My pastor recently gave me The Evidences of Christianity by John L. Dagg. He knows that I enjoy studying Christian apologetics and he thought this is a book that I might enjoy. This book is unique in the fact that it’s the only Christian apologetics book that I’ve started to read that was first published over 150 years ago! This book was originally published in 1896 and reprinted in 2006 by Sprinkle Publications. I respect any publisher who sees value in reprinting such an old book. It reflects not only the importance of the book in the lives of the ones printing it, but they believe the book is important and relevant enough to get to the public (and try to make a little money in the meantime). And, while I love and collect old books, I try not to read those books because of their fragility. Thankfully this edition was printed in 2006, so the pages aren’t disintegrating as I’m reading it.
Now why my pastor thought to give me such an old book, I’m still not sure. His explanation was: “I thought it’d be interesting to see what arguments that they thought were persuasive and useful back then.” Interesting, maybe. But useful? I’m not quite sure. Needless to say, I would have never chosen this book unless it was an original copy or it was on sale. And I even have some reluctance reading it. But since it was a gift from my pastor, I’ll read it.
Since then, I’ve made my way through the Forward, Preface, and Introduction. And because those three parts give a general overview of the content, I wanted to give my impressions.
And so far, there’s a lot that I don’t like about this book. I say that with some hesitation because there’s also a lot that I do like! I don’t have high expectations, but I also think there might be some good content in here. Only time will tell! But first, let’s talk about what I didn’t like.
“Christianity is the religion which is taught in the Bible.” (p 6.) This is the opening line of the Introduction, and it entirely rubbed me the wrong way. First of all, it defines Christianity as a “religion,” equating it to every other religion out there. I don’t think this is what Dagg meant when he wrote it (at least, I hope not). Defining Christianity as a religion reduces it to a list of rules that have to be followed in order to achieve righteousness. Instead, Christ is the person who is taught in the Bible. Christianity describes Jesus’ followers who adhere to his words. I know that sounds like religion, but it’s not. Christians follow Jesus’ words not to obtain righteousness or earn heaven, but we follow his words to know Him more. The end goal for other religions is to earn something. Christianity is unique because the end goal is to know someone. Thus, it’s not a religion.
Later in the Introduction, Dagg argues that anyone who isn’t interested in apologetics isn’t a Christian. “He who is unwilling to [examine the Christian evidences], or who takes but little pleasure in it, shows that his heart and his treasure are not in heaven, and proves himself unworthy of eternal life.” This, I think, is absurd. The person who takes interest in apologetics is by far, a minority in the Christian culture. Apologetics can get very academic, technical, and philosophical. And very few are geared for that. This is not to say that apologetics isn’t beneficial to everyone. All I mean is that who discovers the reality of Christ by experiencing overwhelming grace opposed to apologetic arguments is by no means proving himself unworthy of eternal life. A person whose life has had a radical heart change is different than someone who has had a radical mind change, and we shouldn’t think one is better than the other.
That being said, I think the church as a whole has ignored the usefulness of apologetics in its preaching and teaching. Somehow we have a come to an idea that Christianity is mainly spiritual; it’s a matter of the heart and not a matter of the mind. We focus on people “inviting Jesus into their heart” and everything else goes by the wayside. We somehow think that “facts” are the antithesis to “faith.” I disagree with that attitude, and it I think Dagg disagrees with it too. Which is precisely what I like about this book.
[Christianity], though requiring faith, is not built on it exclusively, and does not reject appeals to reason, as if unfit to endure such a test. On the contrary, it challenges investigation…The question whether the Bible comes to us with evidences of Divine origin and authority, falls properly under the investigation of reason; and men do not sin against God, when they examine this question as rational beings.
God didn’t make us only with souls that need saved, but with minds that we can use to glorify Him as well. We’re not told to love God with will all our heart, body, and soul, but also with our minds.
So I have mixed feelings about this book. Is Dagg going to be looking at evidences defending a list of rules to earn heaven? Or is he going to defend the existence and reality of a supreme and loving God who hung on a cross and rose again?
Furthermore, how much different will these arguments be from the ones we use today? Sure, some may be more or less effective and refined depending on the time. There’s no doubt that we know more from archaeology, anthropology, about the physical sciences today than they know 150 years ago. But many of the same arguments have been used for thousands of years. Even Paul used reason and logic (I,e, metaphysical and philosophical arguments) to defend Christianity to the Athenians (see Acts 17:16-21).
This may be an interesting book. But useful? I don’t know…