Catholic Sense 8
Books to Provide Answers
With all the attention Christianity’s famous critics get— like the reverential reviews in the major journals, and the softball questions from admiring television hosts — the Catholic may feel like a man in a Browns shirt sitting among hundreds of terrible towel wavers when the Steelers are leading by 47 points ten minutes into the game.
Fortunately for us, a lot of smart Christians have answered them. Here is a list of books — just in time for Christmas — that will help you speak for Christ when someone asks a serious question or offers a serious challenge.
These books address the kinds of comments you hear from the anti-religious, the unreligious, and the “spiritual but not religious.” The kind of people, in other words, who don’t care what the Bible says or the Church teaches, and have to be reached another way.
This, I’m afraid, takes some work. Sometimes Christians who find that non-Christians don’t get it just keep appealing to the Bible or the Church. They’re like Americans going abroad who, meeting someone who doesn’t speak English, keep speaking English but speak slooooower and LOUUUUDER.
It doesn’t work. These people need to be answered in terms they’ll understand.
The challenge is such that often only giving up several evenings, hiding in a quiet room, underlining as you read, and writing down an outline or notes to yourself will do. If you’ve been given someone to help, you have to go into training. You have to read some thick books. Sidney Crosby has to spend hours in the weight room and on the ice. Of course he gets paid more, but then life’s not fair.
Here are a few books giving good answers to the kind of questions we may have to answer. Only books in print have been included.
Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (Ignatius). A fat book covering nearly everything, from the existence of God to the reliability of Scripture to Christianity’s relation to other religions. You can use it like a dictionary.
Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell (InterVarsity Press). A discussion between C. S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy, and Aldous Huxley, who all died on the same day and meet on their way to the next world. Each represents a different way of looking at the world. Revealing, and easy to read.
Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton). An explanation of Christian belief by a Presbyterian pastor who ministers in Manhattan, aimed at the young kind-of religious person who wants to see that faith matters to his life. Keller makes a purely logical argument for Christianity and against the alternatives.
Jonathan Witt and Ben Wiker, A Meaningful World (InterVarsity Press). A Protestant-Catholic team show how the arts, math, and science reveal that the universe has a meaning, and that this meaning points to a meaning-giver. A good book for the math or science lover, maybe less so for others.
G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (Ignatius). Chesterton, himself a convert to Christianity, looks at the ancient world and describes how Jesus was, so to speak, the right Man for the right time, and for all time. It’s an imaginative treatment, which some people love and some don’t get at all.
Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Tyndale). A popular but substantive answer to the usual comments of the “new atheists.” It covers all the bases well.
Joseph Ratzinger, Faith and the Future (Ignatius). In this set of five radio addresses given in 1970, the Holy Father addresses the average person’s anxieties and hopes. An acute awareness of the culture in which the Church lives today marks all his writings, and a careful reading of his works would provide an excellent education in defending the Faith.
David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions (Yale). The most scholarly of the books listed, but also a clearly-written and devastating criticism of the pop atheists of the best-seller lists. He provides lots of really useful historical information showing that Christianity was the opposite of the horror its critics claim it was. Hart is an Orthodox theologian who teaches at Providence College.
There are, of course, many more good books than these. But these will give you what you need, because the questions have answers that aren’t all that hard to find.
David Mills is the author of Knowing the Real Jesus and Discovering Mary and writes a weblog for Patheos. He has served as the editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things. This column appeared in the Pittsburgh Catholic on November 20, 2009.