If one has even an entry-level knowledge of the field of apologetics, one knows some of the traditional textbooks in which to turn to for study. Norman Geisler’s classic Christian Apologetics still stands strong a few decades after it was first written. J.P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City and William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith are others that are widely used, and rightly so. The scholarship and wisdom in the books I have just mentioned provide an intellectual analysis of the field of apologetics and how Christians ought to engage with it. Contemporary Christians interested in apologetics can now turn to another text that is bound to become one of the most-used textbooks in apologetics. Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for the Biblical Faith (InterVarsity, 2011) may have more breadth both in content and wisdom than any apologetics text to date. The subtitle is justified as the book, over 700 pages and 26 chapters long (not including two appendixes), presents the need for apologetics and explores the main philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Unlike other apologetics texts, Groothuis includes chapters examining truth in postmodern society, religious pluralism, and a tactful approach to dealing with Islam. Furthermore, biblical scholars (and Denver Seminary colleagues) Richard Hess and Craig Blomberg build on an already strong text by writing chapters on apologetics in the Old Testament (Appendix 2) and a historical approach to the person of Christ and the gospels, respectively.
It is difficult to provide an in-depth chapter-by-chapter review of any textbook, let alone a book that concludes at 752 pages. I will not be so naïve to think I could do such a thing either. Thus, this review will hit on what I believe to be the most important and substantial portions of the book. Groothuis divides the book into three sections and I will structure this review in accordance to that division. While a few critiques may be included in the sectional review, I will leave what I believe to be the most pressing critiques (and they are few and minimal) until the end of the review. As one would expect with a book of this size, this review will be lengthy. I will be as concise as possible; however, I will not devalue the examination this book deserves simply to be brief. It is my role as a reviewer to do diligence to both the author and text itself to be as objective and comprehensive in my examination as possible.
Part one of the book, entitled “Apologetic Preliminaries” examines the need and reasons to engage in apologetics. I would recommend this section to any Christian scholar, pastor, missionary and layperson alike. Groothuis begins by laying out the need for apologetics as not something that Christians can do if they so choose, but rather as a biblical mandate. The contemporary attitude towards apologetics is often hostile. We live in a culture that thrives on tolerance between different worldviews and the defense of one position seems to rub against the grain of what is now considered normal. Groothuis masterfully breaks down this misconception in the opening chapters of the book. While Christian apologetics is the defense of a particular position, it is not one that is meant to be hostile. Rather, Groothuis says that Christian apologetics is “the rational defense of the Christian worldview as objectively true, rationally compelling and existentially or subjectively engaging.” Apologetics is shown to be crucial for both the presenter and receiver of the apologetic message. For the receiver, a logically and rationally compelling argument is given that promotes the objective truth of Christianity. For the presenter, the Christian, engaging in apologetics fortifies the Christian in their position as a Christian.
While apologetics is a field of its own, Groothuis makes the claim that an apologetic argument cannot be effectively presented without understanding its connection to philosophy and theology. Apologetics is not reducible to either of these fields but it greatly hinges on the content and discipline of these other areas of study. The systematic doctrine of theology is itself what is being defended. One cannot properly present an apology for Christianity without adequately understanding its truth-claims. In relation to philosophy, one must be skilled and trained in rational and logical styles of argumentation. This makes the argument itself sound and eliminates philosophical fallacies. Furthermore, Groothuis grounds the field of apologetics as biblically mandatory. He presents biblical examples of apologetic interaction – including Jesus himself.
Groothuis wisely includes a chapter of the apologetic method and its core reliance on philosophical logic. As previously stated, one cannot be a good apologist without being familiar with logical argumentation. Groothuis, then, follows up on that claim with the inclusion of a chapter devoted to basic logical principles necessary for apologetics.
Apologetics 101 is knowing the content of the worldview that one is defending. Thus, Groothuis lays out the foundational beliefs of Christianity. Quite a lot is discussed in one chapter as Groothuis examines the theist’s belief of metaphysics, epistemological foundation, the human condition, salvation and morality. Countless books have been devoted to subsets of each of these topics and thus the finer details of these areas cannot be adequately included in this type of book. However, Groothuis hits all the main and foundation beliefs of Christianity that one needs to know in order to engage in apologetic discussion. It is a chapter filled with the basic truths of Christianity and is a chapter that will serve as a nice complimentary piece to James Sire’s The Universe Next Door for anyone interested in comparative worldviews. Should one want a deeper examination of the details of the topics discussed in this chapter, one will need to consult other books.
As a philosopher that is as focused on objective truth, it is to no surprise that Groothuis includes a chapter on truth in postmodern culture. Building on one of his previous books, Truth Decay, Groothuis states that objective truth is a staple of humanity, the “intellectual oxygen we breathe.” Here, Groothuis tactfully examines and breaks down the postmodern thought that truth is not objective. Identifying two main enemies of truth in contemporary American culture, apathy and tolerance, Groothuis states that objective truth is dismissed in favor of the lauded view of tolerance, which attempts to embrace all differing cultural norms, and apathy, the lackadaisical approach to knowing truth. The book wisely points out that these views are antithetical to sound philosophy. In philosophy, one is on the path of knowledge and engages in the discipline of knowing truth. The connection to Christianity is clear – the Bible presents truth-claims. If one believes these to be true, they must be objectively true. If one believes the Christian worldview to be true, it is the intellectual responsibility of the Christian to gain further knowledge about the worldview.
While much more can be said about the opening section of the book as I only highlighted crucial features of a few chapters, I can conclude this section encouraging anyone interested in apologetics consult this first section of Christian Apologetics. It provides the examination of the necessity for apologetics and is the portrayal of Groothuis’ attitude towards the discipline. It is easy to deduce that Groothuis is passionate about the truth of the Christian faith and is direly concerned with its presentations to those outside the Christian worldview. If an academic book were to ever tug at one’s heart and implore one to move, it will be found in this opening section.
Part two of Christian Apologetics is the heart of the book – the dense examination of the main philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Again, it would be irresponsible for me to do a quick and flippant review of each chapter and thus I will examine what I believe to be the most important and pertinent content.
Groothuis starts off with an ancient and controversial argument: the ontological argument. Hinging on both of Saint Anselm’s arguments as well as the reformed version by Alvin Plantinga, Groothuis presents the ontological argument as one that is both rationally captivating and successful. I currently remain in limbo on the success of this particular argument. It his been widely (and unwarrantedly) ridiculed and yet has remained defended for centuries. The ontological argument works entirely off the notion of the existence of God without relying on empirical claims. If nothing else, the ontological argument gives evidence to the brilliance of human reason. This particular argument logically guarantees that God exists from the premise that one can conceptualize a Perfect Being. The (Anselmian) argument, deductive in form, can be summed up by saying that a person can think of a greatest possible being. From this, a thing either exists only as knowledge construct, or, as something that exists in reality. It is greater for a thing to exist in reality rather than merely in the mind. But, God is the greatest possible being and he therefore exists in reality.
Groothuis provides a few examples of critiques of the argument and goes into a lengthy exploration of Kant’s critique. While Groothuis, I believe, accurately dismisses Kant’s critique, I have found little persuasiveness in this chapter that would lead me to accept the ontological argument as a success. This is no reflection on the author’s ability to engage with difficult subjects. The very fact that Groothuis included a chapter devoted to this difficult concept exemplify his skill as a philosopher. The area that lacked, however, was a detailed examination on how the mind can construct a supposed reality about an immaterial Perfect Being from human reason alone. While I come to the same conclusion, that of believing God is a Perfect Being that is logically necessary, I still am not persuaded by this argument. Furthermore, Saint Thomas Aquinas’ critique of this argument is quite compelling and is not examined in this book.
The chapter on cosmological arguments is superb and only further qualifies Groothuis as a proficient thinker. This chapter without question is the chapter I learned the most from. Groothuis engages very difficult scientific and philosophical concepts and communicates them in a way that even the beginner will be able to grasp. Though there are many different versions of the cosmological argument, the chapter hones in on the kalam cosmological argument as put forth by William Lane Craig. The kalam argument is superior to other cosmological arguments in that it supposedly secures the theistic doctrine of ex nihilo if the arguments proves successful (note: a minor quibble of this chapter is that Groothuis purports that the Thomistic cosmological argument does not endorse ex nihilo. I believe this to be false). This specific chapter was sensational – however I was left disappointed that no time was given to addressing the cosmological argument posited by Aquinas. In some respects, the Thomistic cosmological argument is the simplest form for people new to apologetics. The Thomistic version does not get into the technical issues of the metaphysics of time and Big Bang cosmology that the kalam version uses, nor does it require knowledge of the principle of sufficient reason that the Leibnizian version necessitates. While the kalam and Leibnizian versions are logical and sound arguments, they may confusing to people new to apologetics. Because of this, beginners ought to take the time to read this chapter slowly and more than once because of the finer technical details.
Chapters 12-14 are devoted to the design argument and issues relating to it. Groothuis opposes macroevolution and thus goes to great extent to battle Darwinism. Those interested in the philosophy of science will be drawn to these chapters. The chapter focused on intelligent design relies heavily on the work of William Dembski and Michael Behe. These chapters serve as a valuable introduction for those new to discussion between Christian and naturalistic sciences.
Chapter 15 is perhaps the most successful chapter of the entire book as it deals with the moral argument. It is my belief that the moral argument is the most successful argument for the existence of God as it appeals to everyone, Christian, atheist, and non-Christian religious persons. Ethical theory may perhaps be the most widely debated philosophical topic throughout history and thus Groothuis could have taken many approaches when discussing the moral argument. The way he structured his chapter, however, is nearly flawless. Building off his chapter examining truth in the postmodern culture (chapter 7), Groothuis correlates the denial of objective truth to the ridding of objective moral value. He unmercifully attacks moral relativism and brilliantly shows its dangers. He states that cultural relativism reduces to individual relativism, which, in turn, ultimately rests on nihilism. The setup of this reductio ad absurdum points the reader to a moral system that does not reduce to nihilism. Thus, a worldview that embraces objective moral truths must be embraced. Groothuis makes the claim that the source of objective moral truths is found in the absolute Being – God. Groothuis puts for the notion that God is the source of all perfect moral code because he himself is incapable of an evil act as it would be a contradiction of God’s Being.
Also included is an argument from religious experience. It is refreshing to see this argument given the attention that it deserves as it is not as predominately seen in apologetics as some of the other arguments already discussed. Groothuis supports the claim that one can know God through some experience of divine reality. He supports this by using the argument from divine longing and numinous experience. The argument from numinous experience is defended well via a phenomenological triad that correlates a revelatory experience to an intentional religious experience. That is, numinous experience, as intentional, find their source outside the person who is experiencing – thus correlating objectively to a divine Being.
The remaining chapters of section two surround arguments of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. This includes the chapter from Professor Craig Blomberg. Groothuis includes a defense of the incarnation, Jesus’ miracles and the resurrection – all while refuting common arguments against these issues. These chapters are an appropriate end to a magnificent examination of the main apologetic methods.
The last section is contains chapters related to a few common objections to Christian theism: religious pluralism, issues surrounding Islam and the perennial problem of evil. The chapter on religious pluralism is wonderfully laid out and carefully examines the American ideal that all religions be treated equally and all lead to salvation. As Groothuis points out, “the dizzying plethora of religious pluralism has led many to believe that no religion can claim to be the only way of salvation. Religions should succumb to a more humble estimation … in order to avoid religious dogmatism, controversy and strife.” Such a statement is a profound summary of the current ideal. Groothuis goes to great lengths to argue against this worldview and states that the Christian worldview is objectively true and the only source of salvation. This chapter not only serves well as a stand-alone chapter, but the material is heightened when read in light of the opening chapters about truth in postmodern contexts. Groothuis examines other world religions and the worldview of perennialism to combat the pluralistic claims – including that of liberal theologian John Hick. This chapter serves well when read in the company of Harold Netland’s Encountering Religious Pluralism.
I have attempted to examine and review this monumental work in as much detail as I can. I have left out many things that could otherwise be noted in this review. However, I tried to touch on what I felt was most important. This books lives up to its name and is truly a comprehensive case for the biblical faith. The mastery of difficult topics shows that Groothuis is highly qualified and profoundly motivated in the field of apologetics. This books comes with many treats that other apologetics texts do not offer, such as the argument from religious experience, a chapter on Pascal’s anthropological argument and also chapters on Islam and Hell.
No book is perfect, and while Christian Apologetics offers much, it does have a few flaws worth pointing out. Many of my critiques within the main body of this review were centered around exclusion of topics I felt worthwhile. Obviously, Groothuis could not hit on every topic, but the exclusion of subjects like the Thomistic cosmological argument leaves that specific chapter with a hole. Groothuis, at times, also too quickly passes over important objections to Christianity. This is evident in his dealing with the Euthyphro dilemma in the chapter on the moral argument (I believe his response can be considered question-begging by atheistic opposition). His chapter on the problem of evil is perhaps the chapter that kept me wanting most. Considering the book has 26 chapters and two appendixes (including the contributions of Blomberg and Hess), one chapter which lacks is not a bad feat. The problem of evil is only examined significantly under a compatiabilist and Calvinistic standpoint. While I hold neither of these positions, I understand their viewpoint and do not feel as though the problem of evil is argued away sufficiently with these views held.
The book significantly can enhance one’s knowledge of the argument and it deeply examines arguments not prevalently seen. The book, however, will be an influential source to any person that needs an introduction to this important field. All in all, this is a great book and one that I would highly recommend to anyone.