“Outside of Christ there is no law, no hope, and no meaning.”
– Ravi Zacharias.1
In part one to the introduction of this series “(Re)Considering Christianity” I discussed the earliest parts of my childhood including my salvation experience in 1992. I also brought up the tremendous influence my father had on my love for the Bible and my Christian convictions as well as how a speech impediment drove my early love for reading generally.
Books and Writing
Some of my earliest reading memories include books like The Hot and Cold Summer which I read in first grade and The Indian in the Cupboard which I read in third grade. I can also recall that with my two dollars per week allowance in hand I would go to Walmart with my mother and purchase 2 for $1 paperback classics including works like The Prince and the Pauper, The Invisible Man, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many more. I loved being surrounded by books and having them on a shelf in my bedroom was a source of both comfort and strength.
During my fifth grade year my interests expanded to science and I began reading on the topics of relativity, a la Albert Einstein, as well black holes. I can still remember the little notebook I had in which I would write down information I had read on relativity as well as various equations that made absolutely no sense to me at the time (and still don’t). And fifth grade was also the year that my interest in writing began to blossom. In the early 90s New York State required all fifth graders to participate in a writing exam and so our teacher prepared us by having us write both fiction and non-fiction stories. We would read one another’s stories and offer critiques. I usually received great feedback from both my peers and the teacher and I ended up passing the exam with flying colors.
My love for writing spilled over into the area of the Bible and at home I began regularly writing about it. In a red notebook I wrote a commentary on the first epistle of John, thoughts on the story of Samson and Delilah from the book of Judges, and even a piece refuting evolution in favor of creationism. If only I still had them so that I could reflect on just how immature I was at the time.
In sixth grade I was introduced to Carl Sagan thanks to a teacher who made a huge impression on me. Once or twice a week this teacher would turn out the lights and put on Sagan’s Cosmos that had aired on PBS in the late 70s. My first impression was negative: how dare Sagan question God and the Bible! Little did I know that this was a seed planted in my mind that would only grow and grow in the years to come. Last year at my brother’s wake this teacher showed up. He had also taught my younger brother in sixth grade and it took me a moment to figure out who he was. When he told me, I burst into tears and hugged him, thanking him for his work and the influence he had on my life and my brother’s.
Despite my exposure to Sagan, my zeal for Christianity was still strong going into seventh grade. Unfortunately puberty hit, and as I headed into eighth grade and then moved onto high school my interest in Christianity waned and my interest in sports, girls, and hanging out with friends increased. Though my Bible reading diminished, my love for books did not and I continued to read voraciously. But my interest in church and in theology had all but disappeared.
Around my seventeenth year things began to change. I had become interested in basketball and was a pretty decent shot. So a group of teenagers at my church would get together following the Sunday night service to play for an hour or so. Though I didn’t attend school with any of them, our friendship grew. Our shared connection was basketball at our church. And so church attendance suddenly became more important to me though for ulterior motives. And when evangelists would come through to preach week-long meetings, that gave all of us a chance to play basketball together an additional five times!
But this exposure to evangelistic preaching forced me to confront my own beliefs about Jesus. So I began to read apologetic literature from the Institute for Creation Research and Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. And on the fifteen minute drive to Sunday school my dad would play the radio program Let My People Think which featured talks from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. All these influences forced me to ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” Zacharias’ book Can Man Live Without God? had a lasting impression and one passage in particular stands out. After quoting from Robert Browning’s poem “A Death in the Desert,” Zacharias writes,
Christ – He is either the illimitable God or one dreadfully lost. There is no room for a theory that says He was “merely a good man.” Study His life with unyielding honesty and the answer is evident. It is this hope He brings that grants us hope for each individual, for our communities, and for our world. Without this hope of life beyond the grave, every question from love to justice becomes a mockery of the mind.2
The final chapter of the book, “The Believer’s Treasure,” ends with these words: “You be the judge. The jury has already recorded its conclusions in the pages of the Bible.”3 So what was I to make of Jesus? Was he a failed messiah or was he the resurrected Son of God?
In the next post I will discuss the decision I made, an experience that reinforced it, and the beginning of my college years.
1 Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (W Publishing Group, 1994), 61.
2 Ibid., 164.
3 Ibid., 179.