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From the Nov/Dec, 2013 issue of Touchstone

 

The Christian Reason by J. Daryl Charles

The Christian Reason

Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition
edited by Andrew Davison
Baker Academic, 2011
(169 pages, $25.00, paperback)

reviewed by J. Daryl Charles

Gathered together in this remarkably accessible volume are ten essays that reconsider the symbiotic relationship between faith and reason and underscore the role of human imagination in the apologetic task, while situating apologetics in the present cultural moment. Edited by Andrew Davison, tutor in doctrine at Wescott House, University of Cambridge, Imaginative Apologetics is an encouraging sign of renewed thinking about the Church's apologetic task. And surely the time is propitious for such renewal, given both the expansive growth of Christianity outside of Western culture and the unprecedented hostility within Western culture toward Christian orthodoxy.

The contributors to this volume recognize that a proper exposition of the faith will always include an apologetic dimension. Confessional faith, after all, is a faith that convinces. The Christian apologetic is a reasoned, credible, and compelling narrative that is suffused with imaginative beauty. This narrative, moreover, will be constantly undergoing renewal and reconsideration, since it is ever adapting to the philosophical, political, and social contours of the culture in which it is
placed.

While apologetics is intimately bound up with faith's appeal to reason, the editor wisely attends to the fact that a truly Christian vision of reason will affirm both the intellect and the will. Most New Atheists depict Christianity as "an absurdist leap in the dark," but this is patently false; "Christianity, after all, is the religion of the Word, the Logos" (xxvi).

But more than merely "rational," Christian apologetics should be a matter of wonder and desire, for "only in God does our wonder reach its zenith, and only in God do our deepest desires find their fulfillment" (xxvi).

The volume understands itself to be simultaneously theological, philosophical, and catholic in its trajectory. That is, "the best Christian apologetics is the product of a thorough immersion in the Christian tradition" (xxvi). At the same time, this occurs in a manner that is "decidedly philosophical," thereby illuminating "what it means to be human at its fullest breadth" (xxvii). And given the fact that Christian theology must be an ecumenical endeavor, the apologetic enterprise will lack authority if it is not robustly "catholic-minded" (xxvii–xxviii).

Faith & Reason

The introductory essays by John Hughes ("Proofs and Arguments") and the editor ("Christian Reason and Christian Community") speak to the symbiosis of faith and reason—a coherence that establishes the very premise of the apologetic enterprise. One does not have to look very far into the past to recall a time when theists and non-atheists, notwithstanding their great differences, shared a common set of basic assumptions about reality. But as Benedict XVI's controversial 2006 address at the University of Regensburg graphically demonstrated, that is no longer the case. What is "reasonable" to the Muslim or to the postmodernist is vastly different from what the Christian assumes about reality. The project of attempting to "prove" God's existence and the truth of Christianity, based on pure "reason," will not work in our day (if it ever did); God's existence is not self-evident. Worldviews, it needs emphasizing, are incapable of "proof," insofar as "all ultimate questions, [and] our positions or existential stances upon them" are "supra-rational," and thus, incapable of proof (7).

This does not render us all postmodernists, Hughes assures us; nor are we left with only the fideistic "leap of faith" as an alternative (8). Rather, it behooves the twenty-first-century apologist to utilize not proofs but "critiques, genealogies and other explorations," with the goal of constructing "persuasive and attractive narratives that help us to make sense of our intellectual and cultural situation" (9–10).

Because Christian faith, in Pauline terms, calls for the renewing of our minds, Andrew Davison is convinced that the more our culture moves away from its Christian roots, the more important this renewal becomes for apologetics. The mission of the Church, then, in its intellectual mode, will entail "a revolution in reason," since there exists a distinctly Christian account of rationality (13).

With Hughes, Davison acknowledges that no view of the world can claim to be neutral, and the Christian apologist will continually need to expose what is a widespread misconception. This is especially the case regarding the New Atheist polemic, wherein "the myth of neutral reason lives on" and which inevitably expresses itself in a sharp separation between reason and revelation (17).

In truth, reason is "theological" in its constitution, to the extent that revelation always necessitates a rational means of communication (18). Davison is clearly aware of attempts by Christian apologists to drive a wedge between reason and faith; by way of illustration, he critiques the method of one popular contemporary apologist whose broadly "foundationalist" mode raises important questions. A proper apologetic mode, Davison believes, will possess both a "yielding" and "asserting" quality (25). And it will have a communal dimension, in the awareness that apologetics is not merely an individualistic enterprise (26–28).

Reason & Imagination

Chapters 3–5 are devoted to the element of human imagination in the apologetic task. Alison Milbank ("Apologetics and the Imagination") and Donna J. Lazenby ("Apologetics, Literature and Worldview") invite the reader to consider the power of literature, poetry, and the visual arts as apologetic means. Writers such as G. K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien, as Milbank notes, continue to have remarkable appeal, even among contemporary readers, not least because of the power of a sanctified imagination and a vision of "restoring the lost beauty of the world" (44). For Lazenby, the novel, in particular, is a medium that allows the apologist to utilize "places where the relationship between religion and the wider world is being clearly played out" (47).

Michael Ward's essay, "The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C. S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Apologetics," explores the union of imagination and reason in the writings of C. S. Lewis, arguably "the most influential practitioner of Christian apologetics over the last 100 years" (59). Ward focuses chiefly on the development of Lewis's thinking during the 1930s, while noting the influence of George MacDonald on Lewis and the role that pagan mythology played in his thinking. For Ward, reason and imagination are insufficient without each other; both are necessary in the apologetic task, and working together they reveal the richly incarnational nature of Christianity.

Ethics & Cultural Fluency

The final five chapters helpfully locate the place of Christian apologetics in the present Western cultural moment. Part of this "location" is suggested in Stephen Bullivant's "Atheism, Apologetics and Ecclesiology," which responds to the New Atheism by reminding us that doctrine and ethics, theory and practice, must undergird our presence in the world—if, that is, Christianity is to demonstrate plausibility.

In "Christian Ethics as Good News," Craig Hovey encourages the reader to appropriate a somewhat neglected approach to apologetics, and that is to see Christian ethics as an important bridge, since ethics and virtue have to do with what it means to be human. Hovey sees Thomas Aquinas as an important model in drawing out the good in the moral life, through his attention to virtue, charity, moral law, and human goods in the Summa.

In order to communicate Christ to others, we must be able to speak their language. This, as Graham Word ("Cultural Hermeneutics and Christian Apologetics") argues, will entail a cultural fluency and proficiency that allow us to discern the cultural Zeitgeist.

A notable aid in developing cultural fluency and "discerning the times" is the study of history. In "Moments and Themes in the History of Apologetics," Richard Conrad cites specific examples of how the Christian message was presented attractively and effectively, observing particular strategies that were unique to the work of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Augustine, Cyril and Methodius, Dominic and Diego of Osma, Thomas Aquinas, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, and John Paul II.

Discerning the Moment

Given the cultural moment, it is fitting that Alister McGrath ("The Natural Sciences and Apologetics") concludes this volume with helpful reflections on some of the challenges to apologetics from science, as well as opportunities that science presents to the apologetic enterprise. Having been trained initially as a scientist and having written extensively on the relationship of theology to the natural sciences, McGrath is well placed to observe "the penultimacy of science," while allowing for the possibility of discovering "a deeper and more satisfying understanding of the universe through science" (156–157).

Imaginative Apologetics is a muscular and most attractive—while deceptively brief—volume that should be required reading in Christian liberal arts education. In fact, it should be in the library of every thoughtful Christian layperson who wishes to probe more deeply the connections between Christian faith and the surrounding culture. Its editor and contributors are contemporary sons of Issachar, who "understood the times and knew what to do" (1 Chr. 12:32).


J. Daryl Charles —a contributing editor of Touchstone—teaches in the Chattanooga Fellows Program and is an affiliated scholar of the John Jay Institute. He is author, most recently, of Natural Law and Religious Freedom (forthcoming, Routledge) and co-editor (with Mark David Hall) of America's Wars: A Just War Perspective (University of Notre Dame Press, forthcoming). He contributed "Regensburg Left Behind: Christians Responding to Muslim Invitations Haven't Been Listening to Benedict XVI" to the September-October 2009 issue of Touchstone.

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