I was in a book discussion with some friends and colleagues recently. The topic was Luther’s Bondage of the Will. As you may be able to discern from the title, there is much in the book about free will (or the lack, thereof) and God’s sovereignty.
Now, I tend not to take a side in the controversy and prefer instead to embrace the mystery. But after listening to some pretty heavy Calvinistic discourse, I ventured forth that Paul’s speech to the Athenians doesn’t make a lot of sense to me if free will really has nothing to do with it. Why, if the free will is essentially irrelevant, does Paul tell the men of Athens what God is like and then confirm his case by noting that God furnished evidence by raising Jesus from the dead?
What happened next is the reason for this post. One of the men in the room listened to what I had to say and then remarked that he never really had liked “evidential apologetics.” I responded that evidence appears to be pretty important if you look at the passage I’d cited. He again insisted that he didn’t care much for “evidential apologetics” and we left it at that. My guess would be that he didn’t care much for an argument that someone should follow Christ because of evidence because the logic runs against a hard election interpretation of scripture.
The disdain for evidential apologetics bothered me because I think it shows a lack of appreciation for the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Muslims, for example, follow without any kind of evidence. Their faith is based on assertion. So, too, are other faiths which rely on the assurance of some person, now long dead, that a revelation has been given which must be followed. To the extent that Christians express a lack of interest in “evidential apologetics” it seems to me that they are engaging their faith much as the Muslims do theirs.
As he addressed the men of Athens, Paul thought it important not merely to describe the attributes of God, but also to point to an event in real space and time as evidence that he was not just another bloviator claiming to know the truth. Evidence is at the core of Christianity.
Reason and revelation are not the same thing, but they stand closer together in the Christian faith than in any other.