God in Proof: A Book Review – Part 5

9780520269071It is safe to say that I enjoyed Nathan Schneider’s wonderful book, God in Proof, as much as any work on apologetics I’ve ever read. If I teach the subject again the future I will require my students to read this narrative of one young man’s search for proof of God.

In the final two pages Schneider writes:

The idea of God, after it first became lodged in me, and once I even partly entertained it, began to take on a life of its own. This process started through other people, but the idea transcended even them. As Anselm replied to Gaunilo, there’s something special about the one most perfect idea, something that applies to no other. You might be able to grasp a humbler notion enough to refute it. But this necessary and infinite being is more elusive, while being also more fully present, than anything else we know. No refutation can suffice. It’s to big. Its possibilities never stop exceeding what we might happen to rule out. This God exceeds what we think about it, and what we think we know about it. It even exceeds those of us who can’t believe. in it anymore, and those who never did (228-29).

Schneider also explains how he once sought to have a dream, a vision or some other such encounter with God but nothing happened. He then writes:

Years later, and still visionless, I would not dare to nominate this genre of proof, which I’ve touted so much and at least peripherally experienced, for consideration as itself a special kind of sight. Like visions, the genre is a gift (or a burden) not given to everyone, one whose recipients share a common bond . . . The proofs can be explained and taught and respected from a distance, yet still there remains the fact that you either grok it or you don’t, and that’s that (229).

These proofs he calls a “subcommunion of saints” or “an academy” speaking with one another in “hushed tones” (229). Each prof has a moment, some meaning but none of them answer the questions so that they end with a final conclusion. “They’re sometimes comfort, sometimes a wrenching anxiety, and yet all I’m really saying is that they are, quite astonishingly, exactly what they claim to be: a way of knowing something about what it is we mean by God. whatever good that does anybody lies in the details” (229).

I have been waiting to hear someone say it this clearly and elegantly for decades. I could not agree more.

As I’ve read apologetics, and taught the subject to graduate students, I have drawn the same conclusion. It took me far longer to get there than it took this very bright millennial but we arrive at the same point. Proofs have their place yet they can never become a substitute for the life of faith, the reality of the community of grace and the confidence that God loves me and became flesh in order to redeem me. The gospel leads us to use, properly and circumspectly, something we can rightly call proofs but these proofs never establish the existence of God nor can they remove unbelief and lead people to living faith. The truth is, most of the time these proofs help believers wrestle faithfully with intellectual problems that they dare not gloss over by blind faith.

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