Many of us are self-taught apologists, learning by trial and error as we go, but few of us have written a book about our experiences. Paul Buller has done just that. The engineer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has written a primer on apologetics entitled Arguing with Friends: Keeping Your Friends and Your Convictions. In it, he outlines what he has learned along the way, pointing out some pitfalls and highlighting what he believes are the most important aspects of doing apologetics well.
In his overview of the work, Buller writes, “this book will help you understand what separates a successful conversation from an unsuccessful one, and give you some general strategies . . . to increase your success (3).” The author has chosen the analogy of training at the gym as the structure for the book, noting that many Christians are “completely out of shape when it comes to discerning and sharing Truth through civil discourse” (5). He also explains that, when he uses the word “arguing”, he isn’t talking about quarrelling, but about explaining one’s beliefs and the valid reasons behind them.
With that in mind, Buller begins Phase 1 of his apologetics instruction with Pre-season Training. He starts with a self-analysis of our motives (is it all about impressing people with our intellect?) and our strengths and weaknesses. He then moves to the topic of critical thinking and presents basic information about logic and laws of thought, including numerous examples. He offers advice on how to develop one’s ability to think and notes that the apologist must be able to answer two questions about both his/her own beliefs and the beliefs of the people with whom he/she is dialoguing – what do I/they believe and why do I/they believe it?
In Phase 2 of his primer, Buller looks at strategies for success, noting that success begins with the proper perspective in our hearts and minds — it has to be about God’s truth, not about us. He then outlines numerous practical steps that facilitate the apologist’s conversations with non-believers. They include reading non-verbal responses, determining key issues, knowing what questions to ask, and controlling our emotions. At the end of the day, Buller says, no matter what transpires, we must make sure we can stand before the Lord without shame or embarrassment, confident that he may be thinking, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (31).
Phase 3 focuses on learning from mistakes. He lists some of the most common from a behavioural perspective (i.e. doing more talking than listening) as well as the fallacies most often committed (such as ad hominem, equivocation, etc.) by both the apologist and the non-Christian. He also lists a variety of rhetorical tactics destined to take a conversation off-track and looks at typical Christian approaches that simply do not work.
Phase 4 bears the intriguing title of Successful Failures. Buller spends some time discussing post-modernism and how people perceive the idea of truth in light of it. He then offers three levels of success, noting that, even in a conversation which seems to have no impact, there are benefits which should encourage the apologist. He also offers suggestions on how to deal with difficult people and how to apologize if we totally mess up.
Phase 5 offers specific topics to study to give the apologist an understanding of worldviews, the reliability of the Bible, Christian doctrines, etc. He includes study tips, noting that, for every question we answer, we will unearth three more. This means humility is in order at all times, Buller says. The author provides several pages of Internet resources in a variety of fields for further research.
Buller is refreshingly honest about his own experiences, both positive and negative. He explains everything clearly and simply, making this book accessible to everyone. It is ideal for someone just starting out in apologetics who does not know where to begin, and would be particularly good for teens as it is a fun read. More experienced apologists could use its information to fine-tune their conversational skills.
Some people may hold back from doing apologetics because they think it is only for Bible scholars, theologians, philosophers, etc., but Buller makes apologetics seem doable to everybody—which, of course, it is. Arguing with Friends is a good read and is another one of those books that should be on the shelf of every church library.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist currently working on a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, Ontario. She holds three other degrees, including one in history, and writes poetry and fiction as well as non-fiction.