Friday, February 13, 2015

Evaluating the Evangelists: Luis Palau

From the December 2011 E-Block.

Unlike Billy Graham, Luis Palau has not been called upon to write books telling people what he thinks of public debt. He has, however, been a somewhat less prolific author; although far too many of these books were inaccessible to me (many for example were in non-English). In the end, I was able to secure but three books of his, and one -- a devotional with David -- offered nothing extraordinary beyond typical pastoral anachronisms used to make certain Biblical stories and characters seem more relevant and "like us" than they are or were.

A second book, Changed by Faith, also contained little extraordinary; s may be expected, it is nearly cover to cover personal testimonies, with Jesus cast in the role of personal therapist, and with the assumption made that one of Jesus' roles is to help you figure out "who you are." (In the Bible's agonistic society, such a question would have have even been operable.) To be fair, Palau does engage in some "hard" apologetics -- for about 2 pages, discussing manuscript evidence. But clearly in his world, such apologetics is meant oi stay at the back of the Christian bus and remain seated until called. On the negative side, Palau also defines faith in terms of blind trust (120-1 -- for example, we have faith in a chef when we go to a restaurant, which is an analogy I found ironically galling having had food poisoning just last week), and thinks Young's The Shack is an example of positive Christian influence (187). 

if any book of Palau's was going to be of interest to an apologist, I thought it might be A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian, co-authored between himself and a personal friend of his who is an official in China. Sadly, a subtitle is needed: "That's So Friendly It Doesn't Really Get Anywhere." Palau and his friend seldom pose views functionally at odds, and his friend doesn't seem to be a typical atheist: He generally takes the historical value of Bible for granted, beyond the mention of supernatural elements; and as an example of its reliability, he notes that there is no mention of tea in it, which would be an anachronism. In that respect Palau's friend seems to be an atheist of the Kyle Gerkin type -- someone who would react well to solid apologetics. 

Unfortunately, that is a task Palau wasn't up to. In an all too brief discussion on the problem of evil (47f), Palau makes the outlandish argument that God uses disasters to wake up people from indifference. Later (101-2) Palau indicates acceptance of the myth of the Dark Ages, and somehow manages to put them in the 17th-18th century (!). His atheist friend is under the impression that many scientists were tortured by the Inquisition, including Galileo, Copernicus, and Servetus. However, the Galileo matter is itself surrounded by modern myths; Copernicus was not persecuted for his ideas while he was alive, and Servetus wasn't persecuted for being a scientist, but for advocating heretical views of the Trinity. Both Palau and his friend also make the mistake of thinking Hitler was an atheist (120).

Further on, the atheists asks who created God, and Palau says he has no idea how to answer that, but we'll find out in heaven (110). This one is such a simple question to answer that I couldn't help but wish someone better versed than Palau were around to answer it -- or better, that evangelists like Palau as a whole were better versed.

So, in sum: I found little or nothing special from Palau, which is not surprising -- but is also, as always, disappointing.

1 comment:

  1. Good blog! The neglect of apologetics is lamentable, certainly. These guys need to at least point people in a scholarly direction, if they don't have time to acquaint themselves with it personally. At first, I thought the 'chef analogy' okay, but then I saw he uses it to illustrate 'blind' trust, which isn't right. Sorry about the food poisoning! It would be more along the lines of eating out at a restaurant where you have 'evidence' the restaurant makes tasty, sanitary dishes; so, we would eat there in sort of the same way Thomas should have believed his friends that Jesus was raised: Jesus' response was kind of like, "Thomas, you should have known me!" But I kind of agree with the 'snap people out of indifference' theodicy with natural disasters. It's at least possible, especially with your 'Primary Causality' model for God's providence in your 'Unconditioning' article, right? In possible worlds maximizing salvation, isn't it possible that God uses natural disasters as part of the 'butterfly effect' to snap people out of spiritual indifference, which may lead to 'more saved'? I don't know if that's how it's used in the book, though. Further, I agree it's pretty sad he doesn't know how to answer the stale 'Who made God?' objection. I don't know Palau, but it seems like a lot of these popular 'evangelists' focus more on psychological manipulation than honest apologetics: it's either 'diversion' or 'evasion'. That we'll find out in Heaven (while maybe true) is beside the point, and begs the question if the atheist doesn't believe in Heaven. I strongly feel that not just apologetics, but Logic 101 needs to be a necessary Sunday School class in Church. It would be amazing if there was an actual sermon on Logic! It would be so edifying! Take care!