When the Christian Brain Ceases to be Relevant

Philosophy of Religion Theology / Biblical Studies

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Apparently it has come to this: If you’re a Christian, then using your grey matter to articulate and defend the Christian faith just isn’t “Relevant.” And who would know better than Relevant magazine, where the number one priority is being, well, relevant?

Sunyak Kim is ostensibly concerned at the effects of apologetics on Christian culture. He thinks that it is damaging our appreciation of faith. I don’t think so. There are some fun rhetorical jabs to be made if you really wanted to here as well. Being “relevant,” surely, is about appealing to culture. And yet Mr Kim here actually faults Christians who engage in rational defence of the faith for “succumbing to cultural norms.” Well is being culturally relevant important or not?

But forget those kind of cheap victories. I have a couple of grave concerns over Relevant’s publication of an article like this. Full disclosure: I’ve never really paid attention to the magazine before. But I do know that it’s popular and, in its own way, influential. And surely the editor doesn’t just see it as a popular opinion rag. Surely the people who put this thing together think that they are saying something from a Christians perspective that’s really relevant, worth hearing, and maybe even true.

And in this capacity, with that sort of responsibility on its shoulders, the magazine presents this article, starting out with the worry that “All this learning how to defend Christianity seems to have left us uncomfortable with one very basic word.” That word, as it turns out, is Christianity’s new “f word,” faith. I’d like a little clarity on who the author has in mind when he says “us.” Surely he doesn’t mean himself, because in this article he holds himself aloof from this spiritual deadness. Does he mean to refer to the intellectuals he refers to; J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, or Alvin Plantinga? Is he suggesting that they are a little uncomfortable with the word “faith”? One hopes that’s not what he’s saying. In his sights, I suspect, is that elusive scapegoat, the generic, unnamed, “typical Christian these days,” whoever that might be. I left only one comment at the website: “Speak for yourself!”

Let stop there and do a bit of scene-setting. Sungyak Kim’s piece, “Christianity’s new F Word” is actually, in a round about sort of way, a call for people to pay more attention to presuppoisitional apologetics. I’ve said things about presuppositional apologetics in the past, and there is much about it that I admire. It is essentially an approach to rationally defending the Christian faith by arguing that non-Christian worldviews collapse into self-refutation, as they cannot provide a coherent account of the very building blocks of reason itself (that was the world’s shortest summary ever). One thing that is relevant to note here is that presuppositional apologetics is very intellectual in nature. Its various proponents, Cornelius Van Til or Greg Bahnsen, for example, emphasised the rational necessity of the truth of Christian theism. Bahnsen, no less than the apologists that Mr Kim refers to, engaged in Back and forth debate with non-believers, and his writings on apologetics are available so that others can learn to use what he called “nuclear strength” arguments for the faith. Anyone who has read his book Always Ready: Directions for defending the faith will see with ease the value he places on having rational arguments.

But how does Kim set the scene for his advocacy of presuppositional apologetics? Troublingly, by accusing apologists of other stripes of trying to make Christians so rational that they have no room for faith! Learning to defend Christianity, he alleges, has made us uncomfortable with faith. Kim goes further, alleging that Christian apologetics (apart from presuppositional apologetics, of course) is really just a case of caving in to cultural norms and getting all godlessly rational. This is painful to read. Kim sets up faith and reason virtually as enemies. Extolling reason is tantamount it would seem, to squeezing out faith! But why in the world should anyone think this? Faith, after all, does not mean believing things that are irrational or intellectually vacuous, does it? To attack (most) apologetics in this way and to bemoan is influence on Christians this way is to hand over to intellectual (and spiritual) opponents of Christianity the very thing they want to hear: Christianity isn’t for the rational.

What’s more, it is just painful to see the repeated claim that to set about offering rational arguments for Christian belief is really just to succumb to worldly pressure, to blend into our culture. This is palpable nonsense. Since when is our culture marked by rational rigour? As many have noted, presuppositionalists like Van Til and Bahnsen stressed the ultimately irrational nature of sin. Christians have always maintained that the truth about God admits of rational defence. We can see it in the early Church where the Apostles called people to Christ with “many persuasive words.” We can see it in Peter’s letter where he virtually commands believers to be ready to give a defence of their faith to anyone who asks. It’s there in the apologetics of the Church Fathers from Justin to Anselm, from Aquinas to a whole slew of apologists in the history of the church. This is not a trendy new phenomenon. In fact if anything, it is the renunciation of reason and the “just go with your heart” attitude that followed the postmodern influence on Christianity that was more a case of culture shaping Christianity. The fact is, this article is in Relevant magazine precisely because it appeals to aspects of our culture: Anti-intellectualism and mystical approaches to religion (not that presuppositional approaches to apologetics really are mystical, but you wouldn’t get that impression from this piece, replete with appeals to Kierkegaard, who is himself frequently misunderstood in this regard, but that is another story).

If it is supposed to be an argument against intellectual apologetics that it undermines or leaves little room for faith, it is an argument that fails. Why on earth would the thought that we can actually defend with reason the truth of what we believe somehow undermine faith – that trust in God that Scripture calls us to? How could it? What’s more, just look at the apologists against whom this argument is supposed to be offered. What do they say about faith? Given what Mr Kim seems to imply, the answer to that question isn’t pretty. The treatment that the apologists (he names only Moreland, Craig and Plantinga, but he indicates that he thinks this is the norm) is simply deplorable. Observe:

But “faith,” unfortunately, is becoming Christianity’s new F-word. More and more, apologists are succumbing to cultural norms. They trade “the mystery that has been hidden” (1 Corinthians 2:7) with “human traditions and the elemental spiritual forces of this world” (Colossians 2:8).

Yet if our apologetics is driven not by our love for God, in whom we place our faith, but by our fear of labels, then our apologetics is just idolatry, making our defense of Christianity an idol to man. We must replace this worship of man with a proper worship of Christ (remember, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”) Only then will we have the proper mindset to defend the faith for the glory of God, not man.

Rational apologetics, then, is idolatry! It is to give up God for man (to worship man, no less), to abandon the fear of the Lord, and to fail to be motivated by the love of God. As is often the case with presuppositional attacks on everyone else, there’s very little by way of specifics here. How exactly do presuppositional arguments avoid this in a way that other apologetics does not? Why should we believe that emphasising the rational is unbiblical or idolatrous at all? And who says that the likes of Moreland, Craig and Plantinga aren’t driven by the love of God? Can we conclude that Kim here is expressing a lack of love for Moreland, Craig and Plantinga? Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes. It also has to be asked why Kim apparently sees no need to ask the same questions of his own school of thought that he asks of others: Isn’t there a risk that engaging in the complex rational endeavour that is presuppositional apologetics might cause us to lose sight of faith along the way? If not, why not?

It’s very easy to make sweeping, bold attacks on whole schools of thought without really describing what they do, how yours is really any different. But I would want Kim to consider this: if you’re going to use your rational assessment of the evidence to do nothing, then what are those faculties for? And if you’re going to use them to do something, why would you make the defence of the Christian faith a “no-go” area. If you say we mustn’t neglect faith in the sense of personal devotion, trust and love, then go ahead – and those apologists that you are seeking to tear down will join in chorus with you! I am led to wonder just how much of Alvin Plantinga’s work this author has actually read. For one he refers to him as a “popular” philosopher when in fact his work is dense, scholarly and generally not written for a lay audience but for philosophy enthusiasts, but secondly, amidst his technical arguments like the argument from warrant or the evolutionary argument from naturalism is his abiding commitment – a commitment he has the temerity to defend – that known God because God has made himself known to you is basic, in the absence of any rational arguments or proofs. William lane Craig, on virtually every occasion that I have heard him speak, has stressed the notion that we mustn’t let arguments for God’s existence serve as a substitute for really knowing God. How well does this sort of thing square up with Kim’s shallow analysis that rational apologetics makes us uncomfortable with “faith”? Not very well.

If you want to defend presuppositional methods of rationally defending the faith and challenging unbelief, you have my blessing. But whatever you do, don’t do it by casting aspersion on the commitment to true Christian faith in others, don’t do it by distorting what everyone other than you is out to do (accusing them of just caving into culture while you stand for the awkward truth), and don’t do it at the expense of the biblical and historical truth that reason is an integral part of the Christian life, and far from crippling or undermining faith, provides fertile soil for a deep, life transforming commitment to Christ.

If this is relevance, count me out.

Glenn Peoples

Similar Posts:

If you liked this post, feel free to help support this project.

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Draw2much July 11, 2012, 5:49 am

    I’ve been reading Relevant for a while. I’m not a fan, per say, but I do find some of their articles interesting. At the same time, there are some real turds too. I kind of get the feeling they allow articles to go through if they’re interesting or controversial, rather than if they’re genuinely good topics or well written. So.. I dunno.. seems the point is to get people talking (maybe thinking?) rather than to say anything truly deep or meaningful. *shrugs*

    Now as to this article…

    Maybe I’m just cynical, but the real flaw for this article is that it assumes that the Christian community really genuinely pays attention to what theologians and apologists are saying. They don’t. Pastors do (mostly), and other theologians do, but the average “church going Christian” does not. What they do is pay their Pastor to think for them. Then they wait for the information to be spoon fed to them in tiny easy-to-understand chunks every week. If their Pastor doesn’t bring it up, they don’t pay attention to it.

    Of course, maybe this isn’t common. Maybe I just have the misfortune of living in places where it is…. I was raised in the “Bible Belt” of the USA. Lots of religion without a lot of thinking to go with it. And when I lived out west, I found the same thing. Every where I went, there seemed to be a high level of ignorance in the “every man” Christian. Maybe I’m just wrong, I dunno… it just seems odd that I run into again and again.

    The way I see it, this article is complaining that too many Christians are thinking through their faith. REASONING it all out. If it’s true, how wonderful! I love the idea that the “ignorance” trend is changing. Changing enough that it bothers people who have spent so long being ignorant that they mistake it for what normal Christianity is suppose to be. I hope they’re right! (That people are thinking things through, I mean.)

  • Aaron LaPointe July 12, 2012, 1:38 pm

    I think everyone recognizes, from Craig to Plantinga to McGrath, etc., that genuine conversions are not the fruit of apologetics. At best, apologetics can overcome the intellectual roadblocks preventing an individual from giving the Gospel its due. God’s existence and Christ’s resurrection are rationally defensible to a certain degree, and insofar as the arguments for them are clearly conveyed, it is possible, at least, to establish them as live options, i.e., as relevant to modern ears, where they otherwise might have been victims of bias, bad arguments and/or misinformation. People like Dr. Craig may even argue that a well-executed apologetic is capable of doing far more than merely establishing Christianity as a live intellectual option — it shows Christianity to be intellectually superior. Whether or not that is true, obedience to the Spirit of Christ will always strictly be a matter of faith. Mere intellectual assent, for example, will never produce the power at work in those who, through faith, die to themselves and to sin — an experience which is painful, humbling, lifelong and progressive; and, as such, requires the deepest dedication imaginable. Kim’s concerns are only “relevant” insofar as it is possible for people to mistake intellectual assent for the real McCoy.

  • Glenn July 12, 2012, 5:18 pm

    “I think everyone recognizes, from Craig to Plantinga to McGrath, etc., that genuine conversions are not the fruit of apologetics”

    On the contrary, I don’t recognise that, and I strongly doubt those people would, either. Plenty of deep, rewarding conversations have arisen from apologetics endeavours. It may not be the only cause, granted. But much, much good in terms of relationships, serious changes of heart and doorways to spiritual revival, in my view, has resulted from apologetics.

    If you’re saying that “obedience to the Spirit of Christ will always strictly be a matter of faith” rather than apologetics, well of course that is true. But nobody has ever believed that apologetics gets people to obey God. But as for genuine conversations not arising from apologetics, that is very wide of the mark.

    What is more, apologetics also serves as a great tool for the edification and reassurance of those wo are already believers, something the article in Relevant doesn’t seem to acknowledge. granted, people could use apologetics and only gain the sterile, shallow results that you seem to be depicting. But I don’t think that’s the fault of apologetics. People can do the same with the Bible, preaching and church as well!

  • Aaron LaPointe July 12, 2012, 7:44 pm

    “…nobody has ever believed that apologetics gets people to obey God.”

    That’s because it’s _God_ who gets people to obey God. Given that obedience and faith are essentially two sides of a single coin (a la Bonhoeffer), I think it’s reasonable to assume that, since only God can cause obedience, only God can cause a genuine conversion (i.e., faith). Think about it. What can apologetics really do by itself? Arguments for God’s existence can at best make a person a theist, not a Christian. Arguments for the reliability of the New Testament can at best make a person believe that Christ’s earliest followers really believed that Jesus was God, not make her a Christian. Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument can at best make a person a deist, not a Christ follower. Plantinga’s EAAN can at best make a person skeptical of her presuppositions, not willing to die as a Christ witness. And on and on. Faith can only arise in response to the unadorned Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I love apologetics, especially when it’s engaged in in service to a genuine love for others rather than a platform for the ego, but I say give credit where credit is due. Fortunately, we can have our cake and eat it, too.

  • Glenn July 12, 2012, 10:31 pm

    “Given that obedience and faith are essentially two sides of a single coin (a la Bonhoeffer), I think it’s reasonable to assume that, since only God can cause obedience, only God can cause a genuine conversion (i.e., faith). Think about it.”

    But I already agree. 🙂

  • PDS July 12, 2012, 11:52 pm

    Most presuppositionists (Van Til, Banhsen, and the Choosing Hats crowd) seem to require a higher degree of certainty when arguing for Christianity. They think that the classical/evidential arguments don’t give us the sort of evidence required. By Kim’s definition of faith, then, they are actually more “rationalistic” and seem closer to the heart of so-called “constant surrender to the culture’s definition of “rational,” “reasonable” and “justified.””

  • Matthew Flannagan July 14, 2012, 1:18 pm

    Not sure what the claim “with out God what can apologetics do?” question is supposed to prove?

    Without God nothing would exist, only God can sustain a universe , without God no one would be created only God can create. Without, God the laws of nature would not exist and so on. One could reject pretty much anything with this line of argument.

  • Ben July 15, 2012, 2:54 am

    Mr. Kim has responded on his blog, not to this blog entry directly, but generally to his critics.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 16, 2012, 7:34 pm

    “But I already agree.”

    If you agree, then why did you take issue with my original post?!? I made the point that genuine conversions are not the fruit of apologetics, but the fruit of the Spirit. If you agree with that, then how can you also suggest that genuine conversions are possible via apologetics alone? Yes, apologetics can bring people to the Gospel and give believers a certain intellectual encouragement in their faith, but what actually produces faith? You brush the answer to that question aside like it’s irrelevant, but it really goes to the heart of the issue. Like it or not, every argument for God’s existence utterly fails. Most people perhaps don’t investigate these arguments enough to see precisely how they fail, but what do you say to the person who _does_ investigate them deeply enough to recognize their limits?

  • Aaron LaPointe July 16, 2012, 7:45 pm

    “Not sure what the claim “with out God what can apologetics do?” question is supposed to prove.”

    Apparently you didn’t read the rest of the post, as it would have answered this question. Given that all arguments for God’s existence fail, how can they by themselves produce faith? Rather it is God who produces faith, quite apart from any rational justification. Your point regarding God being responsible for everything simply misses the point.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 16, 2012, 8:12 pm

    When I became a Christian it was not due to apologetics. People simply shared the Gospel with me as if it were the plain truth. I fought against it, but, thankfully, lost. I used to be a hardened atheist without love for Christians, but almost overnight surrendered everything to Christ. The entire process was as mysterious to me as it was to my family and friends. To this day I can’t explain how my heart was changed, rationally. It wasn’t until about seven years later that I became interested in apologetics. Proof positive that apologetics is non-essential. I have no doubt that there are people whose introduction to Christianity has been by way of some sort of apologetic outreach, but such does not change the fact that true conversion is independent of rational justification. Consider Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief. Is it possible to have a warranted faith even though every argument for God fails? His answer, “Yes!” How? It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth of the Gospel inwardly. And that’s it. That’s faith.

  • Glenn July 16, 2012, 10:08 pm

    Aaron, I agreed that only God can cause obedience and faith, so you were preaching to the choir there.

    You now ask why I took issue earlier. Well, your original comment was that “I think everyone recognizes, from Craig to Plantinga to McGrath, etc., that genuine conversions are not the fruit of apologetics.” And this isn’t correct. Many genuine conversations are the fruit of apologetics. I’ve had numerous such conversations.

    That’s why I did not agree with your original post, but I do agree with you that only God can bring about obedience and faith. Obviously not all “fruit” is conversion and faith. There are many, many factors that contribute to a person being more open to the Christian faith, and apologetics is sometimes one of those things.

    I believe you when you say (or seem to say) that apologetics played no role for you here. But obviously that doesn’t mean it never does. What’s more, playing a role int he very proximate sequence of events surrounding your converstion is one, very specific thing. But goodness, giving rise to fruitful conversations is quite another. There can be many, many very fruitful conversations that don’t then immediately lead to a person falling to their knees then and there and becoming a believer. In God’s providence he uses many things, often separated by years, to bring that about. But there can be plenty of fruitful conversations quite apart from any conversion experience.

    Likewise, apologetics also helps to give rise to many fruitful conversations among believers as well.

    So that’s what I specifically disagreed with in your first comment, and why I was happy to agree with your later comment that yes, it is God who brings about obedience and faith.

    Now let me ask you something a bit different, Aaron: Do you think God ever brings it about that apologetics happens?

  • Aaron LaPointe July 17, 2012, 8:17 am

    I don’t think I was clear enough, and for that I apologize. Indeed, apologetics can be a conversation starter, with the eventual result being a genuine conversion. In this sense, faith could accurately be said to be one possible “fruit” of apologetics. So, you’re right. I meant to underscore the fact that faith itself is strictly the fruit of the Spirit (as opposed to anything else, including apologetics). It seems as though we actually agree with each other on both counts. Again, I apologize for causing a misunderstanding.

    Regarding your question: I wouldn’t put anything past God. Although, I’m not sure precisely what you’re aiming at. Are you asking if God ever brings it about that apologetics is enough to convert someone, apart from the Gospel?

  • Glenn July 17, 2012, 6:53 pm

    Aaron, OK, we probably agree then. It’s definitely true that conversion is an act of God.

    My question was basically to see if you grant that God can use apologetics as part of the process that he uses to open minds – or even just to address the objections that a potentially open minded person may have had – all the while bringing that person to a place where they might even accept Christianity for themselves. Your last comment basically answers that. 🙂

  • Matthew Flannagan July 20, 2012, 10:02 am

    “. Given that all arguments for God’s existence fail, how can they by themselves produce faith? “

    That’s a far to sweeping claim, to state that all the arguments for God’s existence fail seems to me to need justification.

    Rather it is God who produces faith, quite apart from any rational justification.

    If God produces faith “apart” from rational justification then that would suggest that faith is irrational.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 20, 2012, 12:40 pm

    @Matthew Flannagan:

    “That’s a far too sweeping claim, to state that all the arguments for God’s existence fail seems to me to need justification.”

    If you have an example of an argument that successfully proves God’s existence, by all means provide it. Although I would be shocked if you actually found one, considering “a god who let us prove his existence would be an idol” (D. Bonhoeffer).

    “If God produces faith ‘apart’ from rational justification then that would suggest that faith is irrational.”

    Only if you’re an evidentialist and refuse to accept revelatory knowledge as a basis for warrant. If God’s Spirit reveals to you the reality of the great truths of the Christian faith, don’t you think your belief in them would be warranted? — that is, it couldn’t be said that you were acting irrationally by believing them. Therefore, it is completely rational to have faith apart from rational proofs (provided you aren’t an evidentialist). I suggest picking up Alvin Plantinga’s, “Warranted Christian Belief,” to see in detail how evidentialism is a self-refuting ideology.

  • Hugh July 20, 2012, 1:40 pm

    Aaron, I think you might be a little confused on that issue. If there is no rational justification for your belief then your belief is by definition irrational. Both evidentialists and presuppositionalists believe that rational justification is necessary for knowledge, where they differ is how one is rationally justified in believing something.

    Also, what exactly do you mean when you say all arguments for God’s existence fail? Do you mean to say that there is no argument for God which is both valid and sound, or do you mean that there is no argument for God which can convince someone that God exists?

  • Glenn July 21, 2012, 1:47 am

    “Only if you’re an evidentialist and refuse to accept revelatory knowledge as a basis for warrant”

    But Aaron, if you accept revelatory knowledge (whatever you mean by this) as a basis for warrant (and since a warrant here means an epistemic warrant), then you would have to accept that revelatory knowledge (again, whatever you mean by that) has a rational justification!

    So really we should all be on the same page – any belief with no rational justification is irrational (because rational just means with no rational justification), and we agree that if a person receives revelation that justifies/warrants (i.e. really, truly does provide an epistemic warrant for) a belief, then that belief too is rationally justified.

    Agreed?

  • Matthew Flannagan July 21, 2012, 9:28 pm

    Thanks for the reading suggestion Aaron, I actually did my Masters thesis on Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, and have read the book several times

    I agree, evidentialism is self refuting.

    But that’s not what you claim, you claimed one can accept that God produces faith apart from rational justification. Rational justification and being justified by argument are not the same thing unless one assumes evidentialism. Plantinga is in fact rejecting this conflation. He argues the great truths of the gospel are rationally independent of argument for their truth.

    “a god who let us prove his existence would be an idol” (D. Bonhoeffer)”
    That’s a nice quote, unfortunately it’s a non sequitur. Bonheoffer was a great theologian and all and I admire his courage but that does not make the quote valid

    It also does not follow from the claim that one does not need arguments that there are no arguments.

    As to your claim “show me one” that only proves that you don’t know of any sound argument it does not show there are none. To make that claim you would have to look at a representative sample of such arguments and show they all failed and then extrapolate from that. Quoting Bonhoeffer does not do this.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 22, 2012, 9:12 pm

    @Hugh:

    “Aaron, I think you might be a little confused on that issue. If there is no rational justification for your belief then your belief is by definition irrational.” ~ Hugh

    Justifying a belief rationally involves offering empirical evidence, deductive arguments and authoritative testimony in support of a belief. Were you an evidentialist, then, yes, any belief which lacks proper justification would be called by definition irrational. But didn’t I say as much in my post? Where is the confusion?

    “Both evidentialists and presuppositionalists believe that rational justification is necessary for knowledge, where they differ is how one is rationally justified in believing something.” ~Hugh

    I think you may be equivocating on ‘rational justification’. For instance, you state that presuppositionalists believe that rational justification is necessary for knowledge. Well, this clearly isn’t true where the Bible is concerned, as presuppositionalists embrace the presupposition that the Bible is true and that God exists — rejecting the notion that rational justification of the Bible’s veracity (via empirical data, logical deduction, etc.) is even necessary. It is difficult, therefore, to understand what point you’re trying to make here.

    “Also, what exactly do you mean when you say all arguments for God’s existence fail? Do you mean to say that there is no argument for God which is both valid and sound…” ~Hugh

    What I mean to say is, even if there are arguments for God’s existence which are both valid and sound (I believe there are valid arguments, but question whether there are sound arguments), they would nevertheless be insufficient to establish belief in God. Plantinga: “…arguments are successful only if they start from propositions that compel assent from every honest and intelligent person and proceed majestically to their conclusion by way of forms of argument that can be rejected only on pain of insincerity or irrationality… none of the traditional arguments [are] successful” (Warranted Christian Belief, p. 69). In other words, if belief in God’s existence were to depend entirely on the available theistic arguments, belief in God couldn’t be anything other than irrational.

    “…or do you mean that there is no argument for God which can convince someone that God exists?” ~Hugh

    Of course, there are people who can be convinced by the flimsiest arguments into believing the most outlandish things. Members of the Flat Earth Society, for example, no doubt have their reasons for believing as they do, and may even be prepared to defend their beliefs. If bad arguments are capable of convincing at least a few people, is that sufficient grounds to then consider those bad arguments successful? Not at all.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 22, 2012, 9:36 pm

    @Glenn:

    “But Aaron, if you accept revelatory knowledge (whatever you mean by this) as a basis for warrant (and since a warrant here means an epistemic warrant), then you would have to accept that revelatory knowledge (again, whatever you mean by that) has a rational justification! ~Glenn

    I don’t see how that follows. If God’s Spirit imparts knowledge of the reality of the great truths of the Christian faith to you in such a way that belief in Christ’s resurrection, for example, is warranted for you, why should we expect that your belief must also have a rational justification? There may be empirical evidence, deductive arguments and so forth, available as rational justification for Christ’s resurrection, but it certainly doesn’t follow necessarily that there must be, or that belief acquired via the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit (a la Calvin) has its basis in any process of rational justification.

    “So really we should all be on the same page – any belief with no rational justification is irrational (because rational just means with no rational justification), and we agree that if a person receives revelation that justifies/warrants (i.e. really, truly does provide an epistemic warrant for) a belief, then that belief too is rationally justified.” ~Glenn

    I think you, like Hugh, are equivocating on ‘rational justification’. It is an evidentialist term denoting the process of justifying a belief by way of appeal to authority, the evidence of the senses, and logical deduction. If we use rational justification in this strict sense, then, no, it doesn’t necessarily follow that knowledge acquired by means of revelation is rationally justified.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 22, 2012, 10:40 pm

    @Matthew Flannagan:

    “…you claimed one can accept that God produces faith apart from rational justification. Rational justification and being justified by argument are not the same thing unless one assumes evidentialism. Plantinga is in fact rejecting this conflation. He argues the great truths of the gospel are rationally independent of argument for their truth.” ~ Matthew Flannagan

    Obviously, I’m using the term ‘rational justification’ to denote that which one engages in in order to justify one’s beliefs (logical deduction, empirical evidence, etc.); which, of course, involves the traditional theistic argumentation. Thus, as I said, if you are an evidentialist, only then might you consider the faith which God produces apart from ‘rational justification’ irrational. Further, since the classical apologist who argues for God’s existence based on evidence is wedded to evidentialism (in so far as evidentialism remains the common ground between theist and atheist), employing the term ‘rational justification’ in the strict sense must still be considered normative (Plantinga notwithstanding).

    “That’s a nice quote, unfortunately it’s a non sequitur. Bonheoffer was a great theologian and all and I admire his courage but that does not make the quote valid” ~ Matthew Flannagan

    Touché.

    “As to your claim “show me one” that only proves that you don’t know of any sound argument it does not show there are none. To make that claim you would have to look at a representative sample of such arguments and show they all failed and then extrapolate from that.” ~ Matthew Flannagan

    Plantinga showed in God and Other Minds that there are no arguments for God’s existence that ultimately succeed. If there were an argument that succeeded, don’t you think you and I (and Plantinga) would know about it? Thus, the fact that you can’t “show me one” is a very good indicator that there, in fact, isn’t one.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 22, 2012, 10:46 pm

    @Matthew Flannagan:

    “Thanks for the reading suggestion Aaron, I actually did my Masters thesis on Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, and have read the book several times.” ~ Matthew Flannagan

    Very cool. I’m still trying to get into UIUC in order to pursue a B. A. in Philosophy. I hope to deal extensively there with Plantinga (although I want to get my M. A. in Christian History).

  • Glenn July 22, 2012, 11:04 pm

    Plantinga has offered a couple of arguments for God’s existence that he thinks are good. His trilogy on warrant was dedicated to one in particular, and he apparently thinks the ontological argument is nifty. 🙂

  • Glenn July 22, 2012, 11:08 pm

    I don’t see how that follows. If God’s Spirit imparts knowledge of the reality of the great truths of the Christian faith to you in such a way that belief in Christ’s resurrection, for example, is warranted for you, why should we expect that your belief must also have a rational justification?

    I’m not sure why you added “also.” If we agree together that such direct revelation does indeed confer a warrant, then you have just described a rational justification.

    I think you, like Hugh, are equivocating on ‘rational justification’. It is an evidentialist term denoting the process of justifying a belief by way of appeal to authority, the evidence of the senses, and logical deduction. If we use rational justification in this strict sense, then, no, it doesn’t necessarily follow that knowledge acquired by means of revelation is rationally justified.

    That’s highly idiosyncratic. There is no equivocation here at all. A rational justification exists when a person has good epistemic grounds for belief, surely. If you think that only beliefs formed on the basis of empirical evidence are really “rational” then that’s your point of view, but I think it’s simply false. One of Plantinga’s major contributions to philosophy was to defend precisely this point.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 22, 2012, 11:12 pm

    @ Glenn:

    Undoubtedly, such arguments are useful and interesting. But would Plantinga say that they succeed (where success is defined as starting “from propositions that compel assent from every honest and intelligent person and proceed majestically to their conclusion by way of forms of argument that can be rejected only on pain of insincerity or irrationality”)? In fact, he claims that no argument succeeds in this way, whether they are theological or atheological arguments.

  • Aaron LaPointe July 22, 2012, 11:47 pm

    @Glenn:

    “If we agree together that such direct revelation does indeed confer a warrant, then you have just described a rational justification.” ~ Glenn

    Indeed, but not according to the evidentialist, who doesn’t accept revelatory knowledge.

    “If you think that only beliefs formed on the basis of empirical evidence are really “rational” then that’s your point of view, but I think it’s simply false. One of Plantinga’s major contributions to philosophy was to defend precisely this point.” ~ Glenn

    I’ve never once indicated that evidentialism or empiricism is my point of view. All that I’ve advocated for is understanding the term ‘rational justification’ as the process whereby one actively justifies her beliefs (via the evidence of the senses, logical deduction, appeal to authority, etc.). The direct revelation of knowledge through the internal instigation of God’s Spirit, in contrast, cannot be included in the definition of rational justification as such, because it is independent of the means of justification. Plantinga, rather, employs the possibility of direct revelation via the sensus divinitatis as a model merely — i.e., it is conceivable that faith could be imparted this way, apart from the regular process of justifying belief. Therefore, as a model, it could hardly be employed as a justification for belief (could you imagine defending your faith based on the notion that God has revealed to you personally that the Bible is true? — it is indefensible). Thus, revelatory knowledge is not rationally justified (and so, irrational). What Plantinga says in response to this is, so what? Why should a Christian care if she can’t justify her belief (not every Christian, after all, is a trained philosopher)? It simply doesn’t follow that she is irrational; it being possible, after all, that God has imparted her faith via the Holy Spirit.

  • Glenn July 23, 2012, 5:52 am

    Aaron, I never said you were an evidentialist. I said you were construing rationality as something requiring external evidence. I simply have no reason to so restrict the notion of rationality. Being able to defend a belief is one thing. Being rational in holding it is another.

Leave a Comment

Remember: All comments should conform to the blog policy and you must use your real name. Comments that do not conform may be removed in whole or in part. You can review the blog policy here.

 Characters remaining