Fideistic Apologetics

by | Dec 16, 2016

Fideistic Apologetics Defined

Fideistic apologetics is the approach to Christian apologetics that claims the truth of Christianity cannot and should not be justified rationally. In other words, the attempt to prove that Christianity is true by means of historical evidence and/or rational arguments is a project that is both, not possible, and not in keeping with the ethic and even the claims of the very message they seek to justify. Since Christian truth is only justified [warranted] by means of the experience of the gift of faith, it would destroy the very foundations of Christianity if it could be justified [warranted] apart from such faith. This is because it would have to be the case that the natural cognitive faculties are not what Christianity describes them to be! Christianity would be mistaken in its claims about the nature of human beings. As one can see, fideistic apologetics is an approach that demands to be taken seriously.

The limits of human reason

What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,”who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.”Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.

Tertullian, “The Prescription against Heretics,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 246.

In his Prescription against Heretics, Tertullian warns of the misuse of finite, autonomous, and especially sinful human reason. It is often said that Tertullian believed because it is absurd, but that is not what Tertullian actually said. What he said was,

“And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.”

Tertullian, “On the Flesh of Christ,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 525.

What Tertullian was getting at was the fact that only the foolish and impenitent heart refuses to believe the in resurrected Christ and for this reason, since it is absurd, or since it is foolishness to the unrepentant heart, the repentant believes it. Tertullian is pointing us to 1 Corinthians 1-2. The logos tou staurou, the word of the cross is foolishness, moronic, absurd to those who are perishing!

It is here in 1 Corinthians 1-2 that Paul says repeatedly that the gospel of Jesus Christ, Christianity, is not a plausible belief system or worldview where non-Christians are concerned. Men do not come to know God by way of natural reasoning, empirical evidence, or objective historical investigation.

The Insurmountable Epistemic Obstacle

The non-Christian comes to the question of Christ with his own worldview, his presuppositions, his criterion by which he will evaluate all claims and interpret all facts. Every claim that is made will be subjected to his own criterion. The problem with modern apologetics is that it is the attempt to compel a man, by rational means, to assent to the truth of Christianity. But the man has his basic beliefs. And those beliefs are, top to bottom, in opposition to Christ. And if that is true, Christian apologetics is wide of the mark in its efforts to convince men that Christianity is reasonable or that it is a belief system that ought to be viewed by the Academy as intellectually respectable. Paul could not have been clearer in 1 Corinthians 1-2 that the human intellect will hold Christianity in the highest contempt. To the unregenerate mind, Christianity is a intellectually bankrupt. Therefore, apologetics must take a different approach if it is to be successful.

The Fideistic Alternative

The objections to Christianity do not arise out of intellectual doubt. They do not emerge from a lack of evidence or good arguments, historical or otherwise. The objections to Christianity are ethical in nature, they are moral, not rational.

While acknowledging that all people are inescapably related to God and endowed with an innate sense of his infinite power and moral order, they were nonetheless insistent that because sin so utterly defaces the imago Dei we are rendered incapable of laying hold of God’s redeeming revelation in Jesus Christ apart from a special illumination of the Holy Spirit. Reason needs not to be cultivated but converted; then faithful reasoning can throw light upon the mysteries of the faith but can never exhaust them.

Donald G. Bloesch, A Theology of Word & Spirit: Authority & Method in Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 36.

Knowledge of Christianity is impossible apart from knowing a person. And the person that men must know in order to truly know or understand Christian theism is the Christ of Christianity. Moreover, to know Christ is not merely to know things about Christ, like that he rose from the dead. One can believe that Christ rose from the dead without knowing Christ. That is merely a fact about Christ. But to know the significance of that event, what it means, what it accomplished, one must know Christ. Such knowledge, such intimacy only comes by way of the work of God on the human heart. We know, not through human reason, but through faith. This faith is the gift of God implanted in a newly regenerated heart. Men come to know God because God writes his law upon their heart. (Jer. 31)

Fideistic apologetics then begins with the experience of faith as self-attesting, arguing that unless men are regenerated, they cannot know that Christianity is true. The unregenerate mind is unwilling and unable to give Christian belief a fair assessment due to the noetic effects of sin. For this reason, deductive, inductive, and even transcendental arguments will not convince the non-Christian that Christianity is true.

Weaknesses of Fideistic Apologetics (See Boa - Faith Has Its Reasons)

Fideism routinely pits personal knowledge over against proposition knowledge and this is not necessary. Fideism overstates its criticism of human reason and knowledge. There is truth in the view that men cannot properly reason about the truths of Christianity. But one must ensure balance in how this view is positioned. Finally, Fideism often takes an unnecessarily critical view of the Bible, setting up a false dichotomy between revelation in illumination and the Bible as a witness to divine revelation. The truth is that the Bible is our inspired interpretation of God’s revelation. As such, both the acts in the Bible and the writing of the Bible are necessarily inspired.

Fideism is right to criticize modern views of apologetics because of their unbiblical view of the intellect of fallen men. Moreover, apologetics ought to be subsumed under theology rather than standing on its own or subsumed under philosophy. Apologetic method is the outworking of theological commitments. There are many theological truths to be commended in Fideistic Apologetics despite some of its shortcomings.

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