Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.
Reviewed by Tawa J. Anderson, Philosophy, Oklahoma Baptist University
The discipline of contemporary Christian apologetics is rapidly gaining prominence. Earlier works by Cornelius Van Til, E. J. Carnell, John Warwick Montgomery, and Francis Schaeffer strongly influenced a new generation of Christian philosophers and apologetics.1 Lee Strobel’s popular lay-oriented apologetic works both sparked and marked a rise in apologetic interest in North American Christianity.3 For example, some of the higher education institutions that provide a broader offering of apologetics courses now than they did a decade ago include Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Houston Baptist, Louisiana College, Regent College (Vancouver, BC), Taylor Seminary (Edmonton, AB), ACTS (Langley, BC), Providence College (Winnipeg, MB), Tyndale University College & Seminary (Toronto, ON), California Baptist University, Westminster Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty University, Midwestern University, and Biola University.[/efn_note] Over the past decade, Christian high schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries have responded by offering a larger number of courses in philosophical and biblical apologetics.5 philosophy,6 history,7 biblical studies,8 and worldview.9 The past two years in particular have seen a flood of new academic works in apologetics on the market.10 Simply put, Christian apologetics, as an interdisciplinary approach to explaining and defending the Christian faith, has matured and achieved a measure of influence in the broader academic and ecclesiastic community.
In this academic and cultural milieu, Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary since 1993, contributes Christian Apologetics as his magnum opus. While Groothuis’ work has plenty of company on the market, there are two features that set his volume apart from other offerings. First, Christian Apologetics is a truly comprehensive defense of the rationality and intelligibility of Christian theism in a pluralistic world. Other valuable apologetic works respond to objections or attacks from “new atheists,” elucidate specific reasons to believe, or defend certain key aspects of Christian theism. Groothuis deals with the full range of topics related to Christian apologetics. The result is a massive (676-page) volume which successfully addresses nearly every topic conceivable.
Second, Groothuis’ work is intentionally and admirably interdisciplinary. Groothuis’ training and credentials are in philosophy, and the primary strengths of the book reflect his expertise. Nonetheless, Groothuis incorporates insights from historiography, cosmology, bib-lical studies, biology, sociology of religion, contemporary physics, and psychology. Groothuis has read both deeply and broadly across disciplines and across theological perspectives. Groothuis’ approach stems from the classical or cumulative case school of apologetics. His work is divided into three sections: Apologetic Preliminaries (eight chapters), The Case for Christian Theism (fourteen chapters), and Objections to Christian Theism (four chapters).
The first section highlights the author’s rich experience and philosophical expertise. After a brief introductory chapter, Groothuis defines “apologetics” and provides a biblical mandate for the apologetic enterprise. Groothuis insists that “A Christian-qua-apologist … must be a good philosopher,” given that philosophy relates to the “investigation of significant truth claims through rational analysis” (27) and apologetics seeks to defend historic Christian theological beliefs. It is a helpful reminder that while not every Christian philosopher need be an apologist, every Christian apologist needs to be at least a competent philosopher.
In chapter 3, the author discusses worldview analysis and apologetic methodology. He emphasizes the role of logical analysis in considering worldviews, and provides additional criteria for evaluating competing truth-claims. Through the rest of the volume, Groothuis applies the eight criteria from chapter 3 to the Christian worldview and various alternative worldviews (for example, naturalism, deism, Islam, pantheism). Chapters 4 and 5 lay out, respectively, the broad contours of a Christian worldview (emphasizing the traditional worldview narrative of creation-fall-redemption), and various caricatures (distortions) of the Christian worldview that exist primarily in the minds of skeptics and opponents.
Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the essential postmodern question of truth – is there truth out there to be discovered, or is truth something we construct through our language games? Groothuis robustly defends the traditional correspondence theory of truth, insisting that it is the only meaningful understanding of truth and is subsequently able to bear the epistemic weight of the Christian faith. More innovative is his interaction with postmodern “apatheism” (apathetic atheism), tolerance, diversity, diversion, and humility. He reminds the reader that truth is integrally connected with virtue, particularly the virtues of courage and studiousness. These chapters serve a crucial function in his overall project, establishing the existence of an objective historical truth, and the nature of Christianity’s objective truth-claims.
The author concludes the first section with an engaging presentation of Pascal’s Wager. Groothuis concludes that “[t]he case for Christianity stands or falls on the arguments presented on its behalf and the arguments presented against pertinent worldview rivals. But these arguments will have no effect unless people seriously investigate them” (167). Hence, a Pascalian appeal to prudential concerns is an entirely appropriate means by which to prompt a dialogical partner toward religious interest or investigation. After such investigation begins, Christian theism will be adjudicated on its rational and evidential merits, rather than its prudential benefits.
Part Two of Christian Apologetics (“The Case for Christian Theism”) is by far the meatiest section of the book. Indeed, it could be divided profitably into (at least) two sections, reflecting the traditional two steps in classical apologetics.11 Chapter 9 provides a brief apologetic for philosophical and evidential theistic arguments (or proofs). Chapters 10 through 12 contain the ontological, cosmological, and design arguments for the existence of God. Chapters 13 and 14 serve as a slight detour, weighing Darwinian evolution, intelligent design, and the relationship between science and Christian theism. Groothuis then returns to traditional theistic arguments, outlining the moral argument (chapter 15), the argument from religious experience (chapter 16), the argument from human nature (chapter 17), and Pascal’s anthropological argument (chapter 18). The author’s familiarity with and appre-ciation for the seventeenth-century French mathematician and philosopher shines through and makes the latter two chapters a true pleasure to read. Groothuis insists that Pascal’s abductive argument is fundamentally sound – the “surprising fact” of the contradictory nature of humanity (at once great and wretched) is rendered entirely comprehensible given the dual theological doctrines of divine creation and human fallenness (434-435).
With the exception of the chapter on Pascal’s anthropological argument, there is nothing terribly original in Groothuis’ presentation of traditional theistic arguments. Other apologists deal more comprehensively or completely with specific arguments – see William Lane Craig’s excellent treatment of cosmological arguments, or Clifford Williams’ treatment of the argument from religious experience, for example. What is novel in Groothuis’ approach, however, is his comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach. One could perhaps fault him for leaving out the argument for God from beauty, but otherwise he leaves few stones unturned, few arguments untouched.
Throughout these ten chapters on theistic arguments, Groothuis methodically builds a cumulative case for theism. He weighs each traditional “proof,” and finds them individually persuasive. Considered together, their rational weight is considerably more compelling. In each case, the argument itself does not point directly towards Christian theism. For example, the combination of the cosmological and moral arguments implies the existence of a personal, moral, and transcendent creator. While that rules out naturalism and pantheism, Islam and Judaism are potentially compatible with the results of these arguments. Groothuis continues, however, by outlining Pascal’s anthropological argument, which fits Christian theism far more neatly than either Islam or Judaism. The cumulative effect of the traditional arguments is powerful confirmation of the Christian worldview.
But Groothuis’ case does not rest there. In the second section of Part Two, he outlines the historical evidence for Christian theism specifically. Groothuis begins with a presentation (actually written by Craig Blomberg, a colleague at Denver Seminary) of what can be known with a fair degree of confidence about the historical Jesus. Chapters 20 and 21 provide an outline of Jesus’ unique claims, credentials, and achievements, as well as a philosophical defense of the doctrine of incarnation. The section is rounded out by a robust defense of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Again, the material is not particularly innovative, but Groothuis is both coherent and comprehensive in his treatment of the subjects. While the traditional theistic arguments can at best demonstrate the rationality of theism generally, and point towards Christian theism, the historical evidences in this section specifically support the truth-claims of Christianity. Putting the two sections together, then, Groothuis presents a powerful, positive case that the Christian worldview is objectively and universally true.
Part Three of Christian Apologetics (“Objections to Christian Theism”) is surprisingly brief. Turning from positive apologetics (laying out persuasive reasons to believe that Christianity is true) to negative or defensive apologetics (responding to objections against the faith and thereby providing reasons not to disbelieve), the author provides adequate treatments of religious pluralism (including the fate of the unevangelized), Islam, and the problem of evil. It seems somehow untoward to encourage Groothuis to expand an already-massive tome further; nonetheless, there are significant objections that would have been worthwhile to address – most notably, the claims that religion in general (and Christianity in particular) breeds intolerance and violence, and that the God of the Old Testament is morally reprehensible and thus unworthy of adoration and worship.
One of the strengths of Christian Apologetics is, again, its comprehensive treatment of defending the Christian faith. That strength becomes one of the weaknesses of the volume as well. On nearly every issue presented, Groothuis is not able to go into significant depth. For example, in his chapter on Jesus’ resurrection, the author discusses (as he must) the credibility of miracle-claims. He spends only five pages refuting Hume’s eighteenth-century argument against miracles, but neither identifies nor responds to more contemporary phi-losophers (such as Bertrand Russell, Antony Flew, Daniel Dennett) who similarly discount the possibility of the miraculous. Such occasions highlight the difficult choices an apologist must make when writing his or her definitive work: shall I deal with a few issues in consid-erable depth, and thereby limit the number of topics that I can realistically address, or shall I seek to be comprehensive in treating as many subjects as possible, and thereby limit the depth in which I can address them? Groothuis has chosen the latter path. In doing so, he has introduced an inevitable weakness – failure to consider all aspects of the issues he raises.
The flaw, however, is not fatal. He provides copious recommendations for further research and study of each topic, with a lengthy (fifty-two-page) bibliography neatly divided by chapter, allowing the reader to identify works on issues of particular interest efficiently. Moreover, he has chosen the path currently less traveled. There are numerous apologetic works that deal either briefly or lengthily with the topics Groothuis addresses. There is not, however, a comparable work on the market which contains the comprehensive reach and grasp of Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics.
That makes this work an ideal choice for college or seminary courses in Christian Apologetics. Groothuis has supplanted my long-favored standard text (William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith) simply because his work deals competently with a fuller range of apologetic topics. There are issues where I believe other apologists deal with the material more fully than does Groothuis (see, for example, Craig’s work on the cosmological argument, as well as his chapters on historiography and miracles); but no one work, so far as I am aware, contains this breadth of topics under one literary roof. Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics is a worthy magnum opus, a truly Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith that will amply serve a generation of budding apologists.
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- See, for example, Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1976); Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1972); ibid., The God Who Is There (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1968).
- Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998); ibid., The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000); ibid., The Case for a Creator(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004); ibid., The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). 2For example, some of the higher education institutions that provide a broader offering of apologetics courses now than they did a decade ago include Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Houston Baptist, Louisiana College, Regent College (Vancouver, BC), Taylor Seminary (Edmonton, AB), ACTS (Langley, BC), Providence College (Winnipeg, MB), Tyndale University College & Seminary (Toronto, ON), California Baptist University, Westminster Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty University, Midwestern University, and Biola University.
- Accordingly, Christian scholars have produced more intentionally apologetic treatises in science,4See, for example, John Jefferson Davis, The Frontiers of Science & Faith: Examining Questions from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002); Patrick Glynn, God—The Evi-dence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World (Roseville, CA: Prima, 1997); Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001); Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006); Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski, and Stephen C. Meyer, Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe: The Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000); William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life: Dis-covering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (Dallas: The Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2008).
- See, for example, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Nashville: Crossway, 2008); J. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul(Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997); ibid., Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987); Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1988); R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, eds., In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997); Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed.(New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
- See, for example, Colin Brown, Miracles and the Critical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984); Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus The Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999); Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009); Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997); C. Stephen Evans, The Historical Christ & The Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
- See, for example, Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2007); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewit-ness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006); Darrell L. Bock and Robert L. Webb, eds., Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009); Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007); N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress)—Volume One: The New Testament and the People of God (1992), Volume Two: Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), Volume Three: The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003).
- See, for example, Steven B. Cowan, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000); James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2009); Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007); Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Nashville: Crossway, 2004); William Lane Craig and Chad Meister, eds., God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009); William A. Dembski and Jay Wesley Richards, eds., Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the Challenges of Theological Studies (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001); Avery Cardinal Dulles, A History of Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999); Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008); Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologet-ics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994); Louis Markos, Apologetics for the 21st Century (Nashville: Crossway, 2010); Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992); K. Scott Oliphint, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (Phil-lipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2006); Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland, eds., To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004); Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr., Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, 2nd ed. (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005).
- See, for example, James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2011); H. Wayne House and Dennis W. Jowers, Reasons for Our Hope: An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2011); Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011); Mark Coppenger, Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians: Pushing Back Against Cultural and Religious Crit-ics (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2011); Clifford Williams, Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires & Emotions for Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2011); Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2010); Paul Chamberlain, Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011).
- If Groothuis had chosen to divide the section in that fashion, chapters 9-18 would have been “The Case for Theism Generically,” while chapters 19-22 would have become “The Case for Christian Theism Par-ticularly.” The classical two-step apologetic first argues for the rationality and intelligibility of a theistic universe, and only then proceeds to argue for the truth of Christian theism specifically. Groothuis has constructed his argument in precisely this fashion, so it is conceivable that he could have divided Part Two in such a manner.