Defending Your Faith (RC Sproul)

Sproul, R. C. Defending Your Faith.

I am not sure if I would say this is the best comprehensive intro to apologetics.  Nonetheless, I can’t think of any competitors. It is both broad and deep without sacrificing clarity.  Indeed, it tops out around 160 pages.  While Sproul defends classical apologetics, and I believe he is largely correct, that isn’t my goal in this review.  Classical apologetics has a certain congruity with traditional Reformed thought.  The notions of causation and other quasi-Aristotelian categories are found in the Reformed confessions and the greatest of her writers (e.g., Turretin).  Rejecting classical apologetics might come at too high a cost.

Key Points

Three levels of faith. Fiducia is personal trust and reliance (Sproul 17). Only the Holy Spirit can work this.  If we see apologetics as pre-evangelism, we are concerned with the other two levels of faith: noitia and assensus. Noitia is the data I have to process before I can accept or reject Christ. Assensus is intellectual assent.

The Principles of Knowledge

These principles are the law of noncontradiction, the law of causality, the reliability of sense perception, and analogical use of language.  Of particular importance is the second one, causality, as the cosmological argument is probably the most powerful one.  Sproul tells the story of how Bertrand Russell read John Stuart Mill’s attack on the law of causality as follows: if everything has a cause, then what caused the previous cause, and so on?  Obviously, this removes God from the picture.  This, however, is not what the law states. Rather, every effect has a cause.  God has the power of being in himself and is not an effect.

Analogy of Being

If you maintain that God is Wholly Other, like Barth, then you have lost all knowledge of God.

General Revelation

Mediate general revelation is God’s revelation of himself through a medium, such as nature.  Immediate general revelation is what comes to us directly, such as the works of the law on our hearts. This leads to the charge against classical apologetics that by beginning with themselves and not God, they are autonomous. Sproul gives an insightful answer: only God can begin with God. We begin with self-consciousness and in doing so, we are immediately met with finitude and that we aren’t God.

Aquinas, Nature, and Grace

Sproul rescues Aquinas from the misunderstandings popularized by 20th century apologists.  God’s revelation in nature has a divine origin.  The so-called “two storey criticism” of Aquinas just doesn’t work. Kant separated nature from grace, not Aquinas.  In fact, while Sproul doesn’t mention it, Aquinas could even be seen to say that nature participates in grace.

The Positive Case

The existence of the world comes down to four possibilities: illusion, self-creation, self-existence, and created.  From these four options, Sproul argues that if anything exists, then something must exist necessarily.  The most popular alternative is self-creation.

Self-creation is analytically false. For something to create itself, it must have existed before it exists.  As Sproul notes, “The universe would have to be and not be at the same time,” which violates the law of noncontradiction.  Self-creation, however, is not the same as self-existence.  There is no logical contradiction in the idea of a self-existent God who has all power of being in himself.

Did chance make the universe?  The problem here is that chance is reified, or given actual being.  Chance describes mathematical possibilities.  It isn’t a force or being that rigs a coin toss.

God is the Ens Necessarium

God is necessary “by virtue of rationality.” I think Sproul moves too quickly on this point.  I agree with him, but I don’t think it is adequately substantiated.  That God is ontologically necessary, as demonstrated in the next point, makes more sense. This means that God has the power of being in himself.  This is God’s aseity.

Sproul understands that if he is correct, then he hasn’t proven the God of the Bible.  His response is that he can get pretty close.  If apologetics is pre-evangelism, then he doesn’t have to prove the God of the Bible in one step.  The cosmological argument, for example, can remove barriers to belief.  In any case, a being that exists outside of time and space and is able to create rationality must be a rational being (along with being a spiritual being, obviously).

The rest of the book examines Kant’s moral argument, the psychology of atheism, and biblical authority.  They are worthy topics (maybe not Kant) but I think they come at a price.  The last chapter on biblical authority is necessary, since most people are dealing with the reliability of the Bible.  On the other hand, one expects a defense of classical apologetics to deal in depth with the main a priori arguments.

The first half of the book is quite excellent and worthy of all readers, regardless of methodological persuasion. The rest of the book should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

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