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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It
James K. Beilby
(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011) 214 pages
Reviewed by Charles Self, Associate Professor of Church History

Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, MO


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“This is not a typical apologetics book. Those who are looking for responses to objections to Christianity or arguments for Christianity should look elsewhere” (p. 9). With this auspicious opening, Beilby begins a primer on the nature of apologetics that will become a must read for introductory courses and thoughtful spiritual leaders.

Beilby’s aims are direct, modest, and substantial. He takes his readers on a journey toward understanding the nature, history, philosophical approaches, and common objections to the apologetic task. He comes to this project as an experienced apologist and editor of several works examining Christian schools of thought on important subjects. He is committed to Christian truth and to forging dialogue among believers concerning the atonement, justification, foreknowledge, and the historical evidence for Jesus.

With today’s attacks on Christianity from the “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, along with the skeptical direction of the philosophical and scientific community, the need for careful thinking by Christians is paramount. Christian intellectuals face unique challenges due to the anti-apologetic and anti-intellectual currents within the church. The author emphasizes the authority of the gospel message, the centrality of Scripture, and dependence on the Holy Spirit for winning people to Christ.

“Christian apologetics seeks to defend what orthodox Christians have claimed about God throughout history” (p. 18). This statement encapsulates an outstanding opening chapter that offers a summary of core Christian beliefs and the apologist’s task of commending and defending the truthfulness of the Christian faith. The author also focuses on the importance of context for particular apologetic approaches. Christians must know their audience well and recognize that barriers to faith are emotional, relational, spiritual, and social as well as intellectual.

Chapters 2 and 3 survey the history of apologetics. From the second to the twenty-first century, believers have used a variety of approaches to defend the faith and explain the gospel. Chapter 4 evaluates the philosophical/ strategic spectrum of approaches to apologetics, from full empirical-rational approaches that focus on evidence to extreme fideism that rejects the validity of evidence in favor of proclaiming the cohesion and veracity of the faith. Great Christian thought-leaders such as Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, C. S. Lewis, Blaise Pascal, and Cornelius Van Til are presented so the reader can decide what arguments to incorporate into his or her apologetic.

Chapters 5 and 6 may be the best part of the book as the author confronts objections to apologetics from outside and inside the Church. The author presents philosophical objections to both the Christian faith and the task of apologetics. The important differences between global/total and local/partial forms of relativism and skepticism are well documented. Most objectors to faith are selective in their rejection of absolute knowledge or truth! Beilby’s separation of postmodernism and skepticism is important for leaders who unreflectively lump them together. Postmodernism is skeptical of the certainty of modernity’s knowledge, but this is not the same thing as radical skepticism or relativism.

Chapter 6 helps Christian thinkers navigate the anti-apologetic currents within the Church. Opposing the crass rejection of intellectual reasoning (a complete misreading of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1-2), the author artfully defends the noble task of presenting truth cohesively. He uses Jesus’ own brilliance and the sermons of the Apostles in Acts as models intellectual excellence and Spirit-led mission.

Chapter 7 challenges all believers to do their task well. Beilby opines, “Too often, Christians have been condescending, arrogant and dismissive in their apologetic encounters” (p. 158). Proper dispositions are critical. The apologist must understand the breadth and depth of Christian commitment. Christianity is more than a worldview—it is “a system of beliefs that entails actions, values and commitments” (p. 159). When believers contend for Christian claims, their aim is “to create a map of beliefs that adequately describes God’s nature, desires, actions and expectations of human beings” (p. 162). This apologetic cartography liberates the apologist from the extremes of “absolute” proof (one will never satisfy some demands for evidence) and total subjectivity. Christians must give sound arguments, positive evidences, and cohesive reasons for their personal commitment to Christ, all the while acknowledging the limits of understanding.

As believers share with non-believers the reason for their hope, “we must see ourselves as a part of a process—a process in which the most important player is not us, but the Holy Spirit” (p. 182). The unity of head, hands, and heart and the balance between Word and Spirit throughout this work make it a great choice for Spirit-filled servants of Christ. As the Lord moves on hearts, we have the joy of being spiritual midwives as new birth occurs, but it is the sovereign Spirit of the Lord doing the work of transformation. Many people reject the faith because they are rebels—sinners who do not want to submit to the Lordship of Christ. If we are presenting the case with humility and integrity from a community serving with love, then we can trust the Lord of the harvest to do His work.

This work belongs on the shelf of every missional Christian leader and thinker concerned with discipleship and evangelis

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 10:12 AM