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Book Jacket That's Just Your Interpretation

Which Worldview Glasses are 20/20?

An AIA review of
That's Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith by Paul Copan
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2001.

Reviewed by Bob Passantino

© Copyright 2002 by Bob Passantino.

          Don’t let the title of this book put you off. It is not an introduction to biblical interpretation or hermeneutics. Instead, Christian philosopher Paul Copan discusses the fact that everyone has a pair of glasses through which they view the world – a particular set of presuppositions, an interpretive framework or paradigm; in short, a worldview. Copan challenges the reader (whether Christian or non-Christian) to test his or her own worldview, recognize its inadequacies, and make adjustments more in accord with reality. By doing so, Copan argues, skeptics of Christianity will find their objections are often mistakes in reasoning rather than viable challenges to Christian truth. Copan’s book breaks down into three main categories: (1) truth and reality, (2) worldviews, and (3) the Christian worldview in particular.

          In some ways, this book is similar to Lee Strobel’s successful The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. In other ways, most notably in his philosophical approach and careful examination of foundational presuppositions, this book is complementary rather than overlapping or repetitive. It is a supplement to Strobel’s books as theology at its practical best.

          Paul Copan is on staff with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and holds an M.A. and M.Div. From Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Ph.D. from Marquette University. This combination of a firm academic background and experienced interaction with non-Christians makes the book satisfying both to the armchair philosopher and the Christian frustrated by challenges from non-Christian acquaintances.

          The reading level of the book requires some familiarity with theological and philosophical vocabulary and a basic understanding of the laws of thought and rational argumentation. In its subject matter, it stands alongside William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith or J. P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City, but Copan’s prose is far easier to understand and his arguments presume less background on the part of the reader. Like Craig and Moreland, Copan is not Calvinistic in his approach. This means that some arguments, carefully argued from Scripture, will appear novel to some readers. (The majority of the historic Christian Church has not held to a deterministic worldview, despite the teachings of the later Augustine, Calvin, and other Reformed theologians. Copan is neither new nor alone in his free-will defense, following the twelfth century’s Anselm and others.)

          Among the issues Copan’s book deals with are truth and relativism, reality and illusion, the eternality of God, resurrection and reincarnation, reconciliation of human free will and responsibility with divine foreknowledge and predestination, the problems of evil and hell, religion as wish fulfillment, the logic of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the temptation of Christ, Genesis and science, Old Testament directives regarding genocide and slavery, alleged contradictions among the Gospels, and New Testament usage of Old Testament passages.

          Copan’s approach is useful especially in the chapters that answer typical challenging questions regarding the biblical God and scriptural statements and teachings. I was recently asked about the skeptic’s familiar contention that the God of the Old Testament, in ordering the destruction of idolatrous nations and condoning slavery, was no better than a genocidal Hitler or Pol Pot. I gave a detailed answer based on a number of arguments I had read and considered, musing to myself that it would be good to have this kind of answer available in one compact resource. Shortly after, I obtained Copan’s book and found my wish answered in chapters 18 and 19, “How Could a Loving God Command Genocide?” and “Doesn’t the Bible Condone Slavery?” His historical and exegetical insights affirm the moral purity of the God of the Old Testament in light of these challenges. Good answers such as the ones Copan provides reveal the moral character of the biblical God as far more just and unchanging than any other religious or non-religious system.

          While Copan clearly contrasts his understanding of Scripture with Calvinism and also with young earth creationism, he does not do so with malice, misrepresentation, lack of respect, or egoism. For example, Calvinists will disagree with his free-will defense for the problem of evil and his positing of “class election” as the resolution to the tension between human responsibility and divine predestination. The Calvinist must admit, however, that Copan has been polite in his disagreement and that he rigorously, logically, and scripturally presents his views within a relatively limited space.

          By assuming the contemporary scientific consensus on the age of the earth and yet defending the explicit statements of the Genesis creation accounts, Copan shows that one cannot point to the alleged age of the universe as a contradiction of Scripture. He also shows that holding an old-earth view does not relegate a Christian to unorthodox views on inerrancy. In fact, his approach to Genesis even allows for a more literary application of Genesis than most evangelical Americans know, effectively removing the battle between young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists from the literature of Genesis into a purely scientific arena.

          In chapter 15, Copan presents a fairly complex psychological [1] and philosophical argument for the nature of Christ’s temptation in the Garden of Gesthemane, arguing that Jesus may have been unaware that he could not sin. This gives full force to the lure of temptation without compromising His divinely sinless nature. Where I disagree with Copan is in his assumption that Jesus was in some human way expressing a reluctance to go to the cross. Instead, I (and J. O. Buswell [2] ) see Christ’s experience in the garden as affirming His commitment to die on the cross even if the Father had to preserve Him for that sacrifice supernaturally through special sustenance [3] or even perhaps resurrection. Footnote [4] His approach is within orthodoxy and is logically consistent and possible, even though I think there are more rationally simple approaches (see, e.g., my articles Not My Will But Yours Be Done: Did Jesus Want to Avoid the Cross?, Did the Father Leave the Son on the Cross? , and What Does the Bible Mean by Temptation?). Copan will stretch his readers’ thinking with some of his uncommon ideas, [5] especially in chapters 13 (“How Can God Be Three and One?”) and 14 (“Isn’t the Idea of God Becoming a Man Incoherent?”). I appreciate seeing these thoughts in print for popular consumption, and both chapters make valid, rational, orthodox arguments for the Trinity and the Incarnation.

          Many of the issues discussed in That’s Just Your Interpretation are treated in other books, some more simple and some more complex, but Copan’s addition to the literature on the subjects gives even the most well-read person a fresh look, sometimes with a creative approach not seen anywhere else. For example, his refutation of pantheism, the subject of chapter 5 (“Everything Is One with the Divine, All Else Is an Illusion”), not only includes nine objections to pantheism or monism but also concludes with a suggestion that the Christian “contextualize the gospel for Eastern cultures whenever we can.” In doing so, he cites commonalities that can provide a springboard for nonthreatening discussion:

        The Ultimate Reality is spiritual.

        There is unity to the whole universe.

        There is justice at the heart of the universe.

        There is a passion for freedom and liberation of the soul from death.

        There is a tremendous cost (discipleship) to living for religious devotees (57).

          Copan points out that “it is not only what we affirm that is important; it is also important how we do so.” His example is one I have rarely seen in a basic apologetics book, but I value it, having discussed the Christian faith with many pantheists or monists, including my brilliant philosopher sister-in-law who has devoted her life to a Hindu guru in India.

          Copan notes:


History is cyclical for the Hindu, not linear as Westerners commonly understand it. Obviously, this presents a problem for Christians when attempting to connect with Hindus, for the Christian faith is a historical one. For the Hindu, to say that our faith is historical implies that it had a beginning and may have an ending; on the other hand, Hinduism is an eternal and enduring religion. Many prominent Hindu thinkers believe the Hindu god Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita is merely legendary and not historical. It is not essential to the devotee of Krishna that he was incarnated (as an avatar) in history (57).

          Readers will appreciate Copan’s contrast between the typical Hindu opinion of the eternality of Hinduism and the reality of its historical development and between the typical Hindu assumption that Christianity is “recent” and “limited by time” and the reality of the eternal message of God’s loving sacrifice that reconciles us to Him, manifest in the historical Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.

          This challenging but eminently approachable exploration of the Christian faith counters the most common false worldviews of our time. It occupies an important place on my apologetics bookshelf, and it should on yours as well.

[1]  A similar approach appeared earlier in James Oliver Buswell’s Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962,1963), II:28ff.

[2]  Ibid., 61.

[3]  As an angel did immediately (see Luke 22:43-44 cf. Heb. 5:7).

[4]  As Abraham was confident God would do for his son Isaac if Abraham had actually sacrificed Isaac (Heb. 11:19).

[5]  Copan notes that his ideas are sometimes exploratory and suggestions (see 108 and 135).

The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26

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