With the holiday season looming, most Christian fare on the book market is going to be focused around the topic of Christmas. While this is all well and good, the Apologetics fan on your gift list is going to be looking for meatier topics.
If you want to meet the spiritual and intellectual needs of the bibliophile on your gift list, consider one of the following books to set under the tree.
Tactics, by Greg Koukl
The Bible insists that believers share the Gospel with others, and with good reason. If true, then the Christian faith is the only way to salvation, redemption, peace, comfort, and existential satisfaction. Rejection of the Christian faith results in the opposite: damnation, corruption, and dissatisfaction.
The problem with living in the information age is that practically every individual that the Christian encounters already has an impression of what Christians believe, and has already rejected it. Conversations about religion frequently result in arguments and accusations that the Christian narrow-minded and intolerant. This being the case, many Christians despair of ever being able to share their beliefs with others.
In his book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, Christian Philosopher and speaker Greg Koukl addresses this seeming vexing problem by offering practical, easy tips for remaining gracious, avoiding angry exchanges, and for being able to effectively converse about one’s faith even if one does not have answers for the specific challenges being raised.
As a talk show host for many years, Koukl has a great deal of experience fielding on-the-spot questions and challenges to his beliefs, and it shows. The writing is fluid and easy to follow. It communicates a lot of established techniques of logic and debate but without the academic jargon and in a way that is easy for any audience to understand and absorb.
Koukl peppers his text with colorful illustrations from his own life and experience that help the reader to see the application of the techniques he is attempting to convey; and he repeatedly emphasizes the important strategies throughout the text so that, by the end, the reader is well versed in each one.
Nor is the book heavy and involved. It is relatively short, allowing the reader to go through the texts several times in order to familiarize themselves with the tactics Koukl recommends.
There is very little worth criticizing in the book. While structured in a way that allows readers to clearly identify the separate tactics Greg puts forward based on the different sections of the book, the writing can be a bit meandering at times such that the particular tactic being discussed gets lost in the discussion.
After several chapters talking about the individual tactics, the book would benefit from a tight summary at the end, reminding the reader of the tactical steps as they would fall in the course of any given conversation.
The shortcomings mentioned above are minor at best, and do not detract from the overall effectiveness of the book. The world is becoming an increasingly hostile place for anyone who takes a firm stance on truth, especially a truth that insists on a person’s belief. However, the commission Christians are given to spread the Gospel and to make disciples is no less important because it has become more challenging.
Because of this, Tactics is a very timely book that is a must-have in the library of any Christian who lacks confidence or knowledge regarding how they could possible communicate Christian truths to a deeply secular world.
The reader that absorbs Koukl’s strategies will not be required to be an evangelist, theologian, or philosopher to discuss what they believe. They will simply need to know the tactics to do so.
Examine Your Faith, by Pamela Christian
Examine Your Faith by author Pamela Christian is a Christian Apologetic book that attempts to make a case for Christianity in several ways.
The book starts by examining the nature and validity of Faith. The author builds the argument that “faith” is not, as classically understood, a blind belief in something without evidence, but rather confidence in an idea or concept which experience or proof has shown to be reliable.
Having come to this conclusion, the author does a flyover examination of several of the major faith-systems championed by religious groups and cultures across the world. Her examination includes Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age, Secular, Islam, and Christianity.
Having done a quick examination of each system, the author presents real-life stories of people from each background who eventually converted to Christianity and looks at their reasons for doing so.
She looks at various beliefs and perspectives on the nature of Good and Evil, and also how different worldviews understand the person of Jesus. Capping off the examination of how Jesus has been viewed, she presents the biblical view of Jesus, looking at his birth, prophecies about Jesus, and evidences for his resurrection including historical and documentary evidence.
She closes her book by a call to decide on faith rather than remaining ambiguous in one’s beliefs, and suggests that Christianity is the most persuasive, powerful, and explanatory faith.
In her book, Pamela Christian speaks directly to the audience, not hesitating to adopt the first person perspective and share – along with the academic evidence she offers – her personal testimony and struggles.
Christian’s book shows itself to be well-researched on the facts she covers, having extensive references and source materials. In order to make its point regarding the superiority of Christianity to other religions, the book attempts to be a thumbnail of comparative religions. It paints these religions in broad strokes, and is not exactly a textbook cataloging the nuances of the religions it examines, just the more rudimentary facts.
This is potentially problematic, because it would be easy for a person from any one of these religions to respond that her presentation does not reflect their exact beliefs, and is therefore invalid.
In fact, this book does not produce an argument tight or comprehensive enough to persuade a person already deeply entrenched in their existing worldview.
The book gives a presentation more appropriate for a person who has either no interest in religions, or has never formed a firm belief religiously. It would also serve as a basic introduction to Apologetics and World Religions for someone who is already a Christian.
One of the attractive features of the book is that the author speaks directly to her reader with winsome concern; and an appeal to truly examine their faith.
All-in-all, Christian’s book is an interesting read, especially for those unfamiliar with the territory she treads. The personal stories she shares, both from her own life and from the lives of the people she has interviewed concerning their conversion to Christianity from various other belief systems, are engaging and appealing – never stooping to the level of villainizing the competing religions so much as presenting Christianity as more rational and appealing.
This is also seen in her examination of the other belief systems. In the chapters devoted to outlining the practices and beliefs of other religions, Christian keeps her tone neutral and academic rather than biased and judgmental.
If the reader has little experience with rooting out the nature of religion or religious faith, or is looking for an outline of easy-to-grasp arguments for Christianity, Examine Your Faith may
be the perfect place to begin this journey.
Mind Over Matter, by Wayne Rossiter
While Dr. Wayne Rossiter currently resides in the modest position of Assistant Professor of Biology at a little Christian College in Pennsylvania, this young academic has still managed to gain some notoriety in the atheist community with his dramatic conversion story from atheistic Evolutionary Biologist to Christian Biologist – and some celebrity in some Christian circles due to his criticism of theistic evolution which he publicized in his 2015 book, Shadow of Oz.
Practically on the heels of his last book (published in October of 2015), Rossiter released a new book in January of 2016, coauthored with his brother. Straying away from his field of biology, this new book – titled Mind Over Matter – looks at the modern world and asks the question “The idea that matter and energy are all that exist, and that these two things alone are sufficient to explain everything about the universe – does this fit the facts?”
The seeds of this concept – that the material universe was poorly suited for explaining all of the facts humans knew about the broader spectrum of existence – were undoubtedly planted while Rossiter was still an atheist, as described in this excerpt from his first book:
“On what rational grounds could I care about the state of the planet (or even my family) after I’m gone? And what did I even mean by “good” or “bad”? I couldn’t argue that any objective morality existed apart from our subjective experiences. Any moral laws that might objectively exist – whether or not anyone ascribes to them – would be beyond our grasp, and we would have no objective or rational reason to obey them if they did exist. Nothing mattered. This is Dennett’s “universal acid,” and Darwin’s ideas applied that acid to the human condition. If molecules led to cells, and cells to organs, and organs to bodies, then the “molecules-to-man” hypothesis was true. We really were just wet computers responding to external stimuli in mechanical and unconscious ways. No soul, no consciousness. Just machines. I was completely and utterly devastated. (pp. 4-5)”
However, it was not his conversion experience which inspired Rossiter to write this book. In the interview, Rossiter explained that this book was largely in reaction to another book: Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists. Boghossian’s book claims to offer what amounts to evangelism techniques to win religious people over to atheism in a similar way to how religious people evangelize unbelievers. Boghossian focuses largely on the fact that (he says) religion is blind faith in unverifiable, superstitious nonsense, whereas skepticism places its belief in confirmed scientific facts.
In response to this, Rossiter says:
“…arguments like his have been successful for all of the wrong reasons. The science vs. religion debate has been wildly popular in the media, but the content on the atheists’ side has been fairly empty. My brother and I wrote Mind Over Matter as an attempt to offer quick and easy responses to the most common objections raised against belief in God. We basically got tired of well-meaning Christians getting bullied by bad arguments. This book represents a partial antidote.”
Mind Over Matter was written in equal parts by both Wayne and his brother, Brian. The book contends that the universe requires both the material aspects – such as energy and matter – and immaterial aspects – such as number sets, principles of logic, morality and minds. Fittingly, Wayne is a Biologist while his brother is a Theologian. Between the two of them, they provided insights on both the material and immaterial functions of the universe. Says Rossiter:
“When my brother and I get together, all we do is discuss these issues. The book emerged from several years of those discussions. The process was completely organic. We just started keeping notes on the ideas we’d discuss, as well as the types of objections that were most common in the mainstream debate circuit. It was also surprisingly egalitarian. I’d say the book is really about a 60/40 split in effort, which is incredibly gratifying. It really was a joint effort.”
Despite the fact that the book stands in broad disagreement with atheism – as well as most of the presuppositions people in the modern world hold – the book is not, Wayne assures, disagreeable.
“…we start with shared facts about reality, and work towards a rational case for God. For example, most atheists don’t realize that they must assume the existence of immaterial things like numbers or logical relationships before they even begin to do scientific experiments or engage in debates. The quantity pi (3.14) has no volume, mass, charge or spatial location. Yet, it is a real attribute of our material world. So, clearly reality is not just matter. Likewise, many fields of science routinely infer the actions of intelligence in causing physical phenomena. If a behavioral ecologist goes into the field and sees a conspicuous pattern of bramble in the grass, they will rightly identify it as something intelligently and purposefully made (in this case, a nest made by a bower bird). When you put observations like these together, you begin to get an answer to why there is this ‘unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’ in describing the natural world, and why the universe is both logical and comprehensible. While such features of reality continue to befuddle atheists, they fit nicely within the worldview of the theist. This was our approach in writing Mind Over Matter.”
As challenging as the subject matter may seem, Rossiter’s heart for the work was for the average Christian reader, and so he has kept the work digestible:
“…it’s a really short book that’s intended for ‘on the street’ use by any believer. Sure, some of the jargon is unavoidable, but basically, this book offers sound responses to objections like ‘Who made God?,’ ‘We can replace God with science,’ ‘We have the fossils, we win,’ etc. Right now, atheists are winning debates in the public sphere using arguments that are easily knocked down. Our book shows you how (and why).”
Our Legacy: the History of Church Doctrine, by John Hannah
Our Legacy is a book that looks at Christianity’s views on things like the trinity of God, who Jesus was, the authority of the Bible, and how people are saved. It traces these concepts from the infant church, a generation after the writers of the New Testament, up to modern day.
Dr. John Hannah, the author, has taught Church History for decades and has thoroughly studied the writings and texts from each of the historical periods he discusses. This book comes straight out of his research and teaching.
Dr. Hannah does an excellent job of summing up the evolution of thought and doctrine in the church, how it has diverged over the years into various schools of thought, and what the different current views are. While it is clear that Dr. Hannah has an opinion in this matter, he is very fair in his representation of the different lines of reason that differ from his own so that the reader gets an even, unbiased idea of what each denomination believes in the various areas he surveys.
Our Legacy may be a challenging read for someone who has no background in theology or church history. Hannah is clearly trying to make his subject matter accessible, but since he doesn’t necessarily have the space to give a detail of the historical background that each doctrine arises from, some foundation in the subject matter would be helpful for a reader to fully comprehend the content. Hannah also writes somewhat academically, so that a reader who is not committed to getting everything they can out of the book may possibly find it difficult to finish reading this.
Our Legacy is important to the Christian believer because it gives a full and comprehensive look at how various people have thought deeply about scriptural content and the conclusions they have come to. It helps the reader avoid repeating pitfalls and heresies that have developed in the church historically, while at the same time allowing them to consider the views to decide for themselves which they feel is the most biblical and reasonable.
It is important to the Christian critic because it gives them a complete idea of the beliefs Christians embrace so that they can have a considered and informed idea of the concepts they are critiquing.
Cold Case Christianity, by J Warner Wallace
“I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.
‘I think it may be true,’ I said to my wife.
‘What may be true?’ she asked.
‘Christianity.’ I’m sure she was weary of my growing obsession. For several weeks now, it was all I could think about, and I had already talked her ears off on several occasions. She knew I was more serious about this than I had ever been in the past, so she patiently tolerated my obsession and constant conversation. ‘The more I look at the Gospels, the more I think they look like real eyewitness accounts,’ I continued. ‘And the writers seem to have believed what they were writing about.’”
–Cold Case Christianity, page 157
How do you determine truth? While philosophers have been arguing this question for millennia, for almost as long, societies have had a practical and widely accepted way of discovering truth. Although it is largely ignored in philosophical circles, the justice system is a well-recognized and refined way to determine what is fact and what is fiction based on evidence, expert testimony, and logical reasoning for and against the proposition.
All of this is presented to ordinary people from all walks of life each of whom carefully weigh the evidence and decide whether it is more reasonable to believe or doubt the proposition.
In his book, Cold Case Christianity, veteran Homicide Detective Jim Warner Wallace draws upon his decades of police investigation on cold case murders, and his experience with presenting evidential cases in the courtroom and applies these techniques to the case for Christianity.
Wallace sets out his case for Christianity in the same way he would build a case against a homicide suspect; examining the evidence and drawing the most reasonable conclusion based on the facts.
Just as in a cold case investigation, where he has very little access to direct evidence such as DNA, Wallace has to rely on abductive reasoning. This is the process of drawing upon a wide variety of facts that, in themselves, do not prove anything. Taken together, however, they build a strong case. By the end of this book, it is very difficult to deny the strength of Wallace’s argument.
Wallace keeps his writing respectful and winsome. The book is written with two audiences in mind: the skeptic and the believer. Wallace does an excellent job of balancing the writing so that both the views of the skeptic and the believer are addressed without alienating either. The book serves as an argument for non-believers and a training guide to believers. In fact, there are helpful notes and training tools littered throughout the text.
One of the reasons that Cold Case Christianity is able to have such broad appeal is that Wallace himself began his investigation as a cynical atheist of 35 years. It was in the process of his examination of Christian claims that Wallace became convinced that the weight of evidence supported the Christian position.
Jim Wallace gives convincing arguments for all of the essential beliefs of Christianity, from the existence of God to the reliability of scripture to the resurrection of Christ without belaboring any one point. The book never strays into airy philosophy or theology, keeping firmly grounded in facts and evidence all written with the dry, to-the-point tone that one would expect from a career detective.
In fact, the book draws the reader in from the start by giving a dramatic example from Jim’s own police career. These stories of real life crimes, investigation, and courtroom drama are liberally interspersed throughout the book, making the book not just a convincing argument but an excellent read whether or not one agrees with Jim’s position.
While these stories are definitely fascinating, they are always connected to the point that Jim is attempting to make, so that they do not seem forced or gimmicky. Jim graciously lets the reader into his world of investigation so that it is easy to see his point of view as a professional investigator.
No matter the interest or focus of your book-loving friend or family member, something on this list will appeal to them. Take a look, and make both your Christmases be both mindful and merry.