Apologetics

 

City of God, Augustine

***** “The Masterpiece of a Great Thinker”

 

Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton

***** “One of the best books of the 20th Century”

 

Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton

***** “Fit only for unscientific children.  (Like me.)”

 

What’s so Great about Christianity?  Dinesh D’Souza

**** “An Engaging Apologetic”

 

God: The Evidence, Patrick Glynn

**** “Well, some of it”

 

Discovery of Genesis, C. H. Kang

*** “Worth Cautious Consideration”

 

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

***** “Diamonds or Coal, take your pick!” 

 

The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel

*** “Good in Spots”

 

The Case for the Creator, Lee Strobel

*** “Glass more than Half Full” 

 

Crossing the Threshold of Faith, Pope John Paul II

***** “Pretty good, for a Pope”

 

 

Apologetics

 

 

City of God, Augustine

***** “The Masterpiece of a Great Thinker”

 

City of God is a difficult, complex, and wide-ranging book, which makes many references to persons and places that will often be obscure to most of us.  But I think anyone can learn something from the genius and wide-ranging observations of Augustine.  One of the first things I noticed when I began reading this book about twenty years ago was, "Hey! I recognize that faith!"  Him, a Latin-speaking north African "Catholic" of the 4th Century, me, a 20th Century English-speaking Norte Americano WASP.  City of God showed me that the Church of Christ is more united in its diversity than I realized.  And in a sense, Augustine is broader still; he writes not only as a Christian, but as a human being.  All of us can learn something from him, I think:

The skeptic. You will find a few ideas here based on an out-dated "pre-scientific worldview." If you're looking for something to laugh at, and aren't intimidated by his intellect, you may be able to pull out a few quotes. But if you're looking for truth, you'll find much more, in every way. Augustine's love of truth burns from the pages of this book like a flame. The scope of his curiosity is broad, and his intellect first-rate by any standard.

The missionary. In the tradition of Paul and John, point people to a God not entirely unknown. Remind people how their own ancestors sought God, and knew something about Him before we got there. Quote the oracle of Apollo, or the Platonists, to prove Christ. Expect God to do miracles.

The New Ager. The period in which Augustine wrote City of God bares a striking resemblance to our own. "Many civilizations had met in one civilization," as Chesterton put it. Augustine argues against reincarnation and channeling and other modern fads. His solution is neither complete negation nor complete affirmation, but a more subtle synthesis that allows truths of many cultures to meet in Christ and find fulfillment; a solution that modern Christians have applied in an interesting way to redemptive truths in Buddhism, Hinduism, Marxism, and Islam.

The debater and apologist. This book is a model for those who who want to make an effective argument. Know your opponent's arguments as well as they know them themselves. Admit when they are on the right track. When they wander off it, quote sources they see as authoritative to show the error of their nehs. Love truth. Use reason and passion in equal measure. (But maybe, in our day, don't be quite so long-winded. . . I mean thorough.)

While I respect those reviewers below who read City of God cover to cover, personally I skimmed a bit. The Penguin edition also has a useful, though concise, index.

 

Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton

***** “One of the best books of the 20th Century”

 

This is a book that everyone ought to read two or three times at least. It is a crime that such nonsense as Conversations With God, or better but still relatively shallow introductions to comparative religion like Religions of Man, seem to be better known. Here you will find a description of Christianity and its relation to other faiths strong and fine as aged wine. I don't know of anyone who writes with this much class in the modern world. Having ordered the book for our college library, I tried not to mark it too much, but found myself putting ink dots on paragraph after paragraph of material I wanted to quote. He rambles a bit, but I think there is more wisdom, humor, and insight in a single page of this book than in whole volumes that are better known in our days. Imagine if, after reading David Barry and laughing your head off, you wanted to go out and kiss a blade of grass or be amazed by the water running in the river instead of (say) looking up at the sky to make sure there aren't any mackerel about to fall on you. G. K. Chesterton makes his readers laugh themselves sane. And sanity is a rare and wonderful thing in the modern world.

Chesterton's archeology and contemporary references are a bit dated, of course. But even there, what goes around often comes around. Chesterton leads off with a story about Grant Allen, author of a piece of heresy of that time called "Evolution of the Idea of God." More recently Karen Armstrong wrote a book with an almost identical title and thesis, "History of God," and was greeted in the press as a bold thinker. Chesterton kindly and elegantly refuted her error, and those of many other modern skeptics, decades before they were born. Admirers of Bishop Spong in particular should read this book. Chesterton was not a scholar of comparative religions, of course, and he may have oversimplified a few things, but I think got the big things in true proportion better than anyone.

The plan of the book is simple. In the first half, Chesterton describes man, particularly in his religious aspect. In particular, he explains four universal elements of human religion: mythology, philosophy, demonism, and an awareness of God that one finds in almost every culture around the world. The tendency in the modern world is to ignore the last two elements when they occur outside of Western culture.  But I have found in my own studies of Asian cultures and religions that Chesterton's description of human religion fit the facts extremely well.

The second half of the book is about Jesus and the movement he founded.  I like what he says about Jesus best, and wish he had spent more time on that and proportionally less on European culture.  A few of his racial or cultural assumptions do not come across well in our age. It is worth remembering how the face of Christianity has changed over the hundred years since this book was published. Then Christianity was almost exclusively a Western religion, while now two thirds of the believers in the world live in Africa, Latin American and Asia.

If you are interested in a more detailed discussion of some of the points Chesterton brings up, I suggest Don Richardson's Eternity in Their Hearts, another of the most overlooked works of the 20th Century. I have also just written a book called Jesus and the Religions of Man, that covers in more detail (but undoubtedly with less style) much of the same territory.

 

Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton

***** “Fit only for unscientific children.  (Like me.)”

 

Orthodoxy is written for the poet and the child in each of us (The latter being that part of us Jesus said can inherit the Kingdom). Orthodoxy is, at the same time, one of the wisest, and funniest, books I have ever read; almost up to the level of Everlasting Man. It seems to me he does give a logically challenging, if rather whimsical, argument for the Christian faith here. And having read many of the most famous skeptics of our time, his argument remains no less timely, powerful, and suggestive.

How do I explain the reaction of the reader below, then, who appears intelligent, but finds "Little that is intellectually bearable" in this book, and could not even read it through once without throwing it down in disgust? For one thing, Chesterton's approach is not scientific, but psychological. For those to whom science is the only god, a little prior reading might be worthwhile -- John Polkinghome or Hugh Ross on evidences for the Creator in modern cosmology, for example.  Let Scott Peck's People of The Lie search your heart.  Or even try my book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, which offers empirical evidence of a more historical nature for the truth of the Christian claims.  Let the facts presented in these books take the edge of your arrogance.

Then, maybe, go for a walk through Mt. Rainier National Park when the huckleberries are reddening in the fall, or skin dive in Hawaii. Or walk through a dark forest on a clear night when the stars are out.  Observe and wonder.  Become a child again.  Laugh at your certainties and prejudices a little.  Then try reading this book again.

"(Skepticism) discredits supernatural stories that have some foundation, simply by telling natural stories that have no foundation."  "The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer Light, fair as the sun. . ." "To be allowed to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me a vulgar anti-climax." You still don't see the relevence or wisdom of such teachings?  Oh, well. Chesterton did warn, "If a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small. . . It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything -- even pride."  This book, I guess, is no exception.

 

What’s so Great about Christianity?  Dinesh D’Souza

**** “An Engaging Apologetic”

 

What's So Great About Christianity shouldn't be read as a closely argued apologetic. (People make the same mistake with C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and with some of my books.) This is a response to a series of popular, breezy attacks on Christianity. Like Dawkins, D'Souza has something to say about almost everything: human and cosmic origins, the mind, the origin of science, the Inquisition, Hitler, Buddha, Plato, the resurrection of Jesus. It wouldn't be fair to expect an in-depth or even equally informed discussion of all these issues in a single book: when you're on defense, you have to meet the other guys where they attack.

D'Souza's defense has many merits. First, he's an excellent writer. The book is colloquial, engaging, and lively. Nor is there anything mushy or wavering -- or defensive! -- about his defense. D'Souza stands toe to toe with the critics, and while he doesn't lower himself to some of Dawkins' nastier tactics, he also doesn't back down. Many of D'Souza's aphorisms have the Chestertonian quality of giving "conventional wisdom" a simple and well-earned tweek to the nose: "Indeed the Darwinian portrait of man is a remarkable corroboration of the Christian doctrine of original sin." "Shakespeare is our greatest dramatist, but there is no single character in Shakespeare who can match Christ's eloquence."
"Christianity made family life important in a way that it wasn't before." "In the context of the history of warfare, there is no warrant for considering the Crusades a world historical crime of any sort."

In general D'Souza also shows good sense. No one can be an expert in everything, which is why basic horse sense comes in handy here. In picking your way among the usual crowd of experts and pseudo-experts, you need to make good judgement calls, as well as own a fair store of background knowledge.

What D'Souza seems to know best is philosophy, in the sense of "the best (and worst) that has been thought in the Western tradition." (Curiously, though born in India, he shows little interest in Asian traditions, which I do, though born in the US!) He offers illuminating quotes and anecdotes, from Lucretius and Plato to Nietzche and Bertrand Russell and beyond. His defense of Aquinas and Anselm seem all the more poignant for their antiquity, the "chronological snobbery" of one critic below to the contrary. In this sense comparisons to C. S. Lewis (few good Christian writers can escape them) are illuminating: D'Souza also offers a simple and often eloquent summary of centuries of Christian thought. (Not that he quite matches Lewis as a writer, still less in his knowledge of the past. But he has his own strengths, which he plays to -- one reason such comparisons are unfair.)

I also found a fair amount to quarrel with here.

(1) D'Souza sometimes over-generalizes about "the atheists." Much of his sharpest criticism hits Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens right on the noggin; but doesn't fairly apply to more reasonable skeptics. But that's mostly a matter of rhetorical convenience; I think D'Souza knows his generalizations don't really apply to all atheists, even if it sometimes sounds as if he means them to.

(2) The most careful studies show there are probably about 50-55 million Christians in China, not 100 million, as D'Souza claims. (The lower figures also agree with my own research in China.)

(3) "One trend seems clear: God is the future, and atheism is on its way out." This is too triumphalistic. No one knows the future but God. And given that atheists have about doubled in the US, it seems silly to make such predictions. (Still, a little bombast beats dull writing!)

(4) D'Souza rightly credits Christianity with a broad range of social reforms; he does not always give enough evidence to back the claims up.

(5) D'Souza discussion of biological or human origins are pretty fair as a bare-bones introduction, but won't satisfy anyone on either side who knows much about these topics. He doesn't seem to understand Intelligent Design deeply. And despite his denial, his arguments against biogenesis, the material origins of consciousness and rationality, do I think reduce to a kind of "God of the Gaps" argument, and are unlikely to satisfy ardent evolutionists. (Though in my view calling an argument "God of the gaps" doesn't necessarily make it bad. When the gap between what your theory explains, and the data, grows wide, it's often reasonable to look for a new theory -- and it may well be that God is the best theory.)

D'Souza offers a sociological argument against ID. "This is what most biologists think, I'm not a biologist, I'll go with the majority." I find this frank appeal to authority refreshingly honest, but perilous. Given the complexity of the issues and the strength of biases (everyone has something to lose here), it'd be better just to say "I don't know" until you have the chance to study both sides of the issue thoroughly. (My book offers two chapters on biological evolution, then a chapter called, "Did God Evolve?" which responds to Dennett and the evolutionary social theorists behind him.)

(6) "Faith is a statement of trust in what we do not know for sure." (195, also in his debate with Hitchens.) In the strict philosophical sense, we don't know anything "for sure." But for great Christian thinkers down through the centuries, faith has always meant "holding firmly to what we have good reason to believe is true." Uncharacteristically, on this point D'Souza concedes too much to his New Atheist opponents -- and misses the heart of the Christian tradition.

(7) D'Souza may identify the Nazis with atheism a bit too closely. This is justified when he writes about communism, as I also argue. But even on the Nazis, D'Souza makes some good points. (On this subject, I recommend the book From Darwin to Hitler.)

(8) D'Souza repeats the popular cliche that "what is unique about Christianity" is its emphasis on grace. I disagree. Quite a few Hindu and Buddhist sects also emphasize grace. What is unique about Christianity is Christ. (See my Jesus and the Religions of Man for an unpacking of that koan!)

(9) I wasn't satisfied with D'Souza's defense of dualism. I personally would find a more empirical approach more helpful.

Despite these criticisms (some niggling, some essential), What's So Great About Christianity is well worth the read, both for Christians and for open-minded skeptics. It's also worth passing on to people with doubts -- even if it fails to satisfy the most demanding skeptics. (Such as the authors of the more critical reviews below.)

I am, as I said, biased. But between D'Souza, Lennox, and my own book (
The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity), I think the "new atheism" is listing badly to port, for those who care to notice. These books also defend the intellectual and moral value of the Christian message to some extent, but for more depth, please follow footnotes. It's impossible for anyone to say everything in one volume, but there is often a wealth of additional evidence on a given topic; these are arguments with sound roots to them.

 

 

God: The Evidence, Patrick Glynn

**** “Well, some of it”

 

This book is a readable and fairly thoughtful overview of a few arguments for the existence of God based on modern scientific or medical discoveries. I found the argument he gave for Near Death Experiences stronger than some below want to admit, but also rather baffling; I haven't heard an explanation from any quarter that really covers all the facts. The correlation he describes between health and faith is a valid but indirect argument for the existence of God. (The Bible does promise blessings to those who trust God, and warns that there are consequences to sin.)

Glynn, I think, understands both science and religion better than Mr. Wong below.  The argument for God from the Anthropic Principle is not rendered invalid because it can't be falsifiable.  For one, as Glynn shows, non-theistic theories of the origin of the universe (bubble universes) are not falsifiable either; but that doesn't stop scientists from proposing them.  Secondly, the question is not, "What is science?"  It is, "What is true?"  And third, the Anthropic Principle is falsifiable.  If we found ourselves in a universe in which the fundamental constraints were not so temperamental, (more like what we once expected) the argument would not hold.  Also, Wong is is a little naive to think "science is process" in which "nothing is so certain it cannot be challenged." Is that why all biologists heartily encourage efforts to voice objections to evolution in the schools?   Wong agree, then, that scientists should be the first to consider the possibility that even the certainty of death was once challenged?

Glynn at times encourages this kind of blind worship of science -- the idea that nothing can be proven other than by test-tubes and microscopes. I sometimes suspect apologists like Glynn and Polkinghome have worked out a secret agreement with skeptics: "Let's all ignore the millions of people around the world who have seen God answer prayer in extraordinary ways." You can't put human testimony, whether historical or judicial, in a test tube; so it doesn't count. And yet I think such experiences (such as I have had myself) are among the strongest and most immediate evidences for God's existence.

I agree with some below that Glynn's understanding of the relationship between faith and reason is a little simplistic. He thinks 25 years ago a reasonable person would be an atheist, but now would be a theist. Maybe Glynn wasn't looking for God 25 years ago. There was evidence for those who were, and there are outs for people now who aren't. But it is anti-human and illogical, as some readers suggest, to build a "demilitarized zone between faith and science" so that the words "God" and "evidence" cannot be linked. As I argue in my new book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, doubt and falsification are the common language of the Gospels and of science. (In fact, some people say science learned this language from the Gospels.) Glynn is right to speak in terms of evidence, however Tillich and other so-called "mainline" theologians may disdain it. (In the sordid tradition of the Bagwan Rajneesh, who said, "Religion has nothing to do with thoughts or thinking.") Doubt and openness to falsification are as essential to Christian faith, or to honest search for truth in any field, as in science. Faith without reason is just pig-headed idolatry.

If you want to read more about the Anthropic Principle and God, works by Hugh Ross or John Polkinghome give more detail, the first from an aggressive, the second from a cautious, stance. If you're open to historical evidence for the existence of God, try Don Richardson's wonderful Eternity in Their Hearts.

I just wrote a 320 page book describing empirical evidence for the Christian faith without overlapping Glynn on almost any point. (Perhaps I should have called it "God: The Other Evidence.") For those interested in the relationship between faith and reason, Biblical criticism, miracles and magic, the idea of God in pagan cultures, or the influence of Jesus on world history, I guarantee you'll find food for thought. Jesus and the Religions of Man is available through Amazon.

 

Discovery of Genesis, C. H. Kang

*** “Worth Cautious Consideration”

 

I frequently speak on Christianity and Chinese culture, and am often asked about this book. I think the authors have put together a very interesting set of evidence, showing that a Christian message can be found in many of the most significant Chinese characters. Whether you think the inventors of the Chinese language did this on purpose, the Holy Spirit guided their choices, or that these analogies are coincidental, anyone who is interested in Chinese culture and Christianity will I think find this book fascinating. The strongest objection to Christianity among Chinese and Japanese has always been "Christianity is a foreign religion."  Even if the authors are only letting their imaginations run wild, it seems to me they are running in a productive direction. But I think most readers will feel the evidence shows there is something more to their argument than that.

While I recommend this book to anyone interested in Chinese culture, I have three criticisms.  First, the human mind has an amazing ability to find patterns. If the authors were to take a more critical approach to their own ability to imagine, I would feel more free to recommend this book to critical thinkers. Second, some of the characters they analyze are a stretch. Some skeptical readers might be put off by the bad arguments and overlook the good ones.

My main objection, though, is to the author's historical framework. I doubt the Chinese were consciously trying to encode the Genesis record in their language. This for four reasons. First, I don't think you can link the Chinese and the Jews that closely historically or genetically. Second, redemptive analogies can be found in many culures. (Polynesian, Japanese, and American, African, and New Guinea tribes.) They are not always related to Genesis. Third, many Chinese characters, like the words for "come" and the old word for "world," show meanings related not to Genesis but to the death of Jesus on the cross. And nobody thinks the ancient Chinese had a copy of the New Testament. And fourth, when Paul went to Athens and preached the "unknown God," he didn't need to link him historically to Jehovah to show his audience that the God he spoke of was not a "foreign God." Neither do we. I think the book should be read and passed on, but with caution. But I've heard the authors themselves have been more cautious in recent editions.

I strongly disagree with the reader below who called this book "a bunch of crock" and said the God the ancient Chinese worshiped was not the Christian God. In fact, the concept of God in ancient China (the books of Poetry and History, for examples) described a God who was "parent" of mankind, wholly good, loves mankind, rewards the good and punishes evil, is far above all other gods, and has never been worshiped with an idol. Even non-Christians, like Chen Jingpan, admit, "From the very ancient days of Chinese history, down through the time of Confucius to the present, we have records about the Chinese belief in one supreme God, the ruler over heaven and earth."

I've recently been editing final drafts of a book, due in July, called Jesus and the Religions of Man. It includes a chapter called "The Non-History of God," showing the universal and changeless character of the concept of Creator. I'd be happy to e-mail a copy of that chapter to Jing Wang if he contacts me.

 

Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller

**** “Why Believe?”

 

Tim Keller's new book is a thoughtful and kindly answer to that question. It shouldn't be confused with a theological treatise on ¨the varieties of the Christian experience,¨ as a recent reviewer seems to expect. Nor can Keller go into much depth in any of the topics he covers -- which include both leading objections to Christian faith (part I) and his own best reasons for believing (part II). What Keller offers is an intelligent, informed, but also simple and personal (you feel engaged in a conversation here) argument for Christian faith in the context of popular dismissals.

It's hard to avoid comparing the book with C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. (Especially since Keller quotes Lewis so often, to some peoples' ire.) Keller is trying to do what Lewis did for an earlier generation: explain the Christian faith in a genial, informed, non-sectarian mode. As a Presbyterian pastor (of the very denomination Dawkins ignorantly vilifies in The God Delusion, BTW), Keller is more tied to a particular form of Christianity. The previous reviewer to the contrary, I think he does a fairly good job of transcending those limits.

One thing Keller does that Lewis did not do, is quote a lot of research. (Lewis' book was informed by deep scholarship, but the study formed a sort of endoskeleton to his argument, whereas Keller's sources are visible on the outside -- good for further study, if you have questions. I especially recommend Lewis himself, Wright, Plantinga, and Stark, all whom he cites frequently -- and plan to look up some of the other books he mentions myself!)

One reviewer complains that Keller tells skeptics that they ¨must¨ doubt their doubts. But isn't that just asking them to be consistent, and to examine life even more thoroughly?

The complaint that Keller thinks Christianity is ¨exclusively¨ right is not entirely fair. Keller expresses respect for other religions. Having written a couple books on Christianity and other religions myself (the most relevant being Jesus and the Religions of Man), I agree that Keller could have addressed this topic more thoughtfully.

Another reviewer makes an even more fundamental objection to Keller's approach: ¨The very premise of the book is flawed, because reason and faith have nothing to do with each other. Faith . . . is, fundamentally, to believe something to be true without having or needing a verifiable reason.¨

This is entirely mistaken. It's a pity Keller doesn't address this question a bit, because in my experience it's the single most common misconception about the Christian faith. In fact, that has almost NEVER been what Christians have meant by ¨faith.¨ (See the second chapter of my The Truth Behind the New Atheism, ¨Have Christians lost their minds?¨ for an explanation and rebuttal. That might also be a good book for the reviewer who thinks Keller fails to respond to the allegedly ¨scrupulous¨ arguments of Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris well.)

Some critics also seem disappointed that Keller offers ¨clues¨ to God, rather than ¨proof¨ of some sort. But as Pascal said, God gives enough light for those willing to believe, leaving some obscurity for those of ¨contrary disposition.¨ Keller is I think being realistic; between certainty of a positivist kind, and ¨blind faith,¨ there is a vast middle ground of contested facts on which the light of reason and evidence can shine and help us find our way.

 


 

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

***** “Diamonds or Coal, take your pick!” 

 

As a young man trying to decide whether or not to believe the things I grew up in, this book was very helpful to me. I remember reading the chapter on pride, "The Great Sin," one night at a camp in Alaska where I was counseling. The Holy Spirit showed me myself in that chapter. I poured over this book in those days, internalized it, even learned Chinese hoping to translate it.

I have since "moved on" to more detailed and empirically-oriented books by Christians, skeptics, and followers of other religions. Many of these offer interesting facts and insights. But the only place I have found as much wisdom as here (outside the Bible) was G. K. Chestertons's Everlasting Man, which influenced Lewis to faith.

Lewis has a marvelous gift for explaining things in simple terms without patronizing or talking down. Some may find his argument difficult, and others, too simple. In that case I recommend further reading; Lewis is not trying to be thorough.

I agree with one skeptical reviewer that Lewis does not offer "proof" of God, or even logically-compelling evidence. He dismisses atheism with amazing abruptness. "Atheism is too simple. . . If the universe has no meaning, we would never have found out." (How does he know that? Does he have a control universe in his pocket?) But don't misunderstand. Lewis does not really offer "proof" of God. Notice he calls section one, "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe." Lewis views our relationship with God not in scientific but in personal terms. God does not force faith on His wayward children, but drops hints for those who are seeking, is his assumption. Life is not an equation, but an adventure, even a romance with truth.

Some suggest a loophole in Lewis' famous "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" argument for the deity of Christ. Jesus' words were misrepresented by his followers, they say: he didn't really make the claims the Gospels say he did. Here again, remember that Lewis is trying to be concise. Originally, he did mention this possibility, but his comments were edited for time. If you want his answer to that objection (still a very devastating answer, if you are familiar with Jesus Seminar material), you'll find it in his essay, Fernseed and Elephants. The argument is also more fully developed in the first chapters of "On the Man Called Christ," in part two of Everlasting Man, where I guess Lewis found it in the first place.

There are books with a more empirical approach to the existence of God; Hugh Ross' book on the Anthropic Principle, Creator and the Cosmos, for example, or Don Richardson's Eternity in Their Hearts, that shows how God has worked in cultures around the world. NT Wright's series on the "historical Jesus" is deeply enlightening.

My own new book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism
, answers a couple objections Interested Observer makes below, and I think gives a pretty forceful response to Dawkins & Co generally.

But I don't know any modern popular author of any viewpoint who can hold a candle to Lewis or Chesterton in terms of expressing deep truths in simple words. There are truths here that will enrich you the rest of your life, if you lay hold of them.
 Reading Mere Christianity and finding only "a mess of holes," would be like going into a mine full of precious jewels and coming out with bucket of coal. There are truths here that will enrich you the rest of your life, if you lay hold of them.

 

 

The Case for the Creator, Lee Strobel

*** “Glass more than Half Full” 

 

I could probably have fun criticizing this book, as some below do, if I let myself. Strobel's "ace reporter" routine can get a bit hokey, though he's generally a good writer. His
"skepticism" does appear staged, and critics who complains about the unfairness of interviewing only people who agree with you have a point. (Though it is called "the case for," not "the case for and against.") And as a Christian apologist myself, I might not above petty jealousy at Strobel's success. Beyond that, there are serious problems with the arguments in about half this book. Nevertheless, if truth is your main concern, this book is worth reading, in my opinion.

First of all, the people Strobel interviews have a lot to say. Whatever you think of their ideas, you should hear Craig, Meyer, Gonzales, Behe, Moreland, and Collins for themselves. Despite his bias, Strobel asks many of the right questions. And this may be the most accessible and personable introduction to these issues.

Secondly, the arguments given in chapters 4-7 and 9 are often enlightening, and usually convincing. In these chapters, Strobel discusses the origin of the universe, the "anthropic principle," the "just right" character of our cosmic environs, and the first origins of life. If you look over the 150 or so reviews below, you'll find that very few challenge Strobel on anything he says in these chapters -- only four, by my count, and two of those just complain that Strobel misunderstands
"imaginary numbers." (By contrast, dozens take issue with his treatment of evolution.) There are some amazing facts in these parts of the book. Clearly, many readers would be happy to prove Strobel wrong, and some of these readers seem generally well-informed. It is therefore telling that Strobel's arguments in this half the book go almost unchallenged. Having read a number of books that cover much the same territory, I think he gives a pretty good popular presentation on these subjects: simple, readable, to the point, and mostly accurate.

Strobel's discussion of evolution is something else, I agree. He talks much of gaps in the fossil record, but does not mention the plain and enormous fact that in general, the fossil record shows progress from simple to complex. And as a Christian biologist I know pointed out to Fazale Rana, you don't find fossils radically out of order -- among the critters in the Pre-Cambrian, you won't find a hamster or halibut. Again, Strobel points out that the fossils of early man could fit in a box -- but does not go on to ask, if such recent evolutionary remains are so sparse, why should the Pre-Cambrian record so long ago be anything like complete? His "spin" on the genetic similarities between man and ape -- that it is as consistent with design as with common ancestry -- is post hoc and, frankly, lame. ID does not predict that; common ancestry does. Strobel comments on whether "the evidence" supports Darwinism, but appears to know less about the matter than I do, and I'm a historian, not a scientist. (I'm still trying to make up my mind about some key questions in the debate.) It is not true (as some complain) that Strobel assumes what Wells calls the "icons of evolution" are all the evidence for evolution. But until Strobel confronts meatier evidence and refutes it, the evolution portion of his argument is useless.

Essentially, Strobel's discussion of evolution depends on argument from authority. But if a hundred "scientists" signed against evolution, hundreds named "Steve" signed another list for it. I personally know several Christian biologists who find ID wanting. The argument from authority, or Phillip Johnson-like bad-mouthing of the "atheistic" opposition, simply don't help.

In sum, this book is a mixed bag. On balance, though, I'd say the glass is more than half full.

Some of the skeptics below should be more cautious in their criticism. ("Idiotic Christians once believed the earth was flat" -- an old historical myth that Strobel actually refutes, and rightly so.) The book is a lot better than some attacks on religion I've read lately, like Sam Harris' ignorant The End of Faith, or Daniel Dennett's almost fact-free Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena. Strobel represents skeptical ideas far more accurately, and in more detail, than those guys explain Christian views. Yet many skeptics praise those books (see the Amazon sites) without showing any sign of noticing their severe shortcomings.

Readers who would like to understand the relationship between Christianity and other religions, a topic several reviewers criticize Strobel for not addressing, will I think find my book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, worth a read.

 

 

The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel

*** “Good in Spots”

 

The Case for Faith is a simple and readable book based on a good idea: interview top Christian thinkers about questions that many people see as roadblocks to faith.  Strobel begins with just the right tone, an empathetic and poignant interview with elderly skeptic and one-time evangelist, Charles Templeton.

Some of the interviews are pretty good, and all of them have something of value, for those who are looking for it. I doubt most of the interviewees would call themselves "fundamentalists," as one reviewer describes them; certainly not Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft!  Kreeft is generally good on the Problem of Pain, though some of his solutions may seem a bit post hoc to those who do not share Christian assumptions.  Sometimes the honest bewilderment of Job seems preferable to clever philosophical answers.  Not that Kreeft's answers are merely clever; it's a tough question, and there is a lot to what he says. William Craig is, as always, sharp (on miracles, here) informed about contrary positions, and accustomed to fielding questions in the environment of debates with top skeptics, not just Christian pep rallies, qualifies himself appropriately. Walter Bradley's discussion of the difficulty of life emerging from non-life was excellent. I only noticed one lapse. But it was a major one: he didn't mention the idea of molecular evolution, and Strobel didn't ask. I'm not sure that's a very good solution, and Bradley's arguments may largely answer it anyway, but not bringing the question up I found rather gauling. Ravi Zacharius did better than I expected on Jesus being the only way to God. But while Zacharius gave good general theological answers, and he seems to know Western philosophy fairly well, I didn't see much evidence of deep and sympathetic knowledge of non-Christian religions.

The chapter on church history was, in my opinion, weaker than it should have been, though for a different reason. John Woodbridge may be an excellent historian, but he doesn't appear to be an apologist. He relates the conventional version of what happened, rather than putting events in philosophical and spiritual context. For example, he mentions the Crusades without explaining the background of Muslim conquests or the reality of Turkic rule, the makeup of the "Christian" troops sent to the Middle East, or contextual facts such as that Pope Innocent's promise of salvation to fallen warriors was an echo of the Muslim promise, half a millenia earlier, that "the way to Paradise is lit by the flash of swords!" The "Christianity" of the era, in other words, had itself become partly Muslim.

I found Geisler quite disappointing. His argument that God was being nice when he ordered genocide on the Palestinians was unsatisfactory, to put it mildly. Better to say you don't understand, and admit perplexity, than to give lame explanations like that. At least say "maybe" or "the way I see it." (Richard Wurmbrand, a Christian pastor who was tortured by the communists, writes briefly on the subject with more authority, and empathy. See In God's Underground.) Then Geisler claimed that the Fall of man was responsible for animal suffering. Strobel didn't even ask, "What about the millions of fossils of animals we find in layers of rock untroubled by any footprint of man? Were the effects of the Fall retroactive?" The question glares from the text like a flare. These lapses were unfortunate, because other things Geisler said could be helpful, if the whole were packaged a little more carefully, and critiqued more thoroughly.

While this book is entitled "The Case For Faith," in fact it does not mention a lot of the best evidence for the Christian faith, and is largely defensive in nature. (Answering objections as much as giving positive arguments.) While I disagree with some arguments, I think it may be helpful to many people. As other readers said, it is a generally good introduction to the subject.

 

Crossing the Threshold of Faith, Pope John Paul II

***** “Pretty good, for a Pope”

 

As a non-Catholic Christian, I was happy to find that I agree with most of this book. (Apart from the "Mother of God" chapter.) I was impressed by the intelligence, simplicity, and balance with which Pope John-Paul presented his ideas. It seemed to me that the pope must be aware of the ideas of great Christian thinkers like Lewis, Chesterton, and Pascal, and shares the same ability to express deep truths in terms that are easy to understand.

Some Buddhists, like Thich Nhat Hanh, have complained about the Pope's view of other religions. Thich actually rebuked the Pope for misunderstanding Christianity by calling Jesus "the only mediator between God and man!" Non-Christians should realize that, in this case, the Pope is only quoting Scripture. And as he also noted, Christianity "rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions." My own research is into what the Pope calls "semina Verbi," seeds of truth, in pre-Christian cultures, (especially Asian) and I thought his approach was fair. Of course he talks about many issues in this book: the fall of communism, abortion, the status of women, salvation, the existence of God. . . and does not go into any in great detail. It is an excellent book to read for an overall understanding of Catholic Christianity and the thinking of one very thoughtful Catholic in particular.