The Necessary Reading on Christian Apologetics

I don’t expect you to like this list.

You’ve been trained to like cute, peppery apologists with publishing deals and marketing teams. But I don’t want you to become an atheist or get crushed in public interactions that damage the credibility of the faith because you read the wrong books and so did not understand the times.

Apologetics works can sometimes act as a powerful antidote to faith. Let the reader consider…

Aside from that many supposedly Christian apologetics works are not very Christian. They are for some similar but different religious faith that appreciates our words and ideas.

First the disclaimer: these are not all good or even theologically orthodox books. Some are outrightly pagan. Some are just timely. But to do this thing on this planet at this time in history you should read these.

2nd, if you want scripture and exegesis – then read those. Scripture and good commentaries are primary reading and these other things are secondary if not even farther from immediate import – but we do live in the world we do, so these are the guys we have.

  1. Plato
  2. Aristotle

These two are foundational to interaction with the non-Christian world. They are the apex – predator boss level pagans. You don’t get to choose. This fact has been decided for you by 2000 years of intellectual history. They’ve made more atheists into theists and more Christians into atheists than any other ten guys you can name. Everyone does apologetics in their shadows because it’s not a practice that is reducible to theology or evangelism.

3. Augustine’s City of God and Confessions

He did it first and he did better than anyone. Your favorite guy is not as good as him.

4. Aquinas’ Summa

Thomas Aquinas is astoundingly influential in this field. You’re probably reading him all the time and you don’t know it. His weakness is revealed theology: The Bible. That’s a pretty important weakness…

5. Calvin’s Institutes

Love him or hate him you can’t ignore him. In the last 500 years no one has surpassed his strength in this area.

6. Charles Hodge – Systematic Theology. The Princeton apologetic defined a century of successful apologetic engagement.

7. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity – but really his entire adult apologetic catalogue. He not only knew what was to be done but was better than anybody at HOW it was to be done. That’s why everyone is still reading his stuff. He’s no Pastor, never ordained to anything, and perhaps that’s his strength at speaking to normal people.

8. Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner. Sproul and Gerstner together were powerful in the realms of philosophy, exegetical and historical theology. Most guys that write on apologetics do not have that kind of breadth. They have their area and when they stray from it, it shows. This book will test you, teach you and demand that you define yourself on several critical issues.

9. Evidence That Demands a verdict, Josh McDowell (You have to read this one because it’s an amazingly easy introduction to historical and manuscript evidences that are background arguments for almost every engagement. They get harder but they don’t get easier.)

10. Gordon H. Clark, A Christian view of men and things. A yet to be improved upon analysis of contemporary and historical epistemologies. Clark gets short shrift these days but it’s not because he lacked an intense level of philosophical skill. He’s easier to player hate than he is to refute.

11. Warranted Christian Belief, by Alvin Plantinga, but really his series of works the subject. Probably the best living Christian philosopher. He’s written fat, scholarly books on things you probably haven’t even heard of but your professor in college? He’s heard of it. And he will hit you with it like a baseball bat.

12. Greg Bahnsen’s work and debates applying Van Til’s apologetic methodology (which is generally clearer than Van Til’s own work). But you’ll need to choose between Bahnsen, Frame, Knudsen, Poythress and Oliphint’s interpretations of VTs thought. They can’t all be right. I think Bahnsen was correct and applied these theories to devastating practical effect in the real world, but it could be more Frame. Frame also studied personally with VT for many years and is one of the foremost living philosophers. If it’s Peter Enns, Tremper Longman, Douglas Green and Peter Liethart then Van Til’s thought would end in a very different place and apologetics would be of less interest.

13. The forgotten master, Francis Schaffer, at one time the most popular evangelical apologist in the world, these days largely suffering from a publishing blackout due to little more than his overwhelming effectiveness. He’s a favorite to dislike within Reformed and Presbyterian circles mainly because he was socially conscious and because they’ve never read him. Still, he spent his entire career a conservative Presbyterian pastor in the Bible Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America. No one has improved upon or replaced his work in the 50 years since. “How should we then live” “the god who is there” and “he is there and he is not silent” should have been read early on and with serious interest.

Why is your favorite not on here?

First, maybe I don’t like them.

Second, if I like them, maybe their works are in large part re-presentations (either stated or unstated) of one of these great works. If they’re just saying “Aristotle Aristotle Aristotle” that’s fine but Aristotle deserves a little credit?

Their work might be important reading but not necessary reading.

If so they can still be worthy and appreciated but being derivative works of the great masters the proper order is that the masters be read first. But if you read these works you probably won’t need them. By that time you will be your own man.

This is not a detailed list and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.

Like James Orr, Ronald Nash, Gottshalk, Gottfried Leibniz, Habermas, G.K. Chesterton and Dr. Walter Martin.

Christopher Neiswonger

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