Saturday, November 06, 2010

Book Review: The Apologetics of Jesus by Norman Geisler & Patrick Zukeran

The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with DoubtersThe Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters by Norman Geisler and Patrick Zukeran is a guidebook for apologetic methodology based on the way Jesus communicated. As the authors put it, “Despite the fact that Jesus was an apologist and that by common consent he was probably the greatest teacher ever, it is strange indeed that no one has written a major work on the apologetic methods of Jesus.”(11) Geisler and Zukeran therefore go on to build a case for apologetic methodology by looking at Jesus’s use of testimony, miracles, the resurrection, reason, parables, discourse, prophecy, and the like. This review will explore some of the elements the authors use to make their case.

The reasoning behind this approach is simply to look at the life and methods of Jesus “as an apologist” and to construct our own methodology from his example. So the authors start with Jesus’s use of testimony:

First, in making his case, Jesus gives reasons and evidence for his claims. He does not expect his listeners simply to believe or make a blind leap of faith. Second, the evidence Jesus gives includes firsthand, eyewitness, and supernatural events. Third, Jesus provides multiple witnesses in defense of his claim. (25)

Geisler and Zukeran then point to Jesus’s use of miracles as an apologetic tool:

Miracles are strong evidence in building a case for Christianity. Jesus uses miracles to demonstrate the truth of his claims – they are a clear sign that he is God incarnate. And when his opponents question him, he points to those miracles as authentication of his claims to be the divine Son of God. (40)

Along with this use of evidence, Jesus pointed to the resurrection to confirm his identity as the Son of God:

Jesus uses evidence to support his claims to be the Son of God, and his most powerful evidence is miracles. Miracles confirm God’s message and his Messenger (Heb. 2:2-4), and the most important miracle is his resurrection from the dead. Given a theistic context wherein miracles are possible, this remains the best apologetic for the truth of Christianity. (63)

Jesus also uses the tools of reason to speak with people, employing logical argumentation, and therefore, “Since reason and logical arguments were part of Jesus’s defense, the apologist and all Christians today should make this an area of study as they engage in the battle of ideas.” (76) In addition to reason, Jesus used stories as a powerful communication tool: “Jesus’s use of parables demonstrates the value of stories to persuade an audience and convey a message that cannot always be achieved by direct discourse.” (88) The authors point out other rhetorical tools such as asking questions and uses figures of speech that connect with the listener: “So by adding the interrogative, Socratic method to the parabolic method, Jesus is able to persuade his followers of the most outlandish claim any human being has ever made – that he is God Almighty in human flesh!” (88) Jesus also pointed to Old Testament prophecy and its fulfillment.

Geisler and Zukeran also look at the use of arguments for the existence of God. Because there are no examples of Jesus using arguments for God’s existence, the authors suggest that this merely reflects the theistic context in which Jesus lived. So in this case their goal is to see if they can discern what Jesus would have done in a non-theistic context:

Both by the teachings of the Old Testament, which Jesus embraced, and by the New Testament disciples of Christ, who reflected the views of their Master, we can piece together the kinds of arguments Jesus would have used or approved of using in defending theism against nontheism. Further, Jesus left some clear implications of how he would handle such a discussion. What we have found in pursuing these inferences is that Jesus was a rational theist who would have appealed to the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments for God’s existence. Indeed, he also would have agreed with the argument for the existential need for God. (127)

Geisler and Zukeran are not making the case that Jesus would use, say, the Kalam cosmological argument to try to prove God exists. Rather, it seems that they are trying to make the case that Jesus would appeal to such things as creation, order, purpose, morality, and man’s existential need for God. But their case at this point doesn’t enjoy the strength of their previous arguments (i.e., Jesus’s use of miracles, evidence, reason, parables, etc.). The argument may seem to be a bit of a stretch, and at this point the authors’ goal of making a specific case for the classical approach to apologetics (if not already apparent) becomes clear.

Geisler and Zukeran spend a chapter dealing with what they called alleged anti-apologetic passages from Jesus – that is, scriptures some Christians use to argue against the use of apologetics. Two more chapters deal with how Jesus’s life itself was an apologetic, and also the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics. “In short, the evidence of Jesus’s impeccable life demonstrates that his testimony is true.” (147) Both who Jesus was and how he treated people was extremely powerful: “Without a doubt, love is a great apologetic. Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love and truth are the two great weapons in the battle for the souls of men and women.” (166)

The final chapter, Jesus’s Apologetic Method, lays out Geisler and Zukeran’s final summary and case for classical apologetics as gleaned from the example of Jesus. “In short, he had a practical apologetic, but he never stated a theoretical one. Nonetheless, there is an apologetic method implicit in what Jesus did and said. In fact, he used many different ways to reach many different people.” (185) In fact, the authors call Jesus a classical apologist:

His thought contained all the elements of classical apologetics, which is embraced by St. Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, B.B. Warfield, John Gerstner, Kenneth Kantzer, R.C. Sproul, and many others. Classical apologists (1) believe in the use of reason to establish the existence of God; (2) hold that miracles, which follow from a theistic belief, are necessary to establish the truth claims of Christianity (3) affirm that good witnesses and other evidences are necessary for the reliability of the New Testament documents; (4) set forth Jesus’s miracles as confirmation of his claim to be God. All these elements of classical apologetics are present explicitly or implicitly in the apologetic of Jesus. (196)

The authors argue that Jesus, in practice, was not a fideist, a pure evidentialist, a pure rationalist, a presuppositionalist, or a rational coherentist. Instead he used reason, evidence, miracles, the resurrection, he would have used theistic arguments, and had love and the power of the Holy Spirit. So, the authors conclude:

In practice, Jesus offered many different apologetic techniques, depending on what was needed on the occasion. Nonetheless, when an attempt to make an overall synthesis of Jesus’s apologetics, Jesus fit better in the category of classical apologetics that incorporates both rational and historical evidence. (196)

In sum, The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters is a very engaging and rich book. Although this review has just skimmed the surface, it should be pointed out that each chapter expands on Jesus’s examples and elaborates on certain evidences. For instance, a case is made for the resurrection, theistic arguments are summarized, and the use of logic is explained. With the exception of theistic arguments, all of the practical methodology the authors describe is derived directly from Jesus’s example. For those exploring apologetic methodologies, this is a practical and helpful resource.

Norman Geisler and Patrick Zukeran, The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009).

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous March 1, 2011

    great review of the book 😉