Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches

November 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

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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.

Buy it: Amazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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