Book Review: Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Second Edition) by Douglas Groothuis

Dr. Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. Over the years, I have read several of his books and watched his lectures on various topics in Christian apologetics. Given that I read the first edition of Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith a ways back (2011), I was eager to read the second edition. This updated edition is a wonderful resource. Groothuis has added chapters on topics such:

The Argument from Religious Experience

Original Monotheism

The Argument from Beauty

Doubt, Skepticism, and the Hiddenness of God

The Atonement: Stating it Properly

The Atonement: Defending It

The Resurrection of Jesus: Prolegomena on Miracles

In Defense of the Church

The Problem of Evil: Dead Ends and the Christian Answer

Lament as an Apologetic for Christianity

Therefore, the reader is blessed with a tremendous amount of new material. The good news is each chapter that has been added is well researched and the arguments are clear and concise. Since writing the first edition, much has transpired in the culture at large and in the apologetic world as well. Thus, Groothuis responded to the need to address some of these issues in the newer edition. Given I do appreciate the role of classical apologetics, I already appreciated the chapter on In Defense of Theistic Arguments. Yes, this is in the first edition as well. There has been a slew of arguments on natural theology. Edward Feser, William Lane Craig, Alister McGrath, and others have all written on the topic.

But with the employment of natural theology, it has come with many criticisms. Groothuis covers nine objections to natural theology: He first mentions the biblical omission argument. Pascal said there was no scriptural support for natural theology. Groothuis notes that there is no prohibition for or against natural theology in the Bible. As Groothuis notes, there is plenty of support of general revelation in the Bible. He says that general revelation is necessary for natural theology, but not sufficient. He also doesn’t see the natural theology and general revelation as synonymous with each other. He says general revelation means that God has revealed Himself in nature and conscience. Natural theology engages in logic that in order to derive rational arguments for God’s existence- pg. 163. Other arguments against natural theology include the biblical authority argument (The Bible is all we need), the noetic effects of sin argument (that effects of sin on the mind), the direct knowledge of God argument (Paul Moser tends to defend this view), the proofs lead to pride argument, the natural theology is in competition with revealed theology argument, the religious irrelevance argument, the complexity of proofs argument (Pascal said the arguments are quite complex and have little existential impact), and rational weakness argument (they can’t compel belief)- pgs.170-173.

From personal experience, I know ‘natural theology’ can only take us so far. I look at it as a first step. It can point to fundamental realities of our existence and provides a cumulative argument and can point to the balance of probabilities and an inference to the best explanation for several features of reality. But I never thought natural theology can provide saving faith. Only the Gospel can do that.

I should note that Groothuis went through a very difficult season with his first wife Becky who passed away. She suffered from dementia and given she was a gifted writer and scholar, Groothuis had to watch her abilities wither away. Not to mention it was his wife who was suffering right in front of him.  It was very painful, and he has developed an apologetic in his chapter “Lament as Apologetic.” This is very helpful for those that experience suffering. Groothuis is a professional philosopher. Yet, he offers an apologetic that stems from his personal experience. This isn’t just some lofty philosophical argument. He has walked through the fire and offers his own take on dealing with tragedy and suffering.

In his chapter on “The Argument for Religious Experience,” he notes that religious experience should be used as part of a cumulative case for the existence of God. It should be a stand-alone argument.  I fully agree.

In his chapter on “The Atonement: Stating It Properly,” he defends propitiation and a substitutionary view of atonement. He then defends this view in the next chapter (“The Atonement: Defending It”) against the standard objections (i.e., the child abuse accusation, the divine violence argument, and the argument that punishment can’t be transferred from one person to another).

In his chapter called “Doubt, Skepticism, and the Hiddenness of God,”  Groothuis thinks the problem of God hiding is more about us hiding from God than the other way around. Just as Groothuis went through a dark period with his first wife, and he started to question whether God was hiding, he relied on the objective evidence for Christianity. He had to fall back on what he “knew” to be true. He also quotes the late Greg Bahnsen who gave an analysis of self-deception in light of Romans 1 where we see unbelievers know God but suppress that knowledge. Bahnsen says:

“All men know and hence believe that God exists. The revelational evidence is so plain that nobody can avoid holding the conviction that God exists, even though they may never explicitly assent to this belief. We are justified in ascribing such a belief to men on the basis of their observed behavior in reasoning (e.g., relying on the uniformity of nature), in morals (e.g., holding to ethical absolutes in some fashion), and in emotion (e.g., fearing death).

Nevertheless, all men are motivated in unrighteousness and by fear of judgment to ignore, hide, and disavow any belief in the living and true God (either through atheism or false religiosity). By misconstruing and rationalizing the relevant, inescapable evidence around them (“suppressing it”), men bring themselves to believe about themselves that they do not believe in God, even though that second-order belief is false.

Sinners can purposely engage in this kind of activity, for they also deceive themselves about their motivation in handling the evidence as they do and about their real intentions, which are not noble or rational at all. Thereby they “go to sleep” (as it were), forgetting their God.

Because the evidence is clear, and because the suppression of the truth is intentional, we can properly conclude that all men are “without excuse” and bear full responsibility for their sins of mind, speech, and conduct. Given the elaboration of self-deception offered here, we can better appreciate what Paul says in Romans 1, namely, that “knowing God,” all men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” And we can assert non-paradoxically that unbelievers culpably deceive themselves about their Maker.” —Greg Bahnsen, “The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics,” Westminster Theological Journal LVII (1995): 1–31.

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Second Edition) is certainly the most “comprehensive” book in the field of Christian Apologetics. As far as resources, it is at the top of the list. I highly recommend it.