Thinking About Christian Apologetics: Review (Part 3)

This is the last part (part 1, part 2) in a review of James Beilby’s new book Thinking About Christian Apologetics (InterVarsity Press, 2011). The book deserved a fairly lengthy review due to it’s unique nature as an apologetics textbook. As I noted, I am generally wary of popular apologetics material but Beilby’s book is a refreshing exception. Anybody coming to the book will not so much find arguments for Christianity as a thorough exposition on why Christians should do apologetics in the first place. In other words, it does not ask the question “What” but “Why?”

For the sake of brevity, I want to consolidate the remaining chapters of the book into this review. In Chapter 4 Beilby discusses varieties of apologetics. Here he brings forth five questions (relationship b/t faith and reason, the task of apologetics, epistemology of God’s nature, role of the Spirit, and the nature of truth). How one answers these questions will, no doubt, determine the way one engages in apologetics. One may be a strict evidentialist, or a presuppositionalist, or an experientialist. These are helpful terms that Beilby defines.

Chapters 5- 6 deal with objections to doing apologetics. Chapter 5, in my opinion, is the most relevant of the two chapters as it deals with philosophical objections. He concentrates quite heavily on having a proper understanding of postmodernism and how it might actually play a beneficial role in the disciple. This is not common in popular apologetics as postmodernism is usually defined only in its extreme sense as if it’s synonymous with religious relativism. But the postmodern age, at its core, is only a loss of confidence in the modernist, approach through verificationism (that is, the idea that we can prove something is true with total objectivity). He asks, “is there anything in postmodernism that amounts to a valid objection to apologetics? No. Acknowledging human limitations and the perspectival nature of human knowing does not undercut the task of defending and commending the faith” (126-27). This, I believe, is a much needed wake up call. One of the reasons why apologetics has gotten a bad rap within both culture and the Church (especially with our young people) is that it’s often still stuck in the modernist age. Beilby stresses, quite rightly, that apologetics itself cannot lead to faith. Chapter 6 is also helpful as it engages in supposed biblical arguments against apologetics. The latter are often arguments that one would hear from fellow Christians.

Finally, chapter 7 turns towards one’s approach in apologetics. In my opinion, this is the most essential chapter of the entire book. One of the reasons why so many people, including Christians, reject the legitimacy of apologetics is because of how many people have gone about doing it. In chapter 5 Beilby notes that the problem is that many “are doing it in a manner that is not remotely Christlike” (114). Here he introduces some helpful principles: 1) The quality of your arguments matters; 2) Who you are is more important than what you say; 3) It’s not about you; 4) It is about them; 5) Set the correct goal.

These are some wise words as I’ve noticed in most cases somebody misses at least one of them. Perhaps one of his most helpful remarks falls under principle 4: “Take the gospel seriously, not yourself” (177). In other words, lighten up. 😉 In my opinion this could have been a principle itself since in the intensity of an argument all five of these other principles can quickly go out the window. Also helpful would have been to note, perhaps in conjunction with principle one, that the consequences of the arguments matter. That is, what implications are they going to have. Far too often apologists argue over things which simply are irrelevant or minute points and, in the end, end up pushing non-believers farther away from the Gospel.

All in all, Beilby’s book is a breath of fresh air as a full out exploration on why we do apologetics in the first place. As noted in my first post, if I were to teach an introduction to apologetics class I would place this book alongside two other pillars: A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics by James Sire and Reasonable Faith by William L. Craig. That’s how important this book is.