Sunday, November 15, 2009

An Embodied Apologetic

Paul’s emphasis upon Christians living a life consistent with the proclamation of the gospel, by having unity in the church, practicing hospitality and care for the poor, and breaking down social barriers is particularly important in a postmodern world. Robert Webber notes that in the modern period, both “conservative” and “liberal” Christian exegetes “approached the Bible through empirical methodology in search of truth.”[1] “Liberals” emphasized reason and biblical criticism, while "conservatives" emphasized the correctness and inerrancy of the Bible. Webber argues, “In this vicious circle the liberals tore the Bible to shreds with biblical criticism while the conservatives continually followed the liberals in trying to put the pieces back together with rational arguments,” which led conservatives to emphasize “evidential apologetics.”[2]

Figures like Wittgenstein are highly critical of the common rationalistic and evidentialist arguments for religious belief. Kerr notes of Wittgenstein’s Roman Catholic upbringing, “It must be said that, like many another, his faith in God seems to have been strained, if not undermined, by the rationalistic apologetics then common in Roman Catholic schools.”[3] A further example of his criticism of rational apologetics can be seen in this passage from Culture and Value:

"A proof of God’s existence ought really to be something by means of which one could convince oneself that God exists. But I think that what believers who have furnished such proofs have wanted to do is give their ‘belief’ an intellectual analysis and foundation, although they themselves would never have come to believe as a result of such proofs. Perhaps one could ‘convince someone that God exists’ by means of a certain kind of upbringing, by shaping his life in such and such a way."[4]

Based on this passage, Wittgenstein believed that while rational arguments might help a person give their faith a foundation, he did not believe these arguments could convince a non-believer of God’s existence.[5] Wittgenstein even cites the New Testament to argue against rational apologetics: “Anyone who reads the Epistles will find it said: not only that it is not reasonable, but that it is folly.”[6] In his lectures on religious belief, Wittgenstein instead concentrates on his “denial of the necessity to have reasons for religious belief.”[7]

Wittgenstein would argue that evidence for a person’s belief is not just seen from their arguments or their participation in particular rituals. Wittgenstein argues, “It will show, not by reasoning or by appeal to ordinary grounds for belief, but rather by regulating for all in his life.”[8] Kallenberg argues, “Wittgenstein’s real position” is “religion does not involve doing deeds instead of speaking, but doing deeds in order to speak about religion.”[9]

More Christians are coming to critique modern evidential apologetics. Kenneson argues not only against rationalist apologetics, but against the modern belief in objective truth. Kenneson says, “Too often appeals to the objective truth of the gospel have served as a means for the church to evade its responsibility to live faithfully before the world.”[10] This was the case because “Christians insisted that the gospel was objectively true regardless of how we lived.”[11]

In a postmodern context, Webber argues “the church and its like in the world will become the new apologetic. People come to faith not because they see the logic of the argument, but because they have experienced a welcoming God in a hospitable and loving community.”[12] Thus, Webber argues for an incarnational view of the church which sees “Jesus present in the assembled people.”[13] Webber thus calls for the contemporary church, especially Protestants who have tended to emphasize the invisible church, to affirm the church as a visible community that is local and universal. This visible and incarnational church, as the body of Christ, continues the presence of Christ in the world, is a sign of God’s presence, and displays a new way of life made possible by Christ’s redemptive action.[14]

Living this embodied life, as Kenneson says, “gives our truth claims intelligibility and credibility” and moves the Christian faith from a modern form of gnosticism to an “embodied witness.”[15] While many Christians want to say the proposition “Jesus Christ is Lord of the universe” is objectively true, Kenneson urges Christians to reject “views from nowhere.” Kenneson argues, “To make such a claim intelligible, let alone true, one must have a concrete historical community who by their words and deeds narrate this story in a way that gives some substance to it.”[16] George Lindbeck illustrates this point in a famous passage from The Nature of Doctrine. Lindbeck argues that while “Christus est Dominus” is true when used in a way “consistent with what the pattern as a whole affirms of God’s being and will,” the proposition is false when used by a crusader “to authorize cleaving the skull of the infidel.”[17]

[1] Webber, 45.

[2] Ibid., 19.

[3] Kerr, 153.

[4] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, trans. Peter Winch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 85.

[5] Kerr, 155.

[6] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966), 58.

[7] Monk, 410. In this line of thought, Wittgenstein disagreed with both those who use rational arguments for religious belief and atheists like his teacher, Bertrand Russell, who “encouraged the idea that a philosophical justification for religious beliefs is necessary for those beliefs to be given any credence.” Wittgenstein argued, “Both the atheist, who scorns religion because he has found no evidence for its tenets, and the believer, who attempts to prove the existence of God, have fallen victim to the ‘other’ – to the idol-worship of scientific thinking. Religious beliefs are not analogous to scientific theories, and should not be accepted or rejected using the same evidential criteria” (410).

[8] Ibid., 54.

[9] Kallenberg, 112. Monk notes of Wittgenstein, “Though he had the greatest admiration for those who could achieve this balancing act” of religious belief, “Wittgenstein did not regard himself as one of them. He could not, for example, bring himself to believe in the literal truth of reported miracles” (464). Monk then notes, “The belief in God which he acknowledged to Morgan did not take the form of subscribing to the truth of any particular doctrine, but rather that of adopting a religious attitude to life. As he once put it to Drury: ‘I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing everything from a religious point of view’” (464).

[10] Philip D. Kenneson, “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth and It’s a Good Thing, Too,” in Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, ed. Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 166.

[11] Ibid., 166.

[12] Webber, Ancient-Future Faith, 72.

[13] Ibid., 73.

[14] Ibid., 74–83.

[15] Kenneson, 166.

[16] Ibid., 167.

[17] George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1984.), 64.

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