Teach me

 

John Twistleton gives us a run-thourh on readily available Christian apologetic

You have a friend who is curious about Christianity. Maybe they are facing a personal ordeal and want to find God. They do not want to go to church as yet, but want some high quality information about Christianity. What are the readily accessible books that explain or make a reasoned defence or ‘apologetic’ for Christian Faith? Here are just some currently available from bookshops, with a few health warnings:

 

1. If you are looking for a glossy book with some substance try Keene, Michael Christianity Lion 2002, £6.99, 160pp. For a clear, trustworthy and digestible read it would be hard to surpass Keene’s small book. It has a confident feel and covers the whole church without exhausting the reader. There are some 50 sections of 400 words, heavily illustrated, on topics that cover the ground not just historically and doctrinally but in relation to prayer, apologetic writings, sacramental worship, healing etc.

The pressing contemporary issues of feminism and homosexuality are treated helpfully and in a balanced way. There are sections on social transformation, new Christian communities and the ecumenical movement. The favourable references to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy alongside Evangelicalism and the Charismatic movement make for a positive synthesis.

The global balance is there, including a Sri Lankan theologian’s call for the evangelisation of Europeans ‘who call themselves Christian and hence are most damaging to the witness of the Gospel … are more dehumanised, more alienated from the values of the Kingdom, and more difficult to convert’. The book sets forth the claims of Jesus Christ, the riches of his Church, the depth of Christian spirituality and ethical challenge of Christian faith with an economy that reveals the hand of an accomplished teacher.

 

2. Possibly the largest book on any apologetics shelf would be this one from the United States: Wagner, Richard Christianity for Dummies Wiley 2004, £14.99, 384pp. This user-friendly, capacious guide promises help in understanding ‘the basic teachings of the Christian faith, exploring the common ground that all Christians share, the differences among the major branches, the key events in Christian history, the key theological issues, and the many ways Christians live out their faith in today’s world’. In delivering this understanding the book comes back regularly to the need to commit to Jesus if understanding is to be reached.

Rich Wagner is a well-known figure on US Christian Radio and presents Christianity thoughtfully but enthusiastically with an eye to the Bible as unique authority. C.S. Lewis quotations abound. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions are treated with but cool sympathy, which is also true of the section on sacraments entitled ‘The Rite Stuff’.

The last chapter on ‘Ten Christian Leaders You Should Know About’ explores Augustine, St Francis, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Wesley, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer and Solzhenitsyn. The 400 pages are easy reading because the text has a very helpful system of catchy sub-headings.

 

3. Another comprehensive work readily available: Young, John Christianity Teach Yourself 2003 (3rd edition), £8.99, 322pp. Commended by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishops Carey and Hope and others, this full treatise attempts an in-depth exploration of Christian Faith to serve the popular ‘teach yourself’ series. Young follows an Anglican order, first treating Scripture and then Christian tradition with emphasis all through on the reasonableness of faith.

The absence of visual illustrations is somewhat compensated by illustrative stories and testimonies and some jewel-like quotations embedded in the text – Michael Ramsey on worship, C.S. Lewis on heaven and hell, Rowan Williams against euthanasia, Eamon Duffy on the corruptions and blessings of the medieval church. There are special chapters on Christianity in relation to science, on modern church movements and contemporary Christian social initiatives.

The book is strong on the Bible and helpful on biblical criticism. It is weaker on church history which is packed in at the end of the book. Young presents a helpful flowing water image of the church in history: ‘Some streams are deep and narrow, others shallow and wide…the water is all one…(and it) matters more than any particular river’. The book will delight a thirsty enquirer.

 

4. People concerned about what Christianity has to say to women might try a ‘very short introduction’ in the thoughtful Oxford University Press series of that name: Woodhead, Linda Christianity – A Very Short Introduction OUP 2004, £6.99, 168pp. This book has an analysis of the Christian centuries that shapes and lends momentum to a very readable narrative.

The life, ministry, teaching and memory of Jesus is said to have unleashed spiritual energy that has been carried forward in three ways – Church, Biblical and Mystical Christianity – which relate to different interpretations of Jesus. Historical ‘Church’ Christianity dominates the Christian centuries, accompanied after the Reformation by a ‘Biblical’ version, and both point to God standing over us, transcendent, and our need to welcome the provision of salvation in Jesus, true God and true Man.

By contrast a strain of ‘Mystical’ Christianity can be traced right back with a lower view of the person of Christ, emphasising an inner, mystical union with him. The contemporary charismatic movement is seen as one example of the recovery of this strain. Woodhead provides a fascinating chronicle, frank about Christianity’s flirtation with worldly power and the challenge of feminism. The book is positive about the charismatic renewal, seen as promising a sacred power operating at grass roots.

 

5. Some fifty years on, Lewis and Stott stay in print with their classic bestsellers: Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity Harper Collins 2002 (50th Anniversary edition), £7.99, 226pp. Lewis towers above Christian apologists with his intellectual rigour and capacity to express the richest truth in plain language. He is a thoroughgoing supernaturalist and has no truck with watered-down Christianity shorn of the miraculous.

In his writings he often turns popular wisdom on its head, especially the view that Christianity is primarily moral improvement. ‘God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.’ His writings combine catholic wisdom with evangelical directness: ‘look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him everything else thrown in’.

 

6. Stott, John Basic Christianity IVP 1958, £5.99, 160pp. This book is a classic Christian defence from Evangelicalism, demonstrating Christ’s divinity and work, and establishing from Scripture our need for salvation and the necessity of commitment to Jesus Christ not just in mind but in deed. It contains a strong, reasoned defence of the resurrection of Christ which illuminates his death as truly God’s action necessary to bear our sins away. There is less emphasis upon the incarnation, the Holy Spirit and the church. The book ends with this challenge: when we see who Jesus is and what he has done for us we cannot escape his total claim upon our lives.

 

John Twistleton is

Chichester Diocesan Missioner

 

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