Ravi Zacharias is a very gifted communicator. Whether he is discussing literature, philosophy, religion, or everything in between – he makes it interesting, engaging, and thought provoking. In this book he tackles the search for meaning in the West and in the East and how that ultimately all searches are empty if they do not lead to truth. He gives a very solid case for how all truth is God’s truth and that the ultimate truth that we all long for leads us to the person and work of the historical Jesus revealed in the Bible and the accounts of His life, death, resurrection, ascension and future return.
In chapter one after a scintillating discussing of movie making agendas in the East and the West he writes, “Why are we always beguiled by something foreign? In the West, Eastern mysticism is ‘in’ –chants, sounds, and practices with foreign words have made an appeal of culture-shifting proportions- while in the East, where these very same techniques have been tried for centuries, many are disillusioned and seeking solace somewhere else. Before me the entertainment elite of the East gave their full attention to a talk on ‘Why Jesus Is the Ultimate,’ while in the West, entertainers are looking toward the East for their answers.”
In the first half to about seventy percent of the way into the book Ravi tackles what he calls “Weastern” thought – a hybrid of western and eastern thought blended into one. He takes the time to demonstrate how eastern thought has penetrated the west, and how western thought has penetrated the east. He cogently and brilliantly synthesizes how this has taken place through the medium of television, philosophy, religion, and irreligion and highlights old and modern voices alike. Zacharias weaves the themes of induction, seduction, deduction, and reduction among these differing mediums of communication resulting in a “New Spirituality.”
Ravi makes so many excellent observations with reference to the “New Spirituality” that it would make for a very long review were I to recount the excellencies of his presentation. On the postmodern influences of the likes of Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida on “Weasternism” he writes about the authority of the “New Spirituality” in this fashion by way of a modern tale:
“In the beginning, God. God spoke. But that was a long time ago. We wanted certainty—now. For this, only Reason and Rationalism would do. But that was not enough. We wanted to ‘test.’ So we went into the senses and found the empirical. But that’s not what we meant by testing. We really meant ‘feeling.’ So we found a way to generate feeling into the picture. Truth was framed into a scene. But the scene was left open to interpretation. Scenes are not absolute. So the story was told as an art form. But the reader still didn’t like it, because he was not the author. So he read the story while he sat in a reconstructed and deconstructed cubicle to make of the story whatever he wished. But what does one do with the long reach of the empirical? The best way was to find a blend between the empirical and the satirical and end up with God again. The only difference was that God could not be the storyteller. We still needed God. So we became God.”
Ravi talks about Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and various other “isms” and demonstrates how people in the East like Deepak Chopra, and people in the West like Oprah Winfrey have developed syncretistic systems of thought that have blended eastern and western thinking and religion. One interesting example of this mixing is when he quotes Elizabeth Lesser when she writes of the difference between the “Old Spirituality” and the “New Spirituality:”
AUTHORITY: In the “old” spirituality authority is held by the church; in the “new” spirituality the individual worshipper has authority to determine what is best for him or her.
SPIRITUALITY: In the old spirituality God and the way to worship have already been defined and the worshipper just follows the rules; in the new spirituality the worshipper defines spirituality for him- or herself.
THE PATH TO GOD: In the old spirituality there is only one way to God, all else is wrong; in the new spirituality there are unlimited paths or combinations of paths one can follow…you can string a necklace all your own making.
SACRED: In the old spirituality parts of yourself are considered evil (the body, ego, emotions) and must be denied, transcended, or sublimated; in the new spirituality anything goes.
TRUTH: In the old spirituality truth is knowable and constant. Leading to the same answers at every stage of life; in the new spirituality you never quite arrive at the truth as it is constantly changing to accommodate your growth.
Ravi responds to Lesser in this manner, “With the safety net she has provided for determining truth, who can ever fall? The evangelist from the Old Spirituality pleaded with his audiences to ‘invite Jesus into your heart’; the New Spirituality tell you to invite yourself into your heart.”
Zacharias spends the rest of the book answering the following questions:
What difference does it make what you believe?
Is truth really even knowable?
Could it be that postmodern spirituality is really the expression of a universal hunger rather than an answer to anything?
What are the deep-seated questions that drive the quest for spirituality?
Why is it that in the West we seem to have discarded the message of Christ, while in the East they have begun to realize that he is the one they are looking for?
Ultimately all worldviews and religions need to examine their beliefs and views and answer these three unavoidable questions:
1) How do they handle the question of exclusivity as it relates to their own belief?
2) What is the ultimate source of their authority for belief and behavior? And
3) How relevant is what they believe to the common experience and what difference does it make?
According to Zacharias correspondence to facts and systematic coherence are the test for any worldview. In constructing a good worldview they must consist of the following eight components:
1) “A good worldview must have a strong basis in fact. This point alone has a two-edged reality: First, can the assertion being made be tested against reality? And second, is the assertion clearly false? If one assertion in the system is clearly false or cannot be tested against reality, there is a failure to meet the test of truth.”
2) “A good worldview must have a high degree of coherence or internal consistency.”
3) “A good worldview must give a reasonable and logical explanation for the various undeniable realities that we sense all around us.
4) “A good worldview will avoid the two extremes of either being too complex or too simplistic.”
5) “A good worldview is not explained by just one line of evidence.”
6) “A good worldview must explain contrary worldviews without compromising its own essential beliefs.
7) “A good worldview cannot argue just on the basis of private experience, but must have some objective standard of measurements.”
8) “A good worldview must justifiably explain the essential nature of good and evil, since those two alternatives are principal characteristics differentiating human beings from all other entities or quantities.”
Two thousand years ago when Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4 on the Sabbath day in the Synagogue, and stood up and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed be to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he rolled back the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Zacharias comments on this passage and concludes in this manner, “This is the message of freedom for those in bondage, a message that will open the eyes of our darkened spirituality to the bright light of his grace, that will convince a Church to live the love of God by taking care of the poor and taking up the cause of the oppressed, that assures us there is an end of time where eternity awaits, and that all who long for his presence will live in the fulfillment of their faith to the grand consummation of seeing the Ultimate One, face-to-face….It is in him [Jesus] that we find it all.”
Ravi meticulously and clearly shows in this book the miserable failure of the “New Spirituality” to deliver on any of these 8 components that make up for a coherent and compelling worldview. On the other hand, in a very captivating manner he demonstrates how all of the best thinking of the west and east when brought together converge in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth – and the worldview known throughout the world as “Christianity.”
I highly recommend this book because it makes a compelling case for the cogency of Christianity, and helps you to understand where eastern and western thought have large “holes” that can only be filled with the water of life by the same Jesus who said that in Him we will never thirst again – spiritually.
*For over thirty-five years, Ravi Zacharias has spoken all over the world in great halls and universities, notably Harvard, Princeton, and numerous universities internationally. He is listed as a Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford university. He has appeared on CNN and other international broadcasts. The author of several books for adults and children, he powerfully mixes biblical teaching and Christian apologetics. His most recent works include Walking from East to West, a memoir; The Grand Weaver, an exploration of God’s intention in both the ordinary and the startling elements of life; and The End of Reason, a rebuttal of the claims of the so-called New Atheists. His weekly radio program, Let My People Think, is broadcast on 1,692 stations worldwide, and his weekday program, Just Thinking, is on 412. He is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with additional offices in Canada, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Zacharias and his wife, Margie, have three grown children and reside in Atlanta.