Problems of Accessibility

Some further reflections on the question of the accessibility of Christian doctrine to philosophical scrutiny may be called for at this point. Can the view that these matters should be discussed 'without reservation in the context of critical rationality' (and that must mean by scholars and students of any faith or none) really be sustained? Did I not dismiss too readily Torrance's insistence that reflection on these matters can only be a matter of faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum — to quote St Anselm's phrase )?

No one will want to deny that religious doctrines come out of communities of faith. The doctrines expressed in the Christian creeds are the result of centuries of reflection and debate by bishops and teachers committed to the Christian faith and schooled in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. These doctrines were and indeed are the fruit of faith seeking understanding. But it does not follow that they are wholly unintelligible to those outside the circle of faith. They are not expressed in a purely private language. They put forward a whole worldview that claims to make better sense of the universe and of life than any other worldview; and they can be pondered and examined critically by anyone interested in questions of meaning and truth. Up to a point, at least, they can be considered hypo-thetically and their inner rationale explored.

After all, if the rationality of Christian belief — and that of any religious belief — were a purely internal matter, presupposing faith and commitment to the religious tradition and community in question, there could be no such thing as the comparative study of religions, the phenomenology of religion or the philosophy of religion. There could be no dialogue or communication between religions, or between believers and unbelievers. Yet all these things take place and make some progress. Human beings share a common nature and live in one world; they have developed, over time, standards of critical rationality that are being applied increasingly to all spheres of life and interest. Alasdair Maclntyre, in his book Whose Justice, Which Rationality?, has certainly brought out the diversity of traditions, each with its own developing standards of rationality, but he exaggerates their incommensurablity, and even he allows that some succeed better than others at coping, both theoretically and practically, with life together in the world of today. This is obviously the case where science and technology are concerned; it is increasingly the case with politics; and the necessity of 'a global ethic for economics and politics worldwide'24 is being forced upon our attention by the irreversible establishment of a global market. The religions, of all spheres of human life, tend to resist such globalization; but the idea that they must for ever remain incommunicable 'umbrellas of meaning', each for its own devotees, is belied by what is actually achieved in the study of religion, in the philosophy of religion and in the dialogue of religions.

No doubt it helps to have some sympathetic interest in the world of religion, including the Christian creeds, if one is to attempt, from outside, to explore the meaning and plausibility, say, of the Christian doctrine of Creation. Dogmatic atheism is not an ideal starting point for critical reflection on the claims of any religion. But, then, dogmatic Christian fundamentalism is no more ideal as a starting point for serious philosophical theology. What is required is a combination of open-mindedness, genuine sympathy, and intellectual rigour. Given these qualities, there can surely be fruitful dialogue across the borders of belief and unbelief and across the borders of the different religions. Christian theologians have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from allowing their subject matter to be discussed and scrutinized in such an open context.

For all that, it has to be acknowledged that the vast majority of authors and works surveyed in this book do come from within the Christian communities and do constitute examples of faith seeking understanding. The Society of Christian Philosophers in the United States is precisely that: a body of Christian philosophers dedicated to the philosophical investigation of specifically Christian themes. But just as the Society was, from the start, open to any who considered themselves both a Christian and a philosopher ('no questions asked on either score' ), so both the Society and its journal have taken the step of 'inviting honest, open dialogue with those who do not share our Christian commitment' . The work under scrutiny in the chapters that follow, though written for the most part by Christian philosophers exploring the logic and the scope of their own traditions, is unquestionably offered for critical reflection by all. It is to be discussed, that is, to quote Pannenberg yet again, 'without reservation in the context of critical rationality'.

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