Pascal Is More Than His Most Famous Argument

The wager only scratches the surface of his relevance to a post-Christian era.

It is a common lament that we live in a post-Christian era. This fact raises challenges to our witness to the world. Most of our audience thinks that, in G. K. Chesterton’s words, Christianity has been tried and found wanting (rather than found wanting and left untried). It is not considered a live option. How do we bear witness well in this cultural context? We might do well to reconsider one of the most enigmatic thinkers in Christian history, Blaise Pascal.

Pascal suffers from a public relations problem. As the source of Pascal’s wager, he is often considered a gambling man. He urges the non-believer to bet that God exists. What does one have to lose? In Beyond the Wager: The Christian Brilliance of Blaise Pascal, philosopher Douglas Groothuis shows that there is more to Pascal’s life and thought than his most famous argument. Groothuis demonstrates that we have much to learn from this brilliant thinker. Pascal, he argues, is a crucial thinker for our time.

Essential writings

Pascal came on the scene in the 17th century, during the early years of the Scientific Revolution. Several of his works contributed to this movement, including treatises on the geometry of conic sections, theories of probability, and conclusions to extensive experiments he had done to test the possibility of a vacuum. He invented the first functional calculator, which he had built to help his father with his work of assessing taxes.

His best-known works, however, focus on Christianity. In the Provincial Letters, Pascal defends the Jansenist movement, which was condemned by the Catholic church, against the Jesuits. The Jansenists emphasized that the depth of human sinfulness required a work of God for our salvation. The Christian life …

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