Saturday, May 7, 2016

Book Review: A New Kind of Apologist by Sean McDowell

Click here for 3 minute video review.

When Sean McDowell asked "would you review my new book?", I thought this was going to be another brilliant apologetic for the faith. What I found were a few pages from Sean interspersed with 27 essays by excellent apologists and six a diverse cast including skeptics. I was right about it being brilliant but it was more than just another apologetic. The book is certainly readable cover to cover like I did for this review but even better served in bite-sized chunks on demand. The topics are among the most current I've seen in any printed work to date and might be the best single volume reference set of it's kind. Let's unpack it.


Harvest House, 2016, just under 300 pages, $16.99 paperback, ($13 Amazon, $11 kindle), endorsements by Skip Heitzig, Nancy Pearcey, J. Warner Wallace, Russell Moore, and others. Each of the 27 essays are about 5-8 pages long by people specializing in each area with six interviews that are about 2-4 pages. The essays are thoroughly footnoted and a short bio of each author follows their work (although much more could be said about each one). 

Main Takeaway:

The apologetics market is filled with books with new ideas including many good ones by McDowell. This isn't one of those, but it is very good. Rather than a new twist on an old argument, A New Kind of Apologist is more of a "How to" book that lays out 27 of the most pressing obstacles to evangelism in the current cultural climate and how to navigate them. It focuses on our approach and the people before we share the gospel message. One of the common threads that spans each essay is the idea of "pre-evangelism." It guides the reader to more effectively understand various perspectives of our potential audience before launching arguments at them. Here's a quick synopsis of each chapter, but there is much more good stuff inside you won't want to miss.


Sean McDowell
McDowell begins by urging the reader not to repeat one of his early mistakes. He sympathizes with our temptation to give reasons before learning why the questioner is asking something in the first place. He rehashed his attendance at a national event by The Reformation Project, an organization committed to the acceptance of same sex relationships in the church. Although there was some nervous trepidation, McDowell eased into it by being honest about his disagreement while requesting the same tolerance expected of him. It allowed him to learn about the people even if no agreement was likely. Before handing off to his expert line-up, he sets up three critical traits for the new kind of apologist: humble, relational, studious, and practitioner. 

PART 1: A New Approach

1 - Christians in the Argument Culture: Apologetics as Conversation
Tim Muehlhoff
Religion is increasingly becoming a controversial subject to bring up with unbelievers. How to navigate: 1) what does the person believe? Listen instead of trying to push an agenda. 2) Why do they believe it? Despite the temptation to launch into your best case, slow down and remember we're still gaining information. It's not even time to jump on their bad ideas yet. We need to first find out why they think their ideas are right. For most people, their ideas aren't formed in a vacuum but mostly from family, personal experiences, and influential people in their life. 3) What do we believe in common? Often some of the big questions they're pondering are the same as ours even though the answers might be different.
Seek first understanding where someone comes from before setting out to win the debate. 

2- Apologetics and New Technologies
Brian Auten
With limitless options for taking our apologetic energy to the masses online, Brian Auten breaks what seems like an infinite sea of options down to four basic apologetic avenues to take: content author, content artist, content communicator, and content propagator. Finding your groove depends on how God has gifted you with certain skills or opportunities. There can be some overlap and ways we can synergistically coordinate our efforts so the church at large can increase it's impact. He offers a caution to be effective and shrewd online because what's posted is permanent. 

Bart Campolo interview
Campolo is the son of emergent church pastor Tony Campolo. He recently announced his agnosticm and has been speaking widely in support of the secular worldview. He describes himself in the interview as a postmodern offshoot where community is what shapes beliefs. Campolo says religious beliefs may be true for the individual believer, but they can't convince others nor should they try. He sees any claim to truth as irrelevant unless you're in a community of others who believe the same thing. For atheists, you're just wasting time.

3 - Servant Apologetics 
Tom Gilson
Who are you reaching and why? Gilson warns against doing apologetics for the pride of it. There's much we could be missing if we do but often that's what happens. We end up forgetting what Jesus set out to do and instead do it our way. In the process, we find ourselves doing the exact opposite. Gilson points out that white apologetics, the least needy care the most and the neediest care the least.
Is this a cycle perpetuated by apologists who cloister around other apologetic junkies to exchange fancy terms and arguments and complain about how the church doesn't appreciate them.

4 - Motivating Others to "Give an Answer"
Mark Mittelberg
So you love apologetics - now what? Forst, we must support and encourage church leadership. Pray for help and against spiritual adversaries. Remind the church body that apologetics isn't optional. It's a command! We need to model this and be an example to follow. Show the transforming power of God and arguments for God are comparable and necessary. Train and equip them, especially parents and grandparents by reminding them of the battle facing their kids. Show love and win people before arguments.

5 - Social Justice and a New Kind of Apologist
Ken Wytsma and Rick Gerhardt
Our biggest testimony is our life. God is clear how he wants us to help widows and the poor. Jesus gave a great example of reaching outcasts. Yet people outside the church view Christians as hypocrites (85%). The reasons this is evident to young westerners are: 1) global communication uncovers everything, 2) many non-Christians understand and engage with the world's evils because they care how people are treated, and 3) for some we're trying to reach, truth depends to some extent on pragmatism. If Christianity is really true, then wouldn't God make sure that it works in areas he supposedly cares about?

Interview with JP Moreland
Dr. Moreland shares how apologetics has changed and gives advice on how to address the current challenge.

6 - "Don't Blame Us, It's in the Bible"
Dan Kimball
Youth leave when they discover difficult Bible passages they never knew about and no one can adequately answer. We've been our own enemy by throwing out a passage and skipping right to application. Largely that's what people want but that created a problem. People ignore hermeneutics and as a result are biblically confused. We need to tackle the tough parts before our kids get to them. Meanwhile pray and act like you believe it's really true and not just another winning argument. 

PART 2: New Methods

7 - Shepherding is a Verb
Jeff Myers
Leaders are like shepherds who develop their disciples more than charging ahead of them merely as an example. A mentor is key to success. 70% of youth group teens leave by their 20's. If not for mentors, St. Patrick, Spurgeon, Wilberforce, and Edwards may not have been. Relationships matter more than publishing and speaking across the globe.

8 - A Practical Plan to Raise up the Next Generation
Brett Kunkle
Godly kids too often get derailed from their faith intellectually. How we equip youth: classical education via Trivium which includes grammar (the "what") elementary school, 2) logic (the "why") in middle school, and 3) rhetoric (the "experience") in high school. "It's time to stop bemoaning the exodus of students from our churches and start doing something serious about it."

Dennis Rainey interview
Parents equip your kids everyday. He urges parents to involve worldview issues in every phase of life. Regardless of belief we all have a worldview. It's how we think differently especially on matters of sex, gender identity in context of the Bible.

9- The Multiethnic Church
Derwin L. Gray
Paul and the disciples Philip and Peter before him reached the multicultural world as something no religion tried to do. The old world was very divisive (perhaps more than today but no less so). Paul's words show the gospel destroying that separation. "The ethnic unity of God's church is a sign to the world that his kingdom has broken through the darkness; multiethnic local churches are God's living apologetic." Sadly, our churches are among the least multiethnic parts of society. Let's change that! Rather than focus on the individual we must see the world as God does- a land and people to be remade and reconciled to him for his glory. We can do that not as colorblind people but as "color blessed" people.

10- Come and See: The Value of Storytelling for Apologetics
Holly Ordway
Ordway teaches us that CS Lewis' testimony of imagination plus reason made his intellectual acceptance of doctrine meaningful.
There's a basic human need for purpose. Our lives are expected to have a beginning, middle and end. We celebrate the good things and seek answers when things don't go as they're supposed to. A Christ centered apologetic must rely upon both reason and imagination, on argument and story. People aren't always looking for brute facts or clever reasoning but want to connect with the truth emotionally as well. That's a big part of being human and relationship depends on connecting emotionally. Consider how God first reached out to us. Read the first few books of the Bible and of the gospels and you'll see he introduces himself and his Son through story! The author came to Christ opposite Lewis but through story just as much. Ordway rejected doctrine but was pulled in by the story which urged her to reexamine the content without apprehension. This shows the power of story and emotional appeal is so powerful it can work both ways. Our case is intended to be story in that we're relational beings made in God's image as incarnate souls meant to rejoice and weep. Telling God's story becomes even more as we weave in our own personal testimony into the overall narrative. Story is what it means to be a Christian. "Our faith is an adventure."

11- Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share Your Faith
Lenny Esposito
Movies impact culture. They offer a great and exciting way to discuss spiritual things where as our friends may be less interested in discussing doctrinal or biblical matters by themselves. Movies help illustrate important concepts relevant to spiritual discussions. Story sometimes shows how certain parts of the narrative fits into the full sequence of events from beginning to end.

12- The Urban Apologist
Christopher Brooks
Black lives matter is a lesbian-founded group whose mission seeks to empower minority groups to action. They criticize the church and overall social structures as belittling black lives. They turn to alternatives like Buddhism, the moorish science temple, the nation of gods and earths, Islam, and black humanism. Brooks lays out three kinds of BLM objections to the gospel and how to overcome them: 1) religious. We should appeal to Jesus. Christians must show how Jesus grounds our value and seeks the outcasts like none have ever since. 2) Ethical objections. We must debunk relativism. What is right and wrong? 3) Social justice objections. Christianity is largely to blame and minorities often have political differences that are hard to face. We must remember it's not about politics but the gospel. "No longer can we fall into the false either evangelism or social change." It's both.

13- Intuitional Apologetics: Using Our Deepest Intuitions to Point Toward God
Terry Glaspey
More than intellectual. We must seek an emotional and aesthetic appeal as well as intellectual. If not, Christianity might appear too ugly to consider. "They breathe in the germs of prevailing assumptions from the cultural air around them, and this determines their belief system." For some, the idea of becoming a religious person - much less a Christian - seems impossible. We must consider their current mindset and what makes them tick. We need a "pre-rational" apologetic to open hearts and minds to a better way of seeing the world around us and finding the best explanations for life's big questions. Pointing out clues that have always been there but their perspective never allowed them to see through mutually appreciated beauty, wonder, art, and imagination. Our goal must be to lead them to acceptance before they see the reasons why they've been intellectually bound to accept all along. This is intuitional apologetics. Ask questions, show experiences, dig deeper to bring the main issues front and center. He gives six ways to go about the task.

Gavin MacFarland interview
The most compelling intellectual case for Christianity to Gavin MacFarland was the Kalam cosmological and moral arguments but there was a long time he was reluctant to accept it as true. He urges readers to focus on relationships before plunging into evangelism. Invest in people first and God's call for evangelistic opportunity will come and be more sincere and nature for everyone.

14 - Why We Should Love Questions More Than Answers
Matthew Anderson
Christianity has the best answers so our reflex is to give answers first. But we should "point the way home rather than shout from the balcony of our bedrooms about how good looking it is." It's about the journey more than the destination. After all if the journey is wrong, the destination is never reached. Jesus used questions and so should you. Questions tell us what they want to know and imply a point of view if we listen for it. Who wants all of their questions answered anyway? A little bit of mystery keeps us seeking answers. Be careful how you pass along the faith to others. Giving the impression that we require answers for every question may keep people locked in an eternal skepticism unwilling to step into a trusting relationship God wants them to have. Not all questions are the same. Some have strong rhetorical force with an answer in mind or to guide the conversation while some investigate seeking the answer. Either way, be sincere. Questions are the easiest most nature form of communicating and gaining information that the most novice among us can use immediately. Give it a try.

15 - Why More Women Should Study Apologetics
Mary Jo Sharp
Why not? Women are made as rational beings with doubts no less than men yet they represent a tiny portion of those outwardly interested in the topic. For Mary Jo and many others she's heard from, doubt is the culprit. Doubt fueled by experience of suffering or everyday distractions (various roles internally and outside influences from friends and media), and a life lived outside of fellowship with God keep doubts alive and separate women from their calling as daughters of the King. It's not so much the doubt that affects women as it's how they deal with it. Failing to study current challenges or seek answers to our doubts makes things worse and hurts everyone. Giving bad answers repels seekers and misguides our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sharp cautions that complacency in our intellectual life can enhance doubt and hampers our relationship with Jesus.

PART 3: New Issues

16 - A Political Christian Apologetic: What, Why, How?
Jennifer A. Marshall
We must understand more than what we learned in our 11th grade civics class. The goal of every policy is the incorporation of diverse interests into a society that flourishes. The Bible has lots to say about this. And how we go about the task is just as important. We're relational beings and as Christians we seek intimacy with God, ourselves, others, and the material world. Our first task began when God delegated us as the caretakers of his creation. He ordained the foundational institutions of family, church, and government to help us in this task. Combating poverty is an example of how these all work together. Above all else honoring God must remain our top cause even when living out the truth hurts us materially. Don't fall for the secular trap that's been silencing the church and individual Christian voices: that secularism is the only neutral view. No, every view has a set of fundamental assumptions about the world and policy positions always advance a moral position. Laws are nothing more and nothing less than mandating a certain ethic.

17 - An Assessment of the Present State of Historical Jesus Studies
Michael Licona
In flight, Licona met an unsuspecting debate partner. He guides us in our own future encounters. Three Jesi: 1) historical, 2) gospel, and 3) real. He expand how they are distinct, contradict, or overlap each other. 
Important factors when investigating the historical Jesus involves 1) the the setting (time, place, culture), criteria of authenticity (multiple, hostile, embarrassing, and eyewitness), and philosophical assumptions (postmodern vs realism). Jesus "mythers" cloud the debate with issues the scholarly field either long since abandoned or are founded on historically mistaken ground. Be mindful of the mission field we're in today. Many aren't looking for historical probability but have something else that hinders their quest. 

18 - How to Question the Bible in a Post-Christian Culture
Jonathan Morrow
The Bible has influenced culture in multiple ways but our tactic to defend it must change with the new times. "For many, the Bible is no longer the answer, it is the question." It's ok to question the Bible. In fact, it's a good thing to study it seriously enough to ask questions and sort through the tough pets. Faith can be stronger after it's dealt with some healthy resistance. Generally, there are two kinds of questions: seeking and separating. Only the questioner knows which he's asking. Common questions are that Christianity was invented and imposed by political winners or that the Bible is morally outdated and evil. Morrow swiftly answers both.

Hemant Mehta interview 
As an atheist, I've had positive experience with Christians who are surprised to find I'm nice and disarming. The main negative has been when apologists misrepresent my view and assume I don't have responses to their arguments. You can tell when they haven't engaged with a real atheist before. There are no good arguments (or else I'd be convinced). Bad arguments are based in science because they have been debunked. Arguments front the Bible to prove the Bible are bad too. 

19 - Entrepreneurs: An Economic Apologetic for the Faith
Jay W. Richards
Apologetics is more than theology. It carries over into every phase of life. If true, Christianity must work when it's applied to every field of knowledge. Economics touches everybody so an economic apologetic is relatable and should be studied more. As one example Richards describes the entrepreneur problem. Most economists ignore them because they don't fit the predictable scientific paradigm. The few who dare to try to explain this phenomenon, do so upon Darwinian biological assumptions. Richards suggests Christianity gives a better way. More than the age old nature vs nurture debate, there's the "free will" factor of the human person. Man made imago dei reflects the creative power of God himself and accounts for the unpredictability we see in entrepreneurship. It's not that entrepreneurs prove God, but belief in God makes more sense of it than the reductive alternative provided by Darwinists.

20 - Telling About Sex in a Broken Culture
John Stonestreet
The fear approach to sex education is bad. It's utilitarian which bases morality on consequences and contradictory when in marriage. Rally "purity pledges" don't correspond to keeping the promise and "princess Theology" isn't biblical, realistic, or even believable. Sex comes calling at earlier ages even when no one is seeking it. Tolerance and lack of moral judgment saturates the culture. Sex used to be private but now impacts entire cultures who share redefined ethics. So we must ground sexual ethics in scripture. Show how the biblical view of human sexuality gives it meaning in the first place. Far from being incompatible to sex, the gospel offers what sinners need most - forgiveness. It's not a new problem. Paul started off in waters perhaps deeper than ours in sexual depravity. It was as counter cultural and revolutionary then as now, maybe more. 

21 - Being Authentically Christian on the LGBT Issue
Glenn T. Stanton
Follow Christ's lead as the one "full of Grace and Truth (Jn 1:14). Make friends and visualize them with you whenever addressing this topic. LGBT is not about LGBT but about biblical reliability and authority of Jesus. Conversations can spiral in any direction but anything outside these two areas is irrelevant as far as the church is concerned . In order to understand this issue, we must begin with biblical anthropology (who is man?). The Bible is clear about the complimentary sexes and Jesus echoed it directly in Mat 19 and Mk 10. Do we need to apologize? How and when? It's unfounded to claim people with SSA were "born that way" but it's not fair to call it a choice either. Sexuality is complex. Man-Woman marriage isn't akin to racism. Gender matters and isn't a social convention. Our LGBT friends want something better. They may seem happy, but deep down they know something is missing. Perhaps we can help them find it in Jesus. 

22 - Transgender: Truth and Compassion
Alan Shlemon
Culture is buying the idea that gender is socially constructed and any disagreement isn't tolerated. Not only is the biblical view of gender challenged here, but Christians who hold biblical views are increasingly seen as bigoted. Scripture is silent on the transgender question but firm on the larger question of created order, gender roles, and sexual behavior. Science helps too. Reproductive process is the only function that requires another person for it to work. This requires that biology denotes gender. What is transgender? Conscious and subconscious perceived gender identity is different than biological sex. This causes distress and high suicide rates (41%) and attempts at changing biological sex to match perceived gender identity. What's clear is there's a mismatch. Identity has the potential to change while biological sex cannot. Intersex (hermaphrodites) are still genetically and biologically of a single sex that can't be changed. Many raised as the opposite sex later wished it hadn't been that way. Transgenders who undergo surgery also rarely feel cured. This suggests attempting to change the body rather than the mind is a mistake - an irreversible one at that. We must first understand this struggle before launching arguments. Empathizing with them in search for healing is the way of truth and compassion that Jesus practiced. The culture has lied to them so what can we do? Make friends. Without a relationship you may not have earned the right to talk about their life. How we address this depends if the conversation is inside or outside the church. Use apologetics after presenting the gospel to clarify issues that arise.

23 - An Apologetic for Religious Liberty
James Tonkowich
Religious liberty used to be a given until strides against it have been mounting progressively over the last 50 years. It's not, as the media would suggest, equal to religious tolerance nor is it merely freedom to worship. Rather, religious freedom is a birthright that every just society must respect. This applies to the religious or irreligious. It was enacted into the founding documents by Thomas Jefferson who echoed Tertullian's call for religious freedom in the second century. The 1st amendment prohibits government from hindering religious liberty but this is not what grants it. Religious liberty is our "inalienable birthright." Religious tolerance is something else altogether. As policy, it means the government is putting up with certain religious positions. This implies a change of policy could erase that. This isn't liberty at all. It ignores the birthright and becomes the arbitrary whim of whoever is in power as what what Jefferson did to protect the Danbury baptists.
Likewise, Freedom of worship isn't a right. It's a restrictive form of religious toleration where your ability to express your religion is confined to private places designated by those in charge (home, church, etc), but NOT in public. As the NM Supreme Court justice wrote in a case ruled against Christian photographers who declined to participate in a same sex wedding ceremony, setting aside religious beliefs in public is the "price of citizenship." Recognition of religious freedom by the state is paramount. Without out it, freedom is just a facade. To illustrate, Tonkowich asks us to imagine if the first amendment allowed free speech but not religion. You could speak about anything except what drives your life the most. That's fake freedom. Objections: religious freedom excuses any behavior, causes conflicts, or allows Christians to get their way. Most importantly, religious freedom is for the minorities not the majority. Christians have historically defended this principle and need to do so now.

John Njoroge interview
The Christian world has a bad taste for apologetics. the largest growing segment of Christianity - Pentecostal and Charismatics - are lacking thoughtful and caring apologists. The church doesn't see the need for apologetics and see them largely as people who want to win arguments more than people. Be cautious not to rely on knowledge while ignoring the power of the Holy Spirit. Many in Africa are skeptical of formal theological training but can relate to an appeal to scripture. Apologetics is a means to an end. It's important, but only in the bigger picture of being part of bringing people to know God.

24 - Advocating Intelligent Design with Integrity, Grace, and Effectiveness
Casey Luskin
The author points out the increasing tension between intelligent design (ID) and evolution advocates and presents a clear cut case for ID. He defines complex specified information (CSI) and suggests intelligence as the best explanation. A scientific inquiry sets the stage. 

observations:  intelligence produces CSI

Hypothesis: if something is designed, you'll find CSI

Conclusion: CSI infers design

It is empirically based, thus can't be written off as "religious" by any honest person. Objections fail to explain the source of this CSI. Don't be discouraged when under attack. Pray and seek God because the attacks will come. This should be a sign that you're on the right track. If you were wrong, you should hear good arguments instead. The author clears away the brush of ID objections to remind the reader to stay focused on the heart of the issue and why it matters. Namely, skeptics are largely driven by their perceived lack of scientific evidence for God. He shows how ID is distinct from creationism and why the age of the earth and other similar questions distract for the big question of how we got here. ID isn't intended to answer every question. It doesn't escape the bounds of science. He introduces theistic evolution (TE) and how ID is a better way. TE proponents claim "all is intelligently designed" but maintain the evidence is hidden. This turns out to be a purely theological commitment without scientific support. So, it happens that TE is less scientific than theological in it's methodology. ID is science whereas TE is not. Further, Luskin points to Rom 1 where Paul says God is "clearly perceived" in nature. How then can TE advocates say it's hidden? The public is anxious to hear reasonable scientific explanations to the big questions of human origins and we should have the confidence to give it to them. 

25 - The Scientific Naturalist Juggernaut and What to Do About It
Scott Smith
Implications of naturalistic evolution (NE) are materialism, fact/value distinction, and the denial of the natural state of things (i.e. Marriage). Three methods for understanding NE: 1) verificationism is self-defeating, 2) volition undermines NE, 3) NE holds survival as ultimate and truth only as a means to survival.
NE took hold of our churches because we allowed science to be the ultimate knowledge bearer and absolute certainty as the standard of proof. We've been "naturalized" or "de-supernatural used" persuaded by our culture to accept the assumptions of NE which wrestles with our beliefs about the dual worlds of God's Kingdom. Left with just a "shell" of our faith, no wonder we don't appreciate the reality of God and deprive ourselves of the life of true intimacy with him like his early followers did. No wonder people are turned off in our churches when they see we're really no different inside as we are during the week and in our flesh. It comes off as hypocrisy and turns people off. We, like our founding fathers, have an innate distrust of subjective religious experience (LDS, Pentecostalism, spiritualism, etc), but we forget to value the emotional response to a real relationship. Realizing the faults of our forefathers allow us to correct the mistakes so they stop with us.

26 - Water that Satisfied the Muslim's Thirst
Abdu Murray 
Murray shows how Christianity can appeal to Muslims by describing a talk on Scripture he gave at a mosque. He explains how Islam speaks well of Jesus and the gospels, how it doesn't explicitly deny NT reliability and presents a third option out of a dilemma that may help us all guide truth seeking Muslims to God.

27 - What About Other Religions?
Tanya Walker 
Dr. Walker shares three obstacles to the cross 1) logic, 2) character, and 3) destination. These are matters that must be cleared in "pre-evangelism" for the gospel message to take root. Logic- some are so confused that their error must be pointed out. Character - some are offended when we do this and sometimes we are offensive. Destination - where is the destination and who is God? Commonly our questioner has opposing definitions that need to be corrected.