Tag Archives: faith

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.)
Advertisements

Book Giveaway – How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

This week I’m giving a way a free copy of Intervarsity Press and Biologos’ joint effort How I Changed My Mind About Evolution.

how-i-changed-my-mind-about-evolution

So who should read this book? I think there are several people who need to read it:

  1. People who don’t believe that evolution and Christianity can be compatible. I recommend this to them, not because they should read this and “believe.” Rather It would be helpful for them to see that genuine Jesus loving Christians can hold to evolutionary theory (whether or not they are correct).
  2. Those who feel the tension in holding their belief in evolutionary theory and robust evangelical faith. Such people need exemplars who can show the way forward in how to hold both views together.
  3. People who’s “last objection” to becoming a Christian is that they need to check their rational-scientific mind at the door when coming to faith in Christ.

So if you fall into any of those categories I would love to give you a copy of the book. To win a copy of the book all you need to do is one of the following:

  • Tweet out the link to this blog post or the review and mention @Cwoznicki
  • Retweet my tweet about the giveaway
  • Like this post
  • Comment below on how this book would benefit you

I will be selecting one winner soon. Good luck!

Note: You need to live within the US to be eligible to win a copy of this book.

The Nature and Value of Faith: Four Problems

Last week Dan Howard Snyder (Western Washington University) came to the Analytic cfyvn_euyaabdtqTheology seminar to throw out some ideas about the nature of faith. Here are some notes….

  • The Problem of Trajectory – Typical College Student
    • Doubt to getting “out”
    • If I lack faith (i.e. doubt) maybe I should just drop out of this whole Christianity thing
    • Problem: Stay in or get out
    • Supposedly: You can’t have Christian faith if you have doubt (to be a Christian is to be a “believer”
  • Theorizing About Faith
    • Claim: You have Christian faith only if you believe in BCS (Basic Christian Story)
    • Distinction between “Faith in” vs. “Faith that” (person/relations vs. propositions)
      • Maybe Third: Global Faith – Ability to Bring a narrative together
    • Claim: You can have Faith that the BCS is true only if you believe that it is true.
      • Which of these 3 kinds of faith apply to this claim?
      • This claim is true only if “Faith entails Belief”
        • Necessarily S has faith that p only if S believes that p.
      • Two part view – Necessarily S has faith that p only if (1) S has a positive conative orientation toward p and (2) S believes that P.
      • Three Part View (Doxastic Version) – Necessarily S has faith that p only if (1) S has a positive conative orientation toward p and (2) S believes that P, and (3) S is resilient in the face of challenges to living in light of the good S sees in the truth of what she believes.
  • Faith Without Belief
    • Thesis – Faith entails belief: Necessarily S has faith that p only if S believes that p.
      • Issue: Ignores Seeming vs. Believing
      • Specificity problem: Makes “p” too specific, that’s not how it is with other complex cognitive attitudes
      • Alternatives Problem
        • Case: The Defensive captain example
      • Three Part View (Non-Doxastic Version) – Necessarily S has faith that p only if (1) S has a positive conative orientation toward p and (2) S has a positive cognitive stance towards p, and (3) S is resilient in the face of challenges to living in light of the good S sees in the truth of what she believes.
  • Faith and Resilience in the Christian Life
    • Resilience in the face of counter-evidence
    • Resilience in the face of contrary emotions (dryness, diminution of desire)
      • No longer desiring, but still intending
    • Application to the problem of Trajectory
      • Apply these 3 requirements to faith to the student
        • Believing is out of the question right now, but for now let “assumption” be the leading cognitive state
  • Problems for this account of faith:
    • Unity Problem – two versions
      • Faith is defined in many ways, there isn’t anything which unifies them, so we can’t define “faith” in this one way.
      • What unites these 3 aspects into one attitude?
    • Fictionalist Problem
      • If you think you can have faith in BCS without believing it then you have to believe that a religious fictionalist could have faith as well. (Religious Fictionalist – acts on/engages on story that she doesn’t believe but sees pragmatic value in it)
    • The Bible Says Problem
      • This theory is just not what the Bible says about faith.
      • Can’t have faith w/o propositional belief, can’t please him if you don’t believe he exists.
      • In Bible Faith and Doubt are contrasted
    • The Problem of Practice
      • How can a skeptical Christian engage in Christian practices with integrity?
      • What will prayer be like for her? All her prayers will be insincere or malformed…

If Only I Had More Faith…

Faith is such a hard concept to grasp… John Webster sheds some light on it in a sermon on Hebrews 11:

Often when we think and talk about faith, we fall into a trap. The trap is that of thinking of faith as some sort of special power or faculty that we have, or at least that we ought to have. We think of faith as a sort of natural talent, a bit like being good at arithmetic or having a flair for gardening—again, some power or capacity we have or would like to possess. Very often thinking in this way about faith is bound up with a sense of frustration about ourselves, a sense that to some extent we are deficient Christians because we don’t seem to have much of a talent for faith. “If only we had more faith,” we chastise ourselves; if only we had a great measure of this mysterious power which would somehow make the Christian life more real and lift us out of our doubts and confusions.

The problem with thinking along these lines is that it begins in the wrong place. It begins with us: our attitudes, our emotions, our inner lives. And in this it tends to reinforce the false idea that sorting out how to live a life of faith is basically a matter of figuring ourselves out. It can encourage us in the idea that getting faith right means cultivating some attitude, putting our inner lives on some sort of disciplined regime. And the result of that is that we’re disoriented from the start. The basic rule for thinking about faith is this: What matters about faith is not us, but the object of faith. Faith isn’t primarily a power or capacity in me; it isn’t first and foremost an attitude which I adopt; indeed, it’s not first of all something which I do. Faith is objective—that is, faith is wholly turned outward to the object of faith. In a real sense, it’s not faith itself but that toward which faith is turned that is critically important in getting our thinking straight. What matters about faith is therefore not us but God, the object of faith.

Webster, J. (2014). Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian. (D. Bush & B. Ellis, Eds.). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

May we remember that its not about the size of our faith but the “size” of the object of our faith – i.e. God himself.

Thinking Through Paul

Good textbooks are hard to find. When I am looking for a textbook, I am looking for a book that is well balanced. It engages in critical discussion yet it is also thoroughly evangelical. Also I like it when textbooks move beyond mere rehearsal of recycled ideas or summary statements. I want a textbook that will help students think through complex issues. In this case of finding a textbook on Pauline literature I want a textbook that will help us think through Paul and begin to think like Paul. Bruce Longenecker & Todd Still have written book that does those two things.

When Longenecker and Still titled their textbook Thinking though Paul, they tried to capture a range of possible meanings within that short phrase. 1- think about Paul, and 2- thinking in a Pauline manner.

Why have we chosen to entitle this book Thinking Through Paul? Because it signals two perspectives that characterize its chapters. First “thinking though Paul” will involve thinking about Paul, sorting through his letters and considering what he was saying in them. From this vantage point, Paul is the object to be studied, to be “thought through,” to be explored. But at times a second sense of the phrase will predominate, in which “thinking through Paul” will involve “thinking in a Pauline manner,” seeing things from his perspective, thinking along his thought patterns. (13)

In this book Longenecker and Still emphasize the challenging, exciting, devotional aspect of thinking through Paul. For them there is a profound life changing aspect of thinking through Paul. And all of this is in a textbook!

The textbook covers all of Paul’s letters. Each chapter addresses:

1-Historical issues

2-Key passages in each letter

3-Flow of thought through the letter

Final section of the textbook moves to the synthesizing task of putting Paul’s theology together. As a teacher/student this was the most interesting aspect of the book. Also it was the most important part of the book for of reviewing its functionality as a textbook, primarily because it let me answer the question, “What are the presuppositions & the big picture narrative the authors are working with?”

Theology – Apocalyptic or Covenant?

Question – what is the center of the Paul’s letters? Justification, reconciliation, Jesus is Lord, being in Christ, Jewish/Gentile relations? The truth is that its really hard to say – it is probably better to talk about Paul’s central narrative. These two narratives have often been spelled out as covenant & apocalyptic. The authors attempt to avoid the approach that divorces the two. Very simply their position is…

The God of Israel has created a good creation that is currently under the influence of cosmic forces that run contrary to the ways of the creator God. These forces include the powers of Sin and Death, who have conscripted the human race (as evidenced in Adam) in their efforts to denude God of his creation. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has acted to redeem his good creation from the clutches of those powers. Being “in Christ” and living within the story of Jesus, Jesus-followers are participants in that process of divine triumph, whose lives are continually to be transformed by the Spirit as miniature advertisements and embodiments of the eschatological rectification of the whole created order, to the glory of God. (302)

Theology – Christology

Is the incarnation of Christ present in Paul’s theology, what does it mean for Paul to say that Christ is pre-existent? Some argue that Paul doesn’t have an explicitly high Christology (Like John). Longenecker & Still argue “Paul evidences moments of extremely high Christology.” (305) They demonstrate how Paul’s implicit Trinitarian theology draws Christ into Jewish Monotheism. On a related note, the authors also emphasize Paul’s familiarity with the Jesus Tradition, though they acknowledge that Paul’s knowledge would have come second-hand. They show how Paul’s theology is infused with the content of this tradition.

Theology – Faith In or Faith Of?

They make a convincing argument for reading pistis christou as “faithfulness of Christ.” Their argument is convincing because it helps make sense of Romans 1:17 which is notoriously hard to translate (by faith from first to last?). They argue that the “faithfulness of Christ” gives us a triangle of faithfulness/faith:

  •  God’s pistis or faithfulness (as in Romans 3:3)
  • Jesus’ pistis or faitfulness (as in Rom 3:22,25-26)
  • The pistis or faith of Christians (as in Rom 4)

Concluding Thoughts

Longenecker & Still’s work helps us see Paul the missionary/theologian as a letter writer who is skilled in moving from the macro-narrative of the gospel (according to them, the cosmic triumph of God through Jesus Christ) to the micro-narrative of believer’s lives. This is a fantastic textbook – it includes great illustrations, interesting side-bars, fun diagrams, and fantastic discussion questions at the end of each chapter. My only qualm with it is the paper. That might sound like nitpicking, but as I highlighted and took notes on pages I found that everything I was writing tended to smudge, that really stinks for students who like to take notes in their textbooks. Also, the high-gloss paper creates a lot of glare when you read it under bright lights. If you choose to ignore these small deficiencies and you use this book for a class you will definitely have a textbook that helps your students think through Paul in challenging ways.

Note: I received a copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley & Zondervan in exchange for an impartial review.

Universal Atonement & The Sin of Unbelief

In a recent blog I posted I summarized Oliver Crisp’s recent argument that there is significant room within some key reformed confessions for one to hold on to a doctrine of atonement that excludes limited atonement and is open to universal atonement. I.e. that Christ died no just for the sins of the elect, but for the sins of all humanity. Essentially the argument goes like this:

1-Atonement is sufficient for all of humanity.

2-Faith is a necessary condition to receive salvation.

3-God intends the work of Christ, i.e. atonement, to be effective for all those who have faith.

4-Faith is a divine gift.

5-God provides faith for the elect.

6-Thus only the elect, who have been given faith, receive salvation i.e. the effective work of Christ.

However another blogger made a great observation, he said that the argument logically makes sense, however it has one major fault, he said that I had ignored the fact that Jesus died for the sin of unbelief…

If you’re atoned for all your sins, that must include the sin of unbelief – which is the sin of rejection and hatred of God and everything that He stands for. If you’re atoned for everything except faith, then you still have pretty much everything left to be atoned for!

This blogger certainly brings up a good point! Essentially he is making an argument similar to one that John Owen (the Puritan) had made. Here is what Owen says…

Unbelief is it a sin or is it not? If it be not how can it be a cause of damnation? If it be, Christ died for it,or he did not. If he did not, then he died not for the sins of all men. If he did, why is this an obstacle to their salvation? Is there any new shift to be invented for this? Or must we be contented with the old, namely because they do not believe? That is, Christ did not die for their unbelief, or rather, did not by his death remove their unbelief, because they would not believe, or because they would not themselves remove their unbelief; or he died for their unbelief conditionally, that they were not unbelievers. These do not seem to me to be sober assertions. (Works, 144)

A Portrait of John Owen - author of the "The Death of Death in Christ"
A Portrait of John Owen – author of the “The Death of Death in Christ”

Or elsewhere, Owen says…

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men or all the sins of some men or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved… If the second, this is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe. But this unbelief is it a sin, or is it not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent punishment for it or not. If so why mus that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins. Let them chose which part they will. (The Works of John Owen, 173-74)

Essentially Owen is arguing that unbelief is a sin – therefore it is cause for damnation. If Christ died for the unbelief of all of humanity then all of humanity would be saved, because he would have atoned for all the sin of humanity (unbelief included.) However, not all of humanity is saved, therefore Christ could not have died for everybody’s unbelief – therefore we need limited atonement to make sense of why we don’t claim universalism.

This is exactly what this thoughtful blogger pointed out!

However one might want to say that even if unbelief is dealt with at the cross, under universal atonement, faith is still required for the application of the atonement that has been accomplished. If this is the case, then Christ has surely died for even the reprobate’s sin – unbelief included – however if they do not have the faith necessary to have the benefits of his death applied to them then they suffer the just punishment for their sin.

Faith is a necessary condition for appropriating the saving benefits of Christ’s death.

Limited Atonement vs. “Unlimited” Atonement

Most people tend to think that if one is reformed one is required to hold to the doctrine of limited atonement, the doctrine which says that the cope of Christ’s atoning work is accomplished on behalf of and applied only to the elect.

Stations of the Cross

In a recent article on “hypothetical universalism” (hear unlimited or universal atonement, not universalism), the doctrine by which the atoning work of Christ is universal in its sufficiency but applied only to an elect number less than the total number of fallen humanity Oliver crisp argues that there is significant room within some key reformed confessions in which one can hold to a doctrine of atonement that excludes limited atonement and is open to universal atonement. In this article (found in his most recent book Deviant Calvinism) he makes the historical case that this is so, there have been reformed theologians throughout history who have not compromised reformed orthodoxy by holding on to universal atonement. How is this the case? Essentially it hangs on a Lombardian dictum that Christ’s atoning work is sufficient for all humanity yet effective only for the elect, i.e. those that are predestined. Briefly the argument goes like this:

1-Atonement is sufficient for all of humanity.

2-Faith is a necessary condition to receive salvation.

3-God intends the work of Christ, i.e. atonement, to be effective for all those who have faith.

4-Faith is a divine gift.

5-God provides faith for the elect.

6-Thus only the elect, who have been given faith, receive salvation i.e. the effective work of Christ.

Do you think this argument works? What are the flaws in the argument?