Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, by Kenneth D. Boa & Robert M. Bowman Jr.

This was a pretty long book that grew tiresome at times but which covers a lot. The intent of the book is to lay out the four main apologetic approaches and attempt to integrate them into a cohesive approach. These four approaches are called the classical, evidential, Reformed and fideist apologetics. Each seeks to defend Christianity in a unique way. To various extents they can be combined but they are also exclusive in that they disagree on very important meta-apologetic issues such as the relation between theology and apologetics.

In what follows I am going to answer a set of questions posed in the book to the various apologetic systems. I think that in all matters of Christian faith one ought to be as honest as possible with themselves and non-believers. Developing a nice castle in which you can’t live in is tantamount to building a castle in the air. So in thinking about apologetics one must not ‘bite off more than one can chew’ so to speak. Here goes:

Metapologetic Questions

1. On what basis do we claim that Christianity is the truth?

My take is a combination of the evidentialist and fideist approaches. Christianity is unique in that it can be verified by external evidence. The Eastern philosophies, Mormonism, and Islam all appeal to subjective experience to justify their claims. Christianity does too in a way since it is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and leads us to a relationship with Christ. But the difference is that Christianity can be tested by someone from the outside. That is its greatest strength and why I think it to be true. The Resurrection of Christ and the general reliability of Scripture is key here in this. The evidence cannot compel faith but bring one who is seeking for transcendent truth in this life to the brink where she will have to decide either to chase after Christ or back away. The walk is the real proof in the pudding but evidence is what can bring one to that decision place.

2. What is the relationship between apologetics and theology?

I disagree with Karl Barth that the best apologetics is a good theology. I do agree however with Kierkegaard that the best apologetic is a life lived in accord with the truth known through theology. The apologist is one who defends the truth of Christianity through induction (I am taking a notably evidentialist approach here) while the theologian explicates what Christianity means through that same method. In this regard, apologetics does precede theology (contra Barth) because one has to believe first that Christianity is true before one gets into theology. The last statement should be qualified in that it is from the point of view of one outside. For the Christian, the practice of one’s theology in her everyday life is the most ultimate test of its truth.

3. Should apologetics engage in the philosophical defense of the Christian faith?

Yes. I leave open the possibility of the constructive use of philosophy in the traditional theistic arguments but I am skeptical of many of these to various extents. Christianity is based upon factual claims which concerns history, not philosophy per se. Philosophy is a good servant in examining the presuppositions and conclusions of people studying history or science but when it is on its own, it is only speculative.

4. Can science be used to defend the Christian faith?

Here, I depart from the evidentialist fold. Science and faith are opposed in that the first is concerned with things seen while the second is concerned with things unseen. I do think that science can be used to show that Christianity is believable but anything more than that gives science too much priority over faith. To combine science and faith is to depart from Christ because it takes the emphasis away from Him.

5. Can the Christian faith be supported from historical inquiry?

It can, but only after a certain point and up to a certain point. What I mean by this is that one must be interested first to even want to go there. A hostile atheist or a someone who just doesn’t care will not respond to any historical evidence. One has to go up to a certain point in curiosity and desire for the truth for this to work. ‘Don’t through your pearls before swine,’ Jesus said. After that point where one is open and seeking, then historical inquiry can support Christian faith, or the possibility thereof. It should also be remembered that this does not bring one all the way to faith. Only by their own choice and through the work of the Spirit can someone come to saving faith.

6. How is knowledge of Christian truth related to experience?

One cannot fully know that Christianity is true through the intellect alone. For saving faith, experience is necessary. By ‘experience’ I don’t mean seeing miracles but in seeing one’s life be transformed by God’s Spirit. Kierkegaard said rightly that in the New Testament faith is tested not by reasons but by one’s life. Experience may not be the first ground on which one knows that Christianity is true but it is definitely the last ground.

Apologetic Questions

1. Why should we believe in the Bible?

We believe the Bible because we believe in Christ. For those who need evidence, this is provided by arguing for the reliability of the Bible and for the resurrection of Jesus. Another primary means of knowing this is through one’s personal encounter with Christ. Not everyone who has lived or lives currently is privileged with having easy access to the historical record, although that record does bear witness to Him. What ultimately unites all Christians in the personal experience of God acting in our lives.

2. Don’t all religions lead to God?

No. Religions make conflicting truth claims which entails that they cannot all be true. They all may have some true elements or assumptions that have some truth behind them but they cannot all be true.

3. How do we know that God exists?

I do not reject the traditional theistic arguments of the classical apologist and may be inclined towards using some of them. The problem with much of these arguments is that they are tedious and eminently debatable. So are the arguments pertaining to the resurrection of Christ, one can claim. The difference though here is that the resurrection can get one both theism and Christianity while the others may get only a generic theism. This is not to say that the theistic arguments shouldn’t be used but that they should take a less prominent place in apologetics. Again, the last ground for knowing that God exists is a personal relationship with Christ. All arguments are a means to this end, which in itself is the greatest argument.

4. If God exists, then why does he permit evil?

I do not think we have a full answer to this. The Free Will Defense is classic but it leaves something to be desired. The paradox of Christianity is that the infinite God died. The cross changes how we ought to perceive this problem. As Kierkegaard said, “That God could make creatures free over and against Himself is the cross that philosophy could not bear and on which it has remained hanging.” In the face of evil one can bow out and accept life trying to avoid it as much as possible. One can also ignore it and optimistically go about life. Or one can accept the paradox of Christianity, believing both that evil is the grave threat to every person and that one must zealously struggle against it. As Chesterton said, the Christian is alone a combination of the extreme pessimist and the extreme optimist.

5. Aren’t the miracles of the Bible spiritual myths or legends and not literal fact?

The legacy of Hume and modernism is an a priori rejection of miracles. This is simply begging the question. One must look at the evidence and not decide before one looks that miracles are impossible. Even if one does not believe in God, the evidence for Christ’s resurrection from the dead ought to be enough for one to accept both theism and Christianity.

6. Why should I believe in Jesus?

You should believe in Jesus because he claimed to be divine (this is true even if one disregards John and takes only the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels and believed to be authentic by the Jesus Seminar) and rose from the dead. This is the bedrock of the faith.

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