What can past defenders of the faith teach us today? As it turns out, historic Christianity’s preeminent voices have passed on a treasure trove of wisdom. In parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 (of six) in this series, we highlighted the term apologia sophia (Gk: ἀπολογία σοφία), which transliterates the Greek word endings and roughly translates to “apologetics wisdom.” In that spirit, I offer some more practical advice (hopefully even genuine wisdom) for engaging in the apologetics enterprise (the art and science of giving a reasoned defense of Christianity: see 1 Peter 3:15).
One of my chief objectives for students of apologetics is that they ground their defense of the faith in the biblical, orthodox theology of historic Christianity. Apologetics needs to be tightly connected to theology. After all, throughout church history apologetics was viewed as a branch of theology.
Thus, I highly recommend that students of apologetics read classic apologetics works that have a strong theological emphasis. Fortunately, there are three such works that stand out for their excellence—and they also happen to be some of my favorites.
Three Theologically Oriented Apologetics Classics
Here is my brief introduction to these classics that every Christian apologist, both professional and lay, should read and carefully study.
1. Confessions by St. Augustine
After the apostle Paul, Augustine of Hippo (354–430) is very likely the most influential Christian thinker ever. History knows him as a theologian, philosopher, church bishop, and as a gifted and tenacious apologist of catholic (universal) Christianity. The most prolific of all classical authors, Augustine wrote more than five million words, with three of his books becoming both Christian and literary classics of Western civilization. Confessions is his best known and most popular work and is widely considered one of the greatest Christian books ever written.
One of the very first autobiographies in Western culture, Confessions chronicles Augustine’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage from paganism to Christianity. The book’s title can be understood in a triple sense: Augustine’s candid and contrite confession of sin, his sincere confession of newfound faith, and his thankful confession of the greatness of God.
Written in the form of a prayer to God (like the Psalms), Confessions also serves as thought-provoking devotional literature. Augustine quotes and expounds the Scriptures throughout and suffuses the text with profound theological, philosophical, and apologetic insights. A final appealing aspect is that the book may really be about every human soul’s search for God and salvation.
I recommend this version: Augustine, Confessions, Pine-Coffin trans. (NY: Penguin, 1961).
2. Pensées by Blaise Pascal
In his short life of only 39 years, French thinker Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) accomplished great things as a mathematician, physicist, inventor, and as an intuitive Christian thinker and apologist. Pascal had been preparing a book on Christian apologetics when he died prematurely of possible stomach cancer.
His unfinished apologetics work (consisting mainly of a series of organized notes, outlines, and fragments) was published subsequently under the French title Pensées (pronounced “Pon-sayz” and roughly translated “Reflections”). While Pensées is more of a collection of Pascal’s thoughts on various subjects than a complete and integrated book, the content is so compelling that it remains a perennial bestseller.
Here is a brief sampling of Pascalian theologically oriented apologetic themes contained in the Pensées:
- Pascal speaks of “reasons of the heart,” meaning that while religious belief is not contrary to reason, nevertheless there are limits to human reason and that the human heart plays a critical role in intuitively forming one’s most basic beliefs.
- He argues that historic Christianity uniquely explains the enigma of human beings as a paradox of “greatness” and “wretchedness” (great because humans are created in God’s image, but wretched because humans are fallen).
- Pascal introduces his famous “Wager” argument in which he attempts to shake people of their indifference to ultimate issues (God, death, immortality) by appealing to the ultimate cost-benefit analysis of belief.
I recommend this version: Blaise Pascal, Pensées, A. J. Krailsheimer trans. (NY: Penguin, 1995).
3. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
A lay Anglican theologian and versatile Christian apologist and author, literary scholar C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) is perhaps the most important conservative Christian thinker of his time period. Lewis’s work Mere Christianity, first published in 1952, was selected by Christianity Today magazine as the most important Christian book of the twentieth century.
With lucid style and single-minded focus, Lewis explains and defends Christianity’s central truth claims, the very essence of the faith. The book contains a careful discussion of such issues as the triune nature of God, the incarnation of Christ, and the moral argument for God’s existence. Knowing the core elements of historic Christianity and being able to articulate them with clarity to believers and nonbelievers is essential for students of apologetics.
I recommend this version: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (NY: HarperCollins, 2001).
Reading and studying these classics will definitely help apologists ground their efforts in the richness of historic Christian theology. For as Scripture exhorts: “. . . contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3).
Reflections: Your Turn
Have you read these three works? If so, which was your favorite? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
- For more about Augustine’s book Confessions, see Take Up and Read: Confessions.
- For more about Pascal’s book Pensées, see Take Up and Read: Pensées.
- For more about Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, see Take Up and Read: Mere Christianity.
- For more on these three plus six more great thinkers, see my book, Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.