Christian Apologetics Week Book Review #1: "Humble Apologetics" by John Stackhouse

John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Humble Apologetics. Oxford University Press, 2002. 262 pgs.

In this book, Stackhouse gives a very readable introduction to the apologetic methodology. This is not, then, an 'apologetics book' in what we might consider the 'classic' (or at least common) sense of that phrase. That is, he does not go through a list of difficult questions and try to provide answers. Instead, Stackhouse handles the preliminary questions of apologetic practice; the things we need to know before we even 'get started'.

In his first section, Stackhouse asks after the social and intellectual context in which current apologetic conversations take place. What are the relevant cultural factors? His answers: Pluralism, Postmodernity, and Consumerism. What are the hurdles that stand in the way of the gospel? There are 5 common barriers to the hearing of the Christian message:
1. Many in our society think they are Christian already.
2. Many see Christians (such as televangelists) as unappealing people.
3. Some thing that Christians can offer no good responses to difficult questions (especially the problem of evil)
4. Some believe that Christianity is incompatible with science.
5. Some are turned away by the failure of Christians to live out their beliefs, specifically in regards to social justice.
In his second section, Stackhouse explores the question of what we are trying to accomplish in apologetics. His answer is that our mission should not focus narrowly on a conversion moment, but rather it should be as broad as God's own mission. We need to love our neighbors and seek their best in all their relationships.

Finally, in the third section, Stackhouse inquires as to appropriate apologetic methods. His primary idea here is that found in the title of this book: Humility. He explores many other options within the question of communication however, including practical communications principles, three different types of appeal (to subjective experience, evidence and reason, and the Christian worldview), guidelines for conversations, and various modes of apologetics.

This book has much to commend it. It is very well-written, readable, and thorough. The book embodies the principles Stackhouse lays out; while he does get critical, Stackhouse is never overly aggressive, judgmental, or shrill. Instead, I would describe the tone as humble (surprise surprise! :). As a start to reading apologetic literature you couldn't do much better than this. It asks the right questions and sets a very appropriate tone for apologetic activity.

The only thing to watch out for are the (necessary) assumptions which underlie the book. So, there is an assumed core of Christian belief which should be defended and humbly put forward. Further, while the book criticizes the 'crisis point' approach to apologetics and evangelism, there is still an underlying assumption as to the definition of salvation. Now, it just so happens that I think I agree with these underlying assumptions. It also so happens that I think addressing them would require several additional books. Thus, I am not criticizing this book per se; it has accomplished it's goals admirably. Rather, it is something to be aware of as you read.

Conclusion: Recommended; 4 of 5 Stars.
Worth reading as an introduction to apologetics and as a thought provoking work to set the tone of the rest of your reading on/research in/exploring of the subject.

This post is a part of Christian Apologetics Week. You can find the introduction, with links to all the posts, here.


Roger Hui said...

In a blog with so much content devoted to books it's jarring to see the apostrophe used erroneously. For example:

15.07.10 - it has accomplished it's goals admirably

23.06.10 - Its just not the good news of Jesus Christ. It's part of it, ...

15.06.10 - but now that she is walking and nearly 30lbs, hate's sleeping

Andrew said...


Thanks for pointing that out. I know I have bad grammar; I try to edit for it, but I miss a lot. I will add this to my list of mistakes to watch for.

Please point stuff like this out whenever you notice it, as it will only help me improve.