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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Christian Apologetics"

TITLE: Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources
AUTHOR: Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister, (Editors)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (560 pages).

Why re-invent the wheel? How about learning from 41 different contributors who have walked the paths before us? This book is a treasure chest of information and intelligent engagement for the Christian faith. It is an anthology of top quality writings through 2000 years of history. Comprising of ten parts, the editors have brought together a wealth of expertise.

Part One begins with history, method, and engagement. Beginning with the Apostle Paul, the editors have compiled a whole range of Christian responses for various intersections with the Christian faith. The responses are culled from key eras throughout the 2000 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. Beginning with Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine, to modern apologists such as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, CS Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer, the book is rich in both breadth and depth. Beginning with a brief survey of the history of apologetics, the editors compiled a list of different ways in which apologetics have been done. Each contributor goes into historical survey themselves, comparing and contrasting the different apologists, according to their fields of expertise. For example, John Warwick Montgomery highlights four biblical ways: miracle, fulfilled prophecy, natural revelation, and personal experience. He traces the pattern from metaphysical explanations before the 20th Century, to more "tough" and "tender" minded apologetics that are more down to earth. In doing so, he is able to give readers a grand overview of the historical contexts.

Part Two's framework adapts part of Aquinas' classic five philosophical proofs of the existence of God, Anselm's ontological arguments, and place them broadly into the cosmological, teleological (design), ontological, transcendental, and moral reasoning approaches. There is even a section on religious experiences. Part Three goes deep into theological defense against the classical heresies, and make affirmations about the Trinity. Part Four incorporates three articles, from Athanasius, Anselm of Canterbury, and the modern scholar Thomas V Morris, that defends the Incarnation of Christ. Part Five defends the authority, the canonicity, the gospels, and the archaelogical reliability of the Scriptures. Part Six argues about the reality of miracles. Part Seven covers a very important part on the Resurrection. Part Eight is a very interesting collection of articles that deal with the highly popular problem of evil. Part Nine will be of interest for people of science and technology, and how faith and science do not contradict but can co-exist meaningfully. Part Ten relates how Christians through the ages have engaged the world in defending the faith.

My Thoughts

What I really appreciate is the care and deliberation in selecting the best available sources for each topic. A judgment call has to be cruelly made to decide who gets included and who does not get included. It must have been a painful decision for the editors to make, for there are many more high quality apologists. For example, in the section on Miracles, why have the editors excluded CS Lewis's classic reflection? What about the Julian of Norwich when it comes to religious experience? On the Bible, where are the defenses for the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John? On the modern engagement with the world, there are a lot of high quality theologians such as NT Wright who only gets two or three footnote mentions! What about a history of engagement with prominent atheists through the ages?

That said, I appreciate the discussion questions and additional resources at the end of each part. Thankfully, some of my concerns above are partially addressed in the section under "further readings." There are some brilliant interactions with some modern apologists, like how John Warwick Montgomery brings Stackhouse and Josh McDowell together as conversational partners in his article. I like the way this book expands apologetics beyond simply arguing against atheistic non-believers, but also heresies, and modern science.

Apologetics can only go so far. Even if it can remove some barriers to faith, the unbeliever will still need to take a step of faith to accept Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. This anthology provides a spectrum of possible responses offered by very eminent theologians, scholars, philosophers, and able thinkers. One may convince the head, but the work of the heart belongs to the Holy Spirit. I have always believed that conversion is God's responsibility, while conversation is our responsibility. Even if the unbeliever does not want to commit to the Christian faith, at least, we have reasons to debate and to demonstrate that the Christian faith is believable, thoughtful, and absolutely relevant to all areas of life. My overall feel for this book is that it has not only avoided re-inventing the wheel of apologetics, it has given us a stepping stone to learn from the past, to engage with the present, and to use them as effective springboards to prepare for the future of apologetics. This book is a must-have for the avid student of apologetics. For the layperson, just being blessed by any one article would have been worth the price of the book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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