Book Review

apologeticsBiblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ.

Clifford B. McManis

This past spring I was sent a promotional e-newsletter from TMS announcing the publication of Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ by alumnus, Clifford McManis.  The newsletter stated the book will explore biblical apologetics from a fresh perspective that was faithful to the text of Scripture.  My interest was immediately stirred. I’ve been studying apologetic methodology off and on the last few years, so I am always on the look out for a “fresh perspective” on that subject, especially from a presuppositional point of view and from a fellow TMS alumnus.  I made a mental note to check out the book.

A little bit later, I was alerted to a review of Cliff’s book from a fellow of the Reformed, Van Tillian tradition.  He, however, was not pleased with McManis’s work. For example he wrote,

Even in these fascinating primary pages, however, McManis’ argument is marred by an off-putting personal apologetic exclusivity, as when he claims that Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame, and everyone but McManis (and MacArthur) are greatly mistaken in essential facets of their apologetic approach. Only his “healthy fideistic” apologetic is correct (the term fideist is not my designation–he with great ardor designates himself a fideist; pp. 426-456). As he begins to impugn isolated ideas from Van Tilians, McManis’ venture falls off the rails. His descriptions of what these apologists were trying to accomplish biblically or intuitively, become increasingly unfair.

Wow. His book “falls off the rails?”

He goes on to complain,

The good professor frames his exegesis around the unexceptionable idea, ultimately derived from biblical narratives, that a rational apologetic methodology is inadequate without the unfounded fideistic and spiritual methods derived from his understanding of Scripture (Van Til & Bahnsen contend that there is “certain proof for the existence of God” and offer versions of TAG and other biblically based arguments). Many Van Tilian advocates would dispute McManis’ interpretation and application of the scriptural accounts.

“Unfounded fideistic and spiritual methods”?  And to think he had the gall to “frame his exegesis” as “derived from biblical narrative.”  Heaven forbid we get too biblical.

The review went on to be an amusing read. A Covenant Reformed guy worked up into a lather over someone who offered honest criticisms of Van Til and Bahnsen, and didn’t talk enough on TAG.  Even more amusing was how after the reviewer implies he couldn’t really recommend the book, he puts in a plug for his own e-books on apologetics! Oh the irony!  I knew right then I had to secure McManis’s book immediately.

I will say, after reading the book and re-reading selected portions: Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ is the best book I’ve read on the subject of apologetics period.

I understand that is a bold statement and I risk coming across as a gushing sycophant. However, I think if a person reads through this book he will clearly see what I mean and will not be disappointed.

Just so that I am not misunderstood.  I am not saying that other apologetic books are unworthy of our study.  I certainly believe there are many fine contributions to the subject of apologetics. In fact, I’ve read all of Van Til’s and Greg Bahnsen’s key works on apologetics, as well as John Frame’s and a number of other writers from both the presuppositional and classic camps.

As good as some of those other works are, I have found none of them comparing to Cliff’s.  He writes with clarity, conciseness, depth of knowledge in the field of study, and most importantly, with a heart to make what has often been turned into a difficult subject by even Van Tillian/Bahnsenian presuppositionalists understandable for normal, church-going lay folks. It’s the readability for normal people that causes me to really like this work. It has always been my contention that if your apologetic methodology cannot be easily explained to Mrs. Myrtle so she in turn can use it when talking with her rebel grandson, it’s not worth much.

Biblical Apologetics is more than just a study comparing and contrasting methodological systems. It most certainly does that.

But rather, it is a formulation of an apologetic theology that leads to methodology.  In order to do apologetics correctly and effectively, we must have a sound theological foundation built upon the whole of the Bible. Cliff anchors his work in what Scripture teaches us about Christ’s Lordship, God’s revelation as it is contained in Scripture, man’s sinful nature, and the  regenerating work of the Spirit.  He then shapes those truths to provide us a systematic understanding of how we are to defend and advance the Gospel in a practical fashion.

The author builds his case in 11 chapters interacting with a host of authors and Bible teachers who have written on apologetics.  In fact, if you consider his bibliography, it’s mighty impressive.

But Cliff hasn’t just cited sources he has loosely consulted in order to fill up the pages of a bibliography to look good.  It is clear from how he quotes strategically from these sources and interacts with the authors throughout his book that he is thoroughly familiar with these individuals and the importance of how they argue.

His primary source to which he regularly returns when discussing key components of apologetics is the popular, Five Views book on apologetics.  The reason, as Cliff states, “the Five Views book is highly popular, has a wide reading audience and is perennially referred to as the modern-day standard summarizing all acceptable evangelical positions” [24].

He begins in the first chapter with an overview comparing and contrasting the two primary apologetic methodologies, traditional, classic evidentialism and presuppositionalism.  He covers 10 major categories of distinction between the two camps, expounding on the significance of those key differences.

He then moves into the next chapter and provides an exegesis of 1 Peter 3:15 that I had not read in any of the literature on apologetics.  This passage in Peter is the default passage pretty much every apologist starts with when talking about apologetics.  However, many writers fail to tie this verse to its OT context in  Isaiah 8:12,13.  This insight provided me with a sharpened understanding of what Peter was exhorting his readers to do when they “set apart Christ as Lord.”

Chapter three is also a valuable study to my own personal views of apologetic methodology.  Cliff explores how genuine apologetics is not exclusively “external,” meaning Christians defending Christianity against hostile skeptics and heathen.  A lot of apologetic books are written around answering that dichotomy, assuming all apologetic encounters that involve defending the faith is between a Christian and a hostile, non-Christian opponent.

Instead, Cliff argues that true “apologetics” takes place “internally” within the Christian church with pastors defending orthodox, biblical Christianity from error and heresy. In Cliff’s opinion (and this is why that reviewer I quoted above doesn’t like his “exclusivity”), John MacArthur is one of the leading “apologists” in the Christian church because he has consistently taken on false teaching of other so-called Christians nearly his entire ministry career.  I had never considered apologetics from that perspective before.

Other chapters include a study on general and special revelation, the doctrine of sin and its impact on apologetics, the historical influence of philosophy on apologetic methodology, and the myth of natural theology.  However, chapters 8, 9, and 10 on the biblical doctrine of “saving faith, “fideism” and evidences, and the problem of evil, are so well done and insightful with what they address, they alone are worth the price of the book.  His presentation on these subjects was just outstanding.

Take for example the subject of “fideism.”  To be called a “fideist” as a Christian apologist is equivalent to being called a “racist” as a politician. It’s a really bad name, yet it is a slur designed simply to automatically discredit one’s position.  A “fideist” is believing something according to blind faith without any proof.

Cliff argues that we typically encounter what he terms “strawman fideism” leveled by classic apologists against presuppositionalists.  Van Til was routinely denounced as a “fideist” by his detractors.  Classic apologists think it is anathema to tell someone you can believe in the Resurrection because “the Bible tells me so.”  They mock such thinking.  They instead insist you must have some other non-biblical, out-side “authority” that “proves” the possibility of the Resurrection happening before the biblical record can be brought into the discussion. Usually those “authorities,” as Cliff points out, are select quasi-liberal NT scholars who say it is okay to believe the Resurrection [434].

Our Reformed book reviewer noted above takes great exception to Cliff’s argument by invoking the “fideism” charge.  Yet, it’s a dishonest one.  He is in essence arguing like a classic apologist because he doesn’t interact with Cliff’s study of the subject (an entire 30 page chapter) or explain why his “biblical fideism” is problematic.  Cliff writes,

“I am a biblical fideist and the reason I believe in God’s existence, the truthfulness of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ is because of “the evidence.” If there were no logical, reasonable, objective, verifiable evidence for Christianity then I would reject it. … Traditional apologists say the needed evidence to believe comes from natural theology; biblical apologetics says the prerequisite evidence for salvation is defined and determined by special revelation.” [424]

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who seriously wishes to ground their understanding in apologetics.  The only negative thing with this book is that it is self-published by Xlibris.  Hopefully that won’t deter people from getting it, but it may prevent it from having a wider audience than just word of mouth via internet reviews like this one.  It makes me curious why McManis’s previous book was published by Kress Publishers, but not this one.  Oh well.

Be that as it may, the author writes with clarity for the uninitiated in theological-techno-philosophizing jargon.  He also writes with humor.  His retelling of his adventures as a new Christian taking William Lane Craig’s classes at Westmont College in Santa Barbara in the late 1980s was a fun read.

Included with this book is a glossary of Big Words and their definitions given by the author, especially all the “fancy Latin words,” as he calls them.  Oh. And lest I forget to tell you, he uses footnotes.  As soon as I saw I would be reading a book with footnotes rather than end notes, my heart sang for joy.

11 thoughts on “Book Review

  1. Yes. If you follow the link to Amazon, I believe there is a Kindle version available. But you can't really mark up a Kindle edition. =-)

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