Apologetics


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In this series on books and a Christian’s reading we have so far considered books of church history, of biography, and of autobiography. In this installment I want to consider books that contain various arguments for the Christian faith. We ordinarily refer to such arguments as apologetics. The literature of Christian apologetics is vast and includes many different kinds of books, from Justin Martyr’s Apology to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity; from Augustine’s monumental The City of God to Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial; from J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism to Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict; from Clement of Alexandria’s The Exhortation to the Heathen to Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There or Ravi Zacharias’ Can Man Live Without God (the published form of superb lectures delivered at Harvard under the auspices of the Veritas Forum – get them to listen to first if you can) or Peter Jones’ The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back. As our society falls more and more under the spell of a newly ascendant paganism, Christians have more reason to know this literature and to become familiar with its arguments, first for the encouragement of their own faith and then for the intelligence of their interaction with unbelievers. Every one of the books so far mentioned generously repays careful study.

One of the most attractive forms of apologetics is personal accounts of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. This form of apologetics goes back as far as Augustine’s Confessions, became a cherished form of Christian writing during the Great Awakening, and reached full flower in the twentieth century. C.S. Lewis’ spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy is one such account: fascinating, thoughtful, and beautiful in turns. I have recommended Charles Colson’s Born Again to any number of people who were examining the Christian faith, people I thought would profit from seeing the good news in flesh and blood. An inspiring example of this genre is Don Stephens’ recent War and Grace, stirring accounts of conversions from the years of both the First and the Second World War. Read it for yourselves! Even more to the point is Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Eleven Leading Thinkers. John Stott’s small Why I am a Christian is a beautiful example of this sort of apologetic writing. Armand Nicholi Jr., longtime professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, has given us a comparison of the Christian and unbelieving worldviews through the spiritual experience of a prominent representative of each in his The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.

The case for Christianity can be made in many different ways. G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, the argument which was so influential in C.S. Lewis’ conversion and which he brilliantly popularized in Mere Christianity, makes the argument by examining both the irrationality of unbelief on the one hand and the claims of Jesus Christ on the other. Francis Schaeffer did a similar thing in his books. There are many forms of this same literature. There is technical philosophical argumentation such as is found in Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, Colin Brown’s excellent Philosophy and the Christian Faith, and Reason for the Hope Within, a collection of essays by a number of contemporary Christian philosophers (including our own Bill Davis, professor of philosophy at Covenant College). There is biblical and philosophical argumentation together as in John Polkinghorne’s very readable The Faith of a Physicist, the written form of the prestigious Gifford Lectures given at the University of Edinburgh in 1993-1994.Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest and the former professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge University. More popular treatments of the same sort of arguments can be found in Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive.

Another type of argument sets out the typical objections that modern people have to Christian belief and the answers that can be given to those objections. An excellent example of this sort of argument is found in PCA pastor Tim Keller’s new The Reason for God, recently up to number 7 on the New York Times list of non-fiction bestsellers. Still more popular treatments appear in the series of books written by Lee Strobel and entitled The Case for… (for Christ, for a Creator, for Faith, etc.).Strobel’s books typically take the form of published interviews with experts in various fields who answer the questions of skeptics and unbelievers and make the case for the Christian position. A much more exhaustive treatment of a single issue is N.T. Wright’s magisterial The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Then there is the vast literature on the theory of evolution, a view of human origins that is poisonous to Christian faith and, despite the best efforts of many, cannot be made otherwise. There are solid books here: research and arguments that have scholarly integrity and whose arguments have not been answered with much more than bluster from the other side. Start with Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, which is magnificently written and, though you might not have imagined it, a real page-turner. Read the second edition of Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, which contains his reply to the hatchet-job of a review by the late Stephen Jay Gould in Scientific American. Johnson is always a great read. He unnerves the other side both because, though a non-specialist, he has become as knowledgeable in the scientific disciplines bearing on the question of origins as practitioners in the various fields and because, as a law professor whose specialty was evidence, he knows hokum when he sees and hears it.

Finally, there are books of apologetics that do not fit neatly into any category. Some that I have found valuable, entertaining, and stimulating are Peter Kreeft’s clever Between Heaven and Hell, an imaginary dialogue “somewhere beyond death” between John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley, and C.S. Lewis all of whom died within a few hours of one another on November 22, 1963; Bruce Lockerbie’s Dismissing God: Modern Writers’ Struggle Against Religion; and, chief among them all, Stuart Jackman’s, The Davidson Affair. The last book was recommended to me first by the late Bill McColley, Dawn Darby’s father, and is a brilliant fictionalizing of the turmoil and confusion that followed the first reports of the Lord’s resurrection. It describes the investigation of the rumors of the resurrection of one Jesus Davidson in Jerusalem and its subsequent cover-up by the authorities by a hard-bitten reporter, one Cass Tennel of the Rome studios of the Imperial Television Corporation. The combination of the ancient world and the modern medium of television reporting might have made for something not nearly serious enough for the subject. But The Davidson Affair is superbly written right to its final sentences. Tennel, after his interviews of Pilate, a Roman soldier, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Caiaphas,  Cleopas and others, and now sure that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and was promising eternal life to mankind, is dismayed to find that he can’t get any of his peers to take his report seriously. The book ends with his producer’s response: “He smiled, a small, tired smile. ‘It’s no use, Cass. We like it in prison. We don’t want to be rescued.’” Through the years I have mentioned The Davidson Affair to others – the English pastor Ian Tait for example – and have had those last two sentences quoted back to me more than once!

Believers should be intelligent advocates of their faith and should not be overawed by the skepticism of the culture. With so many good books to read there is no reason for us not to be able confidently to give very good reasons for the hope that we have.