The Morals of the Story - A Review

The focus of apologetics as it is presented in evangelical contexts tends to be on evidential arguments like the historicity of the Bible and the credibility of the resurrection of Christ. These sorts of arguments are helpful when someone finds themselves somewhat attracted to Christianity but incredulous to its supernatural claims. Such apologetic arguments are important, but a different approach is warranted in a culture that no longer views Christianity as plausible.

The recent book, The Morals of the Story: Good News About a Good God, presents a traditional but less common apologetic approach designed to demonstrate the plausibility of Christianity. The argument of this volume is abductive—that is, the Baggetts make the case that the Christian God is the best explanation for the moral consistency of the world and the latent human awareness of moral demands. This approach, known as moral apologetics, essentially points to our shared sense of morality and expectation of justice and argues Christianity offers the best hope of making sense of it.

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The book is intriguing, not least because it was written by a husband and wife team. David Baggett is professor of philosophy at Liberty University. Marybeth Baggett is a professor of English at Liberty University. Their combined expertise helps make this a philosophically sound volume rich with literary illustrations that augment the basic argument that humans have a latent sense of the moral that needs explaining.

In a literary twist, the Baggetts constructed the book in three acts. The first act introduces the basic outline of moral apologetic arguments and the history of moral apologetics as a valid approach. Between the first and second act, there is an excursus, which the Baggetts call an intermission, that deals with the Euthyphro dilemma in technical detail. In some sense, the handling of resolution of that famous philosophic dilemma (or trilemma) is the ground on which all moral apologetics—indeed, a robust Christian ethics—is founded.

Act two engages arguments for and against a moral apologetic on the topics of goodness, obligations, knowledge, transformation, and providence. These are common points of friction between moral apologists and their critics. Act three functions as a thrilling conclusion, wherein the Baggetts tie their arguments together to present one brief, cogent case. The book closes with two brief recaps, which the Baggetts call an encore and curtain call.

The Morals of the Story is an important volume in our time because of the shift of the main points of contention against Christianity. No longer is it sufficient to establish basic facts—the resurrection, the possibility of miracles, the historicity of the narrative accounts—we are in an era where the plausibility of a source of moral authority outside of ourselves is not a shared assumption. It is exactly this barrier that moral apologetics seeks to break down. The Baggetts have presented a clear case, which does not prove conclusively (by their own admission) the reality of the Triune God, but it makes a strong case that the common experience of a moral conscience among all humans points to a central reality and source of moral authority beyond humans, which they hold to be the God of Christianity.

There are various points at which many readers will disagree with the Baggetts, but the book is constructed in a manner that disagreement at points does not undermine the integrity of the overall arguments. With few and minor exceptions, the Baggetts have argued cautiously, which makes their case worth engaging even if it the reader does not fully agree by the end of the volume. The Baggetts acknowledge the room for disagreement with their argument, which makes the whole of the case more convincing and the reader-author debate much more congenial throughout.

This book is written at a level that anticipates some familiarity with basic philosophical arguments. The Morals of the Story would be useful in an upper level undergraduate course or in graduate studies, or for individuals with some background in philosophy. For that audience, it is an entertaining read with a mix of humor, anecdote, and illustration. The text is seamlessly edited so it is not evident if there were different authors for different chapters, though the richness of the literary references would seem to reveal the handiwork of Marybeth Baggett, with her background in English literature. This is a solid and enjoyable team effort.

The Morals of the Story represents a significant and winsome entry in the field of apologetic literature. This book should prove useful for years to come in equipping the Church to engage a sometimes apathetic world with the truth of the gospel and the reality of a morally consistent, holy God.

The Morals of the Story: Good News About a Good God
By David Baggett, Marybeth Baggett

Note: I received a gratis copy of this book from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Raising Faithful Kids in a Skeptical World

It’s a lot easier to raise a skeptic than a child with a mature faith.

This is not a statement about behavior, but about true fidelity. That is, faithfulness that includes both a profession of faith and a solid foundation for that faith.

It is much easier to teach a child to poke holes in the ideas of others than to hold fast to cogent, explanatory truths.

As a result, there is a constant temptation to build buttresses of truth around our kids without exposing them to challenges to the faith. This is good when they are young, because it prevents confusion. It is a dangerous thing over time because it builds a false sense of confidence.

The Place for Honest Doubt

Comprehensive, absolute certainty is a dangerous thing. There is little doubt about that.

Being entirely certain about every detail of one’s own understanding of Scripture, the veracity of the traditions of one’s youth, and the methodology appropriate to determining truth can lead to pain and difficulty over time. Much of that is unnecessary.

There is a fundamental difference between holding a position with absolute certainty and holding it in faithful confidence.

This is because being faithful does not require abandoning the intellectual task of asking questions and considering alternatives. Issues such as the proper mode of baptism, the right style of worship, the way the salvation is explained are all points where legitimate questioning is warranted. After all, a lot of faithful people in the history of the Church have stood on each side of those questions.

Photo used by CC license: Hans Splinter, Parenting,  http://ow.ly/10gV84

Photo used by CC license: Hans Splinter, Parenting, http://ow.ly/10gV84

But there is a place for asking even more significant and sensitive questions. Is there a God? Certainly, a fool says in his heart there is no God (Ps 14:1). However, this doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t ask the big questions and honestly pursue truthful answers. Helping kids ask those in a space where they have the emotional and spiritual resources to struggle through the mire of doubt is important.

It’s also much easier to teach fideistic adherence to dogma than to teach kids to think through doctrine rightly.

In the end, fideism presents an anemic form of Christianity that skeptics can punch holes through with ease. Then, when faced with intelligent, cogent challenges to their faith, an untried faith system will fall apart.

Always Another Question

As I said, it is easier to raise a skeptic than a faithful child.

Much of contemporary culture trains children to expect a higher degree of certainty and a greater volume of proof for questions of religious significance than anything else. For example, people choose their presidential candidates without knowing everything about them and whether everything in the candidate’s worldview meshes. People take jobs without knowing in gross detail every possible work responsibility, the date of future promotions, and whether the company’s corporate office in Paris might have spent too much on cognac last year. Folks use electricity without understanding where exactly it came from or how it was generated.

In contrast, some critics of religion seem to expect an unassailable record in all of history from the religion itself and also each adherent of the religion. They demand that every possible question be asked and meshed with every other solution offered for all of time. Variety in such responses over history—even to secondary and tertiary questions—is considered evidence that the central truths cannot be true.

Many of these questions are fair to ask and Christians should be prepared to discuss them, even if in general terms. Christians need to be prepared to admit that the history of every religion is tarnished by error and insincerity. Christians need to be willing to communicate that there are some doctrines about which reasonable people can debate.

The reality is that every religion, even Christianity, has open questions about some aspects of it. This is a function of the human conduits of the religion and our finiteness. Every religion has a checkered history with abuses. This is because religions have humans involved and humans tend to be self-centered and imperfect.

This means that for someone looking for objections, there are always additional questions to be asked. If the standard of acceptance for religion is that every question is answered, that standard can never be met. There is always one more question to be asked.

The world is training children to be skeptical, if not agnostic. The Church—especially the parents of children—need to be prepared to help develop a curious, cautious, but not incredulous demeanor in their children.

We need to teach our children to seek the best answer, not the perfect one. We need to demonstrate the power of the gospel to transform and redeem. Once a child understands the reason for the hope within us, they will be better able to ask questions without losing their faith.

We need to teach and demonstrate to our children that the Christian faith has integrity and is founded on the absolute objectivity of God not the absolute certainty of our positions. We can have a high degree of certainty about what we believe without dismissing questions. We can demonstrate confidence in our faith by chasing down answers to difficult questions and admitting when we have more investigation to do.

Retooling Parenting

In some day gone by it may have been possible for kids to pick up enough of a basis for their faith by osmosis. Probably not, though, since the failure to present a credible, cogent faith for generations helps to explain the radical rejection of the trappings of a Christian ethic.

The present culture is one that will not accept Christianity without a great deal of explaining. It also will not allow Christians to live consistently with a robust Christian faith without challenging every inch. We do disservice to our children if we do not equip them and assist them to wrestle with the core doctrines of the Christian faith.

Parenting will look different in our present age than it has in the past if we are to give our children what they need to live as faithful pilgrims in the world. That isn’t to say that it will look different than what it always should have been. In fact, the external pressure on the Church may be a benefit to our sanctification as it forces us to return to our proper responsibilities.

Truth Matters

This is a good book. It’s a book that I wish I had owned when I was in college because it answers many of the questions that my friends and I discussed. It answers these questions with grace and authority.

Though this book does not answer every possible objection to the authority of Scripture and the validity of the Christian faith, it does provide an important tool for equipping young students to maintain a robust faith in the face of skeptical friends and sometimes hostile professors at colleges. It does not provide the full answer to every objection or slam-dunk solutions to every conundrum that cynical opponents of Christianity often levy. However, Truth Matters provides good reason to doubt the doubts that are often accepted as an intellectual rite of passage among late adolescent students. This is an important book because it targets a need for churches and parents that are rightly concerned about their children losing, or at least temporarily denying, their faith once they are away from home.

There is no panacea for a failure to disciple children and equip them for the world before they head out of the house, but this book is something parents should strongly consider sending with their kids when they leave home. Kӧstenberger, Bock, and Chatraw have done a service for the church by writing this book.

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