Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: “The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails

The title of Randal Rauser’s book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails raises the expectation of an innovative approach to Christian apologetics that presents new arguments from provocative directions. But in essence the book presents old arguments dressed up in a dialogue that favours the Christian apologist.

The book takes a somewhat Socratic form with the Reader as a silent observer in a coffee shop listening to an argument between Randal and a “random” passerby called Sheridan who is enticed into the conversation when seeing Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion sitting on the table. A range of topics are explored with uneven treatment in what becomes a “teaching” session where Randal becomes the professor and Sheridan is the “student”.

The positive elements of the book are that 1) Sheridan is not ultimately converted – instead, the culmination of the argument leaves Sheridan to go away and think more about what he has heard and 2) it provides an engaging survey of the most common arguments in support of theism and, in particular, a form of Christian theism that is, at least, not fundamentalist in nature.

The most disappointing aspect of the book is that it pits a well-read, well-informed, contemporary professor with a wide background in philosophy against an “average” educated guy who has to constantly admit not knowing concepts and offering weak arguments in order for the apologist to teach the reader basic ideas of Christian apologetics. If, instead, an equal “opponent” had been the dialog partner, some serious objections could have been raised against the arguments offered.

I was, however, particularly impressed with the discussion of Old Testament stories of genocide and other elements that modern people would consider highly immoral if not downright evil. Randal takes a genuinely humble and necessarily non-inerrantist approach to this issue. And the dialog on hell at least presented the annihilationist alternative as a viable biblical option.

The worst part of the book, in my view, was the discussion of providence which failed to explore the logical implications of the author’s view and strained credibility.

In my opinion, The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails will be most valued by the already convinced Christian and provides a pleasantly humorous (if somewhat cheesy) introduction to contemporary Christian apologetics for the beginner. There is no doubt that the author attempts to freshen up apologetics with contemporary cultural references, some dipping in to classic literature, and a few interesting analogies.

Book details: Randal Rauser. The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. IVP Books. 2012.