If One Apologetics Resource Among Others, Why Not?
May 25, 2012
Steven B Sherman
Virginia Beach, VA
Author Norman Geisler introduces his readers to the most frequently asked difficult question he has been asked in more than 50 years of study: "If God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world?" Responding to this question in a "short, simple, readable, and comprehensive book" is Geisler's stated objected and primary focus in the book's 10 chapters and three appendices. Seven chapters cover topics related to the following aspects of evil: nature, origin, persistence, purpose, avoidability, physical, and eternality. Other chapters include discussions on three views of evil, miracles and evil, and the unevangelized. The appendices include subject areas of animal death before Adam, evidence for God's existence, and (rather unexpectedly) a critique of the book, The Shack. A five-page bibliography is included; unfortunately, the book is not indexed.
Overall, If God, Why Evil? offers readers a fairly straightforward evangelical evidentialist and rationalist approach to the problem of evil. Geisler's preferred method incorporates regular use of logical syllogisms, which appear in virtually every chapter. Alongside acknowledging the general quality of the author's syllogistic work, several of his assumptions or "control beliefs" (pace N. Wolterstorff) show underlying precommitments that some (if not most) other evangelical scholars disavow (e.g., Geisler disallows legitimacy to a theistic evolutionary view of creation, apparently viewing those holding such a position simply as unbelievers--in effect, illegitimatizing the views and work of a sizeable percentage of Christian scholars and scientists). His presuppositions on various issues appear more constricted than many of his evangelical (non-fundamentalist) counterparts, resulting in limiting or effectively eliminating potentially legitimate views held by not a few Christian thinkers (e.g., inclusivism or post-mortem evangelism). Furthermore, rather than arguing that his perspective is superior, Geisler sometimes immediately dismisses or simply disregards alternatively maintained positions (for instance, non-natural law views).
Geisler's exegetical and hermeneutical approach to Scripture often prefers a literalist reading, even over against certain text's clearly literary rather than literal purpose (e.g., "weeping and gnashing of teeth" in hell based on Matt. 8:12, or the appearance of "God the Father" ["Papa"] as a `large beaming African-American woman" in the fictional book The Shack). The author's use of a Bible reference to "discipline" and equating it with "evil" appears to fail (50), as well as his implying that in all cases (of evil events) God purposes something good as in Joseph's (rather particular and unusual narrative) case. This seems a stretch, especially pertaining to horrible evils like abortion, pornography, human trafficking, and many other apparently gratuitous evils that demonstrate God's will (moral, at least) not being fully accomplished on earth presently (while God does continually does work to bring good despite evil).
Notwithstanding its aforementioned shortcomings, Geisler's book succeeds overall in providing some good rationale and evidentialist arguments on various topics related to the problem of evil and theodicy. Many of the syllogisms he employs offer readers helpful outlines and/or guidance on difficult issues. My cautious is against "placing all of one's apologetical eggs in this basket"--the basket simply is not strong enough to hold all of the weight it wants to support. However, as a primer, taken in conjunction with some still "weightier baskets" (e.g., Alvin Plantinga's "Free Will Defense" and several other important arguments and relevant publications), Geisler's manual can serve as part of a "cumulative case" approach to this perennially pertinent subject. Like all authors and scholars, his work is a product of particular historical and social contexts, which powerfully influence one's thought and articulation. Thus, Geisler's work ought to be read with the previously noted limitations in mind, including its strengths (logical reasoning) and weaknesses (hermeneutical/contextual confines). Clearly, he continues to be a force for Christian apologetics (particularly in the evidentialist and rationalist streams), providing important arguments in defense of Christianity. While several other legitimate Christian apologetical, theological, and philosophical approaches to the problem of evil exist and ought to be incorporated into a holistic, cumulative case method (e.g., relational, social, and creedally-informed aspects), we also may applaud Norman L. Geisler's sustained efforts to follow I Peter 3:15-16 devotedly.
If God, Why Evil? is the new publication by Bethany House (2011, 173 pages) authored by Norm Geisler.
Dr. Norman Geisler has taught at the university level and seminary levels for more than fifty years and has spoken and debated all over the world. He holds an M.A. from Wheaton, and Ph.D. in philosophy from Loyola University, and is presently Provost and Distinguished Professor of Apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Murrieta, California. He is the author or coauthor of more than seventy books. Geisler is considered to be one the premier apologists and scholars in the world.
Geisler points out how the question of, "If God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world?" is the most asked question in all his years of studying difficult questions of the Christian faith.
This is a question not only frequently asked by non-believers, a cornerstone argument for atheists but also a question that believers have as well. Why does a good, loving and sovereign God allow so much evil to go on when He could easily prevent it? And why does God allow harm and evil to fall on godly believers? There are a lot of people hungering for comforting answers to these types of questions.
Geisler states his purpose for writing, "First this work attempts to be clear about the various dilemmas and the proposed solutions. The problem is clearly stated first and then an answer is offered in basic terms (p.10)." Geisler then points out how this book is concise, comprehensive, correct and finally comforting as it addresses the problem of evil in the world.
II. SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Throughout the book, Geisler interacts with all the popular responses that opponents of the Christian faith have given over the years to address the dilemma. Geisler interacts with the notion, presupposition and conclusions postulated by many atheists that "God is neither good or loving and does not exist." Geisler's skill as an apologist and theologian were seen throughout the book, especially as he interacted with all the various philosophical arguments against Christianity.
Geisler philosophically and biblically points out that God is still a.) sovereign and b.) all loving despite evil. Geisler systematically refuted every major philosophical argument made against God's existence.
If God, Why Evil? was an excellent and helpful book on theodicy. It is not as lengthy or as extensive as some of the other works on the topic but that was not the purpose. This is a book that both believers and non-believers can easily read and understand with clariy. Geisler does an excellent job in pointing out how God did not design or create evil but that it is a necessary result of free will in a fallen world. Not one single person is immune from the effects of sin. And as believers, we will never fully understand why we encounter certain tragedies and sicknesses in this life. Geisler offers some great insights into these matters while at the same time recognizing that God in His sovereignty may supernaturally heal those suffering with physical infirmities while with others He may not. Sometimes He may divinely intervene in a crisis, tragedy or prevent a car accident from happening, others times He may not. We do not have all the answers but God is still on the throne and is still sovereign throughout eternity.
Disclaimer: special thanks to Bethany House for this free review copy.
How many times have those of us in the Christian faith been confronted with these types of questions? My typical answer is that while we may not understand now, we will see it all clearly when we reach Eternity. God's ways are not our ways, and our human intellect can not always see the reasons why ~ that's when our faith is tested and when we put what we say we believe into practice. There is always a bigger picture and our faith is what gets us through, trusting that He indeed works all things for good.
I do, however, understand that while faith comes so easily for me, for many others it doesn not. As a Bethany House book reviewer, I jumped at the chance to receive this book. I was hoping for new insights, hoping to be armed with helpful, Biblical responses to those struggling with belief in God as well as those faltering in their faith during tragic times.
This book is described as being written with the layman in mind, but I have to disagree with that description. While the book is very thorough and scripturally sound, and I like to think I'm a fairly intelligent person, I found it difficult to follow and would often have to read each point several times to try to wrap my brain around what the author was saying. It often made me think of what is was like sitting in a difficult professor's college class. =)
There were several times that I set the book aside, thinking I had read all that I could handle. I persevered, however, and managed to get through....in part due to determination, and in part due to pride! I like to think that I'm a pretty smart cookie and refused to let this book get the best of me! It is theologically and scripturally on point, but I also think it's a book that someone like myself would have to read again and again to ever get all of the concepts presented.
As a homeschooling mom, I've learned all about personality types and learning styles, and this book was definitely not written for mine.....or, I think, the "layman", as suggested. This book is extremely intellictually and theologically deep ~ very deep. It would most definitely be a worthwhile read for one to whom this type of writing appeals to. I kept thinking as I was reading, "I bet my husband would like this book".
Theodicy is like the elephant in the room for those involved in Christian ministry. We often try to ignore it, but are rarely ever able to avoid it. A helpful resource for those who struggle with the issue is Norm Geisler's new (2011) book If God, Why Evil? While my bread and butter discipline is more related to the biblical text, I found Geisler's work to be interesting at a philosophical level.
In general, Geisler's book is helpful in at least two ways. First, it identifies the major issues and/or problems. This can be of immense value because of the breadth of the questions involved. Second, If God, Why Evil? provides a clear and specific explanation of the issues. In many cases, the issue or problem is laid out in logical form (with premises and a conclusion). The writing is succinct and contains a number of scriptural references (it is too bad that there is no scriptural index).