June 28, 2008

I Want to Believe, Mel Lawrenz

Mel Lawrenz is pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin (thanks to Elmbrook Church and Pastor Lawrenz for the review copy; HT: Scot McKnight for spreading word of the offer). In I Want to Believe, Lawrenz sets out to offer a guide for belief in God in our pluralistic and agnostic age. This involves some basic and careful apologetics, some study of comparative religions, and some great pastoral reflections on the nature and content of the Christian faith.

The basic premise that Lawrenz starts with is that we all have a need for God. For Lawrenz, we are "born believers. It's just simply how we're made" (8). God created us for relationship with him, and it shows in how we're made and how we experience the world. As humans, we feel mortal (and why shouldn't we, Lawrenz points out, because we are), and we look for structure and meaning in life. This doesn't mean belief is easy, but in some way it is "natural" (my word, not his). He writes, "Believeing in God is not like a scientist trapping an animal in a cage to bring back to the laboratory for further study and tests. . . . God caries us away" (17). Later, he illumines the fact that belief goes beyond understanding, and that's okay. Because belif is where "the Made and the Eternal" are conjoined, and if we come to a point where we fully understood it, then belief would be about us and what we do. But it's not; it's about God.

Throughout the rest of the book, Lawrenz does a very fine, pastoral job of working out what it means to believe, as humans, as citizens of a pluralistic world, and finally, as followers of Jesus Christ. This involves discussions of doubt (a chapter worth the price of the book), atheism, Islam, and the specifics of the Christian faith, to name a few of the topics he brings in.

Lawrenz book might be termed apologetics-lite, in a sense, but that is meant in the best possible way. He doesn't get bogged down in philosophy or argumentation but instead helpfully touches on many of these themes but moves beyond them to God and what it means to be in relationship with him. I think this great little book makes a user-friendly introduction to belief in the modern world, and I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to someone searching for faith, or even decidedly not searching for it.

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