John Feinberg is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has been teaching apologetics at the graduate level for more than 30 years. He is the editor of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series and has written several books on apologetics and ethics. Now, with Can You Believe It’s True? Christian Apologetics in a Modern & Postmodern Era, he offers readers a comprehensive case for evidential apologetics in light of a postmodern (and modern) era.
This book is split into 3 parts. The first deals with foundations of truth, specifically in light of modern and postmodern thought. After a brief introductory chapter, Feinberg sketches for readers a general introduction to modernity and postmodernity. Having oriented readers to those streams of thought, he then deals with their respective skepticism, dealing first with postmodernity. He takes two chapters to accomplish this, the first being a general overview, and the second dealing specifically with some of the issues postmodern thought uncovers related to objectivity and subjectivity in human reason. The final two chapters in this section deal with modern skepticism. The first is an overview, and the second deals with issues related to doubt and certainty.
The second part surveys different approaches to Christian apologetics. The first chapter is devoted to Reformed Epistemology and offers readers a close reading of Alvin Plantinga’s thought. Feinberg is generally appreciative, and his conclusion is worth quoting at length:
I have spent much space in presenting, explaining, and defending Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology, not only because I think he is basically right, but because I think he addresses a very important set of objections to theistic and (more specifically) Christian belief. For the most part, I think Plantinga has accomplished what he set out to do. I believe has shown that it can be completely rational and warranted for someone to hold religious beliefs. Since many skeptics of theism have thought theistic believers aren’t worth hearing because they don’t and even can’t offer sufficient evidence for their religious beliefs, what Plantinga argues is, I believe, a strong and correct reply (246).
That being said, Feinberg sees Plantinga’s work as essentially an exercise in negative apologetics, and so “doesn’t establish theism or Christianity as a whole as true, nor does it attempt to do so” (248). It does however do a good job in rebutting objections that Christians are irrational.
He then turns to presuppositionalism, and offers a close reading of the thought of Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer. Unlike some evidentialists, Feinberg actually does a good job of expositing Van Til’s writings and trying his best to understand his point of view. Judging from the endnotes, 1 Feinberg has read the key works of Van Til and then some. Though he ultimately doesn’t think presuppositionalism is the best approach, he does detail five significant contributions he thinks the school of apologetics makes (280-282):
- An important reminder that everyone has presuppositions and our assumptions figure into the worldview we hold and defend
- An emphasis on the need for the Holy Spirit to be involved in apologetics
- A reminder that human reason is finite and has been negatively impacted by sin
- The fact that Scripture does teach everyone knows God exists
- The strategy of deducing contradictions and demonstrating absurdities in other worldviews (it’s method of argumentation)
From this, one can tell that Feinberg is attempting to see the value of presuppositionalism, even though he ultimately doesn’t think it is the best method to adopt. To complement his list of contributions, he details 5 points he disagrees with:
- Van Til’s rejection of common ground between believers and unbelievers (284)
- Van Til’s insistence that there are no brute facts on the basis that no one is neutral in their world outlook (286)
- Van Til’s understanding of circular arguments (287, he thinks circularity applies to method of argument, but sees Van Til as applying the circularity to the content of the argument)
- The way followers of Van Til disparage the ability of human reason to discover truth (289)
- The fact that presuppositionalism (as Feinberg sees it) leaves apologists with nothing positive to say (293, as in there is no emphasis on building a positive case for Christianity).
Overall, Feinberg has some theoretical issues with Van Til’s approach, but in the main, he is appreciative of its distinctive emphases. However, he sees evidentialism as a better overall method, and so devotes the following chapter to explaining it.
The third part is Feinberg’s positive exposition of some lines of evidence. Rather than presenting evidences for God’s existence (because he sees Plantinga taking care of that, rather than the theistic proofs), Feinberg deals with the problem of evil (chapter 10), the reliability of the Gospels (chapter 11), the resurrection (chapter 12), and the issue of religious pluralism (chapter 13). Readers will benefit from Feinberg’s clear case for the evidence that supports the Christian worldview.
For me, it was interesting to read Feinberg’s work from a presuppositionalist perspective. The way he deals with modern skepticism differs from a Van Tillian approach, but is compelling nonetheless. I found it valuable as well that he spends so much time interacting with postmodern thought. Even though he is ultimately coming from an evidentialist perspective, his “ground-clearing” in the first part of the book has much to teach those who lean in a presuppositionalist direction.
Additionally, I was surprised how much of a fair shake he gave to Van Til. I think his work would have benefited from more interaction with Frame and especially Oliphint’s recent work. In the latter case I realize he probably had already submitted the manuscript, so I’ll content myself with trying to imagine what he would say when I read Oliphint next month. Frame is not altogether absent, but the focus is on Van Til and Schaeffer. Given that, his close reading is doing its best to give Van Til the benefit of the doubt, even when he ultimately faults him on several grounds.
As for the writing style, Feinberg is writing a highly philosophical and theological book on apologetic method, but manages to do so in a way that is accessible to most readers. For lay readers, I’m sure the endnotes are helpful, but I generally always hate them. He tries to avoid jargon and I think he does a good job in doing so. Many readers might be daunted by the overall size of the book (470 pages without the endnotes and index), but if one is willing to invest some time, the payoff, I think, is worth it.
If you are looking for a book on apologetic method that is philosophical, yet accessible, this a good resource to add to your library. Feinberg not only deals with philosophical issues related to our pursuit of truth, he present positive evidences for the Christian faith in very key areas. It’s hard to imagine more relevant discussions that the problem of evil, the historicity of the resurrection, the reliability of the Gospels, and the problem of religious pluralism. Feinberg’s work covers them all and then some. If you’re serious about Christian apologetics, then you’ll probably want to pick this book up.
John Feinberg, Can You Believe It’s True? Christian Apologetics In A Modern & Postmodern Era. Wheaton: Crossway, June 2013. 528 pp. Hardcover, $40.00.
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Thanks to Crossway, I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for posting this review!
- Which is a major downside of this book, by the way ↩