Moral Apologetics and Easter

Easter is the most important holy day for Christians; it’s the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Christianity is unapologetically historical. If the resurrection didn’t happen, and happen literally, then Christianity is false; and anyone and everyone is perfectly within their prerogative to heap scorn on Christianity to their heart’s content. If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then Christians are of all men most miserable, for their hopes are in vain and their faith vacuous. But if Jesus was raised from the dead, scarcely anything could be more important, more revelatory of ultimate reality, more hopeful for the world and human beings.

As far as I can tell, the reasons for his resistance to the moral argument(s) were four-fold. One issue was that he was convinced biblical exegesis led to the view that God inexplicably predestines some to an eternal hell for lives they could not have avoided. A second issue was that if morality were to depend on God, God would be its justification, which would lead, at most, to prudential reasons to be moral, based on the prospects of punishment for failure to comply. A third issue was his concern over the equation of goodness and being, originally deriving from the teachings of Plato. One like Gottfried Leibniz, Anthony Flew argued, used this equation to derive a system of ethics on theistic foundations that is irremediably arbitrary. Things not at all recognizably good are to be called good anyway. This concern basically sounds like the classical arbitrariness and vacuity problem rooted in Ockhamistic voluntarism.

And a fourth issue was perhaps the biggest of all, and in a sense the culmination of all of the above: the problem of evil. Many resist the moral argument makes good sense thus construed, and it was inevitable that until we thought of God as personal and moral, rather than merely intellectual and impersonal, our resistance to special revelation would remain intact and we would continue to be convinced by the teleological and cosmological arguments but not the moral one. Of course many resist to the case for the resurrection would persist as well.

The historical, biblical, and philosophical evidence weighs heavily against the problematic predestinationist soteriology that worried many, and most recent theistic ethicists, have focused on the ontological grounding of moral facts in God, not the motivational and prudential incentive for morality provided by divine threats. A theistic ethic that avoids Ockhamistic voluntarism can be defended, and moral apologetics and the problem of evil are locked in a zero-sum battle; only one can survive, and I think the evidence for the success of moral apologetics is strong. This is not to say the problem of evil lends itself to any simple solution; certainly it doesn’t. In fact, the way the problem of evil remains a problem for Christianity, though not an intractable one ultimately, is one of the distinctive strengths of this worldview; it’s the worldview that lacks the resources to offer a robust account of evil in the first place that suffers from explanatory inadequacy.

What all of this shows is that the case for the resurrection of Jesus—likely the strongest argument for Christianity (even more so than the moral argument!)—goes hand in hand with moral apologetics. They are not in competition; they are rather two star players on a very talented team.

Moreover, the resurrection shows the inauguration of God’s kingdom life; resurrection living, free from the fear of death and sin, is the sort of life for which we were designed. Resurrection represents God’s work of re-creation; the power that raised Jesus from the dead can be at work within us, renewing us, transforming us, making us into the people God intended us to be. The resurrection shows that our hope is not in vain, that the moral gap can be closed by God’s transforming grace, and ultimately that there is no tension or conflict between the dictates of morality and rationality. The resurrection shows that the grain of the universe is good; that God intends to redeem the entirety of the created order, making it teem with life according to his original plan; that the worst of evils can be redeemed and defeated; that life is a comedy, not a tragedy; that the day will come when all our tears will be wiped away.

Categories: christianity, english

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