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Book Review by Robert Zink
I am convinced that apologetics is an underrated discipline in the Christian life. It’s importance has not been grasped by the body of Christ and is often seen as someone else’s responsibility. While apologetics is more difficult for some people than others, it is part of the Christian defense, standing united with evangelism and thus important for everyone (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Peter 3:15).
The resources for apologetics are vast. They come from many different authors, many different cultures, and many different centuries. In the modern era, there are a number of well-known theologians who are authoritative communicators in the area of apologetics. John Frame is one of those men, and his book Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, offers readers an influential and insightful outline to the discipline of apologetics.
Foundation: The Author’s Groundwork
We can be thankful for the work of many different scholars who, with a commitment to the integrity of Scripture, have sought to define offenses and defenses of the Christian faith. Each one, gifted by God differently, is able to build upon the work of others to solidify and clarify many of the premises that make up the various arguments within apologetics. The work of John Frame sets itself apart from all others with four distinguishing marks:
- The Glory of God: Frame firmly brings attention to the fact that apologetics is meant to draw a person’s attention to God’s glory.
- The Word of God: The author brings forth the authority of Scripture as a positive defense, even reminding readers in chapter 2 that the message of an apologist is simply Scripture applied to the needs of the hearers.
- The Work of God: Frame is also consistent in his reminder that apologetics is ultimately the work of God. While the apologist can present arguments, it rests ultimately on God’s work in the heart of the hearer.
- The Lordship of God’s Son: John Frame also consistently points readers to the Lordship of Christ and its impact upon apologetics.
These distinctions may not seem distinct at all (especially the first three) as any solid theologian will point to the authority of each within the realm of apologetics. However, what one can appreciate about John Frame is that he not only asserts these points at the beginning, but unlike so many others, he continually references them throughout his work. Not only does he uphold his belief in the distinctions by showing how he lives them out in his apologetic style, but he is certain to draw readers continuous attention to the importance of them as well, lest they forget.
Framework: The Author’s Propositions
There are no surprises in the layout of the book. The author covers a lot of material progressing from one topic to the next in a logical and natural order that makes it easy for the reader to follow. In fact, as he addresses a topic, it may be common for the reader to ask, “But what about . . .,” as I often did, only to find that Frame answers the objection in the very next section.
As he lays out the basics of apologetics in the first two chapters, Frame distinguishes between the following three facets of apologetics: Proof, defense, and offense. It is with these three facets that he works the outline of the book.
- Proof: After the base has been established, the next four chapters cover the proof of apologetics. It is here that the author addresses many of the most well-known arguments, including the transcendental, teleological, cosmological, and ontological arguments. One can appreciate Frame’s willingness to go a step further though. Apologetics is not merely about proving the existence of God, but about showing people the truth of the Gospel. An aspect so often missed, Frame ensures that it is included in our discussion.
- Defense: After offering up various discussions to the existence of God, the next two chapters Frame draws our attention to refuting the most common objection to Christianity and God . . . the presence of evil in our world. Using Scripture and God’s character, he sets forth insightful understanding and solid defenses of this topic. Within the confines of these chapters, the author addresses many of the common defenses that are given, pointing out the unbiblical aspects of each and forcing readers to think critically and uncompromisingly in the truth, when offering defenses.
- Offense: Finally, the author offers a chapter on offense, critiquing the seriousness of unbelief. In his critique, Frame addresses the modern forms of thinking, demonstrating how unbelief employs both rationalism and irrationalism. It is a fascinating critique worthy of great attention.
Throughout the book, Frame points the reader towards the use of apologetics in everyday conversations. In doing so, he stresses the importance of flexibility by tailoring the conversation to the “needs of the hearer” in order to better address a person’s concerns. In this last chapter, he uses a make-believe conversation to play out just how a typical conversation might take place, demonstrating how apologetics can happen in everyday life.
Fasteners: The Author’s Specifics
Knowing that every apologist has their own style preference and will usually defend it as much as he or she might defend the existence of God, it is important to note that Frame uses a slightly modified presuppositional approach, although he favors avoidance of the use of presuppositionals. Using Scripture, the author points out that nobody can be religiously neutral; one either is a believer/follower in the Lord or not, and thus every person comes to the discussion with some sort of presupposition. Furthermore, Frame relies heavily upon the work of Cornelius Van Til, although he does not agree with all that Van Til has to offer and makes the distinctions clear throughout the book.
The humility with which the author approaches apologetics adds to the value of the book without taking away from its authority. For example, in chapter four in his description of the transcendental argument, Frame addresses the topic of absolute certainty and probability. It is here specifically that I was struck by Frame’s ability to be humble and yet not compromise the trustworthiness of either Scripture or God Himself. Even his disagreements with other theologians are noted for their humility and unwillingness to divide the body of Christ when not necessary.
It is with humility then, that I offer up a point of concern within the book. Within the first words of chapter one, Frame defines apologetics as “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.” Perhaps I cannot say that this definition is a concern, but only that I would like to see more.
Realistically, I agree with it on many levels. However, it strikes me as being almost too simplistic without addressing the details. With that said, his definition does something spectacular that I think is worth noting here. He changes the focus of apologetics. Many definitions emphasize the defense aspect and thus makes the hearer the object of the definition. Frame transforms it so that the Christian is actually the object of the definition. No longer then is apologetics just about giving a defense, but it is also about reaffirming the hope we have in Christ!
I know that there will be some who disagree with Frame’s apologetic style and would prefer something different outside of presuppositional. In fact, if there was an area of concern for someone, it would probably be more about this issue than over Frame’s biblical points. However, the purpose of this review is not to defend or advocate one view over another. The purpose is simply to analyze the content of the book, and as far as content and defense goes, Frame does an excellent job at making his points.
There is much to learn from Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief. John Frame does two things repeatedly that helps one to appreciate apologetics more. Rather than merely repeating the same information previous sources have given, Frame either expounds on them in more detail, adds a unique twist in thinking to them, or both. His explanation helps for a far greater understanding and yet his unique ability to think from varying perspectives brings forth some fascinating and incredibly important aspects that should not be overlooked.
Those two abilities affect the author’s writing throughout the book, making each aspect worthy of inspection by the readers. There is much to learn throughout the book. I want to draw our attention to three specific points though that not only demonstrate Frame’s abilities mentioned above, but are some of the most profound insights that make this a worthwhile read:
- Frame not only constantly reminds readers of the need for God to work in the heart of a believer, but he also reminds readers what makes apologetics so difficult. People have an uncanny ability to suppress their knowledge of God. Frame repeatedly shows readers the impact this has on both the hearers and the apologists. I especially enjoyed Frame’s conclusion that people continually suppress their knowledge of God by ethical rebellion (see chapter three for the specific details).
- Second is the author’s dealing with circular reasoning. The concept of circular reasoning often shuts down many discussions, but Frame demonstrates how every view encourages presuppositions that result in circular reasoning. However, he also goes further to explain how that should not end the discussion but perhaps enhance it in a more particular way.
- Finally, Frame’s delineation of unbelief into two categories, atheism and idolatry, makes for an interesting offense for the Christian apologist. Frame demonstrates how the two actually coexist together to create one unbelief, idolatrous atheism. It is a worthy discussion that will change your perspective on unbelievers and how to engage them in discussion.
The author’s insights are not limited to these three subjects. Instead they are only a small representation of some of the knowledge to be gained throughout the book.
Apologetics is not a book that one can speed through. It takes time and commitment, but it is time well-invested for the believers. Admittedly, there are many who will struggle through the material (myself included). It requires attention and a willingness to spend the time to comprehend the subject matter. Do not let this deter you.
As you read though, I would make two recommendations:
- Read the additional material: The book itself is only about 219 pages, while the additional resources comprise over 100 more pages. Read it all, especially the introduction.
- Read it with additional material: Read Frame’s book in conjunction with another apologetics book (I would recommend either To Everyone An Answer edited by Beckwith, Craig, and Moreland or Five Views on Apologetics part of the Counterpoints Series by Zondervan, or even both of them). Not only would it help your understanding of the topics, but it provides some fascinating insights that you would be well-enlightened by.
I must confess my own partiality toward the works of John Frame. I enjoy them greatly and would urge others to read him often, even though the sheer volume of the works may be intimidating. Because philosophy is an area of expertise for Frame, his book on apologetics cannot be missed.