Course Review: Apologetics 101 – Scott Oliphint, Westminster Theological Seminary

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Apologetics comes from the reality of Scripture. It is not an invention of theologians and philosophers.


Letter II‘ve decided to try something new, to start a new type of series. I love to read, and I’ve been writing book reviews for years. I also love to listen to lectures, and often fill the time during my daily commute with courses from the online libraries of schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster, Gordon-Conwell, Covenant, and others.

So I’ve decided start providing summaries, analysis, and critiques of these courses and lecture series, partially to help me process what I’ve encountered and partially because it’s not something I’ve seen done before and I think it’ll be fun.

The first series of lectures I will be reviewing is Dr. Scott Oliphint’s course Apologetics 101 at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

Scott is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster. He is one of the foremost experts on Cornelius Van Til and the sphere of presuppositional apologetics (along with John Frame and the late Greg Bahnsen), and is perhaps best known for his re-framing of presuppositionalism in the form of Covenantal Apologetics.

Scott is on Twitter, has written for Ligonier and DesiringGod, and has many resources available on SermonAudio.

This course is available for free on iTunesU.

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Book Review: The Psychology of Atheism – By R.C. Sproul

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Letter MMuch has been written trying to explain the psychology of theism. The foundational text in that field is probably Sigmund Freud‘s The Future of An Illusion, where Freud theorizes that religion came about as a sort of coping mechanism; it was comforting for early man to personalize the forces of nature and to turn their chiefs into legends, and eventually this evolved into the more institutional forms of religion.

Freud may have been the first, but he was far from the last. Feuerbach theorized that the gods were just man’s projections of himself onto the universal scale. Marx theorized that religion was just a way to keep the working class placated. Nietzche theorized that religion was rooted in fear of the nihil; Bertrand Russell followed a similar line of thinking. More recently, Richard Dawkins dismissed religion as a meme, a sort of ‘mind-parasite’.

In each case these writers are not asking “Is there a God?” Rather, they presuppose there is not a God, and then ask why there is religion. At the same time, they suppose – at the very least through implication – that they are explaining away or debunking religion. In each case these writers fail to realize that explaining what a man can or might do is not in the least determinate for what he actually did do. Or, as Sproul puts it:

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Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion – By Alister McGrath & Joanna Collicutt McGrath

McGrath The Dawkinks Delusion.pngLetter TThere are many individuals who act as poster-boys for certain religious and anti-religious movements. For the New Atheists, one of those individuals is Richard Dawkins; for evangelical Christianity, one of them is Alister McGrath. Both are doctoral graduates from Oxford with degrees in the sciences.

The Dawkins Delusion, as one could easily guess from the title, is the Alister and his wife Joanna‘s response to  Dawkins book The God DelusionThe self-stated goal of the text is to “assess the reliability of Dawkins’s critique of faith in God” by means of challenging Dawkins “at representative points and let readers draw their own conclusions about the overall reliability of his evidence and judgement.”

Calling it a response might be abit of an overstatement, the book is actually much more like a extensive book review. It is not designed as a serious academic rebuttal – either in tone or in content – to Dawkins’ book, but is more of a survey of some of the key issues that the McGraths have with the book.

The book goes about assessing the shortcomings of Dawkins’ book by addressing four areas of Dawkins’ argument which McGrath takes to be key points (or at the very least, points which can be used as representative of Dawkins’ intellectual integrity). The four points addressed are Dawkins assertions that belief in God is fundamentally deluded, infantile, and irrational; that science has disproved God; that the origins of religion lie in wish fulfillment, mental viruses, or ‘memes’; and that religion is evil in and of itself.

Each of these areas offers a survey of what the McGraths take to be Dawkins’ arguments and offer cursory rebuttals to each: that religion is based upon mature rational belief; that science by definition cannot disprove God; that Dawkins’ assertions about the origin or religion are not scientific, ignore current anthropology, and are little more than ‘maybe it happened this way’ type statements; and that the goods produced by religion cannot be ignored (nor the evil produced by many atheists). Each point is made well enough, though in order to understand many of the reasons McGrath takes issue with Dawkins it would be necessary to look to the endnotes, as none of McGrath’s arguments are made in detail and many of them are asserted rather than argued.

As an academic rebuttal, the book isn’t very great. As a book review, it does well enough at addressing some of the issues. So while the book may have various shortcomings in terms of specific debate points, one way I think it stands out is in the grander picture that it presents. It is written in a more informal tone and offers alot of insight and draws many of its points from sources outside of The God Delusion (such as Dawkins other books, personal conversations, and other atheists). While this does make it worse as a direct critique of that book, it does give a nice perspective on the overall debate and of Dawkins view of the relation between science and religion – specifically that there can be no relation, that scientists (and even atheists) or say that there are limits to science or that there may be some compatibility must not be being honest, and that religious people who say the same (such as the Pope in regards to evolution) must be being equally dishonest.

But the overall message to be had from the book to expose the dogmaticism and lack of scientific or rational grounding for much of what the New Atheists argue. Reviewers on places like Amazon give McGrath grief for calling Dawkins’ views dogmatic and then presenting his own dogma, but a key difference is that Dawkins view completely crumbles if it is based on dogma, whereas the Christian view cannot. The entire basis of Dawkins’ position is that it is based upon and only upon scientific observation and reasoned logic, not dogma or emotion or unargued premises, and it is this point that make this book worthwhile – it points out where Dawkins is relying upon dogma, where he is diverging from science in order to fulfill his own agenda.

While the book is unlikely to convince anybody of anything, it is worth the very brief time it takes to read it (at less than 100 pages) at least in order to get a feel for the generalities of the debate.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure athiests whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers and others seeking truth.”-96

-“All ideals – divine, transcendent, human or invented – are capable of being abused.”-81

-“The book is often little more than an aggregation of convenient factoids suitably overstated to achieve maximum impact and loosly arranged to suggest that they constitute an argument.”-13

-“Yet the fact that Dawkins has penned a four-hundred-page book declaring that God is a delusion is itself highly significant. Why is such a book still necessary? Religion was meant to have disappeared years ago. For more than a century, leading sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists have declared that their children would see the dawn of a new era in which the “God delusion” would be left behind for good.”-8

Specific Criticisms

The tone of the book is probably its biggest problem, and the one that will likely keep it from being taken seriously by atheists. The McGraths’ come off as condescending and insulting at various points, often using sarcasm as a means of presenting their or their opponent’s position. It is not the tone of an academic text, but is much more along the lines of a Sunday school lesson aimed at condemning the rival position.

In that sense, this book is a good illustration of how not to interact with nonChristians; the tone undercuts whatever value the arguments have.

Pascal: Faith & Reason

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Letter TThe question of the relationship between faith and reason is one of the perennial questions within Christian philosophy.

Nearly every major Christian thinker down through the ages has said something on the topic of faith and reason, especially those with some sort of apologetic in mind. The greats of these ranks include those such as Tertullian, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas in the ancient and medieval church, and those such as Kierkegaard, Van Til, and Bavinck in the more modern world.

Coming closer towards the beginning of the modern period stands Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and philosopher of the 17th-Century perhaps best known for his famous assertion that “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” In the preface to his commentary on Pascal’s Pensées, Peter Kreeft asserts that “God in his infinite mercy struck Pascal dead at the tender age of thirty-nine, before he could complete the greatest book of Christian apologetics ever written.”

Being a work of apologetics the Pensées naturally discusses the relationship between human reason and the Christian faith, indeed epistemology is the topic of the very first chapter and Pascal spends the bulk of the book elaborating on the topic.

His first paragraph begins with a discussion of the difference between the strictly rational and the intuitive minds, and it is this distinction which serves to undergird the majority of his arguments throughout the text. In making the distinctions that he does Pascal is often approached with some hesitation by those within Christianity for seemingly removing the sphere of faith from that of reason.

These critics label Pascal at best as a fideist, or at least as having fideistic tendencies, at worst as a mystic. There thus arises the question of what the relationship between faith and reason is for Pascal and in what category this view places him in.

His aforementioned assertion regarding the reasons of the heart as well as the statement in his wager that neither the proposition “God is” nor the one that “He is not” can be defended according to reason certainly seem to demonstrate a clear hostility to the things of reason. Yet Pascal asserts that there are actually two excesses: “to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.”

Pascal as an apologist was not hostile to reason, rather, he saw the proper place for reason in its relation to the things of faith; Pascal recognized the limits of reason, and rather than assert that faith is contrary to the ideal of reason he asserted that it is beyond and above reason, specifically reason as it is in fallen man.

pascal.jpegIn examining this position it will be helpful to examine his view of epistemology, specifically his distinction between the rational mind and the intuitive mind, to examine his view of apologetical proofs, and finally to take a look at some of the arguments that Pascal does actually provide for the Christian faith.

Pascal and Epistemology

In discussing the relationship between faith and reason it is only natural to begin with a discussion of epistemology.

As has already been mentioned Pascal begins his Pensées by discussing the difference between the ‘mathematical’ or ‘geometric’ mind – that is, the mind of pure reason – and the intuitive mind, which is roughly the realm of ‘feeling’ or of the heart. The former is the aspect of thought “which uses principles and demonstrations”; it is that part of the mind which uses premises to arrive at conclusions, and thus by ‘reason’ Pascal here means discursive or logical reasoning. The latter is the aspect of thought through which “we know first principles,” it is that aspect which discerns the premises. This includes both logical principles like the law of non-contradiction as well as ethic principles like doing good and avoiding evil.

A good summation of this division comes in Pascal’s statement that “Principles are felt [intuited], propositions proved, and both with certainty though by different means.”

This statement is also of importance because in it one can observe that Pascal once again does not wholly dismiss the validity of reason, he notes that propositions can indeed be proven with certainty. Where Pascal separates himself from the great thinkers of his day – the rationalists – is in maintaining that there is something which can create certainty apart from the reason.

It is this rebellion against the Cartesian method that is the initial thrust of Pascal’s apologetic, to assert that discursive reasoning is not the sole authority for arriving at knowledge and understanding.

The tendency of Pascal’s contemporaries who also rebelled against rationalism was to side with other great thinkers of the day – the empiricists – yet Pascal was careful to avoid this as well.

Thus while both the reason and the senses do convey knowledge, there is something else which also conveys knowledge, that is, the intuition of the heart – thus the heart may have ‘reasons’ which are not arrived at (known) by the reason. This intuition of the heart is not strictly opposed to reason or to the senses, rather it is above them, beyond them (and given that it provides the first principles on which reason functions, it is ‘before’ them): “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.”

This realm of the heart which is above and beyond reason is for Pascal also the realm of faith, hence “It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.”

For those who would define fideism pejoratively as a faith which is against reason this would seem to clear Pascal of the charge. Yet for those who define fideism as any epistemology which sets its foundation outside of reason, Pascal still stands firmly within that realm. It is also of great importance here to note another division, or clarification – though one which is more implied by Pascal than it is stated outright – that is the division between the ideal of reason and the fallen reality of reason.

If by reason one refers to the latter then Pascal indeed states that faith is opposed to this sort of reason.

Thus Pascal states that “There no doubt exist natural laws, but once this fine reason of ours was corrupted, it corrupted everything” so that “nothing, according to reason alone, is just in itself.” On the one hand this is a simple observation along the same lines of the one C.S. Lewis makes in his book The Abolition of Man, where he states that “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved.”

On the other it is an acknowledgement of the noetic effects of sin. The division is between the ideal of reason and the reality of reason, where the former may be perfectly in line with – even if above – faith and the latter may be against it.

The implication of this division can be seen again in such statements asAll mathematicians would then be intuitive if they had clear eyesight” and “One of the ways in which the damned will be confounded is that they will see themselves condemned by their own reason, by which they claimed to condemn the Christian religion,” which implies that in the final days when all eyes have clear eyesight then the reasonableness of the Christian faith will be clearly seen.

To say that the fallen reason is opposed to faith in this sense is not to say that it is merely opposed to faith, but that it is opposed to the intuitions of the heart in general, which in this context means to be opposed to first principles.

Therefore Pascal says “It is through the [heart] that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them.” It is because of this that “If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural.” Yet submitting everything to reason will not only leave the faith with nothing supernatural, but trying to found everything to reason will also leave morals defunct so that “whoever carries it back to its first principles destroys it.”

It may therefore be observed that there are two chief divisions in Pascal’s epistemology: the first is between the intuitive mind (the heart) which discerns first principles directly, and the rational mind which uses principles in order to arrive at conclusions; the second is between the rational mind as it would function ideally and the rational mind as it functions in fallen humanity.

As regards the first division, faith stands as a work of the intuitive mind, a work of the heart and of clear eyes, above reason. As regards the second division, faith stands in accord with reason as it would operate ideally (although it is not a product of this reason), yet in opposition to reason as it operates in the fallen human mind.

Thus faith must be instilled into man from above by God through a reorientation of the heart and a clearing of the eyes.

For Pascal this reorientation may or may not be accompanied by proper reasoning, therefore he states that Christians should “not be surprised to see simple men believe without reasoning” although generally religion is put “into the mind by reasons, and into the heart by grace.” It may thereby be observed that Pascal would maintain that in some cases the reason may be bypassed.

A final restatement may need made at this point for clarification. That is, while Pascal may imply that Christianity is in accord with the ideal reason, this is not to say that salvation is simply a matter of fixing the reason that it may recognize the truth of Christianity.

As Pascal states many times in multiple ways, it is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. Unless the heart perceives and the eyes are directed at Christ, then even the ideal reason would work in vain. Afterall, the reason works from premises and principles, and these principles must be discerned by the heart and the eyes.

If the principles are not discerned, then even perfect reason cannot come to a correct conclusion; thus, the need of the nonbeliever goes far beyond simply the correcting of a cognitive defect, their heart must be turned by the cross.

Pascal and Apologetics: Proofs

This division between the ideal reason and the fallen reason leads well into the discussion of Pascal’s approach to the use of rational arguments in general and proofs from nature and reason specifically.

While Pascal sees the insufficiency of rational arguments to produce faith he still notes that the apologist must nonetheless make use of them, saying “to those who do not have it we can only give such faith through reasoning, until God gives it by moving their heart, without which faith is only human and useless for salvation.” The reasoning which Pascal believes to be proper will be explored in the following section, though here it is of note that while Pascal believed that apologist must make use of reasons, he was not in favor of the traditional proofs; one of Pascal’s most direct statements on this topic is that “It is a remarkable fact that no canonical [Biblical] author has ever used nature to prove God.”

Thus not only does Pascal use Scripture as his precedent for not employing proofs but he also views them as generally ineffective: “The metaphysical proofs for the existence of God are so remote from human reasoning and so involved that they make little impact,” going on to state that even if they do help some people it will only be for the moment that the demonstration is in front of them.

Pascal acknowledges that such proofs are not only removed from the grasp of the general populace, but also that he did not believe they would convince a hardened atheist, especially because “such knowledge, without Christ, is useless and sterile.” It is important to note here that as Peter Kreeft points out “Pascal does not say that the traditional philosophical proofs of the existence of God are logically weak,” but merely that they are not permanently convincing or able to convert the heart from pride to humility.

Pascal and Apologetics: Reasons

Despite Pascal’s lack of confidence in proofs and his acknowledgement that reason is insufficient for producing faith (given that faith is a gift from God, beyond reason), he still maintained – as was mentioned above – that the Christian must still provide reasons until God moves in the unbelievers heart.

Yet the reasons that Pascal provides are not general reasons which may lead to a deistic god just as easily as to the Christian God, for Pascal views deism as being just as opposed to Christianity as is atheism.

He – like Cornelius Van Til – is not content to prove the god of mathematical truths, but only the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

Thus the reasons which Pascal provides for the faith are reasons which derive from Scripture; therefore he argues from miracles, from prophecies, from the uniqueness of Christianity in these ways as well as in how it is the only religion to “propose to men to hate themselves.” Following from this aspect of its uniqueness, Christianity is also the only religion which can “please those who hate themselves, and who seek a Being truly lovable.” Thus for Pascal it is in Christianity that men find true happiness. Pascal again argues from the improbability of the apostles plotting to say that Christ had risen and then dying for conspiracy.

It can be seen in this that Pascal uses a wide variety of reasons for defending the Christian faith, yet his reasons are founded on and unique to Christianity – they are not proofs which could be used to prove any general deity, thus Pascal’s quarrel is “not with those who seek to make a rational case for faith, but with those who seek to know God as a philosophical abstraction or theoretical entity.”

Classifying Pascal

It has been observed thus far that Pascal sets the intuition of the heart as a thing which is beyond reason. Faith is a work of the heart for Pascal, and thus without a work in the heart by God faith will not be accomplished, regardless of whatever reasons may be provided to the rational mind.

While for Pascal it may be possible to have faith without reasoning, on the whole he posits that God changes the heart and the mind upon salvation, thus it is possible for Christianity to make sense within its own system (according to the ideal of reason rather than its fallen state).

For the rationalist, this removes faith their sphere.

From the outside the Christian faith is seen as having a gap which cannot be passed by reason alone, hence Pascal notes that the faith appears foolish since even though there are apparent reasons “it is not all this which makes people belong to it.”

It is this gap which motivates Pascal to posit such arguments as that in his wager, stating that since [discursive] reasoning is neither for or against Christianity that one should simply wager. Kierkegaard later on makes a similar sort of assertion with his leap, which is to “accept in faith that which indeed cannot be thought.”

Some would term this sort of stance as fideism while others such as Peter Kreeft would tselliot.jpgobject, although he offers no alternative classification. Some even bring up the charge of mysticism, though as T.S. Elliot points out in his introduction to the Pensées “Pascal was not a mystic… but what can only be called mystical experience happens to many men who do not become mystics.”

Elliot’s idea accounts both for the fact that a mystical (supra-rational) experience occurs, and yet the system itself is not mystical, yet Elliot also provides no category. Perhaps the best category which might be provided is that provided by C. Stephen Evans, positing that “Perhaps we should call fideism that can be rationally defended responsible fideism.

In this view as in Pascal faith is “beyond reason rather than against reason, since there is no necessary conflict with reason, but only a conflict with reason that has suffered damage but refuses to recognize this” resulting in a scenario of ‘faith seeking understanding’ similar to that of Anselm, where “To understand is to know the truth in the way it should be known.”

This responsible fideism would therefore be to acknowledge the actual state of the Christian faith as being something that although reasonable within its own system (according to the rectified reason rather than the fallen reason), yet also as something which cannot be reached through reason. It acknowledges that the problem is one of the heart rather than one of the mind.

This does operate at the risk of taking on the baggage of the term fideism, but if the Christian is to be intellectually honest this may be a necessary risk – there is a certain mystical or existential element to the Christian faith which cannot be denied, a moment of decision where “the individual needs divine assistance.”

Modern Relevance

As it was observed in the beginning the question of faith and reason is one of the perennial questions in Christianity, and this is just as true today as it was in Tertullian’s, in Anselm’s, in Pascal’s or in the modern day. On the one hand the Enlightenment desire for rationalism still pervades areas of thought today and many refuse to believe if concrete logical reasons cannot be provided to them. For these individuals Pascal reminds them of the logical reality that reason cannot produce its own principles and presuppositions, it reminds them that reason standing alone can only tear down principles, not establish them.

On the other hand there is also the great distrust logic which has reacted against the Enlightenment ideals and has gravitated towards emotion. For these individuals Pascal provides reasons as to how the Christian faith renders individuals “intelligible to ourselves and offers us a way to attain the self-completion that our hearts naturally and most deeply desire.”

For the Christian apologist who is faced with confronting these two groups as well as others, Pascal reminds them that the work of salvation is not in human hands, but rather that it is a work of God in the heart: “we cannot procure it for them by reasoning” but in the final call must wait “till God himself impress it on their hearts.”

Pascal centers his apologetic entirely on the need for the work of Christ, and therefore although he spends little time on the gospel as such he still provides an apologetic which takes the need for the gospel as its primary foundation. In the debate of which apologetic to use it is good to remember that the arguments of man are not the final producer of faith, that the work of God through Christ is ever the vital element.

As Pascal says, “What makes them believe is the cross.”

 

 

Book Review: On Guard – By William Lane Craig

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Letter IIn the world of Christian apologetics, William Lane Craig is one of the contemporary giants, and is also one of the philosophers primarily responsible for the resurgence of classical Christian apologetics (as opposed to presuppositional).

On Guard is what is described as a “one-stop, how-to-defend-your-faith manual,” and aims at providing a basic overview of the classic arguments for the Christian faith. Craig begins his text by presenting a defense of apologetics itself, and a justification for it, to demonstrate of what great difference question such as “Does God exist?” and “Why does anything exist?” are of such importance. Following this Craig goes through some of the classical arguments for the existence of God, such as the cosmological argument, the argument of fine-tuning, the argument from morality, and also deals with the question of suffering. After this more philosophical approach to apologetics Craig turns to the more historical/evidentialist/Biblical approach, discussing such questions as the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, dispelling the mistaken belief that Jesus being a ‘legend’ is a valid option, and the exclusivity of the Christian faith.

Throughout this Craig not only offers the basic logical arguments, but also – in the classic manor of Aquinas – also offers the basic objections to his arguments, followed by a rebuttal against those objections. This aspect of the book is perhaps one of the most helpful parts; many holes which I thought drilled in the classic arguments were plugged by Craig, to my great satisfaction.

After having studied presuppositional apologetics over the years I had come to the conclusion that the classical approach to apologetics was bunk, having been beaten into final submission by Kant, and yet Craig in this text manages to answer most of the objections that might be offered. I have to say that it was an overall refreshing read.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Part of the challenge of getting American people to think about God is that they’ve become so used to God that they just take Him for granted. They never think to ask what the implications would be if God did not exist. As a result they think that God is irrelevant.”-29

-“The question is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives… can we recognize objective moral values and duties without believing in God… can we formulate a system of ethics without referring to God… Rather the question is: If God does not exist, do objective moral values and duties exist?”-134

-“I’m convinced that for most people the terrible suffering in the world is really an emotional, not an intellectual, problem. Their unbelief is born, not out of refutation, but out of rejection.”-153

-“This is really quite extraordinary when you reflect on how obscure a figure Jesus was. He had at most a three-year public life as an itinerant Galilean preacher. Yet we have far more information about Jesus than we do for most major figures of antiquity.”-185

– “In a real sense, then, hell is self-perpetuating. In such a case, every sin has a finite punishment, but because sinning goes on forever, so does the punishment.”-273

Specific Criticisms

While I did thoroughly enjoy this book, it is not without its problems. My most pressing complaint to get out of the way is the fact that this book doesn’t have an index, which automatically drops it a few points in my book. As somebody who frequently does research, an index is an indispensable part of any book and I always get annoyed when an otherwise good book doesn’t contain one. Some other problems might be:

– At some points I feel that Craig relies a little too much on scientific theories in order to prove his point, such as with the Big Bang and the expanding universe. While it might be possible to make these theories work in favor of the Christian system, they are still only one possibility and therefore too much stock should not be placed in them.

– In regards to the problem of suffering, it needs to be noted that the question is not whether God and suffering are incompatible once the system is in play – that is, now – but the probability of it coming it being at the outset.

– Even with Craig’s splendid presentation of the cosmological argument, a contention might still be that it may just as well prove the possibility of a polytheistic world as a monotheistic one.

One other problem which I haven’t had the time to think through at the moment is Cornelius Van Til‘s classic critique of this sort of apologetic that it leads to a Platonic God; that it ‘proves’ a God which is not the Christian God and therefore proves nothing at all (at least in relation to Christianity).

Book Review: The Concept of God – By Ronald H. Nash

 

809930Letter The Christian doctrine of God has throughout history been subject to incredible debate and controversy, specifically as regards his attributes. Within the past few centuries it has become increasingly common to question the coherence of the Christian view of God, with two of the most recent adversaries being those who believe that the Christian view of God (or any God) must be abandoned altogether (atheists) and those who wish to keep a view of God but wish to alter it dramatically (the Process theologians).

In The Concept of God Ronald Nash aims on the one hand to defeat the argument that theism is incoherent in itself, and on the other to address what road to take within theism. The two most visible alternatives are between Thomistic theism and Process theology, yet Nash desires to make it clear that this is not a mutually exclusive relationship.

Throughout the course of the text Nash analyzes six different attributes of God – omnipotence, omniscience, eternity, simplicity, immutability and necessity – in order to show that it is possible to create a coherent system between these and to create one that neither falls into Process theology nor is forced to be content with Thomism.RonNash

While Nash spends much time quoting other writers, the strength of this book is that it attempts not to leave any critique or option unaddressed. Furthermore, Nash is upfront in terms of his own thoughts on the matter, and when he is unsure of the absolute conclusion he lets the reader know.

All in all The Concept of God is not only a great discussion on six of the attributes of God and the doctrine of God overall, but it is also a great view into how the doctrine has developed throughout history and as well as the current trends in thought, which is where Nash’s liberal use of quotations comes in.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The conflict between Thomistic theism and Process theology s basically a revival of the struggle between competing schools of Greek philosophy, one emphasizing being, the other stressing the dominance of becoming.”(p31)

-“Since any sound argument or refutation must begin by presupposing certain rules, it is impossible to argue against someone who rejects the most basic rules of reasoning.”(p39)

-“Whatever God’s relation to the laws of logic may be, it is clear that all human thinking and communication must presuppose the law of non-contradiction… A supralogical God is a God about whom nothing can be said or known. Moreover, a supralogical God would introduce devastating implications into any religion promoting such a concept. If God can do self-contradictory acts, then there is no inconsistency in His promising eternal life to all who trust in Christ but actually condemning to everlasting damnation all who trust in Christ.”(p40)

-“So long as changes occur only in God’s intentional order (that is, in God’s consciousness), His immutability is not compromised.”(p102)

Specific Criticisms

All in all, I don’t have any criticisms of this book. I think the author could be a little more clear as to when he is giving the opponent’s position and when he is giving his own, but this is only minor.

On Apologetics – Purpose, Why You Should Take An Interest

 

apologetics3.pngLetter Not too long ago I had a conversation with a man who has been a pastor for quite some time, and who was at the time taking a course in apologetics. He was clearly frustrated with the course, and as he spoke he attempted to explain why he disliked it so much. His main criticism? That it was pointless.hylian_shield_vector_by_reptiletc-d49y46o

As I listened further I discovered something interesting, his reason for the belief that apologetics was pointless. He said to me “I have no need for this class. I already know why I believe what I believe, and I believe the Bible. The Bible is the only reason I need.”

This statement was interesting, because it betrayed a twofold misunderstanding of the nature of apologetics.

First, the pastor’s statement betrayed a misunderstanding of how to approach belief in the Bible. If one is to believe the Bible one must have beliefs, it will not do to simply say “I believe the Bible” – you must follow that up with what you believe the Bible says and why, and how that squares with your experience of the world. This misunderstanding was addressed in our article Beliefs and Believing the Bible, so it needn’t be addressed any farther here.

Second, the pastor’s statement betrayed a misunderstanding of just what it is that apologetics – more specifically a course in apologetics – is trying to do for the believer.

Somehow he had come upon the misconception that this course in apologetics was meant to give him reasons why he should believe in the truth of Christianity. In case there is some misunderstanding, or in case this view is somehow more prevalent than I realize – that is not the point of apologetics. The goal of learning apologetics is not to convince yourself of the faith; the goal is to give you 1) An understanding of other groups and other perspectives so that you will know how to approach those who come at the world from a different viewpoint, and 2) An understanding of logic and reason as it relates to philosophy and theology as a whole, so that you may know how to explain the truthfulness of your beliefs to others, so that you may give a defense of your faith. Not to give you a reason to believe, but so that you may explain to others how there are reasons to believe. The goal of apologetics is a defense of the faith; to give an answer to those who bring objections against it, and to give reasons for it.

So if you are studying apologetics and feel that you are wasting your time, remember, you’re not learning it for your sake, you’re learning it for the sake of your neighbor, so that you may answer their questions in love and provide not just a testimony of how Christ has changed your life, but also a rational explanation of how He is true.

Because many people have genuine questions about the faith, hard questions, and we as Christians need to be able to address those questions; we need to be able to explain what and why we believe.

There are answers to the hard questions, and learning the school of apologetics will help train you in giving those answers.


If you’re not already a believer, then you should know that it is right and proper for you to have questions and misgivings about the faith, but you should also know that there are answers to your questions. We as Christians have often done a poor job of educating ourselves on those answers, of not being able to explain why we believe what we believe, and we need to amend that; but that is a mistake of individual Christians, not of Christianity as a faith.

Book Review: Apologetics – By Cornelius Van Til

Van Til Apologetics.pngLetter WWithin the realm of 20th Century apologetics few thinkers dominate the sphere as strongly as Cornelius Van Til. No list of Christian apologists would be complete without him being listed as one of the biggest movers within the field. His thought has come to dominate Reformed apologetics, carried on by scholars such as Greg Bahnsen, Scott Oliphint, and John Frame.

Apologetics is Van Til’s brief outline of his thought as conceived in the system of presuppositional apologetics, specifically as it opposes the apologetical methods of Roman Catholicism and Arminian Protestantism. The central tenant of this apologetic may be understood as follows: “Christians are interested in showing to those who believe in no God or in a God, a beyond, some ultimate or absolute, that it is this God in whom they must believe lest all meaning should disappear from human words.”

In beginning his endeavor Van Til does not set out as many apologists would, that is, by jumping into the fray and discussing the logicality of God and pointing out with clever diction why the non-believer should accept his system. In this even the structure of his book is a mirror of his apologetical method, for Van Til’s goal is not the acceptance of some general idea of God, but rather a very specific idea of God – that is, the very specific idea of God as presented by Christianity. Thus Van Til does not start out with nature or logic and reason his way up to God; rather, he begins by laying out Christian orthodoxy, from which place he may explain exactly what it is he means to defend before he goes about defending it.

Following his outline of Christian orthodoxy Van Til goes on to explain Christianity (or, theology) in its relation to philosophy and science. This chapter, along with the third which discusses the ‘point of contact’ which may be made between the non-believer and the apologist, lay out Van Til’s epistemology (that is, his theory of knowledge and how we come about it). The basis of this epistemology is that all human knowledge (indeed the mind of man) is derivative of God’s mind and His knowledge. Furthermore, ‘facts’ are only such in relation to God’s ordination; they exist as part of the system he has set in place, the system of his providence, and apart from that system they are meaningless (from which he may base his argument on the lack of meaning in science and philosophy apart from Christianity).

This idea is expressed by Van Til in stating that: “Thus there is one system of reality of which all that exists forms a part. And any individual fact of this system is what it is primarily because of its relation to this system. It is therefore a contradiction in terms to speak of presenting certain facts to men unless one presents them as parts of this system. The very factness of any individual fact of history is precisely what it is because God is what he is. It is God’s counsel that is the principle of individuation for the Christian man. God makes the facts to be what they are.”

The point of contact for Van Til is not a shared logical mind interpreting nature or the common grace shared by all men (as is usually employed by classical apologists), rather his point of contact is the suppressed knowledge of God residing in all men. His methodology is one which attempts to overthrow the entirety of autonomy within human thought, which leads to the final discussion of authority, namely, the authority of Scripture versus the authority of the human mind (or the Catholic church, we sees as analogous to the former). The light of Scripture takes precedence to the light of man.

Overall Van Til’s Apologetics is a concise discussion of an apologetical method which seeks to bring God back to his proper place of authority over the minds of men. Coming in at just under 100 pages it may no doubt serve as an excellent introduction to presuppositional apologetics and the thought of Cornelius Van Til. Furthermore it will give the reader an excellent foothold in better understanding how to better defend their faith.

Memorable Quotes:

[These tend on the long side, but they’re good, and cutting them down just wouldn’t do them justice…]

“…Truth [ultimately consists] in correspondence to the internally self-complete nature and knowledge that God has of himself and of all created reality.”

“But real redemption has not been fully wrought for us till it is wrought also within us. Sin being what it is, it would be useless to have salvation lie ready to hand unless it were also applied to us. Inasmuch as we are dead in trespasses and sins it would do us no good to have a wonderful life-giving potion lad next to us in our coffin. It would do us good only if someone actually administered the potion to us.”

-“But Reformed theology, as worked out by Calvin and his recent exponents such as Hodge, Warfield, Kuyper and Bavink, holds that man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation. It is itself inherently revelational. It cannot naturally be conscious of itself without being conscious of its creatureliness. Fore man self-consciousness presupposes God-consciousness. Calvin speaks of this as man’s inescapable sense of deity.”

“We do not use candles, or electric lights in order to discover whether the light and the energy of the sun exist. The reverse is the case. We have light in candles and electric light bulbs because of the light and energy of the sun. So we cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason because it is reason itself that learns its proper function from Scripture…. All the objections that are brought against such a position spring, in the last analysis, from the assumption that the human person is ultimate and as such should properly act as judge of all claims to authority that are made by any one. But if man is not autonomous, if he is rather what Scripture says he is, namely, a creature of God and a sinner before his face, then man should subordinate his reason to the Scriptures and seek in the light of it to interpret his experience.”

Specific Criticisms

On the whole I don’t believe there is much that I may critique concerning Van Til. On the superficial level he is not quite as easy to read as some of his students (ie, Bahnsen and Frame); this should by no means discourage the reader, Van Til is not difficult, he’s simply not as concise as he could be. Another minor criticism may the time he spends addressing specific thinkers, thinkers which modern readers may not be familiar with – but again, this doesn’t really detract from the text.

One greater criticism of Van Til’s system (at least as presented in this text alone) is that he offers no rebuttal against the ideas of existentialism, absurdism, or nihilism. Van Til’s position is that in order to give meaning to anything one must adopt the Christian worldview, yet this does nothing to address those who are content with the world having no meaning (or with that meaning being completely subjective/absurd/relative). Perhaps this can simply be chalked up to the outline nature of the book (that is, it is not all-inclusive of Van Til’s thought).

A few more minor nitpicks might consist in the following. Van Til states that “[If obedient to God] The controlling and directing power of his will would be the will of God. ” To me this statement reads as a contradiction. The ‘if obedient’ presumes an autonomy on the part of man which is not present if ‘the controlling power of his will’ is the will of God. One might be able to escape this by interpreting ‘if obedient’ in terms of ‘if God grants obedience’, but this is not set out in the text.

A similar contradiction in terms is found in the statement that “Any other sort of God is no God at all and to prove that some other sort of God exists is to prove that no God exists.” If the word ‘prove’ here is taken in its hardest meaning, that is, if the opponent did indeed prove that some other god existed, this would negate Christianity. Van Til’s apologetic gets the better of his semantics; in allowing the possibility of “some other sort of God” to be proven he undermines the presupposition that no such other God can be proven (even if that other God should prove to be meaningless or impotent). One would think his argument could be made without asserting the notion that proving some other God is even possible.

Chesterton’s Apologetic & The World Today

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G.K. Chesterton – despite his great girth – is somehow often overlooked in contemporary discussion. Yet if you should take up most any book of his and read you will find that he is still a wonderful treasure trove of insight into the world.

Chesterton was a massive influence on Christianity during the early 20th century, at least within the context of England. He was his generation’s version of C.S. Lewis, with an extra serving of wit. This made him the chief candidate for being the popular defender of Christianity during his day, and his method of defending the faith is one that we would do well to learn from today. But before we can learn from Chesterton’s methods, we must first determine what those methods were.

In undertaking this task it is helpful to first look at what types of strategies are out there, there are at least five different approaches:

  1. the Classical Method, which includes using natural theology and pure reason to establish theism, that is, a belief in God or gods
  2. the Evidential Method, which uses miracles, the historicity of Jesus, etc. to argue its case
  3. the Cumulative Case Method, which says Christianity makes the best sense of the data
  4. the Presuppositional Method, which argues that only through God can one make sense of the world and have a basis for reason and ethics, and also that the opponent’s views all end in absurdity
  5. the Reformed Epistemology Method, which tends towards fideism (that is, a stance which “refuses to offer any arguments or evidence for Christian claims”) and is mostly defensive rather than offering any real argument.

With this cursory survey given we can look at where Chesterton’s arguments fall in this schema.

Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy is perhaps his most iconic work in defense of the faith, and it is therefore ideal for discerning his method. As one reads Orthodoxy the feeling is given that Chesterton’s apologetic is one of common sense, with his chief enemy being skepticism. First Chesterton argues positively for certain evidences which may be found within Christianity, including what he calls guessing ‘illogical truths’ – truths that would be thought illogical if not for their being true – or that the division between man and animal is in need of an explanation. The view that evolution fails to account for the vast differences between man and animal can also be seen in his book The Everlasting Man, where he argues that:

A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.

Both of these show signs of a sort of evidentialist method, where the argument is made by looking at the outside world and asking for explanations of what is seen.

But more than just presenting arguments for Christianity, Chesterton also offers many arguments against the opponents of Christianity. The opponents he primarily tackles include skepticism, materialism, and pantheism; skepticism being the view that human knowledge is impossible in some field or another, materialism the view that the material world is all that there is, and pantheism the view that everything that exists is part of God. His primary argument against these opposing views is that they result in a ‘suicide of thought’, which is  the name of the chapter in which he states “There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.”

Through this method – similar to reductio ad absurdum – Chesterton greatly imitates the method of presuppositionalism, yet in this he has a similarity to the cumulative case method as well; on the one hand arguing that the opposing views end in absurdity, and on the other that it is only Christianity that makes sufficient sense of the data.

G.K. Chesterton employs a variety of apologetical methods in order to argue his case for Christianity. Yet apart from just looking at the arguments that he presents, we can also look at how he views the relationship between faith and reason.

This relationship forms a pivotal part of any apologetic method, for it is this relationship which determines whether the arguments presented will have any practical effect on the nonbeliever.

In looking for his view on this matter it is perhaps best to look once again back to Orthodoxy, in which he provides his arguments for Christianity and against its critics. Chesterton may be found stating here that “It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith.” It might thus be concluded that Chesterton places faith above reason, for reason itself falls under the purview of faith.

The relationship between faith and reason is further expounded in Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, in which he condones Aquinas’ view where he “was willing to allow the one truth to be approached by two paths, precisely because he was sure there was only one truth.”

The point here is that for Chesterton faith and reason are two methods for arriving at the one truth. Chesterton therefore has no outright contention with science or reason (such as the proofs of Thomas Aquinas) because he is sure that if reason arrives at any truth that truth could not contradict the truth of Christianity.

This not only demonstrates Chesterton’s view of the relationship between faith and reason, but it also shows his endorsement of the classical method of apologetics through his approval of Aquinas, who formulated most of the classical proofs. Thus, it may be said that Chesterton pulls his argumentation from all of the apologetical methods combined – classical, evidentialist and presuppositional –  rather than simply relying upon one or the other.

Chesterton’s was of course greatly defined by his era, by the onset of modern liberalism – that is, the movement to make Christianity compatible with science – as well as the fact that presuppositionalism was just coming into play during his time period. Modern liberalism was just starting to take hold during Chesterton’s time, hence the attacks against it in texts such as Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies.

This period also saw the development of a new type of apologetic, that of Van Til’s presuppositionalism. Presuppositionalism is best known for its attack on the epistemology of the opponent, a strategy not seen before the dawn of the Twentieth Century, and therefore we may assume that Chesterton was also influenced by this trend.

Perhaps one of the greatest insights to be drawn from Chesterton is that one is not limited to any one view of apologetics, indeed, he drew from just about all of them.

Furthermore, many of the same heresies that Chesterton fought against are still prevalent. We can still see skepticism in the world today, as well as materialism, as well as pantheism. It is by analyzing how our ancestors battled untruth that we can better understand how to do it ourselves. The truth never changes, therefore it may still be truly said that “there is nothing new under the sun.”


 

[Originally posted on Chestertonian.com]