January 2012

It is finally coming! The Intolerance of Tolerance by D.A. Carson has been a long anticipated book. This book is set to release this week and Westminster will be selling this for $16.08 (cheaper than Amazon).

Here is the publishers description:

We live in a culture obsessed with the idea of “tolerance.” Any viewpoint must be accepted —unless it rejects other viewpoints — and whoever is most earnest wins. This idea of tolerance must be thoughtfully challenged, argues D. A. Carson, both for the good of the church and for the good of the broader culture. Otherwise, poorly defined tolerance drifts ironically toward true intolerance.

Carson examines how the definition of tolerance has changed. It now has less to do with recognizing the right of another to disagree with us, and more to do with not saying that others are wrong. It is impossible to deploy this new tolerance consistently, so that actual practice is often whimsical and arbitrary. Worse, the word “tolerance” has almost become an absolute good, and “intolerance” an absolute bad. Tolerance and intolerance have become merely rhetorical terms of approval and disapproval.

Despite many negatives about the new, often ethically silly definitions of tolerance, from a Christian perspective there have been gains as well. In fact, Carson says, the nature of the Christian revelation is such that some tension in our understanding and practice of tolerance is inevitable.

In this extremely readable volume, Carson uses anecdotes and quotes to illustrate his points and ends with practical advice on exemplifying and promoting the virtue of civil civic discourse.

Awhile back, D.A. Carson did a lecture on this book and here is a short audio clip from the book. Listen to it and then pick up your copy:

I wrote an article with my reflections on The Elephant Room 2 for Sharperiron.org which was posted this morning. Check it out here and let me know what you think.

It is probably not a stretch to say that the task of Christian apologetics has been necessary since the Fall. Fallen man rejects God and in his rejection casts doubt on the validity of Christianity. If you need evidence for this then just pick up a recently published book by the dubbed New Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris. If reading any one of these authors does not impress upon you the necessity of apologetics then not much will.

Throughout the history of apologeitcs, and more so within the last 50 years, there have been many formidable Christian apologists. These defenders of the Christian faith have serviced the church and any inquiring unsaved minds with many written apologetic works. Many of these works deal with single issues within the field of apologetics such as methodology, defending its importance or necessity, dealing with specific issues like the resurrection of Christ or the five theistic arguments from natural theology, addressing and answering Old and New testament issues and a host of other related subjects.

Douglas Groothuis is a long time Christian apologist, author and professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and Metropolitan State College of Denver. He has recently written a new book on Christian apologetics titled Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Groothuis does something that few if any other apologetic works have ever done. As the sub title indicates, Groothuis has written a comprehensive book on apologetics within the scope of 730 plus pages. Granted, given the vast field of apologetics, what is covered in this book is not exhaustive nor is it intended to be. However, Groothuis has provided us with a magnificent introductory work on Christian apologetics that will serve the laymen, pastor and student alike. Christian Apologetics is a go to guide for not only the beginning student of apologetics but the more seasoned apologists among us.

Part One: Apologetics Preliminaries

Part one deals with a number of preliminary issues. Apologetics is defined as “the rational defense of the Christian worldview as objectively true, rationally compelling and existentially or subjectively engaging (p. 24).” The basis for the task of Christian apologetics is found in I Peter 3:15-16 where Peter tells us to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (ESV).” Therefore, the task of apologetics is for every believer.

Groothuis utilizes the cumulative case method of apologetics. Distancing himself from fideism, presuppositionalism and evidentialism Groothuis states his methodology “is to verify the Christian worldview by arguing for its essential elements one by one (p. 60).” He further defends his method by stating, “I will offer a variety of arguments that verify or confirm the Christian worldview as superior to its rivals, this showing that Christianity alone makes the most sense of the things that matter most (p. 72).”

Groothuis explains the eight criteria that every worldview should be evaluated on (p. 52-59). In chapter four he defines and explains the Christian worldview and addresses issues such as Christian epistemology, reality, mankind, salvation, a Christian approach to history and the afterlife. On the heels of defining the Christian worldview Groothuis addresses a number of distortions of the Christian worldview. In chapter six and seven the nature of truth is discussed. Groothuis evaluates various forms of relativism showing them to be theologically, philosophically and practically wanting.

Part Two: The Case for Christian Theism

Part two gets to the heart of the book as thirteen separate arguments are made in favor of the Christian worldview. These arguments center around the five theistic arguments for God’s existence, the Christian view of origins, the Christian view or morality, the place of religious experience and the Christian view of man and Jesus Christ as seen through his person, work, incarnation and resurrection.

In defining the theistic proofs for the existence of God Groothius lends himself heavily towards their explanatory power. This is consistent with the cumulative case method. The cumulative case method relies heavily on natural revelation (deducing truths from what can be observed) as opposed to revealed revelation (revelation from God about what is true as found in Scripture) (p. 172). Groothuis is careful to distinguish between general revelation and natural theology:

General revelation means that God has revealed himself in nature and conscience. Natural theology engages in logic in order to derive rational argument’s for God’s existence (p. 174).

Though the theistic proofs for the existence of God can be overly technical, Groothuis manages to clearly state, defend and explain them such that the average reader can comprehend and in turn defend them for themselves.

Once the theistic proofs for the existence of God have been established the move is then made to how does the God of Christian theism best explain the origins of everything. Groothuis engages the atheist arguments against God and marshals the counter support of scientists like Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, Jonathan Wells and Stephen Meyer. Throughout Groothuis critiques many of the classic and contemporary arguments made by atheists against a creator.

In regards to the moral argument for God’s existence Groothius provides a thorough and convincing case against ethical relativism as expressed in its cultural and individualistic forms (chapter 15). He concludes that the heart of the source of all that is good is God himself in his character and will. “God’s moral will is based on God’s changeless character. Objective moral values have their source in the eternal character, nature and substance of a loving, just and self-sufficient God (p. 356).”

The final sections of chapters deal with the uniqueness of mankind in distinction from the rest of creation and many apologetical issues surrounding Jesus Christ. In chapter nineteen Groothuis has scholar Craig Blomberg discuss how a person can know Jesus and why it matters (subtitle, p. 438). Blomberg provides a general overview of the historical information concerning the historical presence of Christ in both biblical and extra-biblical sources.

Following Blomberg, Groothuis discusses many of the events in the life of Jesus, his worldview, miracles, uniqueness and death. Separate chapters are dedicated to the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. Perhaps one of the best parts of the entire book is the discussion of the metaphysics of the incarnation in which Groothuis tackles the reality of both the divine and human nature of Jesus co-existing fully and harmoniously within the same person (p. 523-26). Miracles are defined as “an act of divine agency whereby a supernatural effect is produced for the purpose of manifesting God’s kingdom on earth (p. 532).” Interaction is made with Hume’s denial of the possible existence of miracles. A careful walk through the Gospel account(s) of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are made in addition to his numerous postmortem appearances. Groothuis concludes his discussion of Jesus’ resurrection by stating that “the alternative naturalistic theories of the resurrection fail to account for commonly agreed-on facts relating to Jesus and the early church (p. 563).”

Part Three: Objections to Christian Theism

The final section of the book deals with three main objections to Christian theism. First, is the objection of religious pluralism. Here Groothuis compares the teaching of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism to show how they contradict each other in order to demonstrate the absurdity of believing that all religions speak truth of the same God. Groothuis spends several pages interacting with John Hick’s religious pluralism and concludes that “Hick creates a new religious (and ultimately irreligious) category in order to harmonize religions (p. 585).”  In dealing with the issue of the unevangelized Groothuis lands on the side of particularism and believes that one must hear the gospel and respond to it in faith in order to be saved (p. 589-92). The second major objection to Christian theism is that of Islam. Here a basic overview is provided on Islamic doctrine and the major areas in which it conflicts with Christianity.

The final chapter deals with the problem or challenge of evil. Groothuis discusses the nature of evil as something that exists not of itself but rather in the absence of good. The deductive and evidential problem of evil are defined and explained. A defense as opposed to a theodicy of evil is presented and argued for (p. 631). Groothuis takes a compatibilist view of freedom and sovereignty in regards to the problem of evil and he makes a compelling case for “the greater-good defense” in regards to the reason evil exists (p. 637-44). He concludes on the subject by saying:

Evil in the world is a possible defeater to theism and Christian theism; it is a prima facie problem. But given the wide array of reasons to believe in Christian theism – the varied arguments for God, the reliability of the Bible, the person and achievements of Christ, and so on – the claim that God does not exist loses much of its sting philosophically (p. 641).

Whether or not this is the best way to conclude the discussion of the problem of evil is up to the reader but it does fit with the cumulative case method. Regardless of how strong the problem of evil is against Christian theism, there is so much evidence in its favor that it outweighs anything to the contrary. Though God has defeated Satan and evil in Christ on the cross, he will one day come again and destroy it and remove it from his creation and his image bearing creatures.

Some Concerns

With a book that has so much that is commendable it is hard to criticize anything but there are a few concerns I have. First, as a presuppositionalist, the biggest issue I have with the book is the method of apologetics used – that of the cumulative case method. The cumulative case method relies heavily on the convincing power of arguments for or in favor of the existence of God. While I believe they do in fact support a basis that God exists I feel the cumulative case method has limits exactly because it relies on natural revelation almost solely. The result is that not enough consideration is given to the necessary and saving power of special revelation through Christ and Scripture. Natural revelation is limited because through the knowledge it gives us about God it still cannot bring salvation. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17, ESV).” Second, in addition to other apologetic methods, Groothuis too easily dismisses presuppositionalism in the span of two pages. For a book as thorough and introductory as Christian Apologetics, it would have been more helpful (and I feel it is necessary) to have a separate chapter explaining these other methods along with pros and cons. This is a glaring omission. As a result, much good presuppositional material is absent and its defenders are rarely cited (consider John Frame who I believe makes a solid case for a reasonable blend between presuppositionalism and evidentialist arguments). Third, in the introduction, Groothuis states that “the book does not presuppose the truth of Christianity, nor does it want to beg any theological questions (p. 21).” As a presuppositionalist this statement is very interesting. When one makes an argument for something they presuppose that the argument is convincing and that the thing in which they are arguing for is indeed true. If Groothuis did not believe Christian theism to be true then he would not have written an over 700 page defense for it. The fact that he wrote this great book is evidence that he presupposes its contents to be true. Following this quoted statement is an uncanny presence of irony: “My approach is that of Francis Schaeffer, who said, ‘I try to approach every problem as though I were not a Christian and see what the answer would be’ (p. 21).” Schaeffer came to Christianity through a dark period in his life and he later sought to write his book with the unbeliever in mind. But Schaeffer was undoubtedly a presuppositionalist and one of the best that Christianity has ever been blessed to see. Finally, in his discussion of origins in chapter thirteen, Groothuis argues for progressive creationism as the best explanation for Gen. 1. While my contention here is not over his view it is for how he supports it. He does give a list of six nonnegotiable biblical and theological statements in favor of this view he does not define what he believes progressive creation to be (p. 274-75). Groothuis does not believe in macroevolution yet he does not explain his view of how the creation of the earth and animals happened. He does believe a lot of time elapsed between the creation of animals and man (who is not the process of naturalistic evolution). But does he believe that God got all of the “kinds” of animals started with on “species” and then they all evolved from there through microevolution? He does not explain and thus leaves the reader confused.

Some Commendations

Despite some concerns, Christian Apologetics is a solid book that will give defenders of any apologetic method. Its arguments and logic are true and its case is sure. There is nothing like it under one roof. The book shows an awareness for the contemporary scene which makes it very relevant for today. This book will be well suited for the classroom of an introductory course on Christian apologetics in a college setting. It would also be useful as a course book for churches to use to equip their members to be better apologists and as a book to refer to and even go through with unbelievers in helping answer their objections and struggles with Christianity. Groothuis’ conclusion is a fitting close to this review:  “God is an apologetical God, the Bible in an apologetical book, and Christ is an apologetical Christ. Therefore, it is imperative for the Christian to defend and commend Christianity ardently, knowledgeably and wisely.” Thus, “Christians must offer a genuinely Christian worldview so that unbelievers can discern just what is being defended and how it differs from their own worldviews (p.647).” That being the case, Christian Apologetics is a solid tool in aiding the believer to accomplish this goal.

NOTE: I received this book from IVP and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Last year Alan Jacobs serviced all readers through his new book Reading in an Age of Distraction. Yesterday he was interviewed by RedeemedReader.com about reading and particularly children and reading. Here is the first Q&A:

1. Looking over the cultural landscape, are you more encouraged or discouraged about “the future of reading”?

I don’t feel that either of those words is quite right for me — I think because I believe my responsibility, in the matter of reading, is to be an encouragER. I need to be encouraging others to read, not to worry about whether I myself am encouraged! Every human situation is full of problems and full of opportunities; I just want to make sure, as a steward of my gifts, that I use the opportunities as best I can.

You can read the rest here.

You can purchase Jacob’s book Reading in an Age of Distraction or A Theology of Reading.

Last week I posted my review of Reading Revelation: A Comparison of Four Interpretive Translations of the Apocalypse by C. Marvin Pate. This week Dr. Pate has agreed to answer some questions about his new book.

Dr. Pate teaches at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas where he is the Dept. Chair for Christian Theology and the Elma Cobb Professor of Christian Theology. Previous to teaching, Dr. Pate was a pastor at which time he earned his MA from Wheaton and his PhD from Marquette University.

Dr. Pate has spent a lifetime of writing books on eschatology some of which include: The End of the age Has Come: The Theology of Paul, Four Views on the Book of Revelation (contributor), Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times (contributor) and Doomsday Delusions: What’s Wrong with Predictions About the End of the World.

1. Share with us what started your interest in eschatology.

Two events drew me to eschatology, both of which occurred when I was 14 years old. First, on a hot July Monday evening in Hampton, Virginia (where I was raised) two U.S, fighter jets collided over the Atlantic Ocean in a practice maneuver and one crashed into the ocean but the other crashed one block from where I lived, in a crowded neighborhood. When it happened, the sky became red, the ground shook, and the noise was deafening. Not knowing what had happened, I thought Jesus was returning! That night made an indelible impression on me about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Second, I preached my first sermon at the age of 14, the same summer the jet crashed and my topic was—you guessed it—the second coming of Christ, based on Matthew 24. And so my interest began that summer and intensified in the years to come. I attended Moody Bible Institute as a student and embraced there dispensational pre-millennialism. But later at Wheaton Graduate School I embraced historical pre-millennialism and have pretty much held that position ever since; though technically I call my approach now “eclectic”.

2. Reading Revelation is a different kind of book. What prompted you to write it?

I wanted to do a book that presented the four major views of Revelation in a way harmonies of the Gospels are laid out. This would give a bird’s eye comparative view of Revelation for the reader . Beyond that, I wanted to translate Revelation according to each perspective for ready to hand use for readers.

3. What was most challenging about writing Reading Revelation

The most challenging tasks of Reading Revelation were to translate the whole book myself (I taught Greek for years) and then to put myself into the mindset of each view and translate Revelation accordingly. To my knowledge the latter had not been done and so I thought it would be helpful for others to do so.

4. Generally speaking, what kinds of sources did you use to accurately present each view?

Since my academic experience from my dissertation days on (some 25 years now) has pertained to the eschatology of the Old Testament, Second Temple Judaism, and New Testament I have been privileged to examine many apocalyptic works. From these and wonderful books like George Ladd’s, A Theology of the New Testament, along with books written representing the various views (for ex., my own edited book with Zondervan, Four Views of Revelation)  I have cultivated my understanding of that literature.

5. What unique contribution does an interpretive translation provide for understanding the text that other books might not?

The interpretive translations that I provide in Reading Revelation hopefully help the reader of the Apocalypse to identify their own reading better while more clearly understanding the other schools of interpretation. And those two goals combine to produce, I hope, humility in how we regard others who take a different view of eschatology from our own.

6. Did writing this book challenge your own interpretation of Revelation? If so, how?

Not really, because I had already come to my own understanding of Revelation (historical pre-millennial with some influence of the other three views) long before I began this book. But of course I continue to grow in the particulars of Revelation (for ex. I now think that Satan and Gog and Magog are sent to hades at Christ’s return and from there will attack the people of God on earth during the millennium; this solves the problem for pre-mils of how non-Christians and Christians can co-exist in the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth—they won’t: one will be in hades with Satan and the other will be on earth).

Thank you, Dr. Pate, for taking the time to answer these questions about Reading Revelation.

The Gospel According to the Old Testament is a series of books on characters in the Old Testament which aid the layperson in seeing their Christ-centered nature. The most recent contribution is Right in Their Own Eyes by George M. Schwab and is written on the book of Judges.

WestminsterBooks.com is having a sale for on all of the books in the GAOT series for one week. Buy Right in Their Own Eyes for $7.14 (45% off) for one week. For the rest of the books you will receive 40% off one book, 45% off three or more and 50% off if you purchase the whole set of 12 volumes.

Here is a list of all 12 volumes to date:

  1. Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges by George Schwab
  2. Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace: The Gospel in the Lives of Isaac & Jacob by Iain Duguid (can only be purchased in the set)
  3. Longing for God in an Age of Discouragement: The Gospel According to Zechariah by Bryan Gregory
  4. Love Divine and Unfailing: The Gospel According to Hosea by Michael P. V. Barrett
  5. From Famine to Fullness: The Gospel According to Ruth by Dean Ulrich
  6. After God’s Own Heart: The Gospel According to David by Mark Boda
  7. Crying Out for Vindication: The Gospel According to Job by David Jackson
  8. Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel According to Elijah and Elisha by Raymond Dillard
  9. Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah by Bryan D. Estelle
  10. Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship by Tremper Longman
  11. Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: Gospel According to Abraham by Iain Duguid (can only be purchased in the set)
  12. Hope in the Midst of a Hostile World: The Gospel According to Daniel by George Schwab

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