Two New Apologetics Books

First, Jamin Hubner has released the Second Edition of his The Portable Presuppositionalist.

Second, Clifford B. McManis has published Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ. Several people have let me know about this book prior to its release, so I excitedly read everything I could in its online preview. I have some initial concerns with respect to the rhetoric and tone of the work.

McManis makes rather large implicit promises about putting a different spin on apologetics, but the portion of the book that I read contains very little, if anything, “new.” Of course McManis would not want to say that his goal is to bring anything new to apologetics (‘if it’s new it’s probably not true!’) but rather to bring the discipline back into the realm of exegetical theology where it belongs. That is well and good, but no different from what covenantal/presuppositional apologists have been saying from the beginning. One finds, for example, the typical proclamation that our apologetics should be biblical followed by the long list of traditional apologists who are not.  There is the dismissal of natural theological argument. There is the same sort of dismissal of evidentialism. But one can find all of these features in virtually any covenantal/presuppositional apologetic work. My complaint here is not that McManis does not bring anything new to the table. If he is a good apologist then he will not. He will, instead, develop and sharpen a biblical apologetic that is already in place. My complaint is, rather, that the implication of much of what he says is that there is something particularly new or insightful in his claims. As far as the beginning of the book is concerned, there is not. I will not comment on the use of “biblical apologetics” to describe the McManis method except to say that the label is probably less helpful than it is worth. The main reason for seeing the label this way is that its use goes beyond the descriptive to the categorical, and that in distinction from the Van Tilian variety of apologetics.

My main concern, however, is the anti-philosophical and perhaps even anti-intellectual bent to much of what McManis states in the beginning of his book. It is not that I disagree with McManis and others who might say that would-be autonomous, academic, “elitist,” philosophical gibberish far too often masquerades as apologetics; I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. However, the knee-jerk reaction from especially the Reformed camp that McManis appears to exemplify is to throw the discipline of philosophy as a whole under the bus. There are significant problems with this approach to philosophy (see here – https://choosinghats.org/2011/06/a-serious-problem-with-introduction-to-covenantal-apologetics and here – https://choosinghats.org/2012/01/theology-versus-philosophy). The disciplines of theology, especially “systematic” theology, and philosophy, are not always so very different from one another. There are many ways in which theology depends upon philosophy. For example, I have not found an exegete yet who could approach the text of Scripture and do his job without a philosophy of language.  Moreover, I have not found an exegete yet who could make a case for the importance of exegesis without using a philosophical argument. When “biblical” and “exegetical” are conflated all sorts of problems follow. Mind you, McManis, and others, are completely right in seeing a massive gap in exegetical apologetic material even within the presuppositionalist camp. They are wrong insofar as they believe exegesis precludes the need for incorporating other disciplines into apologetics, and wrong insofar as they believe that those other disciplines are somehow less Christian. These disciplines are not “less Christian” if they are properly used in accordance with Scripture. That is where the work McManis provides will be especially helpful to the task of apologetics, for if he has been successful in his book then he has provided the exegetical foundation upon which other apologists – whether more philosophically inclined, scientifically inclined, etc. – must build their apologetic in the future.

Take my comments above with a very large grain of salt. I have not read the entirety of the work in question. (I can hear the stern rebukes even now, but what I have written is based off of what I have read thus far, and I see nothing wrong with that, provided the relevant qualifications are given about the book potentially addressing my concerns later on.)  My concerns are only initial concerns. McManis devotes what looks like an entire chapter to philosophy in his chapter titled, “Philosophy: The Love of Big Words,” and, I hope, will provide a much-needed definition of philosophy there (Amusingly McManis uses the word “hamartiological” in the title of the preceding chapter). So enough of the uninformed negativity…

As an introductory work in apologetics this book looks promising. McManis comes from the Master’s  circle where presuppositional apologetics have, to my knowledge, been taught for some time, though I do not know how explicitly or whether that label was used. I am especially thankful for the gifted-ness of those I have known from Master’s and affiliated groups, their uncompromising commitment to the authority of the Word of God, their expert exegetical work, and their passion for applying the truth of God’s Word through sound expository preaching, biblical (dare I say “nouthetic”?) counseling, and evangelism. My expectation is that McManis will not disappoint, but will deliver upon his promises for an exegetically grounded apologetic in this work, and I very much look forward to reading it. (Unfortunately the preview of the book, by the way, ends right where the exegesis begins!) It is obvious that he has put a massive amount of work into this book and it is a welcome addition to the apologetic material written from the presuppositional stance even where the book diverges from that stance; provided the reason for parting ways is faithfulness to the text of Scripture!

Have I been unfair to McManis in providing these initial concerns without reading the rest of his work? Yes, if they were all I planned to offer, or if I did not emphasize as I have that these are only initial concerns based on a very, very short preview of this massive volume. But they are not all I plan to offer, nor have I neglected to inform you that I still have a long way to go before I am in any position to provide an educated final opinion about this promising new book.

I trust that you will order the two books above right now if you have not already!


8 Comments

cliff mcmanis

cl–your review is interesting…but misses the mark; hamartiological, if you will; you quote me zero times in the review…hence your shanked trajectory; when you have actually read the book let’ s chat…cm

C.L. Bolt

It is not a review, and I hope that it does miss the mark with respect to the remainder of your book. Readers may take a look at the preview of your work online via the link provided if there is a question about the rhetoric or tone of the beginning of the book that I am commenting upon. But here is a foretaste of what one will find there (from Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ by Clifford B. McManis http://www.amazon.com/dp/1469139677/ref=rdr_ext_tmb#reader_1469139677):

“I am not a philosopher. Some will scoff at that fact. I say it as a badge of honor. Rather, I am an exegete, theologian, preacher and shepherd.” (17)

“Despite what President George W. Bush said in the presidential debates, Jesus was not a philosopher. Jesus was a Rabbi, biblical expositor, preacher, theologian and Shepherd….He did not resort to rhetoric and man-made sophistry.” (18)

“Occasionally I lump [Bahnsen and Van Til] in the group with other “traditional apologists” when I believe they are being too philosophical and not strictly scriptural (Van Til admitted this shortcoming about himself later in life). They were, after all, first and foremost philosophers and not biblical exegetes. What is the difference between my view and these two men? I’d say they were philosophical presuppositionalists whereas I am a scriptural presuppositionalist.” (21-22)

“In reality it is just a handful of philosophers that I disagree with. There are countless others that I do agree with, most of them unnamed, and they are usually pastors and biblical theologians who put a premium on scriptural fidelity and authority—Church men typically.” (23)

“[One student] asked me in frustration in front of the class: ‘Where’s the Bible in all this [referring to Five Views on Apologetics]?’ I agree with my student….All five views explain apologetics from primarily a philosophical perspective. In the following pages I propose that apologetics needs to be explained from a biblical perspective, not a philosophical one. As such I offer a sixth view: ‘biblical apologetics.’” (28)

“[N]one of the five views sufficiently reflects what I call biblical apologetics. For the sake of argument in this book, I will refer to the five above views as the ‘traditional approach’ to apologetics. I will compare and contrast the traditional approach with biblical apologetics throughout.” (29)

“I define biblical apologetics as follows: the biblical mandate for every Christian to advance and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ as they live the Christian life, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by exposing and subjecting all contrary beliefs to Christ’s revelation as found in Scripture.” (29)

It would be quite the stretch to say that philosophy is viewed in a positive rather than in a negative light in the quotes above, and those are just from the first few pages of your book. But I do look forward to reading the rest of the book and will, Lord willing, write a review then. Thanks for publishing it, and for stopping by.

Grace,
Chris

C.L. Bolt

Dr. McManis,

After having read your Chapter 7, “Philosophy: The Love of Big Words” I am baffled by your suggestion that I have missed the mark in evaluating the anti-philosophical overtones of your work. I have not.

Unfortunately, you do not provide a definition of philosophy in the aforementioned chapter of your book. Perhaps you do so elsewhere in the book. I would like to know how you would define it.

You mention that you do not own any apologetics books written by a non-philosopher. (167) Why not? The implication of your words is that such works do not exist, but that is not true.

You complain that, “so many words and phrases were being used that I did not understand” and provide a list of introductory level philosophical and theological terms (i.e. epistemology, metaphysical, ontological, law of excluded middle) just prior to dismissing them as “foreign” and “incomprehensible.” (168-169) Every discipline uses such terms. Theology certainly does. Hermeneutics too. And let us not forget exegesis. Not only do the aforementioned disciplines come complete with their own often difficult jargon, the very names of the disciplines are just as readily dismissed by most laypeople as are the terms you scoff at in your story.

Now there is a time and a place for jargon. That much is true. However, I am left wondering why you think yourself justified in not going on to learn the terms in question in your training? I suspect that you do know what the terms in question mean. The reason why, I would take it, is that you used your intellect to learn new material. And praise God for that. But why discourage others from doing so as well? That type of approach is subject to the charge of anti-intellectualism you disregard earlier in your book. As you know, even Scripture uses large words with which most people are not familiar, but ‘if I were a betting man’ I would put some money on the fact that you teach your people the meanings and relevancy of those terms.

There is no exegesis in this chapter. Rather, there is a lesson in the history of philosophy and apologetics. Now, I am not complaining. There is great material here, but I find it strange that you should make an historical and philosophical argument in lieu of exegesis in a book which boasts of doing the exact opposite!

You make the mistake of attributing errors in the church to philosophy qua philosophy rather than particular philosophical problems. You even go so far as to blame allegorical hermeneutics on philosophy! (201-202) How about instead we blame bad allegory on hermeneutics and dismiss the discipline of hermeneutics as a whole? Or, what say we dismiss the exegesis of Scripture because bad exegesis has misled so many people? I mean no disrespect, but I do want to make my point. It is not philosophy that is the problem. It is the sinful people using philosophy that is the problem.

You write, “Compromising the language of the Bible with alien terminology always creates an artificial barrier separating the mind of the reader from the direct thoughts of God which are found in Scripture – for the writings themselves are ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16; NIV), having inherent authority.” (202) Here is a counter example: “Trinity.” This term is alien to the text of Scripture, but it does not create an “artificial barrier separating the mind of the reader from the direct thoughts of God.” If anything, the term heightens our understanding of those thoughts. We are intellectual creatures with a capacity for systematizing our beliefs, and that process will very nearly always utilize extra-textual terminology. It also uses philosophy.

You quote selections from Moreland, Geisler, Sproul, Craig, Plantinga, Van Til, and Alston out of context, without definitions, and without values of variables and then complain that their language is, “complicated, ethereal, theoretical or inaccessible to the average person.” (204-206) Well I would imagine so; you intentionally made their language more confusing by failing to provide proper context, definitions, and values! Quoting Craig, you write, “‘The biblical notion of faith includes three components: notitia (understanding the content of the Christian faith), fiducia (trust) and assensus (the assent of the intellect to the truth of some proposition).’ Craig says three different Latin terms define biblical faith – but he gives no Bible verses to support the notion. Because he can’t – since Latin is not the language of the Bible. This tripartite definition of faith is ‘mumbo jumbo,’ undermines the true definition of biblical faith and unfortunately is frequently wielded by traditional apologists, creating confusion, not clarity, to the apologetics [sic] task.” (205) Rather than presenting the tripartite definition in light of its history and place of summarizing the various elements of faith allegedly taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture, you act as though it is supposed to be immediately biblical language with supporting proof texts. I am confident that is not how Craig, or hardly anyone else, views it, and I am puzzled at your argument against the definition. It would not be very fair for me to say that your entire book is in English and claims to be biblical, but it can’t be, because English is not the language of the Bible. Comments like the one above really concern me. It is as though you are in favor of having no systematic theology, though I know that cannot be true. Clearly you ascribe to Sola Scriptura, for example. But that is a Latin term. And where are the proof texts?

I have some other minor qualms with the way you interpret Augustine, Anselm, and Calvin, but I suspect I have already voiced enough of my concerns for you to help me understand where I am missing your message. By and large we agree on some of your concerns. Like you, I have wanted to see apologetics rescued from the ivory tower and brought back down to the common person. But bashing the ivory tower is not the means to accomplish that task. Like you, I have wanted to address the anti-Christ notions incorporated into an otherwise Christian theology by way of anti-Christ philosophy. But bashing philosophy as a discipline is not a good way to go about correcting that problem.

Perhaps you can address some of my concerns when time permits.

Grace,
Chris

C.L. Bolt

Dr. McManis,

Overall your book, which I have just completed reading, is an excellent counter to some of the most prevalent misunderstandings and misrepresentations of apologetics in the church today. The points of application from your (excellent) exegetical work are well-thought out and challenge widely embraced, traditional, yet incorrect understandings of the apologetic task. I have in mind here your more in-depth exegesis of the text in Peter over against superficial readings in most apologetic literature, your exceedingly important points about the biblical example and need for what you call “internal” apologetics, and especially your chapter on faith which is in my opinion the strongest chapter in your book. I happily withdraw my comment above concerning the tripartite distinction of faith since you go into that topic at length in another chapter.

It will be some time before I can write a proper review, but until then I am happy to recommend this work. I also plan to buy a hard copy.

Thanks again,
Chris

Patrick Hsu

about what portion of the book deals with practical applications?

C.L. Bolt

Toward the end of the book there are some practical applications. The chapter on the problem of evil is great. The author also takes on “free grace” positions. But the book is mainly methodology.

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