Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K. Scott Oliphint
With a number of books already making an impact in the field of apologetics, author and professor K. Scott Oliphint tries his hand at a covenantal approach in his new book entitled Covenantal Apologetics. The design of the book ranges on things from defining covenantal apologetics, condescension and apologetics, burden of proof and persuasion. Interspersed throughout the book are sample arguments between a covenantal apologist and atheist, Muslim and naturalistic apologists. In turn, Scott builds his case for specific apologetic principles in the preceding pages of the chapter and then uses those same principles in his sample exchanges. The method that was used here was immensely helpful because it grounded the principles in real-life situations, giving a reader like me an opportunity to see how these principles function in conversation.
In writing about the trivium of persuasion found in Aristotle (ethos, pathos, and logos), Scott centers his thoughts upon the impact that ethos (the personal character of the speaker) has upon the conversation (139-145). In specificially commenting upon ethos, Scott writes, “What should also be obvious concerning the ethos of persuasion, and what we have not broached to this point, is that in our defense of Christianity, as in the entirety of our Christian lives, we are to be a holy people. We are to mirror the holiness of our Father in heaven. We cannot and should not expect that anyone or any audience will be anxious to listen to us, or be persuaded by us, if our own character is obviously and explicitly immoral or otherwise suspect” (144). Reflecting Schaeffer’s point that the greatest apologetic we have is our life, here, Scott makes the unwavering connection that our holiness in Christ concretely reflects to others our seriousness about faith, God, and truth. I would add also that one of the reasons why holiness is so attractive to those interested in the Christian faith is that it demands an honesty of life and even failure that is seldom seen in the modern world. Scott goes onto give the example of Paul, who would certainly have not footing in the ground of Mars Hill were it not for his blameless character (145).
In the beginning of the book Scott develops some basic principles for understanding apologetics. Early on he writes, “The point for the Christian, however, and the point to stand on in a covenantal apologetic, is that Christ’s lordship – which includes not only that he now reigns, but also that he has spoken and that all owe him allegiance – is true for anyone and everyone. Christ is Lord even over his enemies, and ours. And part of what this means is that the authority of Scripture, which is the verbal expression of Christ’s lordship, is authoritative even over those who reject it” (37). This point is extremely important because it alleviates the need of the apologist to make a perfect argument or craft a thrilling proposal for the Christian faith. The Lord Jesus being sovereign over all people, including his enemies gives the apologist great comfort in all kinds of situations. Furthermore, knowing that the authority of Scripture is of great importance because we know that it paints a true picture of reality (of sin, redemption, evil, suffering, and truth), even while the person we sit across from rejects its authority in total. We have a firm ground to stand on not because of a clever argument but because of a sovereign Lord. The inextricable link that Scott writes about between the Lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture is important because it unravels the nature of revelation, a revelation that holds together the incarnation and redemption we have in Christ.
Overall, this book was a very good look into a Reformed covenantal apologetic. You won’t want to miss Scott’s interaction between a Muslim believer and a covenantal apologist. In this argument Scott pushes the Muslim to agree that his faith affords him no full assurance of faith based upon his view of Allah. These engagements show how a covenantal apologetic brings together the best of logic, Scripture, and holiness.
Thanks to Crossway Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this book in exchange for review.