Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God

Evans, C. Stephen. Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1996. 154 pages.

Here is what two prominent Evangelical authors have said about this book:

"Comprehensive and compelling. . . . Seekers will find here a knowledgeable but gentle voice responding to their deepest religious questions."
                                                                      --- Merold Westphal

"One of the best popular apologetics I have seen."
                                                           --- Arthur F. Holmes

Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God has been a popular apologetics book for some time. I had read it several years ago and decided to pick it up again to see how it applied to my current research on Walker Percy. The idea of looking for signs that point to God is a major theme in Percy's novels. I am currently reading Walker Percy's Last Gentleman with pen in hand. It is a great book. In it, Will Barrett is waiting for a sign to tell him who he is. Another important non-fiction book by Walker Percy is Signposts in a Strange Land. This is a collection of popular non-fiction written by Percy. I like the title of this book because of the prominence it gives to sign seeking.

What does sign seeking have to do with the search for God? One major thing concerns whether God has left us any signs of his existence. Another question is whether the existence of God can be proven. Evans is a Kierkegaard scholar and does not believe that Christian faith can be proven with absolute certainty. In other words, reason cannot bring us all the way to Christian faith. I have been intrigued for a very long time on the relationship of faith and reason in coming to believe in Jesus Christ.

Evans wrote this response to one of his students committing suicide. He writes:

"I tried to help Andrew see Christian faith as a live option, but I was, to my knowledge, unsuccessful. After spring vacation I received a brief note from the dean of students, requesting a meeting. There I was informed that Andrew had taken his own life.(iX).

This experience made a great impact on the author's life. He felt he should have done more to persuade his student or shown him that Christianity was a valid choice. He was also angry at our culture for making it difficult for his student to believe. He wanted to write a book for this student and others like him. Evans notes, "I am under no illusion that religious faith is usually or even ever the result of intellectual argument alone. The roots of faith lie much deeper. Still, the sense that Christian faith is simply unacceptable to a person with an intellect who cares about truth can be a powerful barrier to faith. This book is an attempt to remove the barrier" (x).

Evans is a professor of philosophy at Baylor University. He has published many important books on Kierkegaard and other topics. This book is written for a popular audience and is easy to read. He uses stories to illustrate the chapters. He writes well and is easy to understand. In chapter one, he sets up the foundation for discussion by talking about faith. In this chapters he describes some different barriers to belief. An example of a barrier would be modern skepticism. He thinks faith is part of being human. He notes, "Each of us has a faith-dimension. None of us can avoid faith in something or someone. We must believe in something or someone because we must have something or someone to live for" (9).

In chapters four through six, Evans points to three mysteries that point to the existence of God: the universe, the moral order, and the existence of persons. He calls these pointers clues. We can deny them but if the person is serious about his religious quest, they can point him or her to God. He asks the question, what is mysterious about the universe? It did not have to exist. Why something, instead of nothing? The second clue is the "purposive order" in the universe. Why is the universe orderly? The third clue is the existence of a moral law. He discusses certain naturalistic answers that seek to explain the sense of morality away. The author states, "If God exists, nothing is more natural than that we should experience a moral ought" (46). The author believes these things make sense if God wanted to leave us signs of His presence but did not want to force us to believe.

In other chapters, Evans discusses miracles, evil, Jesus Christ and other barriers to belief in Christ. In the last chapter he discusses making a commitment to Christ. In this chapter he discusses faith and doubt, the possibility of truth, differences in religions, and making a "reasonable choice." He recognizes there is a sense of mystery when someone comes to believe in Christ. The author believes that a reasonable choice is made when "that position makes more sense than its rivals" (143).

Evans does a good job in showing why it is reasonable to believe in Christ. It is not a leap into the dark. It is a leap into the light.

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