September 20, 2011

Fideism & Theological Rationalism

I'm kinda worried about posting this one because it is bound to get read wrong and misunderstood. Before I get hammered and beat up for this post I offer a the whole thing before passing judgment. Also, understand I am dealing with these topics as apologetics tools not as tenets of the faith in terms of doctrine and orthodoxy. I will clarify right now that I believe in the 5 Solas: Scriptura ("by Scripture alone"),  Sola fide ("by faith alone"), Sola gratia ("by grace alone"), Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone"), Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone"). I am not dealing specifically with the tenet of Sola Fide in this post, I am dealing with the idea of fideism  or using faith as the only tool to convert a pagan or non-beleiver. To go out without trying reach people "where they are" is setting oneself up for failure most times.

As I am slowly working through William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith I am realizing it may very well be the best book on Christian apologetics from a philosophical angle that I have ever read. I have read many. I would like to address another poignent topic that he again causes me to raise my eyebrows about in his book. Please note that I am in no way condoning faith through rationalism but it has its uses in apologetics. Nor am I condoning any other theology other than Sola Fide. That being said, strap on your seat belt this one is wordy and will more than likely blow many out of the water.

As a basis for the entirety of this post I will first define the terms in question after my introduction. William Lane Craig, as stated in our question, makes the claim that Christians should avoid the extremes of (1) theological rationalism and (2) fideism. These terms represent two philosophical extremes that must be reconciled to find a middle ground that doesn’t necessarily need to be blissful but it needs to at least coexist peacefully; otherwise there will always be competing factions of thought within Christianity to the detriment of the Faith. This is the gist of Craig’s statement. He elucidates an alternative to theological rationalism and fideism as a (3) third course of action that I will explain in the body of the essay as a tertiary course of action.

(1) First, the term theological rationalism as encapsulated in the portion of the text about John Locke (August 1632 – October 28, 1704) who was an ardent theological rationalist is: A religious belief must have an evidential foundation and that where a foundation is absent, religious belief is unwarranted (Craig 34). Locke argued for the existence of God through reason that is as certain as mathematical certainty. If a person moves beyond demonstrable reason into faith, the truths must not contradict reason. He insisted that God can reveal truths to us attainable and unattainable by reason. The revealed truths unattainable by reason must also not contradict reason. In other words no proposition contradictory to reason could possibly be divine or of God. Locke believed that we should know that a revelation from God must be true, it still is within the realm of reason to determine if it is really from God.

Locke then took this reasoning even further and stated that not only must revelation be in harmony with reason it must also be guaranteed by rational proofs that it is indeed divine. As such Locke’s beliefs/theory shaped the religious thought of the 18th century whether it was orthodoxy or Deists. Reason was given priority in matters of faith. To me Locke and those of his ilk adhere too closely to world philosophies and this can only get a Christian in trouble. Although they are useful they are not the root of absolute truth and wisdom. A Christian in my mind needs a firm rooting in the Bible but also a bridge to reach people otherwise their apologetic begins to fail. Our wisdom is in preaching Christ crucified not arguing the reason of whether God exists or not. The greatest revelation of God was Christ and our rational proof and evidential proof of His existence was/is a real person in the 1st century. From the existence of this God-man comes the enormous collection of manuscripts from early Christianity based on eyewitness accounts. The burden of proof is on those that deny Christianity without any proof whatsoever.

1 Corinthians 1:20-24 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

(2) Secondly, the term fideism as defined is: An epistemological term which says faith is independent of reason. It assumes reason and faith are hostile or antagonistic to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths of and about God (as Apostle Paul euclidates in 1 Cor). Compound this term with "extreme" and we have a concept the carries this though to its extreme or the idea that only faith can arrive at a truth (Johnson 415). The primary example used within William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith for fideism was attached to the philosophy of Henry Dodwell (October 1641 – 7 June 7, 1711). Dodwell’s philosophy was essentially rebuttal of the prevailing theological rationalism that he viewed as antithetical to true Christianity in his day and age. Dodwell should be considered an anti-rationalist that argued that matters of religious faith lie outside the determination of reason. According to Dodwell: “God could not possibly have intended that reason should be the faculty to lead us to faith, for faith cannot hang indefinitely in suspense while reason cautiously weighs and reweighs arguments. The Scriptures teach, on the contrary, that the way to God is spiritual by means of the Spirit and the  heart, not by means of the intellect. Faith is simply a gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Reasonable Faith P. 35). Dodwell then goes on to state that the basis for faith is authority or the “inner light of constant and particular revelation in each individual” imparted supernaturally.

A more contemporary version of Dodwell’s philosophy was carried on in the 20th century by the likes of Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. Due to the space constraints of this paper I will not pursue them in detail other than to say they moved forward with Dodwell’s presuppositions when approaching the truth of Christianity. Bultmann in particular stated that rational evidence is not only irrelevant, but actually contrary to faith. Faith in order to be faith must exist in an evidential vacuum. This appears to be the extreme of fideism. In Bultmann’s philosophy and fideism in general, faith must contain the element of risk and uncertainty. In Barth we see similar with slight variation…we must approach a belief/faith in God in the absence of reason. Oddly I find myself agreeing more with Barth and Bultmann in the topic of fideism. Although I do not generally agree with much of anything else Barth or Bultmann have postulated in the past because I believe their theology is serious flawed, the idea of faith alone being sufficient for belief (and salvation)…is comfortingly reassuring and biblical in its premise. I realize that this verse does not nail the intent of my argument but it does validate the importance of faith in Christianity:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Ephesians 2:8

(3) I will now elaborate on Craig’s tertiary argument/alternative that, to some extent incorporates the elements of both theological rationalism and the fideism of Dodwell, Bultmann and Barth in a synergistic synthesis. According to Craig, somewhere between these two extremes lies the preferable medium to move forward in modern Christian apologetics (but not Christian theology itself as anything less than faith is unbiblical). Craig appears to argue that a good argument is a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning with a collective apologetic the goal. In other words: We need to appeal to facts which are widely accepted in the culture or intuitions that are commonly shared or are commonsense to reach people in and of the culture. When or if we appeal to “expert” testimonies or authorities they should not be partisan (party or affiliation) based but neutral…perhaps even non-Christian to make our point, such as Paul did at Mars Hill. Of course this should be done in conjunction with the role of the Holy Spirit or phrased another way: We are talking about an apologetic that is a balanced discussion or proposition of theological rationalism and fideism. Since we are not arguing for absolute certainty as this would unrealistic and would amount to claims of fact, some vagaries and uncertainties will still exist in our arguments…such is the nature of faith itself. We believe in a Christian faith not a Christian fact. In a nutshell, the view Craig expounds on allows us to hold to a rational faith that is supported by argument and evidence without us as believers making said argument and evidence the foundation of our Faith. This liberates the believer or apologist to not need to depend totally on the vague arguments and evidence when dealing with a non-believer. As an addendum to Craig’s view I must mention that he calls attention to the distinction between knowing Christianity is true and showing Christianity to be true. We as Christian’s know Christianity is true because of the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit within us but non-believers do not have this per se so we need to deliver arguments to non-believers to show them Christianity and its main tenets are indeed not only believable but true.

Synopsis: Had Craig not suggested his tertiary argument of synthesis I strangely found myself siding with Barth and Bultmann which made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end (yuck). I generally do not align myself with much either of these two have said. Thankfully Craig does make a commonsense suggestion of merger of what has been normally two distinct modes of thought. Two modes which probably should not have been distinct as the goal of the church is unity. As such, in the future, the extremes Craig mentions (or any extremes for that matter that are not of the Bible) like extreme theological rationalism must be avoided to prevent repulsing potential candidates for discipleship. As for hardcore fideism, it may work with the mature brethren but bludgeoning newbies with the hard sell of a “faith only” fideism does more damage than good with those entering the Church as newly minted Christian babes or infants as Paul called them (again, see 1 Cor. 1-3). As much as I personally agree with this tenet…for a brand new believer it literally makes the Gospel hard to stomach for some that just got converted. Odds are.. new converts are not going to die the next makes sense to ease them into the faith otherwise we risk losing them altogether. Please note I am not advocating teaching a false doctrine. I am asking mature believers not to hammer newbies out of the gate with these tenets. It was done to me 20 years ago and it drove me away. Too much too fast. It is like eating food sacrificed to idols in front of the newly converted from Judaism. It will more than likely cause them to stumble. We can give them the truth but we need to start with milk first…then go to the meat. We need to give them time to shift gears. I’m surprised that someone has not harmonized these two factions before Craig. Perhaps they did and it has not been called to my attention? Regardless, in these situations, sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Sometimes we do not need to worry about the enemy creeping in unaware, he is often already here of our own wrong doing. If Christianity keeps doing this to itself it will only aid in the enemy gaining the high ground and making our job of evangelism and apologetics more difficult.

In the end we absolutely need to make sure people realize their salvation is by faith alone but to take people from and existential worldview and try to argue them into the Kingdom with a faith only argument without our allowing for reasoning and speaking in terms they understand to show them the validity of our faith is like cutting our nose off to spite our faces. Of course believers will understand the argument. Are we trying to win the believers though? Do the people that are well need a physician? We will lose many more than we will win.  If new potential converts think the cure is harder than the disease many in their sinful condition will opt to keep the malignancy or cancer (sin) on their lives and die that way. Reasoning once a person is in the faith is basically ineffectual but to use it to try and win people to the one of many tools apologists have at their disposal.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 3rd ed. Leicester, England: Crossway Books, 2008. Print.

Johnson, R.K.. "Fideism." Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Pub Group, 1990. 414-415. Print.

1 comment:

Philsthrills said...

Interesting paper and some good thoughts.

I think you should post your grades in the comments section when you get them...

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