Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review: Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics

Come Let Us Reason accomplishes what editors Copan and Craig hoped it would as stated in the preface of the book. It raises classical questions in the philosophy of religion and apologetics, but does so in a fresh way, while addressing current topics not typically covered in standard apologetics books (iv).

Divided into five parts, the book’s first section, entitled Apologetics, Culture and the Kingdom of God, offers essays by Gregory Ganssle, J. P. Moreland and Toni Allen. Ganssle’s practical chapter on applied apologetics kicks off the book. His purpose, he says, is to “help (readers) think better about how to make the gospel connection with those who are not yet believers” (5). He begins by suggesting that apologists are diagnosticians of the human condition. Noting that “shallow diagnosis results in shallow and short-sighted recommendations and anemic articulations of gospel solutions” (7), the author says we need to cultivate our ability to discern the real problems of individuals and meet their crucial needs. He offers three useful tools to help us do so.

In chapter 2, Moreland tackles the four degrees of postmodernism – ontic, alethic, epistemic and axiological. These, he says, refer to degrees of ingression. The more deeply ingressed one’s postmodernism, the more pervasive the impact of postmodernism throughout one’s worldview (17). Moreland’s essay is a challenging read for the non-philosopher, but not impossible to grasp, and well worth the effort as he takes the reader deep into the postmodern mind, looking at such topics as the correspondence theory of truth, truth-denial, objectivity and folk empiricism along the way.

Toni Allen addresses the topic of women in apologetics, noting that there are several key issues that tend to keep them from practising the discipline. One is conflict and the natural tendency of women to avoid it (37). Second is the fact that women often depend on their experience and emotional connection with God as the primary justification for the beliefs they hold (40). Allen offers sample questions and helpful suggestions to encourage both men and women in the defense of their faith.

Part 2 of the book tackles “The God Question”. William Lane Craig shows his wit in what is one of the most enjoyable chapters in the work. Entitled “Objections So Bad I Couldn’t Have Made Them Up”, the focus is on what Lane calls “the world’s 10 worst objections to the Kalam cosmological argument” (51). For example, objection #5 reads: “If the universe began to exist, then it must have come from nothing. That is quite plausible, since there are no constraints on nothing, and so nothing can do anything, including producing the universe.” Believe it or not, there are even sillier arguments than this in the chapter. However, as Craig notes, they are all widespread and surprisingly influential. Therefore, it’s necessary to deal with them.

The mood turns serious with Gary Habermas’ The Silence of God. He addresses the “personal perception of excruciating silence and even desertion by the Lord” (68). He answers several key questions: Is God still active in the world today? What about the promises God made in the Bible? Do they still hold? Do the New Testament events suggest that God behaved differently than he does with believers now? Does the suffering of Jesus shed light on these subjects? This chapter is particularly encouraging for those personally going through a dark night of the soul.

Next up is Robert B. Stewart’s look at the insufficiency of naturalism. He critiques the worldview using five criteria – coherence, correlation, comprehensiveness, consistency and commitment. He defines each and shows how naturalism fails in all of these areas. For example, naturalism lacks coherence in that naturalists generally work from the presupposition that scientific knowledge is superior to any other sort of knowledge. Yet that belief itself cannot be supported by science.

Part 3 bears the title The Historical Jesus and New Testament Reliability. It begins with Craig Keener’s essay on the reliability of the Gospels. He discusses them as ancient biography and answers the question of just how historical they are, noting that, “when we apply the standards of historiography to ancient biographies in general, the Gospels appear to be among the most rather than the least accurate” (103). The author looks specifically at Luke’s historical method, discussing the written and oral sources at his disposal. He also looks briefly at the other considerations including the use of Aramaic figures of speech in the Gospels.

F. Randolph Richards takes a look at Greco-Roman letter-writing in Will the Real Author Please Stand Up? He begins with the birth of modern western authorship and the assertion that writing was collaborative up until the 1600s. He outlines how ancient documents were written, noting that plagiarism was viewed differently in antiquity. Writers borrowed regularly without attributing their sources and used secretaries and coauthors without naming them. He also notes modern presuppositions that hinder an honest assessment of ancient letters and looks specifically at Bart Ehrman’s assertion that Peter did not write the first letter attributed to him. He then assesses ancient authorship claims and the various ways of detecting and preventing forgeries in antiquity.

In Fish Tales, Michael Licona looks at Bart Ehrman’s “red herrings and the resurrection of Jesus” (137). Licona responds to Ehrman’s four major objections to the historical reliability of the Gospels by looking at their authorship, their dating, the differences between them and the reasons for their inclusion in the canon. He addresses such issues as Ehrman’s insistence that all but eight books of the New Testament are forgeries. He concludes by addressing differences in the Gospels and comparing them with other historical accounts that were not identical, including three reports about the burning of Rome in AD 64.

Does the story of Jesus mimic pagan mystery stories? Mary Jo Sharp answers the question with a resounding no by looking at three mythological deities – Osiris, Horus and Mithras. She notes that a fundamental aspect of engaging any argument is an investigation into the credentials of the sources” (153) and the sources for the pagan tales are suspect. Comparisons of them and the Bible reveal that the similarities are few and superficial while the differences between them are many and significant. For example, when it comes to the resurrection, Osiris is not brought back to life but reigns as king of the dead while Mithras does not even die. There are two versions of Horus’ fate. In one, he does not die. In the other, he is stung by a scorpion and revived by the incantations of another god.

Mark W. Foreman challenges the credibility of the movie Zeitgeist in Chapter 11 of the book. Zeitgeist claims that Christianity is fiction based on teachings from earlier pagan myths. Foreman notes that, if the attempt to discredit Christianity using mythology is nothing but “parallelomania”, then Zeitgeist is “parallelomania on steroids” (172). He assess the copycat theory and lists the many fallacies that plague the movie including the terminology fallacy whereby events in the lives of the mythical gods are expressed using Christian terminology to subtly manipulate viewers into accepting that the events of Christ’s life also happened in those of the false deities (177). He concludes with a revealing and entertaining comparison of Abraham Lincoln’s life and death with that of John F. Kennedy to show how parallelomania can lead to ridiculous conclusions.

Part 4, entitled Ancient Israel and Other Religions, begins with Did Yahweh Have a Wife? Noting that “scholars of Israelite religion in the past generation have directed their research away from assumptions of a single authoritarian faith with a single deity” (191), Richard Hess examines the extrabiblical evidence for the religions of the southern Levant in the Iron Age and how they were distinct from that of the Israelites and Judeans. He includes a discussion of cult centers, iconography, epigraphy and onomastics, that is, the study of names and what they reveal about the popular faith of the Hebrews.
In Did God Command the Genocide of the Canaanites, Matthew Flannagan examines Nicholas Wolterstorff’s argument that the account of the extermination is mere hyperbole common to all records of war in the Ancient Near East. He notes that the book of Joshua tells us that the Israelites conquered the whole land and destroyed everything that breathed. Yet, in Judges, we learn that several cities supposedly destroyed were left standing and the people were merely driven out. Why the difference? Flannagan argues that “Judges should be taken literally whereas Joshua is hagiographic history, a highly stylized, exaggerated account of the events designed to teach theological and moral points rather than to describe in detail what literally happened (234).

Paul Copan follows Flannagan’s essay with a look at slavery, noting that, in the Old Testament, it was a form of indentured servitude that actually preserved the dignity of the man in debt and ensured a stable economy in the land. He looks at several “difficult” texts including passages about the repercussions of beating slaves to death (Ex. 21:20-21) and foreign slaves (Lev. 25:42, 44-46). He also examines slavery in the New Testament, noting the subtle opposition to it presented in numerous passages. He ends with a discussion of Paul’s letter to Philemon in which the apostle pleads for Onesimus, suggesting that he might not have been a slave at all.

The final section of the book is entitled Christian Uniqueness and Other Religions. In it, Michael H. Edens discusses Islamic teachings about the Qur’an. He notes that, for Muslims, the book has unquestioned spiritual authority for three reasons: It is supposedly total "God-speak” with no human input; it is claimed to continue and complete all previous religious books including the Bible; it is regarded as God’s complete and final revelation. Edens explores the validity of these claims and concludes his essay with a discussion of whether the Muslim Allah is the God of the Bible.
Barbara B. Pemberton looks at the influence of Hinduism on the Western world. She cites two polls that reveal a surprising number of American evangelicals believe there are many paths to God and that reincarnation is a reality. In her essay, the author looks at the religious roots of karma, the complexity of the karma theory and its numerous problems. She concludes with an explanation of why it is incompatible with the Christian worldview.

This book is rich in information from a variety of fields. There is something in it to suit everybody’s taste and the essays are all intelligent and engaging. Therefore, Come Let Us Reason is highly recommended.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist currently working on a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, Ontario. She holds three other degrees, including one in history, and writes poetry and fiction as well as non-fiction.


Marianne Foscarini said...

I found this article a bit more difficult to get through than usual. I always look forward to Mary Lou's review as she has keen insight and observations. One thing I would have liked to know would have been the 3 tools used to discern the real issues of people's problems -- as an example. But I did find myself identifying with the statement that as a woman my beliefs are indeed influenced by my experiences and emotions. Fortunately, my foundation rests on the Word of God. I very much appreciate Mary Lou's apologetic reviews because she is a woman. I wish there were visible links to all her reviews on this page!

MaryLou said...

Thanks for the comments, Marianne. I appreciate them.

This book was a challenge to review because each chapter was so different. I tried to give a synopsis and a highlight from each just to give everybody a taste of the contents. I could have easily written a lengthy review of each chapter alone. That's how good they are!

Re: the three tools, I purposely didn't give them for two reasons. One, the review was long as it was and I couldn't put everything in. Two, I hope that people are curious enough to purchase the book as it is well worth the money.

Again, thanks for reading and for commenting!

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