I Want to Believe: Finding Your Way in an Age of Many Faiths by Mel Lawrenz
Published by Regal Books
Many thanks to Dr. Mel Lawrenz for this review copy!
I Want to Believe is not your typical apologetics book. Yes, there are evaluations of and comparisons to truth claims and tenets of faiths against those of Christianity, but this book employs those standard elements of apologetics in a slightly different way. While most apologetics books are written primarily for a tool in the hands of a Christian so that they may more ably defend their faith, this book is geared primarily toward unbelievers, more specifically, those who may be teetering on the brink of committing to Christ. The title of the book reveals the underlying assumption that undergirds the contents: we all possess an innate desire to believe in something greater than ourselves. Lawrenz launches from this supposition to address some of the more popular faiths today: Buddhism, Atheism, Hinduism, Earth-centered religions, and Islam.
Several notable aspects of this book were apparent. First, Lawrenz’s style of writing makes this book accessible to his target audience. Books of an apologetic bent can tend toward the technical side, but such is not the case with this book. He writes without using overly religious terminology, but does so without compromising the expression of essential truths of Christian faith. A second appealing aspect is Lawrenz’s liberal use of illustrations in the way of stories and anecdotes. When I began reading the first chapter, which opens with a personal account, I was a little concerned. I generally do not prefer books that over-illustrate, but thankfully, this book avoids such. All the illustrations seemed appropriate and served to heighten the points being made.
Overall the tone of the book is quite friendly and sympathetic to questions from unbelievers that may ordinarily dismissed out of hand. One detects early on that Lawrenz is certainly passionate about saving faith in Christ, but never becomes belligerent or hostile toward other worldviews (though falling short of belligerence, I particularly enjoyed Lawrenz’s assessment of Christopher Hitchens’ views on religion). The overall character of the book is warm, welcoming, and intensely personal.
One of the things that I most appreciated about the book concerned man’s relationship with God in terms of salvation. The emphasis was repeated throughout the book—God draws us to himself, not the other way around. Working from the aforementioned supposition that there is within all people a desire to seek something greater from themselves could possibly lead one to believe that such a desire is strong enough to overcome the sin that enslaves the lost. However, Lawrenz rightly points out that God is the one who prepares the heart of the sinner and draws them to himself.
“I take no credit in coming to understand the story of Jesus Christ and coming to really believe. It wasn’t that I got especially bright or that I deciphered a riddle that takes the mind of a Sherlock Holmes. It’s not that I decided to seek a purer heart or turn my life over to God. It’s not that I took the time to read a dozen books on theology. I was just cutting corn—but the big ideas of Scripture fell into place for me just like when you can see a jigsaw puzzle solution and your fingers can’t move fast enough to get the remaining pieces in place.” (p. 52).
An inherent danger for many apologists is the temptation to believe that a person’s decision to trust Christ for salvation is dependent upon their skill and knowledge as an apologist. Lawrenz takes no such position and clearly explains that God does the work of salvation and this I greatly appreciate.
As with any work, there are a few criticisms that I would offer. These particular concerns are not major and fall into two categories: expression and use of Scripture. There are several instances in which Lawrenz’s choice of expression give me pause. The first of these is found on page 21, where he is discussing “Why God Wants Us to Believe.” He states that the first reason is “A Creator God who went through all the trouble to create the universe and each of us in it cares deeply about what He has created” (emphasis mine). I agree with the substance of this statement, but it seems an odd way to describe God’s creative work by saying he went through a lot of trouble—he merely spoke creation into existence! Lawrenz’s view of God is not low or weak, as is made clear throughout the book, so I do not believe he is questioning God’s power in any way. Obviously he is trying to emphasize to the unbeliever that creation served a purpose, but I feel it could have been stated better.
Another instance of expressive difference is found on page 42, where Lawrenz writes “Once again a new human being was made by Eternity and for eternity.” I believe he was trying to emphasize the eternality of God, but I wonder if anyone would read him as describing the concept of eternity who did the work of creation rather than God or if someone might view eternity and God as identical.
Concerning the use of Scripture, there were a couple of instances that caught my attention. First, in the chapter entitled “Whom Should I Believe?,” Lawrenz refers to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. In seeking to establish Jesus as an authority who is worthy as the object of faith, he cites Jesus’ oft-repeated “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…,” which are often referred to as the “antitheses.” Lawrenz states “It is not just that the crowds perceived authority purely divine, but buried in Jesus’ words about His own words are these signals, too: He rewrote the Word of God” (p. 63). Jesus, though, was not seeking to rewrite God’s Word, but to correct the errant interpretation of it. This does not diminish in any way Jesus’ authority, to be sure.
One other example is found in Lawrenz’s discussion of the Lord’s Prayer (which I found interesting). He treats the disputed phrase “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (KJV) in 6:13 as part of the original text. However, the evidence for this reading favors it as a later addition to the text rather than an original. This is a decidedly minor point and does not detract from the work, but one I wanted to point out.
Though the criticisms have taken up more space that the positives, I only did so in hopes that the negative comments would not leave other readers with the impression that I think Lawrenz’s view of God or Scripture is diminished in any way. This is a great book for its audience and I would recommend it for anyone who is weighing the decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
“To be a Christian does not mean that you acquiesce to a religion imposed on you by birth or coercion. It doesn’t even mean that you sign up with a religious alternative that seems to have an impressive balance of pros and cons. To be a Christian means that your eyes are opened one day to the brilliant light of God’s truth: You see that Jesus is the way of reconciliation with God, the source of rock-solid truth and the right object of your adoration and worship.” pp. 134-35
“While it is true that the front end of receiving the Lord Jesus is a simple admission of need—a plea for mercy, an opening of heart and hands—we should realize that receiving a lord means to give up one’s own lordship of life.” pp. 89-90
Αυτω η δοξα,