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Recovering Christian Confidence: Proclaiming the Gospel in an Age of Skepticism and Cynicism Lecture 2. Alister McGrath. Points of contact for faith. What are “points of contact”? How can we explain the attraction of the gospel? Its truth? Its relevance? Its beauty?.
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Recovering Christian Confidence: Proclaiming the Gospel in an Age of Skepticism and CynicismLecture 2 Alister McGrath
Points of contact for faith What are “points of contact”? How can we explain the attraction of the gospel? • Its truth? • Its relevance? • Its beauty?
Theological Foundations Apologetics is not opportunistic! It rests on a rigorous theological foundation, grounded in an understanding of the character of God, and the nature and destiny of humanity Apologetics therefore demands a specifically Christian understanding of human nature – to which we now turn.
Human Nature While Christians believe that humanity is part of the created order, this does not mean that we are indistinguishable from the remainder of creation. We have been set a little lower than the angels, and been “crowned with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:5).
Human Nature Men and women are created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). This brief yet deeply significant phrase opens the way to a right understanding of human nature, and our overall place within the created order.
Key text So God created humanity in his image; In the image of God he created them; Male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NRSV)
Key questions What does it mean to say that we are “created in the image of God” What difference does it make?
Three classic approaches to the “image of God” • The image of God as affirming divine ownership and authority. • The image of God as a statement about our capacity to understand the world, as God’s creation • The image of God as a statement about our ability to relate to God
1: Divine Ownership In the ancient near East, monarchs would often display images of themselves as an assertion of their power in a region (see, for example, the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar, described in Daniel 3:1-7).
To be created in the “image of God” could therefore be understood as being accountable to God.
This important point underlies an incident in the ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 20:22-5). Challenged as to whether it was right for Jews to pay taxes to the Roman authorities, Jesus requested that a coin be brought to him.
He asked, “Whose image and title does it bear?” Those standing around replied that it was Caesar’s. Christ then tells the crowd to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
While some might take this to be an evasion of the question, it is nothing of the sort. It is a reminder that those who bear God’s image – that is, humanity – must dedicate themselves to him.
2: Rationality The “image of God” can be taken to refer to some kind of correspondence between human reason and the rationality of God as creator. On this understanding of things, there is an intrinsic resonance between the structures of the world and human reasoning. This approach is set out with particular clarity in Augustine’s major theological writing On the Trinity:
Athanasius on the Image of God God knew the limitations of humanity; and though the grace of being made in the image of God was sufficient to give them knowledge of the Word, and through Him of the Father, as a safeguard against their neglect of this grace, God also provided the works of creation as a means by which the Maker might be known.
Athanasius on the Image of God Humanity could thus look up into the immensity of heaven, and by pondering the harmony of creation, come to know its Ruler, the Word of the Father, whose sovereign providence makes the Father known to all.
3: Relationality The “image of God” means that we have the created capacity to relate to God Therefore our hearts long for God We are unfulfilled until we relate to God Human experience is distinguished by a longing for God, often mistaken for something else
C. S. Lewis Develops the idea that nothing created or finite can satisfy our longing Knowing God’s creatures makes us long to know God, as their source and origin Therefore the beauty of nature cannot be captured; it will only lead to dissatisfaction and frustration
Implications of this insight Sigmund Freud: God is just an illusion we invent, a wish-fulfilment. We invent God because we need a father-figure. C. S. Lewis: we are made to relate to God, and we are going to be restless until we do so.
Good book! Armand Nicholi, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life (Free Press, 2002) Nicholi is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
The Creation of HumanityMichaelangelo, fresco in Sistine Chapel, 1515-16
God made us • We are created to relate to God • We have nothing to offer God • Our ultimate destiny lies with God
Applying these insights Human nature is characterised by being made in God’s image, yet being sinful and fallen. We never lose God’s image through sin, even though it may be weakened or attenuated. There is thus a tension between our divine origination and intended goal, and our present situation as fallen inhabitants of a fallen world
Three “points of contact” The beauty of nature A sense of longing Awareness of mortality
1. The beauty of nature The world around us is God’s creation In some way, that world reflects the glory of God “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord” (Psalm 19:1) So how can we gain a better appreciation of God’s glory?
Basic idea Armed with the Christian doctrine of creation, we see nature as God’s creation Ecologically, this leads us to respect it Spiritually, this leads us to gain a deeper appreciation of the creator Apologetically, it allows us to build on someone’s delight in nature, moving from the creation to the creator
Key points Nature can be very beautiful, and evoke our sense of wonder But it is not nature itself that is the real object of our love and longing Nature points beyond itself The creation points to the creator
Jonathan Edwards on Nature The Son of God created the world to communicate himself in an image of his own excellency . . . He communicates a sort of shadow of his excellencies, so that when we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes, we see only the emanation of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ.
2. Mortality: Fear and Anxiety Human mortality is very threatening In recent years, many have tried to deny it, evade it, or suppress it Classic analysis of this in Ernst Becker, The Denial of Death
Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life’s work, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death tackles the problem of the “vital lie” – the refusal of human beings to acknowledge their own mortality. So what can we say? And how can we use this point of contact wisely?
C. S. Lewis “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”.
What does this aspect of the created order say to us? Meaninglessness Cosmic vastness The brevity of human life Being overawed at the immensity of the universe Being reassured of the love of God
Meaninglessness:Omar Khayyam And that inverted bowl we call “the Sky”, Whereunder crawling cooped we live and die, Lift not thy hands to It for help – for It Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.
Meaninglessness:Ursula Goodenough Leading American cell biologist Wrote fascinating book entitled The Sacred Depths of Nature (1998)
Meaninglessness:Ursula Goodenough As one of North America’s leading cell biologists, Goodenough recalls how she used to gaze at the night sky, reflecting on what she observed. Each of the stars she saw was dying, including our own special star, the sun.
Meaninglessness:Ursula Goodenough “Our sun too will die, frying the Earth to a crisp during its heat-death, spewing its bits and pieces out into the frigid nothingness of curved spacetime”. She found such thoughts to be overwhelming and oppressive.
Meaninglessness:Ursula Goodenough “The night sky was ruined. I would never be able to look at it again. . . . A bleak emptiness overtook me whenever I thought about what was really going on out in the cosmos or deep in the atom. So I did my best not to think about such things.”
Psalm 8 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.
3. A sense of longing Augustine’s prayer to God: “You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you”. Blaise Pascal: the God-shaped abyss within us
C. S. Lewis Sermon: The Weight of Glory Title comes from John Donne, who spoke of ‘the exceeding weight of divine glory’ Preached in the University Church, Oxford, on 8 June 1941
C. S. Lewis The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
C. S. Lewis These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
C. S. Lewis For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.
Questions for discussion: What other “points of contact” can we identify? How can we go about finding them? And how could we go about applying them?
What is apologetics?A brief reminder . . . From Greek word apologia, meaning ‘defense’ or ‘argument in favour’ Used in New Testament Most famous example: 1 Peter 3:15 Believers are urged to ‘give a reason for the hope that lies within them.’