Resurgence Roundup, 3/7/14
Fri Mar 07, 2014
How to Replant a Church, Part 5: Rally Your Troops
Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Bubba Jennings
The 4 Pillars of Pastoral Work
Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Dave Bruskas
10 Ideas For Keeping Lent
Wed Mar 05, 2014
by Winfield Bevins
How an Executive Pastor Frees the Lead Pastor to Do What Only He Can Do
Tue Mar 04, 2014
by Sutton Turner
Get to Know the New Theists
Led by storied Protestant philosopher Alvin Plantinga, a crop of New Theists have been making compelling cases for faith and growing in numbers. All Christians, especially Christian leaders, should be conversant with at least the main outlines of the New Theists’ works. Want to check out some of their key books? Check out our New Theists summer reading list here.
Sharpening the Arguments for Theism
Many Christians are aware of the slew of attacks on belief from the New Atheists these days. Yet most Christians are unaware of a powerful resource to counter these attacks. Here’s the quick backstory.
While the New Atheists have been deriding the idiocy of believers, the number of professional Christian intellectuals has been on the rise. In fact, since the late 1960s, a revolution has been taking place in academic philosophy. By 1980, this revolution was large enough to attract the attention of Time magazine. Time’s article “Modernizing the Case for God” begins with the tag, “Philosophers refurbish the tools of reason to sharpen arguments for theism.” The article opens:
God? Wasn’t he chased out of heaven by Marx, banished to the unconscious by Freud and announced by Nietzsche to be deceased? Did not Darwin drive him out of the empirical world? Well, not entirely. In a quiet revolution in thought and argument that hardly anyone could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers—most of whom never accepted for a moment that he was in any serious trouble—but in the crisp, intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse.
Plantinga Plants a Flag
One of the first philosophers to take advantage of this resurgence of the old-time philosophy—and undoubtedly the most important—was the young Protestant philosopher Alvin Plantinga. In fact, Plantinga had helped shut down the aforementioned linguistic project, and then, using the tools of logic and analysis, turned his philosophical attention to the rationality of religious belief.
It wasn’t that Plantinga was looking for reasons to believe in God—he already believed. Rather, he was devoting his philosophical efforts to a particularly Christian understanding of things, something like St. Anselm’s fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.” If the atheists weren’t interested in such a project, so what? So, rather than arguing for God’s existence, Plantinga took belief in God as his starting point.
Pray that God will continue to bless believers and unbelievers alike through philosophy. Yes, philosophy.
Since then, Plantinga has led the revolution in Christian philosophy (the same Time article called him “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God”) and, in the process, has become one of the most highly respected philosophers of any persuasion. In addition to his accomplishments in the philosophy of religion, he has made significant contributions to mainstream metaphysics, epistemology, and modal logic.
The Academy’s Numbers Swell
Many Christian philosophers have entered the academy along the way, and a considerable number of them are the best and brightest philosophy has to offer. Some of the vanguards include Plantinga’s close friend Yale professor emeritus Nicholas Wolterstorff (the two attended Calvin College together, both as undergraduates and as faculty), Richard Swinburne, George Mavrodes, the late William Alston, and many more besides. The ranks continue to swell. In fact, the Society of Christian Philosophers, founded in the late 1970s, is the largest single-interest group among American philosophers, according to Calvin’s Kelly Clark.
Arguments to Be Familiar with and Grateful For
The current situation has a definite aesthetic appeal: we have New Atheists and New Theists, a pleasing symmetry. And the New Theists have some great, new material, material that isn’t merely useful, but necessary. I would go so far as to say that nearly all Christians, and especially Christian leaders, should be conversant with at least the main outlines of the New Theists’ work.
But most importantly, we should thank God for this recent resurgence (ahem) of capable Christian thinkers. Gratitude, after all, should be the flavor of a Christian’s life. And while you’re at it, pray that God will continue to bless believers and unbelievers alike through philosophy. Yes, philosophy.
Some Summer Beach Reading for You
Dig into the best of the New Theists’ canon with these books:
- Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, ed. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (1991)
- Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray (1998)
- Warranted Christian Belief, by Alvin Plantinga (2000)
- Is Christianity Good for the World? by Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson (2009)
- Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World, by N.D. Wilson (2009)
- The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, by David Berlinski (2009)
- The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller (2009)
Mitch Stokes is the author of his newly released book, A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists.