Others have tried to do what Diogenes Allen, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary, does in his book but none with his breadth or effectiveness. That is, others have attempted to exploit for theism’s benefit the hard times now befalling the modern world’s emphasis on scientific reasoning and pure rationality, which for quite a while had placed Christianity (and religious belief in general) on the intellectual and cultural defensive.
Many of these earlier attempts made use of the Wittgensteinian concepts of “form of life” or “language game” to show that both science and religion depended on unproven assumptions and therefore rested equally on grounds without firm foundations. These kinds of attempts, however, could most always aim no higher than to make the world safe for fideism. And fideism is not to defend the faith. What makes Allen’s contribution special and important is his effort to examine in a philosophically rigorous way what we mean when we say Christianity is true.
He quotes Colossians 2:2 at the start of his book, but I Peter 3:15 is just as appropriate for what follows: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. ” Allen is very clear whom he is writing for and what his intentions are: “to give those who have no faith compelling rational grounds to become seekers and to those who have faith a greater degree of assurance and understanding than they can attain while constrained by the modern mentality. He divides his book into three parts. The first part begins with a mapping of our current intellectual terrain. In many ways, modernism committed the docetist heresy to human thought. It failed to see human thought as truly embodied and enculturated. Rather, human intellection consisted in pristine, pure rationality undisturbed by culture, bias, or the vagaries of historical situation. Modernism valued evidence and empirical confirmation and therefore strived to remain valueneutral to mirror a phenomenal world that was itself held value-neutral.
The author challenges this way of human knowing and finds it insufficient and incapable of meeting the deepest needs of being human. In so doing, he sheds light on the relation between science and religion. Much of this material is rather provocative intellectual history, including a particularly interesting analysis of the Galileo affair and how it was used for polemical purposes by those hostile to theism. The second part of the book examines faith, If there are good rational reasons to become a seeker, there are then good rational reasons to examine potential answers to the search.
In this way, faith becomes “a response that is wholly reasonable. ” Allen borrows William James’s language of faith as “a forced and live option. ” Yet, the author is quick to caution that faith is not what happens when evidence fails us. The ‘leap of faith’ is not a broad jump away from the empirical, but rather a high jump toward another (higher) realm of knowing-the realm of the heart where our deepest needs are met and our deepest questions are addressed.
If it is rational to ask these questions (and Allen argued it was in the first part of the book), then it is rational to make this leap once it is recognized that it affords the only hope for “immense understanding of matters which concern us greatly. ” These issues lead the author to examine biblical revelation. Since much of revelation includes descriptions of God’s activity amid God’s people-indeed the whole concept of revelation presupposes contact between creator and created-Allen is led to the broader topic of divine activity in the world.
He does, however, avoid certain knotty philosophical issues such as how an eternal deity relates to time, including how God may be said to answer prayers and what the extent of God’s knowledge is. Perhaps this is too much to ask for from one chapter, though it is not an entirely inappropriate request from one seeking to give the strongest possible philosophical defense of Christian belief. Moreover, the chapter on divine activity seems to presuppose a view of human freedom found deficient in another context.
Given what the author says in other places about human identity and practice emerging from community, one must question why he now emphasizes the self-determining character of creaturely freedom. The last part of the book explores the relation between Christianity and other faiths. Although much of the discussion here is indebted to Simone Weil, given Allen’s project of showing how Christianity could be true in an increasingly pluralistic world that leaves many frustrated and leaning toward relativism, it is a necessary subject for him to address.
The author is a clear writer conversant with a wide range of scriptural, literary, and scientific sources and proficient in his ability to move between them with graceful transitions. He is also especially helpful to the reader in recapping points just completed and in previewing those yet to come so that the book truly does function as one sustained argument for “the intellectual viability of Christianity. ” It may not, as Allen persuasively argues, redound to the benefit of Christianity that God fills gaps in our knowing; but it most certainly redounds to the benefit of Christianity that books do. His does.