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Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations Paperback – August 1, 2017
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"Christian philosophers and apologists have spilled much ink defending the truth of Christianity―rightly so, given the rise of New Atheism and other movements that call into question Christianity's plausibility. What has been widely neglected, however, is showing the desirability of Jesus and the gospel. In this brilliantly written book, Gregory Ganssle shows how the Christian story makes sense of our deepest longings―for love, beauty, truth, goodness, and freedom. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in finding a story that is both true to the way things are and true to the way things ought to be." (Paul M. Gould, assistant professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas)
"We live in a time in the West when Christianity is implausible to many because it doesn't seem to be good. While frequently and unwittingly still assuming intuitions that echo our Christian past, late moderns have ironically come to see Christianity as a threat to human flourishing. Nonbelievers don't just think Christianity is wrong, they find it distasteful. This calls for an apologetic that appeals not only to the head but also to the heart. The need is to help unbelievers see that Christianity is not only true, it is beautiful. This is where Gregory Ganssle's book comes in―drawing on rich Christian resources of the past and winsomely dialoguing with competing secular stories. With both clarity and grace, Our Deepest Desires points to how the Christian story offers more explanatory power than its chief rivals." (Joshua D. Chatraw, executive director, Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, Liberty University)
"Who I truly am―what Gregory Ganssle calls my 'core identity'―is a function of who and what I love the most. In this engaging and accessible book, Ganssle offers a compelling account of our deepest desires―the ones we cannot escape and would not if we could. Ganssle finds in the wisdom of the Christian tradition compelling support for his vision of how to get and stay on the right track in life. Believers and nonbelievers alike have much to gain from his warm and wise engagement with the question. Only a great teacher could have written a book like this." (Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale University)
About the Author
Greg Ganssle (PhD, Syracuse) is professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. He is the author of several books, including A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism and Thinking About God, and he is the editor of God and Time.
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In part 1, Ganssle describes what the Christian story has to teach us about personhood, our purpose and meaning, and our capacity for relationships. In part 2, Ganssle claims that Christianity answers our deep expectation for moral goodness. Part 3 explores how beauty points us toward God. In Part 4, Ganssle delves into what the Christian Story has to offer us by way freedom (and how it relates to Christian truth and hope).
As Ganssle explores each of these longings, in turn, he contrasts how the Christian story describes reality, with atheistic and materialistic stories and ways they answer these questions of desire. He differentiates the Christian faith from materialistic Darwinism, existentialism, utilitarianism, and thinkers like Bertrand Russell, Fredrick Nietzche, the New Atheists, etc. Ganssle does this all, with an accessible conversational tone, full of personal anecdotes and pop-cultural references.
IVP Academic classified this book as "RELIGION/Christian Theology/Apologetics"(back cover). I think the ordering of these is essentially correct. Ganssle offers thoughts about the value of Christianity which I think will be instructive and beneficial, primarily for Christians as we think through a Christian understanding of reality, and what difference this makes for our lives. Ganssle explores more the 'why Christians believe,' than the 'what' Christians believe. This doesn't mean what Ganssle says is solely subjective, but his emphasis is on the lived benefits of the Christianity—how it gives us meaning and a purpose and the ways it illuminates the true, the good and the beautiful and brings us hope and freedom.
This emphasis on the 'why' more than the 'what,' characterizes how Ganssle handles the Christian story. Ganssle uses 'the Christian Story' as shorthand for what Christians believe about the nature of reality. Ganssle doesn't explore the narrative of scripture in great detail, though he does note along the way: creation, the fall, redemption, and consummation. Most of Ganssle's Scriptural references are drawn from the New Testament (though he does reference Genesis 1-3, and, Psalm 19:3). Missing from his Christian Story is both the story of Israel and the Church's story. However, he is not telling us all of the what, but why the Christian Story answers our deep desires.
As an apologetic, Ganssle doesn't offer any 'knock-down arguments,' but his contrasting of worldviews highlights the ways in which Christianity speaks meaningfully to human longing. Ganssle notes in his introduction "If you recognize your own deep values in what I discuss, you may see that, indeed, Christianity makes a good deal of sense" (13). Seekers who are interested and exploring what the Christian story has to offer may find Ganssle's answers compelling. The committed atheist will not find these brief reflections as persuasive. But I think one of the most valuable things about apologetic works, is that they show clear thinking and a rational basis for faith for those who are drawn into the Christian story or are staring back from the other side of conversion and wonder if they thought stuff through the issues well enough. To that end, Ganssle describes cogently how the gospel is good news, fulfills our deepest longings. That is pretty valuable.
I would recommend this book for believers and seeking-unbelievers who are exploring, or at least open to, Christianity and are curious as to what the Christian faith has to offer. I give this book four stars. ★★★★
Notice of material connection, I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.
Blaise Pascal identified a reason for this limitation in his Pensées. “Men despise religion,” he wrote. “They hate it and are afraid it may be true.” Notice the verbs: despise, hate, are afraid. This is the language of affect, not intellect; of roiling desires, not calm, cool reflection. On this account, Christian apologetics often fails because it treats people like the Vulcan Dr. Spock rather than the all-too-human Captain Kirk.
Pascal outlined a three-pronged strategy for apologetics in light of this truth about human nature:
"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 true."
We might call these three prongs negative apologetics, apologetics from desire, and positive apologetics. Negative apologetics rebuts arguments against Christianity, showing that they are false. Positive apologetics makes arguments for Christianity, showing that it is true. Pascal’s crucial insight is that apologetics from desire play a crucial role. People must “wish it were true” in order to see “that it is true.”
Although Gregory E. Ganssle doesn’t cite Pascal in Our Deepest Desires, I get the impression that his book is a Pascalian project nonetheless. “The claim that this book will explore,” he writes, “is that the Christian story makes sense of our deepest longings. That is,” he goes on to explain, “the story that Christianity sets forth fits well with the things we value most and with the kinds of people we want to be.”
What kinds of things? Ganssle names four key values: persons, goodness, beauty and freedom. These values are, he believes, transcendental and universal. They are the kinds of things all people must take into account as they try to construct a good life.
Take persons, for example. Ganssle shows that “what we value most is connected to our personhood.” This is the case for two reasons: “The value of the things we pursue for ourselves is enhanced because we have human capabilities, and we value other people intrinsically.” In other words, we are persons (not pigs or peanuts or planets), so the good life we pursue must be appropriate for us. Moreover, that good life is relational to the core.
What story makes best sense of this fact? Ganssle contrasts the Christian story with the atheist story throughout the book. Let me cite a representative example of each story, then add in Ganssle’s argument.
First, a representative example of the Christian story:
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us" (1 John 4:7–12).
Ganssle writes: “In the Christian story, the most fundamental reality is intrinsically relational” (emphasis in original). God is a Trinity of persons in eternal relationship of love with one another. This eternal Trinitarian love has implications for the doctrine of creation: “God’s love for the created order and particularly for the persons God created is an overflow of the love among the distinct persons within the divine nature. Love overflows into creative giving.” Given this reality, it is not surprising that “the content of Christian ethics centers on love and service to others.”
Now, for a representative example of the atheist story — by atheism, Ganssle means evolutionary naturalism, the “unguided Darwinian story” of human origins — consider this famous quote from the infamous Bertrand Russell:
"That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built."
In this story, Ganssle points out, “our relational nature arises solely from our biological nature, which in turn arises from the underlying physics. In these accounts, the human drive to form and value relationships found its impetus in the need to survive.” So, yes, relationship is part of the atheist story, but as Ganssle points out, this is “an accident of evolutionary history.” He goes on to conclude: “Our beliefs about these relational virtues do not track with the deep contours of reality. So, although the meaning and value of relationships are not incompatible with atheism, they do not fit well with the atheistic story.”
Notice that Ganssle hasn’t argued that the Christian story is true. He’s simply argued that it’s a better fit to our deepest desires about personhood. He makes similar arguments about goodness, beauty and freedom. These transcendental values — our deepest desires — fit better within the Christian story of reality than in the atheist story. To use Pascal’s words, the Christian story is “attractive.” It is the kind of story “good men wish … were true.”
Obviously, there’s still a place for negative and positive apologetics. We have to show that Christianity is true, not false, after all. But if arguments from desire have moved people from scorn, hatred and fear of religion to curiosity about it, or even an openness to “reverence and respect,” then our arguments stand a far better chance of being persuasive.
Our Deepest Desires is a short book, but Gregory E. Ganssle should be congratulated for how much deep and interesting insight he has packed into its pages.