God of Reason

The God of Reason

by Eric Rauch

We noted in an earlier article that many presuppositional thinkers will appeal to Proverbs 26: 4-5 as a scriptural model of how to “give an answer to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15). But, it must also be pointed out, that this model is by no means independent of other methods and techniques. When internal debates (i.e. between Christians) arise over apologetic methods, they are often meant to elevate one over another. While this is generally done with good intentions, we must be quick to realize that no one apologetic can ever be “all things to all men.” Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli are correct when they say:

[N]owadays second-order questions of method often distract attention from first-order questions of truth…Even national, political, racial and sexual [gender] factors influence the apologetic situation. One should not use the same arguments in discussion with a Muslim woman from Tehran that one would use with an African American teenager from Los Angeles. [1]

 While we can agree with Kreeft and Tacelli in this instance, we must certainly part ways when, later in the same book, they write:

Most fundamentalists, as well as many who call themselves not fundamentalists but evangelicals, will do apologetics only from the starting point of the authority of Scripture. We think this is a tactical error…[D]own through the centuries many people have in fact been led to belief—at least belief in a Creator God and in the possibility of salvation—through rational arguments not based on Scripture. [2]

 

We must ask, however, what the value is in convincing a non-believer of a “creator” and the “possibility of salvation?” Salvation from what? The Christian apologist is not defending the idea of some god, but the one true God of the Old and New Testaments. Our apologetic task is not to make a case for religion in general, but for Christianity in particular, and we find the definition of Christianity in the Bible itself, not rationalistic argumentation. Two pages later, when confronting modernists and religious liberals, Kreeft and Tacelli admit this very thing: “But will Scripture allow Christianity to be redefined? See Galatians 1:8 for an answer.” [3] Galatians 1:8 reads: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” And where is it that we learn of the gospel that Paul was preaching? In the Bible. The presuppositional approach is completely unavoidable.

But to return to the initial quote from Kreeft and Tacelli about answering different people in different ways, we must recognize what this means in terms of a presuppositional apologetic. It is not that in some instances with certain individuals that we would answer with a different substance to our apologetic, but with a different train of thought. What we must determine with each of our hearers is where their particular rebellion against the authority of God resides, and reveal it as the foolishness that it is. “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4: 5-6). Although every apologetic begins and ends with Christ, this is not to say that evidence, reason, and rational discourse are not used. In fact, they are integral components of the apologetic. The problem arises when they become means to an end, instead of symbiotic parts of the greater whole. Apologist Joe Boot summarizes the issue well: “Christ must be presented both as the way and as the destination. If Christ is only presented as the destination and reason is put forward as the way, we will end up arriving at an entirely different destination. Christ is not merely a conclusion at the end of an argument. He is the argument and the conclusion.”[4]

Believing to Understand

One of the primary reasons that television shows and films have such powerful influence on how we think and act is because most consumers conceive of them as simply “entertainment.” A typical viewer of the newest Hollywood “must-see” has all but forgotten 90% of what they have just experienced by the time they are three blocks away from the theater. I use the word “experience” quite intentionally here. Hollywood understands better than most that movies do not influence nearly so well through what is explicitly stated in a film as they do in what is left unstated, i.e. the experiential under-story that gives the main plot its believability. This is where the notion of movies and TV as mere entertainment draws its power.

Not so coincidentally, this is exactly how the “real world” works. Very seldom is temptation or evil packaged in a black wrapper with skulls and crossbones. Worldviews are primarily “stories” that help to explain the “facts” of everyday life. As Christians, we are privy to the Creator’s story about how the world works and what has transpired before us. Atheists, Marxists, Buddhists, Jainists, Muslims, and every other “ist” out there also have a back-story that informs their present existence. History is primarily important because of its explanatory nature for the present and the future. If you truly believe that life is an accident of nature—as professional suicide-assister Jack Kevorkian did—then it is really no surprise to hear his answer of what happens after death: “we rot.” For Kevorkian, as any true materialist, human beings are nothing more than a collection of atoms with electricity running through them. In fact, we are not even beings at all, just human. In order to be a “being,” one must have a metaphysical (non-physical) concept of what it is to “be,” but metaphysical “things” can’t exist in a matter-only worldview, so they are ignored. Kevorkian’s choice of occupation as a “death doctor” is actually quite consistent with his stated worldview.

Many examples could be multiplied here, but the point is that Christians must train themselves to look beyond the surface and get to the real “heart issues” when dealing with unbelievers (and fellow believers for that matter). This is the core of presuppositional thought. This is also why movies are good practice for training your mind to think this way. In a well-made film, we are often given an explanation for the motivations behind the actions of a particular character. This is often used to “develop” the character and movies that fall flat and don’t connect with the audience are most likely lacking in this department. God created humans as “relational” beings, because He Himself is relational. Remember God created us “in His image,” not as another one of the animals. Part of the reason that God had Adam name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20) was to show Adam that he was not like them, he was different, he was created in God’s own image.

My goal as on this site is to always bring us back to this point. The God of the Bible is the reference point for everything. Notice what this often-overlooked verse in Hebrews is teaching: “When God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (Hebrews 6:13). God must reference Himself when He takes a vow. There is nothing higher than God. Nothing. There is no “infinite regress,” all thought and belief comes back to one, ultimate, unproven assumption. This verse is actually a simple explanation for one of the enduring problems of philosophy. Every system of belief has this problem. You cannot prove your ultimate assumption by something else, because then that becomes your ultimate assumption. Ultimate assumptions about truth and reality are called ultimate for a reason: they are believed, not proven. As Saint Anselm said in the 11th century: “I believe in order to understand.” [5] While most will say this is a circular argument, it is our task to show them that all arguments are circular. Only the Christian worldview has the ultimate “ultimate” which all belief and truth is predicated upon.


 


[1] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 10-11.
[2] Kreeft and Tacelli, Pocket Handbook, 80.
[3] Kreeft and Tacelli, Pocket Handbook, 82.
[4] Joe Boot, “Broader Cultural and Philosophical Challenges,” in Ravi Zacharias (Ed.), Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 176. (emphasis mine)

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