Why Christian Faith Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges, C. Stephen Evans. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.
Summary: Against the contemporary challenges by the New Atheists, this book explores why the Christian faith makes sense, even though the existence of God may not be proven, through the consideration of both “natural signs” and the self-revelation of God.
In both university “bull sessions” and formal debates, I’ve been a part of or witnessed many discussions about the existence of God. Atheists have often argued that such a contention is anti-rational (as do the New Atheists of the present day) while Christians and other theists seek to make arguments and cite evidence that proves, or at least makes reasonable, the existence of God. Most of the time, I’ve left these with at least a vague sense of dissatisfaction–Christians gave good reasons, atheists posed good reservations or counter-reasons. And rarely has this gone beyond discussion of some abstraction titled “God” to particular belief in God, whether Yahweh, or the Allah of Islam, or the Triune God of Christian faith–or something else.
In this book, C. Stephen Evans addresses the critique of the New Atheists and finds it wanting and proposes a way of framing an argument for Christian faith, that while not logical proof, makes reasonable sense and is not a leap into irrationality. He begins with the role of natural theology, not as a way to prove God or arrive at a Christian theology of God, but as a defense of “anti-naturalism”. He then proceeds to discuss what he calls “natural signs” or aspects of our existence in the natural world that point to God. These include the experience of cosmic wonder, purposive order, the sense of being morally accountable, the sense of human dignity and worth, and the longing for transcendent joy. He establishes as a criteria for natural signs that they be both widely accessible and easily resistible. In other words, most human beings experience these and yet this does not compel belief and one may make logical arguments against the signs. Yet they still have an appeal and are worthy of consideration because they track with what we know both of the external world and of our own internal consciousness.
Evans, coming from a Reformed perspective, then argues that belief in God, which he considers “properly basic” can ultimately arise only from God’s self-revelation, in the case of Christians through the Bible and the internal witness of the Spirit. He explores how we might recognize the self-revelation of God and makes the case for how this might be both authoritative and authentic. One important defense he makes is that revelation will not conform to what might be grasped by reason alone. I’ve often thought that one of the most compelling things about Christian faith is the “who would of thunk it” principle–that humans just would not have made up the story this way. He then explores the criteria of miracles, the criteria of paradox, and the criteria of existential power of God’s self-revelation.
What this affirms is that belief goes far beyond intellectual evidence to personal reasons and knowledge that convert the heart and that an argument for faith must include both cogent intellectual reasons and clear delineation of the contours of belief, but also a personal narrative of the “reasons of the heart” that persuade one to believe.
Theists and atheists alike who are “evidentialists” will probably take issue with this account. But what is particularly intriguing is how Evans weaves natural theology, and some of the arguments of the evidentialists (rather than dismissing them) into a presuppositionalist account of how one may make sense of Christian faith. With the limited space he has he gives good counter arguments to objections that may be raised. And he gives a helpful account of how it is the case that two individuals, considering the same “evidence” may reach very different conclusions.
This is a helpful work for persons, Christian or atheist, who want to read concise, but carefully reasoned account of how belief in God may be considered properly basic and how reliance upon God’s self-revelation may be intellectually defensible. Others, like Alvin Plantinga have written at greater length on these matters but this is a tightly written 144 page account that may serve as a good introduction.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher as an ebook via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Editor’s Note: Thank-you to Bob Trube for sharing his review of Why Christian Faith Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges. Follow links for more posts on atheism and skepticism. As always, if you have a book recommendation and/or desire to write a review, then please contact ESN :) ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network