Review of Randal Rauser’s “Conversations with my Inner Atheist”

Canadian Baptist theologian and apologist Randal Rauser has authored a delightful new (2020) book on Christian apologetics. The subtitle of this work, which seems to be primarily for questioning Christian believers, or have-been` believers, is A Christian Apologist Explores Questions that Keep People Up at Night.

On the cover and again just before the first page of the text are the provocative words of American physicist Richard Feynman (1918~88), who declared, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” Although Rauser (b. 1973) identifies himself as “a broadly evangelical Christian,” he clearly eschews the arrogant certainty that is now characteristic of much conservative evangelicalism (and the fundamentalism of the 20th century).

After a brief introduction, the entire book from the first chapter through the Conclusion after the 25th chapter is written as a dialogue between Randal, the author, and Mia, the name taken from my inner atheist. Mia is a sharp interlocutor who not only asks penetrating questions but also deftly questions the answers Randal gives her. (I don’t know why Rauser’s “inner atheist” is female, but Mia seems to be a woman’s name.)

Rauser’s delightful book is clearly written for a popular (= non-academic) audience rather than for scholars, and the clever dialogue that includes some humorous repartee makes the book very readable for a general audience. That being said, it seems clear that the audience in mind are people who are familiar with traditional evangelical Christianity. Thus, this work is more for questioning/ doubting Christians and for people who were brought up in the church rather than for people reared in and currently immersed in a non-Christian and/or secular worldview.

Rauser deals with some of the most difficult topics that have beset Christian thinkers (and apologists) through the years: “How do you make sense of the Trinity?” (chapter 5), “Why does God torture people in hell?” (chapter 16), and “Why does God allow the most horrific evils?” (chapter 25). He also had some chapters that are rather unique in a book on Christian apologetics, such as “What if Mary was a child who couldn’t consent to bearing a child? (chapter 11) and “Wouldn’t a heaven that went on forever eventually become hell?” (chapter 22).

The most helpful chapters are probably those between the usual and unusual topics as indicated in the examples just given. The sixth chapter, titled “If the Bible includes immoral laws, how can it be inspired?” and “Why can’t gay people just marry? (chapter 23) are especially helpful. In the former, Rauser writes, “Every Christian should recognize that Jesus is the interpretive key for the Bible” (p. 44). Would that every Christian did, in fact, recognize that!

In both the introduction and the conclusion, which “bookend” the 25 numbered chapters of his book, Rauser commendably emphasizes intellectual honesty/integrity. “As Christians we’re called to a radical life of intellectual honesty,” he writes on pages 5-6. And then on the final page of the conclusion, Mia says to him, “I’ll continue to be that contrarian voice in your head, keeping you intellectually honest” (p. 192).

In these troubled times for the Christian church, the matter of intellectual honesty/integrity is of the highest importance. Rauser, an evangelical apologist, has produced a book clearly with that important matter in mind. Even though I don’t agree with his evangelical position on every point, this is a book I do not hesitate to recommend, and I hope it will be widely read and that the content will be thought about deeply.

About Leroy Seat

* Born in Grant City, MO, on 8/15/1938 * Graduated from Southwest Baptist College (Bolivar, MO) in 1957 (A.A.) * Graduated from William Jewell College (Liberty, MO) in 1959 (A.B.) * Graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) in 1962 (B.D., equivalent of M.Div.) * Received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in theology from SBTS. * Baptist missionary to Japan from 1966 to 2004. * Full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University (Fukuoka, Japan) from 1968 to 2004. * Adjunct professor at Rockhurst University from 2006 to 2014.
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