Apologetics for an Agnostic Christianity: overcoming defensive and offensive attitudes

"Day 3" (Genesis) by Anthony R. Falbo.
Source: Falboart.com
Luis Marcos Tapia, Chile

Contrary to what many people think, the Christian faith is not the affirmation of specific propositions, whether these are doctrines or biblical propositions. It is a vital act of trust. It does not postulate belief in something, but rather it invites trust in someone, that is, trust in God the Father of Jesus. Christianity calls for a vital and integral act of trust in the God of Jesus. In this respect it is strange how, even though there is no sensory perception of God, there are many people who accept the call and follow the way as an act of trust. Some people even seem to trust more in God than in the certainties that can be achieved through other means, such as scientific certainties. There is no knowledge, as such, in faith, and yet people are willing to risk their lives, staking their objectives and goals of this.

Today we know that trust, or belief, is a universal human fact. Psychology suggests that in order to develop as fully rounded human beings it is necessary to acquire a prime trust during the first years of life1. In addition to this fundamental trust, all humans show faith when they make specific choices in life - certain choices are made without being certain that they really will lead to happiness - we can only look at or listen to the experiences of those who have made these choices and thus endorse them as valid and successful. These two ways of demonstrating faith, an anthropologic faith, are positive and can be rationalized. By contrast, specific faith in God has received harsh criticism in modernity. Atheists’ criticisms, such as faith in God is alienating (Marx), neurotic (Freud) or even a mere projection of human needs (Feuerbach), are well-known.

Christianity has tried through various approaches to overcome these criticisms. One of these alternatives provides a radical separation between faith and reason, making faith immune to the atheistic criticism. However, this fideism is now difficult to maintain, because although these days it challenges the supremacy of reason, irrationality which shows all kinds of fideism appear to justify the atheist critique rather than defend against it. Thus, it is imperative that Christianity today overcomes fideism and embraces the rationalization of trust in God.

The rationalization of Christian beliefs in the past has been provided by an apologetic, as the same word says, is a defensive attitude towards other religions and against attack of atheism. This form of apologetics begins "from above" - indicating that the Christian faith is justifiable because it is based on the testimony of an authorized testament or witness. Transcendent and divine qualities of the messenger are tested, whether that is Jesus or the Bible as revelation, and this is used to prove the truthfulness of the message. The Evangelical / Protestant world states that there is external rational evidence, both of the life of Jesus and of the revelation of Scripture, which requires a confirmatory verdict in favor of the truth of the witness2. The remarkable thing about this evidence is that it claims to be empirical and, therefore, falls more into a scientism than a call of faith, a call to surrender to the historiographical positivism of scientific pretensions.

This defensive and positivist attitude of traditional apologetics is no longer sustainable or viable today. Not only because the alleged empirical evidence is not so, but because the whole model based on authorized witness, heteronomous and scientist, has lost credibility.

An alternative to justify the rationality of the Christian faith today is to start "from below", saying that faith finds its place on the question of meaning. In humans, it is intrinsically rooted, although not always explicit. The question of the ultimate meaning of life, history, the future and the whole of reality, is exactly where the Christian faith can prove its rational worth, from the meaning and responses that humans find in it. This model of apologetics, which can be termed "anthropological", is not without its critics, but it may be a good alternative at a time when the heteronomy of Christianity is cast into doubt3.

Today we know that religion is a human product and Christianity, one of the major religions today, is just one framework within a wide range of religions and spiritualities. A framework that can be rationally defended, but is not absolute; furthermore absolutizing Christianity in dogmatic trenches undermines its credibility and becomes offensive in the pluralist age in which we live. In this aspect, the rational justification of Christianity can only be carried out from the weakness of its proposal and from the transience of its responses to the problem of meaning The idea that humans do of God is always anthropomorphic and therefore offers an inevitably limited idea of what God really is. The proposal of Jesus is presented as the way, but never as a goal. It is along the way that the questions and answers become clearer. It is along the way where Christianity becomes validated as a reasonable option.

All of this finally leaves us at paradox of all attempt of Christian apologetics. For if the Christian faith may be justified rationally, it can no longer be faith but rather knowledge. Moreover, if the Christian faith cannot be justified ultimately, it cannot longer be considered rational and therefore there is no place for apologetics. It is necessary to consider, therefore, that apologetics will no longer be "defending the faith", but presentation of plausibility and reasonableness of the Christian way. We must no longer fall into an extreme rationalism that thinks it's feasible to prove the existence of God in the manner of scientific and mathematical proofs. What it can prove is the reasonableness of faith in God in the questions of meaning, not the existence of God itself. Faith is a reasonable trust in God, not a rational confidence that it comes syllogistically and leading to an absolute certainty. From this aspect, it is defensible only an agnostic Christianity, ie Christianity that postulate a reasoned and reasonable faith, but not absolute or definitive. A Christianity that maintains its identity as a journey of faith.

This article was translated by Lupa Protestante's staff and reviewed by Cecia Millán.

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  1. Theologian Hans Küng recognized this psychological aspect of fundamental trust in his book ¿Existe Dios?, Editorial Trotta, 1979, pp. 616 onwards.
  2. We can mention some American exponents of this apologetic methodology such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. It may be noted that such expressions of apologetic tradition are not in keeping with the origins of apologetics - which Werner Jaeger referred to as the meeting between the Greek paideia and early Christianity, or with the classical school of natural theology (Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, Paley, among others), rather it is more related to (mainly North American) conservative reactions against the search for the historical Jesus that begins at the end of the nineteenth century.
  3. This kind of apologetic predominates in the Catholic tradition, where on occasions even the concept of apologetics has been abandoned. It is the fundamental theology within Catholicism, as a theological sub-discipline, which presents the fundamentals for and characteristics of the Christian faith from a purely rational point of view, analyzing its conditions and developing the essential differences to other worldviews and other religions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luis Marcos Tapia is Teacher of theology and philosophy. He is also Bachelor in Theology, graduated from the Seminario Teológico Bautista in Santiago de Chile. He is Bachelor in Education and Bachelor in Philosophy from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile. He also is Master in Philosophy from the Universidad de Chile. He currently lives in Ecuador, where he works as pastor in the Christian Anabaptist Mennonite Church of Quito.
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