Sunday, September 01, 2002

whither fideism

I was in a blue funk today. And though Bethany herself was feeling under the weather, she graciously gave me an hour's break from caring for her and Michaela, Skye and Alia to have a cup of Cafe Au Lait at Borders and read. "Please come back happy," where her words as I walked out the door. I took along Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr's Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, a wonderful comprehensive survey and interaction with the different schools of apologetic thought. I've loved working through this book, but - honestly - I wasn't expecting anything dramatic to occur @ Borders as I sat down to begin chapter 17 entitled "Fideist Apologetics: Reasons of the Heart."

I ordered a scone and some Italian coffee for my Au Lait and sat down to read. Pretty soon, I started getting excited. By the time I crossed the street in front of Borders, I felt that I'd been given a fresh perspective on the importance of consciously practicing God's presence and my blue funk started to dissipate. I was moved to worship and listened to Jennifer Knapp on my CD player on the way home with fresh ears. I probably listened to "Come to Me" 4 or 5x in the 15 minutes it took me to get back to the house.

"Come to Me, come to me
My Yoke is Easy I'll Give You Rest
Under-Wing to Breast"

Jennifer can turn a phrase.

This is what caught my attention from Boa and Bowman and put the spring back into my step. First, I'll quote a masterful paragraph-length review of their previous 392 pages up until chapter 17 that characterizes the clear lucidity of their expression. I'll intersperse my comments in [brackets].

"The three approaches to apologetics we have already considered all view truth essentially as a body of factual, propositional knowledge corresponding to reality. Where they differ is in their preferred or basic method of validating this truth and commending it to others. Thus classical apologists [e.g. B.B Warfield, Norman L. Geisler, etc.] prefer deductive, rational tests for determining truth; evidentialists [Clark H. Pinnock, John Warwick Montgomery, Richard Swiburne] prefer indicutive, empiracle methods used in the sciences and other disciplines for discovering truth; and Reformed apologists [Herman Dooyeweerd, Cornelius Van Til, Alvin Plantinga] typically appeal to the Bible as the standard of truth...."

p. 393

Chapter 17 goes on to treat another school of apologetic thought the authors label "the fideists." In this category they place Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth and the contemporary Donald G. Bloesch. What caught my attention was the degree to which the fideists hit themes that the 'mappers have been discussing for months under the rubric of transpropostionality. And certainly, both Barth and Bloesch have come up in that conversation.

Boa and Bowman continue,

"Fideists consider these approaches to knowledge of the truth of Christianity [the classical apologists, the evidentialists, and the Reformed apologists (they place both presuppositionalists and Reformed epistemologists in this category)] inadequate for two basic reasons. First, they take a different approach, not merely to how we can know or validate the truth, but more fundamentally to what is meant by the truth. For fideists, the truth accepted by Christians is fundamentally not some body of knowledge, but Somebody to know. In other words, the truth is ultimately a person, Jesus Christ (compare John 14:6). The truth is not merely about the person of Jesus; rather, Jesus Himself is the truth. As fideists rightly insist, the essence of Christian faith is not simply knowledge about Christ but knowing Christ, that is, knowing Him personally. And it is just this aspect of Christianity that they argue renders traditional apologetics not merely inadequate but worse than useless. For if we know God personally in Christ, of what use are arguments proving His existence? If we have a personal relationship with the living Christ, will we not be offended at the suggestion that we need to provide evidence for His resurrection?

Kierkegaard, for example, compares the person who engages in the "defense of Christianity" to a person who professes to be a lover and offers "three reasons" for the greatness of his beloved.... [Kierkegaard writes:] "There is an unholy inversion in all this business of having to prove everything first. I wonder if it would ever occur to anyone really in love to prove the blessedness of love with three basic reasons? But the fact is that men no longer believe -- alas, and so they want to help themselves with the artificial legs of a little scientific scholarliness" [from Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers]. "

pp. 393, 394

The authors go on to quote Donald Bloesch:

"The object of faith is neither true propositions (as in rationalism) nor an experience of the ineffable (as in mysticism) but the living Word of God who is revealed as well as hidden in the mystery of his self-disclosure in biblical history.... And the object of fiath is not a propositional formula or a rational, ethical ideal but the living, redeeming God incarnate in Jesus Christ, attested nowhere more decisively than in Holy Scriptures" [from his Theology of Word and Spirit, pp. 60, 61].

p. 394

There is more worth quoting here, but I will simply commend you to the book.

The authors treatment of fideism and the themes they invoked reminded me of a discussion I had sometime ago with Brian McLaren on epistemology.

As the subtitle of their book foreshadows, Boa and Bowman favor an integrative approach, so they do not wholly subscribe to the fideist position in a way that entirely negates the contributions of the other schools of thought. And I certainly believe that theology and propositions are critically important and it also seems clear to me that the NT docs themselves speak of evidences. Nevertheless, I found their treatment of the fideists an encouragement to my own faith in the person Jesus Christ. It was a further reminder to me that my own Christianity must not be *merely* a theology, merely a code of ethics, merely a socio-cultural phenomenon; but that at its most fundamental level, my religion must be about my personal, daily, normal (sometimes!), interactive, relationship with the Triune God.

And I did arrive home happier than when I left!

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