This is the first interview in the Challies Dot Com Summer Interview Series. The series will feature interviews with authors, musicians and other Christian personalities.
The first interview in this series is with Richard Abanes. Richard is known around these parts as author of the newly-released book Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him and as a regular defender of Warren and his teachings within the comments section within this site. This is the first part of the interview in which we get to know Richard. Part two deals more specifically with Rick Warren and will be posted tomorrow.
Who is Richard Abanes? Tell us a little bit about yourself - who you are, what you do, and how we might know about you?
Well, first and foremost, I am a Christian. Everything follows that fact with regard to my identity. In other words, I do not see myself as a writer per se, or as an apologist, or as a musician. I certainly DO those things, but it is not who/what I am. I follow Christ and find my identity in him—no matter what I am doing. I say this because I have seen too many Christians equating “who” they are with “what” they do, and this can limit their willingness go/do/be what God wants. So in my case, whatever I happen to be doing at the moment is merely an extension of serving the one who saved me. With regard to who I am, then, I would say that I AM a follower of Christ. Now, as for what I DO, that is a different question. For now, what I DO is write books dealing with: apologetics (defending the faith); pop culture as it relates to religion (particularly Christianity), and issues associated with faith/spirituality (e.g., near death experiences, the end-times).
I also do a lot of music—both worship and inspirational. I actually have a very intense show business background of music, theater, dance, and acting. I’ve performed on Broadway and off-Broadway, in TV specials/programs, and in several national commercials. In fact, I thought that a career in show business was going to be my life. But God had other plans. He showed me that what I was doing was not really affecting people for eternity. I was entertaining them, but not doing anything for their eternal souls. So, I left show business, not really knowing at all what God had planned for me. It was a real step of faith.
Several years later, God showed me that I had the ability to write. I had no idea that I had this ability. I was working at the Christian Research Institute (c. 1989), which eventually turned into my school of apologetics. I also was mentored by Bob and Gretchen Passantino. I also tried to learn apologetics from the best apologists I could find. Then, God started opening up doors for me to write (starting about 1994). So, here I am, all of these years and books later. My writing ministry is all because of Him. It’s a miracle. I have no higher education. So, really, I have to credit Christ with my success. I really am quite undeserving and still don’t know why God has been so good to me. Like Paul said, I’m the chief of sinners (just ask my wife). But I guess that is what grace is all about. God uses the foolish things of the world.
Right now I’m trying to put up as much information as possible at my website www.abanes.com for people interested in the issues that I am interested in. It’s kind of funny that you would start out this interview the way you did. I have attempted to answer at my website this very first question you have asked by putting up biographical material about me and pictures. But in response, some people have criticized me for being carnal, worldly, conceited, full of myself, etc. etc. etc. That’s kind of strange to me since I am personally always interested in people and their past, their accomplishments, and what they have done in life. It gives you insight into who they are and what has molded them. I think others are interested in that kind of stuff, too. And, of course, I like pictures—basically, I enjoy seeing pictures of people, places, and things, and happen to think that it is rather cool to be able to post photos in cyberspace (I love technology). Moreover, we live in a very visually-oriented society. I suppose, however, that some people don’t see it that way, Ah well.
What are three books every Christian should read (apart from the Bible)?
“Apart from the Bible?” NOTHING! That’s blasphemy! No, just kidding. Of course, there are many books that Christians could benefit from. And I suppose it would depend a LOT on the maturity of a Christian, their needs, and where God is leading them. But I would say at least one book by one of the great preachers/teachers is important to have in one’s library (or a compilation of quotes)—i.e., anything by C.H. Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, or A.W. Tozer. I read all of these guys as part of my daily/weekly study and devotional. Then, I would suggest at least one solid volume of systematic theology: e.g., Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof or Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. Finally, hmmmm, this is tough, perhaps the now-released one volume edition of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I really believe that there is a wealth of insight that can be gained about Christian living and truth from something like Lewis’ fantasy series. I know I must be missing some great books out there, but limiting me to three does not leave me a lot of room.
Who do you consider the formative influences in your beliefs and theology?
Well, as for “formative,” this is difficult to say, since I was raised Roman Catholic, and then for many years after my conversion in 1979, I attended a wide variety of churches/groups in an effort to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. I think I would first of all have to name (in chronological order) Walter Martin since his books were the first ones I read on doctrine, cults, the occult, and world religions. Then, probably Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel system of churches. After that, I would say I began to be heavily influenced by Reformed teachers, especially R.C. Sproul, who I think is absolutely brilliant. I am a Calvinist, by the way, but I am what I like to call a “soft” Calvinist with Southern Baptist leanings—go figure. I’ve also been influenced a great deal by Lutheran teachings, thanks to my mentors Bob and Gretchen Passantino (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).
I try very hard to stick to the essentials of the faith and not get too caught up in arguing over things that do little more than divide Christians and foster animosity or ungodly in-fighting. NONE OF US have every single little thing perfect. I would think that this is obvious to everyone since we are all sinners saved by grace and subject to mistakes—not to mention the fact that the heart is deceitfully wicked. But we all try as best we can to serve our Lord and Savior.
Of course, when it comes to the central teachings of Christianity, these are non-negotiable. In other words, you can’t diverge from these things or else you are in serious danger of not being a Christian at all—or at the very least being terrifically skewed in your doctrinal understandings, confused, and in danger of having serious problems in your Christian walk. This is why it is so important for new Christians to immediately begin taking steps toward doctrinal maturity—i.e., go from being a born-again baby, to a toddler, to a tween, to a teen, to a mature adult.
What are the essentials? I would say that these are any doctrines that relate directly to our identification of, and our relationship to, God—i.e., there is one God, the trinity, the full humanity/deity of Christ, the virgin birth, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and the physical/bodily resurrection. Basically, those doctrines represented formally in the earliest creeds of the Christian church: Apostles’, Nicene, and Chalcedonian.
I can’t say I’ve ever heard the term “soft Calvinist.” Purely to satisfy my curiosity, could you clarify that a little bit?
Well, I am a Calvinist. Five points. However, I am less dogmatic on some points than others—e.g., Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace. But it seems to all make sense, especially the idea of actually needing to be regenerated BEFORE accepting Christ since we are slaves to sin BEFORE regeneration and dead in our sins. However, choice is in there somewhere (see for example, Joshua 24:15; Is. 7:15; Romans 10:9).
I say “soft” because I don’t fight about these things. If you’re a Calvinist, great. If you’re not a Calvinist, great. I always care a lot more about whether or not someone simply knows, loves, follows, and serves Jesus. God knows how it all works out, and one day we will know, too. Until then, we do our best and have our own notions about how it all works. But such things as the EXACT moment of regeneration, supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism, free will, choice, etc. etc. etc. is beyond everyone—in my opinion.
We happen to be doing this interview only days after the release of the latest book in the Harry Potter series. I know you’ve written a book about this subject. Here is a quick chance to pitch your book! What are your thoughts on Harry Potter and whether Christian children and adults should read it?
Regarding the Harry Potter books, I have tried very hard to avoid telling people to either read them or not read them. My newest book Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings is primarily about fantasy literature in general, which I happen to support. In fact, I am a major fan of fantasy, so what I have tried to do is simply show that fantasy, like so many things, can be “good” as well as “not so good.” To illustrate the differences between such types of fantasy I take an in-depth look at the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. I also examine/discuss Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which is excessively anti-Christian) and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series (as well as Goosebumps). Additionally, I cover marketing to children through TV and movies, consumerism, child development, and culture’s influence on kids.
My concern about the Harry Potter books is two-fold: 1) by J.K. Rowling’s own admission, the books contain references to real-world occult symbolism, lore, subjects, practices, and beliefs that she has gleaned from her hobby-like study of things like occultism, witchcraft, and magick (this is verified and documented); 2) the ethics and morality in the series exalt relativism—i.e., there seems to be no objective standard of right and wrong. If the good characters in the book feel like something is just fine (or fun), then they simply do it, even though it may be bad/wrong (e.g., the good characters habitually lie, steal, cheat, use foul language, break laws, deceive each other, behave hypocritically, and have no problem pursuing revenge). The books do not strive to show kids a better way, they instead, appeal to their most basic/naturalistic instincts: e.g., crass/gross humor, the desire for revenge, the want for power over adults.
Some people say, “So what?” But my worry is that children—who we all know tend to copy what they think is cool, or fun, or exciting—will begin emulating some of the poor ethical/moral behaviors exalted in Harry Potter as well as some of the occult aspects of the books. This is not a far-fetched concern. Kids are already copying various aspects of the series: e.g., registrations for boarding schools in England have sky-rocketed; a surge in buying owls for pets has taken place; and one group of kids had to be rushed to the hospital after mixing a poisonous “potion” and drinking—all in direct response to Harry Potter. We also have a 2002 Barna survey that found 12% of kids who saw the Harry Potter movies were more interested in witchcraft. And, most alarming, is how REAL wiccans/occultists/neopagans are writing their own pro-occult and pro-witchcraft books (both fiction and non-fiction) and using the popularity of Harry Potter books to lure young readers to their materials. Clearly, concerns about Harry Potter are not misplaced.
My book also debunks the absurd view of Harry Potter offered by the likes of John Granger, Connie Neal, and Francis Bridger, and John Killinger—i.e., the claim that Harry Potter is actually a Christian series in the tradition of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. In a nutshell, their assertions are plagued by a myriad of flaws that can be distilled down to two main issues: 1. The plainest reading of Harry Potter reveals that it is not a depiction of anything Christian, but instead, is a depiction of the magick worldview. (This has been confirmed by Witches, occultists, and neopagans.) 2. Rowling herself has explained both her work and her faith in ways that clearly contradict the assertions being made by the “Harry-Potter-is-really-Christian” group of supporters.
Should Christian children and/or adults read them? Well, what adults do is between them and God. I could no more tell an adult Christian to not read the books than tell them to not go see an R-rated movie, or not have a glass of wine with spaghetti. Reading Harry Potter as an adult, I think, would fall into the category of a freedom not explicitly discussed in scripture. Children, on the other hand, need guidance. But guiding someone else’s child is not my job. My job is to get good, solid, documented information about Harry Potter to parents, then, it is their decision. Personally, however, I do think it is a very poor idea to have some kids, particularly younger ones (e.g., ages 6-10), reading the books—especially the latter volumes (4, 5, 6, 7), which become progressively darker and more violent.
Please stay tuned for the second part of this interview. It will be posted tomorrow.