This article is the first in a two-part series about a recent trend among Christian apologists who try to "out-reason" their rational skeptics and why, in the end, it will not accomplish what they want it to.

Imagine: you, a relatively conservative citizen of the United States, are accused of being a Nazi. Sounds like a bad day. How would you respond? Most of us would offer confused looks and then go about insisting that we are not, in fact, Jew-killing, Hitler-worshiping purveyors of an Aryan Master Race. We would insist such a claim is unfounded and unreasonable. Isn’t it obvious that I am not a Nazi? Some of my best friends are Gypsies!

Of course, such defensiveness in the face of absurdity is the wrong strategy. It gives credibility to the accuser by engaging in the “when was the last time you beat your wife” trope. The accusation must be dealt with at the root level. We can consider alternative strategies as to how to respond later, but here’s a hint: trying to prove your rationality to someone committed to absurdity is always a losing battle.

Establishing Reasonableness with Unreasonable Minds

The correlation here is to the Church’s response to claims of irrationality. You know, when unbelievers accuse us of worshiping a god that doesn’t exist or being fools for believing that miracles are possible. The most popular strategy today in the face of such an accusation is to try to prove how rational we really are and build on some common ground with the unbeliever.

Indeed, the Church and her apologists have, almost to a one, made a bet on rationality. In response to the Enlightenment - itself a response to the superstition and ignorance of the medieval Church - Christian apologists have decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, i.e. The Rationalists. Like an aggressive poker player, The Church sees the rationalism of the unbeliever and raise the ante, “Oh, you have science? Well we have more! Oh, you have philosophy? Well, ours is better!”

The Church is, therefore, constantly on the defensive, trying to prove to unbelieving skeptics and hardened cynics that believing in miracles is completely reasonable, the resurrection of Jesus comports with widely-accepted “minimal facts,” and that history is on their side.

A few examples:

  1. Probably the largest apologetic ministry on earth is William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (I mean…it’s right there in the name), “Hey, everything we believe here is perfectly reasonable, even the supernatural, Spirit-formed faith that determines our salvation!”
  2. Gary Habermas has studied Jesus’ resurrection for decades, following every lead, reading every paper, surveying every relevant discipline. His “minimal facts” defense of the resurrection seeks to offer unassailable, historical evidence for the resurrection. Surely this has stemmed the tide of unbelief?
  3. Frank Turek’s “Cross Examined” ministry covers the gamut of theological objections, all framed with the skeptic in mind, answering any and all objections.

There are hundreds, if not thousands more such ministries and apologists. And while these men certainly mean well and seek to serve God, in trying to prove the utter reasonableness of Christianity, are they already ceding important ground? In the same way a “reasonable” person sets out to prove they are not a Nazi, yes, they have.

Now, I’m not actually saying that Christianity is not reasonable. Not really. From the Christian’s perspective, how could Christianity be unreasonable? It is the revelation from the God who created all things. The Laws of Logic and Science, the bases for reasonableness in the first place, are God’s. It is silly to suggest that Christianity is anything but reasonable. And yet, we build entire ministries around the idea that Christians must “prove” that.

We can’t. We can’t prove that Christianity is reasonable if we allow unreasonable people to dictate the terms of what is acceptably reasonable in the first place.

I understand the temptation to engage in the debate. We are eager to prove we can go toe-to-toe with the world’s great thinkers. We want to prove that we have the confidence of our convictions, that we do not believe in myths and fairy tales. Surely, if we can platform our own towering intellectuals, the unbelieving world will be forced to abandon its three-century project of Mere Rationalism, and Mere Christianity can finally re-win the West.

Well, I don’t see a lot of evidence that “out-smarting” the smartest guys in the room is working. And in the process of bringing the whole of Christian thought down to the most rational, most reasonable, most defensible level possible, we have denied Christianity its transcendence. Lost are the Spiritual claims and demands when Christianity is reduced to a set of logical syllogisms.

The Downside of Letting Rationality Rule

Worst of all, this does not put the unbeliever on his back foot at all. Rather, it emboldens him. You have shrunk the size of space you are willing to defend and you have allowed an abstracted, subjected understanding of “Reason” to be the judge. What a lost opportunity! Rather than questioning the impossibly flawed and compromised worldview that the unbeliever is saddled with, we argue relatively superficial issues again and again. We don’t force the unbeliever to account for the unreasonable nature of their positions. Positions that, in the end, boil down to “It’s turtles all the way down.”

The unbeliever can account for exactly nothing: no reason, no rationality, no creation, no order, no laws, no objective morality, no absolutes. All of life is materialistic happenstance. There are no soulful persons of infinite value building civilizations on everlasting principles of The Good. There are only animals, who, as Richard Dawkins famously said, “dance to the music [of their DNA]”. Nothing less. Certainly nothing more.

What ends up happening is that Christians will fall for the trap, set aside their presuppositional commitments to God’s existence, creation, and rule, and believe that if they can beat or match the unbeliever on their level, they can then, well, “level up.” They hold on to the fantasy that if they can finally settle “the science,” they can eventually backdoor their way to all of the “irrational” claims of Christianity. You know, dead people coming back to life and whatnot.

Has such an approach worked? Has the tactic of insisting we are the reasonable ones brought the naturalistic unbelievers to our side? I would say that not only has the project not been a net positive, it has taught the world that the very foundations of Christianity are up for debate. In the long run, this hollows out the absolute and certain teachings of the Church.

We’ll look at a lot of examples and consider some appropriate responses in Part 2.

Photo Credit- Patheos