Our general question is: how can our university be a proper Catholic or Christian university? What would such a university be like? This question is a really tough one in three ways. First, as Chuck Wilber and others have pointed out, we have no contemporary 1 models here. We can’t look at Princeton (much as we love and admire it), to see how they do things, as a pattern for us. Indeed, the truth is just the reverse. One lesson to be learned from George Marsden’s talk last time is that Princeton is in an important way a failed project: at one time it was or aimed to be or continues to be a Christian university, just as we do; that aim, sadly enough, was not accomplished. Hence we can’t take Princeton as a model; instead, we must try to learn from its mistakes. Second, if what we want is a Catholic or Christian university, we must, as Nathan Hatch pointed out, dare to be different, to pursue our own path, to take the risks involved in venturing into unmapped and unexplored territory. That isn’t easy; there are enormous pressures towards conformity. (But it is our university, after all, and we don’t have to follow the common herd.) And thirdly, this is a multifarious, many-sided question; it has to be thought about in connection with graduate education as well as undergraduate education; we must think about the need for the kind of conversation mentioned by Craig Lent — both about the need for such a conversation, and about the appropriate topics; we have to think about curricula, about relationships with other universities aimed in the same direction as we, as well as about relationships with universities aimed in different directions; we have to think about how all this bears on hiring policies; we must think about these things and a thousand others.
I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers, that imposes upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition.
The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the university, the arts, and other realms of “high” culture… The historical situation is… curious. Modern evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to the mind.
Moreover, it’s not just Christian scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with the issues. Christian laymen, too, need to be intellectually engaged. Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true.
But the fact that Christianity can only be shown to be probably true need not be troubling when two things are kept in mind: first, that we attain no more than probability with respect to almost everything we infer…without detriment to the depth of our conviction and that even our non-inferred, basic beliefs may not be held with any sort of absolute certainty…; and second, that even if we can only show Christianity to be probably true, nevertheless we can on the basis of the Spirit’s witness know Christianity to be true with a deep assurance that far outstrips what the evidence in our particular situation might support (think analogously of the person convinced of his innocence even though all the evidence stands against him). To demand logically demonstrative proofs as a pre-condition for making a religious commitment is therefore just being unreasonable.
Throughout the academic world, non-Euclidean geometry was invoked to support a positivistic, anti-metaphysical temper of thought. A culture was assumed to be analogous to a geometry. Both were built on a few postulates chosen from an indefinite number of possibilities; both consisted of internally consistent, interrelated wholes; and both were immune to judgements about their truth or falsity in any ultimate
sense. Just as different geometries could all be logically valid, it was argued, so any number of different cultural and ethical systems could all be logically valid. Thus non-Euclideanism became a metaphor for the rejection of all traditional deductive systems — particularly the moral and religious tradition of Christianity. This is not to say that non-Euclideanism is intrinsically anti-Christian or anti-religious. Yet it was invoked as a symbol to deny that Christianity has any claim to a superior or exclusive truth.
I must begin by confessing that I am quite unaccustomed to testifying, which is what I have let myself in for by agreeing to write this essay. Abstract reasoning is more my line. Therefore, I must ask you to bear with me if I sound like a fish out of water. If I am to speak of my way back to the faith, I must say something about where I was coming back from. And for this, a little background is needed. I was raised as a Methodist in the South–Shreveport, Louisiana, to be exact. My undoubtedly imperfect recollection of this particular religious ambiance is that it was perfunctory and lacking in warmth of conviction. No doubt, a lot was going on there that was not getting through to me. But when, many years later, I came to learn something about John Wesley and the origins of Methodism, I was surprised to learn that great store was set on personal religious experience. It is a plausible conjecture that the fact that I have spent a large part of the last fifteen years working on the epistemology of religious experience represents a development of seeds that were planted during my childhood as a Methodist in Shreveport. However, as I say, none of this made any strong, conscious impression on me at the time (to the best of my recollection), and on attaining the age of reason (or what I thought of as such in early adolescence) and becoming acquainted with atheistic arguments and attitudes, I readily abandoned ship.
What, then, should be our approach in apologetics? It should be something like this: ‘My friend, I know Christianity is true because God’s Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it is true, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it’s true, I’ll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that’s my fault, not God’s. It only shows that I’m a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I’ll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself.’
If the world seems attractive, the Christian must ensure that God, as its creator, is seen to be even more attractive. The world reflects the attractiveness of its creator, as the moon reflects the light of the sun. ¶ Two incidents from classical Greek mythology suggest themselves here. Homer introduces us to the Sirens, a group of women whose singing was so seductive that they caused sailors to crash their vessels through inattention to their duties. When Ulysses was attempting to sail his ship past the Sirens, he prevented the Sirens from causing any difficulties by the simple expedient of blocking his sailors’ ears so that they could not hear the captivating Siren song. Orpheus, on the other hand, was a skilled lyre player. His method of dealing with this kind of threat was rather indifferent. He played his lyre, the music of which proved so enchanting and fascinating that its beauty totally outweighed anything else.
The scribes were treated with excessive deference in Jewish society because of their education and learning. Everyone honored them because of their wisdom and intelligence. The “mere children”(napioi in Greek, really meaning babes) were Jesus’ image for the uneducated and ignorant. He is saying that the gospel of grace has been disclosed to and grasped by the uneducated and ignorant instead of the learned and wise. For this Jesus thanks God… The babes (napioi) are in the same state as the children (paidia). God’s grace falls on them because they are negligible creatures, not because of their good qualities. They may be aware of their worthlessness, but this is not the reason revelations are given to them. Jesus expressly attributes their good fortune to the Father’s good pleasure, the divine eudokia. The gifts are not determined by the slightest personal quality or virtue. They were pure liberality. Once and for all, Jesus deals the death blow to any distinction between the elite and the ordinary in the Christian community.
It is the things for which there is no evidence that are believed with passion. “Nobody feels any passion about the multiplication table or about the existence of Cape Horn, because these matters are not doubtful. “But in matters of theology or political theory, where a rational man will hold that at best there is a slight balance of probability on one side or the other, people argue with passion and support their opinions by physical slavery imposed by armies and mental slavery imposed by schools.
Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it). But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness. It leads people to believe in whatever it is so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and to die for it without the need for further justification.
It is helpful to distinguish between negative and positive apologetics. In negative apologetics, the major objective is producing answers to challenges to religious faith. The proper tack of negative apologetics is removing obstacles to belief… In negative apologetics, the apologist is playing defense. In positive apologetics, the apologist begins to play offense. It is one thing to show (or attempt to show) that assorted arguments against religious faith are weak or unsound; it is a rather different task to offer people reasons why they should believe. The latter is the task of positive apologetics.
The Judeo-Christian religious tradition, is not just a domain of poetry, imagery, mystical transport, moral directive, and non cognitive, existential self-understanding. Interacting especially with the philosophically developed tradition of Christian theology, [I] joint the vast majority of other leading contributors to contemporary philosophical theology in taking for granted theological realism, the cognitive stance presupposed by the classical theistic concern to direct our thoughts as well as our lives aright. It has been the intent of theologians throughout most of the history of the Christian faith to deserve correctly, within our limits, certain important facts about God, human beings, and the rest of creation given in revelation and fundamental to the articulation of any distinctively Christian world view. In particular, reflective Christians throughout the centuries have understood their faith as providing key insights into, and resources for, the construction of a comprehensive metaphysics.
Moreland’s work must be considered one of the premier works on apologetics written by an evangelical. Although William Lane Craig is probably now worthy to be called the dean of evangelical apologists, Moreland’s volume from the 1980s still stands alone as the best single volume in dealing with challenges to the Christian faith. This is due in large part to two factors: the format of the book and Moreland’s concise way in handling the issues under discussion. ~ Shannon Richie … “No evangelical now writing on apologetics surpasses Moreland in philosophical ability. Every person who intends to speak for Christ to the contemporary mind should master the content and spirit of this book.” ~ Dallas Willard, University of Southern California.
Here I am … living in a time of permanent drama, witnessing upheavals such as perhaps the globe never before saw since the mountains rose and the seas were driven into their caverns. What have I to do for this panting, palpitating century? More than ever before thought is waiting for men, and men for thought. The world is in danger for lack of life-giving maxims. We are in a train rushing ahead at top speed, no signals visible. The planet is going it knows not where, its law has failed it: who will give it back its sun?
How can biblical authority be a reality for those shaped by the modern world? This book treats the First World as a mission field, offering a unique perspective on the relationship between the gospel and current society by presenting an outsider’s view of contemporary Western culture. “This is an extraordianry book on contemporary missiology. Writing from four decades of experience in Christian mission, Lesslie Newbigin applies the same discernment involved in contextualizing the gospel in another culture to the issues involved in contextualizing the gospel in our Western culture. He lays bare the pervasive and sublte synergism that alters the gospel, and he calls us to a thorough critique of our culture and of the way in which we understand or misunderstand the gospel of Christ and his good news of the kingdom of God.” ~ Mission Focus
In his survey of the history of thought with respect to miracles, Craig traces the demise of the plausability of such supernatural events amongst biblical scholars, expressed first in naturalistic explanations for biblical events and ultimately in the repudiation of the reliability of the biblical texts. Craig addresses the influence of Bahrdt, Paulus, Schleiermacher, Strauss, and Bultmann before turning to their intellectual forebears, the thinking of Spinoza and Hume and the backdrop of Newton’s mechanistic universe. Craig offers a response to each of these principal thinkers in turn, concluding that “the presupposition of the impossibility of miracles should play no role in determining the historicity of an event”, even an allegedly supernatural one. In so doing, he challenges the notion that natural law must preclude miracles and provides a patient response to each of the principal objections. Craig’s lengthy article is a worthwhile read both for its summary history of biblical scholarship and for its recommendation for appropriate criteria in the study of history. ~ Nate
On the other hand, there are those who disdain the apologetic task altogether, either because they believe that Christian faith is entirely a gift of God or because they advocate religious commitment as a “leap of faith”. Such thinkers would quote Pascal: “The heart has reasons that reason knows not of”. What those who take this approach overlook is that it proves too much. If Christian belief is justified by faith alone, then so is every other form of belief on the commitment market, since the devotees of each are equally convinced they are right. Besides, it is important to notice that Pascal still called the reasons which are not known by reason, “reasons”.
Moreover, a dialogical posture is one that listens as well as shares. Faith in God is open to truth wherever it is encountered; it takes both the questions raised and the answers given by unbelievers extremely seriously. To put all this another way, authentic Christian faith, as I understand it, has nothing to fear from interchange with those of differing points of view. One must have confidence that God’s truth will vindicate itself to those who seek it sincerely; it does not need to be defended. A faith based in fear is like a faith without works; it is not faith at all.
Philosopher William Alston articulates why he returned to Christianity after discarding his Christian faith not once, but twice. Alston notes that it was not any of the classical arguments for the credibility of Christian faith that beckoned him back, but rather something more intangible: “My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn’t heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me.” Alston goes on to say that what has kept him faithful ten years on is a real sense that God remains active in his life… that his faith “is working; the promise is being fulfilled”. For what it’s worth, here’s one man’s testimony. ~ Nate
In this paper, I ponder two questions: (1) Why can’t the religious believer simply put the burden on the skeptic, and ask him to justify his unbelief, with the underlying assumption that as between theism and atheism, it is the former that is obviously true and the latter that is obviously false? (2) This not being possible in any way that is of immediate interest to religious belief, how does the believer regard his inability to prove the truth of faith in the manner the skeptic demands?
William Alston brings a philosopher’s perspective to prayer, the somewhat audacious belief that humans can speak with God. Alston considers in particular the yet more remarkable belief that God responds to our petitions. A 2005 Rasmussen poll found that 47% of Americans pray daily or nearly every day. But however common, prayer rarely benefits from this kind of philosophical reflection. Alston addresses the issue of God’s foreknowledge and omniscience and how these comport with the notion that God’s action in the world can be moved by prayer. In particular, he considers objections to the idea that a “timeless” God can engage in dialogue with creatures who are in time. He concludes: “God is essentially timeless in the sense that, apart from His free choice to the contrary, none of His actions or states would be datable nor would He live through temporal succession. But God has the capacity to freely choose to render His activity, or portions thereof, temporally ordered. And this permits Him to enter into genuine interaction, conversational and otherwise, with temporal creatures.” ~ Nate
I read this book some years ago and wish that it had not gone out of print. In essence, it is a series of interviews with great thinkers, both traditional theists and scientists and philosophers whose work and thought have led them to consider a traditional God as a reality. The thesis of the project, and it was borne out by the interviews, is that the leading, cutting edge thinkers in any field are far more likely to consider God seriously than the rank and file who are often still mired in the muck of warmed-over logical positivism and misplaced hyper-rationalism. This book can have a profound effect on your faith and your life. This was an excellent project and needs to be revisited. ~ Kristav Childress at Amazon.com
Now it is often seems to people who are not religious as if there was no conceivable event or series of events the occurrence of which would be admitted by sophisticated religious people to be a sufficient reason for conceding ‘there wasn’t a God after all’ or ‘God does not really love us then.’ Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children. We are reassured. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat … Some qualification is made — God’s love is “not merely human love” … perhaps — and we realize that such suffering are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that “God loves us as a father …” We are reassured again … I therefore put … the simple central questions, “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God?”