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A Review of The Quest for Reality and Significance. By David Gooding and John Lennox.

Jan 19, 2020

Myrtlefield House, 2018-2019.

A new series of books on Christian apologetics and worldview analysis is worth being aware of:

This new six-volume set of books on Christian apologetics is a very useful resource indeed. Coming in at some 1850 pages, it covers most of the key areas when it comes to defending the Christian faith and affirming the rationality and reliability of Christian truth claims.

The first two books were released in 2018, and the last four in 2019. Sadly, one of the authors, David Gooding, passed away late in 2019. Gooding was an Old Testament professor in the UK. And most would know of John Lennox, the Oxford mathematician and Christian apologist.

The six volumes they have produced are very good indeed and cover quite a bit of ground. Most of the main areas covered in Christian apologetics are found here. By way of my review, it may be best to discuss each volume separately, and then offer some concluding remarks.

Vol. 1, Being Truly Human, deals with anthropology.

Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we heading to? These and other fundamental questions about what it means to be human are carefully explored in this volume. The authors examine how various worldviews look at the question of personhood and human worth and compare this with the biblical Christian position.

Issues such as human dignity, the nature of freedom, moral responsibility, and the use of power are discussed here. Consider the essential worth and value of a person. Christianity sees it as being intrinsic to the person, because we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

Many other worldviews however see the worth of a person as something which is extrinsic: it comes from without, and it is decided by cultures, or rulers, or ideologies. In ancient Greece and Rome newborn babies were often unwanted and left to die of exposure. The early Christians did not look at human beings this way, and in fact went out of their way to rescue these babies.

Worldviews matter in other words, and a low view of human life can have some dire consequences. Hitler’s Germany is a clear-cut modern example of all this. Faulty political and moral systems have faulty views of humanity, and this volume demonstrates some of the major differences. As the authors say about the atheist worldview which claims we are just the result of impersonal, natural forces and processes:

“The striking, but melancholy, fact is this: the atheist is a warm, feeling, purposeful, intelligent human being. But these forces which produced, and one day will destroy, him, his feelings, loves, purposes and intelligence are, all of them, by the atheist’s own definition, non-rational, non-sentient, mindless and purposeless.”

Vol. 2, Finding Ultimate Reality, deals with metaphysics.

This volume explores some of the big questions that not just philosophers ask, but all of us ponder. What is the nature of reality? Is there a God? If so, what is this God like? Consider the position of naturalism, the idea that only matter matters, and there is no supernatural.

The authors spend some time looking at atheism and naturalism. Difficulties include the question of eternally existing matter, or matter having a beginning. If the latter, then it cannot be considered to be ultimate reality. And if matter is all there is, where does that leave human rationality? How does it come from non-rational matter? How does mindless matter give rise to mind?

The various theistic options are examined and assessed. For example, monistic and pantheistic Eastern thought is considered. In claiming that all is essentially one and our problem is not sin but false knowledge, it clearly differs from the Christian world view.

Indeed, if our inner self is God, part of his very substance, then “it would mean that part of us, at least, existed eternally even before we were born, and never had a beginning. It would also mean that our ignorance and evil behaviour would be attributable to God. . . . The Bible denies this outright.”

Vol. 3, Questioning Our Knowledge, deals with epistemology.

How can we know? What must we know? How can we trust our knowledge? What is truth? Is it knowable? These and other matters are carefully considered in this volume. The authors discuss various philosophers, such as Descartes, Kant, Hume, Locke and Hegel, and examine various theories of knowing such as rationalism and empiricism.

Postmodernism and deconstructionism are also covered in some detail. The possibility of knowing any truth, and of the scientific enterprise itself are put at risk with these modern ways of thinking. The authors point out the shortcoming of the war on truth and the claim that science is just an intellectual construct.

Several chapters on the biblical understanding of truth and why it is important round out this volume. Truth exists, it is knowable, it is propositional, it is authoritative, and it is personal (Jesus himself is the truth). “In Christ we have eternal truth and historical truth, eternal truth expressed in time and historical truth of eternal significance.” Since God has revealed truth to us, we are not left in doubt and despair. Indeed, the truth will set us free if we pursue it where it leads.

Vol. 4, Doing What’s Right, deals with ethics.

This, the biggest volume in the series (nearly 400 pages) deals with matters of right and wrong, of what we should do, and why we should do it. Is morality merely personal and subjective, or are there objective moral standards we all must be accountable to? Are there transcendent and universal rights and wrongs that all cultures and individuals are subject to?

Various ethical theories that have appeared over the centuries are discussed and critiqued, such as utilitarianism, egoism, intuitionism and Kantian ethics. And more recent views such as sociobiology as held by Monad, Wilson and Dawkins are interacted with. As the authors say about this last position:

“An obvious difficulty presents itself. If a man is nothing but his genes, and his genes control his moral behaviour, how can a man ever be blamed for doing wrong, or praised for doing right? And what extraordinary promoters of morality genes must be when, on this theory, the combined genes of Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and America caused the Second World War.”

The biblical understanding of ethics and moral duties is also dealt with. The nature of the law, of grace, of personal and social ethics are discussed. Besides looking at the broader biblical principles, specific moral concerns such as environmental ethics, crime and punishment, and business ethics are also covered.

Vol. 5, Claiming To Answer, deals with Christianity.

Image of Being Truly Human: The Limits of our Worth, Power, Freedom and Destiny (The Quest for Reality and Significance) (Volume 1)
Being Truly Human: The Limits of our Worth, Power, Freedom and Destiny (The Quest for Reality and Significance) (Volume 1) by Array Amazon logo

In this volume a number of common questions and objections which are raised concerning the Bible and Jesus are dealt with. Is the New Testament reliable? Did Jesus actually exist? Wasn’t he just a moral teacher? Did he really rise from the dead?

The opening chapter deals with the question of whether all religions lead to the same goal, since all basically teach us how to be good. But the authors remind us that religion is not just moral philosophy, and not all religions are concerned with morality. And most have radically conflicting truth claims.

The bulk of the book looks at the historical reliability of the Gospels and the person of Jesus. As to the resurrection of Jesus, the authors first look at miracles and objections to them, such as that offered by Hume. Indeed, a full 20 pages are spent on the claims of Hume, and they conclude their discussion with these words:

“There is a sense, of course, in which Christians can agree with Hume, that ‘uniform experience’ shows that resurrection by means of a natural mechanism is extremely improbable, and we may rule it out. But Christians do not claim that Jesus rose by some natural mechanism. They claim something totally different – that God raised him from the dead. And if there is a God, why should that be judged impossible?”

Vol. 6, Suffering Life’s Pain, deals with theodicy.

The last volume in the series looks at the mega-questions of why there is evil and suffering in the world. Issues addressed include that of the nature of free will; why God does not intervene more often; God and judgment; and purposes of suffering.

As is standard in such discussions, two sorts of evil are considered: moral evil, involving morally responsible humans, and natural evil, involving things like earthquakes, tornados and the like. As to the former, various worldviews are examined as they seek to make sense of such evil.

Atheists and naturalists are simply left with saying, stuff happens: “Our outrage against moral evil presupposes that there exists a standard of good which is real, and that we are judging something to be morally evil by that standard of good and saying that it ought not to be. But if all that exists is the mindless particles, then where is the basis for the reality of that standard of good?”

As to why God does not intervene more often, we must ask: where would he stop? If he is to eliminate all evil, who would escape? “None of us can realistically discuss the problem of the world’s evil as though we were simply spectators of a phenomenon completely extraneous to ourselves.”

There are also other features to this series. Each volume contains the same introduction and appendix. The intro looks at the issue of worldviews and how we can assess them, including the use of history, philosophy, science and intuition. The appendix is an examination of “The Scientific Endeavour.”

However, this presents us with a problem. If you are just getting one or two of the books in the series, it is good to have these included. But if you buy the entire series, you actually have three things repeated in each volume: the 40-page Series Introduction; the 35-page appendix; and the 30-page Series Bibliography.

That is problematic: those who value their limited book shelving and their limited finances might be slightly unhappy with this. What should have just run to 105 pages instead runs to 630 pages, adding significantly to the overall length and cost of the series!

But aside from that one small annoyance (at least for book buyers), these six volumes are well worth getting. They provide a good overview of most of the main issues that all of us must consider when considering worldviews and what beliefs are worth committing to.

(Australians will find these books at Koorong: www.koorong.com/product/being-truly-human-the-limits-of-our-worth-power-freedom-and_9781912721016 )

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7 Responses to A Review of The Quest for Reality and Significance. By David Gooding and John Lennox.

  • Thanks Bill. A helpful summary of each volume.

  • Great summary, wish I could get hold of all the volumes, really needed in this part of the world…thanks

  • A word of caution. Google ‘John Lennox & Creation Science International’ or other, and be informed about this author’s interpretation of Genesis. All mis-views of this foundational Bible book of beginnings skew the way writers like John Lennox present their views of other Christian thought.

  • Thanks Elizabeth. I do have 14 of his books so I do know where he stands on that particular matter. But it would be somewhat foolish of me to therefore dismiss everything he says about anything else. As with almost every writer out there, I can appreciate the good stuff they write, but leave alone those parts I may differ with. If I restricted myself to reading only those I fully agreed with, I would be doing very little reading at all. As to these 6 books, there is plenty of value to be found in them, even though one may not fully agree with everything written there.

  • Hi Bill,

    Matthew from Myrtlefield House here (publishers of this series by David Gooding and John Lennox). Thanks for your review of the books, and for the honest feedback about the duplicated sections. It was thought best to publish these in each volume so readers can dip in at whichever point is most relevant to them, but I’ll pass it on to our team for consideration.

    Just a note on buying the individual books vs the full series; some distributers are offering good prices on the full series which take into account the duplicated material. See 10ofThose for example: https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/25690/the-quest-for-reality-and

  • Thanks Matthew. The link you provide does offer a good discount indeed. I wish I would have known about it sooner! But it is in the UK. while I am in Australia, so I am not sure if I could have availed myself of it. And if I could have, the question is how much postage would have been charged to get them sent here. But thanks anyway.

  • Thanks so much Bill for your review and recommendation of these great books. I have just ordered 6 of these books through Amazon $11.99 an ebook copy.

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