Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desire and Emotions for Faith

Clifford Williams IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL April 5, 2011

Williams is professor of philosophy at Trinity International University. This book is needed, he argues, to provide a middle way between certain dichotomous views held by Christians. According to some, satisfaction of needs should play no role in faith; only reason can create and sustain faith. Christians also differ on the role of emotion in faith. Some reject any role for emotions, arguing that faith should be acquired only through reason. Williams believes these two dichotomies are related: “Those who believe that faith should be acquired through reason are likely to think of faith as excluding emotion. But those who believe that faith should be acquired through satisfaction of needs are likely to think of faith as consisting of emotions, for satisfaction of need involves having emotions” (p. 12).

This book addresses these two issues; whether faith responds to needs, and whether faith consists of emotions. “I answer that the ideal way to acquire faith in God is through both need and reason, and that faith should consist of both emotions and assent” (ibid.). He provides a mediating position between rationalism and emotionalism, asserting that “need without reason is blind, but reason without need is sterile” (ibid.).

Williams’s approach integrates theory and practice. Drawing on the ideas of major voices in the history of philosophy and theology, the chapters also include personal accounts of faith from interviews the author conducted. The stories include both people who experienced significant growth in faith and some who have faced real and intense struggles in their walk of faith. These stories put a “human face” on the philosophical theories presented in the book.

After an introductory section Williams devotes a chapter to defining “needs” and one to laying out an existential argument for believing in God. Then he responds to four major objections to basing faith on the satisfaction of needs. In chapter 8 he argues that faith consists of emotions and in the concluding chapter he makes three assertions: “We should let ourselves be drawn to faith in God by need; we do not always do so; and having emotions is part of what makes life spectacular” (p. 16).

Williams writes for both a professional and lay audience. He bridges the gap nicely, using terminology that is accessible for nonexperts, and his use of stories to illustrate and explain complex topics is particularly effective. Those who are interested in the role of emotions and need in acquiring and sustaining faith will be helped by this book. As a middle way between common dichotomies, his position is effective and faith-affirming. As Williams writes, “The ideal way to acquire and maintain faith is to listen to both our needs and reason. We can acquire faith on evidential arguments alone, because people have actually done so, but to do either is not as secure as acquiring it in both ways” (p. 59). 

—Glenn R. Kreider

July 1, 2013

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2013 vol. 170 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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