Midweek imagination exercise: Ignore for a moment the fact that we all know that Lee Strobel already wrote a book called The Case for Christ. Pretend with me that, as the rest of the world seems to believe, we don't exist. And by we, of course, I mean the educated, young evangelicals who read both books by Lee Strobel and the New York Times Book Review.

But we are here, aren’t we? Cogito ergo sum, etc. Yes? Then did you see the article from this past Sunday’s Times' Book Review which featured Karen Armstrong’s new book The Case for God. I know, I know, we believe Christ is God so it kind of feels this title's been used already, but let us give the books author Ms. Armstrong, former nun turned popular historian, a chance.

The truth is, Armstrong speaks for us. She elucidates a kind of pre-modern belief in which science has not yet meddled, the Enlightenment has not happened and story and mystery reign in all matters faith. You’re familiar with his kind of belief if you’ve ever read Aquinas or Augustine. This is before we got all tangled up in trying to factually prove why God exists, before the incessant desire to compare the apples and oranges of Genesis and The Origin of Species; back when we just, you know, believed. The essence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen…all of that.

I guess it’s encouraging for those of us who have long ago stumbled upon a belief that needs not be empirically proven to see an author express our thoughts so eloquently, but it may also leave us thinking, Wait a minute, I’ve felt this way for  a long time. Why don’t I get to speak?

Well, you’re in luck. I’ll tell you what to do. Write a better book. Tell a better story. As the  reviewer Ross Douthat points out, Armstrong’s book tends toward liberal theology. But there are those of us who are liberal, politically, but conservative theologically. It has, after all, baffled me for years that that paradox exists: in order to maintain a conservative political stance, one must read the Bible liberally. If you wish to read the Bible conservatively, you will end up politically liberal.

We may be liberal, but we are not liberal theologians. We read the Bible as it was meant to be read which includes, very prominently, the mystery that it is encaptured therein. The Bible is, indeed, a pre-modern work, and simultaneously a post-everything narrative as it tells of the story of what was, what is and what is to come (as the saying goes). We limit it when we try to synthesize it into our modern scientific method. We begin to understand it, however, when we realize that its writers got something we modern readers fail to; the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ message is that our salvation comes in the form of a story that is both factual and above the need to be empirically proven. It is a narrative that works to save. This is pre-modern, and completely relevant.

I'm grateful that Ross Douthat and The New York Times (an entity which, apparently, doesn't believe in God) so eloquently engaged Armstrong's book. And I'm delighted by Douthat's conclusion: "Apophatic religion may be the most rigorous way to go in search of an elusive God. But for most believers, it will remain a poor substitute for the idea that God has come in search of us."


About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to The Case for Not Making a Case for God

  1. Thank you for this. Too many of Patrol’s posts lately put up anything written by someone “doubting” her faith. I highly recommend On the Absence and Unknowability of God: Heidegger and the Areopagite by Christos Yannaras. It accepts Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics and enters the non-metaphysical world of Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s short and the best thing I’ve read (yet) on this topic. It provides an excellent deconstruction of the Catholic (and thus Protestant) metaphysical traditions and opens up a legitimate possibility for a richer understanding of God without Being. While there is a title by Jean-Luc Marion called God Without Being , I really can’t recommend it. It is not nearly as concise nor as clear as Yannaras’s work. Very glad to see someone finally thought to bring up apophatic theology. Woo!

  2. Jay U. says:

    I have loved Katherine Armstrong’s work ever since I read ‘Battle For God’. The only work of hers that I did not care for is ‘A Short History of Myth’ in which I felt that she did a disservice to our modern times by not attempting to explain the way the modern man has a myth of science.

  3. Jack M says:

    I agree with Stewart. It’s nice to see something on this website that unequivocally believes in the message of the gospel. There’s been far too much waffling on here as of late.

  4. Jenny Clem says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a Believer and I wrote a paper for one of my philosophy classes that criticized Descartes’ argument for the existence of God (I am aware that I am certainly not the first). I think it diminishes the Gospel when we bring Christ down to the level of human logic. Why do we assume that, as finite creatures, we would have the capacity to understand, let alone prove, an infinite God? We are supposed to be in awe of our God, not comprehend His existence.

  5. Hey. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Bible (and the stories in it) is, for the most part, not factual. The Bible and the character of Jesus are no less mythological than any other story from that era. Is this the only mythology you accept at face value? Don’t you realize that the modern era you seemingly denounce has given us ways to begin to understand how these myths came about? Don’t you see that by taking the position you take you’re sealing yourself off from getting closer to understanding how the universe really works?

  6. of course, there are those who suggest that Karen Armstrong is, in fact, an atheist: http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/09/14/a-tale-of-two-atheists/

  7. Ranger says:

    Adderall – did you forget to take it?

    I second both Stewart’s suggestions (although Marion is dense unless you are well read in coninental philosophy) and the common theme that Patrol offering a thoroughly Christian article was refreshing.

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