Willard on Faith, Myth Making, and the “Intellectual Slums”
I’ve been looking forward to Dallas Willard’s latest book for a while now, and was happy to see it arrive on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. Willard is tackling the question of whether/how the claims of faith constitute genuine knowledge (as opposed to private beliefs, opinions, emotions, blind commitments, etc). I’ve only had time to read the introduction thus far, but it looks like a very intriguing, not to mention timely, project. Here’s a few quotes from Knowing Christ Today:
[W]e are bound to ask, is it possible to know the things you believe as a Christian? To what extent? And does it really matter whether you do or not? Doesn’t Christian faith automatically relegate you to an intellectual slum? Many—religious or not—deeply feel that it does. Some even think you should be proud of the slum. That is the status history has managed to hang upon faith…. In some quarters great faith has been equated with a belief or commitment that manages to sustain itself, with great effort, against knowledge—or at least with no support from knowledge. Faith is then regarded as essentially a kind of struggle. Some speak of the “lonely person of faith” as an admirable but odd manifestation of heroic willpower.
The cultural context in which the ordinary western Christian lives assumes that
the basic teachings of Christianity—the existence of a personal God, his intervention and direction in human affairs, the spiritual nature of human beings, the fundamental reliability of the Bible and central teachings of the church, and so forth—have been discovered to be false or without credible evidence. In short, Christianity has been “found out,” and it is at best only a set of humanly contrived myths and traditions, if not an outright fraud.
Against this pervasive (and, according to Willard, pedagogically entrenched) cultural understanding of the nature of faith, Willard describes one of the central themes of his book:
[T]he developments of modern thought have not shown the substance of Christian teaching to be false or groundless. There have been many discoveries, to be sure, but none producing that result, or even close. Modern discoveries, therefore, have not shown that Christianity’s central teachings do not or cannot form a body of knowledge accessible to capable and responsible inquirers. Certainly the currently prevailing myth of intellectual and academic life is that this has been shown. But myth making, as it turns out, is not the sole prerogative of religion. It is also a very active secular and academic pastime—and a human one as well.
Should be an interesting read.