A few days ago I began reading Os Guinness’ latest book, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP, 2015). I’ve been a Guinness fan since I read The Gravedigger File back in 1997. (However, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve never been a big fan of the other Guinness: too flat with a metallic aftertaste. And too trendy with the frat boys.)
But I digress. My purpose here isn’t to talk about Guinness (or Guinness). Rather, I want to riff off a passage that Guinness cites in which C.S. Lewis describes the incredulity of many contemporary skeptics:
“Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try and explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they complain that you are making their heads turn round, and that it is all too complicated, and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made religion simple.” (Cited in Guinness, Fool’s Talk, 129)
This is a great example why Lewis continues to predominate in discussions of apologetics: in short, his analysis is still trenchant decades after it was first rendered. In this case, Lewis captures a dynamic that I have frequently encountered.
The skeptic begins with something like a crude form of young earth creationism: the earth was created six thousand years ago with Adam and Eve living in a pristine garden while God walked in the cool of the day; then the serpent hissed his deception and led hapless humanity astray and they were summarily removed from the garden. And this picture, the skeptic triumphantly concludes, is a fairy tale which is falsified by the sciences and common sense.
In response, the apologist points out that there are various exegetical approaches to Genesis and that the skeptic’s reading of the text definitely belongs in the more crudely literalistic and simplistic end of the interpretive spectrum. Next, he takes note of the diversity of readings throughout Christian history (and not merely post-Darwin). He points out that there are different models of divine action in the world and different understandings of the divine nature and the function of theological language. He lists various models of science/theology engagement. And he summarizes various accounts of origins and the fall. In other words, the apologist provides ample evidence that the skeptic has contented herself with a mere Sunday school strawman.
Does the skeptic concede that her treatment was fallacious and predicated on a strawman? Not likely. Rather, the more common response (certainly in my experience) is to lurch from one incredulity to another. Where the original target was the laughable simplicity of Christian doctrine, the new target is its implausible complexity.
So there you have it: one minute the theologian is criticized for having a theology that is too easy to refute; the next minute, he is criticized for having a theology that is not easily refuted. If ever there was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario, this is it. And that, I would think, is rightly termed “The Apologist’s Dilemma.”