals Himself can save us from arrogance about the most important questions on life” (112).
Ravi Zacharias comes back to discuss two more worldviews that are important for us to know. He addresses the hard to nail down humanism first. This worldview is based on the idea that we are able to handle everything ourselves and have no need for God. The author provides a lengthy section here on the history of humanism, which was born out of the Renaissance period.
This viewpoint really draws from several others, which leads to a lot of confusion on what it really espouses. The writer adds, “Secularism may have been born in doubt, but maybe it failed because the listener doubts the answers it provides. The built-in limitation of secular humanism is to stifle the absolute in favor of the quicksand of multiple choice” (143).
The end goals of humanism fail of reaching true tolerance, balance, unity, and full self-reliance. Relativism is another worldview very common in our culture today. The author tackles this worldview by addressing four major areas: creation, incarnation, transformation, and consummation.
He says about creation, “You cannot be a genuine human without acknowledging the intrinsic worth given to every other human being” (167). He shows the quicksand we fall into when we fail to believe in a supreme idea of love alongside a pure moral law. Also, transformation through Christ and seeing the eternal perspective we can avoid the trap of seeing no truth as being absolute.
The author Vince Vitale returns to finish of the book looking at Hedonism and concluding with a few final thoughts. He addresses here the fallacy of their being no real morality through hedonism. How should Christianity address this issue? With sadness, calling the brokenness of this world evil, believing in the Imago Dei for all humans, and through compassion/justice to those around us.
He concludes the book by addressing how we with the absolute truth can interact with the world that is around us. He concludes here, “Gospel truth is sacrificial disagreement, it is disagreement defined by the generosity of an unmerited gift and the love of a personal sacrifice” (223).
There are several books written out there about apologetics from a Christian perspective. Few if any can do it with the clarity and intelligence put forth here by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. Both of them come with great experience and knowledge of the leading philosophies of the time we will encounter.
One of the great strengths of Jesus Among Secular Gods is the thoroughness of covering all the belief systems pervading our world today. Each chapter comes with a richness and depth that allows for the reader to get a full grasp on what these different philosophies believe. It is important to have this depth if we are going to be able to as followers of Christ defend Christ’s claims from the Bible against these other beliefs.
From atheism to hedonism we are shown helpful definitions and great illustrations are given to help support as well. You will not find any better work at clearly defining what these philosophies adhere too. The authors say about this book on the back cover, “This book is about examining the “gods,” the secular thinkers “worship” and how repeatedly they leave their own questions unanswered.”
We also find in this book a great defense of the Christian faith and how to defend it against these differing philosophies. Most Christians have an underwhelming understanding of how to defend our faith against the other belief systems of the world. Many followers of Christ would benefit in a great way from reading this work. It is not stiff or unorganized way of weaving this defense of the Christian faith either.
They do a great job of naturally fitting in the apologetics for the Christ follower in their explanation of each false belief system. For example in the Scientism chapter, Vince Vitale in looking at the question of the beginning of the universe, gives an excellent defense for not just an intelligent design, but a design by the God of the Bible. If you are facing great challenge to your faith in your workplace, family, or with your neighbors this is the book for you!
One of the points made with the premise of the book that I found most helpful was that these other philosophies are in fact “secular gods” whether the proponents of these views belief so or not. One of the greatest farces of these false belief systems is trying to deny any moral reasoning or there not being a god at all. Zacharias adds here, “Law, philosophy, love, education, justice… all are built not on reason alone, but moral reasoning.
This is the discipline under which atheism fails, and the ideas of atheism will be crushed under the very system constructed to make the one who points the guilty finger effectual” (29). With any of these philosophies we see in our culture today there has to be an admittance that they are serving a god of their own making. Whether it be science, pleasures, or even themselves, they are certain to serve some god. This can be a helpful starting point for any Christian in our apologetics ministry in the world.
A difficulty I find with this book would be the technical nature and difficulty of reading some of the sections. Due to the nature of the topic for many this work could be hard to read at times. I think for the most part I would consider this book to be accessible for most Christians, but there are times that the authors use vocabulary that make it hard to follow.
When you are discussing philosophy and apologetics this is a hard balance to find, certainly there are far more academic works then this as well. It is good however for the reader to be aware as you begin to read this book of the academic nature, and to prepare to take a little extra time to get through it.
One of the disagreements I would have with the authors and with this book is discussion on free will. Vitale writes, “In the Christian way of thinking, we disavow determinism and freely choose the truth to inform our conscience toward a destiny of a confirmed freedom of love. Freely, we choose the true joys of freedoms that are based on God’s truth” (42). I would fully reject the atheistic view of determinism, but also reject that we have full freedom to choose God as Christians.
Coming from the Reformed tradition I would believe with full freedom we would not be able to choose God. Ephesians 2:1-10 being a great text from the Bible that shows us the need we have for God’s choosing and initiation to know Him. I would agree with their excellent defense of the Christian faith, but approach the beginning from a different way.
We are living in a very confused time in how and why we exist here on this earth. Many of the other “secular gods” belief systems fail to answer these questions at all. The only belief system that stands tall in answering these questions comes from the God of the Bible. In their work Jesus Among Secular Gods, Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale prepare a great defense of the Christian faith while giving helpful definitions of many other belief systems surrounding us in the world. If you are looking to grow in your apologetics ministry or want to better understand those around you pick up this book today.
“History has taught us to beware of extremists in any camp that sacrifice cordial conversation at the altar of demagogic enforcement.” (4)
“In Western cultural speak, we have basically gone from being a rootless society to a ruthless society.” (27)
“Jesus is a God loving enough and big enough to break in everywhere.” (127)
“In other words, loving God and resulting love for humanity are not only inextricably bound, but apart from that all else of morality has no other ground on which to stand.” (166)