Apoloetics for the Twenty-First Century
Apologetics is an enduring topic in Christian circles, but recent years have witnessed an explosion of apologetics and apologetics ministries. Whatever the reason — increasing attacks on the Christian faith, or the status of apologetics as a perceived half way point to “real” theology — this book stands as a witness to the breadth and scope of the modern Christian apologetics movement. The author begins the book not with apologetics, but rather with apologists. In this, the first section, there are seven chapters describing and recapping the apologetic arguments of C. S. Lewis, two on Chesterton, one on Dorothy Sayers, one on Francis Schaefer, and one on Josh McDowell.
The positive side of the chapters on Lewis is their organization; rarely do you find Lewis’ line of thinking on a single topic (such as Lewis’ argument against materialistic reductionism, covered in chapter 2), gathered from among his various works and presented in a single, logically coherent form. This format provides a good introduction to each of these apologist’s arguments without overwhelming the reader with a lot of detail about each of the author’s lives, or working through their entire corpus. The negative side is that it would, in at least some cases, be more fruitful to read the original authors themselves. Lewis, specifically, is so ultimately approachable that the organizing effort is useful, but the arguments might actually be more difficult to understand here than in Lewis’ own works. The chapters on Chesterton, Schaeffer, and Sayers are much more useful, as these are modern apologists not many Christians have been introduced to.
The second half of the book is more of a catalogue of apologetics arguments. The author describes the Ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments in chapter 13. The descriptions are just overviews, not really fully developed instances of either argument; this lack of development here is the first sign of the path the author is taking, towards a very strong evidence based apologetics program. Chapter 14 covers what the author calls arguments from science, such as the anthropic principle and the “big bang.” Both of these sections provide overviews, rather than in depth arguments; for instance, the author completely fails to deal with the multiverse and emergent order theories currently in common use by atheists. In chapter 15, the author addresses the problem of evil, beginning with Rousseau, and working through the Enlightment as background. He covers Hume’s challenge, and gives a brief overview of Plantinga’s reply to Hume, finally settling on the Incarnation as the ultimate solution to the problem of evil (an extended narrative use of this defense can be found in Bynzantium). This is an interesting line of defense that isn’t often taken.
Chapter 16 is the first truly disappointing chapter in the book; here the author argues that the best defense of the Scriptures is to simply abandon the claim to inerrancy in the face of modern skepticism.
Although I applaud the work of these defenders of the Word, and although I believe that the Bible, like Jesus himself, is fully human and fully divine, in the chapters that follow I will not be arguing for or even assuming that the Bible was directly inspired by God. This statement may strike many of my readers as odd and even disturbing, especially those who share my evangelical Protestant perspective. But I think it is a necessary, if preliminary, concession that needs to be made if the twenty-first century apologist is to find common ground with a modern and postmodern world whose first instinct is to question authority, especially religious authority.
This is the point at which the serious apologetics reader should place a stake in the ground and say, “no,” for by undermining the authority of the Scriptures, we are undermining the very foundation of our thought itself. The author deals with the “quest for the historical Jesus,” the case for the Resurrection, pluralism, and neo-Gnosticism, in the following chapters. Chapter 21 deals with the return to myth and the postmodern mind, specifically considering how Christians can use narrative and tales to present the Christian story without overt apologetics. This is an interesting chapter, though the author overplays the strength of such efforts in some places. Chapters 22 and 23 deal with the new atheism, and the final chapter recounts the conversion of Anthony Flew to Christianity in 2004.
Overall, this book provides a solid overview of a wide range of apologetics. Most of the arguments presented here focus on evidential lines, rather than presuppositional or classical lines; this leaves the book feeling a bit one sided in terms of a complete apologetics resource. The compilation of modern apologists is useful, if sometimes shallow; the largest disappointment, however, is the abandonment of the authority of the Scriptures. This is common among evidentialism – but it’s precisely where mixing presuppositionalist concepts in would have strengthened the overall tone and usefulness of the final product.