Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/17/2008 by James Anderson.
Recommended. A useful, insightful, and provocative defense of the Christian faith from a presuppositionalist perspective.
The subtitle of Robert Reymond’s latest book on apologetics gives a fair impression of its purpose and tone: “An Apologetic Antidote to Mindless Christianity (and to Thoughtless Atheism)”. Reymond’s goal is to counter not only the attacks of “militant atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but also the “mindless Christianity” of believers who are unable or unwilling to offer any reasons for the faith they profess.
The book is adapted from lecture material originally prepared for a seminary course in apologetics and is therefore pitched at that level. Reymond’s approach to apologetics is self-consciously presuppositionalist, with the title of the book designed to reflect that approach. Our method in apologetics should not be to start from a position without any faith commitments and to use our reasoning to construct a position of faith ‘from scratch’. Rather, we should unashamedly start with the faith we already profess, and reasoning in a manner consistent with that faith we should explain why it makes good sense to believe as we do. Reymond insists that “one’s first principle … is all-important in Christian apologetics”. You either begin with the conviction that the Bible is God’s Word and ground your knowledge and reasoning on that firm foundation, or else you build on some other foundation that will ultimately prove to be quicksand.
The opening chapter defines Christian apologetics, reviews its biblical basis, and summarizes four different ‘apologetic systems’ (evidentialism, presuppositionalism, experientialism, and autonomous humanism). A passionate defense of Christian theology as an intellectual discipline follows in chapter 2, where Reymond gives five compelling reasons for Christians to ‘do theology’ based on the teaching and practice of Jesus, the apostles, and the New Testament church.
The third chapter (“Faith’s Reasons for Believing the Bible is God’s Word”) is arguably the most important of the book, given Reymond’s approach to defending the faith. The argument here closely follows that of Gordon Clark and boils down to this: the Bible claims to be God’s Word, and no one has proven its claim to be false, therefore it is reasonable to believe that the Bible is God’s Word.
In the following four chapters, Reymond defends some of the central claims of the Christian faith: the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ; the virgin birth; biblical miracles, particularly those of Jesus; and the supernatural conversion of Paul. In keeping with Reymond’s apologetic method, most emphasis is placed on the biblical testimony to these events.
Switching gears, chapter 8 returns the focus to questions of apologetic method with a critique of the evidentialist approaches of B.B. Warfield, R.C. Sproul, and E.J. Carnell. Reymond’s main criticism is that these apologists have adopted a method whose assumptions about human knowledge and reason are at odds with their own Reformed theological convictions (as per the Westminster Confession of Faith). Chapter 9 continues in similar vein with a critique of the traditional ‘proofs’ of God’s existence. As Reymond sees it, these arguments should be abandoned: they’re logically flawed, they fail to prove the existence of the biblical God, and they’re unnecessary in any case (since even the unconverted know that God exists).
Chapters 10 and 11 set out what Reymond understands to be the Christian view of knowledge, meaning, and truth. The Bible as God’s Word is the only sure foundation for human knowledge and personal significance. Truth is essentially the correspondence between God’s thoughts and our thoughts. Truth is “logically rational, ethically steadfast, and covenantally faithful” because it is God’s truth. Reymond makes abundantly clear his disdain for those who claim to find ‘paradoxes’ or ‘apparent contradictions’ in the Bible, e.g., in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
The final two chapters take a more practical turn. Chapter 12 argues that all secular ethical systems have proven to be failures; only biblical theism can explain why objective moral principles exist at all and why we ought to be good. Chapter 13 contends that Paul’s ‘worldview evangelism’ at Athens (Acts 17) remains as relevant and effective for reaching biblically illiterate unbelievers (including ‘postmoderns’) as it was in the first century. In order to faithfully communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and drive home its claims, we first need to teach people the biblical ‘metanarrative’, because the message of the gospel only makes sense within that broader framework.
Faith’s Reasons for Believing is a lengthy book (460 pages of text with copious footnotes) and it covers a lot of ground. It contains some extremely useful and cogently argued material, such as its treatments of the Bible’s witness to its own inspiration and inerrancy, the formation of the New Testament canon, Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth, the theological significance of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, and the apologetic significance of Paul’s conversion. Reymond’s uncompromising commitment to the Bible as God’s Word and his reliance on careful biblical exegesis puts some other apologetics textbooks to shame.
Nevertheless, the book is not without its shortcomings and inconsistencies. In the first place, many readers will judge Reymond’s central argument for the Christian faith to be unpersuasive and circular, despite his insistence to the contrary. Stronger arguments for Christianity can be offered without abandoning the sort of presuppositionalist convictions Reymond holds dear.
Second, it’s remarkable that a book like this would omit any discussion of the two most common objections wielded by today’s skeptics against the reasonableness of the Christian faith: the problem of evil (“Why does God allow so much evil and suffering?”) and the problem of religious diversity (“Isn’t it arrogant and unreasonable for Christians to say that their religion is the one and only way to God?”).
Third, I suspect those who locate themselves in the ‘evidentialist’ or ‘classical’ schools of apologetics (Reformed or otherwise) will complain that they have not been fairly represented at points and that the author has not considered the most refined versions of their arguments. At times one detects double standards at play, for it isn’t always clear that Reymond’s own apologetic avoids the criticisms he levels at others. In reality, I suspect there is less distance between Reymond and (say) Sproul than his vigorous objections would suggest.
Finally, while Reymond’s writing is often a model of eloquence and precision, it can also be intimidating for the average reader. Take one example: the book is sprinkled throughout with foreign phrases (usually Latin or German) either preceded or followed by the English equivalent. Why not simply stick to English in the first place, one wonders? What do these fancy phrases add to the text, other than a needlessly academic tone? There’s a certainly a place for technical terms, but an introductory apologetics textbook would do better to minimize their use.
Faith’s Reasons for Believing has many useful, insightful, and provocative things to say about both the biblical foundations for apologetics and the biblical examples of apologetics. One will learn from it almost as much about good exegetical theology as about defending the faith. In light of the book’s length, style, and choice of topics, I would not consider it a suitable introduction for lay readers who are unfamiliar with the broad landscape of Christian apologetics. But I’m confident that any educated Christian with a particular interest in apologetics would find much of benefit in it.