Jeff Cook, details at the bottom of the post, always offers here a set of ideas worth considering. Many of you know that I find Jeff’s voice not only important but insightful — stubbornly thoughtful as I see him — and a voice that I believe will prevail with many in the decades ahead. I love this post.
Have you ever tried to convince a friend to quit smoking, or start that business they always talk about, or come clean about their affair? Have you ever said, “You need to be reasonable” after giving a set of arguments? And have you ever been disappointed when that friend didn’t act because apparently your reasons—though sound and conclusive—weren’t enough? Why is this? Why is it that someone can hear a strong rational argument for action, yet not act at all?
In a recent post, I argued that many of my friends and colleagues don’t believe in God because God has not been presented as a being they would “want” to believe in.
I think much of Christian apologetics and evangelism in general are often misguided because right thinking is held up as a more valuable target than one’s hopes or desires. As such, some Christians routinely make God look cruel or arbitrary when making their seemingly-valid theological points—but there defacing of God’s reputation is overlooked because as a community we hold that the beliefs of our interlocutors are more important than their yearning for God.
Such displays of God are massive failures, for the way truth is presented matters.
Truths without deep care for our audience are clanging symbols that produce nothing, said Paul. I am again moved by Pascal who wrote, “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Pensees 12). Contemporary apologists seldom heed this wisdom.
All too often, Christians do not understand that those they speak with first need to want God to exist before they will ever actually listen to the wiz-bang arguments we have for God’s existence. As such, I would like to defend the following claim: “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.” By “more important”, I mean desire is more crucial to the transformation of a person’s heart, more helpful in moving them toward faith in Christ, and more instrumental in one’s “salvation” than right thinking.
Notice how the Bible establishes this value judgment.
First, belief is not sufficient for goodness. James notes that the devils believe in God and shudder (Js 2). Apparently, a universal attribute of the demonic is belief in God paired with a repulsion to God. As such, if a demon were able to shift its repulsion to love, the demon could no longer be demonic. Wanting God to exist then is more essential to avoiding demonization than mere belief.
Second, belief alone is not a sufficient condition for being in Christ. Because we so often associate salvation with right thinking (and not surrendering our hearts to the Lord Jesus), we often miss a truth that Jesus painted in a variety of ways. He said there are many who enter back into the garden to work, but some are asked to leave—because they do not like the master or his graciousness to others (Mt 20). There are many invited to the banquet, but some are asked to leave—because they do not care about the master or his wishes (Mt 22). There are many forms of soil that receive the word of God, but few tap into its life because of fear or temptation or the lack of passion necessary for roots (Mt 13). Each of these parables confirm that there are many who intellectually encounter God yet do not rise to care about God—and fail to really live.
We see this, finally, in Paul who argues that “love surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19) and only therein is our full humanity found. This makes sense for reason is not transformative. Just because you “know” cigarette smoking will kill you in a brutal fashion, does not mean you will stop smoking. You must care. You must love yourself. Knowledge is not enough. Only the will can decide what you do. Reason just tells you the options and likely outcomes.
It seems then that enticing the passions and wills of those who do not follow Christ is far more important than targeting their intellect with arguments for God’s existence. Showing that God is desirable will be the primary target of the successful 21st century apologist, for wanting God to exist opens highways for subpar apologetics; yet a closed heart will not here the voice of wisdom.
If we remain chained to the modern idolization of reason, and fail to see human beings as composed of body, mind and soul, we will lose both the rational arguments in our culture and our opportunity to promote sanctified bodies, minds and souls. Such mistakes must stop.
In my next post I’ll outline Jesus’ consistent appeal to desire and then this fall I would like to pitch 5 new arguments for God’s existence that target human emotion and—atleast in my case—move some towards faith in Christ. A foretaste of these arguments are presented in a recent film and in the book I just released.
Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can see his work at www.everythingnew.org