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Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith Paperback – March 23, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"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 dichotomoies, his position is effective and faith-affirming." (Glenn R. Kreider, Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September 2013)

"Practical and pastoral theologians should welcome the significance Professor Williams affirms in the confluence of human emotions and religious faith, both historically in sacred scriptures and in contemporary life experiences." (Patricia Marsden-Dole, Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses, 41(3))

"I highly recommend Existential Reasons for Belief in God as a clear, well-presented and insightful work that could provide a framework for further helpful work in living the Christian life and being a Christian and a feminist." (Mark McLeod-Harrison, Christian Feminism Today, Fall 2011)

4/5 Stars "This book--tightly argued, yet accessible to non-philosophers--will make you think. . . . In William's work, one finds echoes of 'postconservative' theologians, who remind us that Christianity is about transformation, not just information. But the genius of this book is that it doesn't swing the pendulum too far. Or perhaps more appopriately, Williams shows that reason and emotion are not opposing poles on a single continuum at all; each has its place in the cultivation, strengthening, and defense of Christian belief. For those of us who need a faith at once meaningful and reasonable, that is good news." (Michael McGowan, Christianity Today, June 2011)

"Williams makes an intriguing effort to side-step the sheerly rationalistic claims of today's atheists through emotion; his book will provide interesting talking points for thoughtful seekers across many traditions." (Library Journal, March 1, 2011)

"We humans--most of us, anyway, most of the time--are rational, truth-seeking agents. But equally we are emotional creatures with existential needs, and we seek to meet those needs. Traditional Christian apologetics focuses on the former characteristic, offering evidence to believe that the Christian faith is true. Clifford Williams calls our attention to a second approach, one aimed at the second characteristic. Echoing thinkers such as Pascal and Kierkegaard, Williams's 'existential argument' shows that Christian faith can be justified--we may properly believe--just because faith satisfies certain existential needs. Williams develops his argument in a philosophically rich way, augmented with examples showing how for many people faith is engendered and sustained by existential arguments. Deep insights abound as Williams considers and rejects common objections to existential arguments. In the end, Williams doesn't reject evidential arguments, but urges us to pay closer attention to our emotional needs and their role in faith formation. I highly recommend this significant addition to the apologetic literature." (Garrett J. DeWeese, Professor of Philosophy and Philosophical Theology, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University)

"Clifford Williams's work is a powerful defense of the role that needs and emotions play in the formation and preservation of religious faith. Williams gives a powerful account of the way reason and emotion work together to produce a faith that is both rational and personal. Although the book is philosophically first-rate, it is written so clearly and powerfully that any thoughtful person can follow the argument. The inclusion of many personal stories gives the book added punch; Williams not only thinks about emotions but appeals to our emotions in an engaging manner." (C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University)

"Williams breathes new life into the provocative view that human emotions play a central role in legitimate belief in God. Drawing from Kierkegaard and Unamuno, he dares to portray belief in God as something much more personally robust and engaging than a mere solution to an intellectual puzzle. The book will benefit all serious inquirers regarding belief in God." (Paul K. Moser, Loyola University Chicago)

"Clifford Williams has composed an engaging, profoundly personal account of the reasons for belief in the God of Christianity. This is decidedly not a detached or merely academic work but a book that speaks directly to the needs, emotions and best thinking of its readers." (Charles Taliaferro, professor of philosophy, St. Olaf College)

About the Author

Clifford Williams (Ph.D., Indiana University) teaches philosophy at Trinity College (T.I.U.) in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of a number of books, including Singleness of Heart: Restoring the Divided Soul; Free Will and Determinism: A Dialogue; The Divided Soul: A Kierkegaardian Exploration; The Wisdom of Kierkegaard: A Collection of Quotations on Faith and Life and The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830838996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830838998
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Clifford Williams teaches philosophy at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He graduated from Wheaton College in 1964 with a B.A. in philosophy and from Indiana University in 1972 with a Ph.D. in philosophy.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Bouma on June 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
I have been doing some writing on God and belief in God for a few projects, and so I was very interested when I received a review copy of a new book by IVP called Existential Reasons for Belief in God. The book's thesis is simple, Williams contends that needs, emotions and desires are all valid parts of faith, and quite essential in many cases. This thesis is quite different from the ways I've heard belief in God presented before (you must believe intellectually in a list of facts) yet consistent with most evangelistic approaches that tap into a person's existential angst.

The author opens the book with two questions: "1) Is it legitimate to acquire faith in God solely through satisfaction of needs? 2) Does faith in God consist of emotions?" (12)

Well what do you think?

The author contends that "the ideal way to acquire faith in God is through both need and reason, and that faith should consist of both emotion and assent." (12) While Rationalists emphasize reason and Emotionalists emphasize emotion and need, Williams wants to emphasize both, especially in defending the legitimacy of acquiring faith through need, emotion, and reason.

He does so in the context of arguing eight themes:

1) Emotion and need can be trusted for faith in God as much as reason.

2) The negative assessment of emotions by some Christians is unjustified.

3) The remedy for being led astray by emotions is not to distrust emotions, but to develop the right emotions.

4) Christians should cultivate emotions as much as they do commitment and right action.

5) Having the right emotions is necessary for discovering certain truths.

6) We are not just rational animals, but emotional animals as well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jared Totten on October 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
If you ever wanted to impress people simply by the title of the book you're carrying around, I don't think you could do much better than Existential Reasons for Belief in God by Clifford Williams. However, that same intimidating title makes your job harder if you want to encourage people to read it. (For the record, I do want to do the latter and don't want to do the former.)

I am always game for new takes and approaches to Christian apologetics, and this one certainly fits the bill. While most such books build arguments around sheer fact and reason, Williams argues that there is also good reason (no pun intended) to defend the Christian worldview on a basis of need and emotion.

He points out that some people approach religion and faith in God emphasizing reason (rationalists) while others do so emphasizing emotion and need (emotionalists). Williams argues that rather than an "either/or" approach, we should take a "both/and" approach. Even on it's face this argument makes sense because apologetic arguments based on sheer airtight reason are of no use if the subject does not care about the information or sees no need to believe or accept those arguments. As Williams says,

"My aim is to defend the legitimacy of acquiring faith through need, emotion and reason. Satisfaction of need legitimately draws us to faith, but reason must be involved in this drawing. More simply, the two basic ideas of the book are the drawing power of need and the certifying ability of reason. Need without reason is blind, but reason without need is sterile."

I find it just a little ironic that he makes his argument throughout the book on the basis of rationality, but then again, his reasons would have no power if they did not awaken a desire to respond to such reason.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardman on August 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
The title of the book presents no illusion or mystery to it's inside contents. A creative cover image, not a very creative title. But this is a good thing because the book itself is a serious book with a serious philosophical topic: existential need. I mean, after all, it would be a terrible thing to be caught unaware in a discussion on existentialism. Things like this take time to prepare for.

Williams apparently has two main tasks in the book: 1) To dismantle the notion that faith is all mental assent; 2) To dismantle the notion that emotionalism equals faith. His overarching purpose is to show that "the ideal way to acquire faith in God is through both need and reason, and that faith should consist of both emotion and assent" (12). Indeed, he encourages the reader to recognize that this is a "middle-of-the-road" argument, emphasizing rationalism and emotionalism as proper ways of acquiring faith when used together.

It is in this vein that Williams' book should be accepted well and thought through critically. As one who has fallen into both traps at times in my life, I agree with Williams' overarching understanding of faith as both need and reason.
Before anyone jumps the gun, let me remind you that Williams' is not primarily arguing that needs prove to us in a sort of evidence way that God exists but that they provide justification for those that do believe in his existence. Williams puts the distinction as such: "The evidential argument tries to support the existence of God by showing that God's existence is needed to explain how people got those needs, whereas the existential argument tries to show that we can justifiably have faith in God solely because it satisfies the needs" (43). Indeed, "the existential argument does not give evidence for thinking God exists.
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