Tennant's Philosophical Theology

By Delton Scudder Lewis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I GENERAL EXPOSITION OF TENNANT'S PROBLEM AND HIS ANSWER

The Problem: The Validity of Theistic Belief

IN order to understand the major problem with which F. R. Tennant repeatedly wrestles throughout his published works,1 it will be well to permit Tennant to speak for himself.

The central problem of faith, [he writes, in an essay on the famous "faith" chapter (chap. xi) in the Book of Hebrews,2] the problem which at times may press upon any believer and provide trial for his faith is the question whether we can justify to our reason this leap from what we deem the terra firma of knowledge into hope, trust, or belief, as to what we do not know and cannot rigidly prove. . . . However, the power of a great belief, once it is held with unquestioning conviction, to produce strenuous activity or spiritual endeavor is one thing; and the correspondence of the same belief with external reality or fact is another. Experience now and again enforces this distinction upon us, however ardently some have tried to annul it; for we well know that beliefs such as have proved to be not really true to fact have sometimes inspired men to do and to die. There has always lived in my memory in this connection a ballad describing how a very commonplace young man was transfigured, by his belief in the exalted nobility and purity of his lover, into a hero; yet she turned out to have been all the time a worthless and depraved woman. Spiritual efficacy, then, although a criterion of true religious belief, is by no means so exclusively a characteristic of true belief that we can infallibly or without exception infer the one from the other. None of us doubts that life is more than logic, that reality is richer than thought and unexhausted by knowledge, or that advantages of the highest and noblest kind do actually accrue from believing where we cannot see.

____________________
1
I.e., those writings in which Tennant deals with the subjects of religion, religious experience, faith, theology, etc., and not with the subject of "sin" and books or reviews on irrelevant topics.
2
The Expository Times, XXXII, 562-563.

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