Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)
Reviewed by Matthew W. Manry, Biblical Studies, Belhaven University
C. Stephen Evans is University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Baylor University. He has written books on various topics in philosophy of religion and in Christian apologetics. In his latest book, Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense, Evans lays out a well-reasoned defense of the Christian faith, explores some of the flaws in New Atheism logic, and discusses some of the natural signs that point to God. This book provides readers an excellent introductory text into Evans’ apologetic thought. In the following paragraphs, I am going to interact with the main thrust of Evans’ argument.
In chapter 1, Evans begins his discussion by critiquing some of the New Atheists. Evans rightly notes, “The New Atheists are absolutely convinced that many of the social ills that beset the twenty-first century can be traced to religion, including wars and violence of all kinds, sexism, and homophobia” (8). Along with those ideas, the New Atheists also tend to believe that Christians are irrational and unscientific. After this brief description of who the New Atheists are, Evans turns to discuss the role of natural theology in Christianity. It is clear that Evans’ goal is to make a positive case for natural theology. However, Evans is not making a complete case for the traditional understanding of natural theology. Rather, he says, “I propose, then, that we reconceive natural theology as a defense of anti-naturalism” (20). What Evans is suggesting is that there are “natural signs” that point us as human beings beyond the natural world (In chapters 3, 4, and 5, Evans returns to this important discussion about natural signs). However, before doing this, Evans discusses in chapter 2, two important principles that he calls the “Wide Accessibility Principle” and the “Easy Resistibility Principle” (24-25). Both of these principles are drawn from Blaise Pascal’s Pensées. Evans defines these principles in the following manner: “It thus seems plausible to assume that, though the evidence for God would be widely available and easily accessible (Wide Accessibility Principle), it would also be the kind of evidence that a person who wished to do so could dismiss or reject (Easy Resistibility Principle)” (25).
As previously stated, chapters 3, 4, and 5 focus on the discussion of the natural signs of God. In chapter 3, Evans explains what the concept of a natural sign for God is. Borrowing from Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Reid, Evans explains that a natural sign would need to have (1) a causal connection between the sign and what the sign signifies, (2) a purpose or function of being a sign, and (3) a native tendency on the part of those who receive the signs to respond appropriately by “reading” the signs correctly (32). Evans goes on to explain that natural signs are intended only to give us the “sense that there is more to reality than the physical world” (36). This is one of the reasons why Evans also speaks very highly of Reformed Epistemology. In chapter 4, Evans suggests that perhaps a theistic natural sign could be the means in which the sensus divinitatis could operate to produce belief in God. This does seem reasonable. The remainder of chapter 4 discusses the following five theistic natural signs: the experience of wonder, the experience of purposive order, the sense of being morally accountable, the sense of human dignity, and the longing for transcendent joy (39). Chapter 5 discusses whether or not we can trust the natural signs for God. Evans begins by discussing some of the current debates in epistemology today, and concludes that the natural signs for God can be good evidence from either an externalist or internalist perspective (62). Also, in this chapter, Evans discusses some of the defeaters that are usually brought up against the natural signs of God. He focuses on the discussions related to the “supposed” conflict between science and religion and on the problem of evil. He concludes that Christian theism is not defeated by these challenges.
In chapter 6, Evans focuses on God’s self-revelation. He mainly discusses how the role of the church in biblical interpretation and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit are absolutely vital in understanding the revelation of God. In chapter 7, Evans discusses the criteria for a genuine revelation from God. The three criteria that Evans proposes are the criterion of miracles, the criterion of paradoxicality, and the criterion of existential power. In summary, Evans concludes by saying the following about the three criteria:
God gives miraculous signs to show that a revelation is authentic. The content of the revelation should be something that humans could never have discovered on their own, yet something that when revealed makes sense of the human condition in a way that no human philosophy could. Both recognition of the miracles and the understanding of the paradoxical content require that the encounter with the revelation be personally transformative. (116)
Evans concludes his book by highlighting how the criteria for a genuine revelation from God are all met in the Christian storyline. The section on the miracle of the resurrection provides the reader with a short and concise defense of the historical reliability of the resurrection and should be absorbed for an extended period. Evans concludes his book by saying, “In the end I can only offer my human testimony to the power of God as I have experienced God in Christ and to extend others an invitation to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34:8)” (135).
In summary, Evans has provided Christians with a very helpful and practical book on the rationality of the Christian faith. Readers will benefit tremendously from the accessibility of Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense, and will undoubtedly be attracted to the ease in which Evans defends Christianity from attack. However, it must be noted that this book should only be seen as a brief apologetic defense. Evans has written extensively on the concept of natural signs and the knowledge of God, and readers should look to his more rigorous and extensive work on the subject if they are left wanting.1
Nevertheless, I believe that many will find Evans’ approach unique. For example, his discussion of the Wide Accessibility Principle and the Easy Resistibility Principle will be new to most readers. His discussion of the theistic natural signs is easy to follow and provides readers with a firm foundation on which to stand when discussing the coherence of belief in God. One of the main strengths of Evans’ work is that he takes complicated ideas and converts them into straightforward ideas. The reader will greatly appreciate this.
Most of the criticisms that I have revolve around the brevity of Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense. Namely, it seems that there could have been a longer discussion on the importance of Reformed Epistemology. Evans spends time discussing Reformed Epistemology at times, but I believe that his book would have been more well-rounded if he had dedicated a chapter to this important discussion. There will be others who will disagree about the way that Evans depicts natural theology and its role. Evans views natural theology primarily as a defense of anti-naturalism rather than giving believers positive knowledge of God (27). There will be some who disagree with this characterization, but readers must not get bogged down at this point due to differences of methodology. There are many valuable insights for readers to extract from Evans’ work.
With that being said, I believe that Evans accomplishes his goal of defending the Christian faith against contemporary challenges. From the outset, Evans makes it clear that his book aims to help Christians “give a reason for the hope” that faith embodies (viii). Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense can be used as an introductory apologetic text to show the reasonableness of Christianity, and it can also be used as a launch pad into Evans’ deeper apologetic thought. This work might also be a great book to pass on to atheists and skeptics alike. I believe that any reader will benefit from delving into Evans’ work and mining for the treasures that are stored there.