Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources

If you’re searching for a reference book that provides a look at apologetics from a wide variety of perspectives by some of the best apologists in the field, past and present, then Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources is for you. Editors Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister have assembled an impressive collection of essays in this 11-part, 553-page tome.

Part I, entitled History, Methodology, and Engagement, kicks off with the apostle Paul addressing the Greek philosophers at the Areopagus as recorded in Acts 17. This is followed by John Warwick Montgomery’s brief history of apologetics, James Beilby’s discussion of different approaches to apologetics, and Harold Netland’s essay on interreligious apologetics.

Given the current postmodern view of history, the next chapter, by Norman Geisler, is most pertinent as he tackles the “knowability” of history. He explores the objections to the objectivity of history and concludes that one need not know everything in order to know something (53). The first section ends with advice to Christian philosophers from Alvin Plantinga who encourages them to tackle philosophy from a Christian perspective, not a secular one.

Part 2, entitled The Existence of God, presents 14 essays covering the cosmological, teleological, ontological, transcendental, and moral arguments as well as Pascal’s Wager and the role of religious experience. The latter topic is particularly interesting, given that subjective experience is so often questionable in some people’s minds. The two essays, from Teresa of Avila and William Alston, offer valid arguments for their reliability with Alston making a case that our experiences with God are analogous to our sense perceptions of the world around us and, therefore, legitimate.

Other essayists in this section include Thomas Aquinas (his renowned “Five Ways”), William Lane Craig (the Kalam Cosmological Argument), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (the argument from sufficient reason), William Paley (his classic argument from the watch design), Michael Behe (on irreducible complexities), Robin Collins (on the fine-tuning of the universe), Anselm and Alvin Plantinga (both offering ontological arguments), Greg Bahnsen (in a debate with secular humanist Gordon Stein), C. S. Lewis (a brief, but pithy look at morality), and Paul Copan (arguing that objective moral values are inescapable).

Part 3 tackles one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith – the Trinity. It includes essays by early theologians Origen and Aquinas as well as the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds. Richard St. Victor argues for the existence of the Trinity on the basis of God’s love, noting that God could only be love if he existed in a perfect loving relationship before his creation of the world. Contemporary theologian/philosopher Thomas V. Morris concludes the section with an intellectually challenging discussion of “the lonely God”.

Part 4 offers three essays on the Incarnation. The first is Athanasius’ elaborate explanation of it which the editors say they included because it is worthy of study but is, unfortunately, often ignored by contemporary scholars. They also present Anselm’s classic work and conclude with another essay by Thomas Morris. Morris argues for the reality of Jesus being fully God and fully man simultaneously with a discussion of the differences between individual essences and kind essences. He then tackles the two main views of the incarnation – kenotic Christology in which Christ freely chose to abandon his divinity while on earth and the "two-minds" view that maintains Jesus retained his divine character.

Part 5 presents four essays on the Bible. To defend Christianity is to defend God's Word. Augustine does so by offering a standard for affirming the canon, namely, that they are received by all orthodox churches. Then John Calvin makes a case for the credibility of the Bible. Contemporary Bible scholar R. T. France discusses the importance of its reliability specifically with regard to the person of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, Eugene Carpenter takes a look at archaeology and the Old Testament. He includes an 11-page chart of discoveries and their relationship to the Bible, noting that "the huge cache of (Ancient Near East) materials . . . makes the reliability of the Old Testament arguably firm and trustworthy" (p. 296).

Part 6, entitled Miracles, tackles one of the most difficult areas to defend. It begins with John Locke and his famous definition of miracles as "a sensible operation which, being above the comprehension of the spectator, and in his opinion contrary to the established course of nature, is taken by him to be divine." (p. 313).

Norman Geisler's essay on miracles in light of modern science examines the arguments made against them by anti-supernaturalists such as Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Flew and contemporary philosopher Alastair McKinnon. He then discusses the nature of science and argues that, if scientific knowledge depends on constant repetition of events, and miracles are not constantly repeated, then there is no scientific way to understand miracles. This, of course, does not mean that they cannot occur, only that accepted scientific methodology is useless in assessing them.

Lastly, Richard Swinburne makes his case for miracles, noting that, since God is a personal God interested and involved in our lives, it only makes sense that he intervenes in the natural order of things.
Most appropriately, the section on miracles is followed by discussions of the most significant miracle of all – the resurrection of Jesus – in Part 7. The first selection is by Thomas Aquinas. He answers three questions – whether it was necessary for Christ to rise again, whether it was fitting for him to rise on the third day and whether Christ was the first to rise from the dead. He presents the objections and then responds to them in a clear and methodical manner.

John Warwick Montgomery remarks that Christianity differs from all other world religions on the issue of testability (339). He looks at the transmissional, internal and external reliability of the New Testament and the evidence regarding Christ's resurrection from a legal perspective.
Gary Habermas' article examines the disciples' experiences of the risen Jesus and how we can account for them. The section ends with William Lane Craig's discussion of the physical resurrection of the Christ versus a mere spiritual resurrection.

Part 8 is entitled Body, Soul, and the Argument from the Mind and begins with Aquinas’ assertion that the human being is a unity of body and soul (differing from the Platonic view that they are separate entities), but that the soul does not die when the physical form does. This is followed by Descartes and his famous “I think, therefore I am” essay. J. P. Moreland finishes this section, arguing that the fact we have rational minds provides evidence for God’s existence. He outlines the dualistic nature of the human being and discusses why physicalism is false.

The problem of evil is the topic of part 9. It includes Augustine’s well-known discussion of evil and free will. Alvin Plantinga also tackles the issue of free will and examines the oft-made assertion that, if God is truly omniscient, omnipotent and wholly good, he could not allow evil. John Hick picks up on that assertion and elaborates on it in a following essay. The section ends with Peter Kreeft’s Evil, Suffering and Calvary. Kreeft is at his best in this passionate, eloquent explanation that the answer to evil isn’t simply an intellectual argument, but a person, namely Jesus Christ.

Part 10 addresses Christianity’s relationship with science. John Polkinghorne discusses theism and materialism, explaining how the latter’s insistence that the physical world is all there is inadequate. Del Ratzsch sets up a Star Trek scenario to introduce his essay on design, asserting that “it is in principle possible for defensible design cases to be made, and such cases need not violate any fundamental requirements or conditions of science” (485). Kurt P. Wise concludes this section by arguing that intelligent design offers a better explanation of the scientific evidence at hand than macroevolution.

Part 11 brings the anthology to a close with a look at Christianity and the world. Many who attack Christianity insist that it has been a source of evil. This last section offers evidence that it has, in fact, been a blessing. It begins with the thought-provoking Epistle to Diognetus in which the author praises Christians as people who are set apart from the rest of the world by their kindness, decency, goodness and honourable manner of living. It makes the reader wonder if our non-Christian neighbours could say the same about us today.

Then the editors offer a portion of Augustine’s marvelous City of God and his plea for us to follow the heavenly way, not the way of the world. Francis Schaeffer fans will be pleased to see an essay from him on the topic of humanism which makes man, not God, “the measure of all things” (519). The book comes to an end with Pope Benedict XVI bemoaning the fact that Christianity has become privatized. He offers an entreaty for us to bring it out of the closet and put it back in the public arena where it can have a more positive impact on this sin-ridden world.

At the end of each section, Sweis and Meister ask a series of questions that focus on the high points of the essays which could be used for individual study or group discussions. The editors also provide annotated bibliographies for those who wish to explore the topics further.

Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources offers a cornucopia of valuable material for the apologist and, therefore, 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.


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