One of my favorite experiences with Reasons for God is hearing from readers. Recently a new contact, Tony, asked this:
Really enjoy your writings and the new site. I’m a fairly new believer (3 years) and I can honestly say my salvation has only occured within the last few months. I am fascinated with applogetics and plan on ordering a few books by Ravi Z[acharias]. My question is where would be a good starting point for a novice defender of the faith to build from? Thanks.
As I’ve thought about Tony’s question, I want to recommend nine books for starting an apologetics library. These books are accessible to a motivated high school student (and middle schooler), but also respect the intelligence of adult readers of all ages. They are serious books for a serious subject.
In general, my thinking behind these nine books is that they each give a different ‘flavor’ of apologetics. The styles vary considerably. Whether you already know which style you prefer, or you’re still figuring it out, all of these resources are excellent in their own way:
- philosophical (William Lane Craig)
- narrative (Nabeel Qureshi)
- investigative (Lee Strobel and J Warner Wallace)
- pastoral (Tim Keller)
- existential (Ravi Zacharias)
- practical (Greg Koukl)
And no contemporary list would be complete without Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, which is a legendary bestseller for its common-sense, conversational approach to explaining the Christian faith.
(Before going on, please allow me to briefly mention my own book, True Reason).
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
The Case for Christ has been a highly-reviewed bestselling book since its first publication in 1998. In fact, it is so well-known that you might notice Lee Strobel wrote the foreword or endorsed most of the other books on this list! His book is an excellent place to start because:
- Strobel interviews many of the best-known apologists (each chapter presents his interview with a well-known Christian scholar)
- The ‘interview style’ of each chapter is fast-paced, fun, and accessible
- He offers a comprehensive, if condensed, case for why Jesus is God
- His own story from atheism to Christianity brings credibility and authenticity
Some of the common critiques are that the book is one-sided and simplistic. While there’s something to this, I think this really amounts to a cheap attack on the popular style of the book. Not everyone is interested in reading Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief or The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart. And that is okay.
The Case for Christ offers a well-rounded, evidence-based, logically compelling set of reasons to believe that Jesus really is God. And if you want more nuance and rigor, he’s already done you the favor of identifying a dozen scholars whose published work is worthy of your further attention. If you are getting started in apologetics, this is an excellent book to read! (This site features a testimony about how The Case for Christ was used by God to bring someone to faith).
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
A New York Times bestseller, The Reason for God is unique on this list because it is written by a full-time pastor. Based in New York City, Keller has learned not only the objections to Christianity, but the rationale behind them. Its obvious that he has empathetically listened to many hundreds of people who don’t agree with him. Further, his persuasive case isn’t a bomb-throwing, partisan exercise that will rally the troops, but one written in a tone that says, ‘even if we always disagree, let’s be friends.’
One of the major problems in the apologetics community is a prideful arrogance. There is a tendency for a young apologist, newly empowered by the knowledge gained from apologetics resources, to naively seek to win the argument. But this is an unworthy task: if you’ve studied any particular subject at length, you’re probably more prepared to argue for your position than most people you meet. The much harder task is to continue listening, to remain prayerful, and to use your knowledge only in the service of loving your neighbor well.
For the sake of its careful research and reasoning, this is a wonderful resource. But the new apologist should also read it for the sake of learning from Keller’s tone and approach. (I’ve written a more extensive review of The Reason for God as well).
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi
Before recommending Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I have to disclose that I consider Nabeel a good friend. His daily life is, thankfully, a more beautiful witness to Christ than his New York Times bestselling book (don’t worry, we give him a hard time at RZIM whenever he needs it).
That said, I have never seen people respond to a book the way they do to this one. For instance, I will never forget the woman who came up to Nabeel at the end of a very long line of people who had just had their copy signed; she had a few boxes of his book with a personal note in mind for each intended recipient.
The book is about God’s story of working in Nabeel’s life for His glory. For God’s divine purposes, he set Nabeel into a devoutly Muslim family that was full of love and laughter. Then, through extended interactions with David Wood and other Christian friends over many years, God revealed to Nabeel that Islam was false, Christianity was true, and most important of all, that Christ was pursuing him.
I love the transparency of Nabeel’s heart in this spiritual autobiography. The narrative format is the perfect device for sharing a tremendous amount of evidence and the reasons for why Nabeel became intellectually convinced that Jesus is God. But the skeptic will also have to wrestle with the miraculous ways in which God personally revealed himself.
For a new apologist, this book will demonstrate not only the power of good writing and an open heart, but also the essential value of being a true friend, a patient witness, and a praying disciple, that God might reveal himself to your family and friends. (I’ve also written a fuller review of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus).
Cold Case Christianity by J Warner Wallace
Cold-Case Christianity, by J Warner Wallace, is a very interesting and unique approach for the new apologist. I selected this book for discussion groups at both Harvard College and Boston College Law School, and in both cases, students were challenged by the facts and arguments that Wallace presents.
The book is focused on the claim that Jesus bodily rose to new life… after being undeniably dead. This is a stupendous claim, right? Wallace, who was an atheist for thirty five years, and a professional homicide detective, brings together a skeptical approach and a unique skill set to investigate the evidence.
Cold-Case Christianity is well illustrated. Each concept is explained in a crystal-clear fashion. He presents a variety of evidence for the resurrection that is poorly known but of crucial importance. And, importantly, the book is just fun to read. Wallace is an excellent writer; for instance, he starts each chapter with the story of a real detective story, which takes you deeper into his book. An excellent choice.
Tactics by Greg Koukl
Tactics differs from the other books on this list because it is more of a practical guide to navigating apologetics conversations than a presentation of the evidence itself. At the very start, Koukl explains that our conversations should “look more like diplomacy than D-day”; a refreshing way to explain the positive, charitable, and engaging approach that apologists need to understand if they are to build trust, strengthen friendships, and persuade others that Christ is worthy of our worship.
Perhaps the most important question of the book is “what do you mean by that?” What a simple but profound six words! The recommended follow-up question, “How did you come to that conclusion?” is equally good. You’ll have to read Tactics to have a better understanding of the how and the why behind these two invaluable questions, but feel free to start using them right away.
Oftentimes, new apologists get caught up in remembering complex arguments, innumerable facts, or what amounts to trivia. What I like about Tactics is how it helps almost anyone to begin having real conversations about the important questions of life. What I recommend is this: make having great conversations the primary habit and learn just enough apologetics to keep up with the questions your friends have about the gospel.
(My full review of Tactics is also available).
6. On Guard by William Lane Craig
On Guard is an excellent starting point for the more philosophical and analytical thinker.It is a simplified version of Dr. Craig’s better known book Reasonable Faith. While some might prefer the greater rigor of Reasonable Faith, for an introductory list, I think On Guard is a better place to begin.
In this resource, Craig defines the apologetics enterprise, presents the logical and existential impossibilities of naturalism, argues for a Creator to the universe via the cosmological and teleological arguments, explains the moral argument, wrestles with the problem of evil, and concludes by reasoning to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead and is truly God.
Throughout, hard work has been done to create simplicity, clarity, and understanding on difficult philosophical and historical terrain. If you like this book, you will have plenty of room to grow by beginning to fill out your shelves with the rest of Dr. Craig’s excellent writing!
(I’ve written a lengthier review of On Guard).
Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias
Can Man Live Without God? comes at the question from the perspective of one of our most insightful guides to the human condition. Ravi is a legendary speaker who has developed a team of more than forty full-time speakers, with international offices around the world, and a reputation for addressing leaders at the highest levels of business, culture, education, and government. At the same time, as anyone who knows him will attest, he is a genuinely humble leader with a heart for others.
In a unique way, Ravi approaches the questions of the human heart first, and reasons from there to the person of Jesus Christ. He is a master of illustrating his points from the arts and telling stories. The style is persuasive and engaging.
As you might guess from the title, the book is a response to atheism, which is an essential worldview to be prepared to discuss in our culture. Ravi powerfully argues for and illustrates the problems with an atheistic worldview, particularly in the areas of morality and suffering. Then he explains the components of a meaningful life: wonder, knowledge, love and security. Finally, he concludes by arguing that Jesus not only rose from the dead, but also provides the best basis for living with purpose.
Ravi’s writings and messages were one of the primary influences at the start of my own interest in apologetics. While I continue to admire these, I am now able to appreciate his life and the unique team he has built. It is hard to pick just one of Ravi’s books to recommend, but if atheism is of interest to you, this is a great book to read. Another reason to study the book? To understand how our imagination, sense of wonder, aesthetic sensibilities, and the rest of what it means to be human are equally important pointers to our Triune God.
Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
Perhaps the best-known and best-loved book on this list, Mere Christianity is a classic. C.S. Lewis has even been called ‘the Protestant Pope’ because so many evangelicals cherish his writings. The enduring power of Mere Christianity is probably due, in large part, because it was originally a series of radio addresses, which forced Lewis into a very conversational and accessible style. For a new apologist, this is a point worth considering at length: how will I communicate well?
Some of the best known arguments (or perspectives on Christianity) come from Mere Christianity. For instance:
If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.
If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake.
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.
For many gems of wisdom, a clear and beautiful explanation of ‘mere Christianity,’ and a good set of arguments for belief, Mere Christianity is hard to beat.
How many apologists are unfamiliar with the Bible they are defending as the very word of God? It is remarkable to me that we can spend more time defending the Bible as true than knowing what it actually says! Or that we can be more invested in proving to others that the Bible is God’s word than we are in obeying God ourselves. Though this critique has often applied to me, the only fair assessment of this problem is pride, hypocrisy, and foolishness.
For any Christian, a growing knowledge of the Bible is essential. For instance, at countless open forums with RZIM I have seen challengers eagerly read out a difficult passage of Scripture during the Q&A session, only to have one of our team members clearly explain the exact context, historical setting, and so on, until the original objection has been entirely dissolved. So a detailed knowledge of the Bible is important for apologetics.
But it is more important because who we are matters more than what we know. Growing in our knowledge and understanding of apologetics is a part of obeying God (e.g., Matthew 22:36-40; 1 Peter 3:15-16), but it is hardly the entirety of what God requires.
As important and interesting as apologetics is, it is of far greater importance that we have a growing relationship with our Triune God, that our hearts want God more than anything God has made, that our minds are fixated on the truths found in the Scripture, and that our wills are increasingly obedient to the voice of God. The Scriptures are not themselves life, but they point us to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 5:39-40, 14:6-7).
If you are motivated as a Christian to take apologetics seriously, then take the Bible even more seriously. The ESV Study Bible is a great resource for the intellectually serious. It has fantastic introductions to each book of the Bible, good commentary, and features an excellent translation of the original text.
I hope this survey of nine outstanding books gives you a good place to start. I’m thrilled that you or someone you love is interested in apologetics. It is an undervalued and under appreciated discipline, but of great importance in a skeptical age. A mature apologetic can give the believer a confident faith, a sturdy commitment to Christ, a persuasive witness, an undaunted courage, and a faithful lifetime of service to Christ. May God be with you every day as you read, study, discuss, and grow in your understanding of the truth of Christ.
If you’d like to recommend other resources, please get in touch with me. If you’re intrigued to learn more, I invite you to navigate the Reasons for God bookstore or the growing collection of book reviews.