the elusive God

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Book Review: The Elusive God by Paul K. Moser

I’m going to write more on the ideas present in this book, as I find them vastly important, but because of time constraints and the fact that I want to put up a normal review for this book, I figured I would post a review first.

The Elusive God by Paul K. Moser was, for me, an exercise in frustration. I was very excited to get a hold of the book, as I felt the topic it explored would be truly interesting. I had very high expectations. It was certainly interesting and Moser makes some good points throughout the book. The Elusive God seems repetitive in some aspects and misses the mark on some vital theological issues, but, ultimately, it is worth a read by anyone interested in this question within theism.

Moser attempts to tackle the rather impressive problem of why God, if He exists, is not obviously evident at all times. He argues that evidence of God’s reality would be “purposively available” to humans, which means “available in a manner and only in a manner suitable to divine purposes in self-revelation” (2). Moser’s key point is that such questions as “Do we humans know God exists?” must be rephrased because if that (perfectly loving, etc.) God exists, then we should consider how God would interact with humans (4). Thus, argues Moser, such questions should be rephrased as “Are we humans known by God in virtue of (among other things) our freely and agreeably being willing (i) to be known by God and thereby (ii) to be transformed toward God’s moral character of perfect love as we are willingly lead by God in volitional fellowship with God, thereby obediently yielding our wills to God’s authoritative will?” (4, Moser’s emphasis). But even this question must be seen in light of a third rendering of the question “Do we humans know God Exists?” which is “Are we humans known by God in virtue of… our freely being willing to receive an authoritative call to… fellowship with God…?” (4). This page has most of what Moser will expand on for the rest of the book.

From these modifications of the question “Does God exist?” (my rendering of the question), one can essentially draw out what Moser’s argument is. God, if God exists, is a morally perfect, loving being, so rather than asking why God doesn’t simply reveal himself to us indiscriminately, we should model ourselves to be agents capable of receiving His authoritative call. Thus, the question “Does God exist?” can only be answered if we humans cease asking this question as a kind of non-interactive, sterile question, but instead ask it in the terms of being a truly life changing or reinventing question.

Moser argues that “…we gain evidentially and thus cognitively as we turn from (that is, “repent” of) our selfish ways in order to get in line with a perfectly loving God…” (27, Moser’s emphasis). Central to Moser’s argument is the idea that evidence of God’s existence as God allows for it would have to be capable of being rejected (39). In other words, God would not force people to believe in Him or coerce them into belief by doing something as blatant as writing “BELIEVE IN ME- GOD” in the sky or something of the sort (he refers to this as “spectator evidence”–evidence that doesn’t ultimately mean anything in the life-changing way, which, Moser argues, is necessary for God’s loving purposes [see p.47, 35, 149, 93, etc.]). God would be “…a God of intended redemption as reconciliation of humans to God” (47).

Further, argues Moser, there is no reason that God should provide us with the kind of “spectator evidence” (see above) that we may desire for evidence, but rather, God, being the absolute authority in the universe, could make demands with authority, as well as making demands about the state of being that those whom He would reveal himself are in.

Moser seems to really avoid any kind of analytic nature to his philosophizing (which is greatly aggravating to me, as I vastly prefer arguments to be laid out analytically and then expanded on, but this is a mere preference), but he does present an argument for the existence of God in an analytic fashion:

“The transformative gift [is defined as] via conscience, a person’s (a) being authoritatively convicted and forgiven by X of all that person’s wrongdoing and (b) thereby being authoritatively called and led by X both into noncoerced volitional fellowship with X in perfect love and into rightful worship toward X as wrothy of worship and, on that basis, transformed by X from (i) that person’s previous tendencies to selfishness and despair to (ii) a new volitional center with a default position of unselfish love and forgiveness toward all people and of hope in the ultimate triumph of good over evil by X” (134-135) Which leads to:

“1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered, and unselfishly receives, the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative leading and sustaining power of a divine X of thoroughgoing forgiveness, fellowship in perfect love, worthiness of worship, and triumphant hope (namely, God).

“2. I have been offered, and have willingly unselfishly received, the transformative gift.

“3. Therefore, God exists” (135).

Central to his discussion of this argument is the assertion that “We… can’t separate God’s existence… from God’s… character” (135).

While I don’t personally find this argument to have any evidential value for anyone but the subject of such a transformative gift, I am still pondering whether it is useful in the field of apologetics at all. I think this is a large part of the problem with most of Moser’s work: it doesn’t seem as though it will do anything to convince anyone who is not already sure that God exists.

Not only that, but the book is exceedingly repetitive. It weighs in at about 280 pages, but it honestly could probably have been reduced to about 1/10th that, 28 pages, and still have been as effective in getting the point across. Even as I was writing this review, going over the parts I underlined or wrote notes on, it is very clear that certain points are simply repeated many, many times throughout the book.

One may note that I didn’t even write about most of the last part of the book. This is because the latter part of the book involves Moser outlining what he thinks philosophy should be now that one acknowledges the existence of God. I’m not sure I stand convinced. Certainly Christian philosophy should be oriented around theistic beliefs and what it means if God exists and the promise of Christ is true, but that doesn’t mean that other pursuits are somehow excluded from usefulness. I think that if God does indeed exist (as I believe He does, very strongly), then, necessarily, any knowledge at all would relate to God in some way. Thus, any philosophical pursuit would be essentially related to God.

A final note I’d like to make before my conclusion is that Moser’s view of Christ seems wrong. He appears to downplay the divinity of Christ (though he does refer to him as Lord in a couple places), but he also apparently argues for some kind of belief that those outside of Christianity are saved. On page 198 he claims that people of other faiths may be worshiping the same God as we are, which is absolutely contrary to Scripture (Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father, except through me.” John 14:6). He also criticizes N.T. Wright for his (in my opinion, phenomenal) work on the historicity of Christ. Moser suggests that Wright doesn’t give us any reason to think that Jesus is good news now. I honestly don’t see this at all from Wright’s work. I think that Moser is reading into it in a rather large way. Wright’s task in such works as “Jesus and the Victory of God” seems to be more focused on what happened historically, from a historian/apologist’s viewpoint, than on an evangelical witness. Wright does, however, provide ample reasons for thinking that Jesus is good news now in his work “The Resurrection of the Son of God” and “The Challenge of Jesus.”

Overall, I think that Moser makes some interesting points, but many of them smack in some ways of “choice theology” which I firmly oppose (i.e. somehow making ourselves acceptable to God’s call). I do, however, believe that Moser has some things that can be used effectively by the apologist here. I would rework some of what he says for my own use, but that’s a task that I will tackle some other day. I think that The Elusive God is an okay read, but its redundancy is frustrating and his argument doesn’t seem at first glance as though it is going to be useful for the average apologist without some extensive effort. One who wants to get the main points Moser makes in this book could just as easily pick up the work “God is Great, God is Good” edited by Craig and Meister, as Moser presents a condensed version of the argument therein.

The Elusive God is, however, an essential read, in my opinion, for the Christian philosopher. It addresses a question not often discussed in philosophical discourse, and while I’m still unsure of how useful the book will be, it has forced me to think about the major points for several weeks now. I think Moser really has something with his concept of “purposively available evidence” but I’m trying to figure out whether it is question begging.

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