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Monday, August 25, 2003

Is Peter's Question still valid?

Peter exhorts us to be ready to provide a defense of our hope to all who ask. But it may be that it is possible to do that. Surely when ordinary people ask us to provide arguments or evidence for our Christian faith we should expect to be able to provide it. There are many reports of many people who were pursuaded into the Kingdomm through arguments and evidence.

But if we come to someone who has puished the main questions back to the most fundamental issues in epistemology, we may have reached the point where the question "Why do you believe in Jesus?" can in principle be answered. If part of the buisness of providing a complete answer to the reason of our beliefs requires overcoming sceptical issues about divine language or knowledge of moral truths or similar things, there may be no answer in principle. This does not mean that we cannot talk about non-truth relevant issues like the value of faith for life and dealing with stress or deal with objections to faith which try to show that we have sufficient reason and/or evidence that it must be false or that the hueristics we rely on to support it are not reliable. But in being required to give a truth indicative reason rather than just support the coherence of Christianity with itself or the data of science or its pragmatic value, we may not in principle be able to have anything to say.

This wouldn't show that we did not have a reason to believe, just that we cannot give a reason. It would not mean that we are being unreasonable in our belief in Christ or that the only motives we have are practical ones, or that our belief must be merely hypothetical. The fact that we cannot express our reasoning in terms of an formal argument that must needs find universal acceptance in all its assumptions and premises, does not mean that we do not have an argument in the sense of having a process that rationally guides our thought to the conclusion that Christianity is true. It does not mean we are fideists.

This puts us in an awkward situation with respect to the biblical demand to be ready with a defence. Sometimes given the strict context of the question a defense is in principle impossible. But in these situations we should not feel guilty for failure nor should we see it as indicating that there must be an error on Peter's part. Biblically we must understand Peter in the context of the rest of the New Testament. By the example of Christ, we understand that not every request for a miracle is worthy of being honored. And from Paul's discussion in I Corinthians 1 - 4, we see that some time the answer for the philosopher's request runs completely afoul of what was actually demanded. It would not be suprising if what may be primarily focused on moral conditions of reception was indicated by the formal features of the argument. Larry Crabb spoke of the sin of demandingness and this seems to fit the aggravated insistence on a solution before considering further that characterizes worldly oppositon to the gospel.

The current state of our best thought has put us in a situation where this situation comes up more and more frequently and which the demand for an answer is being used as a gate keeping device to the respect of society. We may be in a position where pushing apologetics is not the most appropriate attitude to dealing with a secular culture.