Fideistic Apologetics: A Fresh Consideration

by | Feb 25, 2017 | Adult Christian Learning | 0 comments

Few things could be more inflammatory or more controversial in the field of Christian apologetics than the suggestion that fideism may deserve a seat at the table along with deductive, induction, and the transcendental arguments. Nonetheless, I think a careful reading of the Scriptures along with a healthy understanding of Christian doctrine open the door to just such a possibility.

For starters, it is important to distinguish between fideism and Fideistic apologetics. Fideism is the view that truth in religion is ultimately based on faith rather than on reasoning or evidence. But this sets up potential confusion around whether or not faith is faith that is empty of content. Surely it is not. For when one speaks about faith, the question immediately arises, “faith in what?” Or “faith of or for what?” The matter that concerns this article is the place of faith in Christianity and how the place of faith in Christianity relates to the place of faith in Christian apologetics. The matter is far more interesting than many, if not most apologists care to admit.

The phrase “truth in religion” should also be distinguished from the truth that the Triune God of Scripture is the creator, judge, and redeemer of all that is created, judged, and redeemed, and other truths within Christian theism. Faith springs open the door to knowledge. Without it, genuine knowledge of Christian truth is impossible.

An evaluation of the merits of a Fideistic-leaning apologetic begins with the Apostle Paul’s address to the Church at Corinth, specifically, 1 Corinthians 1-3. In this context Paul’s point is that those who exist according to the wisdom of this world have a distinct world and life view. This world and life view stands in opposition to the revelation of the cross and under the judgment of the cross.[1] This is the cornerstone of the issue where Christian apologetics is concerned, especially, Fideistic apologetics.

The wisdom of the world is set over against the wisdom of God. There are those who operate in the wisdom of God (those who are being saved) and those who operate in the wisdom of the world (those who are perishing). Those who are being saved have a specific view of the cross: it is the power of God. Those who are perishing likewise have a specific view of the cross: it is absurd, empty of any intellectual credibility, in short, utterly ridiculous, foolishness. This is the state of affairs as it has obtained. Two groups of people exist: the ones who are being saved and the ones who are perishing. Moreover, Paul also points out as clearly as he can that the world (those who are perishing) does not come to know God through its wisdom. For some reason, Christian apologists ignore this fact. Classical apologetics attempts to move men toward God through deductive reasoning, evidential through inductive reasoning, and presuppositionalism through transcendental reasoning. If Paul is correct, then these methods as methods are misguided. For example, it is one thing to have a conversation around historical evidence for Christianity and quite another to embrace the inductive method.

Notice in v. 22 of 1 Corinthians 1, Paul points out that the unbelieving Jew and Gentile make demands of God. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom. The Jews wanted empirical evidence, the inductive method, and the Greeks demanded wisdom, reasoning, argumentation by way of deduction. Both the empirical and the rational are represented here. But the larger point is that Paul is getting at is that unbelieving thought always places demands on God. The Jew and Greek should be thought of not as two specific races, but the two basic types of demands that all unbelievers place on God. Williams Barclay is helpful:

In Greek thought, the first characteristic of God was apatheia. That word means more than apathy; it means total inability to feel. The Greeks argued that, if God can feel joy or sorrow or anger or grief, it means that some human being has for that moment influenced God and is therefore greater than God. So, they went on to argue, it follows that God must be incapable of all feeling, so that none may ever affect him. A God who suffered was to the Greeks a contradiction in terms.[2]

The idea of a Savior who would hang on a cross was egregiously offensive to the Jews, as Deut. 21:23 makes clear. A crucified man was cursed by God. How could the Messiah be cursed by God? What the apologist seems to fail to recognize is that God intended the things to be exactly the way they are. If God wanted to ordain things so that the message of the gospel would make more sense to unbelievers, he could have done so. Clearly he did not.

To the ones being saved, the gospel is the wisdom of God. To the ones perishing, the gospel is foolishness and scandalous, and outright offense to the intellect. Why is this a problem for Christian apologetics, especially certain methods of Christian apologetics in the modern Church? It is a problem because the very aim of modern Christian apologetic method is to convince the unbelieving intellect that Christian belief, the gospel of Jesus Christ is reasonable after all. In his mammoth work on Christian philosophy, William Lane Craig recalls the words of Charles Malik spoken at the dedication of the new Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College: “We face two tasks in our evangelism, saving the soul and saving the mind.”[3] According to Scripture, you cannot save one without saving the other. But Craig had something very specific in mind when he penned these words. One of the awesome tasks of Christian philosophers is to help turn the contemporary intellectual tide in such a way as to foster a sociocultural milieu in which Christian faith can be regarded as an intellectually credible option for thinking men and women.[4] Such an approach seems to run head-on into Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians in the first century. The problem begins the very moment apologists offer up the gospel to the criteria of unbelieving thought for its evaluation and assessment. How could one read 1 Corinthians 1-2 and still consider that such a method would have been quite acceptable to Paul?

Positive apologetics in interreligious contexts presuppose that nonarbitrary, rational assessment of alternative worldviews across cultural and religious boundaries is possible.[5] The same can be said about apologist’s views of man’s use of reason and evidence. Any judgments about the truth or falsity of alternative worldviews are necessarily biased in favor of the worldview within which they originate. Thus there is no nonarbitrary means for resolving basic cognitive disputes across the religious worldviews.[6] This paints a pretty bleak picture. In fact, it makes the apologetic task of convincing men of the reasonableness of Christian belief, truly and sincerely, all but impossible.

Paul tells us that when he came preaching to the Corinthians, he did not employ the techniques of skilled rhetoric, or the sophistry of the philosophers. He did not use plausible words of man’s wisdom. His words were in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Yes, that same power that we see back in v. 18: to those who are being saved, the gospel is the power of God. So then, from an epistemological standpoint, how do Christians justify Christian belief? How can the claims of the gospel achieve warrant if we readily admit that they will never pass the bar of unbelieving criteria?

The word ‘know’ appears 361 times in the ESV New Testament. Of these, it appears 147x in the writings of John. And even though it is a very small letter, the word appears nearly 10% of the time in 1 John. John was clearly the apostle of epistemology if such a thing may be said about any of the apostles. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Knowledge and understanding, according to John, of Christian belief, come from the Son of God himself. Christians have the testimony of God himself! (1 John 5:9) We have the confirmation and attestation of God himself. This is the basis of Christian belief. Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony (of God) in himself. This is a radical epistemology that comports very well with the radical nature of the gospel which itself produces radical change in sinners.

In this day it is not enough to know the truth—we must speak and live this truth if it is to make its way into the hearts and minds of those around us. The task of a biblically based theology is to equip the church to make a powerful and compelling witness to God’s self–revelation in Jesus Christ as we find this in Holy Scripture.[7] To be sure, then, there is indeed a place for a fideistic-learning apologetic in the field of Christian apologetics. And that seat is one that should have much to offer where apologetics is concerned. At a minimum, it should make many apologetic kingdoms and enterprises nervous to say the least. After all, Christian apologetics has become a booming business these days with all the books, debates, seminars, and even entire seminaries dedicated to the field. America is a very interesting place to live.



[1] William D. Dennison, Paul’s Two-Age Construction and Apologetics (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 69.

[2] William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, 3rd ed., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 22.

[3] James Porter Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2003), 1.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Harold A. Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2001), 284.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Donald G. Bloesch, A Theology of Word & Spirit: Authority & Method in Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 24.

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