18 November 2008

Book review — Reasons We Believe, by Nathan Busenitz

by Dan Phillips
Reasons We Believe, by Nathan Busenitz (Crossway: 2008; 224 pages)
I kind of hate Nate Busenitz. (You know... in a Christian way.)

He's, like, twelve years old (if that), and has already published an apologetics tool that (A) is really worthwhile; (B) will deservedly get much use; and (C) is recommended by John Frame.

Punk!

But I'll try to set my personal issues aside and introduce you to Nate's opus, because I think you'll find it both informative and useful. It is an fine book, and I recommend it highly.

What Nate does here is something fresh and very needed. He takes the lofty theories of presuppositional apologetics, and shows us how to make use of Christian evidences. Specifically, Busenitz focuses on the Bible's own way of arguing for the truth of revelation, and then he points to real-world demonstrations of those truths.

I've long lamented a lack of such materials, which Nate has now supplied. Historically, presupp's have been wonderful in presenting negative cases, and not-so-much in presenting the positive. For instance, Douglas Wilson absolutely devastated Christopher Hitchens in a series run by CT. The negative case was nothing short of withering.

But as a positive case? Wilson actually says "I noted from your book that you are a baptized Christian [as a baby], so I want to conclude by calling and inviting you back to the terms of that baptism" — "terms" to which Hitchens had never himself agreed, and in which he was an unwilling participant. Wilson also passingly alludes to ankles, sneezes, and baptizing babies as evidence. I don't think Hitchens was left "without excuse"; I know he wasn't persuaded.

And so it has been. Presupp's do awesome destructive work, but not so much along the lines of positive evidence. That is left to the various stripes of evidentialists, who however allow for mythical "brute facts" and objectivity, and build a probabilistic case that does not always challenge the unbeliever's autonomy, nor leave him "without excuse."

That's where Nate steps in with Reasons We Believe. He actually does evidence, within a presuppositionalistic framework.

What I tried to do briefly and inadequately here (in supplying that lack), Nate does much better and at greater length. He takes "50 lines of evidence that confirm the Christian faith" (the book's subtitle), and traces them out. With documentation — in footnotes! What is unique about the fifty lines of evidence is that they are taken to reflect the Bible's own way of presenting the truth of God, its own line of argument, rather than one derived from some alien philosophy and hostile premise.

Then, from that Biblical starting-point, Busenitz shows how these truths evidence themselves in facts, logic, history. He does not try to adopt a fictitious "brute-fact" premise and try to argue from nowhere to the Bible; he begins with the Bible and shows how reality reflects its truth-claims.

Nate divides the book into six sections: an argument that Christian faith is reasonable and not blind; why we believe in God; why we believe in the Bible (subdivided into two parts), and why we believe in Jesus (also subdivided into two parts). Each of the last five sections is in turn subdivided into a series of concise lines of argument. Ten lines of argument explain why we believe in God; a total of twenty show why we believe in the Bible; another twenty demonstrate the rationale for faith in Jesus Christ.

Nate's style is concise, very readable, and at times conversational. The chapters tend to be brief and handily condensed. For instance, Reason Three for belief in God (order and design point to a Designer) is seven pages long; Reason 5 for belief in the NT Gospels (early Christians would have demanded an accurate record) is but three pages long.

Each argument is buttressed with substantial documentation. I was constantly struck by the wide variety of writers Nate used, ranging very broadly from the lightly popular to the deeply academic, and taking in practitioners of the various apologetics schools. He cites arguments from and/or quotes Carl F. H. Henry, Norm Geisler, John Frame, Gary Habermas, Josh McDowell, John Stott, Roger Nicole, F. F. Bruce, John Ankerberg, Henry Morris, Paul Little, Ron Nash, C. S. Lewis, Harry Rimmer (apologist from a past generation; I actually worked for his son in the 70s), William Shedd, Robert Saucy, Dan Wallace, and literally a host of others.

This brings me to one suggestion I would urge for future editions — for this is a book that deserves long life and eventual revision and extension: Busenitz uses too many secondary sources. "Cited from" occurs in footnote after footnote (i.e. pp. 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, etc.).

Here's why I think this matters: this is a book that deserves to be used by many, and in many settings. I easily see high school and college students using it as a text. At present, students would be forced to use some of the citations with this formula: "Abraham Lincoln, as cited in ___, as cited in Busenitz...." I say with genuine respect, an author should do that footwork for his readers so that they don't have to. Use primary sources.

Pastors and friends and evangelists and bloggers and family members and writers of letters to the editor and most of the world won't care about that, however. And they're the ones who (in addition to students) should have this book. It deserves wide circulation and use. I talked our men's fellowship into making it our next study book.

I hope I've talked you into doing the same.

Well done, Nate.

(You punk!)

Dan Phillips's signature

36 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Alright! I'm convinced that I need to add this to my collection of other apologetic books!

P.S. I favor the presupp approach, but think that most people can't track it as easily as the positive evidentialist approach.

Mark B. Hanson said...

I agree with your idea that the original citations need to be provided. I was once arguing with a biology professor, and traced a chain of citations through several books until I found the original article in Nature was nonexistent. Embarrassing!

The Doulos said...

I've had this book on my radar for a while since it came out, but sounds like I should pick it up. I'm currently developing a class on 'Everyday Apologetics' based at least partially on the book "If You Could Ask God One Question", but also including some up front stuff on the Biblical basis for apologetics and various approaches. Lil' Nathan's work appears to be one that might help, and be a resource to point others to.

Mark Sohmer said...

I'm buying it. I love Presup apologetics. The late Greg Bahnsen's "Great Debate" with Gordon Stein is a fantastic example of the power of this Biblical approach of defending the faith.

But you're right... Presup tends to dismantle atheism well, but I've never gotten a grasp of how to use it to build the case for Biblical Christianity.

I look forward to receiving this book with great interest!

Phil Johnson said...

I want to be like Nate Busenitz when I grow up.

DJP said...

I think we all do.

Kim said...

Thanks for the reivew, DJP. I've seen this title in a few places and wondered.

I love the lightbulb thing.

DJP said...

That, of course, is Phil. Phil makes the pretty pictures and gets invited to everybody's shows and conferences.

I just write.

Jon said...

I bought this book recently looking for a few of MacArthur's books. I love apologetic stuff and this I couldn't pass up.

Nice aspect of this book is you don't have to read it cover to cover like most. Read a chapter or two, go read another book, come back and read a few more. That's helpful for me since I usually get sidetracked reading more than one book at a time.

Respectabiggle said...

I'll buy that book. Sounds like great homeschool material.


And what's the blob-like thing on the right-hand side of the light bulb?

DJP said...

Emerg*** theology in graphical form.

It's what you get when the light goes out.

CR said...

I'm looking forward to the book. Still don't know if I'll be able to attend the meetings, gas is down, but the whole insomnia thing.

stratagem said...

At present, students would be forced to use some of the citations with this formula: "Abraham Lincoln, as cited in ___, as cited in Busenitz...." I say with genuine respect, an author should do that footwork for his readers so that they don't have to. Use primary sources.

Great idea! Next time I want to quote Abraham Lincoln, I'll conduct an interview with him so that I don't have to cite him in a book somewhere!!!

MSC said...

Thanks for the review. I have had this book on my list to purchase. It has just moved up a few notches higher.

DJP said...

Stratagem, I... I....

You do that.

stratagem said...

Dan - put your mind at ease, kind sir: I won't do the 'witch of Endor' routine!

Frank Turk said...

I wish I was like Nate Busenitz when I was his age. Think of what I could have made of myself by now -- I'd be a lot more than a "famous" "blogger", I'll tell you that ...

DJP said...

Thing is, I was like him.

sigh

Stefan said...

Silly question (?), but I presume it's chock full of chapter and verse citations? (It must be, if it's using the Bible's own testimony.)

This book sounds like a good candidate for a Christmas present....

Stefan said...

"I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it."

DJP said...

Duh.

But they're all secondary sources, too.









(wait for it)





English translations!

ba-dum bum

Solameanie said...

Stefan,

I know your movie reference wasn't "Streetcar," but it's still Brando. And when I think of Brando, I think of either "Streetcar" or "The Godfather." If Dan begins yelling "STELLAHH! STELLAHHH," or threatens to give us all offers we can't refuse, I'll never forgive thee!

On the apologetics note, I wish evidentialists and presuppositionalists didn't fight so much. There's merit in a combination of both approaches.

Strong Tower said...

Bummer, now I might have to revise this.

It can also befound here.

Actually, I don't much disagree with Nathan. My comments reflected his review at Pulpit. And I have to say I like the caveat: "He does not try to adopt a fictitious "brute-fact" premise and try to argue from nowhere to the Bible; he begins with the Bible and shows how reality reflects its truth-claims."

That's why I like the 6/24's view of Genesis, cr ;) It just reflects the facts better.

It's a book I will have to get.

pastorbrianculver said...

I am looking forward to adding this to my growing library! It sure does help to have people you trust do the reviewing for those of us who struggle to find the free time! No time like the present to start reading again!

Hope everyone is doing well. Back from my honeymoon now and all fired up about witnessing to people in my home town!

DJP said...

Congratulations, PBC.

pastorbrianculver said...

thanks! me and the mrs will be reading more of your blog here!!

Stefan said...

Solameanie:

Now that I think back on those lines, Terry would have been a prime candidate for the Gospel—especially when the only spiritual guidance he got was from a Catholic priest who was too wrapped up in life on the docks.

Re your second paragraph on combining the strengths of the two streams of apologetics, I'm with you there.

Stefan said...

Dan: Good one.

stratagem said...

So why would anyone name a streetcar, anyway? I never did understand that.

Nate B. said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the gracious review! I appreciate your willingness not only to read the book, but also to interact with it.

Those interested should know that they can browse the entire text online at Crossway's website. Click Here.

Anyway, thanks again for the review. I always enjoy reading TeamPyro.

NB

tewesty said...

How does it compare to "Reason to Belive" by R L Sloan?

Phil Johnson said...

Nate B. reads our blog?

Wow!

the postmortem said...

This is really cool. Nathan taught a class I took at TMC. It was a public speaking class, Communication 101 or something. All I remember theologically about him was one time he thought a speech I gave on Paul's confidence in God's electing purposes flirted too closely with double predestination. But it didn't...

I'm glad to see he's doing such good work! He didn't really flaunt his knowledge at all when he was my teacher. I didn't know he was interested in this kind of stuff.

Maybe he didn't want to get in any long presuppositionalistic conversations with a young buck who was a Bible major.

I wouldn't either...well, yes I would. Just not if I was getting my Th. M. or M. Div.

Nice book, Nate!

brazil81 said...

I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it -- a great addition to other apologetics resources!
This would be a great gift to all graduating seniors before heading off to college.

Harvey Schmidlapp said...

I want to be like Nate Busenitz when he's my age.

atruefaith.com said...

Dan,

That's one of the best uses of an animated gif I've ever seen. Kudos.

Brad