Christianity's New F-Word

All this learning how to defend Christianity seems to have left us uncomfortable with one very basic word.

With the help of a few popular Christian apologists and philosophers, such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, the rational defense of Christianity has enjoyed an explosive surge in recent years. The increasing enrollment of Christian philosophy students, the widely publicized debates with popular atheists (with no little help from YouTube), and the growing collection of mainstream philosophy books show just how dominant a role Christian apologetics plays in Christianity’s interaction with our culture today.
All these considerations call for an introspective checkup. Now is a good time to ask, as Soren Kierkegaard did, whether Christian apologetics has evolved into nothing more than a cultural activity where one “gets busy at once to deal with every accusation, every falsification, every unfair statement, and in this way is occupied early and late in counterattacking the attack.”
“This,” said Kierkegaard, “I have no intention of doing.” But this, I believe, is precisely what many Christian apologists seem bent on doing today in the public square. 
It really is no big secret that the way mainstream apologists today answer every “prate and twaddle” that comes their way—line for line—is proving to be ineffective and brings some very negative consequences. Here we see the flip side of the popularity of Christian apologetics is the Church’s constant surrender to the culture’s definition of “rational,” “reasonable” and “justified.”

It really is no big secret that the way mainstream apologists answer every “prate and twaddle” is proving ineffective and brings some very negative consequences.

We really can't overlook the subtle irony behind this. By supposedly presenting a “rational” defense for the Christian faith, Christian apologists have often injected Western thought and secular methods into the Church, replacing faithful teaching of Scripture with “reasonable” analysis of the Bible as a historical text.
Scripture is clear: The righteous live by faith—that is, whether we eat or drink or reason, we do all by faith for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
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. 
Paul preached first by faith in the power of the Gospel even as he reasoned “rigorously” with the Jews and the Greeks (Acts 18:28; 1 Corinthians 1:17.) We have to examine whether we have misplaced our boldness and confidence—is it in reason? ourselves? or Christ?—lest we place ourselves on the wrong path. 

Our faith in Christ must be greater than our faith in wisdom and reason, regardless of what label might be pinned on us.

Our faith in Christ has to be greater than our faith in wisdom and reason, regardless of what label might be pinned on us.  

During the past half-century or so, Christian apologetics has been graced with a special grain of salt. Great Christian thinkers like Cornelius Van Til, John Frame and Greg Bahnsen have stepped up to the task of restoring a proper view and love for our “conviction of things not seen” through something they're calling “presuppositional apologetics.” One of the primary concerns of these apologists is to inject faith back in to the defense of the faith, just like Augustine, Anselm and Pascal did before them. Christian apologists, they believe, ought to embrace and boast in our faith—with or without the culture's consent.  

As Jesus said: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Lies, slanders, prate and twaddle will always come against those who belong to the faith. But we have been exhorted to consider these persecutions as blessings instead of reasoning them away with how good we are in philosophy.
Like Kierkegaard, we should welcome these attacks, “partly because [we] learn from the New Testament that the occurrence of such things is a sign that one is on the right road.” If the letter “F” is our scarlet letter, then it's the letter that gets us into the Kingdom of God. 



Anonymous commented…

What is this article suggesting we put our "faith" in? Having faith in a misconception about an interpretation of a translation of what we think Jesus said in Greek 2000 years ago is not exactly smart nor is it biblical. Using "faith" as a way to avoid recognizing the possible flaws in your thoughts about Christianity is not only dangerous to your own walk with Christ, it's repugnant to the non-believers you come into contact with. The best thing about reason is that it helps you to know what you should put your faith in. If you throw reason out, you're just putting faith in your own personal interpretation of something you probably know very little about other than from hearsay. Jesus didn't come to 21st century America, and Moses didn't have a typewriter. And if you don't know ancient Hebrew or Greek, don't assume you understand everything the Bible is saying and then put your faith in that misconception. Put your faith in reason instead.

Sure, I can understand that some people take reason too far, to the extent of moving God out of the picture. But I think that's a relatively minor issue compared to the wild amounts of misconstruals and misunderstandings from the Christian institutions that are based in having too much faith in tradition alone. And if having "too much reason" is a side effect of reversing some of those misunderstandings, I'm all for it. If you're going to put your faith in God, make sure you understand why first.

Steve and Nikki Reed


Steve and Nikki Reed commented…

Haven't read all the comments, but Nickolsen92 makes an excellent point page 10 of the comments. Had to look up the word fideism, but having given this subject more thought and reading other views, I think he really brings out the necessity of reason and logic.



MichB commented…

Likewise. I had a similar 'drought' where I was questioning a lot of things, one of them being whether or not I was the absolutele brainwahsed nutcase society kept telling me I was. Unable to yet rely on the truth of the Bible or my past experience with God as trustworthy I turned to philosophy and reason. There I found that it was in fact totally reasonable and rational to assume that there was a personal mind behind the creation of the universe, that humans exist on purpose, and that this creator cares about our wellbeing. That was enough to encourage me on, and eventually I worked my way out of the drought. It's not everything is coming to faith, but it has it's useful place.

I agree that it would be foolish to try and absolutely 'prove' God somehow before putting any faith in him - often we see that faith comes first and is then proved to be justified, allowing for further steps of faith later, but I love thinking about God and talking about God too. I guess it's part of how I worship and connect to him.



Blake commented…

I came around to Sungyak's position a year or two ago. The thing that brought me around to what would be called presuppositional apologetics was really just a simple observation: a believer and an unbeliever of equal intellect could debate until they were blue in the face over "evidences of the faith" and never come to an agreement. Why is this? Ultimately, it seems to me, because one presupposes a faith as witnessed by the Scriptures and the other presupposes disbelief in Christian faith as witnessed by the Scriptures. Faith undergirds how the Christian views the evidence.

Plus, I look at Thomas Cranmer (the Anglican reformer) and see his understanding of the heart, will and mind quite fitting to this idea (as paraphrased by Cranmer scholar, Ashley Null): what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.

If the heart is captive to Christ, then reason can be used to justify what Christ has done and defend the faith. If the heart is in rebellion and disbelief of God, then the mind will justify that rebellion and disbelief.

Faith is the basis for Christian reasoning. If our reasoning does not have faith as its presupposition then the power of the Gospel cannot really be displayed and proclaimed in our arguments and discussions.

brad wofford


brad wofford commented…

I heard Ravi Zacharias once be asked "Why does our faith have to be justified by rational western thought..." Ravi responded "Do you want my answer to be rational or irrational?"

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