I am often asked, by readers of my blogs and by students in my graduate classes on apologetics, to suggest a basic library of books that are good surveys in the field of Christian apologetics. The following list includes works that provide overviews, both historically and philosophically. I do not include primary works by authors such as C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, E. J. Carnell, Cornelius Van Til and various Roman Catholic scholars in this field. I assume that the interested reader will want to consult such primary works as they explore this vast field.
Listed alphabetically my top-twelve are:
Bahnsen, Greg L. Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1998). Van Til’s presuppositional approach is best understood by the late Greg Bahnsen. This is a book recommended for those who get more deeply into this subject.
Burson, Scott R. and Jerry L. Walls. C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century for the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1998). Lewis and Schaeffer are the two most popular evangelical apologists in the last half of the twentieth century. This is a good overview of both men on the subject.
Cowan, Stephen B., editor. Five Views of Apologetics. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000). This is the best way to get into the various systems of apologetics.
Dulles, Avery. A Handbook of Apologetics. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999). Dulles, a cardinal of the Catholic Church, provides a solid historical and theological survey of twenty centuries.
Evans, C. Stephen. Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996). This is simply one of the finest short books available. Highly recommended as a reasonably short primer.
Kreeft, Peter and Ronald Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1994). A great book that relies heavily on Thomistic and Catholic approaches.
Richardson, Alan. Christian Apologetics. (London: SCM Press, 1947). When I asked J. I. Packer to recommend one book, some years ago, this is the one he told me to read.
Sire, James W. Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994). A trenchant and effective apologia for faith.
Sire, James W. A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2006). I read this in manuscript form last year and found it extremely useful as a small primer.
Sire, James W. Why Good Arguments Often Fail. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2006). I also read this in manuscript form and gladly endorse it.
Stackhouse, John G. Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). Stackhouse is a fine theologian and thus his apologetics reflects both his theological and philosophical strengths.
Wright, N. T. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. (San Francisco: Harper, 2006). One of my favorite books in 2006! Wright’s work is destined to be very important for years to come.
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I’m surprised you didn’t include Brian McLaren’s book “Finding Faith”. It’s one of the few apologetics books that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed to actually give to a spiritual seeker.
Most apologetics books that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) tend to preach to the choir. They’re great for people who are already Christians and just need answers to some difficult questions; but most of the them utterly fail at speaking to the real views and real questions of actual non-Christians.
For example, I interact with a lot of atheists online, and they tend to scoff at the arguments most Christian apologists throw at them – mainly because we tend to entirely miss their point and misrepresent their views in our attempts to “prove them wrong”. I’ve found that we usually end up talking past each other, neither side really understanding what the other is saying. This has been a huge learning area for me recently as I’ve taken the time to actually listen to what they are saying and what they find lacking in our traditional apologetics.
Mike, there is nothing you have said that disagrees an iota with several of the important books in my list; e.g., Wright, Evans, Sire and Stackhouse in particular. Apologetics is a pretty dynamic field, as you no doubt know, and these books are not simply from one kind of approach at all. I actually used McLaren in my class on several occasions and believe he can help us a great deal with the questions asked by the younger generation. I had a delightful meal with Brian on Friday and regard his work in this area very highly. Thanks for the suggestion.
I’ve read Wright’s book and thought it was just fantastic. Stackhouse is pretty good too.
On the other hand, I’ve never been too impressed with Sire. I’ve read several of his earlier books and found them to be gross oversimplifications of complex philosophical issues (esp. his book on worldviews, “The Universe Next Door”). However, I’m not familiar with these more recent books of his that you mention. And I have to confess that (with the exception of Kreeft) I’ve never heard of any of the other authors. Thanks for the recommendations.
I have a number of NT Wright’s books and have appreciated them. The Challenge of Jesus has some wonderful comments near the end about how the church should be engaging the culture. I haven’t read Simply Christian.
I commend Mike Clawson for ‘going to the source’ and interacting with atheists online rather than just reading what other Christians say about atheists.
One of the mistakes Christian apologetics authors make is mischaracterizing people who aren’t Christians in their books. Surely anyone who picks up a book and reads a mischaracterization of themself is going to think “If this person is wrong about what I know about, why would I trust what they say about anything else?”
I don’t know most of the books you mention. I do know that I’ve found mischaracterization of people who aren’t Christians in books and articles by highly esteemed authors. A couple of common ones are:
1) All atheists are miserable. That simply isn’t true.
2) All people who aren’t Christians are searching for ultimate meaning and purpose. That’s not necessarily true. Some people are happy with finding meaning through involvement with the community in which they live, or in their family.
Helen, the very points you make in your conclusion were discussed with real candor in my apologetics class. I completely agree with you. I think many of the authors of the books I have listed also would agree, though a few are “old school” works. My goal in this list was a broad and academic one, at least to some extent. Be sure to read N. T. Wright, Simply Christian. I can’t say enough good about it.
Thanks John. Your class sounds interesting!
I’ll add Simply Christian to my list. I was an ‘early adopter’ of NT Wright (I learned about him from Glenn Miller’s book list in 1997 – http://www.christian-thinktank.com/books97.html – where he is referred to as ‘one of the best evangelical scholars of today’). It’s probably time I read that one.