Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rather Thin Soup

I was concerned that my frustration with Ravi Zacharias’ The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives, was going to put a bit of a downer on our evening’s discussion of the book. I need not have worried. The seven others involved all had pretty much the same reaction. We found it too anecdotal, too arbitrary and generally unconvincing in its stated purpose. Once we realized we had all experienced the same kinds of disappointment, we were free to go ahead and enjoy the discussion, including those elements of the book which we did, in fact, find interesting and helpful.

For instance, among the things we liked were some of his stories. They certainly made you believe that Zacharias would be an interesting, stimulating fellow to spend an evening with. However, we agreed that even his best stories often seemed to drop down into the text without a lot of real sympathy to the context. I often found myself wondering – “Well, an interesting story, but what’s his point? How does it prove or even effectively illustrate his argument?”

Surprisingly, only one of us had ever read a Zacharias book before. And, between the 7 of us, that involves about 220 years worth of reading Christian literature. But we did know his reputation as a skilled and highly principled apologist. And, ironically, I'm sure that it was that very reputation that set us up for our disappointment with The Grand Weaver. We were looking for progressive, persuasive argument, something more akin to Norm Geisler (his frequent colleague) or to Schaeffer, Lewis, or Chesterton. Yes, there certainly were glimpses of that tradition in The Grand Weaver, but only glimpses. The lack of organization, poor or no transitions, a weaker biblical support for specific points than what we expected --- it just wasn’t a book that any one of us could recommend to others.

Again, I will reiterate that there were parts of the book that we appreciated. Several of his stories, as I mentioned, are memorable and useful. His quotes of Muggeridge and Chesterton; his comments about the intriguing John Howard; his retelling of an Arnold Fine story; his chapters on calling and worship (my favorite parts of the book, hands down) – all these we appreciated.

But we wanted more. We expected more.

One in our party that night expressed her belief that Ravi Zacharias’ reputation was so well-established by so many people we respect that we probably shouldn’t take The Grand Weaver as a typical example of his work. In fact, his solid reputation combined with some of those sparkles that did shine through in the book, were persuading her to give the guy another chance. A couple of us agreed and so we will probably tackle another of his books sometime. But The Grand Weaver? I'm afraid none of us were willing to give it anything but the most limited of endorsements.