People often ask me what books they should read in order to grow in Catholic apologetics. After recommending spiritual books and practices to keep God at the center of our lives, as well as the Catechism and Scripture, I recommend the following five books as being the most efficient way to develop a firm defense of the foundational components of our Catholic faith.
- Five Proofs for the Existence of God by Edward Feser
The foundation of our faith is the existence of God. Feser’s book does an excellent job of presenting novel, sophisticated arguments against atheism. Some critiques of atheism rely on either flawed theological views of God or superficial arguments for God’s existence. Feser’s work, in contrast, defends the long-held classical theistic view of God as being not just one super-powered being among many, but being itself.
Feser’s arguments aren’t just warmed-over popular apologetic material, either. Instead, he crafts new formulations of overlooked ancient arguments, like Aristotle’s argument from motion and Augustine’s argument from universals. Two of the most important chapters in the book outline in great detail how we can know from nature that a being exists with divine attributes (rather than a mysterious first cause). They also pithily debunk the most common atheistic arguments against God’s existence.
- Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Andrew Loke
All right, let’s say we can prove God exists. Which God should we believe in? Once we have firmly defended the existence of the God of classical theism, we need to switch gears from philosophy and make a historical case for God’s existence through the Incarnation. My favorite resource for this task is Andrew Loke’s recent defense of Christ’s resurrection.
Loke is a philosopher by training, but he expertly marshals the most recent historical defenses made for the Resurrection and breaks down a vast amount of literature critical of the Resurrection. He has especially done great work in defending the veracity of Christ’s appearances to multiple individuals, which is highly unlikely to have been observed in a private experience, like a hallucination. Loke also copiously answers hundreds of other objections to the one miracle upon which Christianity either stands or falls.
- The Case for Catholicism by Trent Horn
Once we’ve shown that God exists and that he revealed himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we still have to show why the fullness of God’s revelation is found in the Catholic Church. In my book The Case for Catholicism, I undertook the unenviable task of defending over a dozen key Catholic doctrines, each of which could have (and often does have) a book-length defense. These include topics like Scripture, Tradition, the canon, the papacy, baptism, justification, purgatory, Mary, and many others. This is the best single book to help someone learn how to answer the most common objections to the Catholic faith in light of classic and modern Protestant criticisms.
- Hard Sayings: A Catholic Introduction to Bible Difficulties by Trent Horn
The Second Vatican Council said that Scripture is the “soul of sacred theology,” but it’s common for Scripture to be attacked in the modern world as nothing but a man-made book of fables. Atheists love to tout all the alleged contradictions and inaccuracies in the Bible, and there are many Protestant books that deal with them, sometimes in an encyclopedic way. But those books can be hazardous for Catholics in that their solutions can be worse than the difficulties they try to solve. For example, when atheists balk at Jesus’ teaching on eating his flesh, some Protestant apologists dismiss this teaching as mere symbolism.
That’s why I set out to write the first comprehensive treatment of Bible difficulties from a Catholic perspective. It covers external difficulties to Scripture, like alleged historical or scientific contradictions; internal difficulties, like alleged contradictions among the Gospels; and moral difficulties, like the harsh punishments described in the Old Testament.
Since our faith is rooted in not just the Resurrection, but also all of salvation leading up to it, every Catholic apologist must be prepared to defend what has been recorded in God’s inspired and inerrant written word—or Sacred Scripture.
- Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Life by William E. May
Finally, once an apologist has developed a firm foundation in God’s existence and the revelation of faith through Christ, his Word, and his Church, he is ready to defend the moral teachings of the Church, which tend to be attacked even more than the theological teachings we’ve discussed so far. To aid in that task, I recommend this classic textbook by moral theologian William May, now in its third edition.
It covers a wide variety of moral issues from a Catholic perspective. Along with providing a wonderful primer on how to do Catholic moral theology, May provides in-depth treatments of contentious issues like abortion, IVF, contraception, euthanasia, and embryo experimentation. May presents a rigorous academic approach to these topics but in a way that is accessible to any motivated non-specialist.
Honorable Mention: A Daily Defense by Jimmy Akin
Before apologists dive into the hefty treatments on this list, they might find it useful to partake of an apologetics “sampler platter.” Jimmy’s book contains 365 apologetic arguments—one to read each day, if that’s the pace you prefer—that introduces those interested in apologetics to a wide array of arguments in a quick and easy fashion. Jimmy covers all the areas described in the five previous books, so it would behoove anyone who feels intimated by those books to read A Daily Defense. That will provide a familiarity with these arguments before extensively studying them.