Archives For Apologetics

profileThe big news from the Box Office returns this weekend wasn’t that the Muppets turned out to be not very wanted at all.

Instead, the Monday morning news from Hollywood is that ‘God’s Not Dead,’ the little Christian movie that could (thanks to pre-selling tickets to evangelical churches and their youth groups) came in 5th place in total ticket sales.

God’s Not Dead. 

Apparently neither are Dean Cain’s (Superman) or Kevin Sorbo’s (Zeena) careers. They both star in the movie though you might not notice since they’ve aged beyond all recognition.

God’s Not Dead perpetuates the apocryphal yet pervasive myth of a Christian student at a secular (ie, godless) college going toe-to-toe with his atheistically evangelical philosophy professor. As a perfect homage to evangelical paranoia, the film features cameos of Phil Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty) son and daughter-in-law.

While it’s true I’ve not viewed God’s Not Dead nor could anything induce me to view it, in ham-fistedly critiquing a film I’ve not actually see I’m merely participating in a time-honored evangelical tradition.

Reportedly, in God’s Not Dead the protagonist (believing student) sets out to prove to his amoral atheist professor (Kevin Sorbo) that God does in fact exist.

To which the Source and Ground All Being replies, after metaphorically smacking HIS Almighty forehead: ‘Sigh.’

God’s Not Dead.

Dean Cain is not dead.

Kevin Sorbo is not dead.

But evidently for Christians the discipline of philosophy has rigor mortis.

Certainly the sub-discipline formerly known as metaphysics.

Thus far, all the critique of the film on the internet has centered around pushback that God’s Not Dead trucks in a mythic stereotype of the Christian experience on college campuses.

Thus far,

I’ve not seen any Christian critique that the argument of the movie- the argument within the movie- shit, the very assertion in the title of the movie, relies upon a logical fallacy that is

A) not good philosophy

and

B) is certainly not Christian.

The reviews of God’s Not Dead, pro and con, merely confirm that both believers and non are clueless as to the ancient definition of the word ‘God.’

If you can ‘prove’ it

(either in the negative or the positive)

by definition

IT’S NOT GOD.

Christians should know that already.

So…for you beginners out there:

God is not a being within the universe.

God is not a part of the world.

God (big ‘G’ is key) is not a god.

God is the infinite mystery who utterly transcends the world God has made.

As much as it runs counter to Christian pop: the world makes no literal difference to God.

This is what Genesis means it says that God created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing and hence exists apart from everything. God did not have to create the universe, and if God had chosen not to, God’s glory and being would not have been diminished one ticket stub.

Here’s the cold, hard, metaphysical math:

God + the world < God alone.

God + everything that will ever be < God alone.

God + the World = God

God – the World = God.

God + (a) = God

(a) = the World, You and Me

a = 0

The world does not add anything to God; it does not change or affect God. Ultimately it does not make a difference to God. God is God, in infinite glory, majesty, and love.

Because God is not a being within the world but “Being” itself.

Thus, the assertion ‘God’s Not Dead’ is both true, not true, and unremarkable.

It’s true in that, as Existence Itself ‘God’s Not Dead is a necessarily true statement. It’s like saying ‘Existence is Not Non-Existence.’

It’s not true in that, as a Being outside, beyond, transcendent of the created universe, any god whose existence you could (dis)prove, by definition, is not God (see: Bush, Burning).

It’s unremarkable in that as Being Itself God is the most obvious thing of all.

Sadly, what’s proven stone, cold dead by films movies like God’s Not Dead is the Christian intellectual tradition it purports to advocate.

For its box office success, God’s Not Dead relies upon the scandal that colleges oppose Christian belief.

The true ‘scandal’ that bubbles to the surface whenever evangelical students hit sober-thinking college campuses is how little their church-sanctioned God-talk corresponds to ancient ways of Christian speech.

College disciplines such as philosophy and metaphysics and theology expose the extent to which American evangelicals anthropomorphize, even idolize, God.

The campus ‘scandal’ revealed in God’s Not Dead is that the god worshipped, defended and ‘proved’ by the film’s protagonist is merely a god.

Not ‘I Will Be Who I Will Be.’

 

 

 

barth_tagungOn the fashionably skeptical (ie, intellectually lazy) side these days are the ‘Nones,’ represented by that most tedious of cliches “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

I second Lillian Daniel who writes — in response to the dumb flight companion who condescends “I’m spiritual but not religious” — “Please stop boring me.”

Not to mention that it’s hardly self-evident what ‘spirituality’ has to do with nitty-gritty particularity like Jesus. Regardless, it’s assumed that ‘religion’ is a lesser, less enlightened endeavor than spirituality. In ‘religion’ you have tradition and hierarchy and commands and God telling you how to live your life. Whereas with ‘spirituality’ you have…no one telling you how to live your life.

Even on the religious side ‘religion’ is treated in pejorative tones. Peter Rollins’ ‘God is dead’ theology is the rage among Emergent and Progressive Christians. Diana Butler Bass’ recent book, Christianity After Religion, documents the rise of the ‘Nones’ and charts a religionless way forward for communities of faith; meanwhile Evangelicals persist in hijacking Bonhoeffer for themselves with choice quotes like his pondering the ideal of a ‘religionless Christianity.’

Religionless Christianity = Christianity without church, worship services, prayer, doctrine, sacraments, and sermons.

It’s about relationship not religion!

Which of course is the perfect recipe to yield a Christianity without Jesus.

A ‘Jesus-inspired’ spirituality let’s say.

Neo-Calvinists like Tim Keller, who otherwise have nothing in common with the likes of Peter Rollins or Diana Butler Bass, nevertheless distinguish between ‘religion’ and the ‘Gospel.’

Religion, Keller likes to say, tells you what YOU have to do to earn God’s favor. The Gospel is the declaration is that there’s nothing YOU have to do to earn God’s favor. Christ has died for your sin, in your place, so that the prodigal Father can welcome you home.

Nevermind that this Calvinist definition of the Gospel in no way matches how Peter and the Apostles defined it: Christ whom you crucified has been raised from the dead and has given dominion over the Earth.

I don’t really know what the big deal is about ‘religion.’ You’d think it would be fairly obvious that when people gather together to worship God by means of ancient, communally-constructed practices meant to bind them both to God and one another they’re engaged in what Emile Durkheim labeled ‘religion.’

This looking down the nose at ‘religion’ is nothing new. The title for the next section in Barth’s Church Dogmatics is “The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion.”

Barth begins this section in the affirmative.

What we do as Christians is comparable with other religions. Yes, Christianity begins with God’s initiative, God’s revelation, God’s speech. But we are the indirect objects of God’s speech and, as such, we as receivers of God’s revelation participate in a human phenomenon known as ‘religion.’

Barth’s up to more here than just treating religion as the polluted byproduct of humanity’s messing with the ‘spiritual.’

For Barth, ‘religion’ isn’t the opposite of spirituality; it’s the other side of ‘revelation.’

Revelation reminds us of how Christianity remains distinct from everything else that falls under the label ‘religion,’ for revelation insures that Christianity will never end up being what every other religion was after all along.

‘Religion’ is not a more general term for traditions that all mean, intend and pursue the same things once you brush aside their cultural particularity. Christianity is not one spoke among many leading to a common central hub.

We’re not all alike, Barth insists, which is the foundation for Barth’s resistance to apologetics- rationally explaining Christian belief by means of other, generally-accepted terms and premises.

Revelation is God’s pursuit of humanity.

Religion is humanity’s pursuit of God.

As Barth says:

Revelation singles out the Church as the locus of true religion. But this does not mean that the Christian religion as such is the fulfilled nature of human religion. It does not mean that the Christian religion is the true religion, fundamentally superior to all other religions. We can never stress too much the connection between the truth of the Christian religion and the grace of revelation. We have to give particular emphasis to the fact that the Church lives by grace, and to that extent it is the locus of true religion. 

Living by grace will mean living by the grace of God in Christ. There is a particular identity to the church as the grace people–an identity tied to the name Jesus Christ and the story of his life, death, and resurrection.

For Barth, ‘religion’ isn’t a category we need condescend; it’s not the opposite of enlightened spirituality shorn of all manmade traditions.

For Barth, the term ‘religion’ simply reminds us that all attempts to know God rely upon the grace manifest in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Religion has to be a man-made phenomena because the only way to God is God’s revealing of himself in Christ.

So it’s not that you can be spiritual without being religious; it’s that you can’t really be either apart from God’s grace.

barthYesterday I posted a reflection on Karl Barth’s disavowal of apologetics, the rational attempt to demonstrate and prove Christianity’s faith claims.

I made the point that for Barth faith is revelation and is always gift. Our own personal faith, therefore, is always gift too. Under those terms then an endeavor like apologetics will always be just that, an endeavor. A work.

Barth argues against doing apologetics on another level in §1.2.

Barth says plainly that Christians should never take ‘unbelief’ too seriously and apologetics does just that in an attempt to convince an unbeliever to faith.

To the extent they take unbelief seriously, Christians fail to take their faith with ‘full seriousness,’ Barth says. In other words, Christians are often guilty of seeming more confident in someone’s lack of belief than they are in the robustness of their own faith. Perhaps subconsciously, the volume and urgency of Christian apologetics reveals our own panic that maybe Christ isn’t Lord after all.

All this for Barth is premised on a simple clause from the Apostles’ Creed:

‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.’ 

Barth believes the remission of sins by the work of Christ on the Cross:

‘forbids any discussion in which the unbelief of the partner is taken seriously’ (30). 

Lurking behind this bold and seemingly nonsensical assertion is Barth’s understanding of the Cross- an understanding that diverges from popular Catholic and Evangelical views.

For Barth, the Cross was a once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for Sin.

For Barth, Jesus really DID die for the Sin of the world. For you and me and everyone who came before us and everyone after we’ve long since returned to dust.

When it comes to the Cross, there’s no need for a do-over.

You can see already here a view of the Cross that logically leads to the conclusion that all will be saved in the end; in fact, many have accused Barth of ‘soft universalism.’

Before getting hung up on universalism, I think it’s helpful (and refreshing) to focus on how Barth’s notion of the Cross is distinct from rival interpretations.

If you’re Catholic, for example, the Cross wasn’t a once-for-all sacrifice for sin. Instead Christ’s sacrifice must be repeated continually in the Eucharist. Hence, the logical need for the elements to be the actual, physical presence of Christ’s body and blood.

Or, if you’re an evangelical, the logic is still functionally the same even without the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Instead of wafers and wine, you have an altar call or a special prayer in which you invite Jesus into your heart.

In both cases, in both traditions, you need to do something ‘extra’ for the work of Cross to be efficacious.

In both cases, in both traditions, the Cross then is not ‘perfect’ in and of itself.

Barth’s someone who’d read the Greek in Galatians- which can go either way- as saying that we’re justified before God by the faith OF Jesus Christ.

Not our faith in Jesus Christ.

Before you wig out about Barth and call him a heretic or worse, just stop to appreciate what’s he trying to point out:

The world really did change on Good Friday. 

Sin- yours and mine and the power of Sin with a capital S- really was defeated on the Cross. 

No more crosses, his or ours, are necessary. 

And let God in his freedom work out the rest. 

And maybe ultimately that’s what’s scary about Barth.

He actually wants to dare us to love God not out of fear of Hell or hope of Reward but just because he’s…God.

barthWell, if you read into Church Dogmatics §1.2, you’ll notice that Karl Barth thinks so.

For the uninitiated, ‘apologetics’ is the fancy word that describes the attempt to rationally account for- and prove- the faith claims of Christianity. Better put, apologists are those who try to convince skeptics and nonbelievers that Christianity is ‘true.’

Think: CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity

What’s the requisite ingredient for good apologetics?

Surprisingly, it’s not God.

It’s ‘common ground.’ 

My friend Jesse rightly noted in § 1.1 that it seemed Barth would disavow any sort of rational justification of the faith. Despite being a Baptist, Jesse is evidently a good, perceptive reader.

In §1.2 Barth is convinced that there is no “being” that is a larger category within which to make sense of God. That is, as Stanley Hauerwas likes to quip:

if there’s a larger, universal category of Truth with which everyone can appeal to and agree upon…then you should worship that Category, don’t worship the God of Israel and Jesus Christ. 

Put another way, we can’t step outside of the category ‘God’ and rationally evaluate it because ‘God’ is the infinite, overarching category in which we live our incredibly finite lives.

Barth insists, therefore, that we take our own Christian faith as our starting point any time we give an account of our faith. We best explain our Christian language by speaking Christian. The Christian language can only be learned by immersion.

We must never pretend, Barth confesses, that our faith can be cast aside in the effort to find ‘common ground’ with the unbeliever and thereby reason our way to God.

Just as an aside, anyone who’s actually spent time with people of other religious traditions- talking about their religion- will know how elusive is this notion of ‘common perspective’ and thus how naive and dismissive it is to presume such a thing exists.

Maybe Sherlock Holmes could reason his way to the hounds of the Baskervilles but we can never hope to reason our way to cross and resurrection.

No, Barth insists that whenever we slide into apologetics and accept the existence of ‘common ground’ in articulating our faith, we deny that one crucial article of our confession that makes us distinctly who we are:

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. 

Barth will not have us engaging the world if it means accepting the terms of a world that doesn’t believe sins have been/can be forgiven.

This is where Barth parts ways with all you Catholics (and Baptists). Barth will have nothing to do with natural theology.

For Barth, Jesus is absolutely singular. Looking to the natural world around us for insights or a path to God is not even a beginning point because its a beginning point that will never end up at Easter.

For Barth, God’s freedom will not allow the event of revelation and of faith to become captive to an institution or rationality.

We believe that God has revealed. That means revelation is the only grounds upon which we think through our faith–either of the church or of the mind.

Sorry, Jesse, but what Barth is doing here is what first made him appealing to me.

Much like how Joel Osteen makes me want to vomit in my mouth, I’ve always believed I’d rather have no answer to a faith question than a shallow, contrived, BS answer in the name of Jesus.

And, let’s admit it, that’s exactly what a lot of apologetics amounts to: backing up the bible by pimping out partial scientific assertions and Natural Philosophy for Dummies.

It’s not just academic for me. 

I came to faith against my will at a time when I thought I was the smartest person in the room- okay, I still think I’m the smartest person in the room.

My point is that I should’ve been ripe for an intellectual demonstration of the faith. But it never interested me. I came to faith by….what?….the Holy Spirit?

Whatever you might call it, it left me convinced that when it comes to God, just like any other love, reason is not the road to the heart.

Or to faith.

Stay Tuned Barth Fans: I’ll post more reflections on section 2 later this week.