An Apologetics Primer

My church group began discussing ideas about an apologetics course this summer.  I’m wondering what kind of books to use.  Nothing too advanced.  And I don’t want this to become a “different styles of apologetics.”  Those discussions are usually as fruitful as sucking a gas pipe.  But I have found the following to be good in getting you to think about thinking.

My goal is not to “prove” anything or say x apologetic method is good.  I just want you to be good at thinking, and thinking about thinking.

Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with all Your Mind.  The place to start.  I’ve read it probably half a dozen times.  I used to buy it on the cheap and give it away.

Moreland, J.P.  Kingdom Triangle. Never quite gained the importance of his other book, but in many ways the argument is more focused.

McCall, Thomas.  An Invitation to Analytic Theology.  This will teach you how to break down an issue.

Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil and Knowledge and Christian Belief.  After Plantinga atheists realized they could no longer say that evil made the Christian worldview contradictory.

Clark, Kelly James.  Return to Reason. Plantinga’s lieutenant, so to speak.  Read this before you dive into Plantinga.

Clark, Kelly. ed. 101 Philosophical Terms You Need to Know.

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Review: For Faith and Clarity

Beilby, James. ed. For Faith and Clarity: Philosophical Contributions to Christian Theology.

This book is not an intro to apologetics. It’s not even an intermediate text. It’s more like a supplement to some theological issues in apologetics. On the whole it is of limited value. Nevertheless, there were a few outstanding essays.

J. P. Moreland: General Ontology and Theology

Moreland outlines what substance metaphysics is. The ultimate categories are substance, property, and relation (47), and these categories are in sets. “A set of categories is a set of mutually exclusive and exhaustive classifications of all entities.”

A substance is a continuant that can change by gaining new properties and losing old ones, yet retaining its identity (57). Substance are not had by other properties. They have properties. A property is an existence reality which is exemplified by a substance.

William Lane Craig: Pantheists in spite of themselves.

Craig cuts Hegelianism off at the pass. For post-Hegelians God is the Infinite, yet any concept of the infinite contains within it the concept of the finite. Therefore, the finite is just as necessary as the infinite. Therefore, God is both infinite and finite. For Neo-Hegelians, “infinite” means “all.” The problem should be evident. God and the moon both exist, so this means that God is not all. Yet we hold that God is infinite.

How does a Christian respond to this? Craig notes that the Hegelian concept of infinity is just silly and outdated. Modern mathematics uses the concept of infinity, but it never means what Hegel says it means. Take Cantor’s sets:

0, 1, 2, 3,….

1, 3, 5, 7,…..

We can extend both sets to infinity. There is one to one correspondence between two sets if the members of A can be paired with the members of B. We do not need to get into all of the paradoxes with an actual infinite, but we need only show that the Neo-Hegelian definition is false.

J. Wesley Richards: Divine Simplicity

Richards gives 8 different senses of how divine simplicity was used in the history of the church.

  1. All divine properties are possessed by the same self-identical God.
  2. God is not composite in the sense of being made up of parts. God has no external causes.
  3. God’s essence is identical with his act of existing.
  4. All God’s essential properties are co-extensive.
  5. All God’s perfections are identical.
  6. All God’s properties are co-extensive.
  7. God’s essential properties and essence are (strictly) identical with God himself.
  8. All God’s properties are (strictly) identical with God himself..

Richards says that all Christians can accommodate P(1) – (6). Part of the difficulty is that earlier Christian thinkers were hamstrung by Platonic and medieval ontologies. For Thomas an essence of a thing is its “what it is as such” (Richards 162). Modern essentialism, by contrast, sees an entity as “exemplifying a certain essence.” For medieval realists, an entity participated (or shared) in the form of x. For modern essentialists, an entity exemplifies x.

Other essays of note are Plantinga’s evolutionary challenge and Wolterstorff’s essay on justice.

Review: Thinking in Tongues

This is from James KA Smith’s earlier days, before he became NPR’s token Christian thinker.  This book is actually good, which pains me to say.  Smith seems unbalanced in many ways since writing this book.  I think it is Trumpphobia or something.

Thesis: Pentecostal worldview offers a distinct way of being-in-the-world (Smith 25). Embodied practices carry within them a “tacit understanding” (27).

Is a Pentecostal Philosophy Possible?

Much of the chapter deals with the relationship between theology and philosophy.   The difference is one of field, not “faith basis” (Smith 4).  Smith gives us Five Aspects of a Pentecostal Philosophy:

  1. radical openness to God, or God’s doing something fresh.  
  2. An “enchanted” theology of creation and culture.   Smith means that we see reality not as self-enclosed monads, but realizing that principalities and powers are often behind these.  this entails spiritual warfare.  I cringe at terms like “enchanted” because it’s more postmodern non-speak, but Smith (likely inadvertently) connected “enchanted” with demons, which is correct.
  3. A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and spirituality.  Smith defines “dualism” as not denigrating materiality.   Fewer and fewer Christians today do this, so I am not sure whom his target is.  Even chain-of-being communions like Rome that officially denigrate embodiment say they really don’t mean it.
  4. Affective, narrative epistemology.   
  5. Eschatological orientation towards mission and justice.

God’s Surprise

Some hermeneutics: Smith rightly notes that “The Last Days” (per Acts 2) is connected with “today” ( 22; we accept this model in eschatology but abandon it in pneumatology).  Smith wryly notes that Acts 2:13 is the first proto-Daniel Dennett hermeneutics:  offering a naturalistic explanation for inexplicable phenomena (23).   

Following Martin Heidegger, Smith suggests two kinds of knowing: wissen and verstehen, justified, true belief and understanding.  The latter is tacit and is at the edges of conscious action.

Per the dis-enchanted cosmos, Smith astutely points out that “There is a deep sense that multiple modes of oppression–from illness to poverty–are in some way the work of forces that are not just natural” (41).  In other words, spiritual warfare assumes a specific, non-reductionist cosmology.

Promising Suggestions

“What characterizes narrative knowledge?” (65)  

  1. a connection between narrative and emotions
    1. Narratives work in an affective manner
    2. The emotions worked are themselves already construals of the world
  2. There is a “fit” between narrative and emotion

There is a good section on Pauline-pneumatological accounts of knowing (68ff).  Anticipating Dooyeweerd, Paul critiques the pretended autonomy of theoretical thought (Rom. 1:21-31; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) and that the Spirit grants access to the message as “true.”  

While I found his chapter on epistemology inadequate, he does say that we know from the “heart” as embodied, rational beings (58).  This isn’t new to postmodernism, but is standard Patristic epistemology.  

A Pentecostal Ontology

This section could have been interesting.  Smith wants to argue that pentecostalism sees an open ontology that allows the Spirit to move from within nature, rather than a miracle that is “tacked on” to nature from the outside.  He makes this argument because he wants pentecostalism to line up with the insights from Radical Orthodoxy.

I have between 50-75 pentecostal relatives who “embody pentecostal spirituality.”  I promise you that none of them think like this or are even capable of thinking like that.  I do not disparge them, simply because I am not to sure Smith’s project at this point is really coherent.  He wants to reject methodological naturalism (rightly) but argues for his own version of supernatural naturalism.

If Smith is successful, then he can show that pentecostalism lines up with quantum mechanics.  Okay.  Thus, nature is “en-Spirited” (103).  While I have problems with his “suspended materiality” ontology, Smith makes some interesting points: miracles are not “add-ons.”  They are not anti-nature, since “nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity” (104).  

That’s good.  I like it.

Tongues as speech-act.

We are considering “tongue-speech” as a liminal case in the philosophy of language (122).  Exegetical discussions are important (and ultimately determinative), but we can’t enter them here.  Smith wants to argue that tongues (T₁) resists our current categories of language and emerges as resistance to cultural norms.  I think there is something to that.

 T₁ as Phenomenology

There is a difference between signs as expression (Ausdruck) and those that do not mean anything (indications, Anzeigen).  Ausdruck is important as it means something, whereas Anzeigen serves as a pointer (127, Smith is following E. Husserl).  Husserl even notes that there can be signs that are not Ausdrucken nor Anzeigen.  This turns on the question: can signs which do not express anything nor point to anything be modes of communication?  

As many critics of Husserl note, his account of speech links communication with intention, so he has to answer “no” to the above question.  Or maybe so.  What kind of speech can there be that is not bound up with inter-subjective indication?  Husserl (and Augustine!) suggest the interior mental life.  Thus, signs in this case would not point to what is absent.  

Tongues as Speech-Act Attack

Utterances (of any sort) are performative.  While such utterance-acts do convey thoughts, sometimes their intent is far more. Let’s take tongues-speak as ecstatic, private language.  What does the pray-er mean to do?  We can easily point to an illocutionary act of praying in groans too deep for words.  We can also see a perlocutionary act: God should act in response.

Tongues as Politics

Oh boy.  Smith wants to say that tongues is a speech-act against the powers that be.  I like that.  I really do.  I just fear that Smith is going to mislocate the powers.  He begins by drawing upon neo-Marxist insights (147). However, without kowtowing fully to Marx, he does point out that Marx has yielded the historical stage to the Holy Ghost.

Tongues-speech begins as “the language of the dispossessed” (149).  This, too, is a valid sociological insight.  The chapter ends without Smith endorsing Marxism, which I expected him to do.  While we are on a charismatic high, I will exercise my spiritual gift of Discerning the Spirits.”  The reason that many 3rd World Pentecostals are “dispossessed” is because they are in countries whose leaders serve the demonic principality of Marxist-Socialism.  Let’s attack that first before we get on the fashionable anti-capitalism bandwagon.

(No, am not a capitalist.  At least not in the sense that Smith uses the word)

*Smith, as is usual with most postmodernists, gets on the “narrative” bandwagon.  There’s a place for that, but I think narrative is asked to carry more than it can bear.  In any case, it is undeniable that Pentecostals are good storytellers.  Smith wants to tie this in with epistemology, but he omits any discussion from Thomas Reid concerning testimony as basic belief, which would have strengthened his case.

Possible Criticisms

Smith (rightly) applauds J. P. Moreland’s recent embrace of kingdom power, but accuses Moreland of still being a “rationalist” (6 n14, 13n26).  Precisely how is Moreland wrong and what is the concrete alternative?  Smith criticizes the rationalist project as “‘thinking’ on a narrow register of calculation and deduction” (54).  Whom is he criticizing: Christians or non-Christians?  It’s not clear, and in any case Moreland has come under fire for saying there are extra-biblical, non-empirical sources of knowledge and reality (angels, demons, etc).  

Smith then argues that all rationalities are em-bodied rationalities.  That’s fine.  I don’t think this threatens a Reidian/Warrant view of knowledge.  Perhaps it does threaten K=JTB.  I don’t know, since Smith doesn’t actually make the argument.  Smith makes a good argument on the “heart’s role” in knowing, yet Moreland himself has a whole chapter on knowing and healing from the heart in The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Moreland 2006).

Smith elsewhere identifies aspects of rationality as the logics of “power, scarcity, and consumption,” (84) but I can’t think of a serious philosopher who actually espouses this.

Elsewhere, Smith says Christian philosophy should be “Incarnational” and not simply theistic (11).  What does that even mean?  Does it simply mean “Begin with Jesus”?  Does it mean undergirding ontology with the Incarnation, per Col. 1:17?  That’s actually quite promising, but I don’t think Smith means that, either.  So what does he mean?

Is Smith a coherentist?  I think he is.  He hints at good criticisms of secularism, but points out “that the practices and plausibility structures that sustain pentecostal (or Reformed or Catholic or Baptist or Moonie–JBA) have their own sort of ‘logic’,” a logic that allows Christians to play, too (35).  But even if coherentism holds–and I grant that Smith’s account is likely true, it doesn’t prove coherentism is true.  All coherentism can prove is doxastic relations among internal beliefs, but not whether these beliefs are true.  Of course, Smith would probably say I am a rationalist.

In his desire to affirm materiality, Smith seems to say that any religious materiality is a good materiality.  Smith approvingly notes of Felicite’s clinging to feasts and relics (36).  It’s hard to see how any one “Materiality” could be bad on Smith’s account.  But this bad account is juxtaposed with some good observations on the book of Acts (38) and tries to connect the two.

*Smith says that “postmodernism takes race, class, and gender seriously” because it takes the body seriously (60).  This is 100% false.  If facebook is a true incarnation (!) of postmodernity, may I ask how many “gender/sexual preference” options facebook has?  I rest my case.

*Smith waxes eloquently on the Pentecostal “aesthetic” (80ff), which is basically a repeat of his other works, but one must ask, “How does faith come per Romans 10?”

*Smith doesn’t miss an opportunity to criticize “rationalism” for separating beliefs and faith/practice, yet Smith himself seems mighty critical of those who focus on “beliefs” in their philosophy of religion (111).  Sure, most post-Descartes philosophy of religion is overy intellectual, but I do think the Reidian/Plantingian Epistemology model, integrates belief and faith-practice.

 

Harassing the Hobgoblins: Intro to Analytic Theology

I am not an expert in analytic theology, and I have been critical of analytic philosophy in the past.  Nonetheless, it can be useful in clarifying concepts.  One problem is that people jump into the deeper waters, reading countless computer symbols and the analytic guys never bother to clarify what’s going on.  I’ll try.

Beginner

McCall, Thomas.  Introduction to Analytic Theology.  It is what the title says. He introduces some key concepts but doesn’t really get beyond Leibniz’s Law.  Still, anything McCall writes is worth getting.

Moreland, JP.  Love Your God with all your Mind.  What would it look like if you applied analytic reasoning to the development of the soul?

Morris, Thomas V.  Our Idea of God.  He doesn’t call it analytic theology, but it is an early essay into how it is done.  Wonderfully accessible.

Nash, Ronald.  The Concept of God.  Kind of a simplified version of Plantinga’s Does God have a Nature?  Some great responses to open theism.

Clark, Kelly.  Return to Reason.  This is the unsung volume in apologetics.

Intermediate

McCall, Thomas.  Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?  Not primarily analytic theology, per se, but it is a great application of analytic theology.

Crisp and Rea, Analytic Theology: New Essays.  Some outstanding essays, some bleh.  Sadly, Rea, Wolterstorff, and possibly stump have surrendered the field on sexual ethics.

Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Somewhat technical, but simply grand.

Moreland and Rae, Body and Soul.  Outstanding defense of substance dualism.  Moreland writes with Kingdom Power.

Moreland, JP.  Kingdom Triangle.  Triangulates (sorry) analytic theology with continuationist theology.

Morris, Thomas V. Logic of God Incarnate.  Rescues Christology from the contradiction charge.  Several very important concepts introduced.

Plantinga and Wolterstorff.  Faith and Rationality.  Almost as important historically as it is philosophically.

Richards, Jay Wesley. The Untamed God.  Introduces modal concepts and show where they advance beyond Aristotle.

Advanced

Kripke, Saul.  Naming and Necessity.  Some technical chapters, but a mostly accessible work on language and possible worlds.

Lewis, David.  Counterfactuals.  Very difficult, but Lewis does walk you through his method, so it is readable.

Plantinga, Alvin. Nature of Necessity.  One of the most important philosophy works in the last century.  Possible Worlds matter.

———–.  Does God Have a Nature? Plantinga got accused of denying simplicity in this book.  I never saw where he did so.  Great primer on how to do analytic theology.

———–.  Warrant and Proper Function.   Clears up a lot of (perhaps deliberate) misunderstanding on what Plantinga means by “warrant.

———.  Warranted Christian Belief.  Application of his previous two books.

Lost Virtue of Happiness

Moreland, J. P. and Issler, Klaus.  The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Navpress).

Far from being a self-help book, Moreland and Klauss (MK) define happiness in terms of its more ancient setting: a happy life is one that allows me to pursue virtue. In Christian terms, a happy life is a disciplined life that allows me to pursue the Kingdom of God.

Today happiness is defined as “good feeling” (MK 16). If happiness is defined as my good feelings, and if the goal of happiness is to pursue my good feelings, then everything has to center around…me! This creates what sociologists call “the empty self.”

Further, the empty self is what we project outwards to others. MK also have interesting suggestions on how the empty self leads to loneliness–and they posit solitude as the correction to loneliness.

Unlike other spiritual disciplines books, this offers a number of practical suggestions for enabling the “disciplined life.” Of course, the reader won’t accept every suggestion (and in fact, I disagree with a few of them). Nevertheless, most are quite helpful and have further enriched my own prayer life.

Of Particular help:

studying: the mind works from whole to part to whole. Moreland suggests–and this is something I’ve been doing for about a decade–to study the table of contents before you read a difficult book. If it is well-organized, the book won’t be that difficult.

increasing prayer time: It’s hard to kneel down a pray for a good, cold hour. However, Moreland suggests a number of strategies that can enrich and eventually lengthen prayer time. Instead of “dive-bomber prayers,” he urges “pressure cooker prayers.” Instead of saying, “Dear Jesus, please be with Suzy today,” we can keep coming back to the Lord in 2 or 3 minute increments and lifting Suzy up, often bolstered by Psalms, and “wrestling with the Lord in prayer” over Suzy. After a while, we realize we have been often in prayer, even working with God.

Calm down: Moreland has a controversial, yet probably workable suggestion on anxiety. He has noted that neuroscience is seeing that the heart has its own “system.” He recommends breathing techniques that will calm the heart. This is fine as long as we don’t say “thus saith the Lord.”

Deliverance ministries: MK are correct that demons cannot possess believers. Let that be said loud and clear. However, demons can attack and afflict believers. This isn’t that startling a statement. If you are attacking satanic strongholds and winning victories for the kingdom, do you really expect Satan to stand idly by? How will a demon attack you? As Paul says, by letting sinful passions “gain a foothold.”

Evaluation:
I recommend it for intermediate believers who already have a strong foundation in the spiritual disciplines.

Love your God (Moreland)

Moreland, J. P. Love your God with all Your Mind (Navpress).

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Many have rightly hailed this book as a game-changer. Unfortunately, not enough have. It’s hard to put this book’s importance into words. It changed my life in college. Enough with the praise; let’s begin.

Moreland’s thesis is developing a Christian mind is part of the essence of Christian discipleship (Moreland 43). Further, since the mind is a faculty of the soul (72, more on that later), one cannot develop one’s soul in relation to God without taking the mind into account. Yet Moreland is not encouraging us to become arcane theology wonks. He places the life of the mind within cultivating a framework of virtue (104-112). Virtue is elsewhere explicated as “the good life,” the life lived in accordance with God’s design (35). A virtuous life is a free life: freedom is the power to do what one ought to do. Finally, a virtuous life is a communal life.

Indeed, for example, it is this communal aspect of the virtuous life that Aristotle sought (170). It is a view of friendship that is formed around a common vision and shared goods (shades of Augustine!). Rather, New Testament fellowship–koinonia–is commitment to, and participation in, advancing the Kingdom from the body of Christ. What relevance, then, to the life of the mind? New Testament fellowship should be guided by the good life as revealed in the gospel, which includes a life of epistemic virtue. We are to build each other up in this.

Notae bene

Theology and Worship: God is a maximally perfect being. He is not just a perfect God, but perfect in all possible worlds. From this Moreland develops his theology of worship. While not Reformed, he anticipates some like an RPW. I disagree with his “testimony” time after the sermon, but mainly because this almost always kills the flow and narrative of worship (have you ever been to the last night of summer camp in youth group? Then you know of what I speak).

Interestingly, Moreland also accepts rule by elders, if not by synod.

Ethics: happiness, following the ancients and utilizing the New Testament, is a life of virtue whic includes suffering (35).

Philosophy and the Soul: we must remember that both ancient man and the Christian tradition defined the mind (as well as the spirit) as a faculty of the soul (Moreland 70-73). While it is a true statement that the soul has contact with God, yet it is the mind that is the vehicle for the soul’s making contact with God. On the other hand, the spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (Romans 8:16 and maybe Eph. 4:23).

Moreland then outlines the five states of the soul (sensation, thought, belief, act of will, and desire). What’s interesting about that is the above states of the soul cannot be reduced to purely physical categories. This means the soul/mind is not reducible to the brain, which means scientific naturalism is false. This is also what R. L. Dabney meant by “connative” powers (I think; see Dabney Discussions II: 240, 243, III: 281; The Sensualistic Philosophy, chs. 1-2).
Not only does the soul have the aforementioned five states, it also has capacities or hierarchies. Without getting too technical, understanding the soul’s capacities is key in the abortion debate.

Moreland further gives some practical lessons in logic and analytical reading. That, too, changed my life. Few things are more beautiful than a well-time modus ponens.

Conclusion

This is a book to be savored, meditated upon. I’ve bought it several times and whenever I see it at used book sales, I buy it to give it away. It is that important. Don’t stop here, though. Immediately transition to Kingdom Triangle.