Summary of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief Published

Alvin Plantinga is well-known as one of the most important Christian philosophers of our day. Many attribute to his influence the fact that many philosophers now find it intellectually defensible to believe in God (see, e.g., Mascord’s work). Even more important than that, though, is his defense of Christian belief.

warranted-christian-beliefIn Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga argues that belief in the main tenets of Christianity is warranted. By warrant, he means something similar to rationality, but a bit different. If a belief is true, whenever enough warrant is added to that true belief, it becomes knowledge. The main argument of the book is then that, if Christianity is true, then it is more likely than not warranted, in which case we can truly know the things of the gospel.

Part 1 clears the ground against those who say we cannot predicate about God, following in Kant’s footsteps. Plantinga shows his mastery of the self-referentially incoherent argument. Part 2 clarifies the question he is pursuing by more clearly defining warrant and noting that his main objection he is answering is the “Freud-Marx” complaint. Freud’s complaint is that Christian belief functions properly, but is not aimed toward truth, while Marx’s complaint is that Christians are cognitively dysfunctional. Plantinga must then argue that Christian beliefs are aimed at truth and that Christians are not cognitively dysfunctional.

Part 3 argues for the warranted nature of theistic belief and then of specifically Christian belief. He uses an “extended Aquinas/Calvin” model by which the Holy Spirit mends our broken sensus divinitatis and reveals to us the things of the gospel which becomes the occasion of our belief. Christian belief is therefore a properly basic belief, not drawn inferentially from anything else, and is therefore properly a foundational belief. So Plantinga builds on Thomas Reid especially to extend the foundation of basic beliefs to include the things of the gospel.

Part 4 defends against objections and defeaters, such as religious pluralism, the problem of evil, and (an especially interesting section on) historical criticism. The end result is a masterfully mounted argument that Christian belief is in fact warranted. The one caveat is that Plantinga’s argument for the warranted nature of Christian belief depends on that belief being true. This is a commonly understood idea in philosophy, that epistemology depends on metaphysics; how you know depends on the nature of reality. Plantinga carefully distinguishes between the de facto question (the veracity of Christian belief) and the de jure question (warrant). He answers only the latter.

This is one of the most important books for Christians published in decades. It’s certainly not the answer to everything in apologetics or even biblical studies (what book is?). But it is full of insight that could be further applied, and I think the basic outline of his argument is forceful and persuasive. Responses that I have read to his work have not been convincing to me, and Plantinga has done well to defend himself in later writings.

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I have written a full summary of Warranted Christian Belief for Books At a Glance (see it here), which provides weekly summaries of new Christian books (3,000-6,000 word, substantive summaries) for the books you’re too busy to read. These summaries are far more detailed than the summary portion of a book review, which makes them almost as useful as reading the book yourself. They charge a small subscription fee, the annual fee being the most discounted. Go check them out and read my summary! You can get one free summary to try out first if you’d like, just click the banner on the right side (your ad blocker needs to be off).

Find Plantinga’s book here on Amazon.

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