Sunday, February 24, 2008

There Is A God

There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew.

If this were a real review, I wouldn't be starting with Appendix B, written by someone other than the author. This is just random commentary.

I thought the "The Self-Revelation of God in Human History: A Dialogue on Jesus with N. T. Wright" was only a few pages long, and I marveled at how Wright had condensed so much into so little space. It is actually nearly 30 pages long, but is so readable that you don't notice. Wright's evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is simply the best essay I have ever read on that subject. I sensed the ghost of C.S. Lewis behind much of what was written, and he quotes Lewis at one point, but Wright's essay is simply better. That is high praise from me.

In brief, the Bishop of Durham confronts the idea that the resurrection is the sort of story people might have made up later to strengthen their claim. He makes the strong case that this particular people would never have made up this story. Palestinian Jews and later, Mediterranean pagans, might not be any more honest than the rest of us and might be tempted to fudge the facts to puff things up. But this is nothing like what they would have done. The behavior of Jesus is both in complete accord with the Old Testament predictions, but different from the 1st C interpretations of same, that it could not have been invented by that group. He did things they never imagined, so they gulped hard and reported it as seen.

I know that evangelicals are supposed to hold Wright at arm's length a bit, especially if you are from a Reformed tradition or are especially worried about the doctrines of the Emerging Church, but I don't care. This is simply the clearest and best exposition out there.

The book by Flew that it attaches to is also quite excellent, though not what I expected. I don't know what, exactly, I did expect, but this wasn't it. Flew is an academic philosopher, and their works always leave me with mixed impressions. I will be reading along blithely, understanding and agreeing with a proposed argument and wondering why it takes a professional philosopher to point out such straightforward things, and then am suddenly at sea. I reread paragraphs or whole sections, wondering if I have accidentally skipped a page in turning. I think: I am not quite sure what is being talked about here. After a few tries I move on, now sailing along nicely until I am again fog-bound, staring into an opacity of words that I know but cannot decipher.

This is not merely a function of whether I agree or not. I found Chapter Nine, "Finding Space For God" invigorating and clear. Then on the last two pages Flew triumphantly nails down his key points, and I am lost. So I don't have the chops to tell you if Flew is the real deal, but I can at least tell you that he nicely refutes several arguments by atheist philosophers, including a few he put forth with energy through much of his career.

Flew is converted to theism, not Christianity, though he makes some acknowledgment that the Christian view looks more likely than other options. This is often the case with those who come at questions of God from philosophic or scientific perspectives. Theism can be apprehended without special revelation, and many who might be generally sympathetic to the idea of a god reject some specific claims of Christians, finding them unnecessary or unsupported. Christians have given these people a lot of grief in the past few centuries; we have become so used to living in a predominantly Christian and Jewish culture, where theism (or deism) was a way station on the way out of the faith, falling somewhere between apathy and agnosticism, that we have forgotten that it is also a way station on the way into the faith. Flew attempts to be rigorously honest to following the argument wherever it goes, and that should not be despised.

In what to me is a humorous irony, the Big Bang Theory and evolution, which evangelicals spend so much pointless energy attacking, are the entry points for Flew to believing that some sort of Superior Mind may be the best explanation for the universe as it is. As Christians, we are often tempted to fall into the practice of defending the Bible (or worse, our interpretation of it) rather than being witnesses for the faith. Luther considered a believer who defends the Bible analogous to a soldier who defends his sword. Testify to what you know and let the Bible be its own defense.


Steven Carr said...

Did Wright manage to prove Paul's claim that Jesus became 'a life-giving spirit'?

Did Wright explain why early Christian converts scoffed at the idea of God choosing to raise a corpse?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Wright answers the second indirectly. You won't like it because your blog indicates you find it more fun to be snide than accurate. Pick-and-choose facts, unrelated - I've been there too many times before to bother.

When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.

Steven Carr said...

In other words, you can't refute what I wrote, so you simply claim it has been refuted.

It is easy to be 'snide' about Wright.

Simply quote him, and then produce the Bible passage which blows him out of the water.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Try this, steven -
It's my understanding that some early Christian converts scoffed at the idea of God choosing to raise someone from the dead. For example, bguyyht and okkjup both note that the believers in Macedonia..."

Then we would know that you were here for a discussion. I will note additionally that someone who argues by quoting The Bible verse that "blows him out of the water" is also unlikely to offer much understanding of the scriptures.

Don't presume because I haven't answered you that I cannot.

Anonymous said...

Came across this column this morn - most appropriate I think (that someone's set of assumptions about reality act as a filter to keep only the data that supports the perceived paradigm those assumptions help bolster (I'd enjoy knowing Dawkin's attempt at rebuttal).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the head's up, AVI! I love CS Lewis, so Wright sounds interesting, too.