November 19, 2008

Book Review: Five Views on Apologetics

Five Views on ApologeticsSteven B. Cowan, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 398 pp.

The Apostle Peter exhorts Christians to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Believers recognize that God calls us to the defense of our faith—that is, to the practice of apologetics. But how do we defend our faith? How do we give an answer? Throughout church history, Christians have approached the task of apologetics in a variety of ways. Steven Cowan has brought together proponents of five different views to defend their apologetic method and interact with the other contributors. The result is Five Views on Apologetics.

Five scholars participated in this printed discussion advocating their views: William Lane Craig, the classical method; Gary Habermas, the evidential method; Paul Feinberg, the cumulative-case method; John Frame, the presuppositional method; and Kelly James Clark, the Reformed epistemological method. This book follows the typical format established by previous titles in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series. Each contributor begins a section by summarizing and defending his method, followed by a response to the initial presentation by each of the other authors. After the last view is presented and engaged, the original advocates have a final opportunity to reply to the other contributors. By the time the reader finishes the book, he or she should have a much better understanding of each individual approach and the differences among the methods.

I really enjoyed this book. Apologetic method has always interested me, and bringing together several of today’s leading evangelical apologists to interact with one another on how we should defend our faith was sure to bring forth fruitful discussion and insight. While I won’t focus on which methodology I prefer (even though some of you may already know!), I can say that I richly benefited from each presentation and the back-and-forth of the contributors.

Still, I do wonder if the editor could have chosen better advocates for the viewpoints presented. Almost none of the contributors could be accurately described as a “purist.” As Frame points out in one of his responses: “In my view, not a great deal of difference exists between the methods of William Craig, Gary Habermas, and Paul Feinberg” (132). Kelly James Clark begins his response to Craig by saying, “I could have written William Craig’s essay (at least major parts of it)” (82). Such statements occur frequently, with those involved voicing their general agreement with one another. William Lane Craig even comments: “What we are seeing in the present volume is a remarkable convergence of views, which is cause for rejoicing” (317). Maybe so, but in a book seeking to introduce readers to the peculiarities and differences among various apologetic methods such a “convergence” only muddies the waters. Perhaps including an “eclectic method” or “integrationist method” as a separate attempt to bring together the other views into a new approach alongside more traditional presentations would have been more beneficial.

The work also seems overly technical. Multiple-view books function best as introductions to the central issues of contemporary debates. Having to wade through difficult philosophical concepts and the probability calculus of Bayes’ Theorem is far beyond the capability of most lay Christians. Restricting the discussion of apologetic method to such a high academic level severely limits the book’s usefulness. And this is a shame, since such scholars could greatly help our brothers and sisters in Christ to think more clearly about how to defend our faith.

Consequently, I finished this book with mixed thoughts. On the one hand, it’s an informative work on an important topic for contemporary Christians; on the other, I can’t see recommending it often to fellow believers. Nonetheless, I’m sure it will give helpful insights to those who are somewhat acquainted with philosophical and theological issues related to apologetics, as well as to others who are willing to slowly and carefully work through its contents.