Book Review of Five Views on Apologetics – edited by Steven Cowan

Book Review: Five Views on Apologetics, edited by Steven Cowan
Zondervan, 2000

Cowan’s purpose in presenting his Five Views on Apologetics is to provide the reader with a “side by side” view of the varying apologetic methodologies so that one may make up their own mind as to which method is correct (Cowan, page 8). Cowan classifies the apologetic methodologies into five separate categories; classical, evidential, cumulative, presuppositional and reformed epistemology. The editor then attempts to accomplish his self-assumed task by allowing a contributor who represents each of the five categories to make a case for their unique methodology. After each apologist completes his presentation, the other contributors are provided the opportunity for rebuttal. While the content of this book is valuable, I do have a couple of quibbles.

The first problem with this text is the layout. While I appreciate that the contributors were afforded the opportunity to respond to one another, I feel that each of the five methodologies should have been fully presented prior to the rebuttals. For instance, on page 56 Gary Habermas begins his rebuttal to William Lane Craig’s take on classical apologetics by pointing out that it has much in common with his own evidential approach. This comment is made before the reader has read Herbermas’ essay and can fully grasp what evidential apologetics is. This problem could be addressed by simply reading the chapters out of order and in retrospect I wish I would have done so.

My second complaint with this book concerns taxonomy. The editor himself seems to suggest this is a problem when he says, “these five apologetic methodologies do not constitute an exhaustive list of apologetic approaches” (page 20). With that in mind, one wonders if Cowan’s choice of five methodologies was somewhat arbitrary. Couldn’t he have divided apologetics into six or seven categories with justification? My concern; however, isn’t that Cowan didn’t differentiate enough between methodologies, but rather that he could have focused more on their similarities. The classical and cumulative approaches seem to be very similar in approach to evidential apologetics; as Cowan observes on page 18, “The careful reader will no doubt note that this [cumulative] method belongs in the same broad family of methods as does the evidential (and perhaps classical) method.” Likewise, the reformed epistemology belief that it is reasonable for a person to believe something without evidence seems to place it in the same family as the presuppositional method. Cowan could have easily presented the material in this book under two wide classifications; an evidential approach verses a presuppositional one. My concern is that the reader will become more concerned with adhering to one of Cowan’s five camps than with presenting the best apologetical argument in a given situation. In all fairness, this issue is addressed somewhat in Cowan’s conclusion beginning on page 375 when he summarizes the agreements and disagreements between the five methods.

Despite the above criticisms, this book is highly valuable and should be recommended for newcomers to the subject of apologetics. Before reading this text, I had no idea of the complexities concerning apologetic methodologies and was unaware of the current debates between apologists. Despite the fact I have a natural affinity for the evidential methods of apologetics, I was extremely impressed with John Frame’s essay on the presuppositional method and his examination of how unbelief effects a person’s perception of the truth (beginning on page 210). Frame and the other contributors do a good job of stretching the reader’s perceptions of apologetics. In sum, will help prepare its reader to give an answer to all who ask and for that it is valuable.

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