Thursday, March 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS PAST AND PRESENT, VOL. 2


Christian Apologetics: Past & Present, a Primary Source Reader, vol. 2: from 1500. William Edgar & K. Scott Oliphint, eds. Crossway Books, 2011. 745 pp. $55.00 USD. ISBN 978-1-58134-907-8.

            This book is part 2 of a 2 volume set that proposes to introduce the reader to primary source texts, from all eras of Christian thought, that are related to Christian Apologetics. The editors, William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, are both professors of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. The purpose of this second volume is to introduce the reader to apologetic writings, written by a number of prominent Christian theologians, dating from the 1500s, essentially the beginning of the reformation, to the present day. The book begins with Martin Luther, and concludes with some of the more recent writings of William Lane Craig, Francis Collins and others.

The book is divided into four parts, namely, the Reformation and post-reformation era, the modern era, the post-modern era and contemporary apologetics. The book seems to be designed for use as a textbook in a course dealing with the history of apologetics. As such, each one of the primary sources is followed by a number of suggested questions designed to help the student get more out of the section. The editors introduce each of the four periods of that are outlined in this book, each of the authors, and each of the primary sources, with short biographical and informational sections. Each section finishes by what is called a follow-up section, which seeks to mention some of the authors that, though important, did not earn a chapter in the book. The book is complete with a relatively complete General index, listing important names and subjects, and a scripture index. This book is almost twice the size of the first volume, in spite of the fact that it only covers the last 500 years, compared to a whopping 1500 year covered in the first volume.

            The first part of the book opens up with excerpts from Martin Luther’s Concerning Christian Liberty, John Calvin’s Institutes, Robert Bellarmine’s The Mind’s Ascent to God by the Ladder of Created Things, and John Owen’s Dissertation of Divine Justice. The conclusion for this summary gives honorable mention to Francisco Suarez, Pierre Du Moulin, Francis Turretin, and Juan Luis Vives.

            The second part of the book, dealing with modernity, gives us excerpts from Pascal’s Pensées, Joseph Butler’s Analogy of Religion, Jonathan Edward’s Miscellanies, William Paley’s Natural Theology, and Friedrich Schleiermacher’s On Religion. Honorable mention is given to Hugo Grotius, Herbert of Cherbury, Robert Boyle, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Matthew Tindal, Thomas Sherlock, John Leland, George Berkeley, William Warburton, Leibniz, Pierre Bayle,  and a number of other interesting authors. The period that is known as the modern age was a lively time in which the foundations of modern science were founded, and scientific and technological discoveries were constantly happening. These discoveries, coupled with the influence of the late scholastics and the Cartesian philosophers, made for a period of history that was both optimistic about man’s natural capacities, and suspicious of all claims to authority, including religious authority. It is unfortunate that Descartes is not quoted as, without out doubt, he is the most influential catholic philosopher of the modern period, and his works were written with the purpose of defending Christianity. One of the most well-known expositions of the ontological argument, for example, is found in his writings.

            The third part of this book introduces us to the writings of a number of influential thinkers in the 19th and 20th centuries. These centuries saw the publication of a plethora of theological and apologetics works. The selection that we are given include Soren Kierkegaard’s The Instant, Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, James Orr’s The Christian View of God and the World, B. B. Warfield’s Introduction to Francis R. Beattie’s Apologetics, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, J. Gresham Machen’s well known Christianity and Liberalism, Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, the catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Eludications, and Test Everything, Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, and Francis Schaeffer’s Death in the City.

            The fourth part of this book gives us a small selection of some contemporary apologists, including selections from Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief, Merold Westphal’s Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism, Os Guinness’s Time for Truth, the catholic, Jean-Luc Marion’s God without Being, William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, and Francis Collins’, The Language of God. The contemporary selection surprisingly includes nothing by Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, Paul Copan, Chuck Colson, and a number of other prominent Christian Apologists.

            Though there are some surprising inclusions, and exclusions, the book is a very useful introduction to the works of apologetics that have been published in the last 500 years. It would have been possible to publish a single volume for each of the four sections, and even necessary, if one wished to include all of the important works of apologetics that were written in this short period. As such, the editors have done a wonderful job at giving us a wide variety of apologetics works. As with the first volume there is a noted emphasis on biblical and historical apologetics, and a distinct reformed flavour. Both volumes of this series will be useful in a class concerning the history of apologetics, and a welcome addition to any professors, pastors or lay-man’s library.