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Insufficient but not Unnecessary: The Importance of Arguments

Andy Naselli has posted a great quote by American theologian and founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, J. Gresham Machen, on the place of arguments in the proclamation of the Gospel:

“Certainly a Christianity that avoids argument is not the Christianity of the New Testament. The New Testament is full of argument in defense of the faith. The Epistles of Paul are full of argument—no one can doubt that. But even the words of Jesus are full of argument in defense of the truth of what Jesus was saying. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” Is not that a well-known form of reasoning, which the logicians would put in its proper category? Many of the parables of Jesus are argumentative in character. Even our Lord, who spake in the plenitude of divine authority, did condescend to reason with men. Everywhere the New Testament meets objections fairly, and presents the gospel as a thoroughly reasonable thing.

Some years ago I was in a company of students who were discussing methods of Christian work. An older man, who had had much experience in working among students, arose and said that according to his experience you never win a man to Christ until you stop arguing with him. When he said that, I was not impressed.

It is perfectly true, of course, that argument alone is quite insufficient to make a man a Christian. You may argue with him from now until the end of the world: you may bring forth the most magnificent arguments: but all will be in vain unless there be one other thing—the mysterious, creative power of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. But because argument is insufficient, it does not follow that it is unnecessary. Sometimes it is used directly by the Holy Spirit to bring a man to Christ. But more frequently it is used indirectly. A man hears an answer to objections raised against the truth of the Christian religion: and at the time when he hears it he is not impressed. But afterwards, perhaps many years afterwards, his heart at last is touched: he is convicted of sin; he desires to be saved. Yet without that half-forgotten argument he could not believe: the gospel would not seem to him to be true, and he would remain in his sin. As it is, however, the thought of what he has heard long ago comes into his mind; Christian apologetics at last has its day, the way is open, and when he will believe he can believe because he has been made to see that believing is not an offence against truth.”

from “The Importance of Christian Scholarship” (pdf file at reformedaudio.org).

(HT: Joe Fleener)

More than a fideist: Remembering Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

Today in New Zealand, we remember the end of the first World War and commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces in that period of awful history. Today, however, is also the day that in 1855, Soren Kierkegaard, one of the most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century, died. This overlap is ironic, for it was only after the first World War ended that Kierkegaard’s influence began to play such a formative and decisive role in the emergence of existentialist philosophy. His impact, however, is not limited to the thought of writers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. Even now, in the twenty-first century, the Danish author continues to stimulate writers from fields as diverse as literary criticism and psychology.

Kierkegaard

He may often be more known to some Christians as the poster boy of fideism and subjectivism, but it is all too easy to miss the context in which he wrote and the adversaries he set his sights upon. Confronting a sterile Hegelian rationalism that had dissolved the importance of individual existence and advocated what Kierkegaard saw as pure ‘thought without a thinker’, the Danish philosopher sought to destroy the notion of impersonal, morally neutral knowledge. Against a Denmark church that had fallen asleep to the radical demands of Christ, Kierkegaard attempted to emphasize the idea that in judging a person’s life, what counted was not the objective truth of the person’s beliefs but the way those beliefs have taken hold and transformed the knower (“When all are Christians, Christianity eo ipso [by that very fact] does not exist,” he once wrote).

The shortcomings of Kierkegaard’s philosophy are not hard to find. And debate will no doubt continue about the exact nature of his thoughts, given the vast library of his work and the fact that many of his books were written under a variety of pseudonyms, but Kierkegaard still has important things to say about faith, the despair of the aesthetic life, epistemic risk, and the nature of love.