“What role should reason play in coming to faith or in sustaining faith?” That’s been a much-debated question throughout church history. A much less-debated question has been, “What role should the satisfaction of needs play in coming to faith or sustaining faith?”
Enter Clifford Williams with Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, and his charge that apologetics has been too philosophical or evidential, too exclusively reason-based, and that it should be supplemented with “the reasons of the heart,” meaning apologetics that don’t just satisfy the mind but also the needs of the heart.
Williams points to how the satisfaction of needs has played such a large and vital part in the faith journeys of most Christians with many finding need and reason so intermixed that they could not be separated. Thus, Williams concludes, most people “want a faith that fits both need and reason. They want to have certain needs satisfied, and they want faith to be true to reality.” That’s why in this book, Williams argues that:
- The ideal way to acquire and sustain faith in God is through both need and reason.
- That need without reason is blind, but reason without need is sterile.
- That emotion and need can be trusted for faith in God as much as reason.
- The remedy for being led astray by emotions is not to distrust emotions, but to develop the right emotions.
- Christians should cultivate emotions as much as they do commitment and right action.
- Having the right emotions is necessary for discovering certain truths.
To be clear, Williams is not arguing for a faith devoid of reason, but for a faith that is “at least as much need-based as reason-based.” He’s demanding a bigger role for feeling and for the satisfying of need both at the beginning of faith and in supplementing faith.
At the core of Williams’ book is what’s known as the existential argument for believing in God, which, put simply, is “that we are justified in believing in God solely because doing so satisfies certain basic emotional and spiritual needs.” It’s a three-step argument with two premises and a conclusion:
1. We feel certain needs.
2. Faith in God satisfies these needs.
3. Therefore, we are justified in having faith in God.
In future posts, following the structure of Williams’s book, we’ll identify the needs that Christian faith meets and then look more closely at the existential argument for believing in God. Following that, we’ll trace Williams’s response to four objections that are often made against the existential argument before concluding with a look at the role of emotions in creating and sustaining faith.