Book Review: A History of Apologetics by Avery Cardinal Dulles, Part 2 (of 3)

Welcome to part 2 of my review of the 2005 edition of Avery Dulles’ book A History of Apologetics. First published in 1971, Dulles’ work is arguably the most substantial of its kind (see part 1). This week I will summarize each of the book’s seven chapters.

1. Apologetics in the New Testament
Chapter one discusses the apologetics material that appears in the New Testament (specifically the four Gospels, the Book of Acts, and in the Pauline and general epistles). Dulles explains that the New Testament centers on the person, nature, mission, and Messianic ministry of Jesus Christ and highlights Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and his miracles, especially the resurrection. Dulles also states, that while the Gospels are more concerned with telling Christ’s story (preaching rather than defending), they nevertheless contain arguments important to apologetics.

2. The Patristic Era
Chapter two addresses the period of the church fathers, which extends roughly from the second through the fifth centuries AD. During this time, Christian apologists first engaged the officials of the Roman Empire in a plea for tolerance. Later on, the focus turned to distinguishing the faith from Judaism and confronting the ubiquitous paganism of the classical Greco-Roman world. Dulles assesses the contributions to apologetics made by eight major Greek and Latin Christian thinkers: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Ambrose, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius, and Augustine. Dulles also discusses nine lesser-known writers who, in varying degrees, made important contributions to the developing Christian apologetics enterprise.

3. The Middle Ages
Chapter three covers the medieval period (or the Middle Ages), a time that extends from the sixth through the fourteenth centuries, nearly one thousand years. Dulles suggests that the focus of this era’s apologetics was largely threefold. First, there existed a need to revive intellectual culture hurt by the so-called “dark ages” (the eclipse of classical culture). Second, as religious pluralism came to the forefront, Christian Europe was forced to address the growing religious, intellectual, and military challenge posed by Islam. Third, there was the pressing need to explore the proper relationship between faith and reason. Dulles surveys the apologetic theories of such medieval luminaries as Anselm, Peter the Venerable, Peter Abelard, Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, and Thomas Aquinas.

4. From the Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries
Chapter four covers the broad sweep of time and events from the Protestant Reformation to the Catholic Counter Reformation to the Enlightenment. Dulles views this period as posing serious challenges to Christian truth-claims. By the time of the Enlightenment, Christian thinkers in general seemed unable to turn the tables on their critics effectively as they had in other eras. Dulles catalogues the apologetics thought of both leading Protestant and Catholic thinkers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Robert Bellarmine, Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Joseph Butler, William Paley, and Gottfried Leibniz, among others.

5. The Nineteenth Century
Chapter five explores the post-Enlightenment nineteenth century. In response to Immanuel Kant and others, this period saw some Christian thinkers shift away from overly rational and objective apologetics and toward a strong emphasis upon inner subjective religious experience. This period also brought significant challenges, such as Darwinian evolution and higher critical theories concerning the origin and development of the Bible. Dulles summarizes the thought of such major philosophers as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Georg Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, John Henry Newman, and many other lesser known apologists and theologians.

6. The Twentieth Century (Part 1)
Chapter six provides an overview of the apologetic development during the first half of the twentieth century, touching on the emergence of Catholic modernism, Protestant liberalism, and biblical fundamentalism. Dulles surveys the thoughts of such influential thinkers as Maurice Blondel, Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich. Dulles also highlights the apologetics thinking of conservative Protestant theologian Benjamin Warfield as well as popular British literary apologists G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis.

7. The Twentieth Century (Part 2)
The seventh and final chapter reviews Catholic apologetics from the Second Vatican Council through the end of the century as well as various aspects of evangelical Protestant thought. Dulles highlights important Catholic thinkers such as Karl Rahner and Hans Küng as well as evangelical apologists Richard Swinburne, Norman Geisler, Alvin Plantinga, and William Lane Craig. Dulles also notes the common schools of apologetics methodology shared to some degree by both Protestants and Catholics (classical, evidential, cumulative case, presuppositional, New Reformed epistemology). Finally, he touches briefly on how contemporary Christians relate faith to philosophy and science.

Next week, I’ll close this review with my thoughts on Dulles’ work.

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