Review: Doing Philosophy as a Christian @ivpress @ivpacademic

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Can a Christian really ‘do’ philosophy? ]], a professor at Biola University, argues that a Christian can and that a Christian should. He writes, “Philosophy is thinking critically about questions that matter (34).” True, and what matters? “Reality, knowledge, and values (35).” These things fall within the tradition of Christian concerns. We have seemingly abandoned critical thought to groups such as the New Atheists, allowing one or two defenders, such as ]] and ]], to present Christianity philosophically. DeWeese is urging all Christians to get into the battle, following the long tradition of Christians using the systems of the world for the advantage of the Church. If all truth is God’s truth, then philosophy will sustain the truth of Christ. Although DeWeese is writing this book to Christians (and he only has a few qualifications for that term, namely those who fall into canonical theism), he allows that Christians and non-Christians can equally learn and do philosophy. After all, philosophy is about seeking the truth.

His first chapter deals with the argument for the book, some of it mentioned above, along with setting the course for the rest of the book. He also takes time to clear up several fallacies regarding philosophical tools which dominate the debate. First, he sets about to correct the notion that logic is a relative concept, so that no logic is adequate. Second, DeWeese discusses conceptual analysis, which deals with the ordering of words. He ends the chapter by restating, succinctly, his goal with this book. He writes, “Philosophy done from within the commitments of a Christian worldview will be ampliative, offering a holistic, deeply integrated vision of philosophy that should prove satisfying and attractive (45).” Well, let’s see.

The book is divided into four parts, with Part One entitled, “Introductory Matters.” Chapter Two regards those in the community of Christian Philosophers. DeWeese demands a community, Tradition, and a sounding board. He makes use of philosophers and sages, even non-Christian ones, to make his point that the Christian philosopher should be both a sage and a philosopher, combining the concepts of the Hebrew hokmah and the Greek sophia. He wants a wisdom which is both metaphysical and practical. I think Seneca may disagree with him, but, as he points out, this is the point of philosophy, sometimes, to disagree so that iron sharpens iron. Chapter Three is a bit confusing. He maintains, at the beginning, that theology should make use of all the sciences, such as philosophy – this is the predominate argument of the chapter, that theology and philosophy must co-exist – but near the end, he advocates a sort of presuppositionalism which allows only certain questions to be asked, certain evidences to be considered, and certain conclusions reached. To be fair, DeWeese is against what he labels ‘fideistic Christianity,’ which we might understand as presuppositional apologetics, but seems to fall into the trap. He is not quite there, as he tries to follow Anslem, and brings out his maxim quite clearly. As I said above, DeWeese supports canonical theism, which is one of the self-imposed limits of philosophical exploration. These are his presuppositions, limiting himself, it seems so far, to questions which can only end in support of the Creeds and Canons of the Church, although he maintains his Protestantism – just not the sola scriptura kind. My concern here is not so much doctrinal, as it is philosophical. If all truth is God’s truth, then all questions, all accurate and objectively asked questions lead to God, and more, the Christian God. So, why limit ourselves or prevent our questions with presuppositions? Chapter Four is DeWeese’s statement on Jesus and Philosophy in which the author attempts to first settle the issue of the authority of Jesus, within the theological framework of Chalcedon, and then to establish Jesus as one friendly to the use of and study of philosophy. It is, at times, a little forced, and while the author seems to abhor “literalism,” he seems to rely heavily upon it to substantiate his views on the historical Jesus. Perhaps, his point would have been better made using the Pauline Epistles which has an author more in line with the philosophical schools of his day.

DeWeese deals with the Inescapable Questions in Part Two. These three chapters are, respectively, Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics and Aesthetics. As this and Part Three, Second-Order Questions, is the meat of the book, a review may give away some of the details of the how-to included therein; however, as this is a review, it is necessary to actually engage some of the meat therein. Therefore, let me say that the ground work laid in the previous chapters comes to fruition. The attention to the Christian worldview comes into focus, as does the use of canonical theism. One of the strongest points is that DeWeese knows the scholarly reality around him. From William Abraham and Jason Vickers to Behe, Smolin and a host of theoretical physicists, theologians, and modern commentators, DeWeese shows the ideal reality that the Christian mind is not one rooted in fairy tales but can, and I would think, must be one which engages the wide realm of data, facts, and theories which are available to us. While he does not, as Giberson may say, theologize the esoteric nooks and crannies of scientific discoveries, he does provide a strong philosophical outline of defense against the (illogical) charges that super-naturalism is unscientific. (I note the use of some archaic terms, such as supernatural, but this is not a point to argue over as it does not take away from his book. Note the section on conceptual analysis mentioned above.) Throughout the various topics handled in this section, DeWeese gives them a fine extended summary and turns it back to the Christian worldview. There is indeed much here for the non-Christian as well, but given the limitations which DeWeese has placed on the philosophical reach, a Christian will gain much more from this book, especially these two sections, than a non-believer. Of particular interest in the brief section on evolution and natural science. His conclusion is, frankly, Wesleyan. I’ll leave it that.

Part Four (This section is a recapitulation of the Christian narrative and the entire book.) begins with a question – “Was it worth it?” That is indeed the question that the reader will have to ask him or herself. DeWeese provides an introduction to doing philosophy as a Christian. Everything we do as a Christian, he reminds us, must be done for the glory of the Lord. Doing philosophy, as a Christian then, is to lead one’s mind to transformation, to focus more on Christ and the questions which surround us. I disagree with some of his self-imposed limitations, but as he noted, disagreements are part of his expected results, and almost, it seems, something he wants his readers and students to have with him. A complete agreement is not doing philosophy, after all. Is this book necessary? Of course. After all, theology without praxis is dead; therefore reality accepted without examination by philosophy is nothing. Today’s Christian, which many assume is a new thing but looking back over the course of time we see figures such as Aquinas, needs philosophy and needs this tool to engage the world around them. We are met with the New Atheists, with other theologies, and religions where facts are interpreted, used, and often abused to set Christ aside and to debase the Christian worldview. What DeWeese is offering is not a way to shut the door, but a way to set a place for these often alienating philosophers in one’s living room, to engage them as equals and to set the record straight that the Christian mind is a redeemed mind who can digest the great questions of the age.

One final note. This book is part of the Christian Worldview Integration Series, edited by J.P. Moreland and Francis J. Beckwith, which includes, as of this date, seven publications geared to placing the Christian worldview. This series, dealing with a wide range of subjects from education to psychology is a must for those who seek to actively be Christian.

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2 Replies to “Review: Doing Philosophy as a Christian @ivpress @ivpacademic”

    1. I usually don’t do that on the blog, only on Amazon. I would say that it is worth it to read and to digest, especially for the beginner and intermediate (Christian) thinker

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