Book Review: Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment by James E. Taylor

Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment  James E. Taylor Crossway Publications, 2013. 527 pp. ISBN 978-1-4335-3900-8.

James E. Taylor seeks to offer readers a comprehensive treatment of core apologetic topics that Christians face today.  Taylor  has a Ph.D from The university of Arizona and is professor of philosophy and chair of the department at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

Chapter 1: A Reason For The Hope Within: The Nature of Christian Apologetics

Taylor has no doubt heard most of the objections about the need for apologetics.  In this chapter, Taylor offers a clear definition of apologetics which he defines as “a reasoned defense of Christian belief that starts with a foundation of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord,” (pg 19). Taylor says the consequences from understanding 1 Peter 3:15-16 in context is that all Christians are called to be apologists. However , as Taylor points out, the text teaches the nature, purpose, and limitations of Christian apologetics. A Christian apologist is a committed Christian who is motivated by this commitment to engage in rational and critical thinking about the Christians worldview in order to show that it is reasonable to adopt it. The purpose of apologetics it to provide a rational defense of Christianity that addresses concerns (i.e., scientific challenges, historical objections)  in language that hearers can understand.  And of course, Taylor rightly mentions that the limits of apologetics are clear: it is not possible that rational argumentation alone will make a person into a Christian. 

Chapter 2:  Faith and Human Wisdom

 Chapter 3:  Jerusalem and Athens

In these two chapters, Taylor continues to responds to  critics who say  apologetics is unnecessary. When humans evaluate whether God exists, we all have intellectual, volitional  and affective elements. Faith involves the entire person- the intellect, the will, and the emotions.  While arguments may help someone along the way, they can’t move someone’s will. All apologists need to be reminded of this truth!  People will be content with “simple faith” while others will need serious obstacles removed before becoming a Christian. As Taylor rightly states, many say “Christian truths are too mysterious to be known by reason”  (pg 40).  Also, there is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin. Taylor addresses the difference between general and special revelation and why this is needed to break people out of their human depravity and spiritual blindness. Taylor also notes the relativity of Christian truths. But he clarifies what he means: It is not that Christian truths are relative. The issue is that, proofs are person-relative. In other words,  the same argument may function as a proof for one person and result in little more than contempt for someone else.  

Chapter 4: A God Shaped Vacuum: The Relevance of Apologetics

In this chapter, Taylor rightly explains the issue of relevance. Many people are asking about the relevance of Christianity. So the truth question is not always the first issue in people’s minds.  People long for meaning, transcendence, understanding, and immortality.  The question becomes whether the best explanation for  this longing comes from God himself.  Taylor asks whether naturalism (i.e., nature is the only reality) can truly answer these questions. While His critique of naturalism is rather slim, the good news is that Taylor discusses this topic in other chapters.

Chapter 5: Eyes to See and Ears to Hear Apologetics and the Heart

Taylor expands on the role of the will in the conversion and why revelation from God can be suppressed (Rom. 1:18-21)  and denied. Taylor drives home the point that God does allow free will. People must freely choose to accept the gift of salvation. Taylor also utilizes the work of Augustine and Pascal. For Augustine, the will plays a primary role on conversion. People can use their intellect to rationalize a life apart from God. So if there has been no conversion of the heart, it is fruitless to solely rely on intellect for someone’s conversion. For Pascal, if God were to clearly reveal Himself to sinners, this doesn’t guarantee they will love him. Because of this issue, God may have good reasons for allowing people to live in evidential ambiguity.  In critiquing Pascal’s Wager and its apologetic relevance, Taylor draws a distinction between practical and theoretical reasoning. People may need a practical reason to be convinced something is worth their time before discussing abstract, theorectial, or philosophical arguments that relate to life, meaning, and death (pg 71)   

 Chapter 4: A God Shaped Vacuum: The Relevance of Apologetics

In this chapter, Taylor rightly explains the issue of relevance. Many people are asking about the relevance of Christianity. So the truth question is not always the first issue in people’s minds.  People long for meaning, transcendence, understanding, and immortality.  The question becomes whether the best explanation for  this longing comes from God himself.  Taylor asks whether naturalism (i.e., nature is the only reality) can truly answer these questions. While His critique of naturalism is rather slim, the good news is that Taylor discusses this topic in other chapters.

Chapter 5: Eyes to See and Ears to Hear Apologetics and the Heart

Taylor expands on the role of the will in the conversion and why revelation from God can be suppressed (Rom. 1:18-21)  and denied. Taylor drives home the point that God does allow free will. People must freely choose to accept the gift of salvation. Taylor also utilizes the work of Augustine and Pascal. For Augustine, the will plays a primary role on conversion. People can use their intellect to rationalize a life apart from God. So if there has been no conversion of the heart, it is fruitless to solely rely on intellect for someone’s conversion. For Pascal, if God were to clearly reveal Himself to sinners, this doesn’t guarantee they will love him. Because of this issue, God may have good reasons for allowing people to live in evidential ambiguity.  In critiquing Pascal’s Wager and its apologetic relevance, Taylor draws a distinction between practical and theoretical reasoning. People who need a practical reason to be convinced something is worth their time before discussing abstract, theorectial, or philosophical arguments that relate to life, meaning, and death (pg 71)   

 Chapter 6: Critics, Seekers, and Doubters

Perhaps one of the most important chapters is Chapter 6 which is called Critics, Seekers, and Doubters: Audiences for Apologetics. Taylor lists three kinds of people who Christians encounter when doing evangelism. If anything, if we do evangelism (and that is always contingent on our obedience), and encounter people in these categories, we should see why we need apologetics in the Church. Taylor says when dealing with people, many people may fall into various categories such as:

1. Critics: those with criticisms of the Christian faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters.

2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the Christian claims.

3. Doubters: are Christians who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the Christian faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full Christian conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.

For myself and many others,  we continue to see plenty of people that fall into these categories. There is no doubt that  current critics of the Christian faith such as Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins have led thousands of people away from the Christian faith. If anything, their arguments need to be neutralized.

Chapter 7 : The Global Village: Worldview Options:

Taylor rightly evaluates the two competitors with the Christian worldview- naturalism and Pantheism (New Age). Each worldview has to answer the following questions: 1.) What is the world like?; 2.) Why does the world exist?; 3. How do human beings fit into the world? Taylor discusses how naturalism lacks the explanatory power to answer these questions.

 Chapter 8: The Lord Our God Is One

This chapter  compares three monotheisms-creation monotheism, contingency monotheism, and dualistic monotheism. In creational monotheism, God created the world and also sustains it. In other words, the universe is contingent on God. Contingency monotheism also says the world is the universe which depends on God for its existence. However, the universe did not have a beginning. Od course, this conclusion flies in the face of contemporary cosmology. According to dualistic monotheism, God did not create the universe out of nothing. Rather, the universe and God are coeternal and the universe does not depend on God for its existence (pgs 105-106). Taylor also mentions the argument that Pascal made in that the God of the Bible is not the God of the Philosophers.  For this point, Taylor mentions the objections to a perfect being theology and counters them with well-reasoned argumentation. In the end, Taylor does a fine job of describing God’s properties and that both reason and revelation work together to help humans come to knowledge of the nature of God.

Chapter 9: In the Beginning: Cosmological Argumentation

 Chapter 10: What the Heavens Declare: Teleological Explanations

In these two chapters, Taylor provides a summary of both the cosmological and design arguments (e.g., fine tuning, irreducible complexity). William Lane Craig has developed the cosmological argument as one of the most debated theistic arguments in philosophy of religion. Michael Behe is the foremost expert on irreducible complexity while  Robin Collins is one of the premier defenders of the fine tuning argument. Anyone that has read the works of these authors will be familiar with the summaries of these two chapters. Suffice to say, Taylor does an outstanding job of summarizing each of these arguments and responding to the objections that follow them. One point that couldn’t be more relevant is the mentioning of the fact that most people who are nonscientists are challenged in trying to follow these debates. Science is always changing and statements such as “science has proved” should be made with the utmost caution.

  Chapter 11: Why Do the Righteous Suffer?

Chapter 12: A God Who Hides Himself: The Problem of Evidence

These chapters are both are existential in nature. In dealing with the problem of evil challenge, Taylor makes a distinction between the practical and psychological problem with evil. It is a practical problem because it concerns putting into practice or living out our faith while dealing with the evil issue. It is a psychological problem because Christians still have to cultivate a relationship with God while sustaining a psychological belief, or trust in God (pgs 142-143). Both of these challenges can’t be answered by apologists. Christian apologetics  primarily deals with the philosophical problem of evil. Taylor examines the natural laws, natural consequences, and free will theodicies as possible answers as to why God allows evil.

In my opinion, the hiddenness of God debate is one of the most interesting topics in philosophy of religion. The argument is laid out in the following format:

1 If God is an all-loving God, then he would provide evidence that would be unambiguous!

2 Since God doesn’t provide evidence that is unambiguous, then God cannot be all loving.

3. Since this type of evidence isn’t readily available, God doesn’t exist.

Taylor examines the evidence for the hiddenness of God in the Bible and provides some answers to the problem. There are several possibilities as to why God may seem like he has hidden Himself from mankind (e.g, sin, greater moral transformation, etc).  Taylor says God’s ultimate goal is to love God with our entire being and love people as we love ourselves.  

Chapter 13 through 16 are Christological in nature.

In Chapter 13, Taylor visits the Liar, Lunatic and Legend argument. Taylor rightly observes  that the entire argument for incarnation does depend on the fact that Gospels are giving us reliable information.  Taylor uses a similar argument that is used by other scholars use called The Self Understanding of Jesus. In other words, we need to examine what Jesus believed and claimed about Himself.

In Chapter 14, Taylor responds to the issue of the  miracles of Jesus and whether David Hume has overcome the argument against miracles. Hume’s arguments against miracles are still used to this day on the universities and elsewhere to show testimonial evidence of miracles can’t be trusted.  Furthermore, can the historical method be used to detect miracle claims? Granted, this pushes  the debate back to metaphysics/ontological naturalism and how this leads to a methodological naturalism in interpreting the New Testament.

Chapter 15 is on the resurrection of Jesus. Taylor takes a different apologetic approaching in that he first defines resurrection and what it is. After all, why defend something before first defining it.? Also part of the apologetic for the resurrection claim in the New Testament is to defend the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Anyone who has read William Lane Craig or Gary Habermas’s work on the resurrection will be familiar with the arguments Taylor mentions here. But Taylor’s synthesis of their material is excellent  and he rightly mentions that there are serious consequences and implications of the resurrection of Jesus.

Chapter 16 discusses the Trinity and the incarnation. Taylor is heavily indebted to Thomas Morris’s work on the incarnation. Taylor addresses the metaphysical objections to the incarnation and Trinity.

In Chapter 17 18, 19 Taylor does a fine job of handling the challenges of hell and religious pluralism. Taylor reminds his readers  that there are several barriers that must  be overcome to even have a serious dialogue with both Jews and Muslims. Also, while Christians can applaud the Buddhist emphasis on compassion, there are several problems with a Buddhist’s view of salvation and reality. In the end, Taylor rightly suggests that the real issue is the identity of Jesus. In the end,  both Jews and Muslims as well as people from other faiths must answer the same question Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago (Matt 16:13-17).

Chapter 20: The Spirit of Truth: Commitment, Canon, and Community

This chapter discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in the apologetic endeavor. Given many Christians assume the Holy Spirit never uses argumentation, this is a critical chapter. Taylor traces the biblical passages about the power of the Spirit and his role in conversion. He was active in the forming of the Canon and the forming of the early Church and He is at work today.  Taylor also spends time discussing biblical authority. Taylor is correct that the apologist doesn’t need to defend what he calls “absolute biblical innerancy.”  “The apologist need only argue that whatever the Bible teaches is true” (pg 277). What the apologist must remember is that if he is to attempt to defend the text as historically reliable, he must presuppose that there is a God who wants to reveal himself to the world and that if Jesus is the Son of God, we  need to pay attention  to  what he says about the Bible.

Chapter 21: The Spirit of the Age: Critiques From Social Sciences

In this chapter, Taylor responds to the critiques of Freudian psychology, historical/biblical criticism, and the historical arguments involved with Church history. For the Freudian objection, belief in God is the result of wishful thinking. As Taylor explains, if people only believe God exists because they want to believe it, this doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. One could argue that someone who is an atheist is an atheist because they don’t want God to exist. So the argument cuts both ways. As far as historical/biblical criticism, Taylor is correct that in some cases, historical/biblical Criticism has been beneficial to the Body of Christ. On the other hand, when historical/biblical Criticism insists that naturalism is the presupposition of all serious Bible study, it ends up becoming a hindrance rather than a help. Arguments against the Christian faith (e..g, the Crusades) have to answered. But as Taylor says, “while the church has no excuse for these wrongs, it does have an explanation for them” (pg 295).

Chapter 22: The Origin of Species: Christianity and Natural Selection

In this chapter, Taylor provides an argument that every Christian apologist has heard at one time or the other:
1. If Darwinism is true, Christianity is false

2. Darwinism is true.

3. Therefore, Christianity is false.

Taylor’s strategy is to be emulated in that it is better to argue against premise 1 than premise 2.  After all, arguments against the former stem from philosophy, theology, and biblical studies and can’t  discredited ongoing scientific research, whereas those against the latter make us of scientific claims, which are subject to change in light of scientific discoveries. Also, for apologists that lack scientific training in a particular area don’t have the expertise to make wise judgments about the scientific theories in that area (pg 301). Taylor gives an overview of the history of Christianity and science, the challenges to and from evolution, the different models on how both disciplines can work with each other, and the challenges of interpreting Genesis 1 and 2.  Regarding Genesis, I concur with Taylor that the questions that needs to be asked are “What did the author intend to convey in writing Genesis? as well as “What is the genre of  Genesis?

Chapter 23:The Dust of the Earth: Resurrection, Minds, and Bodies

In this chapter, Taylor responds to the challenge as to whether humans are more than material organisms. The materialistic outlook is not compatible with the Christian view of the resurrection of the dead. Taylor also discusses the challenge of the relationship between the human body, personal identity and the afterlife.  It should be noted that there are Christian materialists who propose that God can re-create a person by means of creating a resurrection body that possesses the same physical and psychological  properties as his or her postmortem body (page 324).  For materialists, it seems as if hey provide a simpler explanation  that humans are one kind of thing: a material organism.  This argument leads us right into the debate over consciousness and whether Neuro science has the last word on this topic. At this point, this debate is still ongoing.

Chapter 24: The Death of God: Postmodern Challenges to Christianity

In this chapter, Taylor spends time defining words like ”objective” before even attempting to defend objective truth or the correspondence theory of truth. And even if there is such a thing as objective truth, how do we respond the postmodern challenge that we can’t have access to objective reality? Taylor rightly points to the self-defeating nature of postmodernism. Postmoderns balks at anyone who attempts to persuade others to see what they view as rational and true. But for them, they think it is necessary to persuade others that postmodernism is the only rational and true approach to reality. Everything they stand against (e.g, absolute truth claims, argumentation), has to be utilized by them to make their case.  Taylor rightly exhorts his readers to remember that Christians are (or they ought to be) committed to the rationality of the Christian claims, the rationality of the Christian worldview, the finality of Christian truth claims (pg 338). While the Christian can stand against things like dogmatism, they should avoid the tenants of radical postmodernism such as Rorty’s pragmatism that is sweeping the culture around us.

Chapter 25: Cultural Differences and Moral Universalism

Ethical  and Cultural Relativism dominates our culture. As Taylor observes, the majority of  people assume that what is right for one culture or society is not the same or another. But we need to remember that disagreement about what is true doesn’t entail that truth is relative.  As apologists know, nobody can consistently live out their ethical and cultural relativism. There are always some types of actions that are absolutely wrong, regardless of the circumstances or the consequences.  Torturing babies for fun, giving failing grades without any justification, or walking into a school and shooting children is always wrong. Arguing for universal morality has been a common tactic for apologists. We now are back to the issue of how a naturalist might try to ground a moral obligation.. For a naturalistic worldview, we only have whatever is there is right. In other words, the descriptive element is there. But there is prescriptive aspect which is missing. It is a challenge to make the leap from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought.’Taylor discusses the challenge for Darwinism to account for objective morality. Natural selection and survival value can’t account for the existence of genuinely altruistic ideals and behaviors (pg 355). Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi may have sacrificed themselves for others. But their motive for doing so had nothing to do with the reproductive fitness of the species.  Furthermore, any attempt to complain about the problem of evil presupposes a universal moral standard.

Concluding Thoughts

For someone like myself who has read several apologetic works, I think Taylor’s book is one of the best introductory works on the market. As you can see, Taylor discusses a wide variety of topics. For many of us that are engaged in reaching the culture or the university, we have heard many of the objections that are covered in this book. Taylor’s argumentation is concise and he offers a bibliography at the end of each chapter for the reader who wants to go deeper on a particular topic. In the end, Taylor has given the Body of Christ a wonderful resource.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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