Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, by Norman L. Geisler. Baker Books, 1999.
Reviewed by John Warwick Montgomery, Ph.D., D.Theo.
This hefty tome is vastly superior in its coverage and detail to predecessors such as Kreeft and Tacelli’s Handbook of Christian Apologetics. The problem is that its title would suggest a neutral reference work, the collaborative product of a number of scholars in the field. However, the work is the lengthened shadow of its single compiler, and reflects at every point his particular philosophy of apologetics, that which he terms “classical apologetics” (i.e.,the traditional Thomist approach of first arguing by “natural reason” to God’s existence and then adding arguments in behalf of a “special revelation” from the God whose existence has been so proven). The result is less than a balanced reference work, though it contains much helpful material. Here are just a few evidences of prevailing imbalance:
1) There is overwhelming use of citations to the author’s previous books and even minor periodical articles (his material is by far the most extensive in the general Bibliography–well exceeding the citations to Pascal, Butler, Paley, Newman, Carnell, C. S. Lewis). I am, I suppose, fortunate, with 8 citations (Butler has only 3), but this doesn’t cover a fraction of my publications in the area. The author, on the other hand, is represented by no less than 44 entries.
2) “Classical apologetics” gets its own lengthy article. There is no article on “Evidentialism” or see-references to such an article.
3) In line with the author’s evangelical neo-Thomism, there are long articles on “Thomas Aquinas,” “God, Nature of,” “Analogy, Principle of,” etc. However, Luther receives only sketchy treatment, and the standard works on his understanding of reason (e.g., that by B. A. Gerrish) are not mentioned.
4) When the author has maintained a controversial position on a disputed issue, e.g., hierarchial ethics vs the lesser-of-evils, lo! an article appears on the subject, arguing for the author’s viewpoint (here: “Lying in Scripture”). Where the author’s interests are not involved, no article appears, even when the apologetics area is very important. Thus literary apologetics (the work of Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, J. R. R. Tolkien, et al.) is neglected; and the vast amount of legal/juridical apologetics (the defence of the faith using legal reasoning and legal categories) finds no place, save for an article on Simon Greenleaf, who is well known to evangelicals anyway.
5) There is a strange reticence to cite other contemporary apologists who do not agree fully with the author’s approach, even when objectivity would seem to require it. Thus (if I may be permitted personal examples): my historic debate with Thomas J. J. Altizer at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel is considered by many to have marked the death (not of God, but) of the death-of-God phenomenon, at least as represented by the more radical side of the movement. The debate is still available on audiotape, has been published in transcription again and again, and my article on the movement was included in Bernard Murchland’s standard collection, The Meaning of the Death of God (Random House). In the article on Altizer, none of this is mentioned. Likewise, my refutation (in Faith Founded on Fact) of Antony Flew’s argument that psychological miracles (disciples stealing the body of Christ and yet proclaiming his resurrection) are preferable to biological miracles (the resurrection itself) is nowhere discussed, though that refutation has had widespread impact. Likewise, there is no mention of my London debate with G. A. Wells or the international discussion resulting from it (New Oxford Review, May, 1993; Christian News, 17 May and 13 September 1993).
6) Omissions of significance to the history of apologetics occur when (evidently) they did not relate to or advance the author’s concerns. For example, we hear nothing of Theodore Abu Qurra, the Syrian theologian and bishop of Harran (9th century), whose apologetic parable in his treatise on God and the true religion is of great continuing value. To be sure, the work of Theodore appears only in German among Western languages, but an encyclopedia is supposed to be, well, an encyclopedia. In general, the author limits himself to easily accessible English-language materials and does little with apologetic treatments, however important, that require one to read Latin, French, or German.
7) Evaluations are often idiosyncratic. Wittgenstein is characterised as a fideist, and no effort whatever is made to see the compatibility of the Tractatus with the later Philosophical Investigations, even though Wittgenstein himself wanted the Philosophical Investigations to be published together with the Tractatus. Wittgenstein’s positive value for Christian apologetics is nowhere suggested–neither the epistemological possibilities of the his approach to verification nor the value of his “language games” for biblical hermeneutics. We are told that Wittgenstein was “the archenemy of the Platonic”; yet there is a remarkable similarity between Plato’s statement in the Phaedo (85d) that he longed for “a raft” of revelation–“some word of God”, and Wittgenstein’s cry, “Oh, my God!” as if “imploring a divine intervention in human events” (to use the words of my old Cornell philosophy professor and friend of Wittgenstein, Norman Malcolm).
8) The author is a Baptist. Thus, he cannot resist including an article–of somewhat questionable apologetic character–on “Infants, Salvation of.” There he assimilates the views of Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans (!) and implies that in their view, unbaptised infants are necessarily unsaved. No attempt at all is made to understand the actual positions of these three different theologies, nor any citation of the Biblical passages relied upon by these viewpoints. It is passing strange that the author did not do more, in such instances, to control the content of his work.
With all of the above difficulties, the Encyclopedia is certainly useful. Out-of- the-ordinary, helpful articles abound, such as: “Muhammad, Alleged Miracles of,” “Kabir (Kabirpanthis),” “Dooyeweerd, Herman” [cf. the preceding review]. When I studied Reference Materials for a graduate library-science degree at the University of California, Berkeley, my professor said: “A good encyclopedia is the one where you find the answer to the question you are looking for.” In that sense, the present work will certainly satisfy many readers–as long as they are looking for what is in it, and do not mind the all-pervasiveness of the author’s presence.