In the past decade, I’ve taken a lot of time to read and digest much of the anti-Christian or anti-theist polemic on the market. This has been a very rewarding experience. I have particularly enjoyed John Loftus’ “Why I Became and Atheist” and Daniel Dennett’s very clever “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” More than any books, however, the greatest challenges to my own convictions have come from the many atheist and agnostic pals that have enriched my walk to Zion, if they’ll please pardon my inserting them into my own pilgrim’s progress.
Of course, while nothing replaces face to face conversation, it is worthwhile to lend a hand to the other side and suggest some texts which might help them see why I find the case for Christianity and against agnosticsm or atheism quite convincing. Of course, depending on the particular query at hand, one could recommend a whole bibliography. There are many wonderful works that treat issues like Christian faith and biology, physics, neuroscience, Old Testament morality, Old Testament archeology, the plausibility of certain miracle claims, etc.
However, I present the following resources to any who might be interested as the best attempts to get at “the big picture” within which all the particular debates take place. And, since even this list could be overwhelming, I’ve decided to go with a “book recommendation” tradition and limit the number of suggestions to 5 – though with a preface. To wit…
This may be obvious to some and counter-intuitive to others, but I think the most powerful thing any person considering the Christian faith can do is to read the Bible with an openness to being surprised. Sit down, pray (if you can), and listen. Get rid of all the science and Bible debate. Stop trying to find the “mean” Old Testament versus so that they can be posted on Facebook. Stop giving the “I heard it all in Sunday school and read it when I was a teenager” excuse. I did to, and my grasp of it is far different now. Sit down and read it with new eyes. Maybe you’ll walk away unpersuaded. But you won’t walk away exactly the same if you give it the time. Guides are helpful here. Dillard and Longman’s intro to the Old Testament is quite helpful. Carson and Moo’s intro to the New Testament is similarly helpful. And there are myriads of sources to get at the myriads of particular questions, but sit down and try and grasp the big picture. Why was this written? To whom was it written? What is it trying to say in its own cultural context? Most polemical treatments that are contra-Bible are about as hermeneutically nuanced as anti-Obama FB posts or the usual Fundamentalist treatment of scientific sources. You know the drill: Quote something scary out of context with no sense of the larger picture. Freak out and go on a rant. Feel great that you’re super awesome for not being duped into believing this crap. Have contempt (and let’s be honest, a little gladness) that everyone else is super-dumb for not being as cool as you. Or, for the more sophisticated, you reflect on how “conditioned” or “genetically prone to x” human creatures are (you, of course, being the exception) as an attempt to cloud an oversimplified judgment in artificial nuance. We’ve all done it. But, that’s three shame-on-you’s (and me’s)! Read the Bible. Seriously (!) – and seriously.
Onto the secondary sources list of 5.
1. “A Secular Age” by Charles Taylor. More than any book I’ve read, this book puts the modern debate over faith, reason, science, and Scripture into a context which is overwhelmingly illuminating. No other author has grasped (in as nuanced and subtle a fashion) the precise flavor and common environment within which all who are having this debate actually live. And this is true for believers and unbelievers. If you digest Taylor, then your approach to these issues can only be “pre-Taylor” and “post-Taylor.” And what is most fantastic, I think this can only lead to a greater mutual understanding, and the calming of nerves that so rarely accompanies conversations over this topic. Taylor is tough slogging (not a particularly linear writer), but it is well worth your time.
2. “The One and the Many” by W.J. Norris Clarke. Modern man is skeptical of metaphysics, particularly of the Thomistic variety. Well, let a good Thomist push back. Clarke’s book is thrilling and (what is more) well-written. If his case for the rationality of metaphysics does not persuade you, it is unlikely that anyone’s will.
3. “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser. Feser is sometimes a jerk and he will likely offend you. What is more, I would not be surprised if he was excited to be described in such a manner. But if you can grow some thicker skin, this is good stuff. It is smart and fun. In my judgment, Feser has written the best polemic against the new atheism. The sections on metaphysics, philosophy of mind, the relationship between faith and science, are all wonderful. Take and chill pill and let Feser take his best shots.
4. “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by N.T. Wright. The blazing center of the Christian faith is the event of the resurrection of Jesus in space and time. No other book defends the historicity of this event like Wright, with a sensitivity to all of the theological, philosophical, biblical, and historiographical questions that it entails. You can disagree with Wright,but you can’t dismiss him.
5. “Our Reasonable Faith” by Herman Bavinck. This is a summary of his magisterial “Reformed Dogmatics,” which has also been recently released in an abriged form from its English translation. If not Bavinck, perhaps Horton’s “The Christian Faith” or its abridgement, “Pilgrim Theology.” It is blatantly obvious in most anti-Christian polemic that its critics very rarely perceive the “big picture” of Christian belief and practice (i.e. “the gospel”). Bavinck and Horton are excellent guides for explaining the Christian faith as a whole. How does reality relate to the gospel? How does the gospel relate to the Christian doctrine of God (Trinity), revelation, to the history of the church, to modern issues, etc. Each author is also very sensitive to the manner in which the Christian faith has developed through time (church history) and the manner in which essential Christian claims relate to our modern philosophical, existential, technological, and cultural situation. So take your pick, but you’ve got to see the big picture of Christian belief. Of course, one cannot always fault non-Christians for failing to see this. Many Christians themselves fail to see “the big picture” and instead focus on isolated bits of belief. Still, you’ve got to reject the best presentation of a thing, and here it is.
I could easily recommend more. How could one fail to mention Augustine’s “Confessions,” C.S. Lewis, Aquinas, or (getting dear to my heart) John Frame’s matchless texts on epistemology and the Bible? Alas, this is the problem of limiting one’s self to 5. Of course, these 5 assume a certain audience with certain issues. I cannot help that. I belong to that audience, obviously. In any case, if you want to “get” the Christian faith and explore what makes it persuasive to a modern person, I think the above is a handy guide.