Faith’s Reasons for Believing

The following is the unexpurgated version of a review of Robert L. Reymond’s Faith’s Reasons for Believing (Mentor/Christian Focus, 2008) published in Themelios 33:2 (September 2008). (The published version had to be trimmed to around 1000 words.)

Question: What do you get if you cross Gordon Clark’s apologetic with Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic and sprinkle it liberally (so to speak) with J. Gresham Machen’s historical evidences? Answer: Something like the case for the Christian faith recommended by Robert Reymond in Faith’s Reasons for Believing.

The subtitle gives a fair impression of its purpose and tone: “An Apologetic Antidote to Mindless Christianity (and to Thoughtless Atheism)”. Reymond’s goal is to counter not only the attacks of “militant atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but also the “mindless Christianity” of believers who are unable or unwilling to offer any reasons for the faith they profess.

The book is adapted from lecture material originally prepared for a seminary course in apologetics and is therefore pitched at that level. Reymond identifies himself with the Reformed presuppositionalist school of apologetics (he prefers the label ‘scripturalist’) and the title of the book is designed to reflect that approach. According to this view, our method in apologetics should not be to start from a position of non-faith (i.e., doubt or suspension of belief) and then to use our reasoning, fuelled with empirical data, to construct a position of faith. Rather, we should unashamedly start from the position of the faith we already profess, and reasoning in a manner consistent with that faith we should explain why it makes good sense to believe as we do. Reymond insists that “one’s first principle … is all-important in Christian apologetics”. One either begins with the conviction that the Bible is God’s Word and leverages one’s knowledge and reasoning on that firm foundation, or else one leans on some other first principle that will ultimately prove to be a splintered reed of a staff.

The opening chapter defines Christian apologetics, reviews its biblical basis, introduces some of the major issues in apologetic method, and summarizes four different ‘apologetic systems’ (evidentialism, presuppositionalism, experientialism, and autonomous humanism). A passionate defense of Christian theology as an intellectual discipline follows in chapter 2, where Reymond gives five compelling reasons for Christians to engage in theology (both individually and corporately) based on the teaching and practice of Jesus, the apostles, and the New Testament church. The relevance of this chapter lies in the observation that a doctrine-free faith has no need of an apologetic.

The third chapter is the most important of the book, given Reymond’s view of the starting point and foundation for defending the faith. His argument closely follows that of Gordon Clark and boils down to this: the Bible claims to be God’s Word, and no one has proven its claim to be false, therefore it is reasonable to believe that the Bible is God’s Word.

In the following four chapters, Reymond defends some of the central claims of the Christian faith: the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ; the virgin birth; biblical miracles, particularly those of Jesus; and the supernatural conversion of Paul. In keeping with his apologetic method, the predominant emphasis is placed on the biblical testimony to these events.

Switching gears, chapter 8 returns the focus to questions of apologetic method with a critique of the evidentialist approaches of B.B. Warfield, R.C. Sproul, and E.J. Carnell. Reymond’s main criticism is that these apologists have adopted a method whose assumptions about human knowledge and reason are at odds with their own Reformed theological convictions (as per the Westminster Confession of Faith). Chapter 9 continues in similar vein with a critique of the traditional ‘proofs’ of God’s existence. As Reymond sees it, these arguments should be abandoned: they’re logically flawed, they fail to prove the existence of the biblical God, and they’re unnecessary in any case (since even the unconverted know that God exists).

Chapters 10 and 11 set out what Reymond understands to be the Christian view of knowledge, meaning, and truth. The Bible as God’s Word is the only sure foundation for human knowledge and personal significance. Truth is essentially the correspondence between God’s thoughts and our thoughts. Truth is “logically rational, ethically steadfast, and covenantally faithful” because it is God’s truth. Reymond makes abundantly clear his disdain for those who claim to find ‘paradoxes’ or ‘apparent contradictions’ in the Bible, e.g., in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

The final two chapters take a more practical turn. Chapter 12 argues that all secular ethical systems have proven to be failures; only biblical theism can explain why objective moral principles exist at all and why we ought to be good. The coherence of Christian theistic ethics furnishes us with a powerful apologetic for unbelievers with moral concerns and sensitivities. Chapter 13 contends that Paul’s ‘worldview evangelism’ at Athens (Acts 17) remains as relevant and effective for reaching biblically illiterate unbelievers (including ‘postmoderns’) as it was in the first century. In order to faithfully communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and drive home its claims, we first need to teach people the biblical ‘metanarrative’, because the message of the gospel only makes sense within that broader framework.

Faith’s Reasons for Believing is a lengthy book (460 pages of text with copious footnotes) and it covers a lot of ground. It contains some extremely useful and cogently argued material, such as its treatments of the Bible’s witness to its own inspiration and inerrancy, the formation of the New Testament canon, Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth, the theological significance of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, and the apologetic significance of Paul’s conversion. Reymond’s uncompromising commitment to the Bible as God’s Word and his reliance on careful biblical exegesis puts some other apologetics textbooks to shame.

Nevertheless, the book is not without its shortcomings and inconsistencies. I will mention only three here. In the first place, many readers will judge Reymond’s central argument for the Christian faith to be unpersuasive and circular, despite his insistence to the contrary. His defense of the Bible’s claim to be God’s Word is solid enough, but very little positive argument is offered to bridge the logical gap between that claim and the conclusion (that the Bible is God’s Word). Ironically, the sort of external considerations to which Reymond appeals (somewhat half-heartedly, one senses) are precisely those to which evidentialists routinely appeal, e.g., the general credibility of the Gospel writers, the moral character of Jesus, the historical fulfillment of prophecy. It’s unfortunate that Reymond’s overall apologetic, apparently in deference to Gordon Clark, is made to rest on such a simplistic and vulnerable argument. A far more powerful case for Christianity can be offered (without abandoning the sort of presuppositionalist convictions Reymond holds dear) by treating Christian theism as a full-fledged worldview and spelling out the deleterious implications of rejecting that worldview, rather than reducing Christian apologetics to the proof of a single axiom (“The Bible is God’s Word”).

Second, it’s remarkable that a book like this would include no discussion of the two most common objections wielded by today’s skeptics against the reasonableness of the Christian faith: the problem of evil and the problem of religious diversity. A more substantial discussion of scientific objections would also have been welcome.

Third, I suspect those who locate themselves in the ‘evidentialist’ or ‘classical’ schools of apologetics (Reformed or otherwise) will complain that they have not been fairly represented at points and that the author has not considered the most refined versions of their arguments (e.g., for the existence of God). At times one detects double standards at play, for it isn’t always clear that Reymond’s own apologetic avoids the criticisms he levels at others. To take one example: it should be evident that Reymond’s own argument for the inspiration of the Bible doesn’t generate an ‘apodeitically’ certain conclusion, since it isn’t a purely deductive argument from premises that are rationally undeniable. Yet he chides Warfield and his successors for resting satisfied with probabilistic arguments. In reality, I suspect there is less distance between Reymond and (say) Sproul than his vigorous objections would suggest. When it comes to the virtues and vices of evidential arguments, a presuppositionalist like John Frame is a more reliable and nuanced critic.

Faith’s Reasons for Believing has many useful, insightful, and provocative things to say about both the biblical foundations for apologetics and the biblical examples of apologetics. One will learn from it almost as much about good exegetical theology as about the defense of the faith. In light of the book’s length, style, and choice of topics, I would not consider it a suitable introduction for lay readers who are unfamiliar with the broad landscape of Christian apologetics; and as I have indicated, there are some conspicuous holes in Reymond’s overall case for Christianity. But I’ve no doubt that any student with a particular interest in apologetics will find much of benefit in this book.

4 thoughts on “Faith’s Reasons for Believing”

  1. I appreciate a lot about Reymond, and am chagrined to read your criticisms of this book — because it sounds to me as if he’s at least attempted what presuppositionists (A) should do more of, yet (B) as far as I know never have done.

    In other words, he doesn’t just talk about presenting the faith, and criticize the way everyone else does it, and say his way is best. Rather, it sounds as if he lays the theoretical foundation, and then does it.

    So if he’s as flawed as you say, can you commend someone who does it better? I’d be truly interested to hear it.

    1. Dan,

      I think you’ve read my review as more critical than it really is. Anyway, I agree that presuppositionalists need to do more in the way of applied apologetics; I’ve made the same point in print.

      I generally recommend material by John Frame and Greg Bahnsen. James White’s material is also very good. I’ve tried to make some contributions in my own areas of expertise (see the material on my website) and I have some other work in the pipeline, including a little apologetics book I’m working on, aimed at unbelievers, which takes a presuppositional/worldview approach. If you like, I’ll send you the first draft when it’s complete; I’d value your critical feedback.

  2. Oh yes, I’d love that.

    Eleven years ago, since I knew of no one who’d tried to do this, I made an effort of my own, basically trying to apply a presuppositional approach, use evidence in the proper place, and pitch it at a popular level. I’ve tried and tried to get presupp’s to give me feedback, but none would until recently Sye ten Bruggencate gave me a very thoughtful, thorough interaction.

    I’ll be very interested to see yours.

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