If you think defending the Christian faith is just a small discipline within theology, you might be surprised that there are several styles. These styles come with their own extensive literature. There are four main types of Christian apologetics: Classical, evidential, presuppositional, and fideism.
In this video I would like to look with you at fideistical apologetics. I am not going into depth, but I would like to explain a bit more about what it is and how we can use it.
A fideist is someone who relies on faith rather than reason when in pursuit of religious truth. The word has been borrowed from the French language, where they say: fidéisme. The French, in their turn, borrowed it from Latin fidēs, which means ‘trust, belief, faith’ The French just added -isme.
This should already give us a clue of what a fideistic apologist tries to do, right? Rather than depending on one’s intellect, a fideist emphasises faith over reason. That is not to say they will shut down their brains! No, it is more that they rely on faith because they believe faith is a gift from God. They argue that we cannot fully understand God because our reasoning is limited.
A very famous verse we could use to defend this idea is Ephesians 2:8
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God
But this text can be explained differently if you emphasise grace as being the gift. The verses we read in 1 Corinthians 2:11-13 seem to make this point a little more clear.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
I think this approach makes a lot of sense. Not to say that I would only use this approach, but in some cases I just trust more in faith than reason.
A good example can be the doctrine of the Trinity. Even though I have listened to numerous great explanations, I am still puzzled by some aspects of this concept. Maybe others are much smarter than I am, that’s okay! But in this case I often rely on faith.
And what about God’s nature. It is a field of study that doesn’t seem to end. God is love; God is good; God is just, and so on and so forth. Pretty often, I rely on faith rather than being able to capture His nature in a sound mathematical way of reasoning.
These attributes of God are so complex, that it might be better to talk about them out of faith. When an unbeliever asks me about them, I try to give examples and then when I am stuck, I often admit that this is something I decided to belief through faith as given by the Holy Spirit.
Some would argue that fideism is not part of apologetics at all. Like, taking this approach seems to discount the more rational styles of defending the faith. However, it might be a bit different if we look at what mister Evans said about fideism.i
Evans says that we have to make a distinction between Irrational fideism, which denies that we can or should think rationally or logically about matters of faith, and Responsible fideism which tries to give a reasoned case for viewing faith.
This second group believes that it is justified to reason about faith, even though they believe that everything about Christianity is above, beyond, and in some sense against reason. What they mean by ‘reason,’ is human reason or rationality—they argue that we cannot fathom these matters by the use of the human mind. In other words, they say that some truths of Christianity are far beyond our capacity to understand or express in a logically definitive fashion. And honestly? I think they have a very good point here. We don’t have to answer the un-believer with a blunt answer like “Oh, you just have to believe!” No, instead when we are confronted with very difficult topics, we might try to explain why reason is incompetent to give an acceptable answer and then showing that faith does provide a way to think through the problem.
I think this approach isn’t very popular is the more Western parts of the world. By these I mean the parts of the world were we more or less are influenced by theologians like Aquinas.
So, what does Aquinas have to do with it? Well, for this we need a little history. Just after the Council of Chalcedon, which was held in 451AD, we see what we call now, the great schism. This schism was about the idea of whom the Holy Spirit proceeded. In the Nicaean creed the church fathers said that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. But, Pope Leo (and with him many others) said that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son, and he wanted to add this to the creed. This Nicaean creed was very important for all Christians and as a consequence many from the Eastern church refused to add anything else to this creed. Well, long story short. The pope said yes, they said no, and they both went their own way.
From this point on we had two major churches, namely the western Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox. Both churches had their giants in theology. The Catholic Church was strongly influenced by people like Aquinas. Aquinas basically taught that we can describe who God is. He said that God isn’t made out of parts but rather that He is. For example, God is love and love is not just a part of God. This made it possible for Christians to study the things of God. But not only that. If we can study God, we can also study that what He has made. In other words, we can do theology in an academic way. This has led to the study of all sorts of sciences. Whatever your atheistic or secular teachers want you to belief, the Church boosted academic sciences. The Church never suppressed science or scientists, this is a myth that gained popularity in the renaissance. The time they put Galileo on trail it was because he wasn’t showing his evidence. Anyway, just ask a serious historian, and they will admit this.
Back on topic. We might have difficulties trusting things on faith basis because of our scientific disposition. This might be very different in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This Church was strongly influenced by theologians like Palamas. Palamas believed that we can perceive God’s energy and through that we can understand what God does, but we can not understand or contemplate God’s essence itself. The consequence is that, up till today, the Eastern Orthodox Church rather talks about what God is not, instead of what He is. So, they will not say God is all-powerful but rather God is not limited by anything. In other words, that what God is, is more or less a mystery. This is why we see more mysticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church. And I guess the fideistical style of apologetics might appeal more to them than to the Western Christians.
But don’t forget about Luther! Fideism can be found in the Lutheran traditions as well. Not to say that Luther was a full-blown fideist, but it is not hard to find key elements within his life and that of his followers. Luther said that forgiveness of sins is a gift of God through faith alone. He argued that we humans needed this gift needed because of our bondage to sin—a spiritual bondage which is so strong that the human mind simply cannot know anything substantial about the Creator or anything concerning His work. Luther strongly believed that we cannot even understand how the liberating truth of the gospel works. No, he said, we can only know these things through the work of the Holy Spirit.
You see that Luther wasn’t really positive about human reason. When it comes to the everlasting matters of life in the kingdom of heaven, Luther looked at ‘nature’ as ‘absolutely stone-blind’ and human reason as completely incompetent.ii He concluded that ‘God is not subject to reason and syllogisms [deductive reasoning in which a conclusion is derived from two premises] but to the word of God and faith.’ iii
It might well be that this triggered Luther to translate the Bible in the normal language. He believed that whatever we can know about God comes through faith, as given by the Holy Spirit, and through the Scriptures. I can relate to this because I have noticed that many in the countryside of Madagascar don’t really understand the Gospel. They have heard it being preached in the official language but that language is far removed from their dialects. I have seen first hand how eyes where opened when people heard the Gospel in their own dialect. When I read from the Gospel of Luke, which my Malagasy friend and I translated in a Malagasy dialect called Antanala, I see understanding coming down on the people. Luther said ‘Let us not be anxious: the Gospel needs not our help; it is sufficiently strong of itself. God alone commends it.’ iv
Okay, but what can we do with this kind of apologetics? Well, even though many seem to prefer some solid evidence, we are bound to meet people who are more orientated on the ‘emotional’ aspects of life. I have met many who aren’t much interested in science or world-views or whatever. As soon as I started to talk about the insurance of just believing that Jesus saved me, they were intrigued. They wanted to know more about this faith that gives me rest of heart. Because that is what faith does right? You don’t have to run after all the knowledge you can get. You don’t have to worry about all the so-called proofs against religion. Likewise, you just believe that what the Holy Spirit assures you of.
I remember clearly that somewhere around 2008, I saw a short documentary about a fossil called Ida. Mister David Attenborough boldly proclaimed that this fossil would finally do away with religion. This fossil was the ancestor of human beings! I know that there were quite a few Christians who got in trouble with their faith because of this. I didn’t really have an answer to this attack on the creation story of the Bible. However, I also realised that I never could fathom this creation event to its full extent anyway. I decided to trust God’s word through faith.
Some ridiculed my position. What more prove did I need to abandon my childish idea of creation? I didn’t have to wait long. In 2009, I found two tiny articles, one from the New York Times and one in BBC News, that both basically said that Ida was only a kind of lemur. Mister Attenborough sheered too soon! My sceptical friends urged me to abandon my stance on creation to soon as well!
Sadly enough, some other Christians were less ‘stubborn’ in their faith than I am. Apologetics is great! But only when we are aware of our shortcomings. We just can’t have all the answers. Relying on the Holy Spirit for faith is a very wise thing to do.
Fideism definitely deserves a place in our theological arsenal!
In any case, do let me know what you think in the comments. Maybe you disagree on certain things? Just leave a comment. Remember! I am mostly active on my Odysee channel. You’ll find a link to that channel in the description of this video or on my website. If you like what I am doing you can subscribe to my channel and don’t forget to hit the notification bell if you want to be informed every time I upload a new video!
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God bless you, thank you for watching, and, Lord willing, we’ll see each other in the next video!
i C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account, Reason & Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), especially 52, 55.
ii Luther, “Postil [Epistle] for Epiphany,” on Isaiah 40:1-6, in WA 10, pt. 1/1, 531; cited in Gerrish, 12.
iii Luther, The Disputation Concerning the Passage: “The Word Was Made Flesh” (1539), in LW 38:239-244.
iv Luther, Sermon on Faith and Good Works, cited in J. K. S. Reid, Christian Apologetics (London: Hodder & Stoughton; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 131.