I came upon this book by accident in the course of researching the fellowship between C. S. Lewis & J. R. R. Tolkien, but I was initially wonderfully surprised to have stumbled on what appeared to be a scholarly critique of Lewis’ classic work. I was misled. In fact, there is much evidence of an intention to deceive: the title, the table of contents, the abstract, etc. all point to something that this book is not. It is through and through a work of Islamic apology. However, as the author does not present it as such, I will evaluate it for what it purports to be. The author’s tells us the second of two reasons for his book’s title is what “responsible Gospel scholarship” can tell us of Jesus. Michael Grant’s scholarly treatment of the historical Jesus in the ‘70s includes an evaluation of previous scholarship on the topic, noting the 60,000 books from the19th alone on the historical Jesus “quest”. This is nothing compared to the amount of scholarship since the 20th century. In the “selection of seminal essays in Routledge’s Critical Concepts in Religion series” that make up the 1,700+ page, 4-volume work The Historical Jesus , only 4 pre-date the 20th century, yet this vast compendium is not even representative of seminal work. Were every page in it instead a volume, still it would be “but a drop in the bucket” compared to the sheer number of post-19th century NT & historical Jesus studies. We do not lack for sources, but the author ignores them all. This would not be an issue but for the author’s explicit claim to a scholarly basis and the allusions to what modern scholarship tells us found peppered throughout the book (e.g., “most scholars believe…” (p. 25), “the most accomplished researchers and scholars” (p. 26), “a responsible overview of modern Q scholarship” (p. 129), “a central finding of modern New Testament studies…” (p. 106), etc.). Worse still is the misuse of Lewis’ book. The paltry treatment it receives consists of misrepresentations. Despite the book’s title, the author merely uses Lewis’ Mere Christianity for structural support. Lewis is nothing but a skeletal framework for the presentation of the author’s apology. To be fair, the author does tell us almost from the beginning that part of the book reflects his own journey. But never does the author honestly admit the complete lack of scholarly support for his thesis: that the actual (i.e., historical) ministry and teachings of Jesus are “entirely compatible” with Islam. We are told that the book is to show that “thoughtful, skeptical Christians” have “something to be skeptical about”. They do. This book doesn’t provide any reasons for skepticism. The author’s interpretations and conclusions are religiously, not scholarly. Even a cursory understanding either of Lewis’ work or of modern historical Jesus scholarship would make this evident.
For those “thoughtful, skeptical” individuals interested in a critique of Lewis’ work or in the historical Jesus, there are popular books I thoroughly disagree with written by conservative Christian scholars and by scholars radically critical of the NT (even religion in general) that I would recommend before I did this book.
As a work of Islamic apology, this book is not without merit. Even were it actually the critique of Lewis’ Mere Christianity I expected, it would remain a book on religion. It might be asked what basis I have to judge the merits of a religious work as such, and such a question deserves an apology of my own. It is impossible to avoid religious and apologetic texts and still study the ancient languages I have, but if one reads Plato’s Apology (a standard text for 2nd year Greek) or the Koran just to learn Greek and Arabic one cannot appreciate either even as literature. The works I read, thoughy, and even the languages I studied were part of my own search answers after losing faith (I was raised Catholic). So much of the Greek and Latin I read were not classical. Rather, it was the Hellenistic Greek of the Gospels, Paul, Philo, and even fragments of Julian and Celsus, and the Latin of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, & Leibniz. Alongside the Torah, Mishnah, Gemara, Koran, & collections of ahadith I tried to understand ʿIlm al-Kalām and read Kitab at-Tauhid, al-I‘lam bi manaqib al-Islam, al-Mughni, Kitab al-radd wa al-dalil fi al-din al-dhalil ‘Ilm al-kalam, Sefer ha-Madda, etc. I chose to learn French & German instead of more practical modern languages to read Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and others who took the loss of faith seriously, alongside critical believers like Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Plantinga, Kreeft, and C. S. Lewis himself. Even struggling with the curvature of holomorphic submanifolds or spinor algebra was in part to modern arguments made for and against god in from cosmology. While none of this can equal the personal, spiritual experience of those who read apologetics can experience, it does place me where both Lewis and the author were at one time- in doubt and searching for answers. It also provides a great many opportunities for comparisons of all types.
There is much in the book that warrants its reading. I can’t say the same for many a more direct apologetic or similar work, including those of Dawkins and the other New Atheists, and the misleading aspects of this book are less than one finds in popular books by William Lane Craig. The author’s willingness to share his personal experiences are often moving and always welcome. Modern apologists like Plantiga and Swinburne cannot share Lewis’ success because their they lack alienate most audiences struggle with the technical nuances of modal logic, entailment, etc., while the author’s personable style is more suited to arguments for a personal god. Despite the problems I’ve pointed to, there is much in the author’s use of another apologist (Lewis), the NT, and Christian belief to serve as a bridge between two faiths that is commendable. This is perhaps the books greatest strength and most unfortunate component. Lewis’ Mere Christianity can be judged successful because it achieved what it intended: it was instrumental in the converting of many an unbeliever (e.g., biologist Francis C. Collins and my own father). Had Lewis titled Mere Christianity something like Beyond Freud: The Betrayal of Humanistic Ideals, included a table of contents with chapters like “Humanistische Psychologie”, “Unconscionable collective unconscious”, etc., but still wrote essentially what he had, nobody would have heard of it. This is essentially what the author has done, and by this deceptive presentation he has ensured the failure of his purposes. He would have been better served using Lewis’ book as a model to write his book, rather than as a misleading tool in it.
Language: English | Format : PDF | Pages: 148 | Size: 1.5 MB
The book is called Beyond Mere Christianity for two reasons. First, in response to C.S. Lewis’ influential 1952 work, Mere Christianity, which stands as a masterpiece of Christian apologetics. The second reason, perhaps less obvious, is that a case can be made, based on current, responsible Gospel scholarship, that Jesus was calling his people to the Salvation that lies beyond the worship of the merely created, the Salvation that relies instead on the direct worship of the Creator. I believe emphatically that the authentic words of Jesus invite us to move beyond what is conventionally understood as Christianity for this Salvation.
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