For the record, one of the reasons I’m a fanboy of apologetics is that I am a former atheist and former Roman Catholic – and, of course, I like a good argument. I like it when ideas clash and people have to engage in something other than a passive way to get to the resolution – especially when the refrain “agree to disagree” is shown up to be the sham that it is.
So I buy books which are trying to make a case for themselves – especially books which deal directly with the question of God and the question(s) of how we best serve him.
Which brings me to an ironic inner conflict: I have come to hate what passes for the average apologetic encounter. You know: it’s like the bell tower scene in the original Michael Keaton Batman movie – flamboyant adults sort of fighting past each other, trying to avoid the blame for their own failings and weirdness by pointing out the other guy’s purple pants or inane black cape. “I made you? You made me. What now?”
So I’m a wary fan of apologetics. Too many people get into the field with a love for the fight and a lack of real love for people – and they spend their time thereafter trying to win fights rather than people.
With that in mind, I have already recommended James S. Spiegel’s new book, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief. It’s an extremely-interesting psychological history of atheism by looking at the personal histories of some watershed atheist thinkers, and in many cases letting their own observations about themselves speak for the pre-philosophical reasons they may or may not have for believing (or not believing) in God.
And I recommend it for several reasons:
Not for nothin’, but it’s a short book – about 130 pages. As I told Jim in an e-mail, every author who says exactly what he means to say in the number of pages it takes to say it is a hero in my book. Fluffing up your manuscript to 200 pages because the acquisitions editor says you have to points directly to the problem of evil I have been talking about for a week now here at Evangel, and it inflicts pain on the reader to make him read your 40 pages of padding when he would have been extremely pleased to stop, along with your point, at 130 pages. (Nb. Dear Fellow Authors, fellow authors-in-preparation, and publishers of all stripes)
It’s also an insightful book. Prof. Spiegel didn’t invent his thesis: he learned it from Scripture. He takes seriously the Bible’s own apologetic toward unbelief, and while I think it’s a great insight into the problem of rank anti-theism, I think the mindful reader will see his own heart in the text even if he’s a full-blown Christian megapastor. That is: the roots of our unbelief are always found in the soil which Jim turns over here for us to see, so while we may gain an insight into how atheists are thinking or are being guided in their unbelief, we should in good conscience run our fingers through the clods of ground there to see the roots of the reasons we ourselves suffer from unbelief in all manner of contexts.
Lastly, it’s also a charitable book, in spite of the foundational issue being spelled out. It’s a hard thing to do to tell people, “you know: when you love your moral failings more than you love God, you’re going the wrong way.” But Prof. Spiegel does this with clarity, charity, and fact-based exposition. And he doesn’t fly over anybody’s head. But Jim makes the point that our inclination away from morality is an inclination away from God – and that historically, leading atheists really concede this point.
So in reading this, I give a firm thumbs-up to this book and to Prof. Spiegel’s effort here.
What I’m worried about, frankly, is you.
See: I think that people reading this book will go one of three ways:
The atheists reading it will be offended because it seems to be an ad-hom argument – but if it is, it turns out to be one they live on against the Christian faith. Reading Jim’s exposition of this is one of the better moments of the book, but that notwithstanding it will put atheists off.
Another group will receive this book and consider it’s implications on evangelism and the life of the church – and may these folks’ tribe increase. This is the audience Jim clearly had in mind in writing this book, and may this be the largest group affected by this book.
But my experience tells me that the third group will be the largest – the cottage industry of apologetic hobbyists who frankly make a lifestyle (and many: a living) misconstruing valid presuppositional and theological points and using them as clubs against unbelievers.
Read Jim Spiegel’s new book, but don’t use it the wrong way. Use it to get the right-sized compassion you ought to have toward people whom God is calling with the free offer of the Gospel. Be an ambassador and not a terrorist.