Book Review: Thinking About Christian Apologetics

by Leslie Keeney

Thinking About Christian ApologeticsThe most boring books reviews are the ones which have nothing bad to say. No criticisms. No clever put-downs. Unfortunately for my readers, this is one of those reviews. So I tried to come up with a gimmick that would make the review more interesting. Unfortunately, I crashed on that too. So if you want, just skip the review and go buy the book.

But if you’re going to read the review anyway, here’s the skinny:

Thinking About Christian Apologetics by James K. Beilby is a book about why apologetics is necessary and how to do it well. Rather than write another book explaining the difference between the ontological, teleological, and moral arguments for God, or listing every piece of evidence for the historical resurrection, Beilby has taken a step backward to take an in-depth look at the philosophical and theological basis for apologetics itself, why it often doesn’t work, and how we might re-work some of our cherished assumptions to make it more effective.

The author begins with an in-depth analysis of exactly what apologetics is, breaking it down into what he calls “responsive” and “proactive” strategies. Responsive (or what has traditionally been called “defensive” apologetics) is the process of demonstrating that arguments against Christianity are ineffective. “Proactive” apologetics (or what has traditionally been called “offensive” apologetics) attempts to demonstrate that Christianity is more reasonable (or at least as reasonable) than unbelief.

Personally, I love the fact that Beilby has thrown out “offensive” and “defensive” and the associated images of steam-snorting football players and ruthless public defenders. I hope these terms catch on and we can all move beyond the image of apologetics as a public debate between well-groomed men in suites trying to bring their opponents to their knees with the power of their superior intellects.

Beilby also goes to great lengths to define the content of the apologists’ message, emphasizing that the task of the apologist is not to defend everything that a particular denomination believes, but only the foundational commitments of historical Christianity. “Apologetics deals with core Christian issues,” he writes, “the essentials of the faith. In other words, what apologetics defends are the notions that if removed from a system of beliefs would eliminate the sense in which that system could be called Christian.”

In an age when certain groups are bundling secondary issues with the essential core of the gospel (and we all know who they are), it’s comforting to hear someone commit to the idea that the main thing is still the main thing—especially when it comes to talking to non-Christians about Jesus…

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