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Reasons to Believe: One Man's Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind [Hardcover]

By John Marks (Author)
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Item Number 96743  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   384
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.32" Width: 6.26" Height: 1.33"
Weight:   1.41 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Feb 28, 2008
Publisher   Ecco
ISBN  0060832762  
EAN  9780060832766  

Availability  0 units.

Alternate Formats List Price Our Price Item Number Availability
Hardcover $ 26.95 $ 22.91 96743
Paperback $ 15.99 $ 13.59 2482909 In Stock
Item Description...

From a veteran journalist and former 60 Minutes producer comes an intimate portrait of evangelicals, one of the most influential forces in America today, and the story of how this lapsed believer came to terms with his faith.

"In 2003, while on assignment for 60 Minutes, I interviewed a couple for a piece on the Left Behind series, the bestselling Christian novels about the apocalypse. At the end of that meeting, they asked me a question: would I be left behind? In other words, had I accepted Jesus as my savior or would I go to hell? This book represents the answer to that question."

Born again at age sixteen, John Marks later abandoned his faith. In Reasons to Believe he attempts to cross a deep cultural barrier to understand those who now condemn his way of life. He grapples with the message that millions of evangelicals attempt to deliver to their fellow citizens every day and speaks at length with missionaries, political activists, theologians, Christian musicians, and filmmakers---the rich and powerful, the poor and broken, and the pastors who have turned small congregations into megachurches.

This is familiar and often comforting territory for Marks, and he still has a profound understanding of what it means to be an evangelical. In Reasons to Believe he presents this world from the inside out.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A Fair Look   Jun 1, 2008
John Marks is very fair, and does a great job in making human those who are religious. He lets them speak, and respects their views entirely. He simply does not buy the message.

The Barna study, something I had not heard of, was very illuminating and thematic throughout. It illustrates the many schisms and types of Christians within Christianity. Most of my family, and my wife's family are Christian. But 20% or 9% of Christians, depending on how you define it, would only say they are nominally Christian. Most Christians in America are tolerant, and their belief in Christianity guides them. They are tolerant and do not wear it on their sleeve. They try to use Christian philosophy, but are not judgmental, and accept, say, homosexuality or do not seem so worried about hell and saving people. Then there are the Christians who condemn everyone, and do not seem to wonder how they are becoming more and more of a minority.

I agree with Marks' conclusions, and thought especially powerful his passage where he compares two ways to value or give purpose to Nikki McDonall's life. She is the missionary who lost her husband and a hand in Iraq. While I think Christians, and religious people gain joy and comfort from their belief. Living for a mythical afterlife is a waste of time, and neutralizes the good a person can do, but also can make others better. It's not universal one way or the other.

Marks' main reason for not believing, namely, the fact God allows atrocity, is something I disagree with. Some Christians defended this by saying God makes up for it in the afterlife, and this has logic. I think the best reason not to buy religion is because they have the imprint of man. This is the case with Zeus or the Sun God, and most people can agree, but it is rather strange why this is not so easy for the masses to see concerning the more widely believed religions.

Marks asks in the opening pages a very good question that most Christians have, and I paraphrase: How can so many people not believe in Christ when the signs are unmistakably clear?

Marks gives a very solid answer.
Is there a heaven to be "left behind" from?  May 23, 2008
As a lapsed evangelical who has recently left the fold, I'm probably still too close to the subject to be objective about my experience. Indeed, some traumatized former evangelicals, like author Frank Schaeffer, may never be able to write dispassionately about the Church (as demonstrated in his recent book "Crazy for God"). However, John Marks has gotten to the point where he can rationally revisit the evangelical Christianity he abandoned long ago, and in this fine book he takes us along on his journey.

In the introduction an evangelical married couple asks the author if he will be "left behind," an allusion to the popular Christian book series about the End Times. In other words, is Mr. Marks condemned to eternal separation from God? He teases out this question all though "Reasons to Believe," and finally answers it on the last page. But not before we follow him as he visits various churches (mega and otherwise), checks out the Christian music scene and homeschooling movement, considers the possible theological fate of his Jewish wife and gay friend, and reexamines his own past when he was a youthful true believer.

One of the things I appreciated about "Reasons to Believe" was that it lived up to its title. If you read my review of "Crazy for God," you might discern that I'm still a bit sensitive about my former Christian walk, much like someone who has finally left a long-term abusive relationship. However, there had to be some goodness in the Church for me to have stuck around for over twenty years, and Mr. Marks reminded me of that truth. He encounters grieving families who lovingly stick together and retain faith in the face of unexplainable tragedy, mixes with intelligent believers who have a strong sense of community and purpose, discovers ministries that reach out to anyone in need regardless of their belief system, and experiences sublime moments of joyful worship. To this day, I miss these elements of Christianity.

Of course, there had to be reasons to leave as well as reasons to believe, and the author digs into those as well. He uncovers the Church's obsession with sin management and avoiding the appearance of evil, ruminates over the problem of suffering, reveals the persecution of those who don't tow the doctrinal line, and highlights the hypocrisy of leaders who live double lives and can't measure up to their own fire and brimstone sermons. As with me, the doctrine of hell angers the author, especially when family members and close friends would be condemned to eternal suffering and separation from God for no other reason than failing to follow a particular theological bent. I'm with Mr. Marks in my distain for such an infernal idea and I had no problem walking away from this, and the other aforementioned negative aspects, of the Church.

So...will Mr. Marks be "left behind?" At the conclusion of his journey he takes his stand, and it's one that I can empathize with. I recommend reading "Reasons to Believe" along with Frank Schaeffer's somewhat more polemic book "Crazy for God" and "God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question - Why We Suffer" by Bart D. Ehrman to gain fascinating and controversial insights on faith, doctrine, and Christianity from former evangelicals.
Spiritual warfare: a deserter returns to his battleground  May 1, 2008
After a polite Jehovah's Witness came to our door recently and we politely declined his message, my wife wondered if he thought we'd be damned. John Marks asks himself the same question. The book's subtitle {"One Man's Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind"} indicates his investigation into his teenaged embrace of, his young adult rejection of, and his mature return to investigate those who practice a born-again Christian faith. He holds out, unable to reconcile the demands of submission with the caprices of a god who witnesses abundant evils committed in as well as in spite of a loving god's name.

Powerful themes, and Marks as a veteran journalist takes them on boldly yet sensitively. The book, as he tells us early on, was one he's been waiting his whole life to write, and it shows. As he's only two years younger than me, I admit my own interest piqued as his own tastes in rock and his own pop culture connections often intersected with mine. And, any author who cringes at the thought of a heaven full of music in the key of Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears-- not to mention a preacher's promise of paradise full of ourselves acting like "five year olds"-- gains in credibility as far as I'm concerned. Like him, I favor the sounds and the example of Billy Zoom of X much more!

While the publicity for the book pushes the saved-or-damned conundrum, most of Marks' study's far less dramatic. He's not criticizing the right of people to have a faith that condemns people to hell if they are not baptized and accepting of Jesus as their own savior (he finds such an element, according to the Barna polls he cites, if taken seriously at levels of committment to be only about 7-9% of the U.S.) but the right of such a bloc "to assert their belief as a national religion." (16) "Can a pluralist democracy absorb and support an exclusive, nonpluralistic belief at the heart of its system?" (16) Although the extension of such an argument falls outside the book's scope, the dangers of fundamentalist surety or evangelical righteousness certainly connect with movements far greater in numbers in the rest of the world.

Marks wonders if he's betraying himself if he gives in and returns to the comforting "call" that moved him as a younger man. He weakens if barely, but determines as the narrative progresses to remain true to himself, as a committed secular student of a phenomenon he examines from a skeptical yet respectful distance. His dual identity as one who knows the insider's lingo yet stands apart from accepting it actually increases his ability to talk to believers, who understand that Marks will not distort or misunderstand or betray what they share with him about the challenges of their faith.

His father, when his teen son became "saved," predicted "You just wait. It starts with this, and it'll end up with him not believing in God at all." (230) Marks makes much of his own very comfortable suburban Dallas roots, and shows how his family's roots lie in a mainstream Protestantism which has been eroding under the triple assaults of three disparate movements, the fundamentalists now under retreat, the evangelicals gaining, and the Pentecostals flourishing. His research reminds us that contrary to media stereotypes, fundamentalists and evangelicals remain distinct, and he explains why the latter's more emotional style fits better with the megachurches and outreaches of millennial American attitudes.

His book, however, in following such trends does often bog down in interviews, recounting dutifully conversations with pastors and workers without much verve. Chapters on post-Katrina church efforts, homosexuality, his stint in Germany that led him as a college student away from his faith, the Christian music scene, or the Young Life youth movement are all informative, but rarely rise above that function. There's a lot of quotes that remind you more of an extended feature by a reporter in a newspaper series rather than a book that ties its threads together more tightly. Towards the end, a few of these strands turn up again and connect, but much of the pace slackens for long stretches, dulling interest and goading you as a reader to wait for Marks to recount his own story to perk up the cultural or personal relevance again. Too many of these pages kept me restless, and chapters often end suddenly or on the off-note of hesitation. He speaks often of his own doubts and uncertainties, past and present, and here's when he's strongest. The book combines reportage on the religious scene with some history, some sociology, and some theology, and ultimately, Marks uses the book to work out his own guilt at "losing" his faith and reclaiming his humanist creed, shaky a substitute it may be, as more honest for him.

"I had 'lost' my faith, in that I had wanted to keep it, but couldn't sustain it. The world laid out by the Bible, the reality of it, just seemed to nullify with the years, taking one blow after another till I could no longer hold on. I had seen human cruelty that sank my ability to buy the idea of a sovereign ruler of the universe. The faith didn't help me to understand; it closed off avenues for knowledge." (252) In his interviews with such Christians as Niki missionizing in Iraq, Colonel Birdwell surviving 9/11 at the Pentagon, Daniel at Biola, or his guide Don, Marks takes great care to present these people as having earned our respect, as being tested greatly by the God they love, while Marks insists upon his own autonomy from their faith that impels them to draw him into their closed circle of the elect, according to their inerrant reading of chapter and verse and their strict standard of salvation.

Finally, as when Marks places his own existentialist (he does admire Kafka's "The Castle") views against those of a believer who saw her husband and her fellow missionaries die in Iraq on a clandestine missionary foray, he arrives at a irrevocable truth both Christians and humanists may shrink from, even though it is the logical outcome. Honesty demands he says what he thinks. Niki's sacrifice of her husband and brethren in spreading news of God gains her a reward in heaven. As Marks does not believe in God, he will drop into everlasting torment. Or, she's deluded, having gone from her dream into reality-- a hostile land where her good news was despised and her friends and spouse were murdered. Her loss remains unredeemable, her sacrifice is based on a lie.

Marks concludes: "These two interpretations are incompatible. They are mutually opposed translations of the same original text and cannot be squared. Their two hells cannot coexist. If one is true, the other must be false. Or both are false, and the truth of existence lies elsewhere. Theoretically, we are free to choose, But I suspect that Niki McDonnall will stick by her story. The question is whether I stick by mine." (197)

Marks raises many such uncomfortable issues. Those on homosexuality, women who fear men, and roles of youth at camps all could have earned even more attention. Most of all, I would have liked more discussion about the ties between evangelicals and Jews. As Marks' wife and son are Jewish, Marks' own consideration of his eternal fate intersects intimately with his family. This poignant and disturbing relevance of the talk of dispensations and being "under heavy conviction" and being left behind at the Rapture before meriting, if one holds out, endless suffering certainly deepen the impact of Marks' study. He holds back somewhat, I sense, from fully delving into the complicity of some Christians with the cause of Zion as the manifestation of the End Times simply because the realities that such alliances mask prove too eerie.

A few errors have been remarked upon by other this site reviewers. I add that Texas "Catholic" University's likely from the context of its graduate before and after college to be "Christian;" Meister Eckhardt does not have an "e" after the "k;" on an "October day" in Prague's Jewish cemetery it'd be impossible that a "Jewish holiday, Sukkoth or Purim, had shut the place down." (352) The former commemoration, yes; the latter feast that takes place in January or February, no!

Marks rarely indulges in his own philosophizing, being at heart a direct writer for all his learning, but he hits the target: pulling at our loyalties are a pair of "great forces." Memory tugs us back "to our childhood, our roots, our homeland, our God. Desire flings us forward, to our future, our mate, our children, and, sometimes, to our death." He fights reductionism, but stays "certain that every human being lives on some kind of the line between these two poles and finds a balance, or doesn't, at one end of the other of a spectrum." (266)

He wonders in the final pages-- looking ahead past the 2008 election and a shift away from the "politics of faith" at least in the White House-- if such a desire as many have for the apocalypse filters into a "death wish for the world." He ponders evangelical panic at the declining acceptance of "bible-true" faith collides with technologies alternately denigrated by many Christians and embraced by many "dispensationalists" who wish to use them to hasten annihilation by "spiritual warfare." The victims of such divinely-guided wrath (nothing personal as his "saved" neighbors assure him), would be the likes of Marks, his family, and the majority of the people left behind on earth.
Understanding, but not belief  Mar 16, 2008
John Marks is an entertaining, readable author. As an evangelical I truly enjoyed his fresh perspective on my faith. Reasons to Believe is an anecdotal story of Marks' personal journey as he re-investigates the beliefs of his youth. The stories he tells are at times nostalgic, horrifying, solemn or idiosyncratic, but they are consistently interesting. He has a much deeper, clearer insight into the evangelical mind and evangelicals' interaction with modern American culture than I expected to find. His stories about his youth and his extended family are fascinating. The sketches of the individuals in the book piqued my curiosity, and often made me wish that I knew them personally (I do know the McWhinneys personally).

One of the most surprising facets of the book is what Marks' does not get right. I attend Denton Bible Church, one of the churches that Marks' highlights in his book. He recollects that on the Sunday he attended our church the pastor Tommy Nelson "stepped forward in a long maroon robe". I have attended Denton Bible since 1992 and I have not once seen Tommy wear a robe; including the Sunday that Marks' cites. I remember that Sunday clearly because of the announcement of the death of the McWhinneys son. Did Marks' simply remember this incorrectly? He does not seem to be the type of author to get his facts twisted so I am really at a loss to know what to make of it.

Marks' also gets some of the scriptural details wrong. Most notably in his chapter "Submission" he writes, "King David's father Saul refused to submit, and he was utterly destroyed". This is not a minor detail to get wrong because major portions of several Old Testament books detail the life of David: that he was the youngest son of Jesse, that he was sent to serve in Saul's court, that he was best friends with Saul's son Jonathon, that he was given Saul's daughter, Michal, in marriage, that he spent years running from Saul as Saul sought to kill him, and finally that Saul and all of his son's were killed in battle against the Philistines. Apparently, neither Marks' nor his editors are familiar with any of these stories.

Marks' reacts at a visceral level to the evangelical position on homosexuality. He has a very good friend that is gay so the issue is very personal to him. Still, I was surprised at the amount of space in the book devoted to the topic. Homosexuality is obviously a huge divider in our society. Both sides are too quick to use inflammatory rhetoric and too slow to understand the other. I wonder if Marks' ultimate rejection of Christianity doesn't stem as much from this issue as from his professed trouble with a God who allows bad things to happen.

Of the people that Marks' profiles in his book, the one that seemed to make the biggest impression on him is David Barton. Barton and his organization, Wall Builders, preserve documentation showing the religious influence on the founding and early years of our nation. Barton apparently travels far and wide educating individuals and showing the physical documents that prove the presence of faith in early America. Marks' believes that Barton is influential in the evangelical community, and fears that influence. Marks' fears faith based politics, "not only because I know that enormous numbers of Americans will never, ever accept such a politics, just as I know that these conservative Christians have not and will not accept a fully secularized politics. And this realization brings me to the heart of my dread, that an incompatibility in the body politic of such grave proportions will only ever resolve itself through a massive act of violence that will make any talk of spiritual warfare seem quaint indeed." Wow! Of what kind of violence does he think evangelicals are capable? This just floors me.

While Marks' journey examines many facets of modern evangelicalism, he fails to come to terms with the person of Jesus Christ. Did his search have any hope of success at all? Reasons to Believe brings to mind the medieval philosopher Anselm's formulation, "Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand." Ultimately, Marks' fails to believe and he fails to understand.
Interesting but incomplete  Feb 20, 2008
John Marks does a great job of taking his readers through his interesting journey in and out of Christianity. He avoids caricatures and is very respectful to the evangelical world. Yet, his ending assesment is that one must be delusional to embrace a "personal relationship" with Christ and that living a life of service to others makes no sense because he himself would never do so. His Biblical inaccuracies will raise doubts in many as to how well he acutally knows the Bible (He states that Saul is David's father) and hurts his credibility. For those who are not familiar with the teachings of the Old and New Testaments his errors will go unnoticed. Marks also ignores important elements of the evangelical world and this both weakens and distorts his portrayal. He either failed to interview or report, for instance, any representation from the growing Reformed Evangelicals. He states that if he were to embrace a relationship with Christ that this would be an assault on his wife and son who are Jewish. The watershed issue for Marks is not whether the claims of Christ are true but that he cannot reconcile the existence of evil in the world with belief in Jesus Christ and that doing so would cost him greatly in his personal life.

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