Book Review - Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for the Christian Faith

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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 any recently published book from the “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 subtitle indicates, Groothuis has written a truly comprehensive book on apologetics, weighing in at 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 emphasizes 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 exploring how the God of Christian theism best explains 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 chapters in this section 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 (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, but 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, and then they all evolved from there into “species” through microevolution? He does not explain and thus leaves the reader confused.

Some Commendations

Despite these concerns, Christian Apologetics is a solid book that will be a benefit to 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 college classroom of an introductory course on Christian apologetics, yet it will also prove useful as a course book for churches wishing to equip their members to be better apologists.  It will serve as a resource 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.

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There are 4 Comments

Bob Hayton's picture

Very thorough review, Craig. It's an excellent synopsis of the book. Looks like a great resource tool.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

CPHurst's picture

To be clear, I don't want my critique of Groothuis' apologetic method to detract from the value and use of the book. It is a great book for what it does and I don't know of another one like it. I just think it could be better with a more presuppositional leaning.

JobK's picture

The presuppositionalists are simply the only ones who admit it. Example: what apologetics method does not rely on the presupposition of the existence of objective, propositional truth? Absent propositional truth, what is the value of revelation - be it general or special - in the first place? That is the irony of Groothuis states that “the book does not presuppose the truth of Christianity, nor does it want to beg any theological questions" and similar statements made by those who reject presuppositionalism. They will not presuppose the truth of Christianity, but they will presuppose the existence of truth, and of our ability to discern and interpret this truth. And is not presupposing the existence of truth "begging epistemological questions"? To take it one step further: why do we presuppose the existence of truth (and despise postmodernism, which accepts and rejects this presupposition as it fits the ideological agenda of the postmodernist)? Because Christianity teaches us that God is the ultimate Truth. And in the absence of God, then creation itself must be the ultimate truth. Instead of God being self-existing and self-defining, creation must necessarily be self-existing (see the big bang theory) and self-defining (see modern physics).

The problem: there is no way to conclusively prove that creation is not self-existing and self-defining. You can merely provide evidence that it is not. And even that evidence does not prove the existence of any deity, and it especially does not prove the deity of any one deity, and it particularly does not prove the existence of the God of the Bible. So, the evidence that creation is not god is only useful in proving Christian theism if one chooses to interpret that evidence according to a Christian framework.

The only reason to reject presuppositionalism is the desire to conform to the accepted norms of secular philosophy. (It has been this way from the beginning with Gentile apologists of the early church who used Hellenistic philosophical structures to try to convince the elitist pagans that Christianity was not the religion of slaves, the superstitious, and uneducated rubes for the purposes of attempting to curry favor with them. To this day, the "debates" with prominent atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are more geared towards making the mainstream more accommodating to Christians than actually converting anyone with the gospel ... and that is why I am glad that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron in their infamous Nightline appearance chose to present the gospel rather than play the culture war games, even if they did sorely disappoint the culture war apologetics crowd in the process.) But why should Christians play by the rules established by the enemy for his own purposes? Secular philosophy, secular science ... all are products and reflections of man's limited knowledge and fallen nature. John MacArthur said it best when he stated that the scientific method was not a proper hermeneutic for interpreting the Holy Scriptures because the scientific method suffers from the same limitations and flaws as man, and moreover even were the scientific method perfect, man's ability to make use of its results would still be impeded by his limited intellect and fallen nature.

So, it looks like the true issue that people have with presuppositionalism is that those who reject it do not truly want to acknowledge the full effects of the fall of man. They want to hold onto some of that humanism, some of that western Enlightenment mindset, even if it is only just a little bit because however much that little bit they can hold onto requires them to accept the true state of mankind that much less! And of course, why would we want to hold onto those things if we did not presuppose them to be true, valuable or otherwise meritorious in the first place? Again, everyone is a presuppositionalist, but only a few of us admit to being so.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura

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