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Andrew Davison (ed.) Imaginative Apologetics – Theology and Philosophy in the Catholic Tradition

Andrew Davison (Ed.)

Imaginative Apologetics – Theology and Philosophy in the Catholic Tradition

ISBN: 9780 3340 4352 2

SCM, 2011, 169pp, £15.59

In this collection of essays edited by Andrew Davison (Doctrine tutor at Westcott House and formerly St Stephen’s House) an impressive cast of writers contribute to a discussion of the place of apologetics in the twenty-first century. In his forward John Milbank notes that the whole concept of apologetics has been misunderstood by generations of Christians due to the demotic sense of apologia as ‘making an apology’ or ‘saying sorry.’ Despite this, however, there is an interest in apologetic writing within the Christian community (seen in the continuing popularity of, for example, The Screwtape Letters) and, with the increasingly frenetic assaults of ‘new atheism’ and ‘aggressive scientism’ the need for a convincing and inculturated apologetic is great. Milbank goes on to note that the nature of apologetic – as an engagement with the prevailing zeitgeist – is continually evolving, which requires a secure christocentric foundation if it is not to be swamped (as Graham Ward demonstrates in his essay on ‘cultural hermeneutic.’) Professor Milbank also notes that the words Apologein (to tell fully) and Apophatic (literally ‘away-disclosure’) have a common etymology, and therefore a crucial component of apologia is to retain – like the apophatic theology which characterises much mystical writing (to say nothing of that of Rowan Williams) – a sense of detachment: ‘apologia is indeed … a narrative, and if it attempts to be detached [it does so] from the most authentic heart of interior commitment…’ (p.xiv).

Andrew Davison goes on to exteriorise the contributors’ understanding of apologetic as an exercise which both relies on and stimulates the imagination and notes in his subsequent essay that Christian apologia constitutes nothing less (and can constitute nothing less) than an invitation to the life of the Church for, to allude to Wittgenstein, it is only within the body of Christ that the words spoken by apologists can begin to make sense. This, however, demands further exploration, for how does the Church show forth her integrity? How does she speak authentically of Christ? This question is addressed by Stephen Bullivant who calls the reader to think about what marks the Church out in theory and practice. John Hughes is quick, however, to point out that there is a potential danger in Christian apologists either selling themselves short (and seeing Christianity as merely one of many systems of understanding the great questions) or arrogating to themselves the sort of omniscience currently claimed for science by Professor Dawkins (whose arrogance, as Alister McGrath points out in his essay, is unrepresentative of the majority of scientists), indeed, Professor McGrath demonstrates fulsomely that science can and ought to be used imaginatively by the apologist. With further essays by Alison Milbank, Donna J. Lazenby, Michael Ward (the world authority on CS Lewis) and Richard Conrad OP (who explores themes in historical apologetics, beginning with the day of Pentecost and finishing with the writings of Blessed John Paul II) this book constitutes an important contribution to the subject of apologetic in the twenty-first century and is well worth reading. Given the essentially academic position of the majority of the writers it is not surprising that the book is demanding in some places, however, as with much which is initially demanding, perseverance pays dividends.

Joseph Emmanuel nSSF