Archives For Apologetics

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


  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.


K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of Our FaithWheaton: Crossway, July 2013. 288 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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K. Scott Oliphint is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember me reviewing his last book, God With Us: Divine Condescension and The Attributes of God.

In that book, Oliphint was doing philosophical theology with exegetical underpinnings. Very similarly, in his recent Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of Our Faith, he is doing apologetic theology with exegetical underpinnings.

In short, this book is an explanation of the principles and practices of presuppositional apologetics, but with a more rigorous biblical-theological foundation than you will find in Van Til. In his festschrift, Van Til was taken to task by a couple of contributors, but notably G. K. Berkouwer, for his lack of exegesis in laying out his approach to apologetics. Van Til conceded the point, though those who knew him knew that it wasn’t so much that he had a low view of the need for exegesis, it just wasn’t a main feature of his writings (which were really just class syllabi in most cases).

Enter Oliphint.

Here, we have presuppositional apologetics rebooted. Redubbed “covenantal apologetics,” there is much continuity with the approach developed by Van Til. This book will do a number of things, as Oliphint explains, “It is an attempt to move past a somewhat common description of apologetics and apply a new label. In applying a new label, it will argue why that label, and the content included in it, is more apt for the method advocated here” (25). More specifically, Oliphint wants to “translate the language, concepts, and ideas set forth in Van Til’s Reformed apologetic into language, terms, and concepts that are more accessible” (26).

Having read “virtually all of the significant criticisms of Van Til’s approach,” Oliphint is able to navigate some of the pitfalls while still keeping the essence of the approach. He is however concerned that there is much more biblical-theological grounding to this particular art of persuasion and hence the new moniker “covenantal apologetics.”

In the opening chapter, Oliphint gets to work on the exegetical groundwork. Before getting too deep, but at least having oriented readers to the apologetic task, Oliphint then lays out and explains his ten tenets of covenantal apologetics (47-56):

  • The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.
  • God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what is, and any covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on and utilize that authority in order to defend Christianity.
  • It is the truth of God’s revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.
  • Man (male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the triune God for eternity.
  • All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.
  • Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know. Those who are in Christ see truth for what it is.
  • There is an absolute, covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
  • Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their true, Christian context.
  • The true, covenantal knowledge of God in man, together with God’s universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.
  • Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal, all-controlling plan and purpose of God.

These tenets really do function as the foundation, and Oliphint will often make statements later in the book with a numbered tenet in parenthesis so that readers can see that he is drawing on them to develop his ideas further. This is a definite strength of the book and will allow readers to perhaps draw further implications from the tenets.

In the second chapter, Oliphint does a little more heavy lifting in the exegetical arena. Though not nearly as heavy as God With Us, he is nevertheless drawing on similar texts and talking about God’s aseity in relation to the apologetic task. It is here that Oliphint introduces what he calls the “Quicksand Quotient,” which is a persuasive tool used to point out that a person’s stated position cannot actually do what it claims. It is basically an attempt to “ferret out the presuppositions of an opposing viewpoint in order to show its internal inconsistency” (85). He returns to this often, and I can attest that in practice, it can be a very effective way to reframe a discussion.

Chapter 3 tackles the nature of proof, but before getting into that, there is a discussion of natural revelation and Paul’s methods in Acts 17. This leads naturally to a discussion of burden of proof, who has it, and when to deflect it. In short, Oliphint endeavors to show that the notion of “proof” is tenuous at best (122), and shouldn’t be the overall burden of a Christian apologetic, especially if we end up with negative “not proof” as a conclusion. This is all illustrated by the first of several dialogues that Oliphint creates.

Chapter 4 turns from proof to persuasion, which the better focal point of our apologetic enterprise. Oliphint sketches out a theology of persuasion, and then a “trivium” of persuasion consisting of a its ethos, pathos, and logos. This is a way of parsing out our character as an apologist, the specific way we tailor the discussion to the particular person we are talking to, and the truths that we bring to bear in the situation. Or, if you like triperspectivalism, it is the existential, situational, and normative perspectives on the apologetic task of persuasion.

From there, chapter 5 turns to destroy arguments, which is probably something apologists can relish a bit too much. However, at this point in the book, Oliphint has set many guidelines in place that should keep the destruction of arguments in its proper perspective (i.e. not something that is the main objective or one’s personal hobby). In this chapter, Oliphint is explaining the nature of negative apologetics primarily, and the specific objection he is using as a test case is the problem of evil. The chapter appropriately ends with a lengthy dialogue to illustrate one way (Oliphint emphasizes this every time he presents a dialogue) that the discussion could go (another repeated emphasis). It serves as an exposition of covenantal apologetics at its finest, defanging what is usually a very formidable objection and pointing the objector to the gospel of Christ.

Chapters 6 and 7 go together in some respects (27) in that both demonstrate “walking in wisdom toward outsiders.” First, we engage those who hold to naturalistic evolution (chapter 6), and second Muslims (chapter 7). In this way, we are treated to wisdom on how we present our ourselves and our cases to the irreligious (or at least those who claim to be irreligious), and the very religious, and are instructed in the way of wisdom toward both.

I’m not sure I could offer any kind of trenchant critique of Oliphint’s work given my affinity for presuppositional apologetics. Given the parameters he sets out for himself in the introduction (illustrating principles and practices), one could hardly criticize him for not being comprehensive. He picked probably the best objections to deal with (logic, evil, science, Islam). Sure, he could have dealt with others, but he picked the heavy hitters, didn’t shy away from them, and laid out a covenantal approach to dealing with them wisely.

Because of this, I would offer anyone interested in Van Til or presuppositional apologetics an unqualified recommendation of this book. I think it is now the go-to book for someone wanting to understand that method. Oliphint was actually my introduction to Van Til (through the 4th ed. of The Defense of The Faith he edited), and it is great to see him now offering his own popular level exposition of this method that is sensitive to the critique of Van Til that are out there and is seeking to bypass some and advance his thought on others. Basically, what David Powlison, Paul Tripp, and Ed Welch have done for Jay Adams and nouthetic counseling, Scott Oliphint has now done (and has probably been doing in the classroom) for Van Til. If you’re interested in apologetics, this is a book to pick up, and if you tried to wrestle with Van Til to no avail, this is your best second chance offer.


Derek Cooper is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies and Historical Theology, Associate Director of the D.Min program, and Director of the LEAD M.Div program at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Somewhere, in the midst of all of that, he has managed to put together a fine book: Christianity & World Religions: An Introduction to The World’s Major Faiths.

This book makes an ideal textbook, or at least I’m hoping so since I’ve decided to use it in my apologetics class. In the course of the book, Cooper covers Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism/Daoism, Judaism, and Islam. Conceiving of each as a “story,” he elucidates the following elements for each:

  • The beginning of the story
  • The religion’s historical origin
  • Its religious writings
  • Beliefs
  • Worship practices
  • Point of contact with the religion

In his understanding, each of these religions is attempting to tell a kind of story about the world and how to live in it. Here’s how he sees it:

  • Hinduism: The story of diversity and devotion
  • Buddhism: The story of enlightenment
  • Confucianism/Daoism: The stories of order and nature
  • Judaism: The story of tradition and identity
  • Islam: The story of submission

His presentation of each is nuanced to avoid “flattening” each religion, but no so nuanced that it is hard to follow. In other words, he gives readers enough of a handle on the diversity within each “story” to avoid stereotypes, but in such a way that unity is not compromised. At the end of each chapter he provides discussion questions (or as I see them, homework assignments) and resources for further reading.

All of these stories together comprise the first part of the book. The second turns to first a biblical response to these stories (chapter 6), and then a theological response to the issues brought up by the mere presence of other world religions (i.e. religious pluralism, universalism, etc.).  He then offers some brief thoughts on engaging the other religions using Acts 17 as a jumping off point. Included as well are appendices with potential projects, essay questions, and worldview questions; online links to other religions’ religious writings; and a guide to visiting non-Christian worship spaces.


Though I read a lot of apologetic books, I haven’t done too much reading in world religions. Because of that, I found Cooper’s book very informative. Since I’ve at least studied these religions in other contexts (I took classes on Islam and Judaism and am familiar with the basic contours of the others), I was able to at least tell that Cooper was doing a good job of explaining them to a lay audience in a nuanced way. I think his overall presentation is an excellent way to approach teaching world religions. His concern is to understand them well on their own terms and to also see them come to faith in Christ. He offers sage advice on how to go about this, and readers who would like to be both world religion conscious and evangelism savvy will benefit from Cooper’s work.

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Logic_Print_2First off, you’ve gotta admit this is a pretty incredible cover. Logic textbook or not, there’s just something about this design that just draws you in. This is perhaps a good thing since most people won’t take a formal class on logic at any point in their education, much less read a textbook on it.

Though it is very conducive to being used as a textbook, Vern Poythress’ Logic: A God-Centered Approach is part logic textbook and part theology of logic. It comes as the newest installment in a long line of “God-centered approaches” offered by Poythress (see also science, language, and sociology). Much like those volumes, this one draws on John Frame’s triperspectivalism which is something we can all rejoice about. However, Poythress also blends in insights from his background in mathematics (he did a Ph.D in math at Harvard before seminary) and the result is a book that every serious Christian thinker out to have on their shelf.


The book is split into three main parts and a fourth part that is composed of supplements. Part 1 introduces elementary logic and has four sub parts. The first is 6 shorts chapters that introduce the basics. And by short, I mean some chapters are only a couple of pages long. However, that is nothing new for Poythress. After presenting a very basic overview, the second sub part introduces God’s relationship to logic and is worth the price of the book. Well that part and the third sub part which covers the issue of classification and how we ascribe meaning to statements. He briefly intros the theistic arguments and then offers a re-vision of western thought. The final sub part of part 1 introduces aristotelian syllogisms and venn diagrams.

Part 2 has three sub parts, and is where the book starts getting technical and symbolic. Intending to cover aspects of propositional logic, in the first sub part he explains the relationship of truth to logic. In the second, he begins unpacking the different ways truth can be logically represented. Finally, in the third and final part he gets into propositional logic per se.

Part 3 is where the real heavy lifting comes. Here Poythress discusses predicate logic (sub part 1), quantification (sub part 2), functions (sub part 3), formal systems (sub part 4), and special and more enriched forms of logic like modal logic and multivalued and intuitionist logic (sub part 5). Many of the chapters build on symbolic notations introduced earlier so it may as well be a foreign language if you weren’t tracking closely in the earlier chapters.

The final part, which is an almost 200 page assortment of supplements. These supplements are grouped into to six sub sections. The first sub sections goes with the first part of the book and the second goes with the second (which is helpful). Sub sections 3 and 4 both go with the main part 3 of the book, which the 5th and 6th sections are miscellanies and concluding thoughts on philosophy and logic respectively. All in all these various supplemental chapters cover topics as diverse as the different figures for syllogisms, Godel’s incompleteness theorem, the halting program for computer programs, the failure of Kantian subjectivism, and the general role of logic in modern philosophy.

In navigating all of this, readers have two options. The first is to cherry pick chapters to get a feel for the nature of logic and it’s role in modern thought. To do that, I’d read the first 3 sub parts of part 1. Then the chapters in the rest of the sections that present Poythress’ summary thoughts of how that facet of logic is centered in God. That would be these chapters:

  • 26 (theistic foundations of syllogisms)
  • 31 (divine origin of logical functions)
  • 37 (harmony in truth)
  • 44 (imitations of transcendence)
  • 47 (theistic foundations for predicates)
  • 49 (theistic foundations for quantification)
  • 57 (theistic foundations for proof theory)
  • 59 (theistic foundation for computation)
  • 61 (theistic foundations for models)
  • 66 (theistic foundations for modal logic)

The second option is to track with Poythress chapter by chapter and answer the questions for further study at the end of the chapters. If you’re a teacher, you’re already setup for using this as a textbook since it has problems to be solved (too bad there’s no answer key!) If you’re not, and you’re disciplined, you could use this book to learn much of what you would learn in an actual logic class. And the bonus would be that you see the theistic foundations of it all and gets some keen theological and apologetics arguments to boot.


As you might guess, I’m going to heartily recommend this book. It isn’t exactly beach reading, but if you’re a student with your summer free, it might just be a good time to get some logic foundations in place. I think every seminary student, and really every one who wants to be taken seriously when they make arguments, ought to take a class on logic or read this book (or both I suppose). Knowing sound principles of logic is an invaluable apologetic tool and Poythress’ book is set firmly in that context. If you’re going to take the time to learn logic, this book with its God-centered focus is the route to go.

Book Details

  • Author: Vern S. Poythress
  • Title: Logic: A God-Centered Approach
  • Publisher: Crossway (February 4, 2013)
  • Paperback: 736pgs
  • Reading Level: Early parts general reader, later parts, heavy lifting unless you like symbols
  • Audience Appeal: Anyone who wants a God-centered textbook on logic
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Crossway)


Rice Broocks is the co-founder of the Every Nation family of churches, and is senior minister of Bethel World Outreach Church in Nashville.  He did his masters work at RTS and has a doctorate in missiology from Fuller. In God’s Not Dead: Evidence For God in An Age of Uncertainty Broocks is writing to three types of people:

  • The Seeker who is trying to believe but faces doubts
  • The Believer who knows God subjectively, but has a hard time articulating this faith to unbelievers
  • The Skeptic who may be reading from a critical point of view and perhaps already decided there is no God

His approach in apologetics is somewhat presuppositional and evidential (he may very well have studied with Bahnsen, depending on when he was at RTS Jackson and what classes he took). I think after reading it, he is really using evidences in a presuppositional manner, so his book represents a kind of popular level book in that vein.

Broocks begins with a short introduction telling his own conversion story before launching into the first chapter which introduces readers to the claims of many New Atheists. As he sees it though, in spite of the outspokenness of these New Atheists, belief in God is making a comeback, so much so that in 2009 the senior editor of The Economist co-wrote a book that retracted the obituary they published for God a decade earlier. This faith though is well grounded and isn’t just some blind irrational leap, and Broocks intends to show why that is the case.

Very helpfully, his first chapter is on reason itself. This is a good presuppositional move, and Broocks does an excellent job explaining how science and faith are not at odds because reason is grounded in the existence of God and science would collapse without it. Having established this, he turns the same kind of argumentation to good and evil, showing they are grounded in God as well.

The next few chapters zero in on scientific issues. First, Broocks shows how the case for the beginning of the universe actually works to the believer’s advantage. He wisely sidesteps issues related to interpreting Genesis to make the basic point that since science points to the universe having a beginning, it naturally raises the question of the existence of a Creator. He then talks a bit about the fine-tuning of the universe, adding to his case that much of what we are learning through the natural sciences actually supports the case for faith.

The following chapter deals with the emergence of life. He essentially offers an argument from design, but with a little more nuance than just a straight teleological argument. In numerous places he shows science’s basic inability to explain the origin of life in a satisfactory way. Evolution can explain developments, but it really can’t do much in terms of the origins of life from non-life.

Next, Broocks delves into the question of whether or not life has meaning and purpose. Since most people tend to treat it like it does, then a coherent worldview will need to account for how life can be meaningful and purposeful. Throughout the chapter, Broocks demonstrates that on evolutionary assumptions that the New Atheists all hold, life must be both meaningless and non-purposeful. He then highlights 10 specific differences that set man apart from the animals:

  • Our ability to think about our thinking (meta-cognition)
  • Aesthetic recognition
  • Language
  • Creativity and scientific exploration
  • Morality
  • Higher intelligence
  • Personhood
  • Culture
  • Our transcending the mere physical
  • Spiritual hunger

While up to this point Broocks is presenting evidence, I see him reasoning more like a presuppositionalist since he is showing that evidence cannot be made sense of, unless you presuppose God. After this chapter, he turns to more typical evidential concerns, starting first with the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and then turning to the evidence for the reliability of Scripture. In the final two chapters, Broocks takes a slightly different evidential track, focusing on personal transformation. First, he explains “the grace effect” or the idea that grace, rather than bare religion, has a transforming effect on people and even whole societies that is an “evidence” hard to explain from an atheistic point of view. Second, he offers a chapter titled “Living Proof” which is essentially a collection of personal testimonies of lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the end, I found this both an enjoyable and beneficial read. I wasn’t presented with much evidence that I wasn’t already aware of, but I also do a lot more reading in this area than most people. I would imagine for the average person (and those three target audiences Broocks is writing for) this book will be a great introduction to several areas of apologetics. For the seeker it provides both evidence and presuppositional grounding of the Christian faith. For the believer with a hard time explaining, this book models a conversational and clear tone that can be followed in explaining the ideas to others. For the skeptic, it might not be ultimately convincing, but Broocks’ intention is to sow a seed of doubt (xix). I think this is an excellent way to approach things and actually conforms to how paradigm shifts occur. That makes this book a success by Broocks’ own intentions, and a book you should consider picking up if you’re interested in apologetics at the popular level.

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Alister McGrath is professor of theology, ministry, and education and head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King’s College, London, and president of the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. He’s written more books than I care to list here, but this is actually the second recently published book of his that I’ve read in the last 30 days. His C. S. Lewis – A Life was my spring break reading, and now I’ve had the opportunity to read through his Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers & Skeptics Find Faith. Read the latter after the former proved interesting since McGrath draws on Lewis quite a bit, and I imagine the writing of these two works overlapped considerably.


Mere Apologetics, like the name suggests, is something similar to Lewis’ Mere Christianity, but for apologetics. As immersed as McGrath was in Lewis’ writings during the writing of this book, it’s not surprising to see the resultant book very much in the spirit of Lewis. As McGrath opens up:

This book is an introduction to apologetics – the field of Christian thought that focuses on the justification of the core themes of the Christian faith and its effective communication to the non-Christian world. It commends a mindset of engagement, encouraging Christians to interact with the ideas of our culture rather than running away from them or pretending they can be ignored. (11)

He continues,

This book sets out to introduce its readers to the leading themes of apologetics, presenting a basic understanding of its agendas and approaches. I have tried to make this book accessible, interesting, and useful, while giving pointers to more advanced resources that will allow you, the reader, to take things further in your own time. It is not comprehensive, so you will need to supplement it with more advanced and specialized texts. Nor is it committed to any particular school of apologetics. Rather than limiting itself to any one specific school or approach to apologetics, this work draws on their collective riches. (12)

That last point is what makes this book a great introduction to “mere” apologetics. There are things in here that will make presuppositionalists proud, and other things that they’ll find somewhat annoying (see more below). Evidentialists and classicalists alike will find their insights in McGrath’s book. The book then succeeds in McGrath’s aims stated in the second quote and gives readers the “flavor” of the riches that Christian apologetics has to offer. In terms of a brief overview, the opening chapters are very basic. First, McGrath defines apologetics (chapter 1). McGrath sees apologetics involving defending the truth of the gospel, commending the truth and relevance of the gospel to an audience, and translating the core ideas and themes of the Christian faith to an audience unfamiliar with Christian thought. In chapter 2, McGrath tackles the shift of culture from modernity to postmodernity in perhaps the briefest form possible. It is here as well that he outlines his general approach (35-36):

  • Understand the faith
  • Understand the audience
  • Communicate with clarity
  • Find points of contact
  • Present the whole gospel
  • Practice, practice, practice

McGrath comes back to this approach in chapter 8, but before getting there he tackles first the theological basis for apologetics (chapter 3) and the importance of the audience (chapter 4). For the latter, McGrath takes us through Paul’s speeches in Acts, showing how he adapted his presentation, but not his gospel, depending on the audience. After laying this foundation, chapters 4-6 comprise the meat of the book. Unlike God is Dead, a book for seekers, skeptics, and curious Christians that I’ll be offering a review of Thursday, McGrath’s book is for young apologetes who want to learn how to best defend their faith. This section on defense then is giving weapons, but talking to an audience already on-board. McGrath covers in succession the reasonableness of the Christian faith (chapter 5), pointers or clues to faith (chapter 6), and gateways for apologetics (chapter 7). These chapters are the longest and focused on the content of an apologetic defense. His list of clues has a presuppositional flair and is worth listing:

  • Clue 1: Creation
  • Clue 2: Fine-tuning
  • Clue 3: Order
  • Clue 4: Morality
  • Clue 5: Desire
  • Clue 6: Beauty
  • Clue 7: Relationality
  • Clue 8: Eternity

As McGrath sees it, these are “proofs” that Christianity is true, but rather clues in search of an explanation. In short, they are transcendentals we know exist and that any adequate worldview needs to account for. They are also great apologetic conversation starters. McGrath moves further in chapter 7 to offer four gateways for doing apologetics:

  • Explanation
  • Argument
  • Stories
  • Images

Arguably, the latter two have been ignored for a bit too long, a problem I wanted to remedy with my thesis. Discerning your audience is key here, since some people want a clearly reasoned argument, and others would like a story that captures their imagination. Lewis himself was captured first through his imagination and later through his reason. Reading your audience means knowing what to use when. Finally, the book closes with a chapter where McGrath deals with two common questions about the faith. He does so in a way that doesn’t offer pat answers but guides you through seeing what is actually being asked when people bring up these questions (Why does God allow suffering? Isn’t God just a crutch?) so you can respond appropriately. The final chapter focuses on developing your method and is only a few pages long.


Overall, I think this is a great book if you keep in mind it’s goal. McGrath is not offering extensive apologetic answers and he is not aligning himself with any specific apologetic school. There are a couple of places I could probe a bit deeper into some of the arguments McGrath makes, but I think you get the general overview well enough to form your own conclusions. I come from a strong presuppositional background but I am growing in my appreciation for imagination, because I see how powerful or an entry point that is for people. I tried to connect the two with my approach to movies, and I think McGrath does a good job of a similar suture job here. As a book that gives very practical advice on how to do apologetics, this book is a must read!

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On Monday, I mentioned how helpful I’ve found Cornelius Van Til’s Introduction to Systematic Theology. I first read it during my first year in seminary. Recently, I’ve been re-reading it in Logos and taking advantage of digital highlighting. It’ll be interesting to compare what I highlighted then and now. In the meantime, I thought I’d pass along some of the quotes I can’t quite tweet.

On the different branches of study:

Exegesis takes the Scriptures and analyzes each part of it in detail. Biblical theology takes the fruits of the exegesis and organizes them into various units and traces the revelation of God in Scripture in its historical development. It brings out the theology of each part of God’s Word as it has been brought to us at different stages, by means of various authors. Systematic theology then uses the fruits of the labors of exegetical and biblical theology and brings them together into a concatenated system. Apologetics seeks to defend this system of biblical truth against false philosophy and false science. Practical theology seeks to show how to preach and teach this system of biblical truth, while church history traces the reception of this system of truth in the course of the centuries.

On creeds:

The creeds of the Church are, as far as their content is concerned, no more than a systematic statement of the truth of Scripture. They are distinguished from the systematic statement of Scripture given by systematic theology (a) by their brevity, limiting themselves as they do to the most essential matters; and (b) by their authoritative character, since they have been officially accepted as standards by the councils of the Church.

Creeds must be revised and supplemented from time to time. But it is not until systematic theology has progressed beyond the creeds that the creeds themselves can be revised.

What the church needs is a more exact formulation of its doctrines against heresies as they appear in every new and changing form, and a fuller statement of biblical truth.

On the purpose of systematic theology:

The question of value is not the first question we should ask. The question of truth and of duty is primary. It is a God-given duty that we should take the content of Scripture and bring it together into a systematic whole. It is plain that we are required to know the revelation that God has given us.

On systematic theology’s ability to balance us:

The unity and organic character of our personality demands that we have unified knowledge as the basis of our action. If we do not pay attention to the whole of biblical truth as a system, we become doctrinally one-sided, and doctrinal one-sidedness is bound to issue in spiritual one-sidedness. As human beings we are naturally inclined to be one-sided. One tends to be intellectualistic, another tends to be emotional, and still another tends to be activistic. One tends to be only prophetic, another only priest, and a third only king. We should be all these at once and in harmony. A study of systematic theology will help us to keep and develop our spiritual balance. It enables us to avoid paying attention only to that which, by virtue of our temperament, appeals to us.

On the importance of systematic theology for preachers:

There are many “orthodox” preachers today whose study of Scripture has been so limited to what it says about soteriology that they could not protect the fold of God against heresies on the person of Christ. Ofttimes they themselves even entertain definitely heretical notions on the person of Christ, though perfectly unaware of the fact.
If we carry this idea one step further, we note that a study of systematic theology will help men to preach theologically. It will help to make men proclaim the whole counsel of God. Many ministers never touch the greater part of the wealth of the revelation of God to man contained in Scripture. But systematics helps ministers to preach the whole counsel of God, and thus to make God central in their work.
The history of the church bears out the claim that God-centered preaching is most valuable to the church of Christ. When the ministry has most truly proclaimed the whole counsel of God, the church has flourished spiritually.

On the importance of a Christian method:

The question of method is not a neutral something. Our presupposition of God as the absolute, self-conscious Being, who is the source of all finite being and knowledge, makes it imperative that we distinguish the Christian theistic method from all non-Christian methods.

On the importance of a two-level understanding of knowledge:

For this reason, Christians must also believe in two levels of knowledge, the level of God’s knowledge which is absolutely comprehensive and self-contained, and the level of man’s knowledge which is not comprehensive but is derivative and re-interpretative. Hence we say that as Christians we believe that man’s knowledge is analogical of God’s knowledge.

On God’s incomprehensibility:

At the same time, God is incomprehensible to us because he is ultimately rational. It is not because God is irrational that we cannot comprehend him; it is because God is rational, and in the nature of the case, ultimately rational, that we cannot comprehend him. It is not because God is darkness that he is incomprehensible to us, but it is because he is light, and, in the nature of the case, absolute light. God dwelleth in a light that no man can approach unto. We are not blind because of the light of God; it is only in God’s light that we see light.

On distinguishing rationalism from irrationalism:

In other words, modern thought believes in an ultimate irrationalism, while Christianity believes in an ultimate rationality. It is difficult to think of two types of thought that are more radically opposed to one another. It is the most fundamental antithesis conceivable in the field of knowledge. It is nothing short of astounding that orthodox theologians should fail to make this basic distinction between Christian and non-Christian thought. The very foundation of all Christian theology is removed if the concept of the ultimate rationality of God be given up. It is upon it alone that we hope to build anything like a systematic interpretation.

On the nature of all human knowledge:

All analogical knowledge may be called theological knowledge. We can even, if we wish, identify the concept of analogical knowledge with the concept of theological knowledge. We cannot do without God any more when we wish to know about physics or psychology than when we wish to know about our soul’s salvation. Not one single fact in this universe can be known truly by man without the existence of God. Even if man will not recognize God’s existence, the fact of God’s existence none the less accounts for whatever measure of knowledge man has about God. We can readily see that this must be so. The idea of creation is implied in the idea of the self-sufficient God. Now if every fact in this universe is created by God, and if the mind of man and whatever the mind of man knows is created by God, it goes without saying that the whole fabric of human knowledge would dash to pieces if God did not exist and if all finite existence were not revelational of God.

I could definitely, and will definitely add more, but these quotes from just the first two chapters give you a nice flavor for the book. Van Til can be heavy reading at times and is not always the clearest communicator. I’ve found that his thought is worth the effort to dig into and if you need some help, I’d recommend getting John Frame’s Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought or Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. The former is the best introductory overview while the latter digs deeply into Van Til’s apologetic methodology. I would commend both to you and all three authors as well!

I recently finished Mapping The Origins Debate by Gerald Rau (which is excellent by the way). My review is forthcoming, but I wanted to go ahead an highlight a hugely important point that Rau makes, almost as an afterthought.

After presenting 6 models of the beginning of everything (not one by one, but through different themes), Rau offers an epilogue that almost (almost!) reveals his own position. He does though explain why conceptual change is hard. Pulling from what looks like an interesting essay in Cognitive Models of Science, Rau gives four factors that must be present for conceptual change to take place:

  1. There must be dissatisfaction with current conceptions
  2. A new conception must be intelligible
  3. A new conception must appear initially plausible
  4. A new conception should suggest the possibility of a fruitful research program

Now, Rau is talking about paradigmatic shifts in science (not unlike The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). However, I think his insights apply just as equally to apologetics, and that makes the initial point crucial.

If you are into apologetics, this would mean your primary task is creating dissatisfaction with the status quo. Not presenting evidence for the Christian faith (which is #2, and #3 above). Unless you’ve made an effort to create conceptual nausea in the person’s current worldview, you are wasting your time trying to prove your case.

This is one of the main reasons I am a presuppositionalist when it comes to apologetic methodology. The key thinkers in presuppositionalism (Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame) get this, and give you the tools to deconstruct a person’s worldview (thus getting to criteria #1 above) and then you can use the tools of constructive apologetics to make a positive case.

In the end though, this is why you usually can’t simply persuade someone they’re wrong. If you’re not aiming at dissatisfaction with their current viewpoint, you’re probably not going to get very far in your efforts at paradigm shifting.



In his Christian Apologetics (which remember is under $5 on Kindle), Douglas Groothuis presents 8 criteria for evaluating worldviews. Though not a presuppositionalist himself, and he explains (unconvincingly) why on 62-64, this kind of worldview evaluations is very presuppositional. According to Groothuis, “the best method of apologetic reasoning is hypothesis evaluation and verification” (49). Toward that end, he provides these critera:

  • A worldview must explain what it ought to explain (52)
  • A worldview must exhibit internal logical consistency (53)
  • A worldview should be evaluated by its coherence (54)
  • A worldview must obtain factual adequacy (55)
  • A worldview must possess existential viability (55)
  • A worldview must demonstrate intellectual and cultural fecundity (56)
  • A worldview must not resort to radical ad hoc readjustments (57)
  • And, all other things being equal, simpler explanations are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones (58)

Using these 8 criteria, Groothuis is pursuing a general method he calls “constructive apologetics.” As he defines it, it “builds a case for Christian theism by arguing that Christianity best fits the apporpriate criteria for worldview assessment.” (51-52) This is perhaps what sets Groothuis apart from presuppositionalist (who are very interested in worldview apologetics). Van Til, Bahnsen, et al., can be characterized as “Deconstructive Apologetics.” This is both in the sense that they are aimed primarily at deconstructing competing worldviews (though they do not ignore building a positive, sometimes the best offense is a good defense) and in the sense that use tools from deconstructionism and undo worldviews from within their own internal tensions. This is pretty impressive as well when you realize Van Til predated deconstructionism as a school of philosophy.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed Groothuis so far, and these criteria are particularly useful. Since as Groothuis says, “the central point of this book it constructive apologetics” (52), I’ll look forward to seeing him build his case!

I learned my lesson from last year. Instead of 13 books I’m planning to read through, here are 6 books on the larger side that I’m “plodding” through:


Foundations of Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal by Eric L. Johnson


A Puritan Theology and Meet the Puritans


Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothuis


The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction by Donald Hagner

large OdenClassic

Classic Christianity by Thomas C. Oden

Now, by “plodding” I mean that I intend to slowly read each of these books this year. But, and this is the key, I have no set pace. The goal is to absorb and reflect, not check off that I’ve completed a reading schedule. There is nothing particularly wrong with reading schedules, but I tend to echo Barnabas Piper’s sentiment that it feels kind of like homework.

So, in working my way through these, I’m just picking them up when I feel the urge and reading a chapter, or more, who knows? I’m about 10 chapters into Hagner, 5 into Groothuis, 2 into Beeke’s Puritan Theology, and I’m just cherry picking individuals in Meet the Puritans. As for Foundations of Soul Care, I’ve index surfed a bit and read the opening chapter, and in Classic Christianity (which you should more about here) I’m doing background reading for a doctrine class I’m teaching at church.

None of these are for review, they are all my purchases, believe it or not (but not during the current 90-day book ban, mind you). I may review if you ask really nicely, but you’ll definitely get some book bites as I make my way through.

Hopefully this will all result in a more enjoyable time reading this year, and I think (think) that I’ve learned from some of last year’s mistakes!