Alvin Plantinga,  Apologetics,  Cornelius Van Til,  Jared Wilson

Herodiasian Times


Jared Wilson likens our time to a transition from Herod to Herodias (see here). He quotes Mark:

“For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.”

John makes a public claim, rooted in his worldview, that is “heard gladly” by Herod even while not taken to heart. Herodias, on the other hand, reacts more strongly, she wants to kill John. Wilson suggests that the climate for those who follow in John’s footsteps is becoming more Herodiasian.
It is hard to make any empirical judgement about Wilson’s claim, but it certainly seems right to me. When I joined Youth for Christ in 1992 there was general agreement that Christians were somehow honorable, virtuous even, if a little misguided. Many said that they admired faith, but just didn’t have it for themselves.

Nowadays to be a Christian is more like a vice, a suspicious ideology, along with all other ideologies, that should be abandoned for the sake of human harmony. Christopher Hitchens published perhaps the most succinct statement of such a suspicion: religion poisons everything.

Apologetics–the defense of the faith–changes as the culture changes. During times of persecution  defenders often made pleas for tolerance. These pleas were in the form of arguments for the reasonableness of Christianity: It is reasonable to believe in Christian doctrine, therefore believers should be tolerated in society. In more Herodian times apologetic strategy has been more daring – a matter of evangelistic importance. The aim is to defeat alternative worldviews and to call people to repentance.

Of the former strategy, I think perhaps Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief is a good example for our time. One is deemed to be warranted in believing in Christian Theism parses out as a defense of the right to hold those beliefs. The consistent refrain Plantinga offers is: It is neither irrational nor immoral to be a Christian.

However, not everyone is attempting to argue this way. The other strand emerging is more prophetic. It is less defense and more offence. During times of hostility there are often people who not only plea for tolerance but demand repentance. Paul’s speech to the men of Athens is an example. Paul makes no plea for his beliefs to be tolerated in the public square. Rather, he argues that the beliefs and practices of the idol worshiping crowd are only possible because the Bible is true and that the resurrection of Christ was a sign of judgement.

In our present Herodiasian time, we also have an apologetic that seeks to go beyond a plea for tolerance and call for repentance – presuppositionalism. Van Til’s legacy is not merely a demonstration of the reasonableness of Christian belief, but a pronouncement on unbelief. He argued that the truth of scripture is the necessary condition for any reasoning and all moral judgments. Thus Herodiasian types rely on God in order to taunt his children.

I must admit, I see no problem in the use of both strategies depending on the challenge and the aim of the conversation. What am I doing in this situation: Am I trying to defend my own position or bring my interlocutor to a point of decision? Perhaps it is best that we always attempt both. Ideally we can demonstrate the reasonableness of our own position while, at the same time, showing that if it were not for the truth  of our position, there would be no way to be reasonable at all. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.