Jesus Among Other Gods - An artful consideration of a difficult topic.
For all those who love to read, you will know the joy of re-reading an excellent book over and over again. Ravi Zacharias' book Jesus Among Other Gods (W Publishing Group, 2000, 0-8499-1437-X, 188 pages) is just such a book for me. After reading it for the third time, I decided to write a book review (below) to try and encapsulate what I found to be so helpful. I hope that if you have never had the chance to read this excellent work, that this review might be the catalyst.
Ravi Zacharias (born 1946) is an Indian-born, North American Christian Apologist. He is the author of numerous books and has had an international ministry organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) for over twenty-five years. Perhaps no name is more recognizable when it comes to sharing and defending the Evangelical Christian faith around the world than Ravi Zacharias. Having moved from atheism to Christianity as a young man, and having the experiences and the background of both the Eastern and Western perspectives, Ravi Zacharias’ voice is helpful in a day when the East and the West are merging more and more.
In his book, Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias seeks to show the superior character of Christ’s absolute truth claims. In the introduction, the author notes the difficulty in his task since modern Western culture seems to dislike any absolute truth claims in the area of religion (vii). He also seeks to set his representation of Jesus’ actions and words in their proper context. Jesus, he notes, “was not western” (vii). Jesus was from the east and his manner of teaching must be understood in that light. Furthermore, he seems to understand the purpose of the book as a “defense of the uniqueness of the Christian message” (ix). His goal is to show this purpose by examining six questions that Jesus answered in a way that no other religious leader or religion as a whole would have done. Showing these unique responses from Jesus should cumulatively make a case for the absolute claims of Christianity as being completely unique among all other religions and their truth claims.
With memorable quotes, the author helps the reader see the unavoidable nature of absolute truth claims. Consider the following: (1)“Truth by definition excludes,” (2) “Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones,” and (3) “Every religion at its core is exclusive”.
Ravi first deals with the initial question of several in Jesus’ early public ministry: “Where do you live.” This question is much more of an eastern question than anything that might come from the West. Many people wished to judge Jesus by His earthly father and home but Jesus said any earthly setting in which He is present is actually a gateway to heaven (pg. 32).
Ravi’s second teaching of Jesus is from Matthew 22:22-45 where Jesus makes the point that it is not primarily on the basis of evidence that people do not believe in their proper creator, but rather, it is a matter of the human will. Jesus indicates that many do not seek truth when they ask for a sign, but they seek to resist the truth. In this discussion, he also distinguishes between the amount of faith and the ultimate object of one’s faith.
His third argument involves several passages, including the turning of water into wine, the last supper and the woman at the well. A main point of all these passages is to show the surpassing value of heavenly food over earthly food. There is a longing that can only be filled by what Christ was offering that no amount of physical subsistence could hope to fill. Jesus was claiming that the “greatest hunger is for a consummate relationship that combines the physical and the spiritual, that engenders both awe and love, and that is expressed in celebration and commitment” (pg. 91). Jesus claimed to be able to meet those hungers.
The fourth argument is in regards to evil and suffering. In this chapter, Ravi argues that the question can only seriously be considered from the Christian construct. If one is an atheist, then one has no ultimate basis for determining good and evil. If one is a Hindu or Buddhist, then one claims evil to be illusory. Only in Christianity, is evil met head-on. Jesus faces the evil and takes the place for sinners even though He is not a sinner Himself.
The fifth argument comes from John 18 where Pilate is interrogating Jesus. The claim that Jesus makes is startling to Pilate. Jesus claims that His kingdom does not originate from this world and is not to be expanded by military conquest. Pilate eventually gave into the crowd to kill Jesus, but what Jesus had said stands in unique contrast to all other religions. Expansion by the sword is not and cannot be a Christian practice. Yet, Christianity has expanded further than any other religion even though many others expand by the sword.
Finally, Ravi looks at John 19 in which Christ rises from the dead and is referred to as the gardener. This is an interesting link between the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the garden and the one who has promised to make all things new. He offers this same new life to all who will look to Him.
In his book, Ravi’s Christian worldview comes out clearly. His contrasts with other worldviews are stark and easily understood. His apologetic method is more difficult to discern. He does not argue his case in a typical apologetic method but chooses to bring in bits of evidence here and there mixed in with true life accounts and the parables Jesus tells.
Unfortunately for the reader, the table of contents offers almost no help in understanding the overall structure of the book. Some readers will not mind this, while others may find it rather frustrating because of the lack of perceived structure. Also, the argument style of the author does not follow a linear fashion at times. Perhaps this is partially due to the nature of the parables of Jesus from which the author is arguing, but this also seems to speak of the author's overall method for apologetics. While no one could accuse the book of being anti-logical or illogical, sometimes it is difficult to get a handle on exactly what his argument is. The reason for this seems to lie in the fact that Ravi Zacharias is not seeking to give a point-by-point evaluation of all the other major religions and how they stack-up against Christianity, but is rather seeking to show the main uniquenesses and the existential answers that Christ offers. This emphasis on the existential is something for which Ravi Zacharias is known and causes the overall argument of the book to be powerfully impressed upon the reader. However, it also makes the specific arguments less easy to clarify.
Since the purpose of the book, as expressed by the author in the introduction, is to consider six answers that Jesus gives which, when combined, give an absolutely unique understanding of religion, such a lack of clarity on the individual arguments may be in keeping with the overall goal. In fact, the overall structure and writing style tends to bring the reader along without realizing how far the argument has come until the end of the book. Indeed, the writer of this review is aware of an atheist who had repelled all the arguments of Christians until shortly before his death. It was his grandson giving him this book to read which God used to bring that man from atheism to Christianity. The lack of a complete frontal assault on other religious groups coupled with the gradual flowing argument and existential emphasis helps the reader to see the substance of the Christian message in a very different light.
Perhaps the most striking element to me is how seriously Ravi Zacharias takes the message of Jesus. His stress on the absolute truth claims of Jesus is refreshing and bold without being obnoxious. He takes the words of Jesus as of absolute value and importance and his arguments flow from that source. It is also encouraging to see how he weaves all of this into a Christian framework or worldview. In so doing, he shows the uniqueness and superiority of the Christian worldview to answer the questions of life in a cohesive whole.
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 Pg. 6.
 Pg. 7.
 Pg. 7.
 John 1:50-51.