Know Your Apologetics: de facto vs. de jure Objections to Christianity

Christians who want to live as faithful and effective missionaries in post-Christian culture need to know the objections raised against their worldview. Evangelical Christians in particular are often guilty of poor listening. We turn to stock answers instead of giving patient thought and careful attention to the questions skeptics ask.

So we have much to learn from Christians who are ‘public intellectuals’ – especially those who work in the field of philosophy. Christian philosophers like Peter Kreeft and Alvin Plantinga make their living in the world of peer-review journals and interdisciplinary dialogue. They have learned the art of thoughtful debate. They listen well to opponents. And they make the case for Christianity thoughtfully, intelligently, and patiently.

Plantinga has spent over five decades working to defend Christianity as a plausible system of belief. In his master work Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford University Press, 2000), he isolates objections against Christianity into two categories:

  • De facto objections state that Christianity simply isn’t true.
  • De jure objections state that Christianity, whether true or not, is rationally unacceptable and/or unjustified.

In Plantinga’s own words:

De facto objections are relatively straightforward and initially uncomplicated: the claim is that Christian belief must be false (or at any rate improbable), given something or other we are all alleged to know. De jure objections, by contrast… are much less straightforward. The conclusion of a [de jure] objection will be that there is something wrong with Christian belief – something other than falsehood – or else something wrong with the Christian believer: it or she is unjustified, or irrational, or rationally unacceptable, in some way.

De facto objections are the ones students historically study in college intro-to-philosophy classes. They present challenges that the classical theistic arguments for the existence of God seek to answer (“If evil exists, then God doesn’t”). But in our day and age, thoughtful Christians are more likely to encounter de jure objections: Christians are fools, simpletons, or intellectually inferior for believing what they do. As Richard Dawkins told the New York Times: “If you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane.”

Christians should consider how to respond not just to those who say, “Christianity is incorrect,” but also to those who say, “Christians are stupid.” These are different objections. They require different answers. Which one do you encounter more frequently?

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  1. I most often encounter the du jure objection, although, it is usually cloaked a bit more politely, as in “Chrisitanity doesn’t make sense” (or is not intelligent or logical). This comment casts the faith as what is stupid and allows the ensuing discourse to stay civil, even though I always feel sadly insulted and frustrated by the hardened heart in front of me.

  2. If I may suggest another resource, I would recommend K. Scott Oliphint’s work, “Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology.” If you are not used to reading philosophical work, this book may be tough to get through, but it is definitely worth it. His section on the Covenantal Condescension of Christ as being essential for the foundation of knowledge is outstanding. Here is a taste of that section, by far not the best portion but a good sampling:

    “If we are interested in a truly Christian theistic philosophy, we must commit to taking seriously the fact that the Eimi [I AM]/eikon [IMAGE] principle, summed up as it is in the person of Jesus Christ, provides the foundational metaphysical structure for all discussions of God and his relationship to his creation.”

    Brackets are mine.

    Just a suggestion.

  3. De jure, as it’s been explained, seems a lot like an a priori assumption, so I usually ignore it in favor of drawing out and addressing the de facto bits. That being the case I’m not really sure how often I encounter it. I will say that it’s probably VERY prevelent in the minds of atheists, etc. because they are always, in my experience, surprised by rational christians.

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