How do we defend the faith? By producing cosmological proofs? By trying to vindicate the historicity of miracles? Perhaps these all have their place, but perhaps Scripture turns us to another way.
I joined a reading group here in New College, which went through Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. My exposure to Idealism (and German philosophy in general) was channeled through Heidegger and the Existentialists back in undergrad, and then through Van Til’s reconfiguration of it in Westminster. I’ve always sensed that there was a fundamental difference between the patterns of reasoning as exhibited in Idealist thought and the one found in analytic philosophy. But it is only recently that I’ve been pushed to think explicitly about the two forms of reasoning – and their implications for Christian apologetics (or, defense of the faith).
Part of Hegel’s project is to repair what he thinks are errant forms of logic or reasoning in Modern philosophy, especially in Kant and Descartes. An errant form of logic creates false oppositions: between, say, faith and reason, history and necessity, and, subject and object. Modern philosophy, and no doubt he would say the same of much of analytic philosophy, pits the above categories as contradictions or as oppositions. Simplistically speaking, non-Christian Modern philosophy denies faith by means of reason, deny knowledge of God by making the object inaccessible to the subject, or, in the case of liberal historical criticism, by pitting the facts of history against present applicability or norms. The problem with modern (and, I suspect, contemporary) Christian philosophy and apologetics is to respond to this challenge by playing the same game. That is, they try to vindicate faith by means of reason, fixate on the historicity of miracles, etc. etc. The problem with both, in Hegel’s mind, is the false opposition produced between faith and reason, and, related to that, that it generates a further binary opposition between God (and the Christian faith) and the person. In “classical” or modern apologetics the apologist makes the non-Christian a mere spectator and even a judge of the claims of the Christian tradition. In Hegel this makes the problem worse. If, in Hegel’s account of logic he tries to provide a way of thinking that produces a non-binary form of reasoning, making terms like subject/object, history/necessity, and faith/reason as pairs in inseparable relation (rather than oppositions in contradiction), Hegel’s “apologetics” (if one could put it that way), is a method that invites the interlocutor to “participate” in the Christian faith – a participation which would cause he or she to see the internal reasons of that faith, and to reason from faith, and faithfully reason. So, instead of rendering the interlocutor as, say, a judge in the realm of reason in a safe distance from the things of faith, and then for the apologist to “vindicate” those things of faith by means of the realm of reason, Hegel bids the theologian to, instead, invite him not to look at a distance, but to witness to and participate in the work of God through the work of the community.
In Hegel’s mind this is an insight from Scripture itself – God is one outside of us, surely, but God is also the one that invites us in, he dwells in and among us, and it is in the thinking of the community, of tradition, of doctrine, that manifests the work of God. To argue on the basis of reason alone for faith is actually to bar the person in question from truly participating in God, and thus from seeing him work.
Of course, there are a lot of ontological features in Hegel’s thought that orthodox Christians must reject (that he doesn’t hold to a strict distinction between Creator and creature is one). But there is a lot of truth to what he is saying.
We can see perhaps how Van Til re-calibrated and re-appropriated Hegel’s reasoning. For Van Til, both Christian and non-Christian are already “participating” in God’s truth, and in God’s world. Every person is already dependent on God, and in relationship with God, but every person does so either in Adam or in Christ. Those in Adam depend on God, and share in his truth insofar as he is made in God’s image. But because those in Adam suppress this truth, refusing to acknowledge the God from whom he comes and on whom he depends, God’s wrath is upon him, unless he trusts in Jesus Christ. Those in Adam will still depend on reason, will reason in a way that “manifests” God’s mind and character, and are thus still capable of doing good, and of thinking truly, but they do so on borrowed capital – they are depending on and reflecting the very God that they deny.
If Hegel’s advice is that Christians ought to invite the non-believer to participate and to witness the reasoned faith and faithful reasoning of the community, Van Til’s advice is to expose and confront the unbeliever with the way in which he is already participating in God, by virtue of being made as an image-bearer, and by virtue of God’s common grace – a participation that he does not acknowledge, and a participation that therefore invokes divine wrath. Van Til, like Hegel, does not bestow a right for the unbeliever to look upon faith from the tribunals of reason, but rather confronts the unbeliever that he depends upon the faith that he denies, a faith on which his reasoning actually depends.
This, surely, is a more fruitful apologetic – a confrontation that isn’t merely intellectual, and a defense that is equally an offense.