Can You Believe It’s True? Christian Apologetics in a Modern & Postmodern Era. John S. Feinberg. Crossway Publications, 2013. 527 pp. $40.00. ISBN 978-1-4335-3900-8.
Anyone who constantly engages in the activity of Christian Apologetics, or who tries to keep up to date on books that deal with Christian Apologetics, the arrival of a new tome on apologetics raises the question, what could the author possibly say that hasn’t already been said by some other author? Will this book be worth my time? These are the questions that I asked as I opened this enormous work on Christian Apologetics. To make a long story short, Feinberg approaches a number of important and foundational issues that need to be addressed by Christian apologists, and he does so in a manner that is both interesting to read and intellectually challenging. This book will be a welcome addition to the library of all aspiring apologists. In this book review I will note some of the philosophical and theological positions of the author that are important for understanding this book, as well as the proposed purpose for the book. Then I will give an overview of the subjects that are covered in this book. Finally I will note what I consider to be the major drawback of this book.
John Feinberg, a well-known Christian theologian and apologist is not one to hide his theological and philosophical associations. Feinberg, in this book, tells the reader that he is a Calvinist theologian and apologist who holds to a soft determinism. In ethical considerations he considers himself to be a non-consequentialist. Philosophically he claims to be a realist who holds to a modified rationalist metaphysics. He seems to accept a number of the foundational claims of Kantian Epistemology, and adheres to a minimal epistemological foundationalism. The apologetics approach that he adheres to is what his brother, Paul Feinberg, called a Cumulative case approach, which is a type of evidentialist approach to apologetics. John Feinberg explains that though this book may be useful as a textbook for an apologetics course, its primary purpose is to “help you see how to find and know truth, in hopes that you will also see that there is no hope for time or eternity outside of Jesus Christ.” Feinberg doesn’t seek to give a full defense of the Christian faith. Rather, he seeks to engage the problem of truth, whether or not it is knowable, and how to explain it to a culture that is a confused mixture of modern and postmodern beliefs. As such less than a third of the book actually deals with issues that one would expect to find in an apologetics textbook. These chapters are given as an illustration of how to use the method of apologetics that he holds, the Cumulative Case Approach. As such we might say that this book is, in a sense, an exploration of Meta-apologetical issues.
Feinberg’s book is divided into three main sections. In the first main section Feinberg explores the question of truth, and the challenges for the truth of Christianity that modern and postmodern thinkers have raised. This first main section is divided into 6 chapters. The first chapter, the Introduction to the book, explains the purpose of the book, why Feinberg thinks that this book needed to be published, and introduces the reader to the main problems (through the narrative of two fictional dialogues) that one will likely meet if one wishes to proclaim the truth of Christianity. Chapter two explains and compares the main epistemological theories that are held by postmodern thinkers and modern thinkers. He notes that the difference in focus that is found in these two ways of approaching knowledge has important implications for Christian apologetics. He then goes on, in the next four chapters, to explain and answer the various challenges that postmodernism and modernism bring against the truth of Christianity. These chapters include interesting discussions of various views of objectivity, subjectivity, doubt and certitude. It should be noted that throughout these discussions his dependence on Kant, and other modern thinkers such as Wittgenstein is evident, if not explicitly noted by the author. He is approaching these issues as a thinker that is unapologetically influenced by and adheres to many of the assumptions and claims of modern philosophy.
In the second main section Feinberg examines three predominant methods that have been, and still are, used to defend the truth of Christianity. He gives one chapter to each of the views, in the following order: Reformed Epistemology, Presuppositionalism, and Christian Evidentialism. In my humble opinion this second section is the most valuable part of Feinberg’s book. In the chapter on Reformed Epistemology (chapter 7) Feinberg provides an in-depth analysis and explanation of Alvin Plantinga’s epistemological theory. He explains the purpose and aim of Plantinga’s theory, and claims that Plantinga succeeds in demonstrating that it is entirely rational for a person to believe Christianity without providing “sufficient evidence”. He then, in the following chapter, gives an in-depth analysis, explanation, and critique (including both positive elements and important difficulties) of both Cornelius Van Til’s and Francis Schaeffer’s presuppositional apologetic methodologies. Having spent some time studying both of these systems I can’t help but agree with Feinberg’s views on presuppositionalism, which he sees as providing insightful and important cautions and tactics, yet as being crippled by some major philosophical and theological flaws. He notes that most of his critiques have to do with Van Til’s and Schaeffer’s particular views, yet some of them are applicable to all forms of presuppositionalism. Feinberg notes, at the end of the chapter on Reformed Epistemology and Presuppositionalism that both of these methods provide only a negative defense. Reformed Epistemology attempts to demonstrate that belief in Christianity is warranted, and the Presuppositional approach to apologetics primarily seeks to show that all other views are incoherent. Both methods (with the possible exception of Van Til’s method) allow for the possibility of a positive defense, but are not primarily concerned with giving such a defense. The final chapter presents an overview of a four major forms of Evidential Apologetics. He surveys, rapidly, William Lane Craig’s Classical Apologetics, Gary Habermas’s Historical Evidential Apologetics, and Paul Feinberg’s Cumulative Case Approach, and then gives an in-depth analysis and explanation of John Warwick Montgomery’s Historical Evidential apologetics. Feinberg finishes by explaining why he prefers the Cumulative Case Approach. In this final chapter Feinberg attempts to note the apologetical superiority of Evidential methods, by noting that not only would an evidential apologist argue, as Plantinga, that there is warrant for believing Christianity without sufficient evidence, and, as with presuppositionalism, seek to demonstrate that other positions are logically incoherent, but that the evidential method also seeks to provide positive reason for accepting the Christian view.
In the final section Feinberg seeks to demonstrate the types of arguments that the Cumulative Case Approach would use in defense of Christianity. In the first of the four chapters that make up this third section, he provides an introductory analysis of the problem of evil, a survey of various ways of answering the problem of evil, and a brief overview of his own particular response to the Problem of Evil. He then seeks to show, in the next two chapters, that the Gospels are historically reliable, and that Jesus was raised from the dead. His book finishes with a final chapter that deals with the question of Religious pluralism.
This book is filled with valuable discussions on subjects that are very important for the Christian apologist (truth, objectivity, subjectivity, doubt, certainty, the problem of evil, etc.), but, in my humble opinion, the most valuable section of this book is Feinberg’s analysis and interaction with the three primary methods of apologetics. In this section he gives important commentaries on the methods, and claims, of Plantinga, Van Til, Schaeffer, Craig, Habermas, Paul Feinberg and John Warwick Montgomery. The reader will certainly be pleased with the discussion in the other sections, as Feinberg presents well-reasoned, clear, and concise arguments for each of the claims that he advances. The major drawback of this book is that it does not adequately interact with the predominant Ancient and Medieval Epistemological and Metaphysical systems. Feinberg recognizes the influence of Kant on Modern and postmodern thought, and upon his own views, but doesn’t note the fact that Kant’s philosophy would not have been possible if it had not been for Descartes rejection of Medieval and Ancient philosophy, and Hume’s rejection of rationalistic philosophy. Many Ancient and Medieval philosophers (and theologians) also dealt with the same questions that Kant asked, but were able to avoid the agnostic results that Kant produced. This book is a treatise on how to defend the Christian faith against modern and postmodern thinkers, written by a thinker who accepts that basic claims of modernity.
In reading this book one will note that it seems to be primarily addressed to Christians who wish to defend their faith in this mixed up world that we find ourselves in. However, I would highly recommend this book to anybody who wishes to consider the truth of Christianity, Christian or not, whether it be out of pure curiosity, or because the reader is a Christian apologist, philosopher or theologian. Apologists of all types will find Feinberg’s discussion of the three main methods of apologetics quite interesting. Feinberg presents well-reasoned arguments that will help the reader to think through the claims of modernity and postmodernity. This book could also be useful as a course textbook on apologetic methodology, or the nature of truth.
John S. Feinberg, Can You Believe It’s True? Christian Apologetics in a Modern & Postmodern Era (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 337, 346.
Ibid., 108, 346. Based on his adherence to a number of important Kantian themes, and the importance that he puts on beginning with an examination of human epistemological capabilities, I would suggest that he is a critical realist (cf. Ibid., 12).
Ibid., 192, 193.
Ibid., 34, 320.
Ibid., 35. Cf. Ibid., 11, 33.