Now available at touchstonemag.com, a book review from the March/April 2012 issue of Touchstone:
Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith
by Clifford Williams
IVP Academic, 2011
(188 pages, $22.00, paperback)
reviewed by Louis Markos
It has been two decades now since such writers as Alasdair McIntyre, Mark Noll, and Lesslie Newbigin (and, before them, Francis Schaeffer) alerted us to the fact that we are still living in the Enlightenment. Starting in the eighteenth century, and picking up speed in the nineteenth, Western thinkers began to drive a wedge between reason and emotion, logic and intuition, history and myth, science and religion. For each pair (or binary), the first word was privileged over the second as the proper vehicle for seeking truth. The upshot of this Enlightenment split between empirical facts and spiritual values was to slowly edge Christianity out of the universities and the public square and into a tight, private, self-referential box cut off from the concerns of analysis, research, debate, and “real” life.
Thus things remained until an Oxford English professor named C. S. Lewis bravely challenged the reigning orthodoxy of the Enlightenment: an orthodoxy so pervasive and invisible that it had come to be taken for granted as “the truth.” In his apologetical writings of the 1940s and 1950s, Lewis dared to suggest that Christianity represented a rational, consistent, and testable worldview that had never been disproven and that deserved a place at the table. In his wake, an ever-growing cadre of Christian thinkers, both inside and outside academia, have similarly wrested their minds free of the Enlightenment split to champion the intellectual integrity and fruitfulness of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
The result has been stunning: a steady stream of carefully constructed, powerfully argued, cutting-edge books that have mounted a logical, systematic defense of Christ, the Creeds, and the Church. From miracles to the problem of pain, the historicity of the Resurrection to the reliability of the Gospels, these books have marshaled the critical tools of the secular university to address issues and answer questions that have long been used by Enlightenment-minded academics to dismiss the truth claims of Christianity. Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Gary Habermas, Chuck Colson, Alister McGrath, J. P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, N. T. Wright, and dozens of others have fought the good fight, using their apologetical arguments to help restore the intellectual reputation of Christianity to its pre-Enlightenment status.
They have done well indeed, but they also have, it could be argued, made a methodological error. In their praiseworthy campaign to champion the rational side of Christianity, many apologists have bought into the very Enlightenment split they set out to rectify. That is to say, they have taken for granted that the truth of Christianity rises or falls on the appeal it makes to reason. “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity,” Lewis assures us in Book III, Chapter 11 of Mere Christianity, “if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it.” Though there is much more to Lewis than this, the statement embodies well the goal of most modern apologists: to prove that Christianity is not an emotional, feel-good religion but a logically consistent belief system.
Reclaiming Existential Apologetics
Enter Clifford Williams, a professor of philosophy at Trinity College (Deerfield, IL) who specializes in the work of Kierkegaard. In Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, Williams, following in the footsteps not only of Kierkegaard but also of Pascal, challenges apologists who would too quickly accept the facts/values split.