An important part of growing spiritually is to practice stretching ourselves through reading. (Listening is also important, but it doesn't replace reading.) To move increasingly in the direction of Christlikeness, we need to expand our knowledge of teaching and content associated with the Christian life.
At Spiritual Maturity Project, we are building a resource to help people go ever deeper in their reading habits. At our web site, if you click on the "Resources" link at the top of the main page (https://www.spiritualmaturityproject.org/), it will take you to another page with several icons, one of which is "Publications." If you click on that icon, and then scroll down past the short video I did on reading the Bible well (take a few minutes to watch the video!), you will find our "Reader's Library" (https://www.spiritualmaturityproject.org/publications). You will see a list of books categorized into various fields of study, such as "Bible" or "theology." Each book comes with a brief annotation to give you a basic sense of what the book is about.
In this post, I'd like to feature one book from the field of apologetics that I really like and I commend it to you. "Apologetics" is a technical term that I'm guessing many of you have heard, and maybe some of you have explored the field. The word is based in Greek and the classic biblical text for it is 1 Peter 3:15, "But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense [Greek - apologia] to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you." So, apologetics is not about apologizing. It is about engaging people winsomely with answers to questions that people see as barriers to faith. With popular hostility toward the Christian faith increasing, we need more Christians who are able to speak reasonably about the hope that lies within them.
Therefore, I recommend your reading Alister McGrath's book, Mere Apologetics (Baker Books, 2012). The "mere" in the title is a nod to C.S. Lewis, one of the 20th century's greatest apologists for the faith. Lewis' book, Mere Christianity, has helped many, many people see the intellectual force of the Christian faith. McGrath is well-known in his own right, with terminal degrees in both science (molecular biology) and theology. He was an atheist for a time, like Lewis.
I especially like Mere Apologetics because it helps the reader see that making a reasoned defense of the faith is not simply a matter of learning, almost by rote, the right answers to a set of well-known questions, like items on a flip chart. McGrath says that apologetics is like both a science and an art. There is material to learn and methods to follow, like science. There is also the careful, sensitive, empathetic use of the knowledge in personal relationships, which requires the insight of the artist.
The book is less than 200 pages long and very well-written. After opening with reflections on the current state of the field of apologetics and explaining what it is we do when we engage in apologetics, McGrath spends two full chapters on "pointers to faith" and "gateways to faith." The pointers draw on the field of cosmology and show how insights based in science point to God. In the "gateways" chapter, McGrath walks the reader through examples of how to practice the listening and empathy needed to have fruitful conversations with people about faith.
In the news, recently, one can find reports on the work of Pew Research that projects continued decline in people in the USA identifying as Christian. We have to take care not to develop a fatalistic attitude about such numbers and trends. Aggregate numbers hide the fact that people are persons who think, feel, and act. I'm thankful for Pew and other such research organizations. This latest information shows us (again!) that we Christians have our work cut out for us. The Gospel is true, good, and beautiful. It speaks to the intellectual and emotional aspects of human nature. It addresses a deep need. There is healing and restoration and new life in Christ. And hope. Real hope.
People need the opportunity to interact with Christ's witnesses who model him, not just in gentleness but also in wisdom and understanding. A book like Mere Apologetics stimulates our thinking and helps us get going on the crucial calling of giving a reasoned account of the hope that lies within us.