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.

Is atheism making a comeback? Authors Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow say it is and seek to respond to this very vocal movement in their new book, Is God Just a Human Invention?: And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. The proliferation of recent books by contemporary atheists with titles like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, speak to the reality that atheism is back – with a vengeance. These four vocal atheists have been duly named “The Four Horseman” by Al Mohler. To say that atheism is back in somewhat misleading. Atheism has been around since after the Fall in Genesis 3. Throughout history there have been moments of intense efforts by atheists. This is one of those intense moments in atheistic history. There is no denying that these New Atheists are making a public scene in their quest to rid the world of religion(s) and, in particular, Christianity and its belief in God.

As a result of the atheistic outcry against Christianity in particular, there has been an enormous response among the vast ranks of evangelicals. Notable apologists like Ravi Zacharias (author of The End of Reason) and president of SBTS Al Mohler (Atheism Remix) have written more popular level books in response to the New Atheism. Theologians like Alister McGrath (The Dawkins Delusion) and biblical scholars like Paul Copan (Is God A Moral Monster) have given their noteworthy contributions. Pastors like Doug Wilson (Is Christianity Good for the World) and Tim Keller (The Reason for God) have responded to the New Atheism with theological rigor and pastoral care. More philosophical responses have come from the likes of David Berlinski (The Devil’s Delusion) and famed William Lane Craig (God?: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist) who have shown that the Biblical claims of Christianity can hold their own and more among philosophical doubters. Further, scientists like John Lennox (God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?), Stephen C. Meyer (Signature in the Cell) and Francis Collins (The Language of God) have approached atheist’s attacks from their own world.

With all of these responses from varied fields of Christian Biblical defenders, there is no doubt that Christianity can hold up against charges from any front. All of these books are helpful in their own way and there are many more that provide solid answers to the bold claims of atheists. Whether atheism is actually making a measured comeback or not is an issue that will have to be addressed in the years to come. For now, there is no doubt that many Christians have heard the boisterous claims of the New Atheists and have themselves been asking questions about their own faith and the Bible. For the Christian who may not be able to determine where to begin in their quest to chew through some of the above-mentioned books, the task can feel daunting. There is so much to read and so much material and information to process that it can be easy to take the fideist approach and just believe in God anyways. In step McDowell and Morrow. Amidst all of the beneficial books that are both readable and highly technical, McDowell and Morrow have taken eighteen of the most hotly debated issues among Christians and Atheists. With remarkable ability, they have condensed these eighteen issues in an easy to understand way without being overly simplistic. They have brought out the salient points of contention within each issue and have responded with clarity and forthrightness. No chapter is longer than 15-16 pages and some are as short as 9-10.

McDowell and Morrow state that the central thesis claimed by the New Atheists is that “Christianity isn’t just false; it’s dangerous (p. 14). It is this claim that the authors seek to respond to through the eighteen chosen topics. However, the authors are not alone. The body of each chapter is written by the authors. At the end of each chapter an expert is brought in from the relevant field of study to wrap things up. If that were not enough to make the book well rounded, at the end of each chapter there is a short list of related books the reader can use in order to go deeper into the subject matter of each particular chapter. As stated before, there is a large body of good books out there and McDowell and Morrow have done a great service to the reader on directing them to the best ones to go to next.

Is God Just a Human Invention is broken into two sections. The first section deals with atheistic claims that fall under the scientific/philosophical category. The first issue that is dealt with is the question of whether or not faith is rational. Much of the discussion by atheists that faith is irrational is due to a misunderstanding of the nature and content of faith. Thus they believe that faith is “blind, irrational and stupid (p. 19).” Whether they realize it or not, atheist attacks on the validity and rationality of faith seem to be more aimed at fideism (the belief that faith is independent of reason). “Biblical faith is trust in God because He has shown Himself to be reliable and trustworthy. It is not belief in spite of the evidence, but belief in light of the evidence (p. 21).”

Moving from the rationality of faith they tackle the claim that faith and science are at odds. From the world of science they move on to defend the high possibility of miracles and summarize their claim by saying, “In short, the possibility of miracles depends upon the existence of God. If God exists, miracles are possible (p. 46).” Issues of origins are discussed in terms of the origins of the universe and human life as well as the Christian answer as to why the universe is just right for life. When God is cited by Christians as the original source of all things atheists always bite back with the question, “But who made God!?” To this classic question the authors rightly respond by saying, “The claim is not that everything has a cause. Rather, everything that begins to exist has a cause (p. 78).”

One of the most intriguing and thought provoking chapters of the book is chapter eight in which the debate over whether or not humans have souls is discussed. Daniel Dennett wants us to believe that the mind is not and is merely “an illusion created by the brain (p. 109).” To this claim the authors offer several arguments:

If there is no soul, then free will does not exist…….if materialism is true, you do not have any genuine ability to choose your actions……if you were solely your body, then your identity would be constantly changing (p. 112-13)

Part two of the book deals with moral and biblical challenges. First up the authors respond to the harsh claims of Christopher Hitches that religion is dangerous. Hitchens sees all the major evils of the world stemming not from people but their religions. The authors state, “Upon reflection, most would agree that people are the problem, not religion. There are deeper issues at work. The human heart is corrupt (p. 137).”

Specific issues within the Bible that are addressed include the ethics of slavery, whether the idea of hell is moral, how do we understand Israel’s conquests in the book of Joshua, does Christianity suppress human sexuality and why should one believe in Jesus over the flying spaghetti monster? All of these issues and more are dealt with clarity and honesty.

The only real criticism I have of the book is the undefined frequent appeal to the freedom of man and how certain atheistic claims would take it away. I would have liked to see the authors at least their definition and understanding of it given how often they appealed to it.

McDowell and Morrow have done a great service to those wanting answers to the above claims but who don’t know where to turn first to find them. I would recommend this book to new and seasoned believers who are unfamiliar with these issues.