Book Notice: The History of Apologetics

Zondervan Academic has just released their new book on apologetics: The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological Introduction edited by Benjamin Forrest, Joshua Chatraw, and Alister McGrath.

TL;TR – 44 biographical sketches of Christian apologists from the early church to the present organized around a structure that is biographical and methodological.

The Good News and the Bad News.

The Bad:

The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological ...

First the bad news. A better title would have been The History of Apologists. It technically is not a history of apologetics, but a compendium of collected articles on various apologists who have contributed to the field of defending the faith. It is a series of mini-biographies (44 in total) of Christians apologists. A history of apologetics would be a narrative history of an idea or what historians call an intellectual history. As such, a true history of apologetics would be a historical narrative around a major idea (in this case, apologetics) and would follow the development of that idea as it manifests itself in different contexts and times. While this book follows the development of apologetics as expressed by various Christian defenders, it is not a narrative telling of the idea of apologetics. As far as I know, there is only one true book written on the history of apologetics, which ironically has a similar title: A History of Apologetics by Avery Cardinal Dulles from a distinctively Catholic perspective.

The Good:

Now, after clarifying what the book really is (a collection of mini-biographies of apologists who have contributed to apologetics) and what it is not (a narrative history of apologetics), let me say that this is a fantastic book. The danger of any collected work is the strength of some contributors and the weakness of others. Here the editors have made an astute decision to organize the book in such a way that “while allowing for authorial voice” will provide a loose “structure through the book so that the readers can seamlessly move from one chapter to the next without a jarring reorientation in style” (24). They hoped that this would make the book more readable, and it does. Here is the “loose” structure for each chapter: 1. historical background, 2. theological context, 3. apologetic response, 4. apologetic methodology, 5. contributions to the field of apologetics. It is loose because the contributors at times combined sections as they felt the need.

For example, on the chapter on Tertullian, we start with a brief “Historical Background” on his life as a brilliant, fiery African who spent his life in the Roman outpost of Carthage. This is followed by the “Theological Context” of the specific conditions Tertullian faced apologetically, namely, his main opponents of the Greco-Roman pagans, the heretical Gnostics, and the Jews. The “Apologetic Response” is provided to the challenges against Christianity with brief surveys of several of his works such as his Apology, Prescription against Heretics, and Against the Jews. How the defender developed the process of doing apologetics philosophically, theologically, biblically, and practically is examined in a section titled “Apologetical Methodology.” And finally, each chapter concludes with a reflection on the apologetical contributions made by the individual to the field at large.

Obvious apologists in the book included Augustine, Aquinas, C. S. Lewis, and William Lane Craig, but lesser known or little discussed individuals included Timothy I of Baghdad, Gregory Palamas, A. E. Taylor, and, surprisingly, Charles Taylor.

This is a great compendium to the field of apologetics. Readable summaries of the apologists in church history that remind us of the contributes they made along with introducing us to some lesser known defenders of the faith.

While not a true narrative history of apologetics, it is an excellent resource. What it brings to light is the need of a true narrative history of apologetics from a Protestant perspective that is sorely lacking in the literature today.

[UPDATE: July 5, 2020]

Huge Oversight:

Any book with this size and scope will inevitably have to make choices on who to put in and who to leave out. That is understandable, but it seems they have one gross oversight in this book: Norman Geisler. How does this book leave out one of the seminal figures of apologetics in last half of the 20th century and early 21st century. Here is my short biographical sketch of this apologist who should have been included in this work.

Norman Geisler (1932-2019)

A quick bio of Geisler from Norm authored or co-authored over 100 books and hundreds of articles. He taught theology, philosophy, and classical Christian apologetics on the undergraduate and graduate level for over 50 years and served as a professor at some of the finest seminaries in the United States, including Trinity Evangelical Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Veritas International University, and Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Education: BA, Wheaton College: MA, Wheaton Graduate School, ThB, William Tyndale College, PhD, Loyola University.

Educational Experience: Taught at the following institutions – Wheaton, Detroit Bible College, Trinity College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (chairman of philosophy department), Dallas Theological Seminary, Liberty University (dean), Southern Evangelical Seminary (co-founded, dean, president), and Veritas International University (co-founder, chancellor).

Professional Contribution: First president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, General Editor and Director of Publications for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), member of the Drafting Committee for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), President of the Evangelical Theological Society (1998), Co-founder (2006) and President (2006-2008) of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, Pastor and co-Pastor of numerous churches in Michigan, Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina.

Books: Authored, Co-Authored, and/or Edited 129 books notably: A General Introduction to the Bible  (1968), Philosophy of Religion (1974, revised and republished 1988 and 2021), Christian Apologetics (1976), Biblical Errancy: Its Philosophical Roots (1981, republished 2013), The Battle for the Resurrection (1989), Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (1990), Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal (1991), Answering Islam (1993), Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999), Why I Am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why they Believe (2001), I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (2004), Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (2002-2005), Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith (2007), and Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scriptures for a New Generation (2012).

Debated: Dr. Michael Scriven, Dr. Joseph E. Barnhart, Dr. Jonathan Saville, Dr. William Wisdom, Dr. K. Kolenda, Dr. Norman Beck, Dr. William De Vries, Dr. Thor Hall, Dr. Claud Rupert, Dr. Paul Edwards, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Dr. Paul Kurtz, and Dr. John Cobb (along with others).

Here is a 13 minute interview of Geisler: