= Know Why You Believe = [By Paul Little]

I wrote this report for the book Know Why You Believe by Paul Little (updated and expanded by Marie Little, 1999) as my assignment for a course on apologetics I attended at the Chinese Graduate School of Theology in 2003. To be frank, this report was written in a rush. Nevertheless, I found the book quite good, and so would like share my views on it. You can find the details of this book from the InterVarsity Press (here).

As stated in the introduction (p.7), this book is intended to provide answers to the problems that Paul Little encountered when discussing faith and Christianity with students, especially those "brainly" students (p.7). In his twenty-five years of lecturing, he found twelve FAQs (frequently asked questions). Therefore, this book is for those rational students seeking answers regarding faith. The organization of the book has a logical structure, starts from discussing whether Christianity is a rational religion or superstition, then discuss whether there is a God, whether Jesus is the God, and whether resurrection actually happened. Assuming there is only one God, Jesus, the next three chapters (Ch.5-7) focus on the Bible: whether it's God's Word, its reliability, and Archaeological support that verify the historical description in the Bible. In Chapters 8 and 9, the problems of miracles and compatibility with science are addressed. Assuming Jesus is the only one true God, the problems of suffering and evil are discussed in Chapters 10. In the last two Chapters, the author compares Christianity with other popular religions, and examines the validity of Christian experience.

Because of the diversity of topics covered and the introductory nature of the book, I decide not to evaluate the book's reasoning specifically. Instead, I discuss the book's role as an apologetic book for students. First, this book is amazingly comprehensive. Nearly all of the religious "puzzles" I have encountered since my secondary school are discussed to some extent, such as the existence of God, resurrection, evolution, and reliability of the Bible. Second, the author included a wide variety of perspectives and issues, especially those in the 20th century. For example, in discussing the problem of beginning of the universe, the Big Bang theory is presented. In examining the reliability of the Bible, he demonstrated the implication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947. Third, in my opinion, the author demonstrates his rigorous rationality and honesty in the presentation. Albeit he clearly is a Christian, I do not feel that I am being persuaded while reading it. Instead, I feel that the author and I are exploring each issue together in equal status (certainly not in the sense of background knowledge).

This book has some limitations that could not be neglected. First, the book lacks a bibliography. For students seeking understanding, I being one of them several years ago, a bibliography is a frequently searched for item for books of this type, especially an annotated one for each chapter. It is especially important for a little book like Know Why You Believe. Albeit its comprehensiveness, usually it would induce the readers to have more questions in their minds. It is not a problem of the book, but a nature of the topics being covered. Certainly not a fatal problem, but the absence of a bibliography is unexpected to me.

One may argue that, the author does include a lot of references in the endnotes. It is correct. However, judged by the titles, the references cited are usually books more or less taking a "pro" Christianity perspective. This is its second limitation, in my opinion. It is not a unique feature of this book, as I found a similar tendency in some other books on apologetics. However, in addition to posturing as being fair, the inclusion of references taking an "against" view would actually help to increase the readers' confidence in their faith. I wholeheartedly believe that, as the author wrote, "after 2,000 years, no question is going to bring Christianity crashing."(p.7) For readers whole dare to doubt with faith, they will eventually find the God, as Frank Morrison did, the author of Who Moved the Stone.

Third, for Hong Kong Chinese students, the appeal to the search for God, the only one God, may be relatively weaker. In the Chinese culture, we brought up with a folk religion of many different "spirits," if not gods. Some may cite Lao Tzu or Daoism, or even Chung Yung (中庸), as a source of Chinese monotheism. However, this view is quite controversial, at least not yet has achieved a high level of consensus. I know many youth Christians who are still involved in some kinds of idol worships or fortune telling. This is not addressed in the book, especially in the comparison of Christianity with other religions. Moreover, in the three "major" religions, only Buddhism can be considered to be major in Hong Kong, and only among the adults. The Chinese culture is certainly not the scope of the book, but nevertheless it is a limitation with respect to the Chinese readers.

Fourth, despite the logical structure of the book, I would like to comment on the sequence of discussion. To me, one of the obstacles that made me difficult to believe in God is the validity of a book, the Bible, as a medium of "absolute truth," especially when I was exposed to the various claims that the book has several different versions and translations. It must be noted that, in the first four chapters, before the discussion of the Bible, the Bible is cited as a support of the author's position, especially in the investigation of whether Christ is God and His resurrection. Before establishing to a certain extent the reliability of the Bible, at least as an account of historical events, it is not very convincing to use it as a support. This is especially true for readers who are not yet inclined to believe, but are trying to criticize.1 

Despite the limitations I mentioned, I still think it is an excellent book in the market, making a good balance between comprehensiveness and length. When compared to other similar books, the last chapter covers a topic we frequently overlooked, especially when we are engulfed in rational discussion. Without personal experience, the "faith" is merely a knowledge, a cognition. After all the rational and honest exploration with the reader, the author rhetorically challenges the reader to experience the faith, to face God himself/herself. This is not merely a book of defense. This is a book of conversion.

(2003 March)

1:  My article Resurrection of Jesus (in Chinese), another assignment of the class, provided a (very very) brief discussion of what I learned from the course on resurrection. Certainly not a good essay, but may serve as a starting point. The three references cited there, as well as the book Who Moved the Stone by Frank Morrison, are very good sources for the rational and empirical basis of the resurrection of Jesus.