Faith Outside the Bubble
On the one hand, we need to show that there are answers to the New Atheists' arguments. If we don't respond, people will assume that we can't respond, precisely because we have no answers to give. Anglican theologian Austin Farrer made this point years ago, and Anderson endorses it. Reason doesn't create faith. But a public perception that faith is irrational creates a negative cultural predisposition against faith.
Anderson supports Christians engaging with this noisy yet somewhat superficial atheism. It needs to be done, and on the whole, it has been done well. Despite lingering media sympathy for this aggressive godlessness, it's on the way out. In the United Kingdom, Dawkins is so yesterday. He is increasingly becoming a figure of amusement on account of the sheer predictability of his godless rants.
On the other hand, this way of engaging atheism suggests that Christianity is just a set of ideas, and it neglects the crucial relational aspects of faith. More problematically, it also encourages people simply to learn the answers, without having internalized the deep logic of Christianity. Anderson worries—with good reason—that a faith that knows the answers, but doesn't understand the questions, is both superficial and vulnerable.
That's why Anderson is right to emphasize the need for recovering "the practice of catechesis," meaning a deliberate education in the fundamentals of the faith. When done well, it cultivates our "ability to question and live into the answers." The rise of the New Atheism showed clearly that many Christians weren't good at connecting the dots of their faith. They knew their Scripture well, but hadn't quite figured out how to weave its themes together to yield a coherent way of thinking. They trusted and loved God, but they had neglected Jesus' command to love God with one's mind.
In Anderson's phrasing, we need to be able to "show our work." By this, he means we need to commit to explaining why we believe certain things, rather than simply asserting them. "We may," he writes, "have grasped our understanding intuitively, without reflection." Anderson makes this point partly to help readers see why discussing differences needs to go deeper than assertion. We need to explore why we arrived at our conclusions, and to have a degree of openness or "hospitality" to other viewpoints—even if we may, for good reasons, reject them.
More to Be Said
I liked Anderson's book and will not hesitate to recommend it, especially to pastors. Yet more needs to be said. Yes, we need to learn from the past, from voices scattered across the Christian tradition. But I found myself wishing the book had expanded on this, delving deeper into both the questions this raises and the answers that others, such as Lewis, have given. Anderson himself has read both Lewis and those thinkers to whom Lewis pointed. I would have loved more detailed examples of how engaging the past enriches the faith of the present, and perhaps a brief discussion of the flaws inherent in what Lewis called "chronological snobbery": our lazy assumption that modern equals better.