Book Review

Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness

February 1, 2019

Christians in the United States face a challenging and unwelcoming cultural context. As we set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, how do we prepare to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus? How do we rightly approach questioners and skeptics? How do we offer an apologetic for the Christian faith and life that remains faithful to the gospel while also attentive to the cultural changes that confront true belief, challenge the validity of Christian teachings, and complicate reasoned communication?

In Apologetics at the Cross, Joshua Chatraw and Mark D. Allen offer answers to these kinds of questions, presenting a gospel-centered introduction for Christian witness. Chatraw, the executive director of the Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement and associate professor of theology and apologetics at Liberty University, and Allen, chair of biblical studies at Liberty, draw from Scripture, history, philosophy, theology, and practical experience to build a comprehensive and integrative apologetic measured by the climatic event in the biblical narrative and human history—Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (61). Defining apologetics as both an appeal for and defense of the Christian faith, Chatraw and Allen construct an apologetic house that is built to withstand the winds and waters of cultural trends in late modernity (17).

The authors divide Apologetics at the Cross into three parts. Part one lays a foundation using the Bible and significant people, movements, and apologetic approaches in Christian history. Part two builds on the foundation a methodological structure for apologetics, and part three decorates and furnishes the structure with the authors’ own apologetic touch—an “inside-out” approach that engages the cultural challenges, skeptical objections, and earnest questions of people living in late modernity (24).

Laying a foundation

In part one, Chatraw and Allen use an inductive approach to biblical texts to glean 15 apologetic performances, thus demonstrating how the Bible does apologetics. These biblical performances include, for example, general revelation in creation, polemics against idolatry, miracles, eyewitness accounts, personal testimony, raising questions to disarm false belief, addressing the problem of suffering, and so forth (27-61). Vital to each of these apologetic approaches, however, is the grand story that culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The cross remains central to apologetic appeals and for shaping the way Christians practice apologetics. For Chatraw and Allen any “apologetic should be measured by the degree of clarity with which it points to and functions in light of the most important event in human history,” the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (61, italics original).

Moving from a biblical foundation, the authors trace in broad sweeps a history of Christian apologetics. Along the way, Chatraw and Allen note challenges to the faith and provide portraits of notable defenders such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine, Origen, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Pascal, Butler, Leibniz, Schleiermacher, Kuyper, Warfield, Lewis, Barth, and Newbigin. The historical survey is more than informative. It reveals both positive and negative examples: “Positively, the church has a rich history of developing biblical concepts to create different kinds of apologetic appeals appropriate for the need of the day. Negatively, history warns us of the danger of allowing extra biblical frameworks and a desire for relevancy to rule over Scripture” (105). Chatraw and Allen apply these lessons and warnings to their methodological construction.

Building a theological structure

Chatraw and Allen begin part two by building a theological structure for apologetics at the cross, using four common approaches—classical, evidential, presuppositional, and experiential-narratival. The authors propose that context should determine methodology. In other words, anchored on the biblical and historical foundation, contextual information gleaned from the situation and cultural setting should disclose which particular form of apologetic to use. Practitioners should be students of not only the craft but also the context in which they practice the craft. They should hold biblical, time-tested methods “softly” and charitably, apply methods holistically to “concrete individuals,” and practice apologetics with humility before God and toward others (106). Above all, the goal is to take people from where they are to the gospel through both words and deeds, speaking and acting as individuals embedded in local churches and shaped by the Word of God

Putting apologetics into practice

In part three, with the foundation and structure completed, Chatraw and Allen put into practice an apologetic at the cross. Relying on the insights of philosopher Charles Taylor, they first describe characteristics of the current cultural context—late modernism. The characteristics of late modernism most significant for the apologetic task are the autonomy of the individual and personal freedom, an imminent frame of reference suspicious of the supernatural, and a skepticism and distrust for any opposing viewpoints. An effective apologetic should avoid “spinning” the content of the gospel message and should take people where they are, starting with their assumptions, to create opportunities to call false beliefs into question and invite people to consider the plausibility of Christianity (ch. 10).

This inside-out apologetic begins with an attempt to discern people’s understanding of reality, affirm some aspects of their position, and ask a series of diagnostic questions to locate points of transition to the claims of Christianity: What can we affirm, and what do we need to challenge? Where do their assumptions and beliefs lead? How are their beliefs consistent? How are they inconsistent? In some ways, the inside-out method is similar to how Francis Schaffer takes false beliefs to their logical conclusions, or how Greg Koukl utilizes questions in his Columbo tactic to enhance and manage conversations with unbelievers about the Christian faith. The means is to get people to think about their own beliefs, and then the goal is to get them to consider the claims of Christianity and to hear and respond to the gospel.

To demonstrate the inside-out method, Chatraw and Allen set aside one chapter (ch. 11) to survey four significant features of late modernism that open the door for apologetic engagement. Modern pluralism, self-authorizing morality, religious lethargy, and the therapeutic turn provide opportunities and challenges to the Christian witness. If these cultural assumptions are understood, the Christian can work from inside an individual’s framework and help that person see how the strange message of the gospel makes sense of the world, fulfills the deepest human longings, and is more consistent and livable than any competing options (250). When moving the conversation to Christian convictions, however, the witness must be prepared to address tough questions about Christianity, what Chatraw and Allen call “defeaters.”

In perhaps the most practical chapter in the book, Chatraw and Allen address eight defeaters commonly used in conversations about Christianity (ch.12). Using the inside-out method, they address questions about individual freedom, sexuality, hypocrisy, reason and science, the problem of evil, God’s judgment and wrath, reliability of the Bible, and the doctrine of the Trinity. For each of these defeaters, the authors show how apologists can engage questioners graciously and craft responses. Their goal is not, however, to provide wooden answers to memorize and recite for every question in every circumstance; rather, the goal is for the apologist to keep the inside-out approach as the broader backdrop and to personalize answers to a particular set of challenges to Christianity. In other words, an apologist should know answers to questions but also discern the best strategy to answer questions within particular circumstances so that the conversation moves naturally to the gospel.

In the final chapter, Chatraw and Allen make a turn to the gospel by offering a survey of reasons why Christianity makes sense. They do not offer “coercive ‘proofs’ for God, stating that Christianity cannot be proven in that sense, though it can be justified. It can and should be trusted. Instead of ‘proof,’” Chatraw and Allen provide “signposts” for which the Christian faith “provides the deepest, richest, and most coherent view of reality” (292-93). Signposts include why can we make sense of the universe; why the universe appears to be fine-tuned for life; what makes the best sense of the consensus that the universe had a beginning; how moral realism can be grounded; and what is the best explanation for the numerous eyewitness accounts of miracles. True to form, in the end they turn to a defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the goal of all apologetics.

Apologetics at the Cross would be a welcomed addition to any Christian’s library, especially for those interested in understanding and defending the faith. It is a comprehensive, readable, and honest look at challenges to the Christian faith. Designed to equip believers, this book does not merely deliver information to regurgitate but teaches a strategy for living as a gospel witness.

Apologetics at the Cross is an introduction, so it is not designed to say everything. It is, however, an excellent introduction, in part because it creates a desire in the reader to know more and then points to where more can be found. Throughout the book, Chatraw and Allen reference and cite sources. The practical chapters consistently include text boxes of resources for further reading. Curious readers undoubtedly will get the urge to make a wish list of other books to add to their stack of items waiting to be read. For these reasons, Apologetics at the Cross can be read for individual edification, used to equip witnesses in the local church, or adopted as a textbook for an introductory class in apologetics. In short, my recommendation is that you get a copy and read it, and then start working on that wish list.

Jeffery B. Riley

Jeffrey B. Riley is a professor of ethics and associate dean of Research Doctoral Programs at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a research fellow at the ERLC. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24