Book Review: Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It

by Graham Veale

Thinking About Christian ApologeticsThinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It is a cogent and compelling book because it argues that apologetics is not an academic exercise. To be sure, an apologist can learn much from academia, and from having her ideas tested in the scholarly community. However, James K. Beilby realises that apologetics is, at the root, simply “commending and defending” the faith and he reminds us that this is an unavoidable part of Christian living. While Beilby takes us through the familiar territory of presuppositionalism and evidentialism, his argument remains fresh and persuasive.

Just as theology flows naturally from worship and confession, apologetics is the natural outcome of evangelism. At some point the Christian moves from proclaiming the Gospel to persuading the unbeliever; once this move takes place, the Christian has moved from evangelism to apologetics. In any case, the unbeliever will soon ask “why should I take anything you say seriously?” The Christian will have to state some reason for the hope that is within him; so his answer had better be good. Once we realise that apologetics is a natural part of the Christian life, the objections of the anti-apologist melt away.

Beilby gives sound advice in the course of the book. We might convince a person that the Christian faith is true, that she could commit her life to Jesus, and that this is the most important decision that she will ever make. However, saving faith only occurs when a person acts, committing herself to Christ. Even when someone is fully aware of the rational course of action, selfishness and pride can motivate a profoundly irrational decision. The reach of reason is surprisingly limited. Yet, if a person cannot be argued into faith, they cannot be “preached” or “witnessed” into the Kingdom either. Apologetics is no less advantaged than any other aspect of evangelism.

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It is true that without the work of the Holy Spirit saving faith is impossible; but we must acknowledge that the Holy Spirit reasons with unbelief through Scripture. For example Paul opens his chief theological statement, the book of Romans, with a critique of idolatry and polytheism. The creator’s eternal power is revealed through the natural world; the author of this creation must be far greater than anything in the created realm. Therefore idolatry is irrational. If Paul’s example is normative, when we proclaim the Gospel we are obliged to argue for it also…

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