When debating Atheists, new and old. many Christian apologists labor to demonstrate the good reasons for theism. There is a tendency to ground arguments philosophically (i.e., in metaphysics or epistemology). The result is often a demonstration of the reasonableness of believing in a god, but very little is articulated about the Christian God and what belief in Him actually looks like. Davide Robertson proposes a new ‘m.o.’ for apologetics–a ‘magnificent obsession’ with Jesus Christ.
When Robertson conceived of Magnificent Obsession, he intended it to be a response to Christopher Hitchens God is Not Great (15). He had already published a book in response to Richard Dawkins (called The Dawkins Letters) and observed that Hitchens has very little to say in his book about God (Hitchens focused his criticisms at religion in general rather than God). So he began writing this book examining Jesus, the God we Christians believe in, as a response to Hitchens; however it morphed into something more (14). In this book Robertson aims at describing the content of Christian belief for those who would leave atheism behind. Robertson returns to a the letter writing format (like the Dawkins Letters). The letters are addressed to “J,” a conflation of many of the people that Robertson has had coffee with, corresponded with or chatted about ‘these things’ (14). So the ten chapters are ten letters which examine aspects of Jesus: his life and mission.
Chapter one describes Jesus ‘the man’ and makes the case of the historic reality of Jesus. Chapter two and three describe the miracles and message of Jesus, respectively. These chapters explore the significance of Jesus’ life and ministry. Chapter four explores Jesus’ murder–the scandal of the cross and how it atones for our sins. Chapter five, simply titled “marvelous,” tells about the remarkable turn around at the heart of Christian belief–Christ’s resurrection. Chapter six explores the ‘meaning of Jesus’ and what Christians mean when they call Jesus God (or Son of God, or part of the Trinity). Chapter seven describes ‘Christ’s mission’–the establishment of the church. Chapter eight deals with modern objections to Jesus and Christian belief (especially ‘New Atheist’ objections). Chapter nine explores Christian hope and the second coming of Jesus. Finally in chapter ten Robertson shares his own journey with his magnificent Messiah and invites “J” (and by extension all of us) to commit our lives to him. Robertson’s conclusion is a ‘letter to the reader’ where he suggests further reading for those interested in exploring the themes of this book (and theology) more in depth.
There is something fundamentally right about this book. I loved the focus on Jesus as a framework for apologetics. Too many approaches to the apologetic task begin with ‘Science versus Creation’ or allow atheism to define the contours of the debate (i.e. what is reasonable for modern people to believe). By framing apologetics around the person of Jesus, Robertson gives proper weight to biblical revelation. Christians do not just believe in God. They believe in Jesus–our God with a human face. I appreciated this approach and find it instructive for how to engage unbelievers. Furthermore, although this is a short book, Robertson covers a lot of ground and does so engagingly and thoughtfully.
My one critique of this book is that I think Robertson tries to do too much with this book and it takes him off focus. I agree with him that Jesus is a sufficient and comprehensive answer for what ails humanitY, I share Robertson’s magnificent obsession; yet I found at times he drifted away from addressing unbelievers about Jesus and turned his sight to other Christians. Three times in this book he mentions Rob Bell, his liberalism and how unhelpful it is. He makes clear reading Love Wins is a waste of time. I only wish he kept focused on describing what he sees as Christian truth (rather than debating alternative visions) because I know unbelievers could care less about Christian theological debates (and are turned off by it).
Besides this, I think that this will be a helpful book for non-Christians and Christians alike. Magnificent Obsession is instructive for Christians because it demonstrates the Christological focus on sharing our faith. I also think this will be a helpful book to gift to a non-Christian friend who is a seeker. I don’t think Robertson’s book will answer every question and assuage your friend’s doubts (apologetic books never do); yet he frames the gospel and the issues well and a book like this can deepen conversation about the nature of Christian belief. I give this book four stars: ★★★★.
Thank you to Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
2 thoughts on “A New M.O. for Christian Apologetics: a book review”
Insightful review… I agree: “Too many approaches to the apologetic task begin with ‘Science versus Creation’ or allow atheism to define the contours of the debate (i.e. what is reasonable for modern people to believe). By framing apologetics around the person of Jesus, Robertson gives proper weight to biblical revelation.” However – it is hard to understand the significance of what Jesus has done without a Biblical understanding of the doctrine of creation. That God created the world in a sinless state gives dignity and meaning to all that is and is foundational for understanding the fall and salvation. Blessings brother!
Dylan thanks for your comment. I can agree that the fact of creation is important for our Christology and apologetics. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. What I understand about human ‘image bearing’ before the fall does indeed give dignity and meaning to all humanity and it is foundational to our understanding of human fallenness (what went wrong) and our need for a savior. To argue what I just said and what you said above, would to give proper weight to biblical revelation. However many Christian apologetics rests on what they deem flawed assumptions of evolutionary theory. That often leads to less fruitful dialogue. We also focus our attention on the mode of creation and say less about it’s meaning and implications. Good Christians disagree about the mode (young earth, old earth, id, theistic evolution) but agree on the fact of creation and its significance. We should camp there!
I think part of what I liked about Robertson’s approach is by focusing on Jesus we acknowledge that he is the human revelation of God. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus! That’s good stuff and we can’t say it enough. And by all means connect Jesus to the wider story because he has his fingerprints all over it!