Christian Apologetics: Past & Present

Christian ApologeticsChristian Apologetics: Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader: Volume 1: To 1500. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Publishers, 2009. 498 pp. Hdbk.

Since its start, the Christian church has needed and used apologetics. The New Testament is full of apologetic language, aside from the standard 1 Peter 3:15. Throughout its history, the church has had many noble defenders, the fruit of whose labours remains noteworthy for twenty-first century debates. While apologetic literature is not lacking, a reader of key texts is. This lacuna is now half-filled with the publication of the first volume of Christian Apologetics: Past & Present. The editors are both professors of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, a school notable for its apologetics emphasis.

The book is well-structured and easy to navigate. Each chapter begins with introductory essays followed by annotated primary sources and diagnostic questions. The questions helpfully focus on the issues of the text and how their lessons apply today. It is divided into two main parts, the first on patristic sources and the second on the middle ages. Each of the sixteen chapters, aside from the first, deals with the work of one author. The opening chapter evaluates the various New Testament texts that are apologetic in nature, such as Paul at Mars Hill (Acts 17), or Luke as an eyewitness (Luke 1:1-4). While not in-depth, they are good starting points for further study. Some texts are omitted that would fit well in this chapter like that dealing with the Colossian heresy (Colossians 2) or the Carmen Christi (Philippians 2).

In the first part, the usual suspects of the early church are present such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius and Augustine. The editors happily included lesser-known, but equally important, figures like Aristides and Athenagoras. Curiously omitted are the Apostolic Fathers, especially Ignatius of Antioch and the Letter to Diognetus, which are both strong examples of patristic apologetics—especially Diognetus, which, it could be argued (anachronistically), fits into the “presuppositional” method that the editors espouse.

The second part, on the middle ages, is useful as it is often thought that this period of “Christendom” had no need for apologetics. However, the major discussions of philosophical theology, like the relationship between reason and revelation or the doctrine of God, were hammered out at this time. The inclusion of Boethius’ “A Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius” shows the Christological continuity between the middle ages and the church fathers. In the introduction to this chapter the editors pay attention to the method and terminology used by Boethius in this and his Consolations. Of course Anselm and Aquinas are considered, but again the editors introduce their readers to lesser known thinkers like Raymond Lull and Girolamo Savanarola. In the chapter on Aquinas, his work against Islam is highlighted and has good application for today. The theologians and philosophers dealt with in this part are Western; it would have been good to include those from the Eastern Church for a more holistic treatment.

The editors are presuppositional in their approach to apologetic method and thus point out areas of congruence between their view and their objects of study. However, they do not let this taint their interpretations of history. For instance, in the essay introducing the chapter on Anselm, they do not commit themselves to the sometimes held view that Anselm “presupposed the Christian revelation in his argumentation” (p. 368). This striving for objectivity is commendable and will make this of use to apologists who do not necessarily buy into this school of apologetics.

Having a source reader like Christian Apologetics is a tremendous service both to teachers and students. This book should be a standard in college and seminary apologetics courses. It is also handy for those who wish to see how the church has historically defended the gospel for help doing so today. If the projected second volume is as good, this double-resource will prove invaluable.

Ian Clary

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