When I first began my journey into apologetics, I was primarily interested in the creation/evolution debate. That in turn led me into arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of the bible and several other topics. However, I am finding recently that a rigorous defense of the life, claims, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a far more versatile approach than, for example, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument or the rise of biological information within living cells. That’s not to denigrate someone who wants to take those approaches – I do think there’s value in being able to articulate and defend those ideas – but I have begun to realize that focusing on the person and work of Jesus will be useful with a far broader range of people. Arguing for the existence of God on the basis of the beginning of the universe may be a fruitful approach when dealing with agnostics or atheists, but by itself it only shows that God exists and gives us a few clues about his nature. If the Kalaam goes through, we still have to deal with the question of which God is responsible for creating the universe. Additionally, we are called to bring the gospel to all people, not just atheists, and a Jew or a Muslim does not need to be convinced that God created the universe. They’ll happily agree with you on that all-day long. The point of contention that nearly every other faith system has with biblical Christianity is simply this: Who was Jesus?
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Christian apologist and former homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace. I listen to his podcast weekly, I own all of his books, I took my kids through the Cold Case Christianity for Kids curriculum and I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the men’s study at my church a few years back. Needless to say, when I saw his latest book show up on Amazon, I was on that “preorder” button like a fat kid on cake. It would be some eight months before the book actually showed up at my door.
As a fiction writer on the side (“on the side” of my apologetic and comparative religion studies which are “on the side” of my full-time day job – which means I barely ever get time to work on it), I once started work on a novella similar in theme and purpose to C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In fact, my short pitch for the story was that it was “a simultaneous tribute to and argument against C.S. Lewis.” Without digressing too heavily on the details of my own story, during the first revision pass I realized that my heaven was not heavenly enough and my hell was not hellish enough. Oddly enough, that’s precisely my main complaint about The Great Divorce. Before starting the rewrite in earnest, I wanted to do some research on different takes of heaven and hell from a Christian worldview. My goal was to give portrayals of both that were biblically accurate while giving, to the best of my ability, a clear sense of the thrill and wonder or horror of heaven or hell, respectively, and at the same time showing why the Christian doctrine of hell is more than just divinely authorized sadism. Among my planned reading were gems like Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, Dante’s Inferno, Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell, and Hank Hanegraaff’s Afterlife. Also among them was a little book that I’d stumbled across on Amazon, My Hope in Hell by Jens Reuter. The book had very few reviews but a high average and was only $8. Why not, right?
I was expecting a defense of the doctrine of hell as a necessary means of satisfying God’s justice. Boy, was I wrong.
Rather than a defense of a particular interpretation, or a systematic examination of what the bible says about hell, I very quickly found that My Hope in Hell would be more accurately described as a structured version of a confused and emotionally loaded journal entry, the thoughts and summarized studies of someone wrestling with an aspect of his faith that he finds unacceptable.
As a “narrative autobiography”, the book follows the larger story of Qureshi’s life and is not a point-by-point report. Qureshi is very forward about this fact in the preface to the book when he explains that the conversations and events recorded within are recollections of the general summary of a specific conversation or even a collection of conversations over time. This works to the books strength since, in my experience, biographies have a tendency to get bogged down in details and specifics (names, dates, etc.) that the biographer or historian may find interesting but the reader may not. The pacing of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, however, is fluid and fast-moving without feeling rushed. It’s a wonderful and difficult balance to find.
Several years ago, I was with my family as we were leaving our first Back to School Night. My daughter was entering kindergarten and, despite the fact that I knew she would do wonderfully in school, I was more than a little terrified. At the same time, a young child was making national news by claiming – at six years old – that he was really a girl and would be living as one (as if a six-year-old is in any way mature enough to make that sort of life-altering decision or understand its implications) and the school was being forced to accommodate that.
What terrified me about that back to school night was the realization I’d been coming to terms with over the previous weeks. I was beginning to understand that I was effectively powerless to raise my kids in the faith that I believed to be true. I had no tools to show that God exists, that Jesus was a real person, that he really claimed to be God and that he really was risen from the dead. I knew that the world was moving away from its Judeo-Christian heritage and there was a distinct possibility that it would take my kids along for the ride.
What followed from that was the beginning of an investigation into the truth value of Christianity, theology and apologetics in an attempt to “keep my kids on God’s side”, as Natasha Crain puts it. Surely, I believe that God is sovereign and that my children’s eternal destiny is not something that I can guarantee in either direction, but what I can do is to give them the best possible chances of success. The challenge for me, therefore, comes in taking what I’ve learned in my own journey and passing it down to my children effectively. I can give them a copy of On Guard when they’re in high school, but I don’t want to wait that long.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.