New books on my nightstand

Last week I heard Tony Blankley discussing his new book about Islam on two radio talk shows (I believe they were Michael Medved and Laura Ingraham), and in the course of the conversations I heard that Robert Spencer had a new book out too. Naturally, I bought both.

They arrived yesterday, and I’m looking forward to reading them this week.

Apologetics? What’s that?

Every Thought Captive and are sponsoring a Christian blog symposium called Vox Apologia 1. The topic is “What does apologetics mean to today’s Christian church?” I can’t resist this one.
First, a definition. In rough terms I’d define “apologetics” as “defending the faith”, although others give fuller definitions based on the Greek root word apologia, which means “a verbal defense, a speech in defense.”1 Christian apologetics is a branch of Christian theology seeking to provide a rational defense of the truth of the Christian faith. When you engage in apologetics, you give an answer to tough questions about subjects like the existence of God, the Bible’s reliability as a historical document, Jesus’ resurrection, the simultaneous existence of evil and a good all-powerful God, and the like. That covers the definition well enough for our purposes here.
Since I don’t hop from church to church, I can only speak for my impression of my congregation, which is part of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Here’s what I fear “apologetics” means to my congregation:

[insert chirping cricket sound here]

That sounds a bit harsh, so let me dial it back a little. If I conducted a survey of my congregation and got replies from a signifant chunk of the ~2,000 official members, I’m confident that over 90% would not know what the term “apologetics” means, nor would they know much about the subject.
It’s not that way because they wouldn’t be interested if they were given an opportunity to learn. Any blame lies with the 10% of us (myself included) who do know something about apologetics … and I also blame the inherent handicap we face in a society that tends not to read books, pay attention to anything but a TV screen, and have any spare time to speak of.
Odds are, your church’s library has several books by apologists like C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, G.K. Chesterton, Saint Augustine, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, Francis Beckwith, or Ravi Zacharias … or at least “pop apologetics” books by Lee Strobel, Paul E. Little, Josh McDowell, Hank Hanegraaf, or Phillip E. Johnson.
But if your church is like mine, those books probably have a good coating of dust on them. The most popular books are most likely the ones with the least theological meat in ’em, from authors like Tim Lahaye, Rick Warren, and Max Lucado. Don’t get me wrong; these authors are fine Christian men who write well, and their books inspire many people to live better Christian lives.
What their books don’t do is teach you to know what you believe, why you believe it, how it differs from what cults and other religions believe, and how the Christian faith makes more sense than any competing worldview out there. That is apologetics. And it’s a field that absentminded amateur apologists like me need to get workin’ on, so we can educate our fellow believers and offer the world better reasons to become a Christian than “it feels good and helps me cope.”
So right now, I think the church has barely a clue about apologetics. I’m hopeful that some years down the road, it’ll mean a lot more to the average believer … who will be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for their hope, with gentleness and respect.

1) The word “apologia” occurs in the original Greek New Testament in the following passages: Acts 22:1 & 25:16; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 1:7, 16; 2 Timothy 4:16; and 1 Peter 3:15.

I’m an unlettered savage

The College Board has a list of 101 Great Books they recommend for all ages. Bloggers have been posting the list after highlighting the books they’ve read. I’ll join in, embarassing as it may be.
Achebe, Chinua:  Things Fall Apart
Agee, James:  A Death in the Family
Austin, Jane:  Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James:  Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel :  Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul :  The Adventures of Augie March
Bronte, Charlotte:  Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily:  Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert:  The Stranger
Cather, Willa:  Death Comes for the Archbishop
Cervantes, Miguel de:  Don Quixote
Chaucer, Geoffrey:  The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton:  The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate:  The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph:  Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore:  The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen:  The Red Badge of Courage
Dante:  Inferno
Defoe, Daniel:  Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles:  A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor:  Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick:  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore:  An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre:  The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George :  The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph:  Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo:  Selected Essays
Faulkner, William:  As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William:  The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry:  Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott:  The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave:  Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox:  The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von:  Faust
Golding, William:  Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas:  Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel:  The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph:  Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest:  A Farewell to Arms
Homer:  The Iliad
Homer:  The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor:  The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale:  Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous:  Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik:  A Doll’s House
James, Henry:  The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry:  The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James:  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz:  The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong:  The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper:  To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair:  Babbitt
London, Jack:  The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas:  The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia:  One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman:  Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman:  Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur:  The Crucible
Morrison, Toni:  Beloved
O’Connor, Flannery:  A Good Man is Hard to Find
O’Neill, Eugene:  Long Day’s Journey into Night
Orwell, George:  Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris:  Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia :  The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allen:  Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel:  Swann’s Way
Pynchon, Thomas:  The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria:  All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond:  Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry:  Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D.:  The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William:  Hamlet
Shakespeare, William:  Macbeth
Shakespeare, William:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William:  Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard:  Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary:  Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon:  Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander:  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles:  Antigone
Sophocles:  Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John:  The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis:  Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher:  Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Swift, Jonathan:  Gulliver’s Travels
Thackeray, William:  Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David:  Walden
Tolstoy, Leo:  War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan:  Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark:  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire:  Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr.:  Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice:  The Color Purple
Warton, Edith :  The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora:  Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt:  Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar:  The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee:  The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia:  To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard:  Native Son
Oh, well … I guess I should retract my application to teach Literature 101 at Harvard.