Randal Rauser: Is the Atheist My Neighbor?

I think this is very true. If we cannot clean intellectual (and moral) house in the Church, why should anyone trust us? This might put you at odds with other Christians. How have they responded to your work?

This is really good. The way we are describing this here is to engage for the purpose of “understanding and to be understood”. From a Christian point of view I am motivated to this in part by Proverbs, which teaches “to seek understanding above all else.” This, it seems, is wise.

I notice you connect your ethos to a notion of “hospitality” too. What other values, imperatives, or theology is driving your approach? It is great if it “works” in the end, but I wonder if there is deeper rational than mere pragmatics at the root of this. This is more than just responding to our current moment, right?

Not surprisingly, it’s been a mixed response. Some Christians welcome what I’m doing, but others seem to view me with suspicion and/or hostility. When I point out that a particular objection to Christianity is difficult and not easily refuted, they are not sure what I’m doing. Occasionally, I then get labelled as a liberal or a skeptic. Labels can be useful, but in a case like this, they often focus as a way to marginalize: “Oh, okay, you’re obviously a liberal Christian so I don’t have to listen to you.”

In cases like that, I try to point out that terms like “liberal” are relative: one person’s liberal is another person’s fundamentalist. And so we need to move beyond labels to consider arguments.

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As for the question of what other values or imperatives drive my approach, at the risk of sounding cliched, I’d want to say: the pursuit of truth. Dallas Willard once observed that if Jesus were not the truth, he’d be the first person to tell you. The lesson, I think, is that we should all strive to be people of virtue who want to know what is true more deeply than we want our own beliefs to be vindicated. And that means that rather than respond to challenges to our beliefs by circling the wagons (e.g. by way of the confirmation bias and motivated reasoning), we should instead seek to deal with challenges to our beliefs honestly and rigorously and to make the necessary alterations to our beliefs where required.

As for theology, in my book What’s So Confusing About Grace? I describe my own journey from the Pentecostal fundagelicalism of my youth to a progressive evangelical theology in the free church tradition.

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You are in Canada, and I sense a possible gap in language here. What exactly do you mean by “progressive evangelical theology?”

Personal disclosure: I am very much in the conservative evangelical tradition here in USA, but find very high agreement with you. Perhaps we just have a lot of disagreement on theology in addition to our common ground. That is okay. If that is the case, it might be worth emphasizing even stronger that the liberal-conservative distinction is really the wrong way to divide the world.

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Apologetic explanation includes (1) defense of one’s views against objections, (2) positive grounds/reasons in support of one’s views, and (3) critiques of alternative views inconsistent with one’s own.

As for Peter’s understanding of apologia, I think we always need to contextualize it. Consider Acts 17. Paul begins by giving an apologia in the synagogues of Thessalonica and Berea in which he reasons from the Scriptures. But when he moves to Athens he gives an apologia which appeals to the status to an unknown God and to Stoic philosophers. The lesson is that he is fine-tuning his apologetic method to the audience.

My problem with contemporary Biola apologetics is that it is often directed to those who have minds like engineers or philosophers. The poets among us will be attracted to a different approach.

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True. However at no point does it resemble the Biola apologetic. Now, there still may be a place for philosophical arguments, especially engaging the philosophers, for example. Nonetheless, I wonder if it is better understood as an explanation, not a defense. After all, in the case of our faith, we might not be able to bring all the evidence into public. Much of our confidence rests in private experience too.

How do you bring personal experience into the conversation?

This is striking. I wonder if it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems that most Christians have focused on defending minimal theism for a while now. However, Jesus is not reducible to theism, and (for me at least) he is the best apologetic for theism. I’ve come to understand Jesus as logically prior to confident theism, and much greater than theism too.

We’ve been discussing this on another thread: Jesus and Theism. I might share a story in a moment, but I’ve seen high interest in a secular contexts in Jesus, rather than “God”, and that He becomes the way to understanding the father. This is so salient a reality in my context that I’m not even comfortable calling myself a “theist” any more, even though I certainly do believe in God.

This leads to two questions:

  1. How do you see the relationship between theism and Jesus?

  2. I fully admit that I am a poor incoherent scientist, with no philosophical training. Is there a clearer way to explain this than I am doing so here?

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Adding more fuel to the fire, here is what I write about how I left theism…

I still affirm evolutionary science, but I no longer am a theistic evolutionist . Since I first became public in my work, I have never been intent on evangelizing evolution. For this reason, I am not well defined as an “ evolutionist .” My worldview does not rest on evolution; it rests on Jesus, the one who rose from the dead. I am not well defined as a “ theist ” either, because I see great evil in this world justified by generic (and specific) theism; and I follow Jesus, who is much greater than theism.
http://peacefulscience.org/confessing-scientist/

Welcome @Randal_Rauser. Thanks for sharing some insight with us. I’ll also be putting this book on my list to peruse when my semester begins to slow down.

This is all too true. I have a problem with some of the apologetic and Christian books never driving to primary sources, but thinking through a position already filtered through our own team’s secondary sources. Not helpful at trying to understand one’s neighbors.

I did work with Ruse at Florida State, finishing my PhD in 2015. All I can say is that it was a blast working with him. He has written a book called, Can a Darwinian Be A Christian, where I remember telling him that his understanding of Christianity is better than many Christians! His answer to the title’s question was: Yes, but you need to liberalize your Christianity. He has a naturalistic Humean proclivity that disallows miracles except as pure existential experiences. Jesus did not and could not rise from the dead for Ruse.

This was more than likely due to the fact that he thinks Christians are irrational to believe in “real” miracles. It really is a sticking point for him, as it is, I imagine, for most atheists! His Quaker background, however, he often credits with his curious nature and educational career of working with people from all backgrounds. He really has been blessed with great Christian friends, he talks about it often. He used to throw big BBQ’s on Sundays were he would invite all his students, faculty friends, and then community friends for eating, drinking, and merry making. I remember bumping into local pastors and youth workers at those gatherings. In some sense, he was running the opposite of @Randal_Rauser in terms of providing ahteistic apologetics through hospitality!

I think this is largely correct in that the apologetic mind is one that is tacitly trained into formal debate modes. I wouldn’t blame Craig for this, but more those who are distilling Craig’s content second hand, training up the youth as little clone apologists. I’ve worked hard with my students at the college to get their apologetic facts straight, but then also work hard at conversing with their neighbor’s to learn where their neighbor’s actual questions arise. In fact, much to the chagrin of my colleagues I imagine, I highly encourage students to spend an evening at the local casino playing $5 blackjack and conversing with the people who come and go from the table. Apologetic books don’t quite capture the images of humanity that arise when students meet the colorful cast of characters that hang around $5 blackjack tables!

If I’m following @swamidass here, I think he is right that while the facts of the resurrection can be used in mode of apologetics being questioned here, the resurrection, facts and all, are the locus of the hope from 1 Peter 3:15. Thus, the apologetic conversation, and evangelism generally, is to proclaim the promise of eternal life granted through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Ultimately, apologetics is useless if it isn’t centering on that death and resurrection. Antony Flew was not a win for Christianity in his conversation from atheism to deism/theism. Philosophically, it was a win, but it really only showed that philosophers can change their minds about some basic presuppositions they hold, big deal, philosophers and scientists do this all the time. Why don’t we role the red carpet out for someone who moves from an antirealist to realist position on numbers?

Or, at the very least, recognize that we may not know. I always push the Socratic line from his famous Apology, that “wisdom is knowing that we do not know,” coupled with his critique of the various important people of Athen’s having knowledge that was beyond the realm of human possibility. Take home is that human knowledge, even human theological knowledge, is fallible and incomplete. I think this Socratic point meshes nicely with Biblical verses such as Proverbs 9:10 where the beginning of Wisdom is the fear of the Lord. We should always be willing to admit that we simply don’t know – it often invites a mutual search for understanding.

When I do any apologetic teaching these days, I use 1 Peter 3:15 to zero in on the important Christocentric aspect of hope in the verse, but I quickly move to Colossians to talk about “method”:

Col 2:8
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Col 4:5-6
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

It doesn’t exclude what you’ll are calling the Biola method, but opens the conversation to a much broader conversation about apologetic methodology.

I think I’m on the same page with you here. I don’t have time to wade into the Jesus and Theism thread today, but I really don’t see the need to hash out logical priors in this case. Scripture seems pretty clear that knowing Jesus is knowing God. A logical hierarchy seems a rather impossible task outside of how Scripture speaks about approaching God through Christ due to the nature of the Trinity.

I look forward to seeing how this thread develops with @Randal_Rauser!

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6 posts were merged into an existing topic: Jesus and Theism

Dr Rauser, great quote. I have to say that your books and blog have helped me tremendously in both remembering that God is the source of all truth (and thus understands where we’re coming from, even if we don’t fully understand it); and opened my mind to my own prejudices, improving communication with others.

“What’s So Confusing About Grace?” is a grace-ful book that re orients us to God as the source of theology, in my opinion. It recounts a maturing of your faith through time. It’s another that I get more from, the more I read it. “You’re Not as Crazy As I Think” would help a college Bible study in communication with nonChristians and Christians of other types, I think.

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Disclaimer Yesterday, I apparently reached the maximum number of 1-day comments allowed for a new commenter. Hence, the delay in my further comments.

Evangelical/Progressive is a continuum. For example, in the United Kingdom, I’d simply be an evangelical and much of what passes for “evangelical” in the United States would be classified by (many) Brits as fundamentalist. (Canada sort of splits the difference.)

So what’s the difference? Perhaps the easiest thing is to give some examples:

I reject the literal-where-possible hermeneutic which treats so-called “literal” reading as the default approach to Bible interpretation.

Consequently, I find default “literal” interpretations of Genesis 1-3 or the millennium in Revelation 20 to be implausible (at best).

This leaves me fully reconciled to theistic evolution as the means by which God brought around cosmic existence and biological diversity.

I critique penal substitution as an adequate theory of atonement (much to the chagrin of many Calvinists).

I don’t have any political allegiance, certainly not that which would be called “Republican” in the United States.

I have pointed out that there are multiple difficulties with the concept of biblical inerrancy and thus it is inadvisable to use the term as a simplistic boundary marker between evangelical insiders and outsiders.

I am an annihilationist (that is, posthumous punishment occurs by way of a resurrection that results in the cessation of personal existence).

I strongly defend inclusivism (i.e. the possibility of being reconciled to God in Christ without having heard the Gospel or professed a specific “sinner’s prayer”)

And so on.

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Thanks, Randy. Right now, I’m developing a course on theological autobiography in which we read several theological autobiographies ranging from Augustine’s “Confessions” to my own book as a way into learning to understand and share our own journeys toward theological understanding and relationship.

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Sorry about that. Fist day limit should be lifted now.

I’d love to see that reading list when you are done.

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At this point, the course will probably consist of five textbooks:

Altson, Renee. Stumbling Toward Faith. Zondervan, 2009.

Augustine, Confessions. Henry Chadwick, trans. Oxford, 2009.

Cone, James. My Soul Looks Back. Orbis, 2012.

Harris, Joshua. Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths that Last. Multnomah, 2011.

Rauser, Randal. What’s So Confusing About Grace? Two Cup Press, 2017.

Honorable mentions include C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy and Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain.

I’ll also include a few essays. So far I have one entry:

Jenson, Robert W. “A Theological Autobiography, to Date.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology, vol.

46, no. 1 (2007), 46-54.

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I hope you include a story from.a scientist too.

There are questions for you in the thread above. Looking forward to hear your thoughts.

Also several of your other books are being mentioned. Can you give us some short summaries of the ones you think are most important now?

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Good suggestion!

I’ve written three apologetic debate books. One of them, The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails seeks to recreate a sort of Socratic dialogue in a coffee shop. Among other things, it’s one of the few apologetic books that deals directly with the problem of biblical violence and offers some suggestions for Christians to think through the problem.

My book with Justin Schieber, An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar, is a rigorous but irenic exchange in the mode of a conversation. Justin and I each select three topics to debate and we’re still friends at the end!

God or Godless is the book I wrote with John Loftus. While Loftus is a rather caustic new atheist type, he does a good job in that book as we each argue ten theses in favor of our worldview for a total of twenty short debates that can easily be digested.

I’ve written several others, but I’ll mention just one more. In You’re not as Crazy as I Think, I seek to overcome the opposition between groups and to provide a basis for more meaningful interaction. In particular, I include an important chapter calling out fundamentalist anti-intellectualism among both Christians and atheists.

I’m off to church now, but I’ll field some further questions this afternoon.

Peace!

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Whilst I’m flattered Joshua should think of inviting me to participate, I’m not sure I can live with discourse “quirkiness”. I got an email inviting me three days before the thread was open and now I see it will close automatically in 13 hours. Why?

Regarding do I, an atheist, hate God? I find the question rather offensive. If pressed, I will say that gods and all their trappings are inventions of human imagination. Thus I hate God (which one?) about as much as I hate Harry Potter or the tooth fairy.

I should say I’m an apatheist, live and let live, and nor do I live in the US ( I live in France currently) so I’m not rubbing against Christians much at all in daily life. Whist France is culturally Catholic, the influence here is negligible.

I also think intellectual discussion on the merits of particular beliefs usually takes place among believers. First you need the emotional attachment and the intellectual justification follows. My background is English Anglicanism, almost atheism, so maybe they missed the child of seven due to hypocrisy or lack of commitment.

So I’m happy if religious belief works for others. I’m not happy when religious authority is invoked or exploited in the political arena. Don’t we have right-wing fundamentalists to blame for Trump?

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This is just now Office Hours work. We have defined periods of time in which to interact with a scholar. In this case I might extend it by some hours too. This gives us a chance to have deeper interactions with them with requiring them to commit an undefined amount of time to the forum.

That is exactly right, and the point @Randal_Rauser has been making on your behalf.

There seems to be a very large range in anglicanism, from almost atheist to NT Wright. Why do you think that is?

I agree entirely.

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