Apologetics

‘Evangelicals are still much divided, it seems to me, on apologetic method. On the one hand, there is a strong theoretical tendency to a quasi-presuppositionalist or even a Bathian position. On the other hand, in action evangelical apologetics evince a practical evidentialism. Appeals to reason and proof are commonplace, despite a very strong account of the noetic effects of sin. One underlying source of the problem is that, in the world of thought, there has been a troublesome period of transition between the older forms of empiricism and positivism and the radical skepticism of the postmoderns about all knowledge. Christians have a confused epistemology: but then, so does everybody else. Sell’s book is an crudite discussion of the major issues for Christian apologetics in the twenty-first century. He offers the work as a ‘prolegomena to Christian apologetics’ (p. 353). In his first section he enquires as to what it is that Christians would like to commend, and distinguishes Christianity’s central piece of good news as ‘in Christ’s death and resurrection God has done for us that which we could never have done for ourselves’ (p. 35). He proposes that buth the confessors of this gospel and those whom they address share the imago dei, and hence an epistemological common ground. As for the presuppositions of Christian apologetics, Sell argues that it is possible to understand Christian language as speaking of God, and that the transcendent God is active to save in human hislory. He then searches for a starling point and proposes that, notwithstanding the necessity of beginning with Christ in the gospel, it is not necessary to be completely skeptical about the role of natural theology and religious experience. Sell calls his approach a ‘reasoned eclecticism’: that which starts ‘from the Cross-resurrection event, and then, having regard to the witnessing context, draws in appropriate ways upon the deliverances of human reasoning and experience, and offers a viable method of commending the faith in an intellectual environment’ (p. 354). This, he claims, renders the articulation of a Christian world-view possible. It is, I agree, a far more plausible approach than both a rigid evidentialism, which is dependent on a particular view of human reason, and the idiosyncratic presuppositionalisrn of the van Tilian school.’

(Jensen, M. A Review of Confessing and Commending the Faith: Historic Witness and Apologetic Method, by Alan P. F. Sell. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002, in The Reformed Theological Review 64:2 (August, 2005), 96-97.)

2 thoughts on “Apologetics

  1. No probs. Thanks for the review (and your latest on Carroll’s ‘Wreck’). I think that you’re spot on about the current state of play. Soren Kierkegaard once said, “If one were to describe the whole orthodox apologetic effort in one single sentence, but also with categorical precision, one might say that it has the intent to make Christianity plausible. To this one might add that, if it were to succeed, then this effort would have the ironical fate that precisely upon the day of triumph it would have lost everything and entirely quashed Christianity… To make Christianity plausible is the same as to misinterpret it.” BTW, it’s encouraging to see another young Aussie theologian doing post-grad work in the UK. I certainly appreciated Oliver’s ‘Resurrection and Moral Order’.

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