An Introduction to Mark Mittelberg's Book "Confident Christianity" Part 1

Mark Mittelberg
Mark Mittelberg is a bestselling author, sought-after speaker, and the Executive Director of the Center for Strategic Evangelism, in partnership with Houston Baptist University. He wrote the book Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Belief (2013)—which won the Outreach Magazine's 2014 apologetics book of the year award. Yet, it appears his book has been flying under the atheist radar—so far. I aim to rectify that with a few posts offering my thoughts and criticisms of it.

I found Mark’s book recently in a Goodwill store for $1. That was a lucky find. I didn’t know of his book until then. Thank Good...will. I have met him before, at a debate I had with David Wood. What I didn’t know was how similar our backgrounds are. We both studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and we both earned a masters degrees in the philosophy of religion there (him a M.A.; me a Th.M.). We also studied under the late Stuart Hackett while there, as did Paul Copan, as did William Lane Craig before us, who has admitted his debt to Hackett. LINK. Upon Stu’s death I wrote a post remembering him titled, Remembering and Honoring Professor Stuart C. Hackett. Hackett was Mark's "primary philosophical mentor" (Confident Faith, p. 271, note #2). William Lane Craig was mine. Perhaps Craig was gone by the time Mark attended, I don't know.

One of the first things I do when reading a book like this is to see which books, or online sites, the author recommends and quotes from. I want to see if the author has read some material substantially different than I have, to anticipate what I’m about to find. After looking, I know or have read 85% of the books Mark recommends. The same goes for Mittelberg's recommended online sites. I saw books by apologists C.S.Lewis, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, Norman Geisler, Frank Turek, Norman Nix, Ron Brooks, Thomas Howe, Paul Copan, Paul Little, Gleason Archer, William Lane Craig (of course), Pascal, Augustine, Stu Hackett, Chad Meister, Hugh Ross, Patrick Glynn, Francis Collins, Stephen Meyers, Michael Brown, Josh McDowell, Paul Vitz, Craig Evans, Simon Greenleaf, Alister McGrath, Warner Wallace, William Ramsay, William Albright, as well as John A.T. Robinson (I recommend his book “Honest to God” which helped change my mind), Thomas Kuhn, Robert Jastrow, Stephen Hawking, Louis Lapide, Rudolph Bultmann, Aldous Huxley, Nietzsche, Antony Flew, Richard Dawkins, and especially Lee Strobel (who is mentioned the most).

Coming from the same circles and the same seminary I was disappointed to learn we have the same intellectual background, the one I rejected for really good reasons. So I already know his book will be the same old special pleading apologetics, sorry to say.

I opened Mark’s book and found a glowing Foreword written by Lee Stobel, a former journalist and former atheist who appears to be one of Mark’s closet friends and ministry partners of twenty-five years (they meet for lunch to talk every Monday). When it comes to developing a confident faith in Christianity Strobel says, “I can’t think of anyone who is better positioned than Mark to serve as your spiritual coach” with his “academic credentials” and engaging writing “style.” Mark will “walk you through such diverse areas as science, philosophy, history, archaeology, religious experience, and evidence related to the Bible...that point compellingly to the truth of Christianity.”

One of Lee Strobel’s most referenced books by Mark is his The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. As a former journalist Strobel interviews Christian apologists like Craig L. Blomberg, Gregory Boyd, Ben Witherington III, D.A. Carson, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, J.P. Moreland, and others, to see what cases they can make for Christ. Yet he fails to ask tough questions of them, what an investigative journalist should do. Perhaps it's because Strobel doesn’t know enough to do so, or more likely he’s not truly investigating the case for Christ but rather arguing for that case. I suspect it's both.

As far as Strobel's claim of being an atheist who investigated Christianity and became a evangelical Christian goes, his description of his atheist past, as a Rational WiKi author astutely observes, “sounds suspiciously like the way atheists are depicted by Christians (e.g. that he was rejecting God, despite knowing or suspecting that he existed, in order to be able to sin freely).” And I'll leave it at that. [See Lee Strobel]

My goal isn’t to critique Strobel’s book, since biblical scholar Robert Price has already done so in The Case Against The Case For Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel . I do want to highlight that Price's case against Strobel’s case is very convincing. Price repeatedly makes the distinction between historians and apologists. A historian wants to know what happened. The apologist doesn't care what happened. He only wants to defend the Holy Book at all costs, even if it means he must sacrifice his intellect to do so.

So sacrificing one’s intellect is what readers of Strobel’s book must do to accept it, for while Strobel acts like he's setting out to test the “claims of Christ” he does no such thing. Strobel is being disingenuous, Price tells us, because "his true intention becomes clear by the choice of people he interviewed: every one of them a conservative apologist!" So Strobel is not uncovering facts as a reporter would do. No, he's "soliciting opinions he already wants to promote. The irony is that, if anyone in Jesus' day had actually done what Strobel claims to be doing, seeking out informed authorities to interview, there would be no need for such exercises in apologetical futility." (p. 12)

So far I have seen no attempt by evangelicals to answer Price's book. If they were honest with the evidence and truly had the goods they should be able to do so easily. So what's the problem? There are perhaps fifty apologists writing books of this nature, to just two or three atheists. Surely some Christian apologist has the time.

Mark and I might just be equals as far as our education goes (I have three masters degrees, not just one, along with PhD studies, but okay). That’s what I find exciting. The difference is doubt, my doubt. What does doubt throw in the mix when it comes to apologetics? I aim to show it changes everything. We were believers in school. He still believes. I don’t. I have a different, and as I’ll argue a better perspective, a perspective Mark has not truly considered or appreciated before. It’s the difference between us that makes all the difference.

One other thing about my similarities to Mark. I have argued Christian apologists should pony up, as it were, and tell us how they became Christian believers. I think this is instructive. I want to know because the arguments and evidence are not what convinced most Christians to believe. It’s being raised in a Christian culture by Christian parents. He tells us he was raised to be a Christian by Christian parents. Mark is honest about this. So was I in telling why I left the Christian faith. The problem is Mark doesn’t really see what an impact that is on him being an evangelical Christian. His book itself is trying to help evangelical Christians have a more confident faith (come on, it's published by Tyndale House Publishers). Why doesn’t he write his book such that he truly weighs both sides for readers to judge for themselves? Folks that will never happen. I know it. You know it. But I mention it just the same.

What I’ll be doing is merely looking at the case Mark makes for confident Christianity. Given that his background is the same as mine I already know the result, although in some possible world I could be surprised. But it's not likely. At all. That's because I rejected it to the point where Pascal's Wager had no effect on me. I considered the odds of Christianity, evangelical Christianity, to be abysmal, so there was no worry of hell for me, and consequently little or no chance I'll ever return to it, especially if all I get from Mark is the same apologetical shitck I rejected. 

I sincerely invite Mark to respond, just as I did of my review of John Haught’s book, God and the New Atheism, which can be seen in five parts here.