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Covenantal Apologetics

Covenantal Apologetics

Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith

by K. Scott Oliphint
Publisher: Crossway Books
Trade Paperback, 288 pages
List Price: $19.99 Our Price: $16.00

There is a fundamental difference between the Christian and the non-Christian worldview: Christians rely on divine revelation for their understanding of life, the universe, ethics, sexuality, and everything else, while unbelievers rely (or claim to rely) purely on their own reason and observational skills for such understanding. No wonder that secular philosophers have come to the conclusion that truth is not absolute, and that meaning changes from culture to culture and even from person to person.

But those who submit to the authority of God's Word know that truth is absolute because it proceeds from the mind and will of God Himself, who makes and sustains all things. As people called to evangelize the unbelievers around us, and to have a ready defense for all those who question the validity of our faith, we Christians must first point out our radically opposed approaches to worldview and knowledge. In other words, we need to be forthright about our own presuppositions, and to critique secular presuppositions from that standpoint.

K. Scott Oliphint, a professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, undertakes to give readers a crash course in doing just that in his recent book, Covenantal Apologetics. Building on the ideas of presuppositional apologists like Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, Oliphint presents the doctrinal underpinnings of a consistent Christian worldview and apologetic method in a way laypeople can understand (though not without some serious effort at times).

At the outset he lays out ten tenets from which he builds his case, tenets which outline the classic Reformed understanding of our relationship to God as humans, the nature of revelation, our proper response, and so forth. He also criticizes the continued use of the term "presuppositionalism" to describe this type of apologetic method, pointing out that presupposition has become too much of a postmodern catchphrase, and insisting that all men (saved and unregenerate) have a covenant relationship with God and that it is this covenant relationship which allows us to employ the presuppositional method.

One of the most compelling sections deals with what Oliphint calls the "trivium" of covenantal apologetics: a principial view of Scripture, the sensus divinitatus (the inner knowledge all people have of God), and God's univerasal mercy. These form the basis for his approach, and he spends a lot of Covenantal Apologetics developing them. Many of the topics are difficult, but Olipiphint is consistent in his clarity and vision (though you'll likely need to read some sections more than once).

Apologetics is godly persuasion: it is God Himself who saves, not us. In view of this understanding, readers are pointed toward the elements of Classical rhetoric:logos, pathos, and ethos. Too often apologetics manuals emphasize the logos, the content of one's argument, to the exclusion of knowing one's audience and maintaining a humble attitude; Oliphint firmly reminds us that we overlook the pathos and ethos of apologetics to the detriment of ourselves and our hearers.

This is by no means a simple book or an easy read, though it isn't above the level of most Christians who genuinely want to arm themselves to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It is one of the best intermediate introductions to the study of presuppositional/covenantal apologetics available, and should be read by all believers, especially those wanting to hone their abilities and understanding as apologists. For a good basic primer, read Richard Pratt's Every Thought Captive first.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
Summary: K. Scott Oliphint couches Christian apologetics in terms of covenant theology in this accessible and practical introduction.

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