Apologetics has changed. What has changed is the substance of what matters. Apologists used to focus on the evidence — think here of the wildly popular book of Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict — or on the logic of Christianity — and here one can mention C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, or the more forceful apologetics of Edward J. Carnell or Cornelius van Til. This sort of apologetics remains viable and useful for some.
But for some an argument for the resurrection doesn’t do it or historical arguments about the Bible’s pages can’t get to the issue, while others think Lewis’ moral argument can be explained better in other ways. Perhaps it is wise to remember that apologetics tell us about the Age in which we live as much as they provide a coherent reason for the faith.
New age, new topics. In some ways the old apologetics are found in Jeffrey Burton Russell’s new book, Exposing Myths about Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends, but in other ways Russell is offering one of the most interesting and (I predict) useful apologetics books I’ve seen in a long while. His topics, so I would argue, are closer to our Age and deal with issues I heard in classrooms and my office for seventeen years.
What are the big apologetic issues you hear about today? Which ones are page-turners, head-turners, or “solve this one for me”?
Russell is famous for his medieval histories, and also for his multi-volume study of Satan/the devil. He was a professor at UC Santa Barbara, and it would not be unfair to put him in the circle of some of America’s best-known historians. As a historian, he plies his trade to commonly heard accusations against Christianity by exposing them to the evidence. His topics, though, are not the norm and that is why I think this book belongs on the shelf of pastors and in church libraries, and I can’t imagine a youth pastor or college pastor/chaplain who wouldn’t find immediate value in this book.
The book is a short study of 145 different topics! That means it cannot be a complete answers, and it also means I can’t summarize it all or much of it, but it has collected the problems into a few major categories:
1. Christianity is dying out (1-9)
2. Christianity is destructive (10-43)
3. Christianity is stupid (44-62)
4. Jesus and the Bible have been shown to be false (63-83)
5. Christian beliefs have been shown to be wrong (84-121)
6. Miracles are impossible (122-125)
7. Worldviews can’t be evaluated (126-134)
8. What’s new is true (135-145)
Each topic is treated briefly; his approach is sane and reasonable and cautious and not predictable. He doesn’t have to answer to a church board or a creed, though what I have seen in this book is reasonably orthodox on the major issues. His responses are to the point, brief, and he moves on. (145 topics make one do that.)
As a sample: the first section deals with Christianity being uncool and old-fashioned (but it is true, he asks); it is outdated and dying out (neither is demonstrable); it is boring (he says it isn’t boring); a fairy tale (it is open for evaluation, so to the evidence we must go); confusing (properly understood, it is not confusing); a superstition (it is coherent); a myth (too complex and historical for that term); magic (it seeks not to control so much as to be in harmony with nature); antiscientific (issue is two metaphysical worldviews). I am being brief on someone who is being brief, and so these are not even adequate summaries … but you can get what he’s doing in this book by seeing these responses).