Get on Board: a book review

If you were to stand on the platform at Grand Central Station, ready to board a train, it would be reasonable to ask, “Where will this train take me?” Hopefully we would know the answer before we board and end up somewhere we didn’t intend. Abdu Murray’s Grand Central Question has in mind a similar range of questions as he probes three major worldviews and their critical concerns.  He examines the assumptions of secular humanism, pantheism (or new age eclecticism?) and Islam and he sees a ‘Grand Central Question’ at the center of each of these worldviews.  Murray himself is a convert to Christianity from Islam. He brings to the apologetic task, a lawyer’s mind, astute at weighing and analyzing the evidence.

So what are the ‘Grand Central Questions’ for each of these worldviews? In part I of his book, Murray describes how secular humanists question what ‘provides us with intrinsic value or objective purpose?’ For the secular humanity each person is the sole arbitrator for issues of morality and purpose (though many would also look to the common good). Murray examines the claims of secular humanists, both those of the New Atheists and kinder, gentler secular humanists. He affirms their belief in humankind’s intrinsic value, but sees the real answer to secular humanist questions resides in Jesus who’s incarnation and death on a Roman cross demonstrate how precious humanity is in God’s eyes (112). He also argues that God provides the basis for objective morality.

The Grand Central Question which Eastern Spiritualities attempt to answer is the problem of pain and suffering. This is true of the panethestic religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, but it is also true of the new spiritualities of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. But the answer to suffering provided by each of these are some version of the great escape. To become one with everything means to be released from the wheel of suffering and to be united with the Divine universe. In the Christian tradition, God did act decisively to bring humanity into union with Himself, but Creator remains seperate from creation. We are invited into a dynamic relationship with God and like, Jesus enter into the suffering of our world.

Finally Murray examines Islam. As this is the faith system that Murray was raised in, it is not surprising that this is the most detailed section of his book. Murray claims the Grand Central Question of  Islam is ‘how are we to come to grips with God’s greatness in a way that satisfies our mind’s God-given  rational capacity and our soul’s realization that what is worthy of worship is that which is beyond us? (170)’ For Muslims the greatest of Allah is codified in reciting the Takbir: Allahu Akbar (God is Greater).  Murray examines the philosophical claims that Muslims have against Christianity (i.e. a corrupt scripture, Trinitarian theology equals idolatry, Jesus only ‘appeared to die,’ etc). In each case he shows how each of the claims of Islam undermine God’s greatness. He argues that if God great (as Muslims and Christian’s both believe) than he could certainly preserve his own gospel, his greatness is manifest in Trinity, and His Great Mercy is shown in Christ’s incarnation.

Murray is thoughtful and fair in his engagement with other worldviews, even as he argues tenaciously for Christian belief. My favorite part of the book was the prologue. Here, Murray recounts a story of a conversation he had with a Muslim in a hospitable room. They walked through many of the standard objections to Christian belief (from a Muslim perspective). Then Murray asked his interlocutor a personal question, “What would happen to you if you did become a Christian? What would your kids think or do?” (15). The man told Murray he’d be disowned (16). That act of naming the cost for truth, changed the tenor of their discussion up to that point. Murray encourages us to likewise ask questions of people from other worldviews, and to listen for (and ask) about the peculiar cost that they would have to pay to become a Christian. He also encourages us to ask why we should pay the cost for Truth (24-7)

Thus the prologue orients you to Murray’s apologetic approach. He has attempted in these pages to listen well to what these competing worldviews are saying but finds God’s own story of redemption most compelling. He demonstrates how Jesus is the answer to the Grand Central Question. I appreciate how christocentric his Apologetic is! So many apologists answer secular humanism by demonstrating the rationality of theism. Murray does this, but he points to the Christian story–Christ’s incarnation and death as the proof in the pudding. Likewise he points New-Agers and Muslims to Jesus. This is great approach!

I liked this book and recommend it for Christians and non-Christians alike. I am sure that secular humanists, pantheists and Muslims will not always find Murray’s reasoning compelling, but it will ignite an interesting discussion about what the real answer to the ‘grand central question’ is. I give this book four stars: ★★★★

 

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