The History of Apologetics – Benjamin Forrest, Joshua Chatraw, and Alister McGrath

The History of Apologetics
The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological Introduction by Benjamin K Forrest, Joshua D. Chatraw, Alister E McGrath
Published by Zondervan Academic on June 16, 2020
Genres: Academic, Apologetics
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Explore Apologetics through the Lives of History's Great Apologists
The History of Apologetics follows the great apologists in the history of the church to understand how they approached the task of apologetics in their own cultural and theological context. Each chapter looks at the life of a well-known apologist from history, unpacks their methodology, and details how they approached the task of defending the faith.
By better understanding how apologetics has been done, readers will be better able to grasp the contextualized nature of apologetics and apply those insights to today's context. The History of Apologetics covers forty-four apologists including:
Part One: Patristic Apologists
Justin Martyr by Gerald Bray
Irenaeus of Lyons by Stephen O. Presley
Athenagoras of Athens by W. Brian Shelton
Tertullian of Carthage by Bryan M. Litfin
Origen by A. Chadwick Thornhill
Athanasius of Alexandria by Jonathan Morgan
Augustine of Hippo by Chad MeisterPart Two: Medieval Apologists
John of Damascus by Daniel J. Janosik
Theodore Abu Qurrah by Byard Bennett
Timothy I of Baghdad by Edward L. Smither and Trevor Castor
Anselm of Canterbury by Edward N. Martin and Steven B. Cowan
Saint Thomas Aquinas by Francis J. Beckwith and Shawn Floyd
Ramon Lull by Greg Peters
Gregory Palamas by Byard BennettPart Three: Early Modern Apologists
Hugo Grotius by Bryan Baise
Blaise Pascal by Tyler Dalton McNabb and Michael R. DeVito
Jonathan Edwards by Michael McClymond
William Paley by Charles Taliaferro
Joseph Butler by David McNaughtonPart Four: 19th C. Apologists
Simon Greenleaf by Craig A. Parton
John Henry Newman by Corneliu C. Simut
Søren Kierkegaard by Sean A. Turchin and Christian Kettering
James Orr by Ronnie Campbell
B. B. Warfield by Kim RiddlebargerPart Five: 20th C. American Apologists
J. Gresham Machen by D. G. Hart
Cornelius Van Til by K. Scott Oliphint
Gordon Haddon Clark by Robert A. Weathers
Francis A. Schaeffer by William Edgar
Edward John Carnell by Steven A. HeinPart Six: 20th C. European Apologists
A. E. Taylor by Michael O. Obanla and David Baggett
G. K. Chesterton by Ralph Wood
Dorothy Sayers by Amy Orr-Ewing
C. S. Lewis by Alister McGrath
Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick
Lesslie Newbigin by Krish KandiahPart Seven: Contemporary Apologists
John Warwick Montgomery by Craig A. Parton
Charles Taylor by Bruce Riley Ashford and Matthew Ng
Alvin Plantinga by James Beilby
Richard Swinburne by Greg Welty
Ravi Zacharias by Jo Vitale and Vince Vitale
William Lane Craig by R. Keith Loftin
Gary R. Habermas by W. David Beck and Benjamin C. F. Shaw
Alister E. McGrath by James K. Dew and Jordan Steffaniak
Timothy Keller by Joshua D. Chatraw

I was ten years old when I first read Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. It was my first attempt to parse an academic work. I probably didn’t understand a lot of it. But it ignited a fire in me for apologetics. (I soon graduated to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, which was more my speed at that age.) Even as I’ve gotten older, apologetics remains a key part of my life and ministry, so a book like The History of Apologetics was an absolute must-have.

This massive tome covers forty-four of the most influential apologists through the ages, giving a biographical and methodological introduction of each. The book is divided into seven sections, as follows:

  • Patristic Apologists
  • Medieval Apologists
  • Early Modern Apologists
  • Nineteenth-Century Apologists
  • Twentieth-Century American Apologists
  • Twentieth-Century European Apologists
  • Contemporary Apologists

Each section contains 5-7 figures within that grouping, excepting contemporary apologists, wherein the authors and editors have chosen nine. Each chapter is 11-25 pages in length and follows a basic structure of one-paragraph summary, historical background, theological context, and apologetic response. Some chapters also contain headings of apologetic methodology and contributions to the field of apologetics.

These individual biographies are written by experts in the field and are reasonably succinct and objective. However, as we move forward into contemporary apologists in particular, the writing shifts to a more public relations tone as the authors become contemporaries, former students, or even current employees of the individuals being discussed. For example, the chapter on Ravi Zacharias is written by Vince and Jo Vitale, both of whom work for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Overall, this is a solid work. A great resource for anyone needing an introduction to the main figures of any epoch of apologetics. A robust bibliography for each section also encourages readers and students into further study. It’s a beautifully written reference and what it does, it does well.

The struggle with any work like this is that it must, by necessity, only tell part of the story. The stories of forty-four apologists are told throughout the book’s 800-some pages. But this is not the whole story. How one views the history of apologetics may very well be influenced by where and when the authors and editors focus. As they editors admit in the introduction, they have chosen to focus predominantly on Western apologists and admit that some might see that they have failed to do due diligence in recognizing other segments of history.

While I can appreciate this caveat, I do believe that more could have been done. This lack of focus on Eastern apologetics means that there is not substantial or current work included on apologetics in the Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist worlds—which is about half the world’s population.

Neither is there much work done to include Western minority perspectives. Ravi Zacharias is the lone ethnic minority. Dorothy Sayers is the lone woman. The rest of the individuals listed are ethnically of the dominant culture and male. You have to go back to Augustine to find an African apologist and the farthest east we ever make it is Gregory Palamas, who worked within Eastern Orthodoxy. No Asian, African-American, or Latino voices are included.

Some of this can be explained by that being the bent of history. These voices were often excluded from the public square. However, the lack of representation, particularly within the contemporary apologetics section is appalling. I get that these minority voices don’t carry the name recognition or authority that the predominantly white male voices do, but this lack of inclusion is part of why. There is more than enough history and there are more than enough individuals that a hundred pages could be added to an 800-page book to include these voices.

Despite its shortcomings in what it does not say, The History of Apologetics is a great collection of individual biographies that focus primarily on the development of Western apologetics and apologetical methodology in relation to the rise of secularism and post-modernism. Where it fails is in what it lacks in addressing apologetical content in relation to eastern religions and a lack of minority voices.