Monday, January 23, 2017

Imaginative Apologetics, Part III - The Need for Imagination in Apologetics

Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics

            A couple years ago, I had opportunity to write a review article for Trinity Journal,[1] a lengthy interaction with Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition, edited by Andrew Davison.[2] I never took the opportunity to share some of those thoughts here – I now aim to rectify that! 
In my last couple of blog posts, I surveyed the terrain of historical and contemporary Christian apologetics. I want you now to consider the place of imagination in Christian thought and apologetics. In subsequent posts, I will interact with the various articles in Imaginative Apologetics.
Situating Imagination: Imaginative Apologetics & Classical Apologetics
In the view of Andrew Davison, editor of and contributor to Imaginative Apologetics, apologetics is frequently marked by a paucity of imagination. Many apologetic works focus so strongly on rational arguments and proofs that they become “cold or arid.” Thus, the goal of Imaginative Apologetics is to make apologetics “a matter of wonder and desire,” a presentation of a Christian truth “that is supremely attractive and engaging.”[3]
Davison is certainly not alone in his concern that apologetics may be too intellectual, too arid, and too dry to resonate with contemporary culture. Davison’s concern with apologetic works that focus “on rational arguments and proofs” reflects a prominent stream of Christian thought that extends back at least to the Danish Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard, and to some degree represents disagreement regarding apologetic methodology and practice. In their classic work, Faith Has Its Reasons, Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman identify five apologetic approaches (or schools of apologetic thought): classical, evidentialist, reformed, fideist, and integrative.[4] Classical apologetics focuses upon reasons, logical arguments that point toward the truth of the faith.[5] Evidential apologetics focuses upon evidence, historical and/or scientific data that demonstrates the truth of Christianity.[6] Reformed apologetics emphasizes revelation, God’s self-revelation in Scripture that forms the foundation of our faith and thought—the reformed apologist insists that we cannot reason or think outside of presupposing the existence of God and the truthfulness of Scripture.[7] Fideist apologetics highlights the importance of faith, of casting oneself at the foot of the cross even in the absence of evidence.[8] Boa and Bowman’s preferred “integrative” approach utilizes insights from all four schools of thought.[9]
Classical and evidential apologetics are both susceptible to accusations of arid rationality and neglecting the human, existential, or imaginative element of interpersonal dialogue. It seems, indeed, that Davison and the other contributors to Imaginative Apologetics have these two apologetic approaches in mind. John Milbank’s stirring Foreword reads in part:
Today also we have . . . an assumption that the only “reason” which discloses truth is a cold, detached reason that is isolated from both feeling and imagination, as likewise from both narrative and ethical evaluation. Christian apologetics now needs rather to embrace the opposite assumption that our most visionary and ideal insights can most disclose the real, provided that this is accompanied by a widening in democratic scope of our sympathies for the ordinary, and the capacities and vast implications of the quotidian.[10]
In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard noted that contemporary apologists might successfully prove the authenticity and historicity of the Bible along with other significant theological truths. Rational demonstration of the truthfulness of the faith, however, would be empty. Kierkegaard asks: “Has anyone who previously did not have faith been brought a single step nearer to its acquisition? No, not a single step.”[11] Elsewhere, Kierkegaard complains that attempts to make Christian faith plausible to society at large can only succeed (or “triumph”) insofar as they “have lost everything and entirely quashed Christianity.”[12] Kierkegaard believed that Christian faith could only be embraced (fideistically) by a leap into the dark, trusting in the supra-rational truths of the Christian faith. A faith that was reasonable was, for Kierkegaard, not a faith worth holding at all.
One need not embrace Kierkegaard’s suspicion of reasonable faith in order to be wary of classical or evidential apologetics. Twentieth-century thinkers from Barth to Van Til to Plantinga have questioned the necessity and/or helpfulness of rational or evidential supports for Christian belief. And, despite the renaissance of presuppositional (or Reformed) apologetics in the latter half of the twentieth century,[13] it remains the case that the history of Christian apologetics in the modern (and postmodern) period is predominantly classical (rational) and/or evidential in tone and form. William Paley’s evidentialism and Joseph Butler’s classical approach[14] are reflected in twentieth-century descendants like William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, John Warwick Montgomery, and Richard Swinburne.[15]
Despite the obvious appeal and popularity (and, I would add, effectiveness) of classical and evidential apologetics, many worry that those approaches overly emphasize rationality and evidences. As such, those schools of thought may unduly capitulate to a modernism that glorifies exalted and autonomous human reason. Worse yet, classical and evidentialist apologetics may have surrendered to a Cliffordian evidentialist challenge: if you cannot prove a belief by reasons and evidence, then you are immoral in holding the belief at all.[16] Intellectualist apologetics, it is argued, is insufficient to resonate with the whole person; we need to recapture the sense of imagination in apologetic appeals.
Davison and his contributors find some similarly-concerned company in the contemporary scene of Christian philosophy and apologetics. And it is to that company that we will turn in my next blog post.  Stay tuned!

[1] Tawa J. Anderson, “Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics,” in Trinity Journal 34 (2013): 229-51.
[2] Andrew Davison, ed. Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012. 169 pp. $25.00.
[3] Andrew Davison, Imaginative Apologetics, xxvi.
[4] Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith, Second Edition (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005). Other scholars identify apologetic approaches somewhat differently. See, e.g., Five Views on Apologetics, edited by Steven B. Cowan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000). Cowan omits Fideism as an apologetic approach, separates out Presuppositionalism from Reformed Epistemology, and adds a Cumulative Case approach. In a more recent work, James Beilby identifies three apologetic strategies, insisting that more specific approaches or schools fit within one or the other of these strategies—evidentialist, presuppositionalist, and experientialist. James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 95-102.
[5] Boa and Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons, 49-136.
[6] Boa and Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons, 139-218.
[7] Boa and Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons, 221-334.
[8] Boa and Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons, 337-422.
[9] Boa and Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons, 425-522.
[10] John Milbank, “Foreword,” xxii.
[11] Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1985), 29-30; cited in Norman L. Geisler, “Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42 (1999): 9.
[12] Soren Kierkegaard, On Authority and Revelation, translated by Walter Lowrie (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1955), 59; cited in Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 72.
[13] Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, Gordon Clark, and John Frame are pivotal figures for Presuppositional Apologetics. See Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976); Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998); idem., Presuppositional Apologetics Stated and Defended, edited by Joel McDurmon (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2010); Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things (Trinity Foundation, 1991); John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1994).
[14] William Paley, Evidences of Christianity (originally printed in 1851); Joseph Butler, Analogy of Religion.
[15] See William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008); Gary R. Habermas, “Evidential Apologetics,” in Five Views on Apologetics; Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004); John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity: A Vigorous, Convincing Presentation of the Evidence for a Historical Jesus (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1965); Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Other recent apologists in the classical or evidentialist strain include C. S. Lewis, B. B. Warfield, Norman Geisler, Peter Kreeft, Lee Strobel, Michael Licona, and Clark Pinnock.
[16] W. K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief,” in Readings in Philosophy of Religion: Ancient to Contemporary, edited by Linda Zagzebski and Timothy D. Miller (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 544-48.