Book Reviews

Book Review: “Humble Confidence: A Model for Interfaith Apologetics” by Benno van den Toren & Kang-San Tan

Humble Confidence: A Model for Interfaith Apologetics seeks to provide a way forward in interfaith discussions from a Christian perspective. The book is divided into two parts: Reimagining Interfaith Apologetics and Contextual Apologetic Witness to Particular Audiences.

The first part focuses on the model for interfaith apologetics. Here, the authors note several great points. These include the fact that beliefs are embedded rather than held on a surface level. Too often, Christians interested in apologetics treat religious belief as one of a set of beliefs, each of which can simply be jettisoned and replaced with a new belief, as if people’s intellectual lives are a kind of salad bar from which we select and replace things on our plate. The authors rightly note that this is mistaken and that beliefs are formed contextually and often formed in an interconnected web in which removing one is not simple. The authors also note the way that one approaches other beliefs often involves cultural aspects and questions of integration, which is often unfortunately read as syncretism. While the book’s subtitle suggests a model will be presented, the authors present less of a one-size fits all model than a way of looking at beliefs and religions more broadly. This is probably more accurate and useful than any attempt at a singular model would be.

The second part of the book moves to apply insights from the first part of the book to specific religions. I found this part of the book less successful. For example, discussing Buddhism includes the notion that Buddhism must be confronted with “reality,” as if Buddhists themselves are somehow unaware of aspects of “reality” that might be challenging for their beliefs. Buddhism seeks reality in its own sense (179) and the attempt to move towards detachment from the world due to suffering is seen by the authors as a potential challenge to Christianity (187). Nevertheless, the answers provided reads as oversimplified and fail to take seriously the core beliefs of Buddhism.

Indeed, my overall impression of the book is that it is quite simple in its assessment of world religions. The authors are in an unenviable position of trying to both engage with world religions in limited space and attempting to show that such a simplistic interaction is undesirable and even unhelpful. Perhaps the book’s scope is wider than it should have been–more space dedicated to the “modeling” portion of the book may have helped differentiate it more from other broad apologetics books, and avoided the ill-fated attempt to summarize, engage with winsomely, and try to convert other religions.

Ultimately, Humble Confidence is a mixed bag. While I admire the authors’ attempts to show that interfaith dialogue must not always be adversarial, the actual apologetic aspects of the work left me wondering what made it different from standard approaches. It is a decent starting off point for reading about interfaith dialogue, but will leave readers wanting more.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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