The New God Argument and A New Apologetics
Recently my friend Lincoln Cannon released the third version of his groundbreaking New God Argument. This argument is a philosophical justification for trust in God, laying the technical groundwork for a rational approach to religion and theology.
As a technical philosophical work, appreciating it requires overcoming some fairly big obstacles. Additionally, it’s an argument that was crafted within a Mormon context, with a cosmology and language unfamiliar to most religious people. This means that mainstream Christians will most likely have trouble seeing how it could relate to their faith and understanding of their religion.
Despite these obstacles, I believe that this argument represents a new kind of apologetics, an apologetics that ultimately has much more to offer the world than the apologetics that we have known. Beyond the argument’s own merits, the very approach it takes is a substantial reorientation from prior approaches.
First, it is based on the future, not the past.
Classical apologetics asks us to reason backwards to first causes, or original unmoved movers. This means that God is always conceived primarily in terms of that which is behind us. History is then seen as the flight from God, the never-ending descent from original perfection — and human life and civilization easily become portrayed as a meaningless effort doomed to failure.
As several generations of theologians have been telling us, this perspective is neither biblical nor wise. God should not be portrayed as being primarily in the past — just as religion should not be construed as a call to return to some earlier way of life (say, the 1950s, or the 1780s, or even the first century).
The biblical God is primarily a God of the future — a God whose most intense displays of power are yet to come. It is, after all, “kingdom come”, not “kingdom gone”.
It is time for our theology and our apologetics to reflect that.
Second, it is based on action, not mere assent.
In much of Christian culture, “faith” has become collapsed into something a lot like “intellectual assent”. This means that questions about the age of the earth, the geographic nature of Noah’s flood, and the taxonomy of Jonah’s fish, become portrayed as significant and viable concerns — concerns which could potentially have eternal consequences for the fate of your soul. Even when those particular issues aren’t being argued over, others usually are. In practice, this means that “faith” is agreeing with a particular set of assertions, and disagreeing with another set.
This state of affairs is a far cry from the biblical example of Abraham, whose faith consisted of heading off into the wilderness, leaving his homeland in pursuit of a future civilization that no one else could possibly foresee.
It is clear from the biblical record that Abraham was incredibly conflicted about all of this. He could never quite stick to the plan, and kept waffling on even the most minor of issues. Nevertheless, his persistence earned him the title “the father of faith” — not because of how he felt, or what he said or thought he believed — but because of the future his actions testified to.
I call this enacted trust, and it is the difference between the faith by which Abraham was justified, and the faith by which “even the demons believe, and tremble.”
Third, it connects our belief in humanity and our belief in God.
It is common in traditional apologetics to end up arguing in favor of a God who has no obvious interest in the human race. In this approach, apologetics creates an implicit divide between our interest in God and our interest in humanity.
This feeling is at the heart of secular humanism, which takes the division implied by traditional apologetics, and makes it explicit. In secular humanism, to believe in humanity is to disbelieve in God.
But this divide is deeply problematic for Christians. After all, Christians affirm that God created humans in his image, and then went even further and became human in the person of Jesus Christ. From the very beginning of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, God is incredibly invested in humanity, continually concerned with our lives, our society, and our progress. For Christians, there can ultimately be no great divide, because God has thrown in his lot with the human race.
Until our apologetics embrace this most Christian of understandings, our apologetics won’t be Christian at all.
The New Apologetics
I believe that our future as communities of faith will require reorienting the way we understand the connection between theology, faith, and action — and will demand a more Christian approach to the relationship between God and humanity.
This will effectively be a new apologetics, an apologetics much fuller and richer than the apologetics of the past, an apologetics which echoes Jesus’ call to invest all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
The New God Argument points us towards this new apologetics, taking the first step on a long and thrilling path of exploration. But although this may be the first step down that road, it won’t be the last. Exciting times lie ahead, and we can hardly do better than to heed the cry of C.S. Lewis: “Further up and further in!”