Baker Books sent me a free copy of Narrative Apologetics by Alister E. McGrath for an honest review. McGrath was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1953. As a youth, he had no interest in Christianity and held an atheistic worldview. But that did not last long. At 18 years of age, it was during his studies at Oxford University when he decided to leave atheism for Christianity. In his 2007 book Mere Theology McGrath states that, "I was discovering that Christianity was far more intellectually robust than I had ever imagined. I had some major rethinking to do, and by the end of November , my decision was made: I turned my back on one faith and embraced another."
As I read McGrath's 2019 book Narrative Apologetics, he shares part of the reason he stopped being an atheist. He states it was, because of my growing realization of the intellectual overambition of the forms of atheism I had earlier espoused, but also as I came to realize that Christianity offered a better way of making sense of the world I observe around me and experienced within me. It provided a conceptual framework that brought my world into focus. It confronted the ambiguity of our world and human existence and offered a way of making sense of what often seemed to be a senseless world. Mine was an intellectual conversion, lacking any emotional or affective dimension. As a scientist and theologian, McGrath's writing has spawned tons of academic books on apologetics.
Apologetics has become a genre of literature that I have embraced for the past few years. So what is apologetics? Although it is derived from the same word as the English noun apology and adjective apologetic the meaning is much different. Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that gives a logical defense to the Christian faith. As 1 Peter 3:15 states, But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, Yet in todays culture, having intellectual knowledge is not enough. Too often people focus on the first half of what Peter says in regards to always be prepared to give an answer. Sure, the logic of that answer may be convincing. But not enough people focus on the second half where Peter says but do this with gentleness and respect, This is where some apologists fall into the trap of trying to win arguments rather than people.
In Narrative Apologetics, McGrath shares this concern. He makes a case for expressing apologetics in a more relational way. He explains that without a relationship or a story, there is no relevance, wonder, or joy from the intellectual side of sharing ones faith. Stories are what helps people explore the Christian faith. Some examples are from the works of J.R.R. Tolkiens, Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia. He also touches on four major Biblical narratives such as the Exodus, the Exile, Christ, and the Kingdom.
McGrath tasks the reader with three objectives. First, we must respond to cultural objections with grace, respect, and sensitivity. Second, we must show how a deep understanding of the Christian gospel connects with the human heart and its deepest concerns. Third, we must present the Christian faith in a clear compelling way for culture to understand.
The Bible is rich in narratives, each of which can be thought of as a thread that is woven into the grander biblical meta-narrative — a story about creation, fall, the calling of Israel, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which to be a Christian is to see this grand story as defining an authoritative, challenging the rival stories of human origin, nature, and destiny offered by our world. Our own stories are given meaning and value by being interpreted by, and located within, this greater story. - page 73
If there is a basic understanding from Narrative Apologetics, it is that our stories can be powerful and effective. This is true as many of Jesus greatest teachings were done in the form of telling stories. I completely agree that apologetics cannot rest only on intellectual reason. People connect with a story. But for a book to be about sharing the relevance, joy, and wonder of the Christian faith, the academic style of writing dampens it all. This was too much of a dry read to keep me engaged. McGrath does not seem to follow his own advice of providing a compelling narrative. His incredible intellect and vocabulary drove a narrative that could not keep me engaged.
With a lack of practical solutions, I cannot recommend this book to readers that want to apply narratives to their apologetics. With its rich academic writing, I also cannot recommend this for those that want casual digestible content. This is a strong scholarly read for those serious about studying apologetics. That is not a bad thing. There is a lot to learn from Narrative Apologetics. Especially for churches. Knowing what I believe in and why I believe it to be true is a question we all need to ask ourselves. We all have a story, and McGrath wants Christians to share it.
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