A Plea to “Those College Students”

This is something strange to write because I don’t think that this can apply to all people, anywhere, at all times (it’s not intended to). To be honest, this issue is actually quite local for me. By “college students,” I don’t mean univocally a body of people in the U.S. I kind of shortened the title, but more specifically I mean “those group of believers who are just ahead of me in their college years.”

I also don’t have any names or examples in mind, so I suspect that if a “college student” were to read this, feels as if this is about him as a direct attack, I would encourage him to think that I am saying something more “umbrella-like,” and not that when I wrote the article at such and such certain point, I had him or her specifically in mind when I wrote it.

I’d also like to have this viewed not as a critique of some “Christian subculture” (that whole fustrating debate, but also, see my note* below) or as a blog with some angry intention behind it. Rather, I’d like to have it viewed more like a letter. I’m writing the rough draft and letting you read it, so to speak. Even though all this is through a computer, I’d like to think there is at least some personality behind it.

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Comments on Ronald Nash’s View of Kierkegaard

Though this evaluation will be based more on his lectures rather than his written works, I do wish to also look quickly into a footnote Nash included in his Word of God and Mind of Man (P&R Publishing, 1982) on attempting to distinguish Kierkegaard (S.K. hereafter) from his admirers (or opponents) in contemporary theology among the liberal tradition.

To my knowledge, Ronald Nash only has five major iTunes U lectures which attempt to expound S.K.’s thought in in the context of modern philosophy. The two most significant lectures which seem to express Nash’s own views of S.K. are probably “Kierkegaard and Authentic Religious Belief” (2010) and “Kierkegaard’s Theory of Humans” (2010). He, like some evangelicals who think S.K shows promise, says that although he wishes to rescue S.K. from the (incorrect) charge of subjectivism and anti-rationalism, he can’t seem to get past S.K.’s distinction between the object (“the what”) and the act (“the how”) of faith as seen in the Postscript.

It is the parable of the pious pagan and the idolatrous Christian praying in their respective spiritual communities. The former prays in a true spirit to a false god, whereas the latter prays in a false spirit to the true God. With which one lies the most truth (as S.K. phrases it)? Nash says that S.K. runs into a problem here with respect to the grand “Either/Or” being in his artillery against the Hegelian thesis-antithesis dialectic. Nash interprets this passage to suggest that S.K. is showing the significance of one over the other, and not rather the necessary synthesis of both the object and act of faith. In other words, S.K. is saying either the how of faith or the what of faith is important – we can’t have both.

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The Beauty of God


The cave paintings of Lascaux in southwestern France, dating between 18,000 and 15,000 B.C.

What a strange thing: beauty has a name. In fact, beauty is a divine name. If this is true, then we are not so awkward as to fittingly apply this name in the prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was beauty, and the beauty was with God, and the beauty was God” (Sammon 2013). Hence, we may not only say that God is beauty but also that God is beauty itself.

However, in making such simplistic utterances, as Brendan T. Sammon (2013) recognizes, we are standing in “stark contrast to the complexity of its intelligible content.” However, I must make a demarcation from attempting to expound on what it means to say that beauty is a divine name. While such a task may seem rigorous in philosophical/theological content, my primary concern is to proceed in a rather “poem-like” fashion and not in a philosophical or theological one.

And yet, I acknowledge (perhaps superficially) that I can be consistent in my “poem-likeness” and say that beauty has a religious (or theologically significant) dimension (*see my note below). Alejandro R. Garcia-Rivera (1999) cites the cave paintings of Lascaux and Altamira as such an example of the relationship between beauty and religion. Specifically, anthropologists have recognized that the placement of these paintings in the caves are almost inconveniently placed, in the sense they are placed at a distance away from the cave’s entrance. Hence, the paintings are perhaps religious in nature (**see my note below).

More than this, beauty having a religious dimension shows that there is a dynamic relationship between God’s beauty and the inner human spirit. That is, apart from beauty being a divine name, Beauty originates in God’s own Self. But, here I believe a rightful question is to be asked: “What is Beauty if it is not received?” (Garcia-Rivera 1999) There is then a dynamism between the Infinite and the finite, and hence, discussing anything about the subject of beauty among these two polarities provoke a relevant but parallel conversation: the Incarnation. After all, is this not where the Eternal stepped into time? Yes, and by all means. The transcendental nature of Beauty reflects this parallel. That is to say, there is a relationship between where beauty originates and where it may come upon an impression of the human heart.

This contact of the divine upon the human heart is where I think Beauty is a significant and more impressive evangelical tool in persuading unbelievers to the faith, rather than appeal to the Good or to the True. However, Fr. Robert Barron has made the suggestion that most of the errors of modern evangelism rest in the primacy of starting with the Good (which will lead to arguments about legalism) and the True (which will lead to arguments about relativism) than with the Beautiful. I believe Barron is correct on his conclusion but not so much in his distinctions.

Fr. Barron suggests that a starting point of the Good will lead the unbeliever to press charges of legalism against the evangelist: “Who are you to tell me what is Good and what is Bad?” Starting with the Good may be advantageous on the grounds that one may be able to see the possible benefits, or indeed, eternal rewards of willing the Good (perhaps, even to the point of suffering for the sake of it). It is as that old Danish philosopher said in his Purity of Heart (Kierkegaard, 2008): “When the sufferer. . . willingly takes up his appointed sufferings, he is willing to suffer all for the Good, that is, in order that the Good may be victorious in him” (ibid., 148).


Works Cited

Kierkegaard, Søren. The Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, trans. Douglas Steere. 2008. HarperOne.

Sammon, Brendan Thomas. The God Who is Beauty. 2013. Wipf & Stock Publishers.



* – I am indebted to Alejandro R. Garcia-Rivera’s The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (Michael Glazer, 1999) for the methodological approach I’ve decided to follow here throughout.

** – Here is an article by an independent scholar from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History touching more on this claim.

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Pascal’s Wager and William James’ “The Will to Believe”: A Comparative Account Against Skepticism

Before we proceed to the meat of such a subject let us start in an understanding of faith and reason. For one, a distinction to be made in the two senses of “evidentialism” (Evans 1998). On the hand, you have what is known as “proportionality evidentialism” and “threshold evidentialism.” William James’ (1842-1910) essay The Will to Believe (1896) is a response to W. K. Clifford’s Ethics of Belief (1879). The former essay has been seen as a critique of W.K. Clifford’s evidentialism (proportionality), but fails to make the above mentioned distinction between the two senses of evidentialism and hence, James’ critique of evidentialism may still be consistent with Clifford’s view.

Clifford’s ‘ethics of belief’ famously defends the view that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” (Clifford 2005, 101). James responded by saying that in certain situations we are called to make “genuine options.” According to Evans (1998), “A genuine option is explained as a case where we are faced with two propositions, and the choice between the two meets three conditions: it must be live, forced, and momentous” (p. 48). I will only address the first condition.

By a “live option” James means a proposition that we are somewhat already inclined to adopt. For instance, this is such an option that if you have two rival hypotheses, they both contain enough appeal to to the intellect in order to suppose it as a real possibility in either direction. However, James admits that certain evidence may make a particular hypothesis seem to give one certitude, while others show the opposite as the case (i.e., false). John Hick (1966) criticizes James view of live options on the grounds that a “live option to a particular mind has no bearing upon its truth or falsity. All sorts of accidental circumstances  may predispose us toward a proposition; the mere fact that it is widely held in the society around us  is often sufficient” (43).

George Mavrodes recognizes that even after reviewing that debate between Clifford and James, James did not show by his three conditions the incoherence of Clifford’s position. However, Mavrodes also recognizes on James’ end that he doesn’t believe that there is no evidence for religious beliefs per se (do not think that James’ critique of Clifford amounts to this). James might say that when religious belief is a “genuine option,” the evidence weighing pro and con might actually be fair and equal. This leads us to our next section.

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God and Natural Disasters

Let us consider an instance of antithesis. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) once wrote a book-length treatise entitled Theodicy (1709) which contains his treatment of the problem of evil. The gist of Leibniz’ argument is as follows: God in his infinite wisdom, before the creation of the world, surveyed all the possibilities before Him and chose the “best possible world” – our world. Because of God’s omnipotence and goodness, he made this world. The assumption doesn’t seem all that erroneous: God is good, and hence (though difficult to argue otherwise), among the alternatives God chooses or creates the best possible one.

In contrast, the great 1755 earthquake in Lisbon which claimed tens of thousand of lives, left a great impact on notable French philosopher Voltaire* (1694-1778). Though there may be other motives for Voltaire writing his famous work of satire (or “tragicomedy”) Candide, it is all the while clear that the work was intended as a satirical response to Leibniz’s theological/philosophical optimism. One of the main characters in the story, Dr. Pangloss – a philosopher, perhaps resembling Leibniz himself or at least his disciples – when asked after all the misery and trouble he has endured, if he still resorts to his belief that this is the best possible world, remarked:

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John H. Whittaker’s Paper, “Kierkegaard on Names, Concepts and Proofs for God’s Existence”

John H. Whittaker
The University of Virginia
International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

This is a very good paper for insight into Kierkegaard’s view on natural theology in chapter 3 of Philosophical Fragments. Whittaker takes notice of Kierkegaard’s “logic of names and concepts” and applies it to S.K.’s understanding of the term “God.” Specifically, Whittaker contends that S.K. objected to the scholastic attempt to argue for God’s existence by looking at His effects on the grounds that if God were understood as a proper name (“Jehovah”), then the existence of God could never be established.

Using the idiom of his day, Kierkegaard often described himself as a “dialectician.” “Dialectical” problems absorbed his interest, and he tried to sort out “dialectical” relationships to solve them. This made it seem that he owed more than he admitted to Hegel, the most renowned dialectician of the day. Yet one can be a dialectician without being a Hegelian, and to find a more appropriate analog to Kierkegaard’s brand of philosophy one has to look further backward – or forward – in time.

In the bright light of German intellectual achievements, the difference
between holding a religious belief and holding a learned opinion had faded and Kierkegaard wanted to restore it. To do this a specialist of sorts was needed, one who knew how to draw distinctions. He therefore took Socrates, not Hegel, as his model, substituting the “either/or” of Socratic inquiry for the “both/and” of Hegelian dialectics. Instead of resolving conceptual differences, he tried to recover them, so that a confused amalgamation of Christian faith and philosophy might be avoided. Like Socrates, he sometimes used irony to accent a point of confusion and in this respect he resembles few other philosophers, past or present. Yet conceptual clarity remained his goal and, in this respect, he resembles no one so much as the linguistic philosophers of our own day.

See full paper (PDF) here. 

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The Picture of Faith in Matthew 11:2-6

The beginning of Matthew 11 starting at verse 2:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples  to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me (NIV, vv. 2-6)

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