Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
By William Edgar
January 12, 2015
As we enter this new year, we should remember that the heart of the gospel is simple. It can be put several ways, and never better than John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (ESV)” Intellectualism has often plagued the church. Academic theologians like me have a way of making simple matters needlessly complicated. Instead of “sins of the mind” we say “the noëtic effects of sin.” Instead of “the end” we say “eschatology.” Instead of “the study of salvation” we say “soteriology.” I recently read a blog which made a plea to get back to the simplicity of the gospel and away from things that muddle it up--denominations, complex arguments about evil, apparent contradictions in the Bible. Isn’t this church sign appealing, “God said it; I believe it; That settles it.”?
But wait. There is an enormous difference between being simple and being simplistic. Should not the Christian message be at once accessible and also appropriate to a most complex world? As we enter 2015, we will be facing greater complexity at many levels-- social, philosophical, psychological. Silver bullets (and, sadly, real bullets) will be tempting both for believers and unbelievers.
A number of fresh and compelling books in my field of Christian apologetics have emerged that try to answer this call of complexity. Francis Spufford has written one of the most unusual defenses of the Christian faith in our time: Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (HarperOne, Reprint edition 2014). The title alone is a mouthful, and the content is ingenious. His definition of sin uses unprintable words. He retells the story of Jesus with a realism that actually puts you right there with the disciples, the Romans, the crowds. He states his goal, “I have anachronized and estranged, to try to peel away the lingering familiarity which might prevent you from hearing it fresh” (147).
David Skeel puts the word in the title: True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World (IVP Books, 2014). He begins by gently reproaching two common apologetic methods, the purely logical kind of demonstration, and the “courtroom” dismantling of materialist theories such as evolutionism (underscore the ism – he does not venture into the traditional science and faith discussion, though he faults Darwin for his simplistic and unaesthetic views). He then valiantly takes on many of the most difficult questions. One of the most poignant chapters is on suffering, where Skeel faces the complex nature of the problem with powerful testimonies, offering some answers and some remaining questions with great integrity.
Another excellent read is the recent book Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple, by Krish Kandiah (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014). Kandiah addresses issues such as human suffering, God’s unpredictability, and disappointment with the church by taking biblical characters and themes as the catalyst for his discussion, such as The Abraham Paradox: The God who is actively inactive; The Jonah Paradox: The God who is indiscriminately selective; and The Cross Paradox: The God who wins as he loses.
Finally, the ever-productive Os Guinness has written a much-needed book on advocacy: Fools’ Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP, forthcoming). Filled with fascinating examples and numerous weighty quotes, Guinness’s aim is to address unbelief in our increasingly complex world. He says, “Through the explosion of pluralism in the last fifty years, our world has grown dramatically more diverse, and through the intensification of the culture warring in many Western countries, our world has grown far more dismissive of our faith. We therefore have to speak many languages, and not just ‘Christian,’ and we have to address minds and hearts that listen to us with a default position of prejudice, scorn, impatience, and sometimes anger” (13).
Facing complex issues with a rich faith is not entirely new. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis asserts that it is no good looking for a simple religion, since reality is not simple. Lewis’s mentor G. K. Chesterton, famous for weaving paradox into his arguments, argued in Orthodoxy that complexity is not an enemy but a friend of true religion, “When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science.” The gospel is simple, at one level, accessible to “whoever.” But it is deep and rich and multifaceted, able to address the most daunting issues and the most brilliant minds of our times.
- William Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”