This slim volume of Christian apologetics aims to stimulate dialogue and intellectual inquiry while opening the minds of atheists and agnostics as well as believers.
Allen (Dying With Grace and Hope, 2000), a Presbyterian minister and teacher with a doctorate in theology, writes with erudition. Inspired by the spate of recent works of the militant “New Atheists” (e.g., Richard Dawkins, Anthony Flew before he converted) who have polarized the debate between believers and nonbelievers, Allen forges a third path between the two extremes. In Section I, he offers an excellent introduction to the major areas of theological debate: the relationship between science and faith; religion and fanaticism; the meaning of suffering (theodicy); the scholarly search for the “Historical Jesus”; and trends in beliefs of contemporary society. Faith, in his view, should involve mind, will and heart, and it should not be irrational, blind or fanatical. Religious belief, he says, should be submitted to intellectual inquiry, and, conversely, modern knowledge can be incorporated into an ever-refined understanding of faith. Allen argues that, ultimately, science cannot prove or disprove God’s existence since, in that pursuit, science exceeds its own bounds. He points out weaknesses in creationism and “intelligent design” and instead makes peace with a more evolution-based understanding of God’s creative plan. This dispassionate autobiography eventually takes Allen more into matters of the heart than head. In Section II, he diverges from academic style to give a personal account of his faith journey, thoughtfully directing the reader to skip over it if desired. He touches on his personal struggles with illness and alcoholism, his years of experience as a pastor sought out for grief and spiritual counseling, and his involvement in community service. Two appendices cover the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and whether God acts in the world through miracles. Endnotes and a bibliography round out the volume. Drawing on physics, theology and philosophy, Allen effectively builds his case: Science has proven that the universe is more open than previously thought; the minds of modern truth-seekers should similarly expand. Overall, however, Allen merely whets the reader’s appetite for further study, since this short book references mostly secondary sources from other authors. Fascinated readers would most likely appreciate more primary sources and a deeper look at such profound topics.
A short volume that covers plenty of ground, though more study elsewhere is warranted for anyone intrigued by the topic.