Book Review | Apologetics by the Book

What is the Best Book on Apologetics?

Occasionally, I have folks ask me what is the best book on apologetics. While there are certainly many good ones on the topic available, without hesitation I tell them to read Cliff McManis’s book, Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ. When I initially reviewed it back in 2012, I wrote that it is hands down the absolute best book anyone can read on apologetics, period. And I sincerely mean that.

Just so that I am not misunderstood.  I am not saying that other apologetic books are unworthy of our study.  I certainly believe there are many fine contributions to the subject of apologetics. In fact, I’ve read all of Van Til’s and Greg Bahnsen’s key works, as well as John Frame’s and a number of other writers from both the presuppositional and classic camps.

As good as some of those other works are, I have found none of them comparing to Cliff’s, however.  He writes with clarity, conciseness, and a depth of knowledge in the field of study. Most importantly, he has a heart to make what has often been turned into a difficult subject by even Van Tillian/Bahnsenian presuppositionalists understandable for normal, church-going lay folks. It’s that accessibility for normal people that causes me to really like his work. It has always been my contention that if your apologetic methodology cannot be easily explained to Mrs. Myrtle so she in turn can use it when talking with her rebel grandson, it’s not worth much.

Biblical Apologetics came into print around 2011, and during the years following it’s initial publication, Cliff has updated a lot of the material and has now retitled his work, Apologetics By The Book.

Overview

Apologetics By The Book is more than just a study comparing and contrasting methodological systems.  McManis argues that in order to do apologetics correctly and effectively, we must have a sound theological foundation built upon the whole of the Bible. He anchors his work in what Scripture teaches us about Christ’s Lordship, God’s revelation as it is contained in Scripture, man’s sinful nature, and the regenerating work of the Spirit.  He then shapes those truths to provide us a systematic understanding of how we are to defend and advance the Gospel in a practical fashion.

He builds his case throughout 11 chapters interacting with a host of authors and theologians who have written on apologetics. In fact, if you consider his bibliography, it’s mighty impressive. But McManis hasn’t just cited sources he has loosely consulted in order to fill up the pages of a bibliography.  It is clear from how he strategically quotes from those sources and interacts with those authors throughout his book that he is thoroughly familiar with them and the importance of how they argue.

His primary source to which he regularly returns when discussing key components of apologetics is the popular Five Views book on apologetics.  The reason, as McManis states, “these five views represent every legitimate approach there is to know in the pursuit of defending the Christian faith.” [2]

He begins in the first chapter with an overview comparing and contrasting the two primary apologetic methodologies, what he calls the “traditional” and the “biblical.” It is here many of my presuppositional acquaintances will complain that he lumps presuppositionalism among all the other ones. Cliff acknowledges that presuppositionalism is clearly distinct from the other major methodologies, but it too does not sufficiently reflect what he calls “biblical apologetics.” He then covers 10 major categories of distinction between the two camps, expounding on the significance of those key differences.

Moving into the second chapter, he provides an exegesis of 1 Peter 3:15. That passage in Peter is the default passage pretty much every apologist starts with when talking about apologetics.  However, many writers fail to tie the verse to its OT context in  Isaiah 8:12,13.  McManis’s insights provided me with a sharpened understanding of what Peter was exhorting his readers to do when they “set apart Christ as Lord.”

Chapter three is also a valuable study to my own personal views of apologetic methodology.  McManis explores how genuine apologetics is not exclusively “external,” meaning, Christians defending the Faith against hostile skeptics and heathen.  A rather extensive majority of apologetic books are written around answering that dichotomy. They operate from the assumption all apologetic encounters involve defending the faith against aggressive, secular opponents. In the age of social media, that would be idiot atheists on YouTube or in the college class room.

McManis argues instead that true apologetics takes place internally within the Christian church. In other words, pastors defending orthodox, biblical Christianity from error and heresy. In McManis’s opinion, John MacArthur is one of the leading apologists in the Christian church. He has consistently taken on false teaching of other so-called Christians nearly his entire ministry career.

The Best Chapters in the Book

Other chapters include a study on general and special revelation, the doctrine of sin and its impact on apologetics, the historical influence of philosophy on apologetic methodology, and the myth of natural theology.  However, chapters 8, 9, and 10 on the biblical doctrine of saving faith, fideism and evidences, and the problem of evil, are so well done and insightful with what they address, they alone are worth the price of the book.  His presentation on those subjects was just outstanding.

Take for example fideism in chapter 9.  To be called a “fideist” as a Christian apologist is equivalent to being called a “racist” as a politician. It’s a really bad name; a slur designed simply to automatically discredit one’s position.  A “fideist” is allegedly anyone believing something according to blind faith without any proof.

McManis argues that we typically encounter what he terms “strawman fideism” leveled by classic apologists against presuppositionalists.  Van Til was routinely denounced as a “fideist” by his detractors.  Classic apologists think it is anathema to tell an unbeliever you can believe in the Resurrection because “the Bible tells me so.”  They mock such thinking.  They instead insist you must have some other non-biblical, outside authority that proves the possibility of the Resurrection happening BEFORE the biblical record can be brought into the discussion. Usually those authorities, as McManis points out, are select quasi-liberal NT scholars who say it is okay to believe the Resurrection [320].

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  McManis writes with clarity for the uninitiated in theological-techno-philosophizing jargon.  He also writes with humor.  His retelling of his adventures as a new Christian taking William Lane Craig’s classes at Westmont College in Santa Barbara in the late 1980s was a fun read. Also, included with this book is a glossary of Big Words and their definitions given by the author, especially all the “fancy Latin words,” as he calls them.  Anyone who seriously wishes to ground his understanding in apologetics must secure this work.

1 Comment
  1. Dustin Segers 6 months ago

    Totally agreed that this is best overall book on apologetics. I’m excited to hear that there is an update.

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