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Friday, October 2, 2015

"Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense" (C. Stephen Evans)

TITLE: Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: C. Stephen Evans
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (160 pages).

Is Christianity intellectually impoverished? Are the natural signs we see evidence of the existence of God or is "God" a convenient catch all description of the systems or mysteries of this world? What can we make of the age-old Problem of Evil question? Can we trust God even when we do not understand certain mysteries of life? How genuine is divine revelation?

Despite the proliferation of books and resources that address the criticisms, there are still plenty of accusations that Christianity is intellectually baseless. One of the most vocal groups recently who continue to attack Christians are the New Atheists. Responding to these New Atheism, Professor C. Stephen Evans delivered three lectures called the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College back in October 2012. Since then, he has expanded his content and has made available to the general public via this book, which is part of a series of books to help Christians respond to contemporary challenges with well-thought out and reasoned answers. Evans begins with a chapter on who the New Atheists were and what they say.

He calls out the "Four Horsemen" of the New Atheist movement as represented by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. These individuals claim that religion is "unscientific," and blames wars on religions. Instead of engaging in philosophy, these writers publish volumes for the masses to get attention from the public that seem more than ready to believe them than challenge them. They assert that religion is not only false but socially harmful. They question the underlying principles behind religions. They want to argue that religions should not be protected in anyway by society. Evans believe that these claims should not go unchallenged, especially when the New Atheists are becoming aggressive and offensive. Rather than go on another round of name calling or rhetoric, Evans prefer to argue from sound principles why Christianity makes sense.

He maintains that there is value in Natural Theology which uses everyday things and nature as evidence for the existence of God. It is unfortunate that some modern theologians do not use enough of this approach. Evans points out three reasons why it should be used in the defense of Christianity. First, such evidence are easily recognized by critics. Second, the "burden of proof" is not necessarily only for theologians to bear. It applies to critics as well. Third, the evidence themselves presupposed the existence of God. He then shows us how to explain the concept of natural signs by using the "Wide Accessibility Principle" and the "Easy Resistibility Principle."  The former is about the pervasiveness of the signs while the latter maintains that no matter what the evidence may show, people can still choose to find a way to resist it.

Evans lists five signs that point beyond mere arguments:
  1. "Experience of cosmic wonder"
  2. "Experience if purposive order"
  3. "Sense of being morally accountable"
  4. "Sense of human dignity and worth"
  5. "The Longing for transcendent joy"
All of these five signs may be used as arguments but far beyond that, they are opportunities for gratitude and a sense of appreciation for the beauty we have now. Evans gives us three clear criteria for determining how God reveals Himself to us. The first is the criterion of miracles chief of which is the Resurrection of Jesus. Dealing with opposition claims from people like David Hume, Evans highlights several powerful counter-arguments from theologians like Richard Swinburne and Craig Keener. The second is the criterion of paradoxicality, on things that exist but transcends our understanding. An example is the Incarnation of Christ which supplants human reasoning. While human reasoning deems such events as "absurd," paradox allows the existence of such mysteries without abandoning the ability to reason altogether. At the same time, there is a caution not to allow the paradoxical to enter the bizarre realm.Third, for the existence of authentic revelation, there needs to have the criterion of existential power. Through personal testimonies of the working of the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge that it takes far more than reason to pledge the faith in a Divine God. People who have known God intimately do not need excuses or solid arguments to convince them of the truth. After all, they have already experienced and seen the Truth for themselves.

This work is more philosophical in nature with arguments that center primarily on addressing key criticisms made against Christianity. In demonstrating that Christianity is not only reasonable but defensible, Evans has used the Natural Theology approach to argue for the case of Christianity. Though he starts off by mentioning the New Atheists, gradually he goes back to address arguments used by classic philosophers like Hume, Locke, Kierkegaard, and others. By adopting this approach, he is essentially pointing out that the New Atheists do not have as strong a case as the philosophers of old. More importantly, he shows us that Christianity not only makes sense, it is entirely believable and strongly defensible. My critique is that he could have allocated more space to dealing with the four horseman of the New Atheists. Other than that, the book is generally clear and readers should find it a helpful guide on how to use natural evidence of the world to appreciate the Creator of creation and the Maker of Heaven and Earth. By the way, what if we turn it around and ask: "For every demand to see proof before believing, what about seeing proof before disbelieving?"

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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