Truth and Falsehood regarding Christian dogma

Eberhard Jüngel writes in his essay “God - As a Word of Our Language”:
The sole danger [of assertions about God which claim to be true] is that they are only too true and that they can thus easily be misunderstood to the point of not permitting of being proved false under any circumstances. In reply to such misunderstanding it should be stated that only such theological sentences can reasonably claim to be true as really expose themselves to the conflict between true and false and therefore do not in principle exclude the possibility of being falsified.
Do Christian truth claims (i.e., doctrines) require the possibility of being falsified, as Jüngel claims? If so, what are we to make of Roman Catholic truth claims, particularly those that come ex cathedra? Are Protestants any safer from the "sole danger" that Jüngel points out? Is there a slippery slope that begins once we allow doctrine to enter the realm of possibility? Was C. S. Lewis wrong by using the same argument Jüngel makes to explain why he refused to join the Catholic church? Are Protestants wrong for denouncing a doctrine a false? In other words, what happens when two Christian parties both make a truth claim that excludes the other, thus denouncing the opposite side as a "false" claim? Is this appropriate, or not?

Comments

Mark Congdon said…
First thought: Does Jungel refer to all doctrinal statements, or only to "assertions about God"? Assertions about God could be understood in a limited way to speak only of aspects of God's character, which is only a part of the whole of doctrine. Not knowing the context, I don't know if your parenthetical summary should be taken in that limited sense or in some broader sense, but I'd be interested to know.

Second thought: How does one define "Christian parties"? Only through "truth claims". Christianity is defined as a set of truths. Yes, it is unique in that those truths are embodied in a person (that is, that the word is not just a book, but the Word incarnate)... but they are truths all the same. The difference between Christian and cultist, the difference between Christian and heretic in the early days, was only defined by "truth claims"... essentially, creeds. So, in at least that sense, truth claims are and must be exclusivist. Put another way... some truth claims are necessary, or else there can be no heretic, no cult, no Christianity even.

Third thought: On an individual level, I have found that I could only fully personalize what I believe to the extent that I allowed it to be falsifiable, and tested it. All of my beliefs even now are falsifiable. For me, personally, if I do not allow a belief to be put under the crucible of falsification, then I am simply afraid that it will fail, and I don't truly believe it with full trust and dependence.

Fourth thought: I don't see falsifiability as a problem for the Catholic Church. Catholic doctrine is just as falsifiable as any other, in my mind. It simply must be proved or falsified as a whole unit, not piecemeal. One cannot be a partial Catholic, that is true... but that doesn't make their doctrine un-falsifiable.

Fifth thought: Are Protestants wrong for denouncing a doctrine as false? If one cannot denounce a doctrine as false, then neither can one proclaim a doctrine as true. Both the denunciations and the proclamations should remain ever falsifiable. Of course, in a practical sense, some things will move beyond the realm of practical falsifiability (like Newtonian physics in the scientific realm, which, though "falsified" by Einstein, is still a reliable guide to almost every situation).

So, in summary... truth claims are necessary. Every truth claim should be falsifiable, at least on an individual level. Protestants aren't in any different position on this than Catholics.

At least, that's how it seems to me right now. All my positions are falsifiable, however. :)

Mark
Douglas_Coombs said…
"I don't see falsifiability as a problem for the Catholic Church. Catholic doctrine is just as falsifiable as any other, in my mind. It simply must be proved or falsified as a whole unit, not piecemeal."

While I agree with the general tone of this statement, I don't think it is possible to do in any given person's lifetime.

Doug
Mark Congdon said…
Doug,

I'm not sure what you're getting at. But, Catholic doctrine is obviously falsifiable, since people falsify it. That is, people choose not to believe it, and others who used to believe choose to believe it no longer.

My point is that specific Catholic doctrines are not falsifiable once one is a Catholic, because they are infallibly proclaimed. But, that infallible authority itself is just as falsifiable as any other belief. So, Catholicism is falsifiable not piecemeal ("Is the assumption of Mary true?") but wholesale ("Does the Church have a protection from doctrinal error promised by God, maintained by the Holy Spirit?"). That's just as falsifiable as any other doctrinal statement.

Obviously, if one rejected the authority of the Catholic church, they would not necessarily reject all the teachings of the Catholic church... but they would certainly no longer be Catholic.

Mark
Mark Congdon said…
Has this thread died off already? I hope not. I'd love to hear someone else's thoughts, or response to any of the various thoughts I listed out in my initial response...

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, Jungel explicitly refers to "assertions about God," and while it's safer to stick to this, I think he might agree that all doctrines in some way reflect an understanding of God.

You are right about the exclusivity of "truth claims," in the sense that they make true distinctions from other claims which are as such determined to be "not true." But I think Jungel is concerned that these truth claims are themselves open to reevaluation, that is, falsification.

This is precisely where a possible critique of Roman Catholicism is found in Jungel. While I agree with you, Mark, that Catholic doctrine can only be falsified as a whole, and not in piecemeal fashion, the problem for us as contemporary believers is that Catholic doctrines are not given as a whole, but in a piecemeal fashion. What this means is, Catholic dogma is deemed un-falsifiable before the doctrine is ever actually pronounced. This was Lewis' criticism: that Catholic theology is like a jungle in which you must accept not only all the tangled plants and life already present, but also every new plant and lifeform that will appear in the future. In other words, you have to pre-accept all future doctrinal claims as un-falsifiable.

Clearly, however, they are falsifiable in one general sense, as you noted: by unbelief. And Jungel talks about that in the paragraphs following the passage I quoted in the post. He says unbelief is the one falsifying stance which denies all systems of belief. But for our purposes, I am interested in how this view of falsification -- or, perhaps, re-formation - affects our stance in relation to new doctrinal assertions.

The entire Protestant faith is built around the view that doctrines can be falsified. Is this positive? Or is it negative? Can something be positive in its original context, but negative in its current one? (This was Bonhoeffer's position regarding Protestantism.) What about the inverse?
Mark Congdon said…
David,

I believe you're asking:

Is the Protestant system where every individual theologian re-evaluates every truth claim, picking and choosing the ones that they believe to be true and/or beneficial, a healthy system?

Is that about right?

I think the general structure is the way God set it up. I think there is a great danger in it, however. It seems to me that the danger of Protestant theology is that every new generation of theologians feels the need to discover something new, say something in a new way, elaborate or expand on what was said before. This can be good, if it takes truth and recommunicates it faithfully in a new way... but a great deal of the theology I see (from pasters on Sunday mornings looking for some new twist on a verse to impress their congregation, from theology students looking for something to say in their thesis to impress their professors, from long-time theologians looking for some new angle on doctrine to make their long-dreamed-of book a success, etc.) finds truths that aren't there, forms conclusions that aren't justified, makes claims that aren't supported, and flows more out of human pride than the purity of God's self-revelation.

It seems interesting to me that very few religious thinkers followed Jesus. Most of his followers were hands-on people, and most of his messages were hands-on instructions. A system of belief that glorifies the detached study (and re-study and re-study) of theology above the active out-working of the basic and simple proclamations of the Scripture (and there are some) is, in my mind, unhealthy.

I will leave unanswered the question of whether Protestants or Catholics are better at fostering that type of God-honoring life, because I really don't know. I'm mainly troubled at my own tendency to fall into theological detachment, and lose sight of the straightforward guidance staring me in the face every time I open my Bible.

Mark
Shane said…
so i'm going to be the annoying philosopher here and ask just what we think 'falsification' means.

in english language philosophy of science (a bit remote from Juengel's context, so beware!), Karl Popper used the idea of falsification to overturn a positivist account of science called 'verificationism'. according to verificationism, a statement was true only on the condition that there was empirical evidence which would verify its truth.

Popper's point is that data can support multiple conflicting theoretical systems. (We say that the data always 'underdetermine' the theories they are supposed to support). consequently, the most helpful way to go about testing our theories, according to Popper, is to look for evidence which would falsify our theory. if we look for quite a while in lots of different places and never come up with any falsifying evidence we can say that our theory seems to be true, i.e. it is provisionally supported by the evidence currently at hand and not disqualified by any evidence that we know of.

now, the problem with applying this understanding of falsification to what Juengel is saying is that religious claims are all non-falsifiable. posit that demons exists. what sort of empirical data could possibly falsify such a statement? On popper's judgment such a claim is nonscientific precisely because it is non-falsifiable. (i don't think popper or 'falsification' have the last word on philosophy of science, but that is another discussion)

the kind of falsification we are discussing here must be different, therefore. but in order to really make sense of this passage we are going to have to try to figure out what could falsify a theological belief.

The Bible is the first thing that jumps to my mind, but the interpretation of the Bible is quite a difficult thing and how one interprets the Bible is necessarily always already influenced by one's dogmatic commitments and ecclesiastical identity. Give me three New Testament Scholars: A catholic, a calvinist and a Lutheran and just try to get a consensus interpretation of Jesus's saying, "This is my body." it won't happen.

falsification is going to be hard to come by, in my opinion. maybe not impossible, but damn hard to come by.

shane
Mark Congdon said…
Shane,

It sounds like you are taking "falsify" to mean "demonstrate to be certainly false", as science does. As you pointed out, statements about God are never falsifiable in that sense.

But, if one uses falsifiable in the sense of: "with an open mind allowing oneself to be convinced otherwise"... that is, if letting your beliefs be "falsifiable" means letting them be tested by other ideas rather than hiding from competing ideas out of fear... then I think this conversation makes more sense.

Falsifiability as it is being used here is, I think, more akin to a study of comparative ideas about God than it is to an attempt to find disproving evidence for any particular idea.

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
I will comment more later, but I should add this: Jungel actually does acknowledge Popper's scientific use of "falsification," and later on in the essay argues for "unbelief" as that which can falsify any theological claim. I didn't put that out there at the beginning, because I wanted to focus on the more pressing contemporary situation between Catholic and Protestant views of dogma. But it should be noted that Jungel is working with a more scientific understanding of falsification. I did not mean to obscure Jungel's views. I just think the particular passage I quoted can be relevant in more ways than Jungel makes explicit in the essay. If you'd like, I can quote the sections about unbelief. And if you are interested, I can send you the complete essay in PDF format.

Just so people know (and I will probably state this again later), I have the entire Theological Essays I in PDF format, with each essay separated into a multi-page document. I don't want to just advertise this due to copyright. But an essay here and there will be made available for those who are interested -- with the stipulation that people will seek out these materials for themselves (although the prices are rather high, so I don't blame people for shying away).

Also, all articles published outside of Jungel's books are available as well in multi-page PDFs. I've been busy!
Mark Congdon said…
David,

That's peculiar. As I understand Popper, falsification in the scientific sense is a public, repeatable, external observation that proves a hypothesis untenable.

Unbelief, on the other hand, is by its very nature personal and individual.

I fail to see how the two can possibly be related. I must be missing something.

Oh well. Wouldn't be the first time, or the last. :)

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, you have to understand that Jungel is merely appropriating the scientific understanding of falsifiability, without subjecting theology to a frame of reference rooted in the scientific method. When Jungel refers to falsifiability, he is not concerned with whether that term is public or private. In fact, I would suggest that the term, though perhaps used in a public context, is not necessarily defined in public terms. The term still carries weight if you view it as "personal, singular, internal." The question is not how something is falsified, but whether something can be falsified at all.

Of course, you also unintentionally bring up the issue of whether faith and unbelief is really an internal, private matter at all. There are some strong historical and theological reasons why that might not be the appropriate way of viewing one's faith. But that's another discussion for another time, perhaps.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Regarding faith, I guess I'm just of a simplistic turn of mind. But, it seems to me that as long as our thoughts are personal and internal (and it seems to me that they are), and belief is a matter of our thoughts, then belief is personal and internal. Our thoughts, and therefore our beliefs, are largely determined (and maybe should be even more determined) by the communities we are a part of... but our thoughts are still personal and internal, aren't they? And belief is a matter of our thoughts, is it not? It plays out in our actions, certainly. And in some situations belief cannot exist without our actions being involved. But, I think it goes without saying that belief can never exist without our thoughts being involved, doesn't it? And if our thoughts are involved in our beliefs, and our thoughts are personal and internal, then belief is at some level personal and internal, is it not?

Regarding falsification, you're right that we should leave the external/internal distinction out of it... but wouldn't unbelief be the result of falsification in the scientific sense, not a form of it? That is, if scientific falsification has anything to do with belief at all. It seems to me that in most cases of belief about God, scientific falsification is not available, and we rely on comparisons of competing truth claims to form our beliefs, so I assumed that the word falsification was being used in that sense.

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Yes, I was originally using Jungel's quote about falsification to refer to a situation in which there are competing truth claims -- or in which there is the denial of the dominating truth claim. Now, concerning scientific falsification, the relation with unbelief is not exact; it's more like a analogy or similarity. But if it is one that might provoke helpful dialogue, then it's worth exploring.

You raised an interesting question by asserting the possibility of unbelief as the "result" of falsification, rather than the "form." I think Jungel's point is that unbelief is actually the form; that is, unbelief is not something people rationally reach based on evidence against faith. Rather, unbelief is an attitude which denies the possibility of faith, and hence falsifies any truth claims faith makes. Does that make sense?

Concerning faith as a personal, interior matter, I agree with you in a general sense. But I want to correct something which may or may not be intentional on your part. I want to conceive of faith as a gift from God, a divine grace which changes and reorients us as persons. This grace is not aimed primarily at individuals, but at all of humanity. God is concerned with the world, which includes individual creatures. As a result, I think belief is primarily "from above," so that it does not begin with our thoughts but rather continues there in the journey of our human response to God's love.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

The discussion of the scientific definition of falsification only showed up here because Shane wanted us to clarify the meaning of the word as we were using it. Beyond clarifying that, I don't personally see that it helps move the discussion forward.

My exact statement was: "wouldn't unbelief be the result of falsification in the scientific sense". The clause "in the scientific sense" was essential to my meaning. Jungel is not using falsification in the strict scientific sense, and therefore my comment was not related to his use of the word.

Whether or not faith is "something people rationally reach", whether or not faith is "a gift from God, a divine grace", the level at which I thought we were speaking was the level that you referenced at the end: "it does not begin with our thoughts but rather continues there in the journey of our human response to God's love." We don't disagree. I wasn't attempting to elucidate the philosophical nature of the origins of faith.

Because, of course, we all agree that our rationality and our thoughts are critical to our faith at some point... or else we wouldn't be exercising them in all of these invigorating dialogs.

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark,

If you are hoping the conversation will end, then that's fine. Feel free to ignore the following comments. But it seems to me like you are evading some of my statements simply because they weren't exactly what you were intending. First of all, just because Shane brought up Popper and scientific falsification does not mean it is irrelevant or unhelpful; Jungel himself, as I already mentioned, makes use of this intellectual background to the word. Therefore, it is worth pursuing at least in some constructive manner.

Second, you did not respond to my comment on unbelief as actually the form, rather than the result, of falsification. You evaded my statement by saying that Jungel is not concerned with adhering to a strict scientific view of falsification. But do you agree or disagree with the view of unbelief as the form, rather than the result? I think that is something worth discussing. Can you logically reach unbelief, or is it an attitude that denies possibilities? Or both?

Finally, you are right that we do not disagree about faith. But I think it's still essential to emphasize God's prior, cosmic work on behalf of humanity.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Can you logically reach unbelief, or is it an attitude that denies possibilities? Or both?

Both or either, depending on the specifics of the situation.

Mark
Shane said…
David said, I think Jungel's point is that unbelief is actually the form; that is, unbelief is not something people rationally reach based on evidence against faith. Rather, unbelief is an attitude which denies the possibility of faith, and hence falsifies any truth claims faith makes..

I'm not sure I agree with this. I think that there are times where it seems that people don't have faith because they aren't willing to face the consequences of what having faith would mean. They are un-believing in an active sense to avoid having to apologize to their father, marry their girlfriend, etc.

But i don't think this is the best place to locate unbelief. Most people that i've met don't believe in God because it seems irrational to them to believe in God. (perhaps there are secret motivations of their hearts which are masked by their seeming 'rationality', but i don't like being freudian and choose to give them the benefit of the doubt).

now we have to ask why is this. Well, they suppose, rightly or wrongly, that science has replaced theology as the right way to explain the world. religion appears to them to be mumbo jumbo nonsense. they want psychotherapy rather than confession. voluntary associations rather than the catholic church. ethics rather than religion. physics rather than creation.

Why? Because the enlightenment told them so. because the philosophical climate became hostile to authority and began to think of truth in terms of scientific knowledge. now there were christian philosophers pointing out the weaknesses and deficiencies of this project. perhaps they didn't do their jobs very well, or perhaps this is finally where we should talk about unbelief, on the large scale, in the historical development of western europe and the 'secular' society.

this is why i think apologetics are still useful. not to make people christians, but to demonstrate the poverty of the enlightenment and to open people's minds to the possibility that religion is not non-sense.

shane
Mark Congdon said…
Shane,

It appears that you agree with me, that "unbelief" occurs in different ways in different situations for different people. Sometimes it is reached rationally, sometimes from hidden motives, sometimes it is a choice of the will that prevents rational consideration of an idea (say, borne out of fear). I'm sure there are other possibilities as well.

David, you wrote:

Finally, you are right that we do not disagree about faith. But I think it's still essential to emphasize God's prior, cosmic work on behalf of humanity.

If we agree about something, and you simply want to add an additional emphasis, then please try to avoid using words like "I want to correct something". Since I had not communicated that faith was something that originated with rationality, you were not correcting me, but elaborating. When you state that you are correcting me, then state something that I have always agreed with, it causes me great confusion.

Shane,

this is why i think apologetics are still useful. not to make people christians, but to demonstrate the poverty of the enlightenment and to open people's minds to the possibility that religion is not non-sense.

Do you think that "to make people christians" is a valuable goal? (2 Corinthians 5:11-21 is significant to me on this issue.)

If yes, then in what way are apologetics not useful for that purpose? Why is the value of apologetics limited to debunking the claims of the enlightenment? What prevents apologetics from dealing in more specific truth claims, and limits it to only general philosophical truth claims?

(I would not consider apologetics to be the sole, or even the primary, means of drawing people into relationship with Christ. But, it does seem to me that they can and often do play a part.)

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, it was a correction: a correction of emphasis. Not all corrections are corrections of fact.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Of course. I didn't assert that you were making a "correction of fact". Your "correction of emphasis" was itself not truly a correction. But, anyway...

I'm interested to hear your thoughts about the question you raised:

Can you logically reach unbelief, or is it an attitude that denies possibilities? Or both?

Shane and I have discussed that a bit. What are your thoughts on the topic?

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark,

I hate to belabor this conversation with such technicalities, but you did me a disservice in your comment about "correcting" vs. not correcting. In your comment from 9:31 am, you quoted me when I said that "we do not disagree about faith," and then criticized me for using the line "I want to correct something." Not so fast! My statement about wanting to "correct something" occurred in a prior post; at that time, you had not given me reason to assert that we agree. Thus, I felt compelled to add a correction. You followed by commenting that we actually do not disagree. It was after that response from you that I wrote "we do not disagree about faith." Please quote me responsibly in the future.

First, concerning unbelief. Shane, you and I are on the same page here. Your comment about unbelief is not in disagreement with me, because the various presentations of modern unbelief are all attitudinal (e.g., a fear of being challenged or changed by faith, an Enlightment-shaped attitude toward faith in general), rather than logical in nature. That is, faith is not falsified first before they accept a position of unbelief. Unbelief comes first, and that position then provokes their falsifications of faith (i.e., their defenses of unbelief). That said, I cannot agree more with your statements about the Enlightenment as the source of modern unbelief, which has been widely discussed by contemporary theologians and philosophers.

It seems to me that the statement "unbelief is the result of logic" is itself illogical. Unbelief cannot be any more logical or illogical than belief. Both depend on presuppositions. If unbelief is actually logical, while belief is not, that would prove to be quite problematic for Christians, I suspect. It seems to me, from a post-Enlightenment perspective, that neither belief nor unbelief is logically determined; But true Christian faith is also not to be understood as illogical or irrational. Rather, Christianity is that which challenges our very notions of logic and rationality: what is logical about God become man? what is rational about the cross?

Unbelief is a stance that attempts to shield the ego from the interruption caused by the word of the cross. Unbelief is the self-sustained protection against the provocative gospel message -- the Word which shatters all human presuppositions and rational categories (without, of course, denying reason its proper role in relation to the gospel).

Concerning apologetics, I must disagree with you, Mark. And this requires some explanation, both exegetical and theological.

It seems to me that 2 Cor. 5:11-21 does not give any basis for apologetics, but rather its opposite. Paul writes first, "we persuade others," but how does he persuade? By his actions. He lives out of the "love of Christ" which "controls" him. Christ died that people might "no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." As a result of all this, Paul writes that "we are ambassadors for Christ," but again the question is raised: How is one an ambassador? The text is clear: God must be the one to speak "through us." And the only way God can speak through us is if we are first "reconciled to God." Just so we're on the same page, the God who speaks through us speaks through our actions, our acts of love, grace, and affirmation. God's Yes to us, the people of God, is then carried on through our Yes to others.

Unsurprisingly, I would like to quote Jungel on this point, from his essay "The World as Possibility and Actuality" in Theological Essays I. Before I quote him, I will set the context. He is discussing the kind of language that is most appropriate to a gospel message which is concerned about the new possibilities opened up by a God who interrupts actuality for the sake of ever new horizons. In the realm of actuality (which is an Aristotelian conception given priority in classical philosophy), statements of objective fact are "higher" than statements about possibilities and potentialities. According to Jungel, the gospel inverts this hierarchy. I will skip the detailed argument and proceed to his final analysis: What kind of Christian discourse is most appropriate to the priority of possibility over actuality? This is what he writes:

"If we were to define [the speech events which grant time for trust or space for freedom], it would be as speech events which plead. A plea makes a demand without force. Unlike a command, it gives time. It accords freedom which the one to whom a plea has not been made never has. It leads to the differentiation of actuality by possibility. And so pleading ought to be the constitutive element of proclamation. The apostle pleads in place of Christ (2 Cor 5:11) without his words thereby ceasing to demand, and without faith ceasing to be (free) obedience. In a plea, God's love finds its most appropriate expression; and this love reconciles the world to God ..." (120).

Jungel's reading of the 2 Cor. passage seems right on target to me. Paul is not speaking of rational arguments or defenses given by faith against that which denies faith (i.e., apologetics); rather, Paul speaks of God's "appeal" to others through the love of the Christian. An appeal is a plea, a loving demand without force. An appeal does not attempt to exert power over the hearer -- whether intellectual or otherwise -- but instead demands a new orientation that recognizes the infinite possibilities of a God who desires reconciliation and redemption through the Spirit.

Getting away from the text now, I have plenty of other problems with apologetics. Since the first apologists, the exercise of apologetics has always been rational defense according to the intellectual norm of the day. In the time of Justin, the norm was Platonism; in the time of Thomas, the norm was Aristotelianism; in the time of Josh McDowell, the norm is Cartesian rationality. While I recognize the worth and necessity of Justin's early theological work, I am quite a bit more skeptical of modern apologetics in the wake of the Enlightenment.

Apologetics today (and anyday) must be able to and indeed tries to defend faith in Christ on the world's terms. The terms today assume a scientific empiricism which demands objective facts and empirical "truths." Faith is then reduced to facts and evidence for Christ and other central claims of Christianity. All this does is reduce everything to the level of the historical and scientific. Faith is set aside as something that arises out of the evidence. (I suspect that an understanding of unbelief as something that also arises out of evidence is related to this view of belief.)

More recently, theologians critical of the Enlightenment project view the Christian faith as working on its own terms: the terms of the Gospel and the message of the cross, which is offensive to people of every age and philosophy. Faith is where we begin. Out of faith we seek understanding, but it is an understanding which never attempts to work on the terms of the prevailing worldly view of "truth." The Christian views truth always and only on the terms set by the Gospel. As a result, truth is determined by the justification of the ungodly, the coming of God to the world, the resurrection of the Crucified One on our behalf, etc.

The reconciled believer thus has the responsibility to carry this message of reconciliation to the world -- not as arguments of logic or science or historical fact, but -- as a plea to others to allow the interruptive truth of the gospel to transform and recreate. The truth of the gospel is this: that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them." It is not the work of those carrying this message to convince others of its objective, rational truth, but it let the "love of Christ control us" in such a way that our plea to accept this reconciling work gives freedom and time to the hearer to internalize and respond with his or her own grateful "Yes!"

In other words, apologetics has no place in the work of the Christian today, only a grace-filled evangelism that gives freedom and time to the world.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Are you defining apologetics as "arguments of logic or science or historical fact"?

If so, I am a bit confused how those can have "no place". I agree with you that "a grace-filled evangelism that gives freedom and time to the world" is what we are called to.

But... let me ask a few questions, which seem to be to be rhetorical, but which may not be.

Are there any historical facts that are important for the Christian faith?

If so, is it important for us to communicate and defend the truth of those historical facts as part of our communication with "the world"?

If so, is not that called "apologetics"?

If so, then how is it that apologetics has "no place" in the work of the Christian today?

Maybe apologetics needs to be done differently than it is being done by most. Maybe apologetics should play only a small part. But "no place"?

Am I misunderstanding you somewhere, or would you answer any of my above questions with a "No"?

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
You read me correctly, Mark. Christianity is not required to defend the historicality of the events proclaimed in Scripture in the terms of contemporary thought. There are indeed historical events in the church's proclamation, but proclaming history is very different from arguing the historical validity of these events in light of modern science.

So while I agree that we must communicate the truth of the Christian faith, I disagree that we must also "defend" the Christian narrative. Christianity in this contemporary society should thrust off any temptation to defend itself. Apologetic defense is always an attempt to justify oneself or one's beliefs before another as the judge. True Christian faith should not have need of rational justifications; the redeemed community living in freedom and shalom is all the justification the gospel needs. This community rests upon the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but refuses to take part in any defensive rationalizing of this foundation. The Christian must refuse the urge to reliate with defenses against those who deny the faith in the same way the Christian is called to "turn the other cheek" rather than resort to violence. Apologetics only does violence to the faith. A reconciled existence of love and grace alone does justice to faith in Christ.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

So while I agree that we must communicate the truth of the Christian faith, I disagree that we must also "defend" the Christian narrative.

It sounds as though you are reading more into my use of the word "defend" than I meant by it. I constantly struggle to find the appropriate words to use, and I seem to consistently fail.

To "communicate the truth of the Christian faith" was exactly what I meant. That truth, I presume you agree, includes some "historical fact". That communication is what I was referring to.

If you remove the one reference to the word "defend" in my previous post, does that change your response?

Here are the questions again, with those two words removed:

Are there any historical facts that are important for the Christian faith?

If so, is it important for us to communicate the truth of those historical facts as part of our communication with "the world"?

If so, is not that called "apologetics"?

If so, then how is it that apologetics has "no place" in the work of the Christian today?


Does that change things at all?

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, exchanging "defend" for "truth" only slighly changes things. But before I evaluate that, I am a bit skeptical of your claim that you mean the terms differently than how I take them. The use of the word "defend" is rather loaded and hard to miss; you will have to convince me that I am actually reading more into your use of the word than you intend. Furthermore, you wrote:

Are you defining apologetics as "arguments of logic or science or historical fact"? If so, I am a bit confused how those can have "no place".

This statement alone gives me reason to conclude that I read you correctly the first time. Arguments of logic, science, and fact simply do not have a place in evangelism. I will not compromise on that point.

Returning to your slightly altered statements, I still question them. I would be much more comfortable if you said, "is it important for us to communicate these historical facts?" and take "the truth of" out completely. But even then I am not entirely comfortable. Why the focus on facts at all? Why the importance of establishing historical events? I recognize the truth of Paul's claim that if Christ was not raised then we are to be pitied above all others. But I do not believe that Paul, were he alive in our post-Enlightenment world, would feel the need to convince skeptics of scientific history before presenting the gospel.

Now it could be that you view the gospel as a collection of historical facts, in which case we would disagree. The gospel is of course founded upon the person of Jesus, but the gospel is not scientific evidence of a God who loves us; the gospel is the God who loves us, who loves us so much that God came to the world and suffered on our behalf. In other words, it is not the evidence but the story that calls us into a new life. The gospel is the present reality of a narrative which takes us out of our selves (and also out of our need for scientific proof) and creates us anew by the grace of a loving Creator. Whether or not we have historical facts to offer is of no importance. We have a new life to offer, the promise of an altogether new existence. Facts, logic, and science are of little consequence.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

feel the need to convince skeptics of scientific history before presenting the gospel.

Where did the "before" come from?

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, is the word "before" the only problem in your mind? Put whatever preposition you want in its place. The issue is the need to convince at all, the urge to prove oneself and one's belief.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

OK, let me take the larger context of that phrase, and remove the "before" clause:

Why the focus on facts at all? Why the importance of establishing historical events? I recognize the truth of Paul's claim that if Christ was not raised then we are to be pitied above all others. But I do not believe that Paul, were he alive in our post-Enlightenment world, would feel the need to convince skeptics of scientific history.

First, there is no focus on facts, on my part. You may recall that I said earlier, "Maybe apologetics needs to be done differently than it is being done by most. Maybe apologetics should play only a small part. But "no place"?" The only definitive statements of emphasis have been yours, establishing that "Arguments of logic, science, and fact simply do not have a place in evangelism." So, the question isn't whether facts should be the focus, but whether they should be any part of any evangelistic discussion at all.

Neither have we been talking about an "urge to prove oneself and one's belief". We have been talking about whether statements of historical fact have any place, however small, in our communications with the world.

You ask "Why the importance of establishing historical events"? Then you answer it yourself. It is absolutely essential to our belief that at least some historical events... Jesus' life, death, and resurrection... actually happened. So, "establishing historical events" is important. Right? It is not most important, it is not of first importance, but neither can it be said to have "no place".

I'm interested... if we remove evangelism from the equation, and speak instead of combatting heresy within the church, does your perspective on the viability of communicating the historical reality of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection change? Are your comments here specific to evangelism, to interactions with "the world"? If a Christian teacher publicly claimed that Jesus had never physically risen from the dead, that those statements in the Bible should be understood allegorically, that the disciples had seen a spiritual manifestation of Jesus and mistaken it for a physically-risen person... if a Christian teacher made that claim, would you see it to be a beneficial thing for the church to condemn those teachings as heretical?

Mark
Shane said…
wow,
this is a conversational bunch. well, once more into the breach.

apologetics, david notes, is often conducted in the philosophical idiom of the dominant culture. this is a structural problem with apologetics that seems impossible to eliminate, insofar as we have to speak the language of a culture in order to speak to that culture. Now i think that we have to speak to the culture, criticize it, call it into question, and sometimes listen to it.

the word 'apologia' in greek means defense, and the reason that i see apologetics as primarily defensive in nature has to do with my theology. i am not trying to convert a person to christianity by making an argument that God exists (nor is st. thomas in the Summa theologica, by the way). God is the one who converts people. faith is the pearl of great price buried in the field. it is a secret that has to be revealed. . . but once having believed, we find it to be rationally and philosophically defensible.

the task of apologetics (or if you don't like that term Christian Philosophy), is to challenge incorrect views that would seem to rationally preclude the possibility of faith. i.e. if you read anthony flew or mackie or someone on the problem of evil you might think that religion is all a bunch of nonsense, and decide therefore that your religious feelings are just trickery and brainwashing priestcraft.

unlike david, i do think that it is vitally important that we support this historicity of the Bible, when possible. of course, in most cases it won't be possible; nobody is ever going to discover moses' body, for example. but it is important that there really was a man named jesus who really was killed under the reign of pontius pilate. we might not be able to 'prove' historically that he was virgin born or that he was resurrected, but it is important that he was a real historical figure, as i'm sure david would agree. (in other words, I understand Barth's distinction between Geschichte and Historie to indicate precisely such a boundary in the possibility of our scientific-historical knowledge).

the thing that i find most worrying though is david's comment, "Facts, logic, and science are of little consequence." this is a theme that i have argued with mark h. about as well. if you have a doctrine of creation facts, logic and science are important because they are part of the world that God created. moreover, strictly pragmatically, facts, logic and science are important because if the faith is illogical, unfactual or counter-scientific [note the faith is non-scientific because it isn't empirically testable, but it is not counter-scientific because its claims haven't been 'proven' false], then the faith should be abandoned. in fact, as i observed earlier, most people who are atheists believe that religion is in fact illogical, unfactual or counter-scientific. (to wit, the recent maelstrom over teaching intelligent design in public schools). the role of the christian philosopher (if not the theologian par se) is to challenge this view. but you have to challenge this view on the basis of a theology of created reality.

i have much more to say, but i don't want to monopolize the conversation.

yours,

shane
D.W. Congdon said…
Ah ha! Now I get it! You aren't talking about apologetics at all; this whole time you've been speaking about evangelism. You wrote, "We have been talking about whether statements of historical fact have any place, however small, in our communications with the world." If this is truly what you mean, then by "communications with the world" you simply mean evangelism, not apologetics. Because clearly you have to do serious re-definition of the words "apology" and "apologetics" to reach such a conclusion, or else adopt the proper term: evangelism.

That's my generous reading of your comments. The more critical one is your blatant adaptation of your statements based on my responses. Let's recap.

(1) The topic of apologetics arose because Shane limited it to arguing against Enlightenment rationalism. Hence, he understands apologetics as a rational means of argumentation and defense of a position. You then responded by asking why that does not have a place in Christian discourse with the world. Specifically, you wrote: "Why is the value of apologetics limited to debunking the claims of the enlightenment? What prevents apologetics from dealing in more specific truth claims, and limits it to only general philosophical truth claims?" Here it is obvious that you understand apologetics in terms of "debunking" or logical reasoning and argumentation, and you propose that this has a role to play in Christian speech with the world.

(2) I wrote my two cents. You responded, "Is it important for us to communicate and defend the truth of those historical facts as part of our communication with "the world"? Here you clearly use both "communicate" and "defend," because you assume that our communication will be refuted, thus we need a strong rational defense.

(3) I responded. You then said that the word "defend" was not what you intended, so you exchanged it for "communicate the truth of." To me, those are virtually identical, and your new terminology changes nothing.

(4) Now, finally, we reach the kicker: "First, there is no focus on facts, on my part." WHAT? Excuse me? Did you yourself not write earlier: Are you defining apologetics as "arguments of logic or science or historical fact"? If so, I am a bit confused how those can have "no place"? Attempting to place the blame on me for speaking about historical facts seems like a rather dirty, under-handed way of excusing your own statements. The more mature, responsible action would have been to say, "Look, I've changed my mind." But to pawn it off on me is nothing less than infantile.

You also write: "So, the question isn't whether facts should be the focus, but whether they should be any part of any evangelistic discussion at all." But did you forget that I already discussed this several comments earlier? Here's the relevant quote:

"There are indeed historical events in the church's proclamation, but proclaming history is very different from arguing the historical validity of these events in light of modern science. So while I agree that we must communicate the truth of the Christian faith, I disagree that we must also "defend" the Christian narrative."

But then you insert a rather sneaky paragraph, which I quote in full:

You ask "Why the importance of establishing historical events"? Then you answer it yourself. It is absolutely essential to our belief that at least some historical events... Jesus' life, death, and resurrection... actually happened. So, "establishing historical events" is important. Right? It is not most important, it is not of first importance, but neither can it be said to have "no place".

Here is where you went wrong. You don't realize that the word "establish" is a word I strongly disagree with in terms of Christian discourse. I want to say, We should communicate and present these historical events, but I would do NOT want to say, We should establish these historical events as true. The first is evangelism, the second is apologetics. Do you see the difference? So then your question is, "Is it important that these events 'actually happened'"? Well, I guess I think that question is irrelevant. The scriptural witness tells me that they did, and so I have faith that the God who gives me new life is the God who raised Jesus from the dead. But I have absolutely no interest in proving that these events occurred in light of modern historical science. Such an enterprise is completely unnecessary and uncalled for. The Christian faith stands by God's life-giving Word to us in the person of Jesus Christ, but it does not stand or fall based on our scientific ability to "establish" these events as "true" in a modern, rational sense.

(At this point, I would love to enter into a in-depth discussion about the definition of the words "true" and "truth." Jungel has written quite a bit on this issue contra Aristotle and Enlightenment rationalism.)

Your comment becomes quite confusing when you begin to speak about heresy in the church. The problem is this: apologetics by definition is a defense of the faith on the basis of reason, and those rational terms are set by the intellectual norm of the day. When it comes to heresy, there is no need to defend based on reason or science; the only defense is Scripture itself. So while I would of course refute the claims of your hypothetical "teacher," I would not do so by establishing the validity of the resurrection according to modern history and science (which of couse is impossible anyway). I would refute that person based on the Bible.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

In response to your point (4), it was the word "focus" that I was emphasizing (hence the italics), not the word "facts". I did argue that facts should have "some place" rather than "no place", but I did not argue for a "focus" upon them.

I was not being "dirty", "under-handed", or "infantile". I thought it was quite clear that it was the "focus" that I was refuting, not whether or not I had mentioned facts. I even gave a quote of myself that clarified that point, and clarified it in two separate paragraphs, so I am quite surprised that you missed it.

So while I would of course refute the claims of your hypothetical "teacher," I would not do so by establishing the validity of the resurrection according to modern history and science (which of couse is impossible anyway). I would refute that person based on the Bible.

As would I. I see the Bible as, among other things, a book that talks about some "historical fact". So, therefore, when I argue for the literal reality of the resurrection based on the evidence given in the Bible, I figure that I am talking about "historical fact".

It also might be helpful to add that the conversation widened to include any sort of evangelism when you made this statement: "Arguments of logic, science, and fact simply do not have a place in evangelism. I will not compromise on that point." Most of my comments to this point have been an attempt to fully understand your positions... hence all the questions.

Thanks for clarifying about the word "establish". I was not being "sneaky". I was trying to restate your position where it did not make sense to me, so that you could clarify. I am sorry that you see so many devious motives in my writing, but I assure you that they were not intended.

So, let me see if I understand your position. From your last comment, would you say that if a non-Christian friend of yours questioned the historical factual reality of the resurrection, you would respond that it was an important truth, and give a "defense" (you used the word in your last post with regard to the Bible, so I assume it's fair game here, but correct me if I'm wrong) from the Bible... just not from "scientific historical fact"?

If so, then here's another question that goes a bit deeper. Is it important that the Bible is a historically accurate book? Is it important that people think the Bible's account of Jesus' life is right? I'm asking this with regard to both Christians and those who might someday become Christians. Again, I'm trying to understand your views fully. Your statement that you would refute a heretical teacher (defined as someone who does not believe in the historical reality of Jesus' resurrection) using the Bible, but that "fact" (even historical fact) does not "have a place in evangelism"... it has me confused. It seems that you either view the Bible as a book that does not deal with historical fact, or you believe that we should communicate markedly differently between those within the church and those without (if even such a determination can be accurately made).

Can you help me understand your perspective better?

Mark
Shane said…
i have a proposal.

let's try to boil our discussion here down into a few short questions and then try to state our positions in a concise way without allowing ourselves to use the term 'apologetics.' perhaps it is the ambiguous use of this term itself that is throwing us off.

These are the three closely related questions that I think are really at issue here:

1.) Must the church necessarily use the philosophical and scientific idiom of the culture in which it finds itself? If so, how can it appropriate this idiom appropriately? If not, how can it avoid dangerous entanglements with secular thought?

2.) Is there such a thing as Christian philosophy or the calling of a Christian philosopher? If so, what is it? If not why not?

3.) How does the Church speak truth to culture?

Here are my partial answers to these questions:

1.) The church must necessarly use the idiom of the culture within which it finds itself because the Church is always composed of finite human beings who find themselves situated in a particular place and history and language. Thus, all our theology is necessarily shot through with appropriations from our language. We strive to understand God's self-revelation and to speak about it appropriately, but to do so, we must use human words. Thus the theology of the nicene creed had to resort to speaking about persons, essences, substances, being, and the like (homo-ousios is a metaphysical word).

But notice too, that though the church finds itself necessarily forcing philosophical words into service, that thereby those words become changed. The church recognizes that it is using merely human terms and that therefore, strictly speaking, all its speech about God is false if it is understood univocally. These words are true only as analogies--cf. esp. Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, and Pseudo-Dionysius. in adopting the idiom of the culture we change it and make it point to something beyond itself.

2.) The task of the Christian philosopher (because there really are such things) is twofold. First, there is an internal work--that is, to help understand how and why philosophical words are pressed into service in theology and to attempt to assess if they are the best words to use or not. Someone like Juengel, for example, is saying that, even as analogies, the words "impassible" and so forth, don't work and that they are actually disanalogies. (I haven't read enough Juengel to know his reasons--but he is going to have a big task to convince me of this claim, because this way of speaking about God is not merely the result of the influence of Aristotle on medieval scholasticism. every one of the fathers of the undivided church wanted to avoid being called a theopaschite). Note that I am purposely blurring the line between the christian philosopher and the christian theologian, because it is impossible to be the latter well without being the former to some extent, or vice versa.

The second, external, task of the Christian philosopher is to defend the church against the polemics of the society at large. This is a vital task, because without good philosophy to answer bad philosophy, the faithful and the unbelievers will both be decieved and leave the church.

An example of this is the argument of the problem of evil as presented by Bertrand Russell or J.L. Mackie. Essentially they claim that the existence of evil proves that one cannot rationally believe in theism, since it proves that God is not good. The christian philosopher (such as Alvin Plantinga in God and Other Minds), shows that their arguments fail and that, therefore, it is still rational to believe in the existence of a good God.

3.) The church speaks the truth to culture in many ways. Here are a few: The church confronts governments and power-structures and calls them to account for their wicked behavior. The church reaches out to the poor and suffering for Jesus' sake. The church announces the forgiveness of sins and calls all individuals to repent and join the Kingdom of God. in a broad sense all of these ways could be called 'evangelism', because they all have to do with spreading the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.

This announcement of the Kingdom of God is not itself philosophical, but it has deep philosophical reprecussions. Likewise, in meditating on the proclamation of the Gospel, the church also formulates doctrines on creation, redemption and the trinity. These too, though they are necessarily expressed in the language of philosophy are not themselves philosophical. . . yet they do have philosophical reprecussions. As a part of the mission of the church, the christian philosopher finds himself or herself exploring these reprecussions and attempting to articulate them, both within the church, as an aide to the theological task of the church, and outside of the church, as a way of defending the faith.

I hope you find this suggestion helpful, if not, please ignore it.
Mark Congdon said…
Shane,

Good questions. Those are certainly not the way I would have distilled the conversation, but the questions are excellent in themselves.

(1) I think you stated this quite well.

(2) I agree with what you say here, as well. I think you unnecessarily limit the job of a Christian philosopher/theologian, however... which was my initial question to you in the first place. Let me elaborate a bit:

The second, external, task of the Christian philosopher is to defend the church against the polemics of the society at large. This is a vital task, because without good philosophy to answer bad philosophy, the faithful and the unbelievers will both be decieved and leave the church.

I assume that David at this point disagrees with you, because of your concept of the need to "defend". I agree with you, with the caveat that this defense is only a small part of the entire Christian interaction with the world, and far from the most important. You seemed to state the same thing in point (3), but I emphasize that again, lest I be misunderstood on that point.

You then go on:

An example of this is the argument of the problem of evil as presented by Bertrand Russell or J.L. Mackie. Essentially they claim that the existence of evil proves that one cannot rationally believe in theism, since it proves that God is not good. The christian philosopher (such as Alvin Plantinga in God and Other Minds), shows that their arguments fail and that, therefore, it is still rational to believe in the existence of a good God.

I would generalize this somewhat. I would say:

[Somebody] claims that [something] proves that one cannot rationally believe in Christianity. The christian philosopher/theologian shows that their arguments fail and that, therefore, it is still rational to be a Christian.

This will obviously not in itself ever convince anyone to be a Christian. It will not in itself make people Christians. But, for some people, it does seem to me that such rational arguments to show that Christianity is not irrational have a place.

(David, please understand that my discussion with you is at this point at a more general place, where I am still attempting to understand your thoughts on this issue. My comments to you about the aspects of historical fact inherent in Christianity are more generalized than these specific comments about "rational arguments".)

(3) I think you stated these points very well. Your first paragraph under this point was especially important and valuable. Thanks.

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
We finally get to the heart of it: No, I do not think it is important that the Bible is an "historically accurate" book according to the terms of history set out by modern science. The Bible is God's revelation to us, not a textbook record of what happened in history. Many of the events in Israel's life probably did not occur, but that does not negate the importance of the revelatory narrative. Of course, I side with those contemporary theologians (Jungel included) who believe it is quite necessary for us to assert that Jesus truly did live, die, and live again by the resurrecting power of the Spirit. That said, it is not the "Bible-as-history" that I care about, but rather the Bible as God's means of communicating the reality of the revelation in Jesus Christ.

(By the way, I did not notice Shane's comment until just now. For the record, the "facts, logic, and science" I am referring to those rational means of knowledge conducted and presented apart from a Christian doctrine of creation. In other words, I am not disputing the worth and value of science and logic, but rather science and logic abstracted from revelation. Also, I am not stating that we ignore historicity. In fact, I have said much to the contrary.)

I want to make sure no one thinks I believe the Bible is non-historical. What I am asserting is that to "defend" the Bible's narrative of history as defensible according to modern scientific history is a task foreign to the gospel; such an enterprise of apologetics subjects relevation to the norms of Enlightenment rationalism, rather than subjecting rationalism to the norms of the gospel. Before I say anything further, I wish to quote from Jungel's essay, "The Dogmatic Significance of the Question of the Historical Jesus." In this quote, he is referring to "theological thinking" and the tension between thinking historically and thinking dogmatically. His discussion is not exactly about apologetics, but what he says is quote germane, in my opinion.
-----------------------------

"To know something (an event, a person) historically means to analyse its having-been, its previous existence, and its effect. To account for something (an event, a person) dogmatically means to represent its significance now in the horizon of our current awareness of truth (with the possibility of critique of the latter). Though historical knowledge is the prerequisite, the conditio sine qua non of dogmatic responsibility to the objects of theology, it can never be the foundation of dogmatic responsibility. For a theological object is by definition something which must be understood sub ratione dei [in terms of God] if it is to be understood at all. God, however, cannot be known historically. God can only be known on the basis of his revelatory action, to which there corresponds faith on the part of the one who receives revelation. Knowledge of God is knowledge of revelation, and as such knowledge of faith. Consequently, the knowledge of faith, and that means dogmatic responsibility for something (an event or a person), cannot be grounded in historical knowledge. ... And yet all dogmatic judgements in theology are related back to historical knowledge."
-----------------------------

Jungel's quote is helpful for our discussion. I accept the history of the events narrated in Scripture as the "prerequisite" of all theological and evangelistic discourse. And yet I do not believe evangelism (or dogmatics) must be "grounded" in these historical events, because their grounding is in God's revelation -- and divine revelation refuses to adapt to the norms of history and science. Revelation breaks all human idioms and models; it will not conform to the standard intellectual environment of reason and logic. (But reason and logic are not foreign to revelation; they simply follow revelation rather than act as its foundations.)

So to use your language, Mark, I do not believe the Bible primarily (or even secondarily) "deals with historical fact," even though history is indeed what God's revelation envelops and presents, albeit in a very different manner from what our modern historical science would permit.
D.W. Congdon said…
I took a long time to write my last comment, so I missed the two previous comments. Shane, those are excellent questions, and I do agree with the way you've laid it out. I think the discussion is helped immensely by the use of the term "Christian philosopher," because inherent in this term is the assumption of a particular role within the church. Apologetics, on the other hand, is generally construed today as something that all intelligent, well-informed Christians should and ought to be able to "do" in conversation with others.

Mark, I think this is where you miss Shane's point (if indeed you agree that the Christian philosopher is a specific role in the church, and not one that can or should be adopted by all). You state that Shane unnecessarily limits the function of the Christian philosopher, but then you write that this "is only a small part of the entire Christian interaction with the world." But of course! That's the whole point. The Christian philosopher does not exhaust all the interactions of the Christian with the society.

That said, I am comfortable with the Christian philosopher working to "defend the church" against the false accusations of society, as long as we place careful hedges around the scope of this defense. I want to say that the philosopher does not really defend the church so much as the church's truth claims. And the philosopher does this by approaching these claims by the church and the counter claims by society from a particular philosophical perspective. (This of course goes without saying from the perspective of the philosopher.)

I place this rather obvious but necessary hedge for reasons which I have already stated. I do not think the church or the gospel by necessity need to be defended in our modern era. I say that because I work from the assumption that the gospel must not need to be proven "true" according to logic and reason before it can be accepted by a faithful heart. I hope such a statement goes almost without saying. But I am working from such an assumption in all of my thinking regarding apologetics. If the gospel does not need to be defended, then the role of the philosopher as the defender of Christian truth claims is limited to conversations with competitive truth claims -- but these conversations do not concern the life-giving power and existential validity of the gospel for the church's witness and proclamation.

With that on the table, I quote an early comment from Mark:

"Do you think that "to make people christians" is a valuable goal? (2 Corinthians 5:11-21 is significant to me on this issue.) If yes, then in what way are apologetics not useful for that purpose? Why is the value of apologetics limited to debunking the claims of the enlightenment?"

From this quote, Mark, it appears you originally felt that apologetics is valuable in "making people Christians" (a phrase which in itself is quite problematic, and I truly hope you do not think proving the logic of Christianity can ever "make" someone a believer). However, in your most recent comment, you wrote that Christian philosophical arguments "will obviously not in itself ever convince anyone to be a Christian. It will not in itself make people Christians." So have you changed your mind?

You then wrote: "But, for some people, it does seem to me that such rational arguments to show that Christianity is not irrational have a place." What is that place, in your mind? At least according to Shane, it appears that that place is in the academic discourse of philosophers, with which I agree.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

In the first of your two comments, you wrote:

I accept the history of the events narrated in Scripture as the "prerequisite" of all theological and evangelistic discourse. And yet I do not believe evangelism (or dogmatics) must be "grounded" in these historical events, because their grounding is in God's revelation -- and divine revelation refuses to adapt to the norms of history and science. Revelation breaks all human idioms and models; it will not conform to the standard intellectual environment of reason and logic. (But reason and logic are not foreign to revelation; they simply follow revelation rather than act as its foundations.)

Great! I'm glad we agree.

So to use your language, Mark, I do not believe the Bible primarily (or even secondarily) "deals with historical fact," even though history is indeed what God's revelation envelops and presents, albeit in a very different manner from what our modern historical science would permit.

Well, maybe I'm not sure what you mean by "modern historical science", but I'm not too concerned with that. I am and have been simply talking about "historical fact" in the simple meaning of "things that actually happened", and I heartily agree with you that God's revelation "envelopes and presents" such real history. Your "envelopes and presents" sounds like exactly what I meant by "deals with", and I never suggested (as you seem to imply) that it did so "primarily" or even "secondarily".

Mark, I think this is where you miss Shane's point (if indeed you agree that the Christian philosopher is a specific role in the church, and not one that can or should be adopted by all). You state that Shane unnecessarily limits the function of the Christian philosopher, but then you write that this "is only a small part of the entire Christian interaction with the world." But of course! That's the whole point. The Christian philosopher does not exhaust all the interactions of the Christian with the society.

It seems to me that Shane communicated quite a bit of blend-over between the Christian philosopher and the Christian theologian. But, I will agree that the role of providing philosophical defenses is not something that should taken on by every Christian.

I do disagree with Shane, in that it seems to me that the same principles that allow the Christian philosopher to defend the "not non-sense" of Christianity in the philosophical realm, allow many of the rest of us to defend the "not non-sense" of Christianity in other realms. I see no reason that the entire job of demonstrating that Christianity is "not non-sense" should be limited to the philosophical arena (and, it appears, in your mind, being left to the professional philosophers within that arena). That job may be small, and of only passing importance, but it does have some value from time to time, and is a role that each of us can take on in certain situations when appropriate.

I truly hope you do not think proving the logic of Christianity can ever "make" someone a believer

Your hope is granted. :) Not only do I not think that proving the logic of Christianity can ever "make" someone a believer, it seems to me to be not possible to "prove" the "logic" of Christianity. Christianity can never be proved, and belief is not something built on rational arguments. I have never suggested that it is.

Which is not to say that rational arguments are completely foreign from the process of evangelism.

From this quote, Mark, it appears you originally felt that apologetics is valuable in "making people Christians" . . . However, in your most recent comment, you wrote that Christian philosophical arguments "will obviously not in itself ever convince anyone to be a Christian. It will not in itself make people Christians." So have you changed your mind?

David, let me start by quoting myself from the same comment that your quote is from, two paragraphs down: "I would not consider apologetics to be the sole, or even the primary, means of drawing people into relationship with Christ. But, it does seem to me that they can and often do play a part.)" Didn't I make myself clear back then? I was certainly trying to.

I thought then that rational arguments could play some part, and therefore asked "in what way are apologetics not useful for that purpose". I did not say, "in what way are apologetics not fully sufficient to accomplish that purpose". My recent comment said that it would not in itself do the job. I have expressed the same view throughout. I have not "changed my mind". You seem insistent, throughout this conversation, on interpreting me as if I am arguing that rational arguments are self-sufficient or primary or most important or something, when I have not only never expressed that view but have gone to great pains to repeatedly repudiate it.

(And by the way, I only used the phrase "making people Christians", and intentionally put it in quotes, because it was the phrase that Shane had used in his previous post. Context is everything. :) )

I work from the assumption that the gospel must not need to be proven "true" according to logic and reason before it can be accepted by a faithful heart. I hope such a statement goes almost without saying.

Of course. The gospel never can be proven "true" according to logic and reason. Shane, in his first comments, said that the role of rational arguments was "to open people's minds to the possibility that religion is not non-sense". Not to prove that it is true, but to show that in the realm of competing truth claims it holds its own.

If the gospel does not need to be defended, then the role of the philosopher as the defender of Christian truth claims is limited to conversations with competitive truth claims -- but these conversations do not concern the life-giving power and existential validity of the gospel for the church's witness and proclamation.

Agreed. The role of the defense of Christian truth claims is limited to conversations with competitive truth claims.

Competitive truth claims, however, do not show up only in the "academic discourse of philosophers". They show up with everyday people, in everyday situations, and defending the viability of (not the provable truth of, but the "not non-sense" of) Christian truth claims in the sea of competing truth claims is a valuable, if often small and always peripheral, part of the Christian's work of evangelism.

You then wrote: "But, for some people, it does seem to me that such rational arguments to show that Christianity is not irrational have a place." What is that place, in your mind? At least according to Shane, it appears that that place is in the academic discourse of philosophers, with which I agree.

I've already answered your question here, I believe, but if you feel I have answered it inadequately feel free to ask clarifying questions.

Jumping back a bit, I'm curious about this emphatic statement you made: "Arguments of logic, science, and fact simply do not have a place in evangelism. I will not compromise on that point."

Do you separate the "academic discourse of philosophers" from "evangelism"? After Shane listed out a few of the various ways that the church interacts with the world, he said: "in a broad sense all of these ways could be called 'evangelism', because they all have to do with spreading the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ." I understand evangelism almost purely in this sense, in the sense of encompassing all of our interactions with the world, because (as you pointed out earlier) the primary way that we will draw anyone into relationship with Christ is by being the body of Christ, by living out His love which is living in us. Living that life of love is the purest form of evangelism, in my mind. Evangelism (always at its center the act of living out Christ's love in the world, to the world, and for the world) also encompasses and includes much else from time to time... ideally, it includes all our interactions with the world. Therefore, I would include the "academic discourse of philosophers" within my definition of evangelism. And, I would say that "rational arguments to show that Christiantiy is not irrational" are a part of "evangelism" by that definition. Since those rational arguments (as Shane so well described) will sometimes include discussions of "logic, science, and fact", it seems to me that "arguments of logic, science, and fact" do at times "have a place in evangelism", at least by my definition of evangelism. They are part of the process of communicating God's message to the world, even if only a small and peripheral part. I know that earlier you said, "I will not compromise on that point." Using my definition of evangelism, though, would you agree that "arguments of logic, science, and fact" can, at times, have a small place in the evangelistic work of the church?

Jumping back even further:

So while I agree that we must communicate the truth of the Christian faith, I disagree that we must also "defend" the Christian narrative. Christianity in this contemporary society should thrust off any temptation to defend itself. Apologetic defense is always an attempt to justify oneself or one's beliefs before another as the judge. True Christian faith should not have need of rational justifications; the redeemed community living in freedom and shalom is all the justification the gospel needs. This community rests upon the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but refuses to take part in any defensive rationalizing of this foundation. The Christian must refuse the urge to reliate with defenses against those who deny the faith in the same way the Christian is called to "turn the other cheek" rather than resort to violence. Apologetics only does violence to the faith. A reconciled existence of love and grace alone does justice to faith in Christ.

Your last comment said that you agree with Shane that "rational arguments to show that Christianity is not irrational have a place" in "the academic discourse of philosophers". Is that not "an attempt to justify oneself or one's beliefs before another as the judge"? Or by "justify oneself" did you mean "prove oneself to be correct", rather than "show that one's beliefs are not non-sense"? I took you to mean the latter, but you seem to be saying here that the church, through its philosophers, should "defend" itself against the philosophical claims that it is irrational. I had earlier understood you to be refuting this position. Where was I (or am I) misunderstanding you?

Mark
Shane said…
david, a point of order question:

as i've been reading these posts, i think back to freshman year and the guest you and pyles entertained for the philosophy conference--a man who called himself "The _______ Hammer". I wonder, has he been in the back of your mind as you are writing this as an example of violence in apologetics?

I see interesting things beings said between both david and mark in this post. i feel like i agree with you both in ways, but that I also have small, almost tangential criticisms to make, but i would also like to open up a few more questions.

in the first place, i think david should write a new post about what he thinks history is and in what sense he thinks the gospel is historical (bonus points for using the words Geschichte and Historie), because the nature of 'history' seems to be another question that we have been discussing that i failed to recognize earlier and it is too large to take on in this thread.

for example, i agree with mark that logic, science, and some matters of 'historical fact' do have an important part in the christian faith. for what it's worth, david also seems to agree, because he believes in the 'historicity' of the incarnation, resurrection, etc., even though he does not believe in the 'historicity' of, presumably, the genesis flood, etc. and so forth.

david and i are in agreement here as to what we believe, but we may believe it for different reasons. this is a topic i've thought a lot about over the last few years, since i've been constantly trying to tell people that there wasn't an adam and eve, no demons, and so forth, all the while maintaining that I am still actually a christian and that I believe in the Bible and the resurrection of Christ. The hard to thing to do is to articulate a rationale as to why you accept as 'historical' things like the resurrection and not the genesis flood. This is a huge question and I've been struggling with it for some time and I'd love to hear david's thoughts on it, but again this is too large a question to try to get at here . . . maybe another blog post david?

regarding the defense of the faith or the defense of the church--i'm not willing to stick my hand in the fire for the particular word choices that i used, but watching mark and david's reactions to what i've said makes me feel that mark is too optimistic about the science, fact, history bit and that david is a bit too optimisitic about the 'revelation' bit. What i saying is that both of the positions you have sketched out seem a bit foreign to my own experience of faith.

And perhaps this is a why we are coming at this from different, seemingly irreconcilable angle, because we have different experiences of the faith. For me, I came to faith without any sort of apologetic aids, but since then, I have been at war with myself trying to hold on to the faith. shortly after i converted, i devoured josh mcdowell and francis schaeffer and they helped confirm me in the faith for a while. of course, in college, i began seeing hidden assumptions and finding new problems that i didn't think they had answered very well and so forth. and i felt like i began to slip away from christianity. fortunately a friend pointed me to Barth, whose confidence in revelation stilled my restless heart for a while. but now i wonder why and how he can be so confident in revelation. after all surely philosophy and science have some usefulness . . . in fact, Barth himself has philosophical debts that are questionable (in my eyes). but most of all my objections to barth are coming from within the theological perspective of Thomas Aquinas, the herald of created goodness, and one for whom science and philosophy are important subjects. . .

Thus I suggest that david make a third post on the nature of revelation. what is revelation? are there different types of revelation? how can we know if something is revealed truth or not? how can we read the Bible correctly? etc.

I think these are the questions we are going to have to address to continue our discussion much further.

shane

p.s. david, don't forget to read the comments on the previous post on juengel either, for my wager there.
D.W. Congdon said…
Shane, I completely concur with your suggestions for future posts. When this week is over, I will try to begin those discussions. Unfortunately, midterms are upon me.

Two quick comments in response to your post, Mark. First, I strongly want to section off the role of the Christian philosopher from the role of the church, or at least make it clear that the philosophers are philosophizing not because Christianity prompts them to do so, but because it is their gifting and vocation to engage in those disputations. Does that make sense? I want to prevent at all costs the impression that the church needs or -- God forbid -- wants to defend itself, as if the truth of the gospel could be established by rational arguments or as if faith should and could follow these defenses. (I want to suggest that "faith seeking understanding" breaks down any urge toward apologetics.)

Second, based on what I have just wrote, I also argue for a separation between evangelism and philosophical discourse. The two should not be confused, in my opinion. Evangelism is a particular way of presenting and speaking about the gospel, and I do not think it should encompass all of the church's interactions with the surrounding society. Evangelism flows out of the love of the body of Christ in the world, whereas philosophical discourse and argumentation is not a necessary component -- and can often be destructive when treated as defense of the faith or as a way of knocking down the false logic of others. (In the latter sense, Shane, yes I do have "The ____ Hammer" in my mind.) In other words, evangelism is the natural outflow of the gospel in the form of a loving, suffering church; logical argumentation is an external discourse about the subject matter of the gospel, rather than a necessary production of the gospel itself. Which is not to say that Christian philosophers cannot see themselves as working from within the gospel. It just means that their vocation is a gifting within the church body that is not necessary to the gospel, but may nevertheless be helpful to those within and outside of the church.

If you would like to expand the definition of "evangelism," then I would want to hear how you would prevent logical defenses and argumentation from being viewed as a means of bringing people into the church. Of course, it appears that you have no problem with this. And while I do not dispute the possibility that some may choose to enter the church because they realize that Christianity is not illogical, I have high doubts about whether that is the proper motive for them to enter the body of believers. Christianity does not ask that all of Scripture be rationally defensible before one enter the communion of saints. No, a person should enter the church because of the person of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died on their behalf, and rose to give them new life. Any attempt to rationalize the church's proclamation does an injustice to the trans-rational nature of the "word of the cross." The gospel of justification by faith through the death and resurrection of God's Son is a "stumbling block" and "foolishness," and any attempt to wipe the foolishness away through logic is an ill-fated maneuver. God uses the foolish things of this world (in the person of Jesus) to shame the wise. (But that does not mean the wise Christian cannot also be logical and rational as well.)
Mark Congdon said…
David,

I agree with everything you say here, and you say it well.

I was slightly confused when you said:

I would want to hear how you would prevent logical defenses and argumentation from being viewed as a means of bringing people into the church. Of course, it appears that you have no problem with this.

Considering that I have consistently throughout this conversation argued only for a peripheral role at most for logical argumentation or defense of Christianity, and made a point to write in my last post:

Not only do I not think that proving the logic of Christianity can ever "make" someone a believer, it seems to me to be not possible to "prove" the "logic" of Christianity. Christianity can never be proved, and belief is not something built on rational arguments.

It therefore surprises me that you think I hold that argumentation can be "a means of bringing people into the church"... unless by "a means" you mean "a very small (often non-existent) part of a process that will necessarily encompass much else of greater importance".

Which would be odd, since you seem to agree with that position yourself, based on the end of the preceding paragraph:

It just means that their vocation is a gifting within the church body that is not necessary to the gospel, but may nevertheless be helpful to those within and outside of the church.

Certainly, rational argument is not necessary to the gospel, as I have attempted to clarify repeatedly. It may nevertheless be helpful. Amen. That is precisely the point I have been trying to make.

Why it took us so long to get to this point of agreement is a mystery to me...

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Not that I want to incite frustration, but I personally don't think it's a mystery at all why it took us so long to reach agreement (if that is what we have reached). I still am quite opposed to any support of apologetics as a function of the church, and I do believe that in this modern/post-modern age, the church should more than ever refuse to engage in philosophical/logical arguments in support of its beliefs. If individual intellectuals wish to fulfill this role, then they have my blessing. But as an overall function of the church and of the church's witness (evangelism), apologetics should play only the most minor of parts, and preferably no part at all.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

I'm sorry... that comment doesn't explain to me at all why it took so long for us to reach agreement. You have again stated, this time in different words, what I have been advocating (and you have been opposing) throughout the conversation: that apologetics can play a part (even "the most minor of parts") in the Christian's interactions with the world, even evangelistic interactions.

I gave a number of very specific citations in my previous two comments, showing the source of my confusion. From my first comment onward, I made a point to emphasize that [apologetics / defense of Christianity / rational argumentation that Christianity is not non-sense in the world of competing truth claims] has only a minor part to play in the work of the church, and is in no way central or foundational or self-sufficient.

Yet you seemed to miss all of that. This came to a head a few comments back when you quoted my first response to Shane, and said:

From this quote, Mark, it appears you originally felt that apologetics is valuable in "making people Christians" (a phrase which in itself is quite problematic, and I truly hope you do not think proving the logic of Christianity can ever "make" someone a believer). However, in your most recent comment, you wrote that Christian philosophical arguments "will obviously not in itself ever convince anyone to be a Christian. It will not in itself make people Christians." So have you changed your mind?

You somehow had come up with the idea that I was originally advocating that rational argumentation would (or could) "in itself" convince people to become Christians.

I responded by strongly denying that, and providing citations of myself (even from that first comment that you quoted from) where I had gone to great pains to clarify that I did not believe that.

You didn't respond. In fact, in your response, you seem to have completely ignored my comments, and to still be holding the opinion that I believe rational argumentation is self-sufficient for convincing someone to become Christian. You wrote:

If you would like to expand the definition of "evangelism," then I would want to hear how you would prevent logical defenses and argumentation from being viewed as a means of bringing people into the church. Of course, it appears that you have no problem with this.

I asked you to clarify what you meant by "a means", since I certainly do have a problem with that statement unless "a means" is given a very minimal and optional interpretation... an interpretation that you seem to agree with yourself. Yet you seem to think that I have "no problem" with something that you do have a problem with, and I still can't figure out what you were thinking of at that time. What definition of "a means of bringing people into the church" did you feel that I had no problem with, but that you did have a problem with?

When you wrote the paragraphs that I quoted above, did you believe that I had communicated that rational argumentation could "in itself" bring someone to salvation? Did my response clarify to you that I had never held or communicated that view, and had in fact gone to great pains to communicate the opposite? If both of those are the case, then what was it that caused you to miss so much of what I said, and misread what I was trying to communicate? Did I communicate badly? If so, can you help me see how?

Have I convinced you yet that I do not believe (and have never in this conversation believed) that rational argumentation can, in itself, cause someone to become Christian?

Thanks,
Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, this is the paragraph I reject:

It therefore surprises me that you think I hold that argumentation can be "a means of bringing people into the church"... unless by "a means" you mean "a very small (often non-existent) part of a process that will necessarily encompass much else of greater importance".

Apologetics is helpful only on an intellectual level, for those who are interested in the logical side of the Christian truth. It plays no role whatsoever in bringing people into the Church.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Fair enough. It doesn't seem to me that a Christian's evangelism can be so completely isolated from the "intellectual level". It seems that, as wholistic people, our intellect is a part of everything that we do. But, we can disagree about that.

Are you willing to answer the other questions that I asked?

Did you at some point in this conversation think that I believed that rational argument could in itself cause someone to become a Christian, as you seemed to state in the paragraph I quoted?

Do you now recognize that I do not, and never in this conversation did, hold that view... and that in fact I specifically repudiated it from the start?

If both of those are yes, then can you explain what went wrong in our communication? Can you help me understand how we can prevent such a miscommunication from happening again in the future?

Mark
Mark Congdon said…
David,

It's been a number of weeks since I asked this question, but I want you to know that I still check daily to see if you've replied. I kept quiet for a while because you took some time away and I knew you were busy... but it appears that you have been back in the flow of things for a while, so I want to be sure you know that I have not given up on the thread, and would very much like to take the last few steps to close off this discussion.

Thanks,

Mark