Hell’s Darkness Quenched Not By the Apologists But the Christian Dogmaticians

Do you ever read atheist or agnostic authors and start to feel the existential weight of their unbelief? Do you ever follow out the ‘feeling’ that arises when you do that; particularly as you do so as a Christian? I do. Indeed, I just have been experiencing this sensation once again. I am in the process of reading Terry Eagleton (again); he is not even close to being a militant atheist; if anything he is a
soft atheist or searching agnostic. Nonetheless, he operates with machinations that are at overt odds with the Christian reality; particularly when it comes to who Jesus Christ claimed to be. So, just by way of old wounds I have a space to ‘feel’ the angst and utter hopelessness that this sort of agony of thought (ought) to produce; you know: ‘dark night of the soul’ sort of stuff.

My antidote to this sort of stuff, in years past, was to refer to the myriad of evangelical apologists out there; you know: William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland et al. But this isn’t all that satisfactory. The reason this isn’t ultimately satisfactory for me is because they aren’t defending the sort of God I already have a personal and dialogical relationship with. They, instead, are defending the god of the philosophers; the same god most atheists are rejecting. In that sense, if that was the god I was feeling angst about, I suppose what they write would offer assuage. But that’s not the God I know. So what I’ve come to recognize over the years is that there is a misidentification, not just by the atheists, but also by most of the Christian apologists, when it comes to the god they are arguing about.

Because of this, what brings me refreshment—after feeling the loss that someone like Eagleton inhabits, even if he doesn’t ‘feel’ the same loss, currently—is not to go to the “apologists,” but instead it is to go to the Christian Dogmaticians of the church. This is an interesting combine, really, because many of the apologists I am referring to would also refer to some of these church fathers when they are engaging in their defense of God. But again, I think there is a misidentification taking place on various fronts here. The apologists are mostly using the thoughts of some of these church fathers (whether these are patristic, mediaeval, post reformed orthodox, orthodox Lutheran etc.) in abstract ways; abstract in the sense that they are often disregarding the subtleties present in the thought of these various fathers. In other words, the fathers (and mothers) are typically writing for the edification of the church; not attempting to ‘defend’ say, the existence of God. The appeal in the fathers, often at best, is an aesthetic, not analytic one. As such, there is a depth dimension present in their writings that already requires a prior commitment to God’s Divine Revelation; something atheists and agnostics repudiate. In this vein, the fathers have the resource and access to the heavenlies to speak things into my heart that the apologists do not.

The antidote that works best for me these days—an antidote for curing the feeling of hell’s darkness—is not the apologists (who typically push me into this feeling of loss), but the fathers. When I read the fathers there is an encouragement that bears witness with my spirit, such that Jesus comes to be magnified; and God glorified. This is not to say that the fathers all have equal value, but instead to recognize that when I read sound Christian theological reflection there is a fire rekindled that is often quenched when engaging with the atheists (or even the apologists).

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Reflecting on the ‘Past Feeling’ Mode of Pagan Existence

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.–Ephesians 4.17-19

There are other like passages in the Pauline corpus, but let’s focus on this one. As of late I have been struck, at empirical levels, by this reality. It is easy to get caught up in the theological world of my own studies, and forget just how pagan people are in this world. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case because I work in the ‘world,’ in part of the world that lives in a sort of vulgar state of existence (spiritually). But I’ve been impressed again by just how ‘past feeling’ the ‘Gentiles’ in fact are.

The Reformed et al. often refer to this ‘past feeling’ as total depravity. The idea being that at a spiritual level (which of course is the level of all levels) the person living in that status is not living at all; instead they are existing in a state of death (or separation) vis-à-vis God. And this would make sense, wouldn’t it? If there is only one ontological category for ‘being’ or ‘life,’ wouldn’t it make sense to think that anyone not united to this Life would be dead? I sometimes forget this though. Recently I was talking to someone at work about God, and for them God, and in particular, Jesus, seemed to simply be an abstract idea that could either be cursed or blessed; it simply depended upon what someone chooses to believe or not. At one level, sure, that makes sense. But what struck me was the cold indifference this guy had when referring to all things divine. For him there really wasn’t much difference between Allah and God in Christ; for him (my interlocutor) they could simply be symbolic figures projected out from varied cultural phenomena. Either way, for him, who Jesus turns out to be, at least existentially (in the moment), doesn’t impact him one way or the other. This is the ‘past feeling’ I think the Apostle Paul was referring to; it has moral implications.

Jesus, in John 3, makes clear that to get beyond this ‘past feeling’ status one must be born again; or in the Petrine voice, a person must ‘be born again of an imperishable seed.’ The Apostle Paul makes clear that Jesus swapped His eternal life for our eternal death, and by this movement He won eternal life by being the One for the many. Paul iterates the reality that we’ve been made rich by Jesus’s poverty for us; by Him becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to enter eternal life he had to be ‘born from above.’ These are all themes that are musts in order for the pagan to get beyond the ‘past feeling’ state they continuously live in and from.

It is interesting how self-evident things seem to the ‘natural human.’ They seemingly find it hard to imagine a world that gets beyond their immediate sense experience, as if they can’t imagine it, it can’t be real; as if, they can’t see it, it must be the stuff of religion and fairy-tales. The Christian apologist might think they could somehow reason their way past this sort of non-feeling mode ingrained in the pagan esse; but the problem is deeper than that. Reasons can be given, I mean they’re there, but without the Holy Spirit the pagan can’t call Jesus, Lord. It can become frustrating for the Christian to be continuously confronted with the world of unbelief, but it isn’t as if the biblical reality in Christ doesn’t have explanatory for this. If the pagan had spiritual lights in themselves, then the Dominical teaching, and the biblical reality revealed in the cross of Christ would be proven false. This is ironic; the unbelief of the pagan actually proves, or at least, illustrates what they are denying. If they could affirm on their capaciousness what they deem foolish and weak (the cross of Christ), then what need would there have been for the cross of Christ? The via of the pagan is the Gnostic way. The Gnostic way attempts to elide the need for the Gospel by self-asserting its own abilities to generate lights where there seemingly is only darkness. In other words, the pagan way, like the Gnostic way, believes it can generate its own ‘salvation’ by self-assertion of its own intellectual prowess and reason. This takes manifest forms: for the slack, it simply looks like the person who lives in an unexamined garden variegated pagan mode of existence; for the motivated, it looks like the various philosophies and religions of the world. The conclusion is the same; there is overconfidence in what the self-possessed self can accomplish.

Interestingly all of this plays into the macro-narration of Genesis 3, and the Serpent’s lie to Eve about being able to be like God. That’s where this ‘past feeling’ mode that Paul refers to originated. The word of the Serpent has never left his kingdom of darkness, but his word was neither the first nor the last! God’s Word, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the Word that has invaded our ‘ordinary’ time, and in Jesus’s Yes for us, He has reestablished and elevated the created order to the recreated order that God has always already intended in the Lamb of God even before the foundations of the world. The word of the Serpent has been destroyed by the Word of God, just as the head of the Serpent has been crushed by the heal of the Son of Man.

I continue to pray for people I encounter on a daily basis. I think it is God’s grace that He is allowing me to be surprised—once again—by the ‘past feeling’ mode pagans inhabit. It stirs me up, and motivates me to want to bear witness to the reality of God’s life in Christ that much more. It makes me realize that I might be the only face of Christ these pagans might see, and in that I have a great stewardship; if not a great reward. What I am impressed with more and more in our increasingly pluralist world, inhabited by what Charles Taylor calls ‘buffered selves,’ is that people aren’t progressing or elevating toward a genuinely greater spiritual “consciousness.” Instead, people are digressing further into the abyss of the inner-self that is indeed ‘past feeling.’ I’m afraid people, though, mistake technological and scientific progress with spiritual and moral progress; i.e. that the human species must have an innate evolutionary spirit that is ultimately able to transcend its own present status and reach into the heavenlies through the advancement of material processes (cf. Gen. 11). Ironically, if anything, humanity in the main is worshipping the creation rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1); they are worshipping the ratio and creativity that ought to be bearing witness to the imago Dei that Jesus is for them in their stead. They have misplaced their own faces for the Face of Christ, not recognizing that the Christ has already taken their faces as His own, and given them new faces to the point that they could now resemble His. Kyrie eleison.

Feeling the Weight of Secular Emptiness: A Self-Generated ‘Fullness’ Apart from the Pleroma of God in Jesus Christ

I just started Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which I’ve wanted to read for quite some time. Just as I’m splashing in he, expectedly, offers insight, and provides some grammar I’ve held in unarticulated form—or at least unarticulated relative to the way that Taylor articulates it—in regard to the ‘secular’ or ‘unbelieving’ via. Increasingly (and I’m 44) I have felt the creep of secularization growing in exponential ways over these past two decades. What has disillusioned me most is not that this creep has been happening in the ‘world’—that’s bad enough!—but that the evangelical churches themselves have been participants and even engineers of this sort of so called ‘secular’ creep.

In the following, Taylor describes the way the ‘unbeliever’ or the ‘secular’ attempts to generate meaning. He refers to a ‘fullness,’ which would be in reference to an extra nos or transcendent basis upon which (primarily) the believer finds meaning for life. He also introduces other terms, but I’ll let him do that, and then respond after the fact.

For modern unbelievers, the predicament is quite different. The power to reach fullness is within. There are different variations of this. One is that which centres on our nature as rational beings. The Kantian variant is the most upfront form of this. We have the power as rational agency to make the laws by which we live. This is something so greatly superior to the force of mere nature in us, in the form of desire, that when we contemplate it without distortion, we cannot but feel reverence (Achtung) for this power. The place of fullness is where we manage finally to give this power full reign, and so to live by it. We have a feeling of receptivity, when with our full sense of our own fragility and pathos as desiring beings, we look up to the power of law-giving with admiration and awe. But this doesn’t in the end mean that there is any reception from outside; the power is within; and the more we realize this power, the more we become aware that it is within, that morality must be autonomous and not heteronomous. (Later a Feuerbachian theory of alienation can be added to this: we project God because of our early sense of this awesome power which we mistakenly place outside us; we need to re-appropriate it for human beings. But Kant didn’t take this step.)

Of course, there are also lots of more naturalistic variants of the power of reason, which depart from the dualistic, religious dimensions of Kant’s though, his belief in radical freedom of the moral agent, immortality, God—the three postulates of practical reason. There may be a more rigorous naturalism, which accords little room for manoeuvre for human reason, driven on one side by instinct, and on the other hemmed in by the exigencies of survival. There may be no explanation offered of why we have this power. It may consist largely in instrumental uses of reason, there again unlike Kant. But within this kind of naturalism, we often find an admiration for the power of cool, disengaged reason, capable of contemplating the world and human life without illusion, and of acting lucidly for the best in the interest of human flourishing. A certain awe still surrounds reason as a critical power, capable of liberating us from illusion and blind forces of instinct, as well as the phantasies bred of our fear and narrowness and pusillanimity. The nearest thing to fullness lies in this power of reason, and it is entirely ours, developed if it is through our own, often heroic action. (And here the giants of modern “scientific” reason are often named: Copernicus, Darwin, Freud.)

Indeed, this sense of ourselves as beings both frail and courageous, capable of facing a meaningless, hostile universe without faintness of heart, and of rising to the challenge of devising our own rules of life, can be an inspiring one, as we see in the writings of a Camus for instance. Rising fully to this challenge, empowered by this sense of our own greatness in doing so, this condition we aspire to but only rarely, if ever, achieve, can function as its own place of fullness, in the sense of my discussion here.[1]

I live in such a world; I don’t know about you! I hold my ‘faith’ dear to my heart, and attempt to bear witness to the reality therein; but the world, the big world seems to bustle along, typically unbeknownst to its own intellectual antecedents and informants, in such a way that the scandal of the particular in the cross of Jesus Christ doesn’t even seem foolish anymore—it seemingly seems as if it is just one of many a religious symbols on tap for the taking (or not!)

I think what stands out most to me, in regard to Taylor’s thinking, is the idea of a self-generated fullness; I take this to be the greatest hallmark of secularity. As James Sire noted, as he described existentialism as a philosophy of life, it is the idea of ‘existence preceding essence.’ I think it is important to dwell here; to feel the nihilist weight of it all; to allow the abyss-nature of the secular mind to press in and pierce our ‘holy Christian’ hearts. Often, at least in my experience, it isn’t until I feel the weight and fallout of deep existential angst, that I find myself in a posture of crying out ‘my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,’ in echo of the Savior’s cry. Often it isn’t until the dereliction and emptiness of darkness seems to overcome us, that the desire for God’s Bright Light in Christ to come issues in maximal force.

What Taylor describes describes almost every single person I encounter ‘out there’ in the big world. There is a sense of loss, and yet a determination to construct personal meaning, that dominates the human landscape. I mean, as Christians we know this simply as a heart in bondage to its sinful appetites and affections; a heart dead-set on being like God knowing good and evil. Even though we know this, narrativally-canonically as Christians, the emptiness, and its deleterious outcome is all around us. We should feel its weight; if only so we might have compassion, and then also gratitude for the great gulf that has been recreated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 8-9.

A Reason why Atheism Makes No Sense

If an atheist says he rejects all [G]ods, isn’t this is a fallacious sweeping generalization? If an atheist says he rejects all [G]ods doesn’t this mean he is presupposing that he has the capacity in himself to know who all [G]ods are in order to reject them? But what if, definitionally, there is a God who cannot be known, but by said God Himself? What if there is a God that cannot be conceived of without said God revealing Himself, and with that revelation comes the required capacity, or re-conciliation with said God in order to really know of this God? If there were a God who required one to ‘taste and see’ before they could actually know of this God, wouldn’t this undercut the possibility for said atheist to honestly say that he rejects all [G]ods? Maybe he could say that about all [G]ods that he could rationally conceive of, but then are these [G]ods really God? I don’t think so, not if these [G]ods are subject or contingent upon the atheist’s conceiving. There’s no way to rationalistically reject the revealed God, since the revealed God has no human analogy available for him; the revealed God is by definition the reconciling God. If this is so then [a]theism, by definition, isn’t rejecting the revealed God, instead it is rejecting the possibility and idea of reconciliation; the very reality that would finally allow them to think the real God—for the real God can only be thought of from Himself, and not from ourselves (cf. Feuerbach).

The “God” of Atheists in the 16th and 17th Centuries: And How the God of the Post Reformed Orthodox Needs Be Radicalized

The early Christians were thought of as atheists by the Graeco-Romans because they rejected the pantheon of the Roman gods; at least, so the story goes. As somewhat of an inversion of that, many of the Post Reformed Orthodox theologians of 16th and 17th century Western Europe believed that anyone who rejected the true and living God revealed and disclosed in Holy Scripture, and in the living Son, Jesus Christ was to be considered an atheist. Personally, as someone who thinks After Barth, I think anyone who rejects the God solely and principially revealed in Jesus Christ is worshipping, as Barth might say, a No-God; in other words, I believe worshipping a concept of God not explicitly based upon God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ makes one an atheist (so this would be concordant with the sentiment of the Post Reformed Orthodox). And beyond all this, to invert maybe even the Post Reformed Orthodox, although not de jure, I would have to consider myself an “atheist” when and if someone says they worship a concept of God and godness that is based upon human discovery, philosophical discurvity and projection in regard to the god they worship; even if that God is baptized in the name of Jesus. In other words, I would consider myself an atheist when and if even Christians, whoever they might be, base their conception of God upon the god of the philosophers; a concept of God not based purely on the Self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ (cf. John 1.18).

Getting back to the Post Reformed Orthodox, though; they had a classification of certain types of “atheists,” and one that I find interesting. There is stuff presented in their approach, respectively, that I find constructively helpful towards thinking about this topic with particular reference to the role that “sin” and hamartiology play relative to people’s perceptions of “God.” There are things in the Post Reformed Orthodox’s thinking that I find pretty attractive towards thinking about what atheism might entail, it is just that I don’t really think the Post Reformed Orthodox went far enough; I think they end up relying too much on a philosophical conception of godness in order to conceive of God—particularly when we start thinking about God’s ousia ‘being’ or essendi ‘essence’. Richard Muller offers a helpful detailing of how all of this looked in the development of Post Reformed Orthodoxy; here we pick up Muller as he has just been discussing the role that “proofs” for God’s existence have or have not played in some of the Reformed Orthodox’s thinking. Muller writes:

Although the proofs are posed “against the atheists,” the Reformed orthodox frequently argue that there are no “atheists properly so called,” or, at least, very few. The Reformed orthodox writers typically understood “atheist” in a very broad sense, designed to include all who denied the true God. “There are many kinds of Atheists,” wrote Bucanus, for some entirely deny the existence of God, others worship “feigned gods,” and still others acknowledge the “true God,” but not “as he is,” rather, “as they fancie him to be.” Given this broad sense of the term, the Reformed tend also to direct their arguments against the majority of atheists, namely, against those who do not deny God absolutely, but whose understandings of God are in need of major revision. The homiletical and hortatory dimensions of the Reformed proofs is particularly clear in Charnock’s initial identifications of atheists and atheism. The problem of atheism is not primarily philosophical but hamartiological: “though some few may choke in their hearts the sentiments of God and his providence, and positively deny them, yet there is something of a secret atheism in all, which is the foundation of the evil practices in their lives, not an utter disowning of the being of a God, but a denial or doubting of some of the rights of his nature.”

Whereas, then, there are either no or virtually no “speculative atheists,” those who directly and expressly deny the existence of any superior Being and have absolutely no “sense and belief of deity,” there are many people who have inward doubts concerning the identity of God or may deny to God such attributes or qualities — as providence or justice — that are necessary to any being rightly called God. In addition, they recognize the existence of “practical atheists.” Thus the text of the Psalm (14:1), “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,” is not a philosophical text but a “description of man’s corruption.” The point resonates strongly with Calvin’s exegesis of the text. Charnock continues:

Practical atheism is natural to man in his corrupt state. It is against nature as constituted by God, but natural, as nature is depraved by man: the absolute disowning of the being of a God is not natural to man, but the contrary is natural; but an inconsideration of God, or misrepresentation of his nature, is natural to man as corrupt. A secret atheism, or a partial atheism, is the spring of all the wicked practices of the world.

Charnock points out that the “fool” speaks in his “heart,” not in his “head”:

Men may have atheistical hearts without atheistical heads. Their reasons may defend the notion of a Deity, while their hearts are empty of affection to the Deity.

They have “unworthy imaginations” concerning God, engage in “debasing the Divine nature” through idolatry, and exalt human nature unduly. If we are the question of who these practical atheists are, the probable answer is the “cultured despisers of religion” in Charnock’s day, many of whom fit the description of Viret’s “Deists.”[1]

In sentiment there is much to be commended here, in my mind. The issue always, in my view, comes down to an issue of the heart. People have been so polluted by sin noetically that left to themselves and their own sensuous desires they will always and only fashion God in their own image (e.g. Feuerbach comes to mind). People’s wills are in such bondage (i.e. Luther), they are so overcome with other affections (other than affection for God) that all they will “freely” choose is themselves; as such the only God they can discover based upon this weeded ground is one that they manufacture themselves (i.e. think of Calvin’s ‘idol factory’ or simply of the idolatry referred to over and over again in the Old Testament with reference to the nations, but also of course with reference to God’s own covenant people, the nation of Israel).

I think this sentiment in the Post Reformed Orthodox is all well and good, but I just don’t think it goes far enough. Although we need to be sensitive to what they had available to them in their own period of theological and ecclesiastical history, my contention is that they rely much too much on conceptions of God that are correlatively based on the god of the philosophers (like Plato and Aristotle). In other words I don’t think they were radical enough in regard to their doctrine of God; as such the concept of God they offer, often, is too laden down with philosophical accretions that actually emphasize things about God’s Self-presentation that end up distorting who God actually is relative to his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ (which gets fleshed out say in a system like Federal theology and the attending forensic emphases that come along with that). Contrariwise, Thomas Torrance, as he describes Barth’s Christ concentrated approach to theology writes this:

Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ.[2]

The Post Reformed Orthodox need help relative to their doctrine of God. They were heading in the right direction, in principle, but they hadn’t developed enough to the point where they could write something like TF Torrance does here.

Conclusion

I’m leaving many loose ends in this post, but I will have to say I agree with the sentiment of the Post Reformed Orthodox in regard to how they thought of atheism; particularly as they focus in on the impact that sin has on that. But in the end, here in the 21st century, with further theological developments that we can now benefit from (as illustrated by Barth and Torrance), I think the orthodox need to be radicalized. Insofar as they aren’t I would have to claim an “atheist” status in regard to the God they offer up when and if they present us with a God based upon an under-evangelized metaphysic and conception of God resulting in emphases that distort who God has revealed himself to be in his Self-revelation and exegesis in Jesus Christ.

It is ironic, I think, many Christians end up becoming “atheists,” but they aren’t really even rejecting an actual conception of God who is based purely upon his Self-revelation in Christ. Instead they are rightfully rejecting a conception of God who is based too much on a philosophical conception and thus human projection of God wherein the type of spirituality on offer is one that is driven by a performance based quid quo pro type of spirituality; of the type that no thinking and self-reflective person can actually bear up under for too long (just ask Martin Luther about that!).

 

[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Divine Essence and Attributes, Volume Three (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 179-80.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, 196.

 

Atheist Delusions, the Good and the Beautiful from God, not Nature

Belief in the good, the bad and the ugly aren’t things that are simply inherent realities to the fabric of nature; such realities are things that are contingent upon certain unique belief structures. In other words, as atheists might surmise, we don’t simply read such moral proclivities off of the page of nature, instead these realities are those that come from something or someOne above, beyond, but lovingly and graciously from within the structures of nietzschecreation. In other words, the good, the bad and the ugly are not absolute realities in themselves, things that we can possess and manage through the proper education; instead their reality comes extra nos, from without us, as an alien thing bequeathed to us as creatures whose concreteness is also an ecstatic reality; a gift from some other ground than ourselves. This is one of the many points that David Bently Hart is making in his book Atheist Delusions:

What, however, we should never forget is where those larger notions of the moral good, to which even atheists can feel a devotion, come from, and this is no small matter. Compassion, pity, and charity, as we understand and cherish them, are not objects found in nature, like trees or butterflies or academic philosophers, but are historically contingent conventions of belief and practice, formed by cultural convictions that need never risen at all. Many societies have endured and indeed flourished quite well without them. It is laudable that Dennett is disposed (as I assume he is) to hate economic, civil, or judicial injustice, and that he believes we should not abandon our fellow human beings to poverty, tyranny, exploitation, or despair. Good manners, however, should oblige him and others like him to acknowledge that they are inheritors of a social conscience whose ethical grammar would have been very different had it not been shaped by Christianity’s moral premises: the ideals of justice for the oppressed the church took from Judaism, Christianity’s own special language of charity, its doctrine of God’s universal love, its exaltation of forgiveness over condemnation, and so on. And good sense should prompt them to acknowledge that absolutely nothing ensures that, once Christian beliefs have been finally and fully renounced, those values will not slowly dissolve, to be replaced by others that are coarser, colder, more pragmatic, and more “inhuman.” On this score, it would be foolish to feel especially sanguine; and there are good causes, as I shall discuss in the final part of this book, for apprehension. This one reason why the historical insight and intellectual honesty of Nietzsche were such precious things, and why their absence from so much contemporary antireligious polemic renders it so depressingly vapid. [David Bentley Hart,  Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 16.]

In this, one of Hart’s opening chapters, he is taking aim at what he considers to be a sad attempt of atheism and Christian antagonism nowadays. He has been referencing Richard Dawkins, Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Brown and others who seem to have the ear of popular culture when it comes to critiquing Christianity. But he shows how inane so much of what these authors actually is when taken to its logical and ugly conclusion.

Anyway, I liked the material point of what Hart is writing in the quote I provide from him. There is this naïve belief amongst pagan culture in general, that they have something better to offer. They seem to fail to recognize that they cannot simply sleuth in negation and criticism of something positive (and I mean by way of presentation) like Christianity; they actually, through their criticism betoken themselves with a severe burden of proof. That is, it is not enough to shoot the messenger, after they shoot the messenger they must offer another message, an alternative account, and explanatory motif that provides greater gusto and gravitas than say the Christian account has offered Western culture (and all cultures, in some regard) for millennia; no small task. And what Hart is suggesting, arguing, is that it really cannot be done; at least if the history of ideas have any meaning.

Something that should be noted; Hart is comparing and contrasting today’s antagonistic voices (to Christianity) with those offered by thinkers in the 19th century and further back. He is somewhat lamenting the fact that today’s antagonistic critics of Christianity are in fact like babies compared to their more mature an thoughtful and informed forbears. I think Hart thinks the media has a lot to do with the fact that the most prominent Christian critics today have any purchase at all; because to Hart’s point, they certainly don’t have resonance based upon their force of thought and commanding intellectual and rhetorical prowess when it comes to actual depth.

David Bentley Hart and the “Problem” of Christian Violence

I think this is a good little snippet and look into David Bentley Hart’s perspective on Christianity and her history of violence:

ht: Jason Goroncy

This is often a common theme brought up, especially by those seeking to discredit the reality of Christianity — viz. Christianities’ history in regards to things done in her name that do not reflect the ideals that Jesus taught, and more, embodied. The new Atheists for example seek to discredit the viability of Christianity (in particular) by causally linking the actions of some Christians in the history to the principles upon which Christianity is really based. It is true that Christians, even today, have so lumped “their Christianity” into say the political processes; that violence has been and continues to be done in the name of Christ and righteousness. So the new Atheists charge is not altogether unfounded. Where it does become unfounded is in their failure to make the proper nuance or distinction between cultural appropriations and perversions of Christianity, and Christianity simpliciter (or Christianity in its taught/lived form in Christ). Hart takes note of this failure in the new Atheists posturing, and thus highlights the point that these kinds of rhetorical arguments have no teeth. I agree.

Atheists Only Real Argument is PR and Rhetoric

Here is a great little clip of Dr. William Lane Craig, Evangelical philosopher and apologist, pummeling atheist Dr. Peter Atkins; this seems to be a post debate interview that they both were involved in.

h/t: Derrick Peterson (He shared this on Facebook, in lieu of this article that I was alerted to by Mike Gurney, also on Facebook, that Fox News posted in regards to William Lane Craig’s tour of the UK — he was supposed to debate an atheist named Toynbee, but once she was made aware of Craig’s credentials, she backed out. Equally, Richard Dawkins also wants no part of Craig — the article at Fox can be found here)

The really interesting thing to me about atheists, is that they really aren’t arguing against the Christian understanding of God to begin with. Instead they are arguing against a concept of “godness” constructed primarily by the classic Greek philosophers (like Aristotle, Plato, the Stoics, et al.); the Christian concept of God starts with God’s self-revelation of Himself in the eternal Son made incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

I do think there is a place for doing the kind of apologetics that Craig is so good at, but I also think that it is a mistake to take the arguments that Craig uses against atheists as the methodological ground upon which we then speak of the Christian God. If we are going to truly be “scientific” in our theological approach, then we need to let the reality of God himself, revealed in Christ, impose upon us his own categories of being.