apologetics roundup

My J-term apologetics class starts tomorrow, as long as the blizzard stops, and I thought it might be helpful to note a few new books that were published last year.

Debating Christian Theism contains parallel chapters from Christians and skeptics on various apologetic issues, such as God’s existence, evil, resurrection, etc. As with any edited book, some chapters are more interesting than others, and some require a lot of prior knowledge to understand the points being made. I wish publishers would make these books available chapter by chapter, so professors could require only the chapters that will most benefit their students and not ask them to buy the entire thing.

Covenantal Apologetics is Scott Oliphant’s updating of presuppositionalism, which he argues should henceforth be known as “covenantal apologetics.” I appreciate how Oliphant unapologetically does apologetics. He is not merely a Christian who does academic work, but he does academic work in an unashamedly Christian way. I didn’t learn a ton from this book, as I’m already well acquainted with presuppositionalism, but I cheered the most throughout. This book is a highly accessible introduction to presuppositionalism, and I recommend it for anyone who wants to learn what this view is all about.

Can You Believe It’s True?, by John Feinberg, is a solid, conservative defense of the Christian faith. This book rises out of decades of teaching apologetics at TEDS, and has helpful discussions of many topics, including “objective” truth and the thought of Alvin Plantinga. I think his critique of presuppositionalism is a bit off the mark, but that may owe to Van Til’s ambiguities rather than Feinberg’s misreading. I would like to hear his interaction with Oliphant’s version in Covenantal Apologetics. Still, it’s useful for presuppositionalists like myself to hear how other Christians perceive our view. I’m glad to have Feinberg on my team.

The End of Apologetics is Myron Penner’s attempt to bring the apologetic project into the postmodern age. I like what he is for—our need to live out our faith and care for people as individuals, though I found his argument too weak on our ability to know the truth and even whether that is important. Penner’s argument strikes me as a more feminine form of Christianity. He argues throughout against what I would call a “masculine” Christianity—a modern perspective that unapologetically believes in the solid world of objective truth that can be tested by whether it corresponds to reality.

Penner’s postmodern version argues for love more than truth, for how we believe rather than what we believe, and replaces the correspondence test with a more pragmatic test of edification. Rather than attempt to prove the Christian faith is right, Penner says we should be content to testify to how our faith has changed us. Let’s engage in respectful dialogue rather than arguments where we seek to prove we’re right and the other is wrong.

I don’t think Penner’s criticisms hit their mark on the type of books that Oliphant and Feinberg wrote. They both emphasize the importance of believing the truth without falling into the unloving traps that Penner thinks all such apologetics are guilty of. There is much to think about in Penner, and I would recommend it for people who are secure in their faith. I would also want to have a conversation with them afterward, because this book dangerously downplays the importance of doctrine. Right practice must never come at the expense of right doctrine, as one of my favorite books often says.

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