Apologetics at the Crossby Joshua D. Chatraw, Mark D. Allen
Length: Approximately 15 hours. To read (318 pages).
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Meshing the what and how of apologetics, Apologetics at the Cross is a guidebook on how to witness Christ in a late-modern world. Effective witnesses will vary their approach based on the context, and Apologetics at the Cross helps a Christian understand how.
Who should read this?
Christians who want to understand how to more effectively witness Jesus in an increasingly Godless society.
It seems that most Christian apologetics books focus on either the method of doing apologetics or the construction of a logical apologetic argument. These approaches are helpful, but one downside is the tendency for authors to dwell on minutiae that is either quickly forgotten or suddenly seems superfluous in a real conversation.
Messrs. Chatraw and Allen, in Apologetics at the Cross, have created a unique approach to a book on Christian apologetics by combining methods of apologetics as well as arguments. While they don’t spend a lot of time focusing on logical arguments, a person who is interested in learning more about apologetic arguments can find many helpful books available.
So what is apologetics at the cross? In short, it is the crossroads of the what and how of apologetics, but it also is the cross-bearing apologist’s character and demeanor as he or she witnesses Christ to those around. And finally, it is the centrality of the message of the cross – without which no apologetic message is complete.
Apologetics at the Cross is arranged in four main parts: the Biblical base, the historical base, the theological/philosophical base, and a practical application section.
Chapters 1-2 describe the Biblical base for apologetics, including 15 ways the Bible ‘does’ apologetics and showing how Bible speakers tailored their approach to the audience. The next two chapters form the historical base by showing a couple dozen more apologetic arguments or ways of doing apologetics down through the ages.
The middle part of the book is the theological/philosophical base, and this is the real meat of the book. Guiding us through making sense of different apologetic approaches the authors repeatedly appeal to Christians having a cruciform, or cross-shaped, life. The biggest apologetic witness, they argue, is the transformed life of a Christian.
When neighbors see Christ at work in you, that’s when eyes are opened to the power of the cross. Yes, words are important, but it makes no matter to win arguments if a non-believer walks away even more calloused.
The authors also argue that apologists (all Christians) ought to prepare a variety of defenses. One non-believer may be challenged by a logical argument, whereas another will be won over by an experiential argument. Having a variety of apologetic tools handy aids greatly in apologetic conversations.
The final section of the book focuses on practical matters. Primary of these matters is how to engage non-believers in apologetic conversations in a culture that espouses relative truth. If we can’t argue truth statements, then what can we ‘argue’? These chapters are of great importance in this day and age, and a great addition to the book.
In the waning pages of Apologetics at the Cross, common defeaters (common arguments opposing the truth of Christianity) are dealt with, as well as helpful questions to ask skeptical late (post)-moderns to get them to think or shake them out of their pat answers.
In summary, a few wisdom-nuggets are bullet-pointed below:
- The goal of apologetics must be the cross.
- Instead of dividing into apologetic camps we ought to be united in love.
- Use different methods and approaches based on the person with whom you are speaking.
- Apologetics is to be cooperative with the Holy Spirit.
- Apologetics is crucial in evangelizing.
- A transformed life is a powerful witness.
- Apologetic arguments work only as well as the Holy Spirit allows, meaning, you can make great apologetic arguments, but if a person isn’t open to God then those arguments are easily avoided (think, a person plugging their ears and saying, “Nananananana – I can’t hear you”).
- There is no ‘absolute proof’ for the existence of God – belief in God is, well, belief.
- Conversion happens in community, never in isolation.
- Work from the inside out: inside a person’s framework and move out to a Christian viewpoint (start with where they are and then move out to a Christian framework).
Having taught an apologetics class for a couple of years, and having immersed myself in a variety of apologetic figures and resources, I figured Apologetics at the Cross would be a fairly standard book on apologetics. Was I ever wrong – I was blown away by this book! The authors creatively combine what feels like all the necessary ingredients for how to effectively engage non-Christians in conversations about the truth of Christianity.
The biggest surprise was the lack of focus on particular apologetic arguments. Well, perhaps an even bigger surprise was the inclusion of a brief history of Christian apologetics. I didn’t expect that in a 300 page book, but the authors made it seem important as they showed the progression of apologetics philosophy.
Back to the lack of particular arguments: I loved how they spent more time on the proper attitude apologists ought to have rather than on the exact wording they should use. There is a lot of wisdom in that.
I could use a lot of space extolling Apologetics at the Cross, but I’ve boiled down my effusing into some handy bullet points:
- Even-handed look at apologetic approaches: they don’t favor one approach, nor do they sleight any approach; this fits well with their advice to use multiple approaches in apologetic encounters.
- Showing the range of apologetic approaches shows how God uses ‘different strokes for different folks.’
- A call for apologists to be united in Christ rather than divided based upon favored methods. They rightly point out that there is no need for divisions in the body of Christ, and just because you favor one approach doesn’t mean that’s the best approach, so there isn’t a need to denigrate other approaches as long as the apologist is preaching the true gospel.
- Repeated emphasis on the importance of actions over words. Yes, words are important, but we must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit needs to work in the hearts of unbelievers. A humble gentle approach speaks volumes in a positive way whereas brash argumentation tends to grate on people.
- Insightful critique of the philosophical underpinnings of modern Western culture, showing why the West is the way it is. This helps the reader understand why certain apologetic approaches need to be shored up to be used effectively.
- Graphics are exceptionally helpful – simple, easy to understand, superb illustrations of key ideas.
- A keen eye for simple, accurate key definitions. This is mighty helpful both to initially grasp terms as well as when reviewing the chapter.
Pros as a Textbook
Apologetics at the Cross can be used personally, in a small group, or a class setting. Its versatility is advantageous, and here are some specific positives for its use as a textbook:
- Good variety of sources: This is a well-researched book with up-to-date, knowledgeable sources.
- Good list of references: Scattered throughout the book are lists of key apologetic classics. If you want to dig deeper, Apologetics at the Cross shows you were to start.
- Wide margins for note taking: A thoughtful touch from the publisher lends itself well to note takers.
- Good price for a textbook: Let all students rise up and say thank you Zondervan!
- Lectures available online, on DVD, or as an online course allowing individuals, groups, and students greater access to materials and increasing the effectiveness of the book’s content. [Review of DVD forthcoming.]
Suggestions for the Second Edition
As of this writing, Apologetics at the Cross is less than three months old. It’s a bit hasty to talk of a second edition, but I’m calling it early: this book has staying power. So, if the authors ever run across this review, here are my two cents for ways to improve the second edition:
- Chapter outlines: it would be handy to have an outline at the end of each chapter or major section to help review the concepts, ideas, and logical flow of that section.
- More sidebars with definitions or explanations, illustrations, graphics, etc. What they have is excellent, but drawing more attention to key terms and ideas through sidebar focus or bolding/italicising key terms would be helpful.
And that’s it! I can’t think of many changes to make to this excellent book. Read it, share it, talk about it with others: Apologetics at the Cross is worth your while to read again and again.
Without getting bogged down in details, Apologetics at the Cross breezes through insightful overviews of Biblical and historical apologetics, lays the foundation for a multifaceted approach to apologetics, highlights the importance of a transformed life, and serves as a reminder that we cannot do apologetics in a vacuum. Apologetics at the Cross covers a lot of ground effortlessly, is eminently encouraging, and deserves a wide audience.
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
“The goal of apologetics is to clear away the debris of doubt and skepticism in order to make a path for the gospel to be heard.” (p 17)
“We have to give people reasons to want to believe before we can give them reasons for why they can believe.” (p 181)
“Because we minister to multidimensional people, we should adopt a multidimensional apologetic approach.” (p 185)
“Logic alone is incapable of inspiring us to risk our lives for a cause.” (p 291)