Tag Archives: apologetics

Love: Creaturely and Divine

On the fifth week of the 2017 AT Seminar Series Sameer Yadav, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont University, delivered a paper titled “Love: Creaturely and Divine.” In his paper Yadav dealt with Schellenberg’s divine hiddenness argument by providing what could be called a “Plantingian Divine Imaging Defense.”

Alvin Plantinga
Alvin Plantinga

An Overview of “Love: Creaturely and Divine”

Although not new, the problem of Divine Hiddenness (DH) became the subject of extensive philosophical discussion when J.L. Schellenberg published his book, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason, in 1993. Schellenberg and others who put forth this argument appeal to existence of non-resistant non-believers as evidence for the non-existence of a perfectly loving God. We can summarize the main idea of DH as:

If God is perfectly Loving, then non-resistant non-belief does not exist. But it seems as though non-resistant non-belief does exist. Therefore, a perfectly loving God does not exist.

In his lecture Yadav pointed out that no one in the literature has noted that there is formal parity between the argument from DH and the logical problem of evil argument. Both arguments, according to Yadav, look something like this:

1.If God exists, God is essentially F

2.If God is essentially F then, necessarily, P

3.Not-P

4.Therefore, God is not essentially F (from 2 & 3)

5.Therefore, God does not exist (from 1 & 4)

Alvin Plantinga has already dealt with the logical Problem of Evil version of this argument. Plantinga has show that in order to make this deductive argument fail all one would need to show is that “God is essentially F and possibly, not-P.” In other words, one would need to show that permitting non-resistant non-belief is something a perfectly loving God might do.

Several such counter-examples have been deployed in recent years against DH, but as Yadav pointed out, most of these counter-examples have been anthropological counterexamples. They trade on the notion that loving human relationships resemble God’s loving relationships in significant ways. While this may or may not be true, Yadav attempted to do something that curiously hasn’t really been done in most responses to DH: give a properly theological counterexample. He showed that “God is essentially F and possibly, not-P” by showing that in a perfect loving divine relationship God need not prefer that the beloved enter into that relationship believing the proposition that God exists.

Yadav’s counter example is based upon his understanding of Divine Love as an imaging relationship. On this scenario God makes human creatures to resemble or mirror God’s beneficent rule over the created order. This imaging relationship is an invitation to a creaturely thing to resemble something divine. When humans respond appropriately to this call to image the divine, they enjoy a kind of communion with him. This is where Yadav’s argument begins to get tricky. He argues that it is possible to be aware of God’s action and this divine imaging relation without being aware that it is God’s action and that one is in a divine imaging relation. This is an appeal to the de re/de dicto distinction (concerning the thing/concerning the thing said). Yadav argued that there is a possible world where one might be acquainted with God de re, i.e. one images God, and that in this possible world it might be the case that one needs to be acquainted with God in a de re manner before one can go on to make a de dicto recognition about God, i.e. that one images God.

One way to think of how this de re/de dicto relation might work is to consider how children “image” their parents. A child, might be unaware that they are acting a lot like their mom or dad, but are in practice emulating their parent’s behavior. This would be a sort of de re imaging relationship. However, when the child grows up and has children of their own, they might come to realize “Oh my Gosh, I’m becoming just like my mom!” The realization that the child is imaging their parent is a sort of de dicto imaging relationship.

If this de re/de dicto difference in the recognition of one’s imaging God is a possible state of affairs, then one could argue that it might be the case that God is better served in an imaging relationship where de dicto recognition is not necessarily given to everyone, but is worked up to. It might be better for people to move from a de re state of affairs to a de dicto state of affairs on their own. If this is the case, then it appears as though we have a logically possible example of “God is essentially F and possibly, not-P.” This Plantingian type of response to the DH is enough to make the deductive argument from DH fail.

An Assessment of “Love: Creaturely and Divine”

When I’m not at Fuller I work as the college ministry director for a church in LA. A few weeks ago I was sitting with a college student at a coffee shop chatting about our religious beliefs. The student described himself as a non-resistant non-believer. He was coming to church regularly and he wanted to believe in God, but just couldn’t. He asked me, “If God is real, then why doesn’t he help me believe in him?” If you asked me to give you a clearer example of how significant the Divine Hiddenness problem is in real life I couldn’t do it. I was dealing with the reality of what for many people is a tricky philosophical problem. But DH is not simply a philosophical problem. It’s a deep existential problem for some people. The kind of work Sameer Yadav does in this paper gives people like me, who work in the church, a resource to deal with this issue. However, thinking back to my conversation with that college student I wonder whether showing that “God is essentially F and possibly, not-P” would have actually helped this student. We in the church need the kinds of response that Yadav and other analytic theologians are working on, however we also need answers that address the existential problem of divine hiddenness that non-resistant non-believers feel.

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Rational Faith

Is Christianity rational?

When most people are asked that question its not coming from a neutral standpoint; it’s a loaded question. In our day and age the question is loaded towards the “NO” side. A lot of people have done hard work over the years to show that the answer to that question is actually “YES!” One such person who has worked towards explaining that rationality of Christian belief is Claremont philosopher Stephen Davis. In his new book, Rational Faith: A Philosopher’s Defense of Christianity, Davis tackles some important questions that have been leveled at Christians in order to show the irrationality of faith.

Consider for instance:

  • Can we believe in God?
  • Isn’t truth relative?
  • Is the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus actually reliable?
  • Doesn’t evolution disprove Christianity?
  • Can’t religious experiences be explained by neuroscience?
  • Aren’t other religions as valid as Christianity?

Aimed at college students (and supposedly Christian professors as well), Davis tackles these sorts of questions and more.

For the sake of the review I won’t go into detail about how he answers these questions, rather I’ll point you to a few chapters that are especially pertinent in our cultural moment, the chapters on Cognitive Science and Religious Pluralism. Most Christians interested in Apologetics will be used to reading about truth/pluralism, the problem of evil, belief in God, gospel reliability, and the resurrection; but the two chapters on Cognitive Science and Religious Pluralism bring something unique to the table.

Cognitive Science

Neuroscientists have attempted to argue that religion is “natural.” In other words humans have a tendency to believe in a god or gods or at least supernatural beings who provide moral guidance and also issue rewards and punishments to humans. What Davis does 040412_1341_canthecogni14which is quite unique to the subject is that he doesn’t examine the findings of Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) rather he distinguishes between meanings of the term “natural.” Natural can mean explainable, easy, or appropriate. Davis argues that Christian belief (unlike many other forms of religion) is not natural in the first or second sense. Here’s why: If critics of religion are correct in saying we created God rather than vice versa then the Christian God is not the sort of god we would create. A “god” made in our image would be legalistic, performance based, ritual based, maximally accepting and non-accusatory. However Christianity is neither of these, in fact Christianity is very costly, which has no evolutionary advantages that it bestows to its adherents. Davis argues that it is only natural in the third sense, i.e. it is appropriate, in the sense that it is rational.

Religious Pluralism

What should Christians make of other religions? Davis points out three views Christians have taken over the years: 1)Exclusivism, 2)Inclusivism, and 3)Pluralism. He goes on to point out some major flaws with (a John Hick inspired) pluralism. Davis then develops his own view which can best be described as a tolerant, non-imperialist exclusivism. His position is grounded in the concept that God loves all persons and wants all to be saved and that God is a God of justice. Davis says of holding these two points that we ought to hold them in eentions and “trust that God will be fair.” However what makes this chapter unique is that his criterion for a Christian view on religious pluralism is actually a very practical one, it is “evangelism.” He then makes a bold claim (which I applaud):

Any theory that in effect minimizes, belittles, discourages or rules out evangelism is to be rejected.

I have never heard this point made in a philosophical essay and I truly applaud Davis for making it. Given the fact that the Christian faith is evangelistic and grounded in Christ’s words in the great commission its surprising that such a simple criterion has been overlooked in many discussions of religious pluralism.

Recommendation

I teach undergraduates at a bible college and work in a college ministry so I’m always on the lookout for interesting books covering objections to Christianity. Though I’m not a huge proponent of Apologetics in the modernistic sense, I think apologetics is an important subject for Christians to cover mainly as a way to boost their faith. I.e. Apologe9780830844746tics is less for non-Christians and more for Christians. For that reason I recommend this book to most college students. Its filled with answers to questions they will likely hear in their General Education sociology, psychology, anthropology courses.

Congrats to Stephen Davis because he’s given us a book undergrads will find useful in many of their GE classes!

(Note: I received this exam copy thanks to IVP in exchange for an impartial review. It is an early review copy, and anything I say ought to be checked with the final version of the book.)

Book Review – Christianity on Trial by W. Mark Lanier

It seems like our culture is obsessed with the legal process – whether its Lindsay Lohan’s latest exploits, arrest, and trial; Oscar Pistorius trial for killing his girlfriend; Amanda Knox on trial in Italy; or the scandalous O.J. Simpson Trial. We Americans love trials (or maybe we just love seeing people get punished…), now W. Mark Lanier a world-class trial lawyers with many accolades capitalizes on our “enjoyment” of trials and the legal process and puts Christianity on trial.

W. Mark Lanier is a trial lawyer and founder of the Lanier Law Firm. U.S. News and World Reports’ Best Lawyers named him to its Best Lawyers list 9 years in a row and named him the Top Class Action Attorney in America in 2013. Lanier has handled major lawsuits against Toyota and Vioxx

What is this book about?

In Christianity on Trial, W. Mark Lanier follows the format of a legal trial, beginning the book with an “opening statement,” then calling witnesses like Albert Einstein, John Polkinghore, Charles Darwin, Noam Chomsky, and B.F. Skinner among others, and finishing up with a closing statement.

Throughout the book Lanier makes a case for the rationality and reasonableness of the Christian faith. He tackles difficult questions like:

  • Can God be infinite, personal, and moral?
  • Do people have an ability to make real choices, or are we simply products of our DNA in combination with out environment?
  • Is it intellectually honest to believe that the Bible is God’s revelation?
  • Does the physical resurrection of Jesus make sense?

He answers all of these questions and more, and comes to the conclusion that the biblical worldview makes sense of everyday life; in fact it makes more sense of everyday life than competing worldviews do.

Why Should You Get This Book?

W. Mark Lanier has written a persuasive and engaging account of why we ought to believe that Christianity makes sense. Its full of stories from major trials that Lanier has participated in, its full of fun historical anecdotes, and its full of thorough engagement with philosophical/theological sources. In other words, the book is comprehensive – Lanier leaves no stone unturned in his examination Christianity’s plausibility.

One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was how nuanced his argument really was. His argument for the plausibility of Christianity relies upon the foundational distinction between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. I appreciated the fact that Lanier plat out says that there is not much direct evidence for the truth of Christianity, most of the evidence is circumstantial. This distinction is important because many people have (rightly in my opinion) challenged the possibility of making a water tight-knock down flat out argument for the truth of Christianity. Christianity cannot be proved in the sense that the Pythagorean theorem can be proved. The “proof” of Christianity relies upon historical witnesses and the power of testimony. All this to say, I am glad that Lanier recognizes the fact that the case for Christianity cannot be made by purely philosophical arguments.

Who Should Get this Book?

If you are interested in apologetics, haven’t given much thought to why you believe what you believe about Christianity, or are a skeptic I recommend this book to you. If you are in an apologetics small group, or are looking for material to use in an apologetics Sunday School class this book is for you! Lanier’s writing is accessible and entertaining but more importantly his argument persuasive. So if you get a chance pick up this book!

(Note: I received this book free of charge from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

Book Review – Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t read a ton of fiction, but I recently read Cornelius Plantinga’s Reading for Preaching and I became convinced that as a preacher I need to read more fiction. So when I came across Trevin Wax’s Clear Winter Nights I knew I should pick it up. I knew Trevin was a blogger and really enjoyed reading his blogs but I had no idea what to expect from him as a fiction author, lets just say I was delightfully surprised.

Clear Winter Nights

Now this book is no masterpiece. It is no Gilead (even though it has an old pastor imparting wisdom to a young family member), but hey I didn’t really expect it to be. What I was expecting though was a story about dealing with doubts. It’s a story of dealing with the type of doubts many young Christians face coming out of college. Trevin portrayed these doubts pretty well. I do college ministry and I have had to walk through these types of questions and doubts with many students over the years.

Summary (No Spoilers)

It’s the story of Chris, a young college graduate who is dealing with “questions.” He really has the world ahead of him: ministry opportunities, a great fiancé, and a heritage of faith; but something has happened to him. Doubts have began to creep in. He no longer knows what to believe, or even if he still believes. He has grown tired of faking like he has it all together. He wants to finally let his guard down, but he doesn’t feel safe doing so. That is until he spends a weekend with his grandpa, Gil, who used to be the pastor of a Baptist church. What follows is a weekend of honest questions (both Chris and Gil are asking the questions) and honest answers.

Pro’s

  1. It’s compelling & realistic – Chris deals with all sorts of questions ranging from Christian hypocrisy, the crusades, homosexuality, anti-intellectualism, and even the nature of the gospel. If I had a nickel for every time a college student brought up one of those questions to me I would have many nickels…. I love the fact that Trevin Wax really seems to have a pulse on current objections and hesitations that a college aged student would have about Christianity.
  2. It’s a great apologetics handbook – I don’t know if Trevin Wax was trying to write up an apologetics handbook, but that is sort of what he did. They say that one learns best by watching others do that thing, well in this book we get to watch Pastor Gil doing apologetics for his grandson Chris. On pages 74-78 you see Pastor Gil in action defending the Christian claim to exclusivity.  On pages 101-113 you get a lesson on apologetics and homosexuality. I didn’t expect to learn from this book, but I definitely did.
  3. Its full of great quotes – Here are a few: “The greater your acknowledgement of your sinfulness, the greater your appreciation of God’s grace.” (68) “Fix the worship problem, and evangelism starts coming naturally.” (78) “Don’t be true to yourself. The self you’d be true to is rotten to the core.” (112) And there are many more great quotes, but I will let your read them yourself.

Con’s

  1. Its too clean – I don’t mean I want profanity and sex and violence, I mean that the resolution is too clean. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I don’t really believe the end of the book.
  2. Chris lacks depth – Let me explain. There are some characters in certain books and movies that are utterly predictable. They are walking stereotypes. Chris is one of those characters. Pastor Gil on the other hand is not. He is a character with flesh and blood. Pastor Gil has “depth” so to speak. Usually in a fictional story you want the main character to be the 3D character and the other supporting characters to be 2D, but in this book it seemed as though the main character had less depth than the supporting character.
  3. It starts off like a typical Christian film – Some of you might not think that is a bad thing, but trust me it is. I have seen many Christian movies that start off like this book: attractive young college guy takes a walk with his cute petite blonde girlfriend, he expresses his doubts about the faith he grew up with, she cries, and he goes on a journey to rediscover his faith. That’s the typical first scene of many Christian films, thankfully Clear Winter Nights departs from that cliché script after the first few pages.

Conclusion

I was not disappointed by this book but maybe that is because I didn’t have very high expectations. Nevertheless I do recommend this book with one caveat…

Let me just end with two things:

  1. If you are looking for a great story with a lot of depth, you won’t find it here. The story is predicatble and the characters aren’t very deep. All that to say, I can’t recommend it as a great story or a great work of fiction.
  2. If you are looking for good theology in story form, read this book. A lot of people have been talking about doing theology as narrative lately, Trevin Wax takes his shot at it, and is quite successful. He treats many theological topics, and puts them into dialogue form. For that reason I recommend this book, its useful for anybody dealing with the sorts of issues that Chris is dealing with in this book.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, and was under no compulsion to write a positive or negative review.

Upcoming Conference on the Philosophy and Theology of Hope

For those of you who are interested in philosophy and/or theology I would like to let you know that there is an awesome local philosophical-theology conference coming up in the L.A. area.

Claremont Philosophy Conference Hope 2014

Here is the description:

Hope: Re-examinations of an Elusive Phenomenon

Hope is an elusive phenomenon. For some it is Pandora’s most mischievous evil, for others it is a divine gift and one of the highest human virtues. It is difficult to pin down but its traces seem to be present everywhere in human life and practice. Many are of two minds about whether this is a good thing or bad thing. Christianity as a comprehensive practice of hope cannot be imagined without it: Christians are not believers of dogmas but practitioners of hope. In other religious traditions the topic of hope is virtually absent or even critically rejected and opposed. Some see hope as the most humane expression of a deep-seated human refusal to put up with evil and suffering in this world, others object to it as an escapist reluctance and lack of courage to face up to the realities of the world as it is.

Hope is an elusive phenomenon. For some it is Pandora’s most mischievous evil, for others it is a divine gift and one of the highest human virtues. It is difficult to pin down but its traces seem to be present everywhere in human life and practice. Many are of two minds about whether this is a good thing or bad thing. Christianity as a comprehensive practice of hope cannot be imagined without it: Christians are not believers of dogmas but practitioners of hope. In other religious traditions the topic of hope is virtually absent or even critically rejected and opposed. Some see hope as the most humane expression of a deep-seated human refusal to put up with evil and suffering in this world, others object to it as an escapist reluctance and lack of courage to face up to the realities of the world as it is.

Half a century ago hope was at the center of attention in philosophy and theology. Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope (1938-1947/1986), Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope (1964/1967), or Josef Pieper’s FaithHope–Love (1986/1997) are landmarks of the 20th century debate on hope. However, in recent years philosophers and theologians have been curiously silent on the subject of hope and the discussion has shifted to positive psychology and psychotherapy, utopian studies and cultural anthropology, politics and economy. This has opened up interesting new vistas. It is time to revisit the subject of hope, and to put hope back on the philosophical and theological agenda.

This is what this conference seeks to do, and there are many open questions. What is the phenomenon called hope? Is it the same topic that is studied in the various approaches to hope in psychology and politics, economy and theology? How does hope differ from belief and faith, trust and desire, expectation and confidence, optimism and utopianism? Is hope an emotional state or a feeling or a virtue? Does the absence of hope equal the presence of anxiety, fear or despair, or is there a human attitude or state that overcomes the opposition between hope and despair without being either of them? What is hope’s relation to promise and time, knowledge and action, self and community? Where are the limits of hope and what are its distortions? How is it to be distinguished form self-deception and error, wishful thinking and the irrational refusal to accept the world as it is? Does hope hinder religious believers from facing the tasks and challenges of the present life by orienting them towards a life to come? Is it a form of escapism to be shunned or a power of change to be appreciated? These and related questions we will explore at the 35th Philosophy of Religion Conference at Claremont, California, on February 14-15, 2014.

Speakers will include: Keynote speaker – Jürgen Moltmann (Tübingen), William Abraham (SMU), Nancy Bedford (Garrett-Evangelical Seminary), John Cottingham (Heythrop College, University of London), M. Jamie Ferreira (Virginia), Arne Grøn (Copenhagen), Serene Jones (Union Theological Seminary), Alan Mittleman (Jewish Theological Seminary of America), Hirokazu Miyazaki (Cornell), Ola Sigurdson (Gothenburg), Claudia Welz (Copenhagen)

My Reading List for the Month of August

It has actually been a while since I have posted any significant blog….I will explain why in a few days. Until then I hope that my reading list for the month of August will whet your appetite.

Theology

  1. Karl Barth – Evangelical Theology (I didn’t get around to reading it last month)
  2. T.F. Torrance – Incarnation
  3. Preston Sprinkle – Fight

Apologetics

  1. William Lane Craig – On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision

Ministry

  1. Kyle Strobel – Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards

Origen on Apologetics

Ben Myers recently wrote a blog post on Origen and the problem of writing, Origen and the problem of writing, within the post he quotes Origen’s stance on apologetics….

When Origen was asked to respond to Celsus, a pagan writer who had attacked Christianity in a book called True Doctrine, Origen observed that a written response was not really appropriate for the Christian faith. “Now Jesus is always being falsely accused,” Origen says in the preface to Contra Celsum. “He is still silent in face of this and does not answer with his voice; but he makes his defence in the lives of his genuine disciples, for their lives cry out the real facts and defeat all false charges.” The only real apologetics is the life of Christ’s followers, not written arguments. Indeed Origen suggests that producing a written defence of the faith might actually diminish the vitality of the Christian community: “I would therefore go so far as to say that the defence which you ask me to compose will weaken the force of the defence that is in the mere facts, and detract from the power of Jesus.

Do you agree with Origen?