How many theologians does it take to turn the light on? Part 2 – William Temple

The blog How many theologians does it take to turn the light on? ¬†Part 1” ¬†implies that when we argue about faith we are for the main part misguided.\r\n\r\nWe argue with the wrong people (imaginary ones who mainly exist in our heads) and on the wrong subjects (questions not being asked by most people) and in the wrong way (without connecting our heads and our hearts).\r\n\r\nThe approach a person takes towards faith is rarely through argument alone. Otherwise how would the church grow in places where intellectual argument is not the currency of daily life. And yet surprisingly the church does grow in less educated communities around the world. (As an aside, it begs the question: why are the largest Churches in the Church of England almost exclusively middle class? I think it’s mainly due to a misunderstanding about the central work of the Holy Spirit in the miracle of faith).\r\n\r\nAnyway, on the question of argument, William Temple put it best and put it this way:\r\n

“I do not suppose that any man has ever lived who began actually to practice any religion on intellectual grounds alone. And for ninety-nine people out of a one hundred the importance of the intellectual statement is rather that it removes barriers to their spiritual activity than it ever launches them upon it.

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But there are some problems (although I believe in fact there is only one) which fall within the field of philosophy and genuinely hinder from worship those who would desire to offer it. That one is the problem of evil. The others I believe to be conundrums asked in a spirit partly of levity and partly of the search for an excuse that the claim made by the Gospel upon our allegiance may be avoided.

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If any of you are supposing that you are definitely hindered from trusting God by purely intellectual doubts, I want to ask you how much you want to trust him. Because if you do not want to trust him or find a god to trust, then no amount of argument will lead you to it. And the desire must be kindled some other way than by argument.

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But if you do desire it, even if you desire it only because you have seen what it means in the lives of some other people, then you will be right to sift and test as rigorously as you can by the activity of your mind the case that is put forward for belief in God. And at least you will become aware whether your faith is something that you can present rationally or is something to which you are still holding (as, when all is said and done, some of the greatest saints have held to it) even though you can find no clear balance of reason in favour of it.”

\r\n(from Basic Convictions; Harper and Brothers, 1936)

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