Theory Ain’t Belief–Thank God!

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga buries a little gem of insight in a footnote to his massive Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000) that pertains to Christmas and Easter especially:

But aren’t there many different theories of (say) incarnation and atonement? Don’t Christians disagree about this? So which of the many views of Incarnation and Atonement are in fact rational? The question is misplaced. [I take Al to mean that the question is “Since Christians can’t agree on theories of the Incarnation and Atonement, then isn’t it irrational for them to believe in the Incarnation and the Atonement?] There are many different theories as to how it is that people are able to think; it is still plain to many of us that some people do (sometimes) think. There are many theories about what numbers are; it is still plain that 7 + 5 = 12. We can quite properly believe in the Atonement even if we don’t see exactly how is it supposed to go and don’t embrace any of the theories; it can also be that we are rational in believing in the Atonement but not in accepting some specific theory of it. (255n27)

I myself have no clear idea of how my computer works. For that matter, I don’t even have a clear idea of how electricity works. But I believe in them. In fact, I actually trust them and enjoy them and profit by them. I’m sure the theory of how they work is fascinating and it is important for those who deal with them professionally to know as exactly as possible how they work. It’s also comforting for me to know that some people, at least, really do have a pretty good understanding—if not, indeed, a total understanding—of what they are and how they work. But I don’t need to know precisely or even all that clearly how they work to believe in them and be blessed by them. They obviously exist and obviously work and I’m glad they do.

At Christmastime (and Easter) especially I believe that God exists and God works, and I’m glad God does. Theory/theology is important, yes, but believing and enjoying are even more important. Happy Christmas!

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