Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Review: Doubting

I picked this book up for three reasons. First, I've been wanting to read something by McGrath for a while having caught snippets of his writings here and there. Second, as a pastor, one of the primary things people want to visit with me about are their doubts concerning the faith. And third, it was on sale - I love a good deal.

It didn't take too long to realize that this was primarily a book of apologetics (which initially had me a little worried. As I'll explain later, I'm not a huge fan of most apologetics these days). For those unfamiliar with the term, apologetics is that area of study devoted to the intellectual defense of the Christian faith. Christian apologists present the case for why intelligent, reasonable people believe the claims of Christianity.

Usually, I find Christian apologetics to be pretty frustrating. Often apologists spend too much time arguing for things I find unessential to the defense of our faith thus distracting us from more important discussions. For example, some apologists will spend all their time arguing against modern understandings of creation in favor of a strict interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis and little time talking about whether or not the claims of Christ (the heart of the gospel) can actually change any one's life! Last time I checked, one's interpretation of Genesis 1-11 was not one of the litmus tests Jesus used for discipleship. Other times, apologist simply claim too much. They promise to be able to "prove" that the resurrection (or some other miraculous event) actually happened. I seldom find such arguments convincing - and I'm already believer! I doubt many unbelievers are convinced either.

Fortunately, McGrath takes neither of these directions. In fact, from the outset he makes clear the limits of Christian apologetics. He explains that what the Christian apologist sets out to do (or at least should set out to do) is to simply present the reasonableness of faith. That is, the Christian apologist shows that you don't have to leave your mind at the door of the church in order to worship the God of the Bible. Now, the Christian apologist should never claim to be able to "prove" the content of our faith. The very nature of the Christian proclamation prevents absolute proof (and absolute disproof, as well). But the Christian apologist can show why, given the limited information all of us must work with in this life, some of us choose belief.

I also was happy to read that McGrath views the role of the apologist not primarily as convincing the skeptic, but as assuring those who have chosen belief. I show my bias here. As a preacher of the gospel, I have always found that most people (if not all) come to faith in Christ through an encounter with the Spirit of God as they hear the word of God proclaimed, read it for themselves in the scriptures, or encounter that same gospel in the life of a believer. I've rarely heard of someone being argued into the kingdom by apologetics. Apologetics, however, do a good job of helping those who have come to faith in Christ, grow in that faith. That growing in the faith seems to be McGrath's primary purpose in this book. And for that, I found it to be a helpful, accessible volume. For those who struggle with doubts about the reliability of the scriptures or the truthfulness of the resurrection or the truthfulness of God, I think this book (alongside your own copy of the scriptures) would be a great place to start.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Taylor - thanks for the recommendation, and the thoughtful review!