Let me be honest. I rarely look highly upon books with the word “apologetics” in the title. For the most part, these texts are not worth my time or money and, in my opinion, often lead to some poor thinking and a poor defense of the Christian faith. There are exceptions however. Sire’s work, A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics is absolutely a must read for anyone doing the discipline. Bill Craig’s Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics is also one of those which I suggest to anyone getting involved in the discipline.
Thus, having read some of James Beilby’s work, especially his The Historical Jesus: Five Views, I have waited patiently and anxiously for his book Thinking About Christian Apologetics. I have to say, while opening the book with some reservations, I have been justified in my conviction that this was something different and worth reading. There are seven chapters to this book. I will cover these chapters in a total of four reviews:
Chapter 1: What is Christian Apologetics?
Bielby’s book is not so much a systematic defense of the faith or an argument for reasonable foundations in Christianity but, rather, an overview on why it is important. Anybody looking for a defence of the resurrection, for example, would do well to turn to his bibliography. They would not find one in the course of the book. But this is not a bad thing and should not cause you to look elsewhere. It is my genuine contention that too many people practice apologetics as a God-given excuse to either argue or beat up the ideas of someone else. If you're looking for Christian narcissism (oxymoron?) than you will find enough of it within the apologetics community. This fact alone suggests to me that a refresher in why we do apologetics and how it is to be done is absolutely necessary and critical. After working through Bielby's book, I would suggest that his and Sire's Primer need to be on the shelves of anyone interested in doing apologetics.
Bielby first attempts to define apologetics in the basic sense of the word: “a defense.” Here he distinguishes between apologetics in general and Christian apologetics. Thus, it’s absolutely true that apologists are not solely Christian but come in a variety of colors. Plato was an apologist (hence, “The Apology”), politicians are apologists, many atheists are apologists, etc. But he’s correct in stating that Christian apologetics is something which is spoken of and commanded in scripture. His citation of verses are well researched and outlined.
Perhaps one of the most helpful areas of this chapter is his outlining and labeling of the ideas. That is, he is able to put titles on the situations of apologetics (Proactive, Responsive), the type of audience (private, public, academic), the distinction between doctrine and dogma, internal/external apologetics, etc.
One of the most helpful discussions Beilby offers is in relation to what it is that we’re defending. He makes a wise and necessary distinction between dogmas (“the core Christian claims”, 19) and doctrines (“attempts to explain, apply and flesh out dogmas”, ibid). Part of my frustration with apologetics (as I will write about in a future post) is that too many “apologists” spend too much time trying to defend ideas which are way beyond mere Christianity. I’m a Wesleyan so, by my convictions, I believe in free will, prevenient grace, and apostasy. Yet despite the fact that I may hold to these things as major in-house issues, I absolutely do not believe they’re required for salvation and never wish to make them appear to be central. C.S. Lewis warned against this wisely. If it is not essential to the ecumenical creeds of the Church, then we really need to ask whether it’s worth defending.