Scott McKnight alerted me to a couple of posts by philosopher Jeff Cook on the topic of desire and reason in evangelism (1,2). Cook contends that “the debate about God today is not about what’s reasonable—it is almost entirely about preferences and desire.” That doesn’t mean he is opposed to using reason or providing evidence for Christianity in our evangelism of the lost. He simply believes that this alone will not persuade most people because it is not rationality alone that causes them to reject Christianity.
Cook proposes that if people are going to be persuaded by our reasons for Christianity, they must first want there to be a God. In his words, “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God. By ‘more important,’ I mean desire is more crucial to the transformation of a person’s heart, more helpful in moving them toward faith in Christ, and more instrumental in one’s ‘salvation’ than right thinking. … It seems then that enticing the passions and wills of those who do not follow Christ is far more important than targeting their intellect with arguments for God’s existence. Showing that God is desirable will be the primary target of the successful 21st century apologist, for wanting God to exist opens highways for subpar apologetics; yet a closed heart will not here [sic] the voice of wisdom.”
I’ve experienced the truth about the role of desire in persuasion myself recently. My wife is into eating healthy…again. She gave me a long list of reasons to abandon my current diet and adopt a new one. While I found myself agreeing with her on all that she said, at the end of the day I still planned to continue in my regular eating habits. It wasn’t that I thought she was wrong, and it wasn’t that I think my current eating habits are healthy enough. I know I don’t eat the way I should, but I still didn’t change my behavior despite her excellent apologetic for health. Why? Because there was nothing about the healthy lifestyle that I found appealing. It seems like drudgery. And I am not willing to stop eating enormous amounts of ice-cream straight from the container every night! So while I agreed with her rationally, I could not agree with her emotionally or volitionally. I think this is the place many unbelievers are in. They hear our arguments, but they have reasons they don’t want what we believe to be true, and thus will not allow themselves to be convinced by our reasons and arguments. They will always find some “out” that will allow them to continue in their present beliefs.
So we need to do more than merely present the evidence for God’s existence and the truth of Christianity; we have to make God and the Gospel attractive to them. We need to make them want it to be true. As Blaise Pascal wrote, ““Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Pensees 12). The question is how we do so. Cook wrote a book on the topic, and plans to do some more posts on it as well, so stay tuned (or buy the book). And by all means, if you are a Christian apologist, read Cook’s posts. They could change your whole perspective and approach.