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ISBN/ASIN : 0195307178
Manufacturer : Oxford University Press, USA|
Release data : 09 June, 2006
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Encouraging of a gentler, more respectful apologetic
John Stackhouse Jr., is professor of theology and culture at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. He is an award-winning historian, philosopher, theologian, journalist, and teacher. In this stirring volume Stackhouse draws upon each of these areas of expertise in order to persuade us that defending the faith (much-maligned as it is) can be and ought to be undertaken humbly. For Stackhouse, the practice of apologetics can be interesting and important, or offensive and therefore self-defeating; to ensure that it is the former and not the latter which prevails, Stackhouse has authored this volume with the intent of presenting a way "of engaging in worthwhile apologetical conversation without perverting it into a destructive exercise in triumphalism" (p. xvi).
Not dissimilar from recent texts on apologetics and evangelism by a number of L'Abri related authors (e.g. Os Guinness, Bill Edgar, Dick Keyes and Jerram Barrs); Humble Apologetics also shares some affinity with the apologetic writings of the late Francis Schaeffer. This is true not merely in terms of tone and awareness of cultural crosscurrents and their impact upon the task of witness-bearing, but perhaps most especially in the way that Stackhouse exhibits his concern for the ones to whom our apologetics are directed. (Like Schaeffer, Stackhouse is eager that our practice of apologetics open up and illumine a way forward and not wound, shut down, or cause someone to turn back from faith).
Full of sage advice and helpful pastoral notes, Humble Apologetics is nevertheless uncluttered and can be outlined quickly and easily. Parts one and two helpfully delineate the milieu in which we are called upon to defend the faith and explain what defending the faith means and involves. Here, pluralism, postmodernism and consumerism are cited as crucial challenges to Christian apologetics. The problem of plausibility-i.e. of our culture's particular resistance to biblical Christianity-is also raised and addressed. Apologetics itself is finally defined and defended and the basic epistemological matters underlying a humble apologetic are discussed. Part three," the payoff section" (p.xvii), weaves the various threads together by suggesting principles of communication, by endorsing audience-specific apologetics and by listing a dozen guidelines for apologetic conversation. Concerned that theology and philosophy not monopolize, Stackhouse draws attention to other modes of apologetics and offers a concluding chapter in which he once again drives home the importance and necessity of practicing humble apologetics.
While some have baulked at the contours of Stackhouse's proposal, labeling it "postmodern" and charging that it harbors too low a view of apologetic argumentation and its outcomes (Groothuis, Books & Culture); others have dismissed it altogether, decrying it as "unbiblical and outrageous" (Cheung, Reformation Ministries International). Though such conclusions seem hasty and tend to overlook the many strengths of this volume (too many to register here), yet there are occasions in which Stackhouse's language can be said to court the disapproval of those committed to a more corpulent and virile apologetic. Examples of this would include his insistence on speaking about worldviews, including Christianity, as "hypotheses-intelligent guesses-that are always subject to further tryouts" (p.87-89); his unnuanced assertion that "No human being knows anything for certain" (p.166); as well as his conclusion: "For all we know, we might be wrong about any or all of this" (p.232; italics are the author's). Nonetheless, while I too feel that Stackhouse may have overreached in some of his comments, yet I remain an ardent admirer of this work for two reasons.
First, it simply must be admitted that certainty is a problematic concept. For even though God wants us to be certain of our salvation and of the truth of Christianity, and even though He supplies us with the resources we need to come to a point of confident assurance regarding the essential elements of the gospel message (the concern of Groothuis and others), yet this does not prevent doubt from arising and neither does it nullify the difficulties Stackhouse addresses. Therefore, disagreement withstanding, I am certain (oops!) that I stand to gain much from interacting with this work
Second, although I reject E. J. Carnell's verificationist approach to apologetics (his offering of God and Christianity as hypotheses to be tested by autonomous man) and although I continue to have questions about the Reformed epistemology of Plantinga and Wolterstorff (which informs and gives shape to Stackhouse's epistemology); yet I can happily utilize and endorse this work when I bear in mind the author's intent. For having read and re-read Humble Apologetics, it does not seem that Stackhouse has capitulated to postmodernism and wants to topple the edifice of sure knowledge as much as he wants us to recognize the milieu we are a part of and the apologetic impact of respecting our epistemic limitations. Neither does Stackhouse suggest that other religious and philosophical options are equal to or better than Christianity, only that for various cultural and sociological reasons such alternatives may and often do appeal to others with a force that we must not underestimate or ignore. In short, Stackhouse is alert to the fact that in our present culture we cannot go out and argue from a position of obvious certainty, we must argue from a position of plausibility asking those in front of us to consider "Might not this be true?"
So then, bearing in mind the author's intent, I find Stackhouse's reflections on how we do or approach apologetics to convey a welcome and much-needed emphasis. Indeed, whatever might be said about the idiosyncrasies of this work, it remains a solid contribution towards creating and encouraging a gentler, more respectful apologetic (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). In his reconfiguring of apologetics Stackhouse has removed trumpery, clipped the wings of pride and managed to exalt character and loving respect for others without dumbing down apologetics. In essence, he pushes us to engage not just ideas, but people; to reject not only arid intellectualism but acrid uncharitability as well. Such factors make Stackhouse `highly recommended reading' for all would-be apologists.
The POSTMODERN "Christian" Heart?
A previous reviewer wrote: "Stackhouse is logical, warm, and true to the Bible without being dogmatic. This is apologetics for the compassionate and postmodern Christian heart."
First, I am not sure that you can be true to the Bible without being dogmatic, since the Bible itself dogmatically claims to be a revelation from God without compromise or room for denial.
Second, saying that this is apologetics for the "postmodern Christian heart" may be saying more than what the reviewer intends -- that is, this is the apologetics preferred by those "Christians" whose hearts have already been shaped by postmodernism instead of Scripture.
Written from a humble point of view, this book could be subtitled "For anyone who is annoyed by being told that Christians must present evidence that demands a verdict." Stackhouse is logical, warm, and true to the Bible without being dogmatic. This is apologetics for the compassionate and postmodern Christian heart.