Archives For Apologetics

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I’m always on the lookout for helpful primers on the subjects I study. Often, introductory texts can be so daunting it is hard to know where to start. Thankfully, new books continued to be published. Even if there is overlap at times, that just means there are more options for just the right audience. In that light, here are three primers I’ve come across recently that I really enjoyed.

First off, J.A. Medders and Brandon Smith have published Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. Russell Moore thinks its legit and you should too. I corresponded with Brandon a bit about it and then the publisher, relatively new Rainer Publishing, graciously sent me a review copy. In a relatively brief 120 pages, Medders and Smith introduce readers for the need to study theology, and then cover four key topics: God, His Word, Redemption and The Gospel, The Church and The Future. Experienced readers will notice this is the basic contours of a systematic theology. However, this is written for someone who doesn’t know that and so it is jargon free. Though not necessarily in narrative form, the topics are expounded in relation to the general story line of Scripture. This gives the book a good connection to biblical theology and makes the entry point easier for someone who hasn’t study the topics in detail.

Because of its style, length, and focus, I decided to make it a required book for my 9th grade Bible class. Traditionally, this class is an Old Testament survey, but since I teach Systematic Theology for 11th grade, I thought it might be a good introduction earlier in high school to prepare them for a more detailed study a couple of years later (if you’re curious, I use Bible Doctrine for that class). I suppose I’ll have more to say after putting it to use in class this next year, but I’m excited to see it help open up a window into studying theology for many students.

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While we’re discussing books I’ve liked and decided to use in class, let’s talk about Jared Wilson’s Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. Thanks to Baker Books, I snagged a copy and devoured it pretty quick, as is my custom with many of Wilson’s book. I was reading as I was finishing up my last spring with a senior class I had taught since they were freshmen. Many of the topics in Wilson’s book had come up in class throughout the year, either directly or through Ask Anything Friday. Looking ahead to the next graduating class, I thought they’d benefit from reading a solid book in a conversational tone to supplement our class discussions.

Topics that Wilson tackles include subjects like how the Trinity is practical/relevant, the difference between the Christian God and other gods, how the Christian view of humanity is both the most realistic and optimistic, how Jesus claimed to be God, and how he triumphed over evil and injustice. You know, pretty basic stuff right? Actually, several of these are potentially thorny issues. There are full length apologetics books on each of the topics Wilson addresses, but he introduces readers to the core issues in an understandable way. In other words, I think he presents his case for Christianity in a way that a high schooler could pick up on and (hopefully) not get too confused. Even if you’re not using this book in a class like I am, it seems like it would be a great book to read with a friend who has legitimate questions and wants to explore what makes Christianity so unique and compelling (to borrow from the subtitle). As with the previous book, I’ll try to remember to let you know how it works out in class.

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Lastly, and not for a class (unfortunately), IVP sent along Douglas Groothuis’ Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to A Vast Topic. The history of Western philosophy, while a footnote to Plato, is not an easy topic to master. The best way to march through the history is with Coppleston’s volumes (11 I think). But, most of us don’t have time for that. What you do have time for is Groothuis’ book. You also have no excuse to not know something about philosophy since it shapes just about everything in our culture whether you like it or not.

Because you’re hopefully curious at this point, these are the seven sentences that Groothuis uses to introduce us to the history of philosophy:

  • Man is the measure of all things (Protagoras)
  • The unexamined life is not worth living (Socrates)
  • All men by nature desire to know (Aristotle)
  • You have made use for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you (Augustine)
  • I think, therefore I am (Descartes)
  • The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing (Pascal)
  • The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all (Kierkegaard)

Certainly other key sentences could be chosen. However, I think this is a good balance of ancient and modern, and covers a broad range of topics within philosophy. It is hard to imagine two more influential sentences than those listed by Socrates (found in Plato’s writings, just FYI) and Descartes. Likewise, the sentence from Augustine is from his Confessions, which is a must read for anyone really, regardless of your interest in philosophy. It is both an introduction into Christian life and conversion, and the first autobiography of sorts.

The sentence from Protagoras gives you an idea of the foundations of Western philosophy, a tradition that sought knowledge without recourse to revelation. Likewise, the sentence from Aristotle shows just how relevant philosophy is to any context, ancient or modern. The last two sentences show that philosophy can easily cross over into psychology and that for me, was my initial draw to the subject. I was blown away by my intro to philosophy class early in my studies at Liberty. Since then, I’ve come back to it again and again, and this little primer by Groothuis is a great introduction to the topic.

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Apologetics is becoming more and more about finesse. Maybe it always has been. Straightforward presentations of facts and figures don’t usually cut it. There’s gotta be an angle.

I think some of this comes down to the audience. If you’re writing apologetics for other Christians, you don’t have to pay as much attention to persuasion. They’re already persuaded, but want to know the underlying foundations of Christianity. On the other hand, if you’re writing for people other than Christians, you have to pay attention to persuasion.

Along these lines, I’d recommend True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World by David Skeel. Thanks to IVP, I was able to read a copy at the beginning of summer. Skeel is S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He’s also an elder at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In his book, he takes five key topics, ideas, beauty, suffering and sensation, justice, life and the afterlife, and explains how Christianity offers a better explanation of these given phenomena than materialism does. As he puts it, “My claim is a very simple one: Christianity tells us more about each of these paradoxes than you may think” (15)

While the ideal reader will be fairly intellectual, the tone and style are highly accessible. Perhaps because Skeel is a professor of law by trade, his writing is particularly clear in the midst of sophisticated discussion. It’s a short book but I’d imagine it making for many good pub discussions with an atheist friend or two. Skeel also writes as someone who didn’t grow up in a religious environment. After his curiosity was aroused in college lit classes and he read the Bible for himself that his journey toward Christianity began. Again, as he says, “The sheer beauty of the Bible is what first drew me in, and it’s still what I go back to when I’m asked over a beer late at night why I believe Christianity is true” (86).

All this to say, if you’re looking for a concise, yet compelling presentation of Christianity’s explanatory power, this is your book. I’m tempted to make it a late addition to one of my Bible classes, but I might just save it for book club.

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In a similar vein, and also at the beginning of the summer, I read through John Dickson’s A Doubter’s Guide to The Ten Commandments thanks to BookLook Bloggers. It is a follow up to A Doubter’s Guide to The Bible, and from what I can now tell, part of an on-going series (next book is a A Doubter’s Guide to Church). Dickson seems to be primarily writing for a secular audience and tackles the idea that our ideas of ethics come from Moses and Jesus.

The opening chapter illustrate how pervasive the Ten Commandments are in the world (past and present). Next, Dickson raises the question of why we aspire to be good in the first place. He then offers three keys for understanding the Ten Commandments. These have to do with how Jesus “transposed” the commandments, that they can be divided into two tables (related to God and man), and that they are a “charter of freedom.” From here, Dickson goes command by command to finish out the book. He spends more time on the first five, and notes on the 6th that the remainder are fairly self explanatory (119). This is probably fair, and I’m sure there were certain constraints that kept the page count under 200.

All in all, I think this is great book to pass along to someone interested in ethics, law, justice, and perhaps politics. It is written with skeptics in mind (hence the title), but I would imagine many Christians would benefit from reading it as well. As a side note, I wish it had an index, but I appreciated that in the absence of footnotes, we were given parenthetical citations with publication info rather than endnotes. Combine this with the previous book I talked about and you’ve got a book skeptics book club reading list going.

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Lastly, thanks to Moody I was able to get a copy of Mark Sayers’ Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience. The subtitle gives you the two parts of the book. In the first, Sayers analyzes our current post-Christian culture and our craving for relevance. He then connects this analysis to an ancient heresy. In this case, it’s gnosticism, which he sees as a “gospel of the self.” In a perceptive chart, he compares ancient and modern versions of gnosticism to what the true gospel actually teaches. To give you an idea what he sees as contemporary gnosticism, here’s that column (65):

  • Your world is inferior [to mine]
  • The mundane is the problem
  • Turn your body into a perfect-looking body
  • Look inward to find the real you
  • Escape the mundane to the amazing life
  • Move toward the perfect life through tips, tweaks, hacks, and the secrets of success
  • You are a seeker, pursuing fulfillment through incredible experiences and pleasure
  • Move past organized religion and find spirituality
  • Move toward fulfillment by breaking past the barriers set by tradition, religion, and others
  • It’s all about you

If you ask me, that’s a pretty good snapshot of contemporary culture. This underlying philosophy gives rise to all kinds of movements and trends. With this description and critique in place, Sayers spends the second half of the book sketching the path of gospel resilience. He deals with rejecting the implicit prosperity gospel, how churches can stop catering to public opinion, and the need to deliver truth among other topics. As is often the case, the solution is only as good as the diagnosis is accurate. I think if Sayers is right about his cultural analysis (and I think he’s on to something), then what he offers in the second half of this book is probably something many church leaders need to interact with. I’ll probably need to ruminate a bit more on it, but I’m also probably gonna pass the book on to my pastor and see what he thinks.

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While it hasn’t shown up in my recent reviews and reading, I have a long standing interest in apologetics. Specifically, I’m partial to presuppositional apologetics. One strategy within this school of apologetics (though not necessarily limited to it), is assuming the premises of the opposing argument to then tease out how it doesn’t make sense of reality. As you might gather from the title, that’s kind of what Mitch Stokes is up to in How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough. I particularly enjoyed his previous book, A Shot of Faith to The Head and even used it in an apologetics elective that I taught a few years back

Originally an engineer by training, Stokes then studied religion with Nicholas Wolterstorff and philosophy with Alvin Plantinga. To say that Stokes might know a thing or two about the connection between logic, science, and religion is a bit of an understatement. In this book, stokes has chosen to focus on the limits of sense, reason, and science when it comes to applying skepticism with rigorous consistency. He then shows where the atheistic assumptions in these fields lead when it comes to morality. 

The bulk of the book splits time between the nature and limits of science and the bankruptcy of naturalistic (and often-times science based) accounts of morality. What I think Stokes ultimately succeeds in showing is that if you want to take some of the basic premises of materialism (or naturalism if you prefer) seriously, it leads straight to nihilism in the moral realm. If you value consistency, you have to swallow that pill. Atheists might value skepticism, but they need to put their money where their mouth is in matters that are most important.

Stokes writes with a very conversational style, and hopefully in a mode that would make this book gift-able to your non-Christian friend. I say that because that seems to be the intended audience, making this a bit of an anomaly in the Crossway catalog. While you could try to internalize and then regurgitate Stokes’ arguments in your next apologetic discourse, it might serve your conversation partner better if you y’all read the book together and then discussed it.

I am predisposed to agree with Stokes, so I have a hard time seeing his conclusions inescapable. In my view, the path of skepticism necessitates embracing nihilism if you want to remain intellectually honest. Stokes shows that in a way that I don’t think is terribly oft putting, and I hope that it can be used to further apologetic conversations rather than simply giving the faithful more fuel for the fire. Not that those of faith don’t need affirmation that the Christian faith is more coherent in the moral realm. Rather, this particular book seems like it might be better used in outreach even as it encourages believers that might read through it first before passing it on.


Mitch Stokes, How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical EnoughWheaton: Crossway, February 2016. 256 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

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Everyone who reads a good bit has favorite authors. When another author uses many of your favorite authors in writing their book, it usually catches your attention. That was my experience in reading through Daniel Strange’s Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. I made most of my way through it back in the fall while I was teaching a section on world religions in my senior Bible class (senior as in 12th graders). I was delighted to see numerous uses of Reformed authors like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (although often a different Bavinck than Herman). Even Greg Bahnsen makes several appearances (although mostly because of his book on Van Til). What this means is that Strange is writing a theology of world religions that is relying heavily on insights from presuppositional apologetics, and for that we should be glad.

After an autobiographical prologue that helps set the context for Strange’s study, his opening chapter lays out the task of explaining the religious Other from a Christian worldview. Here he gives the theology of religions that he will defend:

From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ (42).

This dense statement gives the rough outline of the book that follows. Chapter 2 lays out the case for man as homo adorans. Moving from the foundation of the creature Creator distinction in Genesis, Strange works out a theology of man inherently religious. This then leads to a chapter on how people respond to the “remnantal” revelation available because of God’s common grace. The following chapter picks up the story of Babel and shows its importance for religious diversity. From here, Strange offers a theology of religions from the rest of the Old Testament in chapter 5 and then does the same for the New in chapter 6. The next chapter details Strange’s understanding of “subversive fulfillment” in order to then lay out some missiological implications in the following chapter. The final chapter offers pastoral perspective and insight in light of the preceding study.

This book is a significant contribution to understanding and explaining world religions from a Reformed perspective. It is a resource I will return to and utilize in my own study. I found some of the material too academic for high school introductions, but I used some of the main ideas (everyone knows there is a God and everyone worships). If I had more time to ruminate, I would have liked to trace out how Buddhism and Hinduism are subversively fulfilled by the gospel. Strange applies his insight to Islam and that makes this book all the more valuable in the current cultural situation.

A downside I found is that the book is perhaps longer than it needed to be. Part of this is the thoroughness of Strange’s argument (which I suppose is not a bad thing). The other part is excessive and lengthy block quotes. The tend to clutter the text and make it harder to follow the argument. In many cases it was easier to visually skip over the block quote and read Strange’s concluding summary sentence that lead into the next paragraph. This is mainly a stylistic consideration though, and shouldn’t detract from the overall value of the resource. An upside would be that Strange provides many extended excerpts from his primary sources. A downside is that his thoughts can get lost in the shuffle at times.

In the end, I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in apologetics in general and world religions in particular. I had thought this before reading, but now I have a good argument that the resources from Reformed writers like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (Herman and J. H.) provide the best explanation for world religions. If you can get through the block quotes, this is a resource you’ll want to spend some time working through.


Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February, 2015. 384 pp. Paperback, $24.99.

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Thanks Zondervan to for the review copy!

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As is my custom during Christmas and Easter, I’ve been reading some books related to the holidays. Alongside The First Days of Jesus and The Great Christ Comet, I just finished up Robert Hutchinson’s Searching For Jesus: New Discoveries In The Quest For Jesus of NazarethOften, I am skeptical of these sorts of books. After reading it, I would recommend it for the most part, but with a few caveats.

First though, an overview is in order. With the exception of the last chapter, each chapter is framed around a question. They are:

  • Is there eyewitness testimony in the Gospels?
  • Liar, lunatic, or legend?
  • Are the Gospels forgeries?
  • Have archaeologists found Jesus’ house?
  • Did the Church invent the idea of a suffering Messiah?
  • Just how kosher was Jesus?
  • Did Jesus have a secret message?
  • Was Jesus a zealot revolutionary?
  • Did Jesus plan his own execution?
  • Do we have proof for the resurrection?

Notice that some of these seem somewhat neutral, while others have a kind of skeptical edge to them. Part of this is because the author’s path to more academic New Testament study runs counter to people like Bart Ehrman. While growing up as a Christian, Hutchinson “just accepted as a self-evident truth that at least some of the New Testament was legendary” (xxiii). In a sense then, Hutchinson started from a position of skepticism related to the historicity of the New Testament and only after moving to Jerusalem, studying the Jewish culture, and then going to seminary at Fuller did he move the more conservative position.

That being said, Hutchinson doesn’t write as an evangelical per se. His book excels when it discusses cultural context, archaeology, and historical documents. When it comes to theology, the atonement for instance, he seems more or less out of touch with the general contours of the traditional doctrine (chapter 9 gets into this and is also one of the shortest in the book). However, his overall focus is not on the theology of Jesus’ teaching and the resulting development of Christianity. Rather, he is exploring what kind of evidence there is for Jesus’ life and work in the first century.

As far as that element of his work goes, his conclusions are more or less in line with the traditional views that Christians have held since basically the first century. The New Testament contains eyewitness testimony, Jesus was neither liar, lunatic, or legend. The Gospels we have aren’t forgeries and in fact were written very early. The church didn’t invent the idea of a suffering Messiah and in fact there is evidence for the idea in Second Temple Judaism. The Gnostic Gospels are not accurate depictions of Jesus, who also was not a zealot revolutionary. The Gospel of Judas is not the best explanation for why Jesus was killed and we do have pretty solid proof of Jesus resurrection (although Hutchinson is a little more fuzzy on this than you’d hope, even after having read Wright).

Hutchinson supports all these conclusions by bringing readers into scholarly discussions in a digestible way. Because of his background, he reads a bit wider than many evangelicals but also stands in opposition to the many radical revisionists when it comes to early Christian history (he debunks quite a bit of Ehrman’s claims in this book). Each chapter contains a short list of recommend books for further study that often include books that are recommendations and books that he gently refutes. For the most part, Hutchinson is interacting with books rather than journal articles. Often, these books are aimed at the popular level public and so it is helpful for a well-educated layman to take on some of their claims and show that the evidence doesn’t always mesh as well as these revisionist authors claim.

On the whole, I’d recommend picking this up if you’re curious about the background for Jesus life and ministry. If you’ve caught wind of some skeptical questions related to Jesus’ existence Hutchinson’s book can provide solid evidence to undermine some more radical claims. He is a very readable author and conversant with a wide variety of sources. It may be a 350 page book, but it isn’t dense academic prose on the subject. From a traditional evangelical perspective, there is much to agree with historically and culturally, but some variance when it comes to theology. However, I think that might be ultimately helpful because it helps readers not only survey the evidence with Hutchinson but can encourage one to be critical in a healthy way regarding some the theological conclusions he makes.

Robert J. Hutchinson, Searching For Jesus: New Discoveries In The Quest For Jesus of Nazareth – And How They Confirm The Gospel AccountsNashville: Thomas Nelson, October 2015. 352 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!

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My fandom for multiview books knows no ends. However, they are usually authored by individuals holding those divergent views. In this case, a single author has done, in some ways, what many multi-view books fail to achieve. In short, Brian Morley has actually offered a coherent map of contemporary approaches in Christian apologetics. Probably because of that, his book is titled Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches.

The opening section of the book details the foundational issues in apologetics. In turn, Morley offers a survey of apologetics in the Bible in chapter 1 and apologetics in the history of the church in chapter 2. The remainder of the book comprises part two and covers the various methodologies. In the introduction, Morley plotted these methodologies along a spectrum that begins with pure fideism and ends with pure rationalism. There are no mainstream Christian methodologies that represent either extreme, but to give you an idea what they would entail, Morley lists Kierkegaard as representative of the former and Descartes as representative of the latter. The chart is extremely useful, and is maybe even worth the price of admission.

When it comes to the rest of the book, Morley begins with the methodology closest to fideism which is presuppositionalism. In successive chapters he exposits Van Til and then John Frame (who gives a blurb on the back cover). Then, Morley moves toward the classical approach with a chapter on Alvin Plantinga, followed by one combining the approaches of E. J. Carnell, Gordon Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer, the former receiving the most attention. Part of the reason for combining these three figures is that their approach is termed combinationalism, which is a kind of eclectic approach, but you might have guessed that from the title.

There follows a brief introductory chapter on classical apologetics as distinct from presuppositionalism, Reformed epistemology, and combinationalism. Then, Morley offers readers chapters on Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, and Norman Geisler. The final two chapters shift to evidentialist approaches with a chapters on John Warwick Montgomery and Gary Habermas respectively, the latter’s being the shortest overall treatment. A brief conclusion helps readers take a step back and see the big picture before being confronted with the index and realizing that they’ve finished the book and need to move on to something else.

Concerning the book as a whole, each chapter tends to follow the same format. I say “tends” because there isn’t uniformity per se. But, in each chapter Morley offers a brief biographical sketch, followed by an exposition of that figures key ideas and apologetic methodology. There is then a brief section on criticisms, a selection of key terms for reference, some “Thinking It Over” discussion questions, and then suggestions for further reading. For some reason on Frame’s chapter, the key terms come after the discussion questions. Other chapters stick to the plan. The criticisms section for classical apologists are all combined within the chapter on Geisler and are fairly brief. While you might guess the criticism section for Van Til is the longest, you’d be very wrong. It’s rather the section for Habermas which is surprisingly twice as long as the one for Van Til. It’s actually longer than the exposition of his position, which might make you think he wouldn’t want to blurb the book, but then again you’d be wrong. Also, the criticisms in Habermas’ chapter are for both evidentialist thinkers, so they are not just aimed at Habermas. And, since Habermas takes a “minimalist facts” approach, I guess it is fitting that his chapter follows suit.

In some ways, this book is an updated version of Kenneth Boa’s Faith Has Its Reasons, a book I would have read had I actually stayed enrolled at SBTS and taken the apologetics seminar that I still have most of the textbook for. However, I deferred and withdrew and have other plans. As for the book, Faith Has Its Reasons is perhaps more comprehensive, covering more thinkers but in less detail than Morley does. In that sense, I think Morley’s book might be better for zeroing in on some key apologists of the 20th and 21st century. Along these lines, readers will notice many footnotes (if you read those) that show Morley’s exposition relied on e-mail correspondence with the actual apologists he is explaining. Some obvious exceptions of course, like Van Til who died before the internet was mainstream and R. C. Sproul who doesn’t have e-mail and so wasn’t considered as a representative of classical apologetics even though he literally wrote the book on the topic.

For the others though, Morley not only thoroughly explains their writings, he got in touch with the authors to make sure he got it right. That, in my mind, gives it a depth you’d expect had each person authored their own chapter. But, because Morley is evaluating all the views, he is able to show how they each tend to criticize each other and why. All that being said, Faith Has Its Reasons is certainly more comprehensive on the topic of apologetic methodology options, but this book is more focused and so supersedes and should replace the Five Views on Apologetics book.

To be honest, I think our understanding of theology would be served better by books like this rather than the multi-view books. Although I’ll continue to pick them up and read them, I really liked Morley’s approach here and found it helpful for understanding the different approaches. It would make an ideal classroom textbook, definitely instead of Five Views on Apologetics but maybe as a supplement alongside Faith Has Its Reasons. It would also be an ideal starting point for someone who wants to grow in their understanding of apologetic methdologies. Given the options for further reading and questions for thinking it over, it’d be a great book to read in a group, classroom or not. Or, you could always do what I did, request a review copy and then read by yourself in the wee hours of the morning before you sit down after lunch one day and write a review. To each his own.


Brian K. Morley, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches. Downers Grove,: IVP Academic, February 2015. 384 pp. Paperback, $25.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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I have a fairly long interest in apologetics. I’m not actually sure when it started, but the skeleton was taking shape by the time I left Bible school and was put to the test while I worked at Starbucks. The bones got meat put on them while I was in seminary, and I would eventually win the apologetics award for my Th.M thesis. All during this time I was reading books on the subject, either content or method. But, in all that reading I never really came across a book quite like this one.

I’ve read a few Os Guinness books in the past, one at the direct recommendation of Chuck Swindoll when I talked to him after chapel (he enthusiastically told me to read The Call). Neither was directly about apologetics though. This book, is not directly about it either, at least in the sense that most people would think of a book being about apologetics. There is a chapter explain why we shouldn’t be after the latest and greatest techniques (chapter 2), but that’s often a feature of works on apologetics. There is no extended presentation of the viable evidence for Christianity, yet that doesn’t mean arguments aren’t made for its validity. And while technique is eschewed, there are two chapters on general approaches to persuasively interacting with nonbelievers (chapters 6 and 7).

In a word, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian Persuasion re-frames the motive and aims of the apologist slash evangelist. In an age where most everyone says “I post, therefore I am” (15) Guinness seeks to remedy “a central and serious shortcoming in Christian communication today” (16). Specifically, “we have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it” (17). “Persuasion” in this sense being “the art of speaking to people who, for whatever reason, are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say” (18).

This leads to the heart of the problem, which Guinness explains as a problem of the heart (18): “The fact is that much contemporary advocacy ignores the deeper understandings of the spiritual and philosophical ways in which people think through their faiths, change their faiths, and the impact of their cultures and their ways of life on their thinking and beliefs” (18). We won’t understand unbelief and so have difficulty persuasively explaining our beliefs. We also mistakenly assume people are open to what we have to say when increasingly that is not the case.

In the first two chapters, Guinness makes a case for creativity in our persuasion while also avoiding a reliance on techniques. In regards to the former, Guinness argues that our discourse must be cross-centered and cross-shaped. For the latter, Guinness suggests that “Technique is the devil’s bait for the Christian persuader today” (30). Because there is no such thing as “McApologetics” (32) we mustn’t offer a one-size fits all approach to our persuasion. Ultimately, persuasion is an art, not a science and in its creative form “is the art of truth, the art that truth inspires” (34). We need more cross talk than clever talk (39). Because creative presentation is spiritual and moral, in addition to being intellectual (43), we must avoid simple reliance on technique which is never neutral and “essentially soulless” (44).

Chapters 3 and 4 make a case for defending our faith and being willing to be seen as foolish in doing so. In this regard, Guinness states,

Apologetics (from apologia in Greek) is a “word back,” a reasoned defense mounted on behalf of the one we love who is innocent but has been falsely and unfairly accused. Faith desires to let God be God. Sin has framed God, whether by the ultimate insults that he, the creator of all things, does not exist, or that he, the white-hot holy One, is responsible for the evil and suffering that humans have introduced into his good creation. So God’s name must be cleared and his existence and character brought to the fore beyond question (54-55, emphasis original).

Because of this, “so long as sin frames God, those who love God have a job to do in the world” (55). In the course of making our defense, we may appear foolish, but this is the way of the “third fool.” There are fools proper (see Proverbs) and fools for Christ (see 1 Corinthians). Then there are fool-makers, those willing to be seen as foolish in order to “bounce back and play the jester, addressing truth to power, pricking the balloons of the high and mighty, and telling the emperor that he has no clothes” (72).

Chapter 5 presents an erudite explanation of unbelief. In biblical perspective, “the central core of the anatomy of unbelief stems from its willful abuse of truth” (85). It does this through suppression, exploitation, inversion, and ultimately self-deception (86-89). This all leads to a tension that will not quite go away. Because the truth is, well, the truth, a worldview that reacts the way unbelief does will always sit uneasily in a person’s conscience. Guinness explains this the “dilemma pole” and the “diversion pole”:

The dilemma pole expresses the logic of the fact that the more consistent people are to their own view of reality, the less close they are to God’s reality and the more likely they are to feel their dilemma. The diversion pole expresses the fact that the less consistent people are to their own view of reality, the closer they are to God’s reality so the more they must find a diversion. Neither pole is necessarily closer to God, because unbelief as unbelief will not bow to God either way, but the people at either pole are relating to God and to their own claims to truth in entirely different ways (96, emphasis original).

In our culture, people more often gravitate toward the diversion pole as a our technological society proliferates. However, the dilemma pole is more consistent and leads to biblical themes like becoming like what your worship and reaping what you sow (98).

Given this understanding of unbelief, Guinness offers two strategies for persuasion in chapters 6 and 7 respectively. The former discusses “turning the tables,” which is more suited to those near the dilemma pole while the latter discusses “triggering the signals,” which is more suited to the diversion pole. For those more consistent in rejecting God (dilemma), the tables being turned pushes their own argument back against them in a variety of ways. For those less consistent, but just as disinterested (diversion), the signals triggered point to something beyond their current belief system that can only make sense in God’s reality. It is a way of sometimes waking our conservation partner from their agnostic slumbers.

In the final chapters, touches on using questions well in conversation and other ways to spring load our persuasion (chapter 8). He also discusses how to not shy away but embrace the accusation of hypocrisy (chapter 10), while not claiming to always be right (chapter 9). He closes chapter about those in the church who have left and how they become formidable challengers to the Christian faith because of their inside perspective (chapter 11), and a general overview of the apologist’s journey (chapter 12).

While I could probably continue on for another 500-1000 words about how excellent this book is, I think you get the idea. Guinness helps readers go a long way toward recovering the art of persuasion which often fails to be on many would be apologist’s radar. He takes elements from many schools of thought and threads them together in a way that will help readers integrate the best insights those schools have to offer. What might have been helpful is to chart some of this more clearly in the endnotes (which are unfortunately not footnotes). Having read widely in apologetics, I’m aware when he is being presuppositional, but that’s not always clear. The target audience might be why this kind of conceptual architecture wasn’t laid bare. It seems geared toward a general audience (this isn’t IVP Academic), but it is a very sophisticated read, and so may shoot over many lay reader’s heads. Needless to say, this all points to the challenge involved in writing this sort of book. At the end of the day, I think Guinness did a fine job and you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of this book.


Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian PersuasionDowners Grove, IL: IVP Books, July 2015. 270 pp. Hardcover, $22.00.

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Thanks to IVP Books for the review copy!

9781433537080Last time, we looked the core part of Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell. Now, we’ll go back and hit chapters 3-4 before finishing up with the last chapter. From what I can tell, you can still get the eBook of this for free as a Christ and Pop Culture member. That probably won’t be true forever, so better join and take advantage while you still can!

Chapter 3 in Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell covers three interconnected themes. First, Cosper examines stories that look back to an idyllic time now lost. Second, Cosper looks at stories that take place in what seems like an idyllic environment but in reality have a darker underbelly (the Truman Show for instance). Lastly, Cosper looks at stories where humanity tries to play God and it invariably goes wrong. The chapter is aptly titled “The Ghosts of Eden.”

Chapter 4 looks at the search for love through the lens of shows like How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock. the former of which would have been more interesting had Cosper written his analysis in light of the show’s series finale. Cosper also examines reality dating shows, specifically, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?

While his analysis is thought provoking, I came away feeling like much more could have been done with the topic of both of these chapters. Specifically in chapter 4, the point could be made that the Gospel itself is a romantic comedy and our desire to watch essentially the same story over and over again shows an innate longing within us. Cosper examines this longing well, and in the end does foreshadow the Gospel (90), but he could have taken his analysis deeper by pointing out all these stories teach us ultimate fulfillment is found in another person and from the Christian point of view, that person is Christ. Romantic comedies aren’t wrong in the essence of their story, just the object of their affections.

When it comes to final chapter, provocatively titled “Honey Boo Boo and The Weight of Glory,” Cosper offers some keen cultural analysis. Especially now in the wake of the show’s cancellation, his insights are worthy of our attention. Before getting to Honey Boo Boo, Cosper examines the connection between reality TV and narcissism. Predictably, Kim Kardashian figures prominently. At the opposite end of the Kardashian family sits Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a show which “thrives on featuring the saddest elements of this family’s life” (202). What Cosper picks up in his analysis is savagely satirized in a recent Onion article. We have a “vulture-like attitude” in consuming and ridiculing the life of this backward family from the Deep South. We look. We laugh. We move on.

Cosper then shifts the discussion by connecting our fascination with reality TV to our obsession with social media. We’re fascinated with self-broadcasting and the rise of reality TV stars is just one way that facet of our culture manifests itself. We have the opportunity to glory in ourselves and bring an audience along for the ride. Cosper then notes that “Christian and non-Christian alike feel the dull ache of faded glory” (209). Our drive for glory isn’t wrong, merely misplaced, as C. S. Lewis has helped many understand.

This provides, I think, a fitting conclusion to the book. Cosper does offer a brief epilogue that includes a word to aspiring Christian filmmakers. But, by closing on a topic that other books on TV and movies might overlook, I think he shows that something that seems banal and not worthy of a second thought can be a pointer to deeper spiritual truth. In essence, Cosper’s book throughout is taking the everyday stories we encounter and probing their foundations to see what they provide evidence that the world we live in is the kind of world we would expect with Christian presuppositions. It provides a powerful case for what we believe but also models a way to open conversations with the wider culture about things that count.

9781433538926

James N. Anderson. What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, January, 2014. 112 pp. $10.99.

On Wednesday over at The Gospel Coalition, my review of What’s Your Worldview posted. Here’s an excerpt:

Ronald Nash once said, “One of the more important things a philosopher can do for others is to help them realize what a worldview is, assist them in achieving a better understanding of their own worldview, and aid them improving their worldview.” Nash took this job seriously and has many books to prove it. In the book from which this quote derives, he provides criteria for how to choose a worldview, as well as several avenues for evaluating worldviews.

While Nash’s presentation is helpful, it isn’t what you’d give someone who reads few books. In a world where people aren’t often interested in thinking critically, a philosopher has to get creative in his presentation. When many are more interested in taking the latest online quiz to figure out which character from Harry Potter or The Hunger Games they really are, getting them to think about philosophy is difficult to say the least.

This is where James Anderson enters and drops a methodological game-changer on the philosophical playground. In What’s Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions [interview]Anderson, professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, synthesizes the “choose your own adventure” genre with worldview analysis.

Read the rest here.

I’ve been going back and reading through my long abandoned philosophy series. Some of it aged well. Some did not. I was definitely doing a lot of thinking at loud, as opposed now, when I mostly think to myself.

In thinking about thinking, I thought it might a good time to think out loud about logic. It’s kind of a prelude to philosophy (see my review Tuesday of a book by that title), and is important to have understand as we do some philosophical investigations.

Logic is the principles governing correct and reliable arguments. 1 An argument consists of presenting evidence with an inference (conclusion) drawn. Typically, arguments are divided into two categories:

  • Inductive (yields probable conclusions)
  • Deductive (yields certain conclusions)

Within these forms, three laws govern the actual arguing:

  • Law of identity (T is T and F is F)
  • Law of non-contradiction (No T and F)
  • Law of excluded middle (T or F)

Very few will deny these principles are true. This is because it would be making a claim about what is false, but destroying the ability to differentiate between truth and falsehood. These laws of logic are propositions that specify what truth-values other propositions can and cannot have.

Propositions themselves are language-independent, which means they can be expressed in language but are not reducible to language. This means the same true proposition can be effectively expressed in multiple languages. This also means that the laws of logic exist beyond specific language based expressions of them.

The word for this “existence beyond” is transcendence. Because the laws of logic are transcendent, they are said to apply to all possible statements in all possible languages. Laws of logic are truths, about truths, that exist independent of specific truth statements.

Because the laws of logic are also necessary for thinking, it is hard, if not practically impossible to deny their existence and still formulate a coherent worldview. Something necessary for for thinking itself is a preconditions for intelligibility (P. I.) P. I.’s are just what they sound like, the conditions necessary to make human experience intelligible. I would say by definition, any worldview that cannot account for P. I.’s is unlikely to be true.

In a discussion/argument, if a person appeals to something being “illogical” they are invoking the laws of logic . To credibly do so, they must be working from within a worldview that accounts for those laws. Otherwise, they are working off of “borrowed capital” and something critical to the expression of their worldview comes from another view they may even be trying to deny. This is illogical.

Now, because of all this, many people consider the laws of logic to necessarily exist. Everything that exists either exists contingently or necessarily. Something exists contingently if it is possible that it does not exist. Something necessarily exists if there is no possible world or scenario in which it could not exist. If the laws of logic exist necessarily, they must exist in all possible worlds in order for anybody to both know anything and to also be able explain what they know to anyone else. This makes the laws of logic a precondition for the intelligibility of knowledge, as well as the precondition for all arguments.

If laws of logic are truths that necessarily exist and transcend particular expressions of them, then the laws of logic must be non-physical, or immaterial. Things that exist necessarily, are by nature, non-physical since any physical or material object we could consider might not, or will not always exist. If something is not physical or material, it is mental, and this makes sense for classifying the laws of logic. In short, they are mental entities that exist as thoughts.

Thoughts are intentional, both in terms of what they are directed toward, and the specific content they have. As an example, I think Chipotle is delicious. My thought “Chipotle is delicious” is directed toward a the Chipotle restaurant in general, and my perception of their burritoes. While Chipotle physically exists, as does its delicious food, the thought where I draw them together intentionally does not have physical existence. You could measure the activity in my brain while I think the thought, but you cannot measure my brain activity and reconstruct the content of my thought (or the taste of the burrito). To think that is possible is not much different than thinking if you give a technological explanation of the pixels of the screen on which you are reading this post, and go into enough detail, you will be able to explain the content of my blog post. This is because information is non-physical in nature, and thoughts are about information. Information can be inscribed physically, but if the physical thing that contains the information is destroyed, the information still exists in mental form.

Earlier we noted every human is a contingent being, and therefore every human mind is contingent. If that’s the case, then the laws of logic must be thought by a necessarily existent mind. In other words, if we are all contingent and non-transcendent beings, we cannot, even collectively be the basis for something like the laws of logic. They must be thought first by a necessary and transcendent mind possessed by a necessary and transcendent being. To be necessary, this being must be non-physical. Additionally, this being must also be personal, and the only entity that fits all these criteria is the Truine God of the Bible.

Logic is therefore dependent on the existence of God. If this is true, then every logical argument presupposes the existence of God. Interestingly, this would apply to any argument constructed to disprove God’s existence. Atheism is therefore highly ironic for it must formulate its position by assuming the mind of God in order to then disprove God’s existence. This type of argument against atheism is called a reductio ad absurdum (a Harry Potter spell meaning “reduce to the absurd”) Remember earlier we talked about preconditions of intelligibility and how sometimes one worldview will smuggle in borrowed capital to bolster its claims. This is what atheism necessarily has to do.

That is rather illogical, though I haven’t found any atheists that agree with this conclusion. However, it is a deductive argument, so in order for the conclusion to not be certain, one or more of the premises must be proven false. But, in order to prove it false, an argument would need to be constructed that implicitly assumes the existence of God, and that is the horns of the dilemma so to speak. This argument could be expanded further (and it is in the article I mention in the notes), but I tried to put it as compactly as possible without listing it in bullet points. If I did though, here’s what it would look like:

  1. In order to prove anything, you must use the laws of logic
  2. The laws of logic therefore exist necessarily
  3. Necessary things exist non-physically
  4. The laws of logic are therefore non-physical (2 + 3)
  5. Non-physical things are mental things
  6. Mental things exist as thoughts
  7. Necessary thoughts must be thought by a necessary mind (2 + 4 + 6)
  8. The Triune God of the Bible possess a necessary mind
  9. Therefore the laws of logic are grounded in the mind of God (7 + 8)
  10. All arguments presuppose the existence of God

Notes:

  1. Much of what I say here is heavily indebted to a Philosophia Christi article, “The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic” James N. Anderson and Greg Welty (13:2, 2011). I distilled the main argument from this article into a PowerPoint presentation, and now I am reforming it into a blog post. I came up with a similar, but less developed argument on my own prior to reading this article.