Interview with Andrew Davison about Imaginative Apologetics

This is the first part of our interview with Andrew Davison, editor of Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition.

The subtitle to this volume is “Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition.” Why was this chosen, and how is it descriptive of the contributions in the volume?

As one reviewer commented, it would be fair to say that I mean “Catholic” in the subtitle in a sense quite close to C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: not sectarian apologetics but rather apologetics rooted in the spacious ground of the “great tradition.” However, most of the authors in this volume are members of the Church of England who have been inspired, unashamedly, by the “catholic” roots of our Church: by the church fathers and Aquinas in particular. We’ve come across something that means something to us, and we want to share it. Five of us, in fact, are associated with the radical orthodoxy movement, which started in Cambridge at the end of the last century. To some extent the volume could have been subtitled, “Radical Orthodoxy Does Apologetics.”

For those unfamiliar with this movement, radical orthodoxy represents a new and forceful confidence in Christian doctrine, rooted in the Scriptures, which contrasts with the predominant liberalism of English theology in the decades before. It also represents a quite philosophical approach, but much more in the lyrical and “Continental” style rather than the analytic, logic-chopping tradition, which seems—unfortunately—to be growing in influence in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Those comments already bring us to the question of philosophy. I think two comments are in order. The first is that we do not subscribe to “philosophy of religion,” by which I mean the sort of approach that puts philosophy in the driving seat, but rather to “philosophical theology,” where theology picks up philosophy and bends it into new shapes. Not all the essays are equally philosophical, and where they are, I think they’re mainly very accessible. Where they are philosophical, however, they illustrate the principle that in order to “take every thought captive to Christ,” it is necessary to attend to thought. I am convinced about this: if we ignore philosophy, then our unquestioned philosophical assumptions will set the running, and some of them will have been picked up from outside the faith. By being more philosophical, at least with the right approach, we can be more theological. (I have a book coming out in the UK later this year on this theme, called The Love of Wisdom.)

The second comment is a point I make in my contribution to this volume: an account of reason is part of the Christian heritage and therefore part of what we hold out with the gospel. In previous generations, the way Christians thought may have been more generally held across our culture than it is today and therefore less obviously something to which to draw attention. Today, there is a crisis over what it means to think; reason is sick. A theological vision of reason is therefore part of the medicine that the church has to offer.

This is worked out in the book in at least two ways. First, I am not enthusiastic about apologetics that start with rational foundations that we supposedly all share. I wish that certain ideas were more widely shared (such as confidence about causation), but since they are not—since we live in a philosophically pluralist age—we need to offer both conclusions and the very idea of a Christian frame of rational reference. Secondly, I think we make some important points about how mainstream Christian thinking and writing has absorbed some unhelpful, and actually very secular, assumptions. For instance, we allow the claims of the faith to be judged according to a very thin, pseudo-scientific, attenuated scheme of what it means to reason. I don’t think we need to defend ourselves on these terms; we can say that there is more to thinking than this. After all, even atheist critics employ a deeper sense of how we might establish truth when it comes to the question, for instance, of whether their spouse loves them.

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