Narrative Apologetics - Alister McGrath (book review)

Book Review: Narrative Apologetics (Alister E. McGrath)

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Title: Narrative Apologetics
Author: Alister E. McGrath
Year: 2019
Pages: 176

Alister McGrath, a Christian apologist and Oxford professor, has written this book as an apologetic for narrative apologetics. McGrath is educated as both a scientist and a theologian (he holds doctorates from Oxford University in both fields). In Narrative Apologetics, he suggests that stories form a natural link with how the Bible works and how people make sense of their lives.

Evidential apologetics and historical truth still have their place in the conversation, but, as McGrath points out, “Truth is no guarantor of relevance” (p. 16). Using stories to explain faith can help the truth gain “existential traction” by connecting the gospel to lived experience.

After establishing the theological foundations of narrative apologetics, McGrath draws heavily on the works of C. S. Lewis to show how the process might work. “Lewis invites us to enter another world and, in so doing, come to see our own world in a new way” (p. 55). Most readers and would-be apologists will not possess the intellect, wit, and skill of a writer like Lewis, but McGrath recommends they follow Lewis’ example by telling stories to make rational arguments in “an imaginatively engaging and compelling manner” (p. 70).

Biblical stories can also be used for apologetic purposes. In a skeptical, post-Christian, post-truth culture, McGrath is keen to point out that the goal is not initially to get people to accept the authority of biblical stories. The goal, instead, is to invite them “to explore the way of seeing reality that [the biblical stories] open up” (p. 75). Perhaps that way of seeing might prove more satisfying and compelling than the narrative structure that presently shapes their lives. McGrath models how this can be done by unpacking stories of the exodus, the exile, and the incarnation, along with the parable of the pearl of great price. A list of seven different biblical episodes is also mentioned for readers to try this process for themselves.

McGrath wraps up by explaining how the Christian story of reality helps people answer the four fundamental questions of a meaningful life: Who am I? Do I matter? Why am I here? Can I make a difference? According to McGrath, “By allowing their personal narratives to be embraced and enfolded by the greater narrative of God, Christians see things in a new way – including their own status and identity” (p. 130).

Anyone seeking to share the truth and relevance of Christian faith today will be stimulated and helped by reading Narrative Apologetics. For some people, rational lines of argument will not work to break down their walls of defense. But everyone loves a good story. To that end, McGrath has written a good introduction to help readers introduce others to the greatest story ever told.

If you’re interested, you can hear McGrath discussing this topic in greater detail on A Clear Lens podcast (

Disclaimer: This book was received for free from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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