This book, published by InterVarsity Press, was written in 1994 by two Catholic philosophy professors at Boston College. I hasten to add that the arguments made here should be welcomed by all Christians, not just Catholics, and indeed the first chapter says explicitly that the book embraces “mere Christianity” (12, 24-25). It is is a terrific resource. I loved the format of this book, its clarity and conciseness. For example, each chapter begins with a (literal) outline. Here’s a list of the book’s chapters (and I’ll note that the book is apparently available online here):
Part 1. Introduction: Chapter 1. The nature, power and limitations of apologetics ; Chapter 2. Faith and reason
Part 2. God: Chapter 3. Twenty arguments for the existence of God ; Chapter 4. The nature of God
Part 3. God & Nature: Chapter 5. Four problems of cosmology ; Chapter 6. The problem of evil
Part 4. God & Grace: Chapter 7. The divinity of Christ ; Chapter 8. The Resurrection ; Chapter 9. The Bible : myth or history?
Part 5. God & Glory: Chapter 10. Life after death ; Chapter 11. Heaven ; Chapter 12. Hell ; Chapter 13. Salvation
Part 6. Conclusions: Chapter 14. Christianity and other religions ; Chapter 15. Objective truth ; Chapter 16. The bottom line
The authors begin this way (13):
We are writing this book because we have been besieged with requests for it.
We both teach philosophy of religion at Boston College, and students often ask us where they can find a book that lists, outlines, or summarizes all the major arguments for all the major Christian teachings that are challenged by unbelievers today such as the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, the trustworthiness of Scripture, and the divinity and Resurrection of Christ and answers the strongest and commonest objections against these doctrines. We were amazed to find that no such book exists! There are thousands of books on apologetics, and some very good ones, but not one of them summarizes apologetic arguments as Aquinas summarized theological arguments in his Summa Theologiae and Summa Contra Gentiles. This book is written to begin to fill that vacuum.
The authors also provide “A Personal Preface”:
Our compelling reasons for writing this book are three:
1. We are certain that the Christian faith is true.
2. We are only a little less certain that the very best thing we can possible do for others is to persuade them of this truth, in which there is joy and peace and love incomparable in this world, and infinite and incomprehensible in the next.
3. We are a little less certain, but still confident, that honest reasoning can lead any open-minded person to this very same conclusion.
The problem I face now is that, as the reader can imagine, I cannot begin to summarize such a book. So, instead, please read it yourself, and to whet your appetite further I’ll note the three things that I most like about the book, and then list some other favorite passages, too.
Here are my top three favorite things about the book:
- As the title of this blogsite suggests, my two favorite Christian apologists are Blaise Pascal and C.S. Lewis. Well, in this book, there’s plenty of discussion of Pascal and his wager, and I think that C.S. Lewis may have quoted and cited more than anyone save Jesus, even Augustine and Aquinas.
- Chapter 7, on “The Divinity of Christ” — making the case that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God — was just great, absolutely among the best I’ve read (and see its conclusions at 171-73).
- I liked the authors recurrent reference to the “data points” that Scripture gives us. We may not be able to come up with completely satisfying ways to connect those dots, but the dots have to be taken as given anyhow: They matter more than the theologizing connections that humans try to make or think they have made. Here’s an example (307, emphasis in original):
Scripture is quite clear both that hell is eternal and that there is no eternal Manichaean dualism, no stalemate between good and evil, only God’s final triumph. How both these doctrines can be true may not be clear from Scripture, but that they are both true is clear. This is given as our data, just as both divine predestination and human free will and responsibility are both given as data, but not how the two are to be reconciled. In both cases, our limited understanding of time and eternity prevents us from seeing the answer clearly.
Here are some other noteworthy items in the book:
- I thought it was interesting that, in the authors’ view, there are many arguments in favor of God’s existence and really only one against, namely the existence of evil (87, question 5).
- I really liked this (143):
The argument between those who emphasize free will and those who emphasize providence is largely one of emphasis, for both are parts of our scriptural data. The difference in emphasis is between those who see human history as a novel, written by God, and those who see it as a play, enacted by man. The two images are not exclusive. The novel, though completely the author’s creation, is about free people, not trees or robots; and though the play has a script, the actors are free to obey the script or not. If the emphasis is on God’s predestination, our attitude to life will emphasize trust and faith and acceptance and hope; while if the emphasis is on human free will, our attitude to life will emphasize morality and spiritual warfare and the will to make the right choices. The first emphasizes wisdom, the second morality; the first contemplation, the second action; the first seeing, the second doing; the first faith, the second works. They are two sides of the same Christian coin.
Note that this paragraph is from the chapter on “The Problem of Evil,” and I had noted that on the preceding page there is a distillation of “Solutions to the Problem of Evil.” There’s also other good discussion in the book of faith and works (see 31-32 and 320-21).
- And I thought this was well said, too (177):
The existential consequences of the resurrection are incomparable. It is the concrete, factual, empirical proof that: life has hope and meaning; “love is stronger than death”; goodness and power are ultimately allies, not enemies; life wins in the end; God has touched us right here where we are and has defeated our last enemy; we are not cosmic orphans, as our modern secular worldview would make us. And these existential consequences of the resurrection can be seen by comparing the disciples before and after. Before, they ran away, denied their Master and huddled behind locked doors in fear and confusion. After, they were transformed from scared rabbits into confident saints, world-changing missionaries, courageous martyrs and joy-filled ambassadors for Christ.
- In the chapter on Hell, I found this argument (298) interesting: It is frequently argued that the longing for God and for Heaven is evidence of their existence, since we are hard-wired to desire only what exists — thus, we feel hunger and indeed there is food, we feel thirsty and indeed there is drink, we feel tired and indeed there is sleep, we want sex and, well, you get the idea. So the argument is posed that the common fear that people have of Hell is evidence that such a thing exists.
- The chapter on “Salvation” begins with a terrific introduction (315-17) that really puts things in the right perspective. An excerpt (316, emphasis in original):
The church also seems to be in the social service business, the counseling business, the fundraising business, the daycare business–dozens of the same worthy businesses the secular world is also in. Why? What justifies these things? The Church’s ultimate end for all these things is different from the world’s end; it is salvation. This is her distinctive “product.” Why put out a product that is just the same as other companies’ products already on the market?
Why would anyone expect such a product to sell? That’s why modernist or liberal Christianity, charitable as its services are, is simply not selling. The only reason for the very existence of the Church at all, is exactly the same as the reason Jesus came to earth: to save poor and lost humanity. The Church, after all, is in the same business as her Head. When a body runs in a different direction from its head, it is like a chicken with its head cut off: it goes nowhere and quickly dies.
Jesus did not come to be a philosopher or a doctor. If he did that, he failed. He didn’t solve most of the philosophers’ problems. He healed some people but left most of the world just as sick as before. He healed some bodies to show that he could heal all souls.
Not only is salvation the reason for the Church’s existence; it is also the ultimate reason for your existence: your goal, point, purpose, hope, final cause, summum bonum, meaning. The difference between success and failure at life’s first task–becoming who you were meant to be–is not the difference between riches and poverty, fame and obscurity, health and sickness, pleasure and pain, even niceness and nastiness, but between salvation and damnation. Leon Bloy wrote, “There is only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.” Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” No one in history ever asked a more practical question than that one. In other words, don’t get all A’s but flunk life.
That is why ordinary people, as distinct from scholars, always ask questions about salvation whenever they think about religion. And that’s why a book on apologetics must address this topic: it’s what religion is for.
- Another good quote (349, and I think the idea here can be applied to all kinds of psychological self-help):
… [W]hile the Bible tells us a lot about the second half of its own command to “be still and know that I am God,” it tells us very little about how to do the first. In principle, some natural and neutral Eastern techniques might be separated from Eastern ends and enlisted in the service of that Christian end.
- Just to show my independence, I’ll note that not every passage in the book is persuasive, like the discussion (325-28) of “Objective Salvation vs. Subjective Knowledge of Salvation.”
- Here’s an amusing note to end on that really has nothing to do with Christianity: At one point in this 1994 book, the authors warn that often Biblical imagery of Heaven “is not meant to be taken literally, but it is meant to be taken seriously” (308). As I said, this amused me, since 22 years later, in the 2016 presidential campaign, it was noted that the media took Donald Trump literally but not seriously, while his supporters did the opposite.