Something you may not know about me: when I was growing up, I was the Apologetics Kid. Apologetics, by the way, is the fancy word for a “systematic argumentative discourse” which is the fancy way to say “defending Christianity”. I was really into Apologetics. As in I argued with my science teachers and my atheist friends. Loudly and repeatedly.
But somewhere along the way – probably sometime in college, I sort of gave up on Apologetics.
I realized that you can’t argue someone into a relationship with Jesus, and it just got harder and harder for me to see the point of Apologetics. I still maintained my belief that Christianity is rational – that it basically makes sense and is coherent. And I could still hold my own in conversations with people who don’t see the world the way I do.
I wondered: is there really any point to Apologetics? And then I found this wonderful book.
As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I wanted to read The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. Written by Dr. Randal Rauser, who teaches theology, apologetics and worldview. From the introduction, I hoped I might love this book. Randal describes a journey with Apologetics much like my own. He first saw Apologetics as
Christian intellectual warfare with non-Christian belief systems that utilizes the weaponry of sound argumentation.
As he grew, he modified his definition somewhat to
The discipline of making converts to Christianity through the use of argument and evidence.
But these days, Randal defines Apologetics as
The rigorous pursuit of truth in conversation.
Great, right? Not fighting verbal battles. Not trying to convert someone. Just pursuing truth through conversation. This is a definition I can get on board with!
To demonstrate how he understands this definition of Apologetics to play out, Randal constructs a story into which he invites us. At a coffee shop, Randal and the Reader meet Sheridan, a guy who thinks Christians are all “suckers”. Sheridan is a stereotypical atheist/agnostic. He’s very bright, doesn’t pull any punches, but loves a good conversation. Randal engages Sheridan about the existence of God, and this conversation occupies the remainder of the book.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Self, this doesn’t sound like an Apologetics book,” you’re right, but so very wrong, too.
Swedish Atheist is at once a joy to read and very, very challenging. Randal is a very smart cookie and he engages his atheist creation with some complex and abstract theological and philosophical ideas and propositions. But Randal keeps us Readers grounded by using clear, simple analogies that illustrate his ideas so us non-philosophers can hang in the conversation.
Sheridan is also a real treat. Anyone who’s ever had a conversation about religion or Christianity with a non-Christian will recognize many of Sheridan’s words. His arguments are just as clear and well-thought-out as Randal’s, and I hope and believe my atheist friends would feel accurately represented, not unfairly caricatured.
The biggest strength of the book is its grey areas.
Sheridan backs Randal into more than a few corners, and Randal is quick to point out the failings of some major Christian Apologetic strategies, most notably with regard to the Problem of Evil and the Canaanite genocides.
In his conversation, Randal embodies his claim at the beginning: He’s not trying to defend God or Christianity. He’s seeking truth. If Jesus really is the Truth, then all honest, rigorous inquiry will lead to him. So Randal isn’t defending a position; he’s trying to make the best sense out of the world he can. That means he’s not afraid of hard questions, and not afraid to say, I don’t know for sure, but here’s my best guess.
Randal’s intelligence and honesty combine to give us a highly readable, useful book. I am rereading it (trust me, it merits a few rereads) through right now with an atheist friend of mine.
By turning Apologetics into a conversation, and into a mutual pursuit of truth, Randal disarms Christians and lets God defend Godself. We’re now free to love our atheist and agnostic brothers and sisters, to offer them the respect due them as image-bearers of God and even allies in our pursuit of Truth.
Bottom Line: Swedish Atheist is a fantastic book that redefined my approach to and restored my faith in Apologetics. You won’t be sorry you read it!
YOUR TURN: What do you think of Apologetics? Did you like Randal’s book?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”