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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy" (Paul M. Gould, Richard Brian Davis, Stanley N Gundry, et al - editors)

TITLE: Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Paul M. Gould, Richard Brian Davis, Stanley N Gundry, et al (editors)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (240 pages).

What is the relationship between Christianity and Philosophy? Though textbooks tell us that philosophy is about the love of wisdom, many believe it is much more as it deals with wonder, with topics beyond the reach of normal sciences and various other disciplines. It could be a way of thinking or a manner of interpreting the world. Theological textbooks are full of philosophical thoughts. Philosophy studies are rarely discussed without referring to Christian thought and historical theology. There are many ways in which we can enter the study of philosophy. We could venture in via famous names like the Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Epicurus, Plato, Socrates, etc); Romans (Augustine, Cicero, Plotinus, Ptolemy, Seneca, etc); Modern era, contemporary, and Eastern philosophers. We could compare between Eastern and Western thought; or philosophical thought through various eras. In this book, the approach is more focused in comparing directly the Christian faith and philosophy. Four views are discussed. When it comes to seeking greater truth, the Conflict model argues that philosophy is superior to Christian thought. The Covenant model argues the reverse. The Convergence view asserts that Philosophy and Christianity need each other as they complete the meaning of philosophy. The Conformation model views the need for philosophy to be shaped in the Christian thought. The usual format for this counterpoints series is for each contributor to first state the position followed by respondents from others. This way, the views can be enlarged, sharpened, and strengthened for the benefit of the readers in terms of learning and understanding.

Four professors of philosophy are invited to contribute to this fascinating engagement. Graham Oppy begins with the Conflict view by first stating his position as a "metaphysical naturist." He admits his position is not consistent with the orthodox Christian viewpoint. He distinguishes Christianity from Philosophy as the former is a "religion" while the latter is a "domain of inquiry." He makes a distinction between "philosophy" and "Christian philosophy," advances a "neutralist" understanding of philosophy, and then applies it to a few topics pertaining to Christianity. Topics like naturalism, God, the Trinity, the Incarnation, Resurrection, and Atonement. He challenges us to think about what is truly representative of the Christian and the Naturalist worldview. Should it be the best of each or the average? The most consistent or the inconsistent views of each? Oppy is Professor of Philosophy at Monash University and is an atheist.

The second view is the Covenant view championed by K. Scott Oliphint, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He bases his arguments on beliefs and practices passed down through tradition and "theological necessity." Both Christian thought and philosophy have their specific principles to adhere to. He makes a distinction that the former is based on God's revelation while the latter is more humanistic. He derives the covenantal approach as according to how God takes the first initiative and we can know of nothing unless He chooses to reveal to us. The implication is that philosophy comes under this umbrella of grace and revelation.

The third view is the Convergence view advocated by Timothy McGrew, Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University. He sees no contradiction between Christianity and Philosophy because "philosophy confirms Christianity, and Christianity completes philosophy." On some difficult issues like the problem of evil and suffering, he distinguishes logic from premise. Having a right logical argument is different from the assumptions the logic are based upon. He believes that there are multiple clues that point to the existence of God, and philosophy alone cannot draw any conclusions. It is only when it is supported by the Christian worldview before one gets the full picture.

The fourth view is the Conformation model argued by Paul Moser, Professor and Chairperson of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. He contends that while philosophy is a love of wisdom, Christian philosophy goes beyond toward the love of God's wisdom. The question does falls back on whether we are willing to conform our views to God's.

The arguments and counter-arguments make this book a very illuminating read. Each author proposes his views on a set of issues and tries to compare both philosophy and Christian thought. Each chapter follows what I term a 1-2-1 approach. First, the author proposes a view. Second, the three other contributors make their comments, agreements, and contests. Third, the author is given a chance to write a rejoinder, to summarize the overall presentation and to make concluding statements about the interactions. I believe that if time and space permits, each view could even be expanded to a book by allowing the discussion to go two or three rounds before the rejoinder. (**) At the same time, there are also interactions possible for respondents to interact with each other separately. The combinations are limitless. Philosophy can often conjure in the minds of many that it is dry or boring. This method of counterpoints make it a really interesting read.

(**) The Evangelical Philosophical Society has provided such an extended discussion here by K. Scott OliphintTimothy McGrew,  Paul Moser, and Graham Oppy.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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