Apologetics,  Clifford McManis,  Doug Wilson,  Greg Bahnsen,  Jason Lisle

Apologetic Reads

Before I read Van Til I didn’t read apologetics very much. I did quite a bit of apologetics, but found reading it dull and not very useful. I couldn’t get through reams of logic or piles of evidence without the realization that the next time I met a teenager with questions I would have no chance of even remembering what I had read let alone maintaining the attention of my interlocutor. Being committed to a presuppositional method I now lap up contributions on the subject. Here are a few I have read recently:

God Is by Doug Wilson is a read-in-an-hour-or-two rough-shod ride over the pages of Christopher Hitchen’s God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It is a rewarding hour or two not least because it restores one’s faith in the ability of Christians to write good, stinging prose and make a good argument (very few contemporary Christian writers can do both). Wilson’s central and reverberating critique of the Hitch is that while he sounds like an evolved puritan he makes his speech from thin air – there is no way the Hitch can account for morality from within his own worldview.

Doug Wilson

Biblical Apologetics by Clifford McMannis is a delightful contribution from a dispensationalist. He makes one point well – apologetics is primarily the application of scripture to an unbeliever. This is argued neatly on the basis of good exegesis of apologetic texts such as 1 Pet 3:15. Giving an apologetic for the hope we have is to explain and defend the gospel. By the way, Wilson’s book gives ample space to an explanation of the gospel, the sacrifice of Christ on the behalf of sinners, something missing even from Van Til’s apologetic corpus.

The weakness of McManis is his occasional overstatement. His derision of any philosophical project strikes one as a little naive given the philosophy the church has used to state tricky doctrines such as the doctrine of the Trinity (utilizing Aristotelian ideas). A notable chapter is a theodicy. God determines evil in order that human beings know God in the way God wants them to. Evil performs the function of revealing God’s eternal attribute of wrath. The interesting thing about this idea is that I presented the same essential argument to John Feinberg, author of The Many Faces of Evil. The problem I could not overcome was that the theodicy implicitly commits one to a consequentialist ethic. Evil is justified by the consequence that human knowledge of God is complete. I have written to McMannis asking for his response and have yet to hear. If he can come up with anything satisfactory I would love to hear it since the jist of the idea goes in the right direction.

Ultimate Proof of Creation by Jason Lisle is a terse critique of evolutionism from the perspective of a young earther (something, many have argued, that is a prerequisite for a consistent presuppositional apologetic). It also serves as an introduction to presuppositionalism. Lisle’s apologetic also makes use of other apologetic methods – looking for internal consistency in opposing worldviews and offering a modified use of empirical evidence in defense of young earth science. It is not entirely clear if he sees the former as unique to presuppositionalism since it is certainly a part of the mainstream apologetic armory (ie. the test for any worldview is internal consistency, empirical verifiability and existential relevance). However, his main argument is that only the Christian worldview provides the conditions for intelligibility and that is good presupp fair. This is a good book to get started with since Lisle is clear and easy on the technical language. He is also a scientist and this is a rare attribute for presuppositionalists. He helps ease a more empirical person into epistemic self-awareness instead of dropping him from a great height. Lisle’s chapter on basic logic is also a good intro to the subject.

Bahnsen’s very posthumously published, Presuppositional Apologetics Stated and Defended is really a collection of articles and reads in a slightly disjointed way. The book begins with a survey of presupppositionalism grounded in scripture, but then moves to detailed philosophical analysis. The book contains Bahnsen’s ideas on self-deception which are helpful. This helps articulate the somewhat cumbersome proposition that an unbeliever knows God yet denies that knowledge in unrighteousness.  

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.

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