By Norman L. Geisler
Abstract: A (if not The) masterpiece of Christian apologetics, from truth tests to the authority of the Bible
Difficulty: 3 (academic)
Norman L. Geisler. Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976.
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Copyright © March 1998, Bruno D. Gedressac, The Hague, The Netherlands
Note: this review was also published in Perspective on Science and Christian Faith vol. 50, no. 3, (Sept. 1998), p. 221.
Geisler is a philosopher who has written about fifty books, most of them being related to apologetics. Geisler is currently dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary at Charlotte, NC.
The book is composed of three parts, in the first one Geisler tests different apologetic methodologies, in the second one he tests the different worldviews and in the third one he makes a case for Christian apologetics. The first and the second parts of this book are abstract and philosophical, and this book is rather addressed to those who already have some notions of philosophy or apologetics. Geisler is too be praised for his clear, scholastic presentation, giving the arguments and counter-arguments for each issue. For most chapters, he first exposes the views of the different major proponents of the idea discussed (e. g. a given methodology or worldview), then extracts its tenets, and finally evaluates it by considering its strengths and weakenesses with a systematic argumentation.
Most apologists (Craig, Moreland, etc.) take as granted many of the principles, the "common ground" (reason, empirical and moral senses) which are recognized in our modern, scientific Western civilization. We have indeed an immediate knowledge of these foundational principles, unlike indirect ideas such as the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, of mysticism, of the spirit world. Even New-Agers and postmoderns make use this "common ground" when they communicate with us and must recognize their validity. However some hard-core postmoderns remain unconvinced about these basic principles, or pretend that Christian apologists commit a large circular reasoning because the modern approach of these apologists is actually based on Christianity, the mother of modern sciences. Is there a philosophically perfect, flawless apologetics, that would escape this post-modern criticism of objectivity? Yes, there is "Christian Apologetics" by Dr. Geisler.
The first part of this book deals with epistemology. Geisler shows that skepticism and agnosticism are self-refuting. He then considers the different methods (rationalism, fideism, experientialism, evidentialism, pragmatism and combinationalism) suggested to test the worldviews and find them all wanting. Besides some flaws that are inherent to specific methods, all are incapable of establishing one view and rejecting the others. What then? Should we become postmodern as is nowadays fashionable? No, because Geisler has a solution. He shows that there are two valid tests for worldviews:
The point of these two tests is that meaningfulness is required for communication, and theses tests permit to establish the minimal requirement for meaningful, real communication.
In the second part of the book, Geisler exposes the different worldviews and assess them with his two tests. Geisler excels here again, but some arguments (e. g. for the validity of theism) will probably be difficult to follow for those who are not read in philosophy. But this may incite them to read more on metaphysics (ontology and natural theology.)
Once one has established a worldview to be true with these tests, one can use combinationalism within this worldview. The facts are given meaning and can be interpreted within the framework of the view, and consistency operates within the view to refute what is not consistent with it. As our minds are finite and cannot grasp all the facts and relationships, the guide is probability and the subview that best fits the facts and is most consistent must suffice, and it turns out to be Christianity, not the other competing theisms (Judaism and Islam). So, in the third part of the book, Geisler offers a thorough reasoning which leads to the truth of Christianity. Operating within the framework of theism, Geisler uses combinationalism (especially evidentialism) as a truth test. This kind of approach can be found in many other books, although not with such a systematic and thorough treatment. Of course there are some more detailed books on each of the many issues raised, but Geisler has the most comprehensive reasoning from theism down to Christianity. However, the book could have been even more complete if Geisler had included some defenses of issues related to the basic Christian dogmas of the Early church such as divine incarnation and revelation, the Trinity, etc. Also some discussions on the development of the canon of the New Testament, or the possibility of interpreting divine revelation are lacking.
Although many thinking "seekers" who were given this present book converted to Christianity, this book did not have any impact in the secular academic world. Many Christian philosophers (Geisler, Moreland, and even now Craig) choose for a career within Christian institutions, but I wonder if they should not choose instead for careers within secular universities, as Richard Swinburne did at Oxford, a university which was rotten by positivism. Anyway I hope very much that Christian Apologetics and similar books will be read by more and more people, and that these in turn may impact the secular academic world. This book is relatively difficult and abstract, but it is a real "apologetic jewel", so much superior to most other apologetic works. It is also independent from contemporary technics and theories in natural science, which makes it robust against paradigm changes in these areas.
Copyright © 1997, 2000 Bruno D. Gedressac, The Hague, The Netherlands
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