We live in a secular age. This is not to say that we live in an era in which most people are atheists or agnostics. But it is to say that we live in an era in which many or most people live their lives without real reference to God. It is to say that we live in an era in which Christianity has been displaced from the default position and is positively contested by countless religions, ideologies, “takes,” and “spins” on life. As a result historic Christianity is often considered implausible, unimaginable, and even reprehensible.
In such an era, here are ten books I recommend to pastors, professors, and students who wish to defend the Christian faith. I will describe each book and then rank its level of difficulty on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most difficult. Level 1 is the category of book that is a basic introduction the casual reader could pick up and enjoy. Level 5 is the category for a book that might be required in a Ph.D. seminar.
1. Augustine, City of God.
This is my favorite historic defense of the Christian faith. I’ve read it at least five or six times. In City of God, Augustine reveals a captivating strategy for being witnesses in the midst of a declining pagan empire. Warning: because of its size and formidable prose, I recommend that you not read it in bed, for fear that you would doze off in mid-sentence and be crushed to death. Level 5.
2. John Frame, Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief.
This is my favorite book on the proper method of defending the Christian faith. Frame explores apologetics in its various forms: giving proof for the truth of Christianity, defending attacks against the faith, and pointing out the falsity of other religions and ideologies. The concluding chapter is especially helpful, as it shows how a person might defend the Christian faith in an ordinary coffee shop conversation. Level 4.
3. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?
This book is probably my favorite twentieth century apologetic. In it, Schaeffer reflects upon the West’s decline by analyzing its art, science, philosophy, and theology and concluding that the West will not truly flourish again unless it accepts that God is real, that He endows life with meaning, and that He has revealed Himself and His moral law both in nature and Scripture. Level 3.5.
4. Josh Chatraw and Mark Allen, Apologetics at the Cross.
This is an excellent introduction to the field of Christian apologetics. Unlike many other apologetics texts, Chatraw and Allen do not defend the faith against 18th and 19th century atheism. Instead, they aim their apologetic at 21st century secularism and pluralism and encourage defenders of the faith to pay attention not only to the truth content of their arguments but also the virtue-content of their public postures. Level 3.5.
5. Tim Keller, The Reason for God.
This book is Keller at his best. Christian apologists can be divided into two categories: those who take a prophetic posture and those who take a missionary posture. The former tend to speak the truth boldly and briskly, calling out falsity and unbelief in no uncertain terms. The latter tend to seek common ground with their ideological opponent before seeking to persuade the opponent of Christian truth. Keller takes a missionary posture, appealing to skeptics, atheists, and agnostics by drawing upon Scripture, literature, sociology, and philosophy to argue that belief in Christ is in fact sound and rational. Level 3. (Also, check out Keller’s Making Sense of God, which explores the way Christianity secures our hopes for meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope. Level 3.)
6. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
This little classic is worth every dime spent and every minute invested in reading. In it, Lewis explains and often defends the Christian faith with uncanny wisdom and articulacy. Originally given as radio broadcasts during WWII, the book’s chapters remain relevant to our 21st century context. Level 3.
7. Paul Gould, Cultural Apologetics.
This little book helps the reader understand how to defend the Christian faith in a world in which most people manage their lives without reference to God, or view historic Christianity as implausible, unimaginable, and even reprehensible. Basing his defense of Christianity on Paul’s speech on Mars Hill, Gould helps readers defend Christianity as something that is not only true but also mysterious and beautiful. Level 3.
8. Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale, Jesus Among Secular Gods.
In this excellent little book, the authors defend the Christian faith against modern ideologies such as atheism, scientism, relativism, and eroticism. By Christian definition, an “ideology” is a system of thought that ascribes ultimacy to some aspect of created reality (such as self, sex, money, power, or science) rather than to God Himself, and the authors reveal these ideologies as false saviors and counterfeit gods. Level 3.
9. Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk.
The early church spoke of defending the faith in terms of dissuasoria (the way of the “closed fist,” defending Christianity against attacks) and persuasoria (the way of the “open hand,” persuading pagans to consider the claims of Christ). Guinness argues that modern Christians have done a decent job with the former but have not done so well with the latter. For that reason, he calls Christians to recover the lost art of Christian persuasion. Level 3.
10. Peter Kreeft, Socrates Meets Jesus.
In this brilliant little book, Kreeft imagines a hypothetical dialogue between the ancient philosopher Socrates and the modern faculty of an Ivy League university. Over the course of the dialogue, “Socrates” comes closer and closer to a genuine embrace of Christ. Level 2.
There are many other good resources for defending the Christian faith, but, alas, all lists must come to an end. And these ten books are a good start for any person wishing to give a twenty-first century defense of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.