kierkegaard

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Book Review: “Attacks on Christendom in a World Come of Age: Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, and the Question of ‘Religionless Christianity'” by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick

Søren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were both Lutherans who lived in a time of tremendous pressure on the church from outside forces to conform to their culture. Each developed a theology that called into question the nature of the church and of Christianity itself. Matthew D. Kirkpatrick, in Attacks on Christendom in a World Come of Age, explores the theological strands and trends of these two theologians. He shows how influential Kierkegaard was on Bonhoeffer’s thought, but he also draws out applications from both thinkers to today.

Kirkpatrick begins by drawing out Kierkegaard’s attack on Christendom. Then, he outlines Bonhoeffer’s pushing back against the German concept of volk. Idealism is a major factor for both Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard. Three chapters that make up the bulk of the book are dedicated to the attacks from each theologian on idealism. Before a conclusion, Kirkpatrick turns to the theologians’ attacks on Christendom and how they drew out what was plaguing Christianity in their own times.

Kierkegaard’s own theology developed against a kind of lackadaisical approach to Christianity in which people did not truly practice their faith. It had been incorporated into the culture in ways that made it a servant of the state rather than something to invigorate the populace and awaken faith. For Bonoheffer, it was a growing awareness of how the concept of the Volk had become an idol that led him to question the people’s use of Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms to demand loyalty to the Nazi regime (49ff). Bonhoeffer strongly pushed back against this use of the two kingdoms and developed his own theology, in part, against this. This does not, however, mean that Bonhoeffer was immune to his cultural upbringing or the Volkish nationalism. Early on, he flirted with some of the questions of Christian ethics in regard to the Volk when he was in Barcelona (63ff). However, he ultimately rejected this, along with nationalism (64ff).

The attack on idealism occupies a major portion of the book. Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer feature prominently throughout this section. Each saw idealism as an elimination of the individual and reality, a kind of fleeing from reality (90-91). Bonhoeffer’s attack on idealism is developed directly along Kierkegaardian lines, and Kirkpatrick argues that Bonhoeffer demonstrates his continuity and reliance upon Kierkegaard’s thought throughout this section (95ff).

Bonhoeffer’s development of discipleship uses Kierkegaard, Luther, and theologians of the Middle Ages (166). It is also developed alongside a rejection of an idealist view of discipleship. Idealism leads to a kind of deification of reason that is detrimental to faith.

Kierkegaard’s attack on Christianity has been criticized by some as aristocractic pride or a demonstration of a deeply unsettled, angry mind. Kirkpatrick argues that, by contrast, the attack on Christendom from Kierkegaard is a logical development of his previous theological stages (175ff). Drawing from numerous works of Kierkegaard, Kirkpatrick shows that Kierkegaard’s attack was a call to genuine Christianity and an attack on a kind of cultural, comfortable “faith” that failed to live up to the need to set aside all for Christ. Bonhoeffer’s own attack on Christendom was influenced heavily by Barth, but he goes well beyond Barth as he shows how the Christian develops from religion and in faith (186ff). Bonhoeffer’s attack is against a kind of detached Christianity that sees God as a working hypothesis for life (192); instead, Christian faith must allow God into life in such a way that God is not a principle or belief but rather God become human in the form of Christ as a challenge to all ages (193, 194). This sets Bonhoeffer apart from Bultmann and others who tried to demythologize Christianity. That is not Bonhoeffer’s project; Bonhoeffer’s project is to reinvigorate Christianity and throw off the chains that various cultural worldviews placed upon it, but specifically the notion of deus ex machina that is so pervasive (see, for example, 206).

Attacks on Christendom in a World Come of Age draws readers into a dialogue with two of the most important modern theologians. It calls readers to realize that Christianity is in a dialogue with events in the world, all while able to truly bring truth and Gospel to the world. I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 7/15/16- Ark Encounter, Pokemon Go, the Trinity, and more!

postHello all! My apologies for missing out on the Really Recommended Posts for a few weeks. In between moving, doctor visits for the second child (!), and having family and friends in and out of the new place, it’s been absolutely chaotic. Anyhow, here are the latest reads I’ve found for you from around the web. As always, let me know what you think, and let the authors know as well!

Biologos Responds to the Ark Encounter– Answers in Genesis has made a huge splash in the news recently with their “Ark Encounter”- a $100 million theme park dedicated to young earth creationism. Here, from a different part of the spectrum of Christian belief about faith and science, Deborah Haarsma, the president of Biologos, offers a response to the Ark Encounter.

Pokemon Go and our longing for the world to be transformed– An intriguing post about how augmented reality games might point to our desire for more in the world than the mundane. My home church is a hotspot for Pokemon Go, in other news!

Send Dr. Giles to the Evangelical Theological Society Conference– Kevin Giles is one of the world’s foremost experts on Trinitarian theology and has written multiple books on the relation between God the Father and God the Son. I had the privilege of meeting him a few years ago and was blown away by both his courtesy and knowledge. Christians for Biblical Equality is raising money to send him to the ETS conference this year. This is greatly important, given the recent debates (click link to see summary) over the “Eternal Functional Subordination” of God the Son. Here’s another link from a different perspective on the topic.

As a Psychiatrist, I Diagnose Mental Illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.– An interesting read whatever your perspective, this article by a psychiatrist speaks on how sometimes phenomenon occur which cannot be explained but by agents.

Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on Soren Kierkegaard– Kierkegaard is one of the most misunderstood thinkers in Christianity. Here’s a crash course on his philosophical and theological thinking. Be sure to read the rest of the series to get introductions to a number of important thinkers.

Really Recommended Posts 5/29/15- Jesus or Muhammad, Kierkegaard, and more!

postHello folks, it’s another week and that means another round of Really Recommended Posts! Here we have a pretty solid lineup which includes a discussion of whether Muhammad or Jesus was prophesied in the Bible, an accidental flight to North Korea as a sermon illustration, Kierkegaard, the Resurrection, and setting an example for your kids.

A Prophet like Moses: Jesus or Muhammad?– It has often been alleged by Muslim apologists that Deuteronomy 18:18 references a prophecy of Muhammad. How strong is this claim? What about Jesus?

Apologetic Sermon Illustration: Why doctrinal details matter and the case of Kenyan accidental flight to North Korea– Based on a real news story in which a Kenyan made a nightmarish mistake: he flew to Pyongyang, North Korea instead of Pyeongchang, South Korea. In his own words: “…who could tell the difference?” This post is worth reading for the news story alone, but the use of it as an apologetics illustration as well was a great idea. The author used it to discuss religious or doctrinal pluralism.

The Great Dane: Remembering Kierkegaard– A brief snippet on Kierkegaard’s impact and life.

If Jesus did not really rise from the dead (Comic)- Here’s a great illustration of why it is important to realize what relevance the sincere belief of the disciples had regarding evidence for the resurrection.

Why Setting a Good Example for your Kids is Overrated– We need to avoid making our instruction of our children law-oriented and on behavior rather than on the truth of Christianity and the grace of God. Here’s a discussion of how we might do that.

Doubts about Evidentialism? C. Stephen Evans and a fideistic problem for evidentialists

GoulburnStSaviour'sCathedralI’ve been reading through a few books related to apologetic methodology and epistemology of late. Most recently, I have finished Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account by C. Stephen Evans. One thing that struck me in the book was a brief discussion of a possible difficulty with evidentialism as an apologetic methodology. Evidentialism is, essentially, the notion that apologetics should be based upon evidences to convince unbelievers of the truth of Christianity.* Evans himself did not direct a specific attack against the method, but some of his work could be perceived as a critique of the method. Specifically, he discussed Kierkegaard’s rejection of evidentialism:

[Kierkegaard] wants to argue that if you want something like an eternal happiness more than anything else, then it may be reasonable to commit yourself wholeheartedly to something that promises to help you obtain it, even if the chances of obtaining what you seek are not high because the objective probability that eternal happiness is truly to be gained in this way is not high either. (Evans, 108, cited below)

The thrust of this point is that one may, perhaps, rationally commit to a belief when the risk/reward is at a certain level. It’s a little similar to Pascal’s Wager, but Evans has more in mind than this: “[I]f your desire for this good is high enough… then even a very low probability would be sufficient to motivate belief” (ibid). The argument is therefore more subtle than a simple risk/reward scenario.** Instead, Evans’ point (or at least his exegetical point regarding Kierkegaard) is that one’s own desires play into commitment to beliefs, and that this is not itself an irrational thing.

Yet this point may seem a bit devastating to evidentialists. After all, evidentialists would generally hold that one should not believe without sufficient evidence, and that theistic arguments are strong enough to convince others to believe. If, however, one may grant that it may be reasonable to hold to beliefs even if there is a very low probability on the basis of one’s desire for a certain end, then it seems that evidentialism may itself be a faulty grasping for rationalistic certainty.

Within Kierkegaard’s own context, he was certainly reacting against rationalism. But evidentialism is not reducible to stark rationalism. Rather, it is a method not only of apologetics but also of epistemic investigation, depending upon one’s usage. Perhaps the evidentialist may acknowledge that one may rationally commit to a position–say, theistic belief–based upon one’s desire for that great good, but that does not preclude evidences for that belief. More importantly, the evidentialist may introduce the concept of a defeater–a belief which may serve to disprove or make another belief more improbable. Once one has been presented with defeaters, one may not rationally cling to one’s belief simply because one desires the truth of it; instead, one must either defeat the defeaters themselves or have sufficient evidence to hold to the belief in spite of possible evidence against it.

It therefore seems to me that arguments like Kierkegaard’s point does not do much to discredit evidentialism. Rather, it merely provides a possibility for people to hold beliefs in the absence of evidence either way. Once one has evidence against one’s belief, however, one should–at risk of epistemic suicide–either ground one’s belief or show that the evidence against that belief is not firmly grounded. Evans seems to acknowledge this as well, for he noted the value of evidence despite the possibility for “properly basic” belief.

Of course the question of whether one “should” think one way or another is itself highly contentious. I’ll leave that debate for another post or, even better, the comments.

*Yes, I do realize I’ve vastly oversimplified here. That’s the nature of writing shortish blog posts! For what I consider the best discussion of different apologetic methodologies, check out Faith Has Its Reasons by Boa and Bowman.

**I also acknowledge that Pascal’s Wager is more complex than a simple risk/reward scenario.

Source

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

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Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Threshold Belief and Evidentialism- Can evidentialism work?

fbr-cseThe evidentialist school of apologetics is essentially based upon the notion that the evidence for Christianity is such as to make it rationally justified to believe (and perhaps even compel one to believe). Note that evidentialists (generally) do not claim that this means the Holy Spirit plays no part in conversion or that people are fully capable to choose God.* C. Stephen Evans, in his book Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account, examined evidentialism in light of Kierkegaard’s critique of the method.

One of the primary arguments Kierkegaard had against evidentialism** is that a human being is incapable of considering the whole range of facts regarding a piece of evidence and so may never be justified in holding evidential belief. Evans characterized this argument (following the terminology of Robert Adams) the “postponement argument”:

The idea… is that historical inquiry is never completed, and thus historical beliefs based on such inquiry must always be tentative. It is always possible, at least theoretically, that new evidence will emerge that will overturn any historical conviction. Thus, if religious beliefs were based on such evidence, they would have to be of this tentative character. (Evans, 108, cited below)

Now–this is key–Evans also noted that “Kierkegaard thinks, however, that religious beliefs should have a kind of finality that differs from this kind of scholarly judgment.” With these quotes in mind, we may examine what seems to be a Kierkegaardian objection to evidentialism.

The objection seems to be that faith requires a kind of certainty which may never be provided by historical inquiry; thus, historical inquiry (evidences) may not provide a justifiable grounding for faith. I think the main problem with this is that Kierkegaard seemingly insisted on an impossible level of certainty for evidence. That is, a dismissal of evidentialism based upon this reasoning seems to be only warranted because Kierkegaard has adjusted the level of evidence needed. It is true that historical inquiry may only ever provide probability, but that does not imply we are incapable of believing anything historical.

Of course, one may argue that I have missed the point Kierkegaard is trying to make. It’s not that all historical inquiry must be subjected to the standard of certainty; rather, only on matters of ultimate import must we have certainty. If this were his claim, I think one may rightly respond by questioning why that would be the case. However, it seems, according to Evans, that Kierkegaard was less concerned with a rejection of evidentialism than he was concerned with maintaining a place for the emotions and subjectivity within faith. On that count, I don’t know of any evidentialist who would argue that one cannot have subjective or emotional reasons for faith either.

Now, to return at last to the quote block above. If all that faith were based upon within an evidentialist system were historical evidences, then it seems the quote is correct regarding the tentative nature of faith. But the evidentialist claim is not that faith may only be based upon evidence. Instead, it is that the evidence is such as to justify or ground faith (some would argue it is enough to compel faith). So perhaps Kierkegaard and evidentialism are not irreconcilable after all.

Perhaps the strongest objection which may be derived from the above comments from Evans and Kierkegaard center around the notion of threshold belief. Evans very briefly hinted at this possible problem for evidentialism: basically, the notion is that for the evidentialist method to work, there must be some “threshold” for commitment to a belief. For Kierkegaard, that threshold is certainty, which is why historical evidence cannot satisfy his criterion. However, for the evidentialists themselves, the question remains as to what that threshold is. If this threshold cannot be pinned down, it may be argued, evidentialism as a system cannot work. I think that this challenge is less an arguments against evidentialism than it is an argument for epistemic uncertainty. However, diving into such an argument is beyond the realm of what I want to hit here. For now, I think that I may answer this argument by simply saying that it does not follow that 1) if we can’t pin down an exact threshold beyond which we must be convinced to commit to a belief then 2) we cannot commit to a belief. The argument is simply off target.

Notes

*I say this so as to avoid lengthy debate, one way or the other, regarding how one comes to be saved. My intent in this post is to investigate the apologetic method, not soteriological details.

**I should note that Kierkegaard should be understood within his historical context, in which he was reacting against overly rationalistic faith. Thus, his (sometimes extreme) reaction against rationalism–while overreaching–is perhaps more understandable. There is also, of course, some anachronism in this statement because “evidentialism” is being used in its specific fashion to reference the method of apologetics, while Kierkegaard was reacting against rationalism. I acknowledge this anachronism but simply point out it is for the sake of simplifying terminology in the post.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Passional Reason and the Heart

Our heart is involved with our beliefs, from our desire for chocolate ice cream to the truth claims of our religion. I’ve written before about the role our will can play in belief. Now I want to turn to a thesis which is highly contentious, namely, that the evidence for Christianity is conclusive, but that this evidence can only be fully ascertained within the framework of a believing heart.

William Wainwright writes about a similar thesis:

“…the thesis that mature religious belief can, and perhaps should, be based on evidence but that the evidence can be accurately assessed only by men and women who possess the proper moral and spiritual qualifications… reason is capable of knowing God on the basis of evidence–but only when one’s cognitive faculties are rightly disposed… [Christianity] places a high value on proofs, arguments, and inferences yet also believes that a properly disposed heart is needed to see their force” (Wainwright, 3).

If my thesis is accurate, however, then this means that only the believer can fully understand the truths of Scripture, the soundness of the incarnation, and the blessedness of the Trinity. Regarding the truths of Scripture, Wainwright comments that:

“The strongest evidence for scripture’s divine authority is its spiritual beauty–a feature that natural reason cannot detect. Only those with converted hearts can perceive, taste, and relish the stamp of divine splendor on scripture and thus be certain of its teachings” (17).

Why should I claim such things? Why think that  only a believer can detect the truths of Christianity, when some of these very truths are made to be detected by “natural reason” (i.e. arguments for the existence of God)?

The answer is fairly simple: such evidence is inherently life-changing. This should not be such a surprise, but it seems as though it is a point too often ignored in philosophy of religion. A little reflection should reveal this to be the truth, however. If one grasps fully the truth of, say, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, then one comes to the conclusion that there is a transcendent cause to the universe. Is it even possible for such a conclusion not to be life-changing? Should not the reaction be an utter commitment to discovering what this cause is? But then, in light of other sound arguments (ontological, moral, etc.) the conclusion is even more startling: theism is true. It is impossible for such a conclusion to be accepted with the sterility of mere philosophical assent. Such a conclusion forces a new worldview, a new moral outlook, and a new heart.

Furthermore, it seems to me obvious that if the God of Classical Theism exists, then such a God would, in sovereignty, demand such life-changes upon the discovery of His existence. As Paul Moser puts it, “…God would offer the kind of evidence and knowledge that represents and advances God’s kind of unselfish love among humans” (Moser, 14).

So what does this mean for the believer, for the unbeliever? For the believer, it means he or she should not abstain from offering evidence. Such evidence, after all, has historically been considered rational basis for Christian belief. But the believer should not expect the nonbeliever to come to faith in Christ based on an argument. Such arguments are barrier-breaking, but not life-saving.

For the nonbeliever, it means that he or she cannot come into faith on his or her own… it is a matter of coming to God with “Fear and Trembling,” knowing that “faith is the highest passion in man” (Kierkegaard, 90). This faith requires the nonbeliever to abandon the self-restraints which he or she has placed on the heart. It requires standing on the precipice of faith and realizing that one cannot come to God on one’s own, but that God brings all to Himself. It requires an abandonment of the radical skepticism, the unrepentant lifestyle, the willful setting aside of the evidence, and a realization that God is in control. It is the existential moment of fear and trembling, of triumph and despair, about which Kierkegaard writes so eloquently. And in this existential moment, it is God Himself who calls, who folds the nonbeliever into unending love.

When it comes to the matter of God’s existence, the problem is not with the evidence, it is with the heart.

Sources:

Moser, Paul. The Evidence for God. Cambridge University Press. 2010.

Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. A & D Publishing. 2008.

Wainwright, William. Reason and the Heart: A Prolegomenon to a Critique of Passional Reason. Cornell University Press. 1995.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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