Resource: Alister McGrath – Apologetics through Literature

In recent discussion with a friend (thanks, Rachel!) regarding non-tradtional ways of helping people (e.g., music therapy), I was reminded of the following resources – “Apologetics through Literature” – by Alister McGrath, who is a remarkable lecturer and defender of Christianity. He illustrates how to strengthen the faith of others (or just help them find it) through literature, including two of my favorite authors, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Professor McGrath earned a DPhil (in molecular biophysics) and a DD, so he’s equipped to teach both science and religious philosophy – and he does so in a skillful, entertaining, winsome manner. I hope you get the chance to listen to these lectures! (right click>save to save the files to your hard drive)

(Note: “Apologetics” is not saying you’re sorry about your religion; it’s actively commending and defending your beliefs to others)

1. What is apologetics? And using stories apologetically

2. More on using stories apologetically

3. Using poetry and detective novels apologetically

4. More on using poetry and detective novels apologetically

5. C. S. Lewis and Tolkien

6. More on C. S. Lewis and Tolkien

Some (Big) Misunderstandings about Mormons

The following is a blog post that I feel deserves being included here in its entirety, as it deals superbly with a number of issues regarding “Mormonism” that Evangelicals and other Christians often misunderstand, and hence often misrepresent (though I believe it’s not done knowingly or willingly, in most cases):

Discussing Mormonism with Anne

Jan Brown, a freelance writer, apologist, and ministry consultant, wrote an interesting article at Christianity Today. The article is not that bad, from an Evangelical Christian’s perspective. There are, however, a few things that just jumped out at me as I was reading through the piece.

The article uses the context of a discussion between Ms. Brown and her childhood friend, Anne. The friend moved to Utah and (you guessed it) joined the LDS Church. Playing off of Anne’s question of “Do you think I’m still a Christian,” Ms. Brown discusses six things that she thinks separate Mormonism from “orthodox Christianity.”

The Bible

In the first difference, Ms. Brown talks about “The Bible.” In bold text Ms. Brown states that “Mormonism identifies biblical Christianity as an apostate and errant faith.” This is incorrect, as Mormons only identify problems with creedal Christianity–religion and belief based on extra-biblical creeds. It is those creeds, which Mormons don’t believe are biblical, that they see as the problem. Thus, saying that Mormons have problems with “biblical Christianity” is incorrect.

Another related problem with Ms. Brown’s assertion about Mormonism is that it doesn’t take into account the history of Protestantism, which includes Evangelical Christians. The roots of Protestant denominations are found in rebellion against the Roman Catholic church. That rebellion was based in an understanding that the Church was no longer teaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ in its simplicity and purity. In other words, the Protestants believed that the Roman Catholic church was “apostate” and that it was best to start their own church to somehow reform the errant faith and reclaim the purity and simplicity.

It seems very odd for Ms. Brown, whose Evangelical Christian faith is rooted in the Reformation made necessary by the apostasy of the Catholic church, to accuse Mormons of being non-Christian because we believe that creedal Christianity is apostate, as well.

Jesus and God

Ms. Brown’s third and fourth points of difference have to do with views regarding God and Jesus. Near the end of the fourth point she states that Mormonism is polytheistic while orthodox Christianity is monotheistic. This is a simplistic misstatement, as Mormons are not polytheistic any more than a believer in the Trinity is polytheistic.

While Evangelical Christians may believe that they are monotheistic through the incomprehensible miracle of the Trinity, the fact still remains that the Trinity is composed of three Persons or Beings. Muslims and Jews are more strictly monotheistic than trinitarian Christians are, and many of them will be glad to explain why.

The difference, of course, between Mormons and Evangelical Christians when it comes to the “Godhead” is that Mormons don’t believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are of one essence or substance. They are of one purpose, but not one essence.

In the Mormon view, stating that the three are of one substance raises a multitude of problems with scriptural accounts of God and Jesus. For instance, it makes the baptism of Jesus almost incomprehensible. If the Person being baptised is the same as the One talking from Heaven and the One descending in the form of a dove, then being of the same substance loses all meaning because the singular God can manifest Himself in three ways to the confusion of those watching the event.


Ms. Brown’s sixth point of difference has to do with salvation. She states that “Mormons equate salvation with exaltation.” They do not; this is a flat-out misstatement of belief. To Mormons, salvation and exaltation are two entirely distinct things. A good, concise blog post on the differences can be found elsewhere on this blog.

Reserving Judgment

Finally, there seems to be a disconnect in Ms. Brown’s statements near the end of the article. she says “…I don’t believe Mormonism is Christian.” Two sentences later she say “Ultimately God–not I–will decide who’s a Christian.” It seems odd that Ms. Brown would clearly judge Mormons as non-Christian, yet give lip-service to leaving such judgments up to God. If she is really willing to leave it up to God, then why bother saying that she doesn’t think they are Christian? If she doesn’t think they are Christian, then why bother leaving it up to God?

Perhaps Ms. Brown will find these points helpful in her next discussion with Anne.


The Best Books They Read in 2007…

If you’re looking for good books to read, here are a few suggestions from some folks whose taste I consider trustworthy (authors, editors, & staff of Ignatius Press):

The Best Books I Read in 2007…

Highlights from the article:

From Peter Kreeft‘s reviews:

Regarding Michael O’Brien’s new novel, Island of the World : “Michael’s book was predictably good, perhaps his best one yet, an intergenerational, long, yet exciting read about the Catholic heroes of Croatia. Michael is spinach.”

Anne Rice’s novel Jesus of Nazareth: Out of Egyptis a book supposedly written (or thought) by Jesus Himself as a kid! Yet it works, remarkably well. There is not an inauthentic note in it. I’d rank it third on the all-time list of Jesus fiction, only the third time anyone has successfully written a piece of fiction about Jesus (the first being Dostoyevski’s “The Grand Inquisitor” and the second being Lewis’s Narnia chronicles (they should be called the Aslan Chronicles).

(Note: the book’s title is actually Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.)

From Dale Ahlquist, president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society:

Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. A lifetime of learning comes together in the most important subject of all. I savored each page.

Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, by Christopher Dawson. A glorious study of Medieval civilization. A book that should be read by everyone even remotely connected to education.

The Offbeat Radicals: The British Tradition of Alternative Dissent, by Geoffrey Ashe. Shows how Chesterton influenced Gandhi.

Mark Brumley is President of the Board of Directors of Guadalupe Associates and Chief Executive Officer for Ignatius Press.

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. I had never read it before. Loved it. Would read it again at the drop of a hat.

The Jesus Legend, by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd. Good rebuttal to the Jesus Seminar, and the other revisionists.

From journalist, author, and architect Moyra Doorly:

Story of a Soul, by St Therese of Lisieux. This was the first account of the spiritual life that had me laughing out loud with delight.

From Dr. Thomas Howard, a highly acclaimed writer and literary scholar noted for his studies of Inklings C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams:

The Lyttleton–Hart-David Letters. A 3-vol. collection of letters written between 1955 and 1962, between the publisher Rupert Hart-Davis, and his former Eton “beak” (master) George Lyttleton, of the gold-plated Lyttleton family. Gloriously literate, clever, urbane, flashing letters. The best sort of bedtime reading.

From Sandra Miesel, a Catholic journalist, medieval historian, and co-author of The Pied Piper of Atheism and the best-selling The Da Vinci Hoax:

An Experiment In Criticism, by C.S. Lewis. An admirable model for critics.

Preface to Paradise Lost, by C.S. Lewis. An excellent antidote to Philip Pullman.

Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward. An exciting and persuasive new interpretation of the Chronicles in terms of planetary symbolism.

Michael O’Brien, Canadian self-taught painter and writer, wrote:

The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andric, a novel that chronicles the “life” of a bridge and a town in Bosnia, including its Serb, Croat, Muslim, Turkish, Jewish, and Austrian residents. First published in 1946, this book has become a classic, beloved by (amazingly) all peoples of former Yugoslavia–and throughout the world.

I wanted to include something from each of the article’s contributors, but this post is already quite long enough. So I opted for a few excerpts that I hope motivate you to read the article in its entirety – it doesn’t take as long as you might suspect, and you may find yourself planning to read nearly all of the books listed (as I did). My favorite comment is the reference to spinach (though I’m not sure what it means…).

Note: most of the descriptions above are taken directly from the article at Ignatius Insight.

Which Is the Lesser of the Two…

This will be quick, since it’s rather late and I have yet to finish a more in-depth post that I’ve been working on:

In a timely article, Catholic author and prolific blogger Carl Olson discusses bias in religious reporting (two Catholic news outlets specifically, but the issue isn’t limited to them). He ends with the statement, “Perhaps it’s better to be uninformed than misinformed.” The question is valid, and Olson’s rhetorical use of it is deft. I’ll have to spend more time pondering the matter, since much of the media’s reporting today is questionable. For now, however, I’ll cite D&C 131:6, which applies specially to matters that are obviously spiritual – but not exclusively so:

“It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”

It seems that, ultimately, the cost of being uninformed or misinformed is not small.

Some More Thoughts on Reading…and Writing

One of my favorite evangelical intellectuals (though he might object to such a title) is Albert Mohler. It has been my experience, as I’ve listened to his excellent podcast and read some of the things he’s written, is that he’s as committed to the truth as he is insightful. Our doctrinal differences aside, we share many values, which in turn makes his commentary so valuable to me. I can honestly say that in our modern culture of spin and wishy-washiness, I truly admire Dr. Mohler.

One instance of how I’ve benefited from his ministry is a blog entry that he wrote that I’d read before, and found again tonight, called, “Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books” (the title of my post is a homage (/ə ˈhɒmɪdʒ/) to his). It’s a great complement to my post of a few days ago. Below is an excerpt, followed by my comments.

A few initial suggestions:

1. Maintain regular reading projects. I strategize my reading in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. I have some project from each of these categories going at all times. I collect and gather books for each project, and read them over a determined period of time. This helps to discipline my reading, and also keeps me working across several disciplines.

I’m still in the organizing stage of this, but I can see how it will be beneficial. Ever since reading a post by a friend of mine, “Expanding literary horizons,” I’ve wanted to read a broader range of literature (in sense 5, not just sense 2), and to do so in a more organized fashion. Here’s a partial example: I’m concurrently reading a lot of LDS books, particularly those dealing with the Book of Mormon; a few fantasy books; one book of historical fiction; and I continue my long-held practice of enjoying the occasional short story or five. But two experiences in particular make me feel like I should read more biography. One was my reading last summer of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute‘s book on Wilhelm Röpke, which was much more engaging and entertaining – even motivating – than I had expected. It even birthed an interest in me in economics, “which thing I had never supposed.” (Note: the book on Röpke is part of a series entitled “The Library of Modern Thinkers” by ISI – I plan on reading each of these titles, and recommend them to you.) The second was a comment that I read (or heard?) from one of my long-time role models, Dr. Robert L. Millet of Brigham Young University, in which he related his experience of reading the biography of Billy Graham and finding it tremendously inspiring (I apologize if I’m putting words in Bro. Millet’s mouth – I admit to having a faulty memory, and hope to be nothing but faithful to his actual statement). Scripture is the most powerful literature for helping us become more Christ-like; and, while on a different level, biography and other literature can certainly help us do the same.

2. Work through major sections of Scripture. I am just completing an expository series, preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. I have preached and taught several books of the Bible in recent years, and I plan my reading to stay ahead. I am turning next to Matthew, so I am gathering and reading ahead — not yet planning specific messages, but reading to gain as much as possible from worthy works on the first gospel. I am constantly reading works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies.

My current calling as gospel doctrine teacher is quite motivating in this way. In another post, I’ll list some non-internet resources for studying the BM. (Dr. Mohler might take umbrage at my applying his post to the BM, but no offense is meant, of course. At the same time, I absolutely stand by my position that the Book of Mormon is a divinely inspired, historical record that contains the fullness of the gospel; it is a true book and is unique in its powerful witness of the divinity, mission, Atonement, grace, and doctrine of Christ, and is needed in the world more each day.)

3. Read all the titles written by some authors. Choose carefully here, but identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.

Among the admittedly few authors who fit in this category for me are these (I’m sure that at some point I’ll write posts discussing them individually):

C. S. Lewis – especially his space trilogy and Till We Have Faces. I recommend reading the books themselves before reading anything about them, including book descriptions; such material could very well spoil them for you. These works’ contributions to making me a better person have been significant, and will continue, I expect – which I’ll blog about another time.

Neal A. Maxwell – His Collected Works is a must-have for the serious disciple of Christ. (Not incidentally, in 2006 BYU’s Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, or ISPART, was renamed the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship in honor of the deceased apostle.)

Robert Millet – I mentioned him above. Probably the most prolific LDS author today, he was Manager of Outreach and Interfaith Relations for Church Public Affairs the last I heard, which makes his writings particularly relevant to us right now. Some of his latest works include Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate, with Gerald R. McDermott, published by Brazos Press; Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical, with Gregory C. V. Johnson (whom I also greatly admire. This work is a sort of follow-up to Robinson and Blomberg’s How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation; Blomberg also provides the Foreword to Bridging…), from Monkfish Publishing; The Vision of Mormonism: Pressing the Boundaries of Christianity, published by Paragon House; the controversial (among some evangelicals) A Different Jesus?: The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, by well-known evangelical publisher Eerdmans; and a reprint of his Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, co-written with Joseph Fielding McConkie and Brent L. Top, from Deseret Book, which was difficult to find and expensive for years.

Peter Kreeft – I consider him to be the Catholic Neal A. Maxwell (as far as his insightfulness, commitment to the truth, and amazing power of expression, mind you; not in terms of apostolic calling). His books and other writings and his lectures have been at least as beneficial in my life as those of any other person outside the (LDS) Church. He is unabashedly Catholic, for which dedication I commend him. It’s thanks to him that I came to view the Catholic Church not as some leftover from centuries ago (I’m ashamed to admit that I once thought along those lines), but rather as a vibrant, dynamic force with an intellectual, philosophical, moral history worthy of the attention and respect of us Latter-day Saints. Dr. Kreeft’s books How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis and Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War, and the lectures that they are based on, offer poignant counsel in fighting for the culture of Christ. His Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings is proving to be not only a great way to understand LOTR, but also “an engaging introduction to philosophy,” as the description of the book claims. Some LDS may find getting past Kreeft’s pro-Catholic stance difficult in places, but there’s no question in my mind that it’s worth the time and effort. Listen to his lectures, and you’ll understand what I mean.

Yes, these ↑ are some of my heroes.

4. Get some big sets and read them through. Yes, invest in the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set, and give yourself time. You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.

A few sets come to mind: Journal of Discourses, (which a friend gave me years ago after he got them on CD-ROM!); BYU’s series of Annual Book of Mormon Symposia books, which, in superb bit of news, are evidently being reprinted; and again Elder Maxwell’s Collected Works. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley are also highly recommended, though I haven’t made it that far yet.

5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. I like books across the fields of literature, but I really love to read historical biographies and historical works in general. In addition, I really enjoy quality fiction and worthy works of literature. As a boy, I probably discovered my love for reading in these categories of books. I allow some time each day, when possible, to such reading. It doesn’t have to be much. Stay in touch with the thrill.

Amen to that. I’ll post some other time on my own tastes in the areas of the classics and contemporary fiction…

6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled. [Make an exception here for those rare antiquarian books that are treasured for their antiquity. Mark not thy pen on the ancient page, and highlight not upon the manuscript.] Invent your own system or borrow from another, but learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.

I am a huge advocate of making a book your own by writing in it (with a few exceptions). It may be impossible to get the most out of your books without doing so.

I would write more for this post, but I must go read. More later. For now: Tolle! Lege

I consider Dr. Mohler’s engagement in both reading and writing praisewrothy. I read some time ago – I’m don’t recall where – that parents often focus on helping their children become good readers to the neglect of developing their writing skills – a mistake I plan on avoiding when I become a parent. Furthermore, one of my favorite teachers of all time said something about himself that I have found to be true for me. To paraphrase, “If I really want to learn something, I have to write about it.” Just as there’s no substitute for (the benefits of) reading, there’s no substitute for expressing oneself in writing. Or, to state it another way: It has truthfully been said that he who can read but doesn’t is little better off than he who cannot read; the same principle applies to the art of writing.

The blogosphere is a wonderful thing: it provides a forum to those of us who need to improve our writing and think we have something worth saying, and makes those writings available to others (hopefully for better and not for worse, overall). At the same time, it’s a little scary how long a post can get, almost without the author’s realizing it…

Any suggestions, further resources, or comments?