Uses of Arguments

Why might a Christian take interest in arguments of an apologetic sort? Here are three broad reasons—

1. To show that Christian theism is reasonable. A believer may wonder if her Christian beliefs are reasonable, or she may wish to show an unbelieving friend that Christian beliefs are reasonable. An argument, or a series of arguments, can provide reasoned support that they, in fact, are reasonable. Take God’s existence: is it reasonable to believe that God exists? For the Christian, the natural response is, yes, and the reasons one provides can range over and stem from personal experience, to the joint testimony of scripture and the Holy Spirit, to the testimony of creation and the natural and moral order.

2. To show that rival worldviews are in some way unreasonable, or less reasonable than the Christian worldview. Here the task is conceived as giving arguments for thinking that rival worldviews, or aspects of rival worldviews, are intellectually impaired in some serious way. For example, reasons given in rational support of an alternative worldview are less than reasonable themselves. Consider: many modes of atheism purport that all that is is matter and that matter itself is able to explain what appears to be insuperably non-material: namely, moral universals and the self (consciousness or thought).

3. To show that Christian beliefs can withstand reasons proffered against them. You encounter an argument aimed at rebutting or undermining some aspect of Christian belief; wishing to rebuff it, you consider a counter-argument that shows the original argument doesn’t succeed in its aim. Take, for example, Freud’s claim that belief in God is a function of wishful-thinking; production of belief in God, in other words, is an outcome of our desire for comfort and security in a harsh world, but the supposed object of that belief — God — doesn’t actually (or probably doesn’t actually) exist. But according to Christianity, Freud’s got it exactly backwards: belief in God is a response to God’s having revealed himself; there is a real referent to our belief. God really exists and His existence, and His revelation in scripture, is the best explanation for our belief.

Expanding on the general theme that runs through these three reasons, apologetic arguments can, I think, reasonably show that Christian belief is worthy of intellectual (in addition to spiritual and moral) attention and respect. They can provide good reasons for taking Christianity seriously; they can stimulate one to consider reasons for holding the beliefs one holds. 

Further reading. To pursue the kinds of questions that arise under heading number 1 (above), see God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs by Stephen T. Davis (especially chapters 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8). To read further on topics covered under heading number 2, see Reason for the Hope Within edited by Michael J. Murray (particularly chapters 1, 2, 3, and 8). And to probe topics that fall under heading number 3, see especially chapters 8, 9, and 10 of Knowledge and Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga.

Mr. Geoff Sackett
Dean of Students
Guest Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy
Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.

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