Reason for the Hope Within

  • Michael Murphy
  • Jan 1, 2001
  • Series: Volume 4 - 2001

Murphy, Michael, ed. Reason for the Hope Within. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. 429 pages, paperback.

This large volume attempts to bring together "young" (at least one is over forty) Christian philosophers for the purpose of writing on apologetic topics-such as the relationship of faith and reason, the problem of evil, the defense of miracles, and arguments for God's existence-for reader not well acquainted with philosophy. It is heartening that there are enough competent, young, Christian philosophers available for such a task. This was probably not so fifteen or twenty years ago Yet with the renaissance in Christian philosophy, such a book is possible-a fact that veteran Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, celebrates in his foreword.

Nevertheless, achieving the goal of the book is a tall order. First, young Christian philosophers in the academy often avoid writing on apologetics because they must focus on procuring academic publications in the right (usually secular) journals in order to get tenure. Apologetics doesn't sell well there, although there are blessed exceptions. Second, asking a professional philosopher to address an apologetic topic in a way that is accessible for the average reader is something out of the ordinary-if not almost impossible-for most philosophers. The book is only partly successful in reaching its goals, but it is an important and unique effort, nevertheless.

However, not all authors rise equally to the occasion. Some chapters seem to be pitched a bit too high intellectually for the neophyte, while others adopt a kind of "time to put on your thinking cap" coaching that borders on the supercilious, even for the average reader. This is especially obvious in chapter on the problem of miracles, despite its intellectual merits.

Some readers of this book may come away disappointed because of the caution shown by the authors in presenting their arguments. Michael Murray's introduction sets the tone by asserting (more than arguing) that the case made by earlier apologists (such as Francis Schaeffer) that nonChristian world views are dogged by insurmountable intellectual or existential obstacles is not true. Therefore, we must abandon "sledgehammer apologetics"-a term that hardly fits Schaeffer, although it does fit some others. The besetting sin of apologetics (besides intellectual pride) may be to claim more ground intellectually than one's arguments establish, but the weaknesses of many of chapters of this book is just the opposite. One often finds a reluctance to make strong claims for the truth of a particular Christian doctrine; instead the author will give several strategies for defending the rationality of Christian belief. (A belief may be rational and not true, and vice versa.)

Establishing the rationality of a Christian belief is a necessary element in philosophically defending, say, the rationality of the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation against charges of logical contradiction (as Thomas Senor ably does), but simply defending a belief's rationality falls quite short of giving compelling arguments why anyone outside the Christian faith should be convinced of its truth, which is really the burden of apologetics. Several authors claim no more than a Christian belief has intellectual parity with a nonChristian belief. So, it may be rational to believe in miracles, but it is also rational to be a naturalist and fail to believe in them (371). This kind of approach fails short of classical apologetics, which aims to show the irrationality of denying the central truths of Christian faith and the cogency of biblical truth (see Acts 26:25; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). If it is truly rational to hold to naturalism, one wonders on what basis God could condemn the unrepentant naturalist on the day of judgment (see Romans 1-2).

Given the length and depth of the book, a detailed assessment is impossible. Instead, I will briefly focus on the some strengths and weaknesses of several of the chapters.

Francis Howard Snyder's chapter on Christian ethics admirably argues against ethical relativism and advances some helpful suggestions about the meaning of Christian love in relation to ethical rules. However, she gives short shrift to the more analytically nuanced forms of divine command morality, which arguably avoid the sort of objections that she addresses. These perspectives maintain that God's commands are rooted in God's immutably good character, according to which he issues commands that are in harmony with the nature of the beings he has created. In this sense, natural law theory and divine command morality are in accord.

None of the authors defends a compatiblist (or soft determinist) view of human responsibility and divine sovereignty, which argues that moral agency and divine predestination are logically compatible. (Christian philosopher, Paul Helm-not young enough for inclusion this volume-argues this in The Providence of God [InterVarsity Press, 1994.]) However, Scott A. Davison nicely summarizes (without endorsing) the position in his essay, "Divine Providence and Human Freedom." All the authors who address the matter either assume or advance libertarianism, the doctrine that humans have what is called counter-factual freedom or power of contrary choice. This may represent the majority view among the younger Christian philosophers (or all Christian philosophers), but a volume of this size addressed to the church at large (which contains not a few Calvinists) should have given compatibilism more room.

In his chapter on the resurrection of the dead, Trenton Merricks adopts physicalism (humans persons are only material) as a model for understanding the resurrection of the body instead of the dualism of soul and body. This, he thinks, avoids some philosophical problems and is plausible from Scripture. However, much good work has recently been done to defend the philosophical credibility of dualism (by Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, and others), and I hold that the biblical case for physicalism is quite weak overall, given the several statements of human persons continuing to exist after their physical death and before the resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Revelation 6:9; etc.). Moreover, defending physicalism has little apologetic force, given that most Christians are dualists and are not likely to advance physicalism as a biblically tenable doctrine. Physicalism is an odd view for a Christian theist to hold given that God is immaterial, as are angels and demons. If so, why deny humans an immaterial soul? However, Merricks is not alone in his view. Christian philosophers Nancey Murphy and Peter van Inwagen agree with him.

The chapters by Robin Collins and Timothy O'Connor on Eastern religions and religious pluralism respectively, make some very sound points against the notion that all religions teach the same thing or that they are all equally rational. O'Connor nicely exposes some of the weakness of John Hick's religious pluralism. Collins marshals some strong internal criticisms of Buddhist and Hindu world views. For instance, "The Mahayana Buddhist's stress on loving others, therefore, is inconsistent with their overall worldview, because ultimately their worldview implies there is no one to love" (214). No pulling punches here! According to Collins, this world view faces insurmountable problems at a deep level, and he is right on that.

Despite my reservations, I recommend this book to those who seek a better understanding of how recent philosophy contributes to the apologetic task of the church. One will here find both felicitous and infelicitous examples of this challenging and necessary endeavor. When used selectively, Reason for the Hope Within, would serve well as a supplemental text in apologetics and philosophy of religion courses.

Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary

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