Louis Markos, “Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century”

The author is an evangelical Protestant (53, 145) and a professor of humanities at Houston Baptist University.  I recall listening to — and enjoying — a lecture series by him on C.S. Lewis, and the title of this book sounded important and its length (271 pages) reasonable.  It was a good decision to get it via interlibrary loan and to read it, and I may buy it.

The book is divided into two parts. The first is “The Legacy of [C.S.] Lewis and [G.K.] Chesterton,” and in it, after an introductory chapter, there are six chapters on the former and two on the latter; in addition, there’s one chapter each on Dorothy Sayers, Francis Schaeffer, and Josh McDowell, for twelve chapters in all.  Part two is “Making the Case for Faith in a (Post) Modern World,” and its twelve chapters address the evidence of God from logic, science, and (because or despite) bad things happening to good people; on defending the authority of Scripture and on the life and claims of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection; on why Christ is the only way; on answering Neo-Gnostics and reaching postmoderns; and on intelligent design, answering the “New Atheists,” and how, in particular, Antony Flew changed his mind.  There are good and interesting appendices — a timeline, glossary, who’s who, and (especially) an annotated bibliography (247-71) — but no index.

I noted two paragraphs in the introductory chapter (18-19), which provide a good overview of the book’s scope and focus: 

Though apologists approach their defense of the faith from a number of different angles, all of them must include at their core a defense of the central and defining core of Christianity, namely that Jesus of Nazareth was not just a good man, or an inspired prophet, but the unique son of God. This doctrine, known as “the incarnation,” holds that Jesus was not half man and half God, but fully human and fully divine. And around the incarnation may be grouped other essential doctrines of the faith that God – though one – exists eternally as three persons, we are all born with a sinful nature, we exist in a state of rebellion against God and His law, that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross brought us back into a relationship with God the Father (through the atonement), that Jesus rose bodily from the grave (the resurrection), that he will return bodily (the second coming) and that all who are in Christ will join Him in the final resurrection from the dead. These are the key non-negotiables, to which may be added two more: that God is the maker of Heaven and earth, and that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. There are many apologists, myself among them, who would add more qualifications to these last two, but no orthodox apologist would reject them in this form.

These then represent the core doctrines of the Christian faith, doctrines that receive clear expression in the creeds of the church and that comprise the basic tenets of what C. S. Lewis famously dubbed mere Christianity. From the time of the apostles, the main task of the apologist has been to defend these doctrines from detractors both within and outside the church. More often than not, this defense has been mounted in the form of a dialogue in which the apologist answers key questions used by skeptics to cast doubt on Christianity. A list of the major questions that apologists since Paul have sought to address would include the following: 1) If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why are pain, suffering, and injustice in the world? 2) How can Christians believe in miracles when events like the parting of the Red Sea, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the virgin birth, and Jesus’ walking on water clearly violate the laws of nature? 3) How can a God of mercy condemn people to hell? 4) How do we know we can trust the accounts of Jesus’ life that are recorded in the Gospels? Over the last three centuries these questions have become increasingly more bitter and strident in tone, often taking on the form of outright accusation and ridicule: 1) Isn’t the story of a dying and rising God just a myth for ignorant pagans and modern children? 2) Isn’t religion just a crutch and wish fulfillment for people too weak to deal with reality? 3) Hasn’t science disproved Christianity and shown it to be false? 4) Hasn’t the church done more evil than good and inspired more hypocrisy than any other institution in history?


Needless to say, Professor Markos is a big C.S. Lewis fan, and he lists ten reasons for his choice “to devote six of my twenty-four chapters to the arguments of a single apologist, C.S. Lewis” (23-24, which can be read here). Later he states (155), “To my mind, Lewis’s trilemma — that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic, or Lord — remains the greatest logical proof for Jesus’ deity.”
And the back cover mentions two other books by the author — From Achilles to Christ:  Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics and Lewis Agonistes:  How C,S, Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World — both of which are Lewis-related (I’ve read the former but not the latter, since he notes (14) that the latter overlaps some with his apologetics book discussed on this post).

The author gives a shout-out to this blogsite’s other namesake, referring to Blaise Pascal as “in many ways the first modern apologist” (255).  Like Pascal, by the way, Markos is big on accurate prophecy being strong evidence of reliability.  He closes the last chapter of part one by “highlight[ing] briefly two prophetic passages whose historical and theological accuracy are so remarkable that if these were the only messianic prophecies contained in the Old Testament, they would be enough, to my mind at least, to qualify Jesus as the Christ” (113); they are Psalm 22 (especially versus 6-8 and 14-18) and Isaiah 53:3-6.
At the beginning of part two (119), Markos highlights these “top-notch apologists working today” who “have influenced me greatly and whose work will underlie many of the arguments presented in the next twelve chapters”:  William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias, Gary Habermas, Peter Kreeft, J.P. Moreland, Alister McGrath, Phillip E. Johnson, William Dembski, Hugh Ross, Don Richardson, Chuck Colson, Norman Geisler, John Stott, R.C. Sproul, Dinesh D’Souza, Timothy Keller, and N.T. Wright.” Here’s what he had to say a little earlier about Strobel (109):

[Josh McDowell’s] true successor has proved to be Lee Strobel, arguably the best current popular apologist writing in America.  Like Josh, Strobel was also an atheist whose own intense study of the claims of Christianity brought him to Christ; like Josh and Lewis, he also does not preach to the choir.  Strobel shares Josh’s focus on expert witnesses and on the claims of Christ and the historicity of the Gospels; with this same lawyer-like skills, he builds logically solid cases.  But Strobel adds something as well — firsthand experience as an investigative reporter.  It should come as no surprise that the titles of Strobel’s great apologetics trilogy are The Case for ChristThe Case for Faith, and The Case for a Creator.  In constructing my arguments for part 2 of this book, I consulted not only this trilogy but Josh’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict and his ground-breaking book, More Than a Carpenter.

I liked this passage (211-12), and it brought to mind the thought that, as I note elsewhere on this blogsite in the context of discussing near-death experiences, the apologist wins if just one of the occurrences is true:

Dembski, though well versed in the sciences, writes primarily as a philosopher, but his findings match perfectly with those of an accomplished biochemist named Michael Behe. In Darwin’s Black Box, Lehigh professor Behe argues that clear evidence for design can be found within our cells. Behe, referencing Darwin himself, argues that if any biological system can be found that cannot be evolved through a series of slow steps, Darwinism will be disproved. Since evolution is blind — it does not know where it is going — each step in natural selection must possess some type of survival value; otherwise, it will not be selected for preservation by the organism. If a chemical or biological system could be identified that could not be formed by a gradual process in which each step possessed survival value, then that system would be “irreducibly complex” and would offer concrete evidence for the existence of some form of intelligence that is not a part of the unconscious, nonpurposeful system of natural selection. Irreducibly complex systems, that is to say, necessitate the preexistence of a controlling intelligence that could front-load the information for the blueprint that assembled the system.

I also liked this paragraph from the chapter on Antony Flew (228):

We live in a complex universe that runs in accordance with unified and stable laws, laws that modern scientists have not invented but discovered.  These laws, writes Flew, “pose a problem for atheists because they are a voice of rationality heard through the mechanisms of matter.”  Likewise, the fact that we are conscious and purposeful beings militates against our having evolved solely out of unconscious, nonpurposeful matter.  To the contrary, the fact that our universe and planet are finely tuned to make human life possible (the anthropic principle) suggests the the universe knew we were coming.  When one adds to this the discovery that our universe had a beginning (the big bang), one is left with no logical recourse but to infer, if not the God of the Bible, at least the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent First Cause of Aristotle.

On the same page, Markos notes that Flew demonstrates, “through a series of carefully selected quotes from the writing of such scientific geniuses as Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Hawking, when the greatest scientists have considered the evidence, it has led them inevitably toward perceiving — not as men of faith but as men of science — ‘a connection between the laws of nature and the Mind of God.’”  Flew even finds support from Darwin.  


There were four other (longer) passages I especially liked in the book.

First (132, emphasis in original):

That respectable, even brilliant scientists would resort to the multiverse theory as an escape hatch from the theistic implications of AP [Anthropic Principle] exposes the weaknesses in a metaphysical naturalism that refuses to consider even the possibility of a supernatural God who is actively at work in the universe. Were I vacationing on a cruise ship, and I saw the captain abandon the ship to paddle off in a rotting canoe punctured with holes, I would know that the ship itself was doomed! I see the multiverse theory as just such a rotting canoe, a desperate, last-ditch effort to survive the impending collapse of metaphysical naturalism. And yet, ironically, even that rotting canoe cannot afford an escape; for, even if the multiverse theory could be proven, the existence of a finely tuned cosmic soup that could produce all these universes would itself point to a Designer.

Second (152):

Though all the Gospels hold up well to historical “checking,” the one that shows the highest degree of reliability — higher, perhaps, than any other work of historical antiquity — is the Gospel of Luke.  Judged by academic, nonreligious criteria, Luke, who wrote both the Gospel the bears his name and the book of Acts, emerges as one of the finest historians of the ancient world.  He carefully dates all events by reference to Roman emperors, governors, and other public officials and is highly accurate in his geographic, political, and cultural details.  Though Luke was not one of the twelve apostles, he traveled with Paul, who, shortly after his conversion, met with the apostles and Jesus’ brother (James) in Jerusalem.  Luke also carefully interviewed eyewitnesses, including, according to many scholars, Jesus’ mother.  (152)

Third (172):

After reminding us of a fact that is too often forgotten by Christians and skeptics alike — namely, that the original Christians were all Jews — [apologist J.P. Moreland] argues that only an event like the resurrection could have so radically changed five key pillars of Jewish religious and cultural identity that would have been sacrosanct to the twelve disciples and their initial converts.

First, the early Christians immediately eliminated animal sacrifices, a practice that was essential to Judaism.  The destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 would eventually put an end to such sacrifices among Jews as well, but early Christians ceased the practice long before that time.  The only thing that could have convinced them to do so was their firm belief that the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ had rendered animal sacrifice obsolete.  Second, although Judaism was grounded in the Law of Moses, which itself demanded blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin, the early Christians shifted the focus of religion from law to grace — a grace that had been released into the world by the power of the resurrection.  Their belief that Jesus rose again also caused the first Christians to do two things what would otherwise have been unthinkable to pious, fiercely monotheistic Jews:  shift the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and proclaim Jesus as a God worthy not only of imitation but of worship (Matthew 28:17).  Finally, though the Jews of the first century continued to await a political Messiah who would rescue the from Roman control — expectations that led to two disastrous Jewish revolts in the first and second centuries — the early Christians adapted themselves to Roman rule and worshiped Christ as a spiritual Messiah whose kingdom was not of this world. 

The subsequent paragraph (172-73) notes N.T. Wright’s similar argument:  “Only an actual resurrection could have sparked such an innovation [i.e., making resurrection a central teaching rather than, as it was for even the Pharisees, “a far-off event unrelated to the world in its present state”] in the beliefs and culture of Judaism.”

And fourth (199):

The apologist who would reach postmoderns with the gospel must not be ashamed of the mythic qualities that hang around the gospel story. Rather, he must embrace the supra-rational mysteries of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection, and then present those mysteries as the answer to mankind’s yearning for a magic that connects, synthesizes, and transforms. He must gain eyes to see the paradoxes that underlie the Christian faith, and he must be courageous enough to face those paradoxes in the Bible as well. Only by doing so will he be properly equipped to confront the challenges of neo-paganism and deconstructionism by offering in their stead a higher, redemptive postmodernism.

Here’s how the book concludes (231, emphasis in original):

[T]he only solid foundation of human value — the only thing that cannot be taken away by accident, disease, or economic downturn — is to know fully and assuredly that our Creator thinks us valuable. …

As I bring this study of apologetics to a close, I leave those among you who are seekers on the road of faith with a question and a challenge.  The question is this:  If Christianity were true[,] what would it mean?  Let me suggest four answers to this vital question:

1) Then there really is a God — not just a divine force, but a real, personal, involved God who is active in the world and desires as well to be active in our lives.

2) Then God not only has love with himself (the Trinity) but desires that we participate in that love for eternity.

3) Then history, because God both directs it and entered into it, is meaningful and is moving toward a good end.

4) The heaven is real — it is not just earth with all the stuff gone — and it promises an expansion, not a diminution, of life.

As for the challenge, I leave you with this charge:  If you are trembling on the threshold of belief and want to know if you should “take the plunge,” then don’t take my word for it or the word of any other apologist.  If you want to know for certain, then do the following:  take up one of the four Gospels, pray this simple prayer (“Christ, if you are real, reveal yourself to me in a way I can understand”), and then read the Gospels [sic] from beginning to end.  If God is indeed the Creator and Savior of the universe, then he can answer for himself.

May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob speed you on your way!