This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2011 vol. 168 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with DoubtersBaker Books, Grand Rapids January 1, 2009
In this book the authors present a defense of Christianity according to an evidentialist apologetic, based on the example of Jesus. They argue that Jesus was “the greatest apologist for Christianity who ever lived” (p. 11). He was an apologist because He continually defended His claims to be the Messiah. “Everywhere Jesus demonstrates a willingness to provide evidence for what he taught to every sincere seeker” (ibid.). Their approach is clearly stated: “Anyone who makes a truth claim—to say nothing about a claim to ultimate truth (John 14:6)—must provide evidence for that claim. Jesus does exactly that, and in so doing, he provides a pattern for apologetics that is of great value to the contemporary defender of the Christian faith” (p. 13).
In a series of chapters the authors briefly summarize how Jesus used testimony, miracles, the resurrection, reason, parables, discourse, and prophecy to prove that He is the Messiah. They acknowledge that “Jesus lived and taught in a Jewish, theistic culture. Therefore, his audience already presupposed the existence of God, and in this context there was no need for him to provide a rational defense of a theistic worldview” (p. 115). How would Jesus have responded to a nontheistic culture? The authors argue that “Jesus was a rational theist who would have appealed to the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments for God’s existence. Indeed, he also would have agreed with the argument for the existential need for God” (p. 127). In short, according to these authors, if Jesus had lived in a culture like today’s Western culture, Jesus would have been an evidentialist.
The authors also provide an apologetic for their approach by responding to the arguments of fideism, by examining several biblical texts that seem to argue against the use of evidence. They conclude that these texts teach that “evidence by itself does not bring anyone to faith. If the person displays a hardened heart and is unwilling to evaluate the evidence, he or she is resisting the Holy Spirit and will not be persuaded (Acts 7:51). Jesus said that he wanted to bring the Jews into the fold but they ‘were not willing’ (Matt. 23:37)” (p. 146). In cases “when an unbeliever’s questions or attitude reveal that he or she is looking for excuses not to face the issues rather than honestly seeking answers, the apologist should point this out and end the discussion. . . . it is time to move on and save one’s time and energy for another person” (ibid.).
What is the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics? The authors devote a chapter to this question, in which they explain that no one is saved “apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in convicting them of sin and converting them to the Savior. It is also true that this same Spirit, a member of the omniscient (all-knowing) Godhead, knows that reason is a helpful, if not necessary, means of bringing rational people to Christ. Indeed the evidence (see chaps. 1–10) is that this is exactly what Jesus taught” (p. 183).
In a concluding chapter on Jesus’ apologetic method, the authors summarize their view in these words: “Jesus was not only the master teacher, he was also the master apologist. He did not expect people to believe without evidence. He never commended anyone for blind faith. Indeed, they were condemned for refusing to accept the evidence he offered. Of course, Jesus knew that evidence alone could not convert anyone. It could provide a basis of rational belief that he was the Son of God, but only the Holy Spirit, with the cooperation of the human will, could persuade a person to believe in him. Nevertheless, apologetic evidence provides the necessary condition for salvation, while only Spirit-induced saving faith produces the sufficient condition for it” (p. 196).
—Glenn R. Kreider