Mitch Stokes, A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists (Nashville: Thomas Nelson 2012), 272 pages.
In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a barrage of belligerent atheists writing volumes of popular works attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular. And if you are not careful you can get the feeling that they have the upper hand right now. Their books sell well, they make the debate rounds (well, most of them do), and many of them have been guests on a plethora of TV and radio shows. They talk a great game and many have been lead down their primrose path.
It turns out, however, that only one or two layers beneath the overly confident surface lies a surfeit of good ideas. With a little guided and informed examination it is revealed that their bark does not measure up to their bite. Mitch Stokes’ book is that examination, and is a very well-guided tour of the problems with the so-called new atheists.
But the book begins in an unexpected place. In fact, I’m not sure I have read a non-technical or popular level book on Christian thought or apologetics that begins where he does. You might expect a book like this to open by dealing with the major arguments for God’s existence or the reliability of Scripture or even a blow-by-blow examination of the new atheist’s arguments. Instead, Stokes begins with the issues of argument, reason, and knowledge in the first place. Specifically, he uses the epistemological work of Alvin Plantinga to argue against the evidentialism, Enlightenment rationalism, and scientific provincialism inherent (and necessary) to the work of the new atheists. In essence, he pulls the rug out from underneath their entire scheme.
From there Stokes deals with what are probably the two most popular and potent attacks on the faith – the assertion that science has ‘disproved God’ and the problem of evil. Both sections are rich with table-turning insight and are profitable for anyone who has confronted these arguments or even doubted because of them.
If you are accustomed to a Christian apologetic being primarily about various arguments, you might end up a little frustrated with Stokes’ take on their role and usefulness. He does not get rid of the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, but he does see a need for good arguments to bolster the reasonableness of faith. If I have a quibble with the book it is that I might place more emphasis on the power and usefulness of the arguments themselves, but that did not get in the way of the value of this work for me.
If you are worried because you don’t know what any of that means, you are in luck. Though his book will force you to think and slow down a bit, it is entirely readable and accessible if you are ready to do so. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering this book, its treatment of Plantinga’s ideas, and it thorough treatment of the new atheists and their arguments.
Stokes states that he wrote this book to encourage the believer and even possibly help anyone toying with doubt, and I think he has done a wonderful job.
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