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Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith Paperback – January 1, 2012
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From the Back Cover
How to engage unbelievers with intelligence and imagination
Throughout history there have been great and articulate defenders of the faith. But with the new challenges of scientific atheism we see in our day, there is a need for a fresh and flexible approach to apologetics. Rather than supplying the fine detail of every apologetic issue in order to win arguments, Mere Apologetics teaches a method that appeals not only to the mind but also to the heart and the imagination.
After discussing the biblical basis for and historical uses of apologetics, McGrath offers various approaches to sharing your faith with others. He outlines pointers to faith, such as our innate sense of longing for justice, our appreciation for beauty, the order we see in the physical world, and much more. He also shows how there are many right ways to share your faith--through explanations, arguments, stories, and images--and helps you decide which works best for your personality and your audience.
"Apologetics is not to be seen as a defensive and hostile reaction against the world," says McGrath, "but as a welcome opportunity to exhibit, celebrate, and display the treasure chest of the Christian faith." If you long to commend your faith to those outside the church, Mere Apologetics will show you how to do so gracefully and effectively.
"This is a fresh, clear, and practical introduction to apologetics from someone who doesn't just talk about the subject but actually does it brilliantly. It is especially helpful because it avoids the fruitless wrangling between apologetic schools that stops many people from getting on with the task. "--Os Guinness, author of Long Journey Home
"Mere Apologetics helps readers work out their own way to effectively communicate and defend the gospel. An excellent text for courses in apologetics. A great read for both beginning and experienced apologists."--Jim Sire, author of The Universe Next Door
"Over the years I have found Alister McGrath to be an insightful, wise guide on many topics. So I am pleased to recommend his book on apologetics. It is foundational, practical, and creative as well as faithful to Scripture. A fine resource indeed!"--Paul Copan, author of Is God a Moral Monster?
Alister E. McGrath is professor of theology, ministry, and education and head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King's College, London, and president of the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including the award-winning The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind. A former atheist, he is respectful yet critical of the New Atheist movement and regularly engages in debate and dialogue with its leaders.
About the Author
Alister E. McGrath (DPhil and DD, University of Oxford; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts) is professor of theology, ministry, and education, and head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King's College, London, and president for the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including the award-winning The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind. A former atheist, he is respectful yet critical of the new atheist movement and regularly engages in debate and dialogue with its leaders.
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The other reviewers have done an excellent job of covering the basics, so as not to belabor points that have already been made, a prospective reader of this book should know that McGrath accomplishes the following in this accessible guide:
1. Establishes a well-rounded definition of apologetics.
2. McGrath helpfully acknowledges that apologetics and evangelism differ. While apologetics helps Christianity appear reasonable, evangelism invites people to believe.
3. Notes that apologetics can help us make persuasive arguments, but it is the Holy Spirit that brings people to faith.
4. Elucidates the differences between modernity and postmodernity, and sheds further light on the import for apologetics.
5. Provides a theological motive for engaging in apologetics.
6. Gives sound pastoral wisdom concerning how to relate Christian truth within various contexts, using Acts as a locus of examples.
7. Engages with the discipline of science and the critiques of the "New Atheism" (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens) in a respectful manner.
8. Outlines various "points of contact" for conversation with skeptics and believers concerning the reasonableness of faith (morality, beauty, desire, hope, creation, etc.).
9. Provides different approaches to apologetics that extend beyond argument, such as explanation, stories, and images that capture the imagination, serving as "gateways" to faith.
10. Explains how these approaches might apply through case studies, and provides a framework for how to develop your own approach to the discipline.
I truly enjoyed this book. McGrath helped me to think more clearly and systematically about apologetics, and challenged me to think creatively concerning how I reason with others regarding Christian faith.
A good read, and worthwhile for those seeking to discover and grow in the area of persuading others to consider the hope of Christ with gentleness and respect.
Like McGrath's spectacular onslaught of rich, insightful and (many) true statements about the Christian worldview, this book reads more like a book written by Dallas Willard--it is not the number of pages that makes the book slow to read--it is the depth and richness packed in every paragraph.
This is not a book on apologetics, although some creative "existential apologetic arguments (called "threads") are certainly unpacked--and some may may complain that McGrath pays too much homage to the impact and utility of post-modernity, but McGrath does dissect the bad from the usable aspects of postmodernism. The focus here being on story-telling and the alleged equal footing of all metanarratives--so there is some room for argument--but this is not the place or time given the scope of the book. Moreover, it is not a book on meta-apologetics (I highly recommend Kenneth Boa's `Faith Has Its Reasons.' There is also a book by James Beilby, `Thinking About Christian Apologetics' which I have not have had the pleasure of reading but somewhat appears to be similar to McGrath's present book).
Rather, like the footnote above, MA is a book about the historic, existential, biblical, theological and philosophical reasons regarding the importance of apologetics taken in conjunction with other ministries such as evangelism, and using apologetics in this present clash of orthodoxies, or clash of worldviews.
[As a side note which you are welcome to ignore, for those uninitiated in these matters, apologetics, in general, can be misleading as the days of reading oversimplified books about Aquinas 5-ways or Cartesian arguments for the existence of the soul have long been updated, revised, and made into specialties, such as a branch of apologetics that deals with the logical existence of God's existence, handled by the Doctrine of God and philosophical theology. Such training and reading can propel one into issues such as God's eternal nature subsequent to creation (timeless or temporal), or God and the existence of abstract objects--very overwhelming issues for the initiated. Please do not respond to these two issues in your comment as this is only collaterally related to the book. Higher-level apologetics finds itself attached to in-depth natural theology, and the sheer number of a `meteoric shower of facts' that lay at the fingertips of our generation (the church and its institutions), and can leave one confused, apathetic, disconcerted, or diplomatic. Moreover, anything but the use of apologetics as a loom to thread together a tapestry of facts reveals a tapestry and pattern of the Cross)].
Getting back to the book, there is 9 chapters to MA are self-explanatory and laid out as follows: I will fill-in the major themes subsequent to the following:
1. Getting Started: What is Apologetics
2. Apologetics and Contemporary Culture: From Modernity to Postmodernity
3. The Theological Basis of Apologetics
4. The Importance of the Audience: Possibilities and Issues
5. The Reasonableness of the Christian Faith
6. Pointers to Faith: Approaches to Apologetic Engagement
7. Gateways for Apologetics
8. Questions about Faith: Developing Approaches
Because of the richness of the chapters, I will provide a chronological commentary and briefly review of each section primarily because of the depth. However, there may be a directionality that could be quickly gleaned over less anyone miss McGrath's major points. Again, the only problem for some readers may be the lack of a well-deserved critique of postmodernism. Any budding or practicing apologist for the past 10+ years, including readers and teachers that care about balanced and creative approaches in reaching our youth should embrace this book. What follows are merely the high points from each chapter.
Chapter 1 is a standard historical perspective of apologetics, why we engage in apologetics, the important fact that we are all biblically called to engage in apologetics. That is, you are an apologist but you may be real horrible in executing this biblical mandate because you have failed to exercise the spiritual discipline of study, and McGrath does well to emphasize that this is a battlefield, and apologetics is a discipleship of the mind--not mere memory of facts such as in a Trivial Pursuit game. McGrath displays wisdom in assuming an eclectic meta-apologetic. He is inspired and borrows from Schaeffer, CS Lewis, William Lane Craig, and Ravi Zacharias. McGrath provides "clues" as to how we ought to frame questions and he leans towards an existential approach in MA. Moreover, McGrath is quick to point out the contextual issue that every person is different, let alone every culture, so "we must learn the language of our audience" (page 20). Numerous reasons as to why we engage in apologetics are laid out, and McGrath ends by summarizing the following purposes of apologetics:
1. Identify and respond to objections or difficulties concerning the gospel, and helping to overcome these barriers of faith.
2. Communicating the excitement and wonder of the Christian faith, so that its potential to transform the human situation can be appreciated.
3. Translating the core ideas of the Christian faith into language that makes sense to outsiders.
Chapter 2 takes off the theme of knowing your audience, listening, and basic contextualization. It is here that we hear of the rise or modernity and postmodernity, and the importance of one aspect of postmodernism, which is basically the emphasis on the private, first-person introspective awareness and story-telling. This is problematic in a "naked public square" lacking any epistemic or moral compass, but McGrath plows through regardless of the postmodern references. Again, there is a point to McGrath's arguments, but the reader may not have too much charity for this particular theme. As J.P. Moreland once stated, "do I need to be a postmodernist in order to know the value of story-telling?" There is not much more to speak about regarding this chapter.
Chapter 3 is about the realization of the answers we can provide to people's questions and concerns, and of the "theological" basis for engaging in apologetics. Again, each paragraph is rich and full so I leave much up to the imagination to the reader. It is here that the utility of apologetics is shown side-by-side with other ministries such as teaching and evangelism. There are fantastic analogies that can be used by teachers at churches and colleges if they decide to use this book as a compliment to primary readings, including natural theology and philosophical theism. Aside from the theological utility, McGrath uses this chapter to unpack possible (and existential) arguments regarding the death and resurrection of Christ.
Chapter 4 highlights the importance of one's audience, and listening. There are some wonderful and historical tidbits about the apostle Paul, and McGrath trifurcates preaching to Jews, Greeks and Romans (not to mention the every day individual). According to McGrath, "the gospel proclamation must be receptor-oriented" (page 57). McGrath uses Paul's idea of "adoption" as a powerful image of redemption, and he uses the concept of "images" as images taken from the Christian worldview can be used to tap into the hearts of unbelievers, such as statements like `too much pleasure leads to emptiness.' Why? McGrath switches to older and modern audiences to make his points, which are laid out as (1) addressing the specific audience; (2) identifying the authorities that carry weight with the audience (e.g., biologists, physicists); and, (3) the importance to use lines of argument that will carry weight with the audience.
Chapters 5 and 6 are the heart of MA as there are many inspirational quotations to make multiple points, such as CS Lewis' famous statement that "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything" (page 71). Chapter 5 talks about the reasonableness of the Christian Faith contrary to Richard Dawkins' (et seq.) assertion that "faith is about running away from evidence." I will leave it to the reader to locate relevant defeaters to Dawkins sophomoric statements that are an insult to village atheism (just ask Paul Kurtz). McGrath focuses on the nature of proof, scientific, spiritual and philosophic, and the reader may also take McGrath to task on these issues for the simple reason that he chooses to stay on task and not expand too much on issues that are prone to undermine one's project. (For the inquisitive, read Robert Spitzer's book `New Proofs for the Existence of God' for supplemental information on the issue of proof--it is an amazing book). It is also within these 2 chapters we receive the heart of McGrath's tapestry, which is a visual concept that should be utilized in every institutional church and ministry.
Page 132 has a summary of traditional arguments for God's existence touched upon throughout both chapters, but McGrath's real strong point here is his emphasis on the existential and creative (common ground) arguments meant for differing individuals as we are to be all things to all men. It is here that McGrath lays out existential clues with direction, and this clues, which can be derived from nature, begins to take on the image of a thread. Gather enough clues, and with the right "loom," a picture of the cross and the Christian worldview begin to emerge as a "tapestry." Chapter 5 is about the capacity of the Christian faith to make sense of things. McGrath has more to say about the nature of proof, scientific and philosophic (and one can derive more in depth information from his other writings).
Chapter 6 unpacks the "tapestry" image better than any other in the book, and it is here that he teaches the budding apologists about clues ("threads") within our hearts, our actions, thoughts and nature, which are common to all mankind. Following Dallas Willard, faith is only opposed to sight, not reason. We are reminded that Christians are not being asked to take things on blind trust, which is broadly logically impossible, psychologically speaking. This is where McGrath's book provides tools for the reader to think. For example, take the statement prior to the previous statement as a result of my own doing. As a result of reading McGrath's book, I look at words such as "taking," "things," and "trust." As Christians we turn our beliefs into knowledge because our beliefs may be wrong. And, trust is having reason(s) in what I believe to be true--a mantra I borrow from J.P. Moreland--and faith as such a trust, which makes faith (faith a specific type) as based on reason--not running from reason. This personal exercise is a direct consequence of reading about "clues" and thinking about pointers to faith throughout McGrath's book.
Chapter 7 explores the issue of the simplest ways someone can engage in Christian apologetics, and McGrath uses four "gateways" for purposes of such an engagement. The first is "explanation," or simply removing obstacles to Christianity--a major purpose of apologetics. The second gateway is through "argument" and McGrath quickly lays out 4 which are the argument from design, the argument from origination (i.e., did the universe begin to exist), the argument from coherence (i.e., does Christianity make sense of the world), and the argument from the ontological foundation for morality. We are provided some historical approaches to these questions through the likes of Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis. The third gateway is through "stories" which is where we address the ultimate questions of life, and the final gateway is the use of "images." Here, one can think of adoption as was spoken of above. Films, poetry and works of art are major vehicles for these images.
Chapter 8 is about developing a manner in which to engage apologetically. McGrath provides us the biblical parameters in which we engage and speak with others, and provides theological meat to the importance of being gracious, getting to the real question (i.e., listening), straying from prepackaged responses, and learn from watching videos of other apologists. McGrath ends the chapter by using two real life examples taken from his talks to non-Christian audiences and provides the reader an application of the parameters laid out above. Chapter 9 is a small conclusion.
I am presently reading numerous other books, but wanted to take time and provide a review of McGrath's book because, unlike the others, it is somewhat difficult to put down. It will not be difficult for some to see a few holes here and there, but this is a small book and not meant to be exhaustive. I believe it would make a great addendum to any book on apologetics for church and college teachers. I am now reading James Beilby's new book, which is actually written for the classroom. Until I am finished, I recommend McGrath's book for seasoned veterans of apologetics, Christian philosophers, teachers and beginners. We should cast away our theological inclinations if they are contrary to McGrath--like my own--and allows ourselves to learn from a very Spirit-filled and intelligent teacher.