Tag: book reviews

Tolle Lege: Narrative Apologetics by Alister McGrath

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This is a story about a book.  It’s not just a review because that wouldn’t be quite winsome enough.  So a story it is.  Once upon a time I was a philosophy major and really caught up in the Christian apologetics scene.  It’s still a pool I like to dip my toe in now and again, so I was pretty excited to hear what Alister McGrath had to say about the subject.

The book (published by Baker, 2019) arrived after a summer spent contemplating two contrary viewpoints.  The first was espoused by a speaker who made the following assertion, “The entire Bible can be summed up in the statement, “What ever you are doing that’s right, keep doing it.  What ever you are doing that’s wrong, cut it out.”  The second viewpoint was from an Instagram video of a pastor catechizing his own grandkids with the question “What is the Bible about?”  To which they responded in unison, “Kill the Dragon. Get the Girl.”  Wow. What a stark contrast!  The first synopsis is purely moralistic and works oriented.  Most other religions out there could offer a similar summary of their own teachings.  The second is what McGrath would define as a narrative approach and focuses on the eternal gospel story.   I’m definitely on the same page as McGrath in that regard.  In adopting the religion of moralistic therapeutic deism, Christians have lost sight of the great drama of redemption which God ordained from eternity past, Christ accomplished on the cross and the Holy Spirit will complete in the church, Christ’s Bride.

Nothing gets me more excited than Christians– be they apologists, evangelists, pastors, conference speakers, authors, tweeters, teachers, parents, neighbors, or buyers and sellers in the market place– proclaiming the gospel to a hell-bound world.  In my lifetime there has been so much emphasis on means and methodology that the actual urgency of getting the message out there seems to have been lost.  I even heard a speaker say that 1 Peter 3:15 meant that we were ONLY to share OUR story with people who asked us about the hope we have.  Further, he claimed that Jesus Himself modeled this methodology by only teaching or healing those who came to Him first.  Not only is that patently false, it’s the poorest excuse for ignoring the Great Commission I’ve ever heard.  Will we really be able to say in our own defense of all our acquaintances sentenced to eternal damnation, “Well, they never asked. Sooo…”?

My concern with McGrath’s book is that his focus falls too heavily on the means and takes too lightly the urgency of the message. He really does offer a winsome approach to sharing the Gospel story, not failing to live up in any way to the promises of his sub-title, “Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith.”  He states his purpose in the very first sentence as aiming “to introduce and commend… an approach to affirming, defending, and explaining the Christian faith by telling stories (7).”  Bravo for “affirming, defending, and explaining the Christian faith!”  That puts him right in line with some of my other favorite apologists out there today (i.e. James White, Jeff Durbin, Ray Comfort, Mark Spence, Eric Hovind, Neil Shenvi, Sye Ten Bruggenicate, Alisa Childers and the rest of the Mama Bears).  I think several from the above list would also appreciate McGrath’s self-described “winsome and welcome” approach while several others would be encouraged by mainstream evangelicals to give said approach a try, rather than the “clinically rational approaches … [which] lack imaginative depth and emotional intelligence (8).”  In other words, there are winsome, story-telling apologists and there are apologists.

McGrath argues that “A narrative approach to Christian apologetics does not displace other approaches” but rather “is best seen as supplementing other approaches (8).”  I might be able to buy that except for that he argues later that “Narrative acts as both the medium and the message in Christian apologetics (15).”  That makes for a rather exclusionary statement.  One that he follows with the claim that “demonstrating the reasonableness or truth of Christianity does not always lead people to embrace it (15).”  This is true and is clearly supported by numerous Scriptural texts (such as these found just thumbing through the first half of the Gospel of John– 3:11,12, 5:36-39, 8:45-47, 10:24-26, 12:39) none of which are cited by McGrath. His next statement however,  lacks the same force.  “Truth is no guarantor of relevance. Veracity is one thing–indeed, a good thing.  Existential traction, however, is something very different (16).”  Where McGrath errs is in citing as an example 3 true statements involving measured rainfall, the weight of gold, and a certain Nobel Prize nomination.  These, he argues, “may be true yet possess little, if any, relevance for human existence… while they might be interesting, none of them probably makes the slightest difference to anyone (15).”

McGrath is correct in his appraisal but wrong in his application.  The examples he uses are indeed true, but they are not what one would call Gospel Truths, or doctrine, which is exactly why they lack any “existential traction,” not because they are set outside the context of a winsome narrative, as McGrath suggests.  If McGrath is correct in his definition of apologetics as “depicting its world of beauty, goodness, and truth faithfully and vividly, so that people will be drawn by the richness and depth of its vision of things,” rather than the traditional definition of “persuading people that a certain set of ideas is right (18),” then I can see why his winsome narrative approach is so crucial.

The problem is, though I agree on one hand that the Bible itself is made up of said narrative, and that we actually are but players in this great drama of redemption, I disagree that the manner in which the story is relayed has the power in and of itself to produce transformation in one’s life.  Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel itself IS the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.  But effectual saving faith is a gift of God, not a natural response to a well told story (see Romans 10:20).  McGrath solves this difficulty by arguing that we need to “move away from the traditional believers-nonbelievers paradigm to a new seekers-dwellers paradigm (99).”  The book of Romans again proves problematic here for in the 11th verse of the third chapter we read, “no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  Which is why we have to be super careful in distinguishing an intellectual acquiescence to the truth, and true saving faith.

McGrath is honest enough to acknowledge this danger, pointing first to his own conversion, which he describes as “an intellectual conversion, lacking any emotional or affective dimension (28) and later Dorothy Sayers’ self-criticism.  “She at times wondered if she had fallen in love with the intellectual pattern that Christianity disclosed, rather than with the central character of that narrative (115).”  These two testimonials are almost reminiscent of that of the demons in James 2:19.  One has to applaud McGrath for pointing out this pitfall in any approach to Christian apologetics.

Since we’re already applauding, I might as well wrap things up.  The end of the story is this:  I was excited about reading this narrative approach to apologetics because I thought it would be an effective counter to the pragmatic, therapeutic, moralistic nonsense which has so weakened the church in my lifetime.  But in the end I was disappointed by the emphasis on seeker-sensitive methodology and lack of urgency for the bold proclamation of the Gospel to a hell-bound world.  That’s my narrative and here’s my rating:

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Shelf it. At least till I run out of space in the M’s.

Even though I was sent a free copy of this book from the publisher, I obviously wasn’t obligated to write a favorable review.

Tolle Lege: Mama Bear Apologetics by Hillary Morgan Ferrer

A couple weeks ago I was cleaning out a closet while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, “Mama Bear Apologetics,” as they discussed their new book by the same title.  Listening to them talk, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that book.  Their motto, “You mess with our kids, we’ll demolish your arguments” resonated deeply with this former-philosophy-major-now-mother-of-5.  When they called on us to “rise up, Mama Bears” I could just feel that inner roar welling up.  But then I spotted a mouse in the back of the closet and ran screaming out of the house.

My middle-son, Nathan, came out to see what was wrong and from across the yard (I really had run that far) I warned him about the dreadful creature inhabiting the closet.  Nate disappeared back into the house and a minute later returned holding a pellet gun in one hand with the lifeless form of the perpetrator dangling by its tail in the other.  Not my proudest Mama Bear moment. 

After re-establishing the “no shooting guns in the house” rule, I finished the closet (actually I had Nate pull everything else from the back of it, just in case), and immediately ordered the book.  Here’s why I think every mom needs to do the same.

Mice are in the house.  They creep in unbeknownst to us, take up residence, and reproduce at an alarming rate.  They chew away at the fabric of our minds and leave their filth in every corner.  They are the ideas which Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to trap, take captive and conform to Christ.  Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies” edited by head Mama Bear herself, Hillary Morgan Ferrer, will help moms shine the light of truth into the cluttered closets of young minds and identify intruders. 

Each chapter is authored by a different Mama Bear and focuses on a particular ideology, such as Naturalism, Skepticism, Moral Relativism, Marxism, Feminism etc…  Rebekah Valerius in her chapter called “The Truth Is, There Is No Truth” discusses how sneaky an intruder mindsets like post-modernism can be.  Parents think they’re “helping their children build on a foundation of truth” but all the while the children are reinterpreting it, not as THE truth, but rather YOUR truth.  Which is fine until you “claim that your truth should be theirs—then you’ll have pushback.”  She continues,

“Postmodern principles are insidious in that way.  They are like viruses that lay dormant for years.  We may not even know our kids are infected until it is too late.  That is why we need to expose the lies early and show how a postmodern mindset leads to chaos, not freedom” (139).

It’s like that mouse quietly making its home in the back of my closet, getting all nice and fat with my pantry supplies, wreaking havoc in my forgotten linens until one day I’m surprised into flight by its presence.  Thankfully my cub at least had the presence of mind to put his tools into use to demolish it himself.

Oh, and lest you think that by sheltering your kids in the church and Christian schools they will somehow avoid dangerous ideologies like these, Alisa Childers has an excellent chapter on how unbiblical thinking has invaded even the church.  New Age Spirituality, Social Justice Marxism, Self-Helpism, Feminism, Emotionalism have all made themselves quite at home in Christian closets, propagated by Christian speakers, writers, music, social-media etc… 

Identifying and rooting out these ideologies can be a daunting task.  It’s like standing in front of that long-neglected, cluttered up closet and not even wanting to open the door.  Who knows what’s lurking there in the dark.  

But that’s why this book is so great.  Using the acrostic “R.O.A.R.” it will help moms Recognize the massage, Offer discernment (“affirm the good and reject the bad”), Argue for a healthier approach, and Reinforce through discussion, discipleship, and prayer (54).

The Mama Bears have finally built a better mousetrap.

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You can visit their website here

Rebekah Valerius also blogs here

I also listen to Alisa Childers’ podcast here 

 

Tolle Lege: Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J.P. Moreland

It was a joy to hold in my hands this week a book that I think makes up for that evolutionary bit of nonsense Crossway published earlier this year called “God and Galileo” by David Block and Kenneth Freeman (you can read that review here).  What Block and Freeman claim Galileo’s 400-year-old letter teaches us about faith and science is that the one must bow to the other in matters of the physical universe.  “Science needs to be falsified using the scientific method, not by simply quoting the Scriptures…It is the domain of scientists to verify or disprove scientific theories.  It is not the place of theologians to falsify scientific ideas using bare scriptural arguments (80).”  Even though this quote lies within the chapter titled “The Fraud of Scientism,” the book itself as a whole is just one grand example of the very thing they weakly identify as fraudulent.  In fact, in rereading that chapter, I never was able to pinpoint a direct argument against scientism, other than their refutal of the current theory of a multiverse.  

God and Galileo” really serves to exemplify the kind of weak scientism that J. P. Moreland claims has crept into the church in his book “Scientism and Secularism” (Crossway, 2018).  According to his definition, “Scientism is the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality (26).”  Moreland further distinguishes between strong scientism, which “implies that something is true, rationally justified, or known if and only if it is a scientific claim that has been successfully tested and that is being used according to appropriate scientific methodology (29)” and weak scientism, which “acknowledges truths apart from science, granting them some minimal rational status even if they don’t have scientific support (30).”  Block and Freeman do this very thing by making  sharp distinctions between “the nature of truth and the truth of nature”(66),  “intellectual discernment and spiritual discernment”(97), and “material and spiritual” systems (104). There is  a book of Scripture and a book of nature (43) and “the book of nature can never be suppressed”(81).  I would argue that Romans 1:18-23 suggests otherwise but I’ll leave the arguing to Moreland who does a far superior job than I ever could.  Oh, and I must mention in speaking of Moreland’s superiority, that there are sections of his book I’ll have to go back and reread because they were honestly way over my head.  I’m thinking specifically of chapters 7-9 which dealt with non scientific knowledge and first philosophy (pretty pathetic of me since I was a philosophy major but clearly I need to review).

Moreland’s greatest strength, and the thing that I think makes this book a necessary read, is that he not only puts forth a clear and thorough examination of scientism but how in its weaker form it has infiltrated the church.  “Weak scientism, when believed and put into practice, leads to a constant revision of doctrines that the church has held for centuries under the pressure of scientistic political correctness (72).”  The implications reach far beyond the origins and age of the universe affecting the foundations of human identity, gender, the nature of sin etc…(73).  The effects of scientism have been marked and destructive and yet we’ve been practically incognizant of its presence, so subtle has been its infiltration.  Moreland contends that truth need not be compartmentalized with science always taking the superior position over theology.  There needs to be a reintegration of the Christian world view into every discipline.  For too long, “Christians compartmentalized their faith, kept it tucked away in a private compartment of their lives, and did not integrate their Christian ideas with their work” (185).  

This book serves as a huge encouragement for Christians who have been left grasping for reasons to have confidence in a Biblical worldview and courage in applying that worldview to all of life.  

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* Even though I was given a copy of this book by the publisher I am under no obligation to write a favorable review.