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Apologetics without Apology: Speaking of God in a world troubled by religion, by Elaine Graham

31 May 2019

John Inge commends a book on apologetics in Western society

HOW much do you know about apologetics? If it’s not a great deal, I suggest you should know more. There would be no better way of familiarising yourself with it than through this book. All thinking Christians who wish to understand apologetics and why it is important should buy it and read it.

The author begins by giving an excellently clear and concise analysis of attitudes to religion in the West in the past couple of generations, following its refusal to lie down and die, as sociologists and others so confidently predicted it would. She uses case studies to argue persuasively that the West is “troubled by religion”.

We are not exactly post-secular: it’s more complicated than that. Religion has reasserted its “visibility within the political discourses, shaping fundamental debates about the social order, as well as colonising new spaces and generating new alliances”. At the same time, however, there is very poor and worsening religious literacy, a decline in religious institutions, and a rise in people who describe themselves as having no religion, the “nones”. Among them and others, there is an openness to spirituality, a “hurrah” word in our society, but resistance to religion, a “boo” word.

Believing that we have much to learn from early Christian apologists in this unprecedented situation, the author turns her attention to them, giving a summary of their response to the challenges that they faced and suggesting that Christians in the West should learn to offer reasoned responses like theirs to those who think that religion is a “toxic brand”, and those who, like the New Atheists, dismiss any kind of religious conviction as irrational. She is surely right that this is an urgent task in which to engage, alongside commending the faith, the other more positive aspect of apologetics.

Rightly, in my view, the author is critical of modern approaches to apologetics which simply assume the veracity of the scriptures and centre on reason. Similarly, she is wary of those influenced by Karl Barth who reject apologetics altogether. Rather, she commends the likes of David Bentley Hart, brilliant myth-buster of atheist dogma, and Francis Spufford, who speaks to the heart as well as the head in his autobiographical approach to apologetics. The old cliché that Christianity is caught and not taught is surely a cliché, like many others, because there is truth in it. Authors like these have grasped that truth.

In accordance with another cliché, that actions speak louder than words, the author moves on finally to commend “apologetics in deed”, arguing that it is the responsibility of every Christian not only to defend his or her core principles and convictions in public, but also to learn again how to “speak Christian” through “mission-shaped apologetics” involving discernment, participation, and witness. In this she commends an apologetics of missio Dei, “proclaiming God in the world to the world”.
This timely book is a very good example of “speaking Christian”, one that will, I hope, be widely read — and acted on.

Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.

Apologetics without Apology: Speaking of God in a world troubled by religion
Elaine Graham
Cascade Books £19

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