There is a big part of the topic of apologetics that doesn’t apply to me. Maybe I am dimwitted, gullible, and shallow. I don’t deny those things. I believe the Bible. I believe the words of Jesus. I believe the historic and creedal teachings of the Church (in the broadest universal sense). I have no more problem believing in the virgin birth of Christ than in the non-virgin birth of myself, my children, and others. I believe Christ rose from the dead. I am a creationist and pretty much in line with fundamentalists, except that I am not premillennial.
In matters where I have doubts, I simply shrug them off as a personal failing. Like the people of Pennsylvania that former President Barack Obama, I simply cling to guns and religion. Well, actually, I cling to coffee, books, and religion, but I basically fit alongside of those political Neanderthals as depicted by the Enlightened One.
Nevertheless, I have long loved and studied and read on Christian apologetics. I have loved that area of study since I first discovered it many years ago. I love it too much to take sides. By that I mean that I love Van Til and Gordon Clark. I love the approach by Greg Bahnsen and that of R. C. Sproul. I love Classical Apologetics, Theistic Proofs, Evidentialists, and simple home-grown personal testimonies. Correcting my words above, I actually do take sides: I do favor the views of the presuppositionalists, but will still employ examples form Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
Back in December, I started a book titled The Case for Christ: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre. I was reading it as a spiritual prop to all of the non-spiritual pressures of the Christmas season. It filled that need, but it did much more. The reading of the book was a heart and mind exalting experience.
On the one hand, I was convinced of nothing I didn’t already believe. But I was strengthened, confirmed, and made incredibly joyful of the “faith once delivered for all the saints” (Jude 3). But the field of apologetics, as defenders of the faith would say, is not primarily to convince the unbeliever, but to comfort and strengthen the believer.
My initial attraction to this book was that it had an afterword written by Bishop Robert Barron. I had read and reviewed a book featuring Barron titled To Light a Fire on the Earth. My review can be found here.
Wanting to learn more of Barron, I was interested in this book primarily for that reason. Dr. Pitre lives in my neighboring state of Louisiana and is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Besides being an academic professor, he is a best selling author.
This book begins with a central issue: Did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God? Again, I never lay awake at night wondering about that. But it is a stumbling block for many. And it is a contention that is raised by folks in the liberal wings of the Christian umbrella. Granted, I have long since embraced J. Gresham Machen’s teachings in Christianity and Liberalism and have dismissed the theological liberals as being outside the pale. But the broader religious community, which includes all varieties of Christian-adjective groups, teach, write, suggest, imply, and slip in doubts and questions about this.
Heresies are a great blessing to believers. For by them, Christians are forced to wake up, drink stronger coffee, and pull the Bibles down from the shelves and start digging. The result is not capitulation, defensive retreats, or fear. Rather, the result of battling a heresy is clarification of the truth.
Bart Ehrman is the prime target of this book. Ehrman, who is–sad to say–a Wheaton graduate, is a popular writer whose claim to fame is debunking the faith he once embraced (sort of). He is a good writer. I read a book titled The Gospel According to Judas. The fragment that is attributed to Judas is ridiculous, but it is a valuable piece of ancient Gnostic material. Bart Ehrman’s essay on the Judas fragment was outstanding. Eherman’s labors, however, are usually aimed at undermining the confidence of believers.
His books, along with contentions of professors of religion, created a crisis for Pitre when he was a student. But there is a valuable lesson for any Christian who is troubled by “the latest discovery regarding Christianity.” It is this: There are no new arguments against Christianity under the sun. For this reason, Pitre ably assembles the teachings of Church Fathers and others from 2000 plus years of whipping heretics to pin Ehrman and others in quick knock-out matches.
A good and Christ-centered stroll among the Church Fathers is almost always a blessing. This is especially true if you have a guide who knows the Fathers and knows the best quotes and references. But that is not the greatest strength of this book.
We Protestants are a folk who love the Solas of the Reformation. It all begins and even ends on Sola Scriptura. Praise God for Church Fathers of all 2000 years of winning arguments. But our first, primary, and actually only defense is found in Scripture. It is here that Brant’s work was so helpful to me. By going straight from one Bible verse, story, or teaching to another, Brant emphasizes, teaches, reinforces, and shouts aloud that Jesus Christ is God, that Jesus Christ claimed to be God, and that Scripture teaches that message clearly and forcefully.
Don’t wait until the Advent season to read this book. For those who like spiritual reading during Lent, there is still time to delve into this work. But best of all, it might be just the book to read on Easter and the days following when we celebrate that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Very God of Very God, rose from the dead and lives and rules forever.
Post Script: I am obliged to confess that I received this book as a review book and am not obligated to praise it to the hilt. The high regard is the result of my being unable to restrain myself.