“Christian theology doesn’t just consist in presenting an internally consistent system” — J.W. Montgomery

19 Aug
A very smart guy with lots of smart things to say... like this: "Vagueness as to what is meant by Christ's historicity must necessarily result in vague and indecisive theologies of history."*

A very smart guy with lots of smart things to say… like this: “Vagueness as to what is meant by Christ’s historicity must necessarily result in vague and indecisive theologies of history.”*

If I hear him rightly, Montgomery is saying, among other things, something like “correspondence – not just coherence”.  As Wikipedia says about “the Correspondence theory of truth”, “the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world”.  Related to this of course, is the matter of demonstrable evidence, necessary to establish/verify particular claims.

In a previous post on apologetics, I had quoted this bit from C.S. Lewis’ conversion story:

“Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing,” he went on. “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.” To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it — “safe,” where could I turn? Was there then no escape?” [read quote in full context here on PBS’s website]

Here we see the role of real evidence in C.S. Lewis’ conversion – how the “transcendent” broke through.  This, I said, got my vote for “Christian apologetics soundbite of the 20th century.  I also made the following statement:

For me, it is very significant to think of a quote like this in terms of its epistemological and theological significance. Although the Scriptures say that all are guilty before God (Romans 3), it also assigns a greater degree of guilt to persons who receive more light.  Does God assign greater culpability to those who simply hear the eyewitness testimony of those who witnessed the resurrection? Or do they need to at least feel like the claim is perhaps worthy of their attention – while still not believing it – before they can be accorded additional guilt?  Or, in order for this to happen, do they perhaps first need to read C.S. Lewis on why Hume is wrong on miracles, John Warwick Montgomery on how faith is founded on fact, John Wenham on why the resurrection accounts are compatible, or J. Warner Wallace, N.T. Wright, or Michael R. Licona making an inductive case that it is more probable than not that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead?

I will admit, I meant those questions to be rhetorical.  After paying attention to and thinking about these issues for a long time, I have come to some conclusions in the matter which I plan on laying out soon.  

I found it interesting that a day or two after I asked these questions Todd Wilken asked the following question of John Warwick Montgomery on this show:

Talk about if you would the absolute necessity for Christian confession [of faith] to be based not just in claims, not just in assertions, but in what can be established by ordinary means by which we usually establish – to a degree of high probability – to be facts.

Montgomery responded:

You put it very well. The fact of the matter is that religion deals with the ultimate meaning of life and the possibility of eternity…. the possibility of a final cosmic resolution of problems – it deals with ultimates. And since it does, it’s of absolute consequence that we have solid evidence for the religious position that we maintain. If in medicine, let’s say, it’s important that we have a basis for taking a particular remedy rather than another – because otherwise we might manage to kill ourselves – it is infinitely more important in the area of religion that we not rely upon something which is untrue… which is simply wishful thinking. And therefore orthodox Christians – Christians in the tradition of the church’s creeds and that believe that the Bible is in fact God’s word from cover to cover – these people have been tremendously concerned with the evidence and the factual foundations of faith. This is the reason why one branch of systematic theology is apologetics – this is the defense of the faith, the demonstration that this stuff is true. Christian theology doesn’t just consist in presenting an internally consistent system. You know my Uncle Oswald, who I mention frequently on the program, who is convinced he is followed by Albanians has a completely consistent philosophy – it’s just that it hasn’t got anything to do with reality. In the case of Christians, they insist that that the reason for believing in Jesus Christ is because He is God Almighty, He did come to earth and this is the incarnate God who really died on the cross and therefor can really provide a passport for eternity

I appreciate John Warwick Montgomery’s remarks here.  I think that it is very well put and needs to be paid close attention to.  That said, my questions revolve more around the content of Pastor Wilken’s question.

What am I thinking about?  Well, even if Christian faith is merely asserted in this or that circumstance, we can nevertheless say that by virtue of its being Christian faith there is necessarily a lot behind that assertion – not only good and logical reasons but things that we must call evidence as well.  This is part and parcel of Christian faith, even if it really can not be said to be the case for other faiths (yes, a few do try, but I think very unsatisfactorily).

But what is the nature of that evidence?  When we speak of the evidence that is part and parcel of our faith, what should we be focusing on?  And when it comes to speaking to unbelievers in particular, does God’s word have anything to say about what constitutes this evidence?  And what really, if anything, does this have to do with notions of probability?  These are the kinds of questions I want to explore and will look to talk about more in coming weeks.




* Where is History Going? 1969, p. 185

Image credit: Patrick Henry College website.



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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


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