Want to Defend the Faith? Read this

Some people specialize in apologetics (like Lee Strobel); some apologists love to debate (like William Lane Craig); others approach the issues from subtle angles (like John Polkinghorne). Some are convinced by apologetics and become believers, while the standard observation is that Christians read the apologists and to to hear them and that apologetics then becomes in-house confidence-building. There seems to be a rise of interest today in apologetics and I’d like to commend one scholar, Alister McGrath, who has been at the apologetics task for decades.

What is your favorite apologetics book? What book do you think is the most convincing in our world today?

His newest book, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (Baker Academic), is more or less taking a class on apologetics from McGrath. And the book’s chps are a sketch of major topics, except this book doesn’t read like a textbook and it is tailored more for a new generation (ahem, postmodernity, but it is not kitschy or clever about postmodernity). I highly recommend it for college classes and for adult groups. Apologetics is not for everyone, but those who are so inclined — this is a great place to start.

Any form of apologetics, other than a strict embodiment theory (apologetics is not argument but seen in the Christian community), will have to engage in how the rhetoric will work best, and McGrath sketches it this way: address the specific audience, identify the authorities that carry weight with that audience [I wish more did this], use lines of argument that carry weight with that audience. If you are arguing with a Dawkins type, don’t quote Michael Behe; quote Polkinghorne or some well-known scientist that audience will respond to and not one they will react against.

McGrath thinks the Christian faith is reasonable in two ways: we can provide arguments and evidence for the faith, but also that the Christian faith makes more sense of reality (I see this in Polkinghorne quite often). But I suspect that the chp that will become grist for a larger volume, or which will be the place where many classes camp, is chp 6’s “Pointers to Faith: Approaches to Apologetic Engagement.” I will now list his eight clues to faith:

1. Creation: origins of the universe
2. Fine-tuning: a universe designed for life? [Anthropic principle]
3. Order: the structure of the physical world
4. Morality: a longing for justice
5. Desire: a homing instinct for God
6. Beauty: the splendor of the natural world
7. Relationality: God as a person
8. Eternity: the intuition of hope

[I would add a ninth, and I think it might be the most provocative and suggestive “clue” to the Christian faith: Jesus. I find that plenty of non-Christians are interested in the subject of Jesus but are not all that interested in any of the above topics. I also find that Jesus points folks to God and to the Christian faith. To be sure, you can pack a hall if a debate between an atheist and an apologist is announced, but I’d be willing to say that the most effective apologist in the (post)modern world today is Tom Wright.]

Back now to how the rhetoric can be assembled, and McGrath sees four gateways: we can use explanation, argument, stories, and images.

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