A review of The God Conversation. By J.P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff.
IVP, 2007. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
There are many hundreds of excellent books on Christian apologetics, and J.P. Moreland has authored a number of those. He is certainly one of our top Christian philosophers and apologists.
In his newest volume he teams up with communication lecturer Tim Muehlhoff to offer a somewhat different approach to Christian evidences. Here the authors make the case for sharing Christian truth via stories and illustrations. A number of important apologetics and philosophy of religion themes are discussed, with an eye to reaching others through memorable illustrations and compelling stories.
Topics include God and the problem of evil and suffering; Christianity and other world religions; the case for the resurrection; and the existence of God and the evidence from design. These core topics are helpfully introduced and discussed, but with a view to being user-friendly, both for the apologist and the seeker.
For example, when dealing with the resurrection, one must deal with the reliability of the Gospel accounts. The authors offer a number of reasons why these accounts differ from mere legends. One reason is that the Gospels are not afraid to include embarrassing details, something which legends try to avoid.
Such details include: Jesus referring to Peter at one point as Satan; the cowardly nature of the disciples during the crucifixion; and the disciples initial refusal to believe that Jesus had risen. The authors remind us of the story of the Alamo. This actual event has been excessively glorified and turned into legendary status over the years. True, 185 Texans courageously took on 5,000 Mexicans. But the story has been seriously embellished over time, and contemporary historians have had to peel away the legend from the actual facts.
But the authors remind us that there simply was not enough time for legend to creep into the Easter story. Legends require some amount of time to become established, but the New Testament documents were written so close to the actual events of the life of Christ, that such legendary features could not have taken hold.
Consider another issue related to all this. We know that the Synoptic Gospels were written before the Book of Acts, and we know that Acts was written somewhere between A.D. 60 and 62. This is because two crucial episodes are not recorded there: the fall of Jerusalem and the death of Paul.
As an illustration, consider an account of the World Trade Centre in New York. If one found an undated book about this structure, one could partly determine the dating by what it includes or did not include. If it spoke about how it was built, how massive it is, and how many people work there, but said nothing about its tragic fall at the hands of terrorists, one could reasonably conclude it was written before September 2001.
Many other illustrations, analogies, examples and stories are woven into the big topics covered in this book. It thus is a very accessible and easy to follow primer on basic apologetics. Of course whenever one is dealing with complex philosophical and theological concepts, some proper intellectual content must be utilised as well. And that is also featured in this volume.
Thus this book is a mix of helpful stories as well as solid reasoning and argumentation. It makes for a nice combination, and should encourage budding apologists to take some first steps in applying these principles and tactics.
Those who find this volume helpful may well want to go back to some of Moreland’s more advanced works. For starters, consider his 1987 volume, Scaling the Secular City. For those who want something even more in depth, see his important 2003 work, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (co-authored by William Lane Craig).
For the beginning apologist, this might be the first volume to consider. It is both practical as well as intellectually solid, making it a very good introduction to the defence of Christian beliefs.