Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Rhetoric of "Fear-driven" Theology--part 2

This continues the dialogue began in part one.

David writes:

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you, Richard. I have been in the middle of a move (geographical, not theological or ecclesial) and this is the first time I have sat down in front of a computer since Wednesday.
My statements about a lot of apologetics being motivated by fear are basically attempts at articulating a hunch based on my own experience and based on the testimonies of friends who think of themselves as “recovering Fundamentalists.” In other words, I know that there were times (particularly in my late teens) when I relied on apologetics because I was terrified that my Christian faith was not grounded in reality. I desperately needed some assurance that I was not crazy to be a Christian, and I looked to Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, Francis Schaeffer, and, eventually, Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til, & Co. to give me that assurance. I *needed* the arguments to hold. I needed certainty. I didn’t want theological loose-ends, either, because I was afraid they might unravel my entire worldview. This was my Fundamentalist phase and it was thankfully short-lived (maybe age 17-20).
At some point during my college years I got over all that–somewhere between reading Wolterstorff’s Reason Within The Bounds of Religion and Alister McGrath’s A Scientific Theology–and learned to get on without absolute, Cartesian certainty, to live with open-ended questions, and to rest in the simple faith in mere Christianity I’d learned as a kid.
In the meantime, I have met boatloads of self-described “recovering Fundamentalists” who describe their experiences in very similar terms–fear-driven dependence upon apologetics. And I am struck by how often I meet would-be apologists whose knee-jerk reaction to difficult issues is not to ask about the evidence but to ask about the stakes (If Adam & Eve are not historical, is my faith in vain?). I can’t be sure, but my hunch is that when our default questions are “What’s at stake?” and “What’s next?” (slippery-slope), we are engaging issues from a place of fear. I also think that belligerence is often symptomatic of fear.
Maybe the fear isn’t even for ourselves. Maybe it’s fear that our kids will hear something and abandon the faith. Maybe it’s fear about the direction our society is going in. Whatever it is, a natural reaction is to circle the wagons and defend ourselves with whatever arguments we find ready-to-hand.
In any case, this isn’t a counter-argument but a hunch about the motivation for some arguments. If we want to talk about Adam, we should talk about our reasons for thinking what we think. I wouldn’t start by speculating about your motives at all and I hope you would extend the same courtesy to me. But if the conversation seemed to evade vitally relevant evidence, if the conversation kept coming back to questions about theological stakes and slippery-slopes, and especially if the conversation became heated, I don’t know if I could help wondering about the spiritual and emotional dimensions of the discussion.
Finally, I should make it absolutely clear that I do not think that anyone who disagrees with me only does so out of fear. I thought that could go without saying, but now I’m not so sure.
I responded:

I appreciate the interaction. I’ll try to make this one of my last comments so that this does not become the unending thread!
My comments have focused on your statement regarding apologetics. Now after our back and forth I see now that your comments are based on your own experiences as a late-teen and the experiences of others of your friends. This then produces a “hunch” that “so much apologetics is fear-driven.” Your initial comments thus seem to be a bit overblown. My concern is not simply with a lack of justification for your remarks. As I understand your purposes they are to minister in a pastoral capacity to those engaged in Christian scholarship. As this is your goal may I suggest that your initial comments were a bit of reckless rhetoric that did not serve your pastoral purposes. You could have developed your main concern about fearfulness in approaching theology without seemingly denigrating so much of apologetics–especially after setting up the entire set of posts with a division between the faculty at Westminster.