Thinking about Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It

James K. Beilby IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL October 19, 2011
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Beilby is professor of systematic theology and philosophical theology at Bethel University. In the preface he writes, “This is not a typical apologetics book. Those who are looking for responses to objections to Christianity or arguments for Christianity should look elsewhere. In this, the bibliography provided at the end of the book will be of some help. Rather, this is a book about apologetics. In this book I discuss the nature and goals of apologetics, different approaches to apologetics, objections to the idea or practice of apologetics, and how apologetics should be done” (p. 9).

The author begins with a definition of Christian apologetics, a brief defense and explanation of its biblical support, and its role in Christian faith and practice. This first chapter closes with these words: “It must be understood that apologetics is neither a necessary precondition to theology nor an easily dispensable add-on. Apologetics is what happens when the Christian humbly yet confidently proclaims the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world where truth and reasons for belief matter” (p. 34).

In the following chapters Beilby unpacks the summary he provided in the first chapter. He surveys the history of apologetics from the New Testament era to the modern period. He outlines the varieties of apologetic approaches and answers philosophical objections as well as biblical and theological objections, to apologetics. A final chapter, “Doing Apologetics Well,” takes a positive how-to approach, in which he responds to “as-practiced objections—objections to the way apologetics has been done” (p. 157). He argues that “doing apologetics well requires three things. First, one’s arguments must be effective. They must be logically valid and persuasive, and they must directly address the objections offered by the skeptics” (ibid.). An effective apologist must understand the cultural and historical context and give reasonable and convincing answers to questions raised by critics of Christianity. “Second, one must have a proper conceptualization of the nature of both Christian belief and unbelief. In other words, an apologist must properly understand both the reasons why people do not believe in the Christian God and what mature belief in God should look like” (ibid.). The apologist must be well trained in theology and have strong convictions about the gospel and orthodox Christian doctrine. The apologist must also be capable of expressing the worldviews and convictions of the skeptics.

“Third, and most important, one’s attitude and approach to apologetic conversations must be appropriate. Too often, Christians have been condescending, arrogant and dismissive in their apologetic encounters. In other words, Christian apologists have approached apologetic situations in ways that stand in stark contrast to the attitude Jesus took when engaging those who were skeptical of his message” (pp. 157–58). Beilby continues, “When one’s attitude and approach are inappropriate, the results are devastating. Not only does it undercut the potential strength of one’s arguments; an inappropriate approach reinforces the negative perception of both Christian apologetics and the Christian gospel message. There is a lot riding on getting this right” (p. 158). This chapter ends with six principles that, if followed, will help Christian apologists “get it right.”

This excellent book is practical and clear, appropriately biblical and theological, suitably historical and philosophical, and basic without being simplistic. Anyone who aspires to understand the apologetics landscape and to adopt an effective way to communicate with skeptics and critics of Christianity will be helped by this book. Beilby’s conclusion to the book summarizes it well. “To do apologetics well, we must love people enough to place ourselves in situations where we can truly hear people’s questions and help them find answers; it requires that we trust that God can use our learning, experiences and story in a way that is persuasive to others; and it requires a commitment to the life-transforming truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These things are simultaneously simple enough for anyone to do and difficult enough to justify a lifetime of study and practice. But those who spend their lives working on these things will, when they are old, look back on their lives and find them well spent” (p. 183).

—Glenn R. Kreider

January 1, 2013
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2013 vol. 170 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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