An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Review of Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy

Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy 
(Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
Graham Oppy, K. Scott Oliphint, Timothy McGrew, Paul K. Moser
Paul M. Gould and Richard Brian Davis, general editors 
Stanley N. Gundry, series editor. 
Grand Rapids: Zondervan
ISBN 9780310521143

I love the X views series (where X is three, four or five) - they provide an excellent introduction to the conflicts and disputed views of key topics. This one is no exception. It provides a good overview of four different approaches to Christianity and philosophy. This book follows the same excellent format as the other views series — four philosopher state their case then each of the others provide a critique and finally the original author responds.

The authors here are the agnostic Graham Oppy, the presuppositionalist Scott Oliphint, the neoclassical foundationalist Timothy McGrew and Paul Moser. They all agree on a number of points but crucially they disagree on a number of others; not least the nature of philosophy, the form of or existence of a Christian philosophy and the role of natural theology.

For Oppy
One of the most important tasks for philosophy is comparison and adjudication of worldviews (24).
Graham Oppy, is perhaps the lion in the Daniel’s den, the other three are all Christians, Oppy is an agnostic. Oppy shows a good understanding of key Christian doctrines - but seems to view Christianity as naturalism plus some add-ons. He sees philosophy’s role as an evaluator of worldviews. It has the role of an umpire, so rather than seeing Christianity and philosophy in conflict the position he was supposedly advocating he sees the role of philosophy in adjudicating between worldviews and here shows how he sees it functioning in evaluating naturalism and Christianity. For him philosophy is a neutral tool - he declares himself to be a ‘philosophical neutralist’ (21). He concludes his chapter with a telling remark:
There is a central component of the philosophical endeavour that requires the setting aside of all disputed presuppositions (47).
But, presumably, that for Oppy doesn’t include setting aside the disputed presupposition that we have to set aside presuppositions! 

McGrew in his response to Oppy makes an excellent point:
Oppy complains that we have no textual evidence from nonChristian sources substantiating the resurrection (36). But what is he looking for? People who were persuaded of the resurrection of Jesus became Christians. From whom else should we expect such testimony?(58)
Oliphint provides an overview of what he describes as the ‘Covenant model’: a Christianity trumps philosophy perspective. He sees philosophy as ‘the discipline that takes as its subject matter the nature of reality .., the nature of knowledge …, and the nature of right and wrong’ (71). To examine the relationship between philosophy and Christianity he evokes the idea of principia. Each discipline has its own principia. He maintains that theology – by which he means Reformed theology – provides the foundation for philosophy. This is because:
the principia of theology come—as it were—from the outside, in. They come from a transcendent source and are not generated within the discipline itself. (74-75).
He sees reason being a servant and not a master to theology and philosophy. My concern with Oliphint’s position is that he elevates the role of theology:
Thus, it is theology that sets the boundaries and the parameters, the rules and the laws, for all other disciplines. (88)
Philosophy is then a handmaid to theology it ‘can help theology in its ability to distinguish and to clarify the truth as it is found in Scripture as well as in God’s revelation generally’. (93)

McGrew espouses a convergence model whereby philosophy confirms Christianity and Christianity completes philosophy.
Philosophy, rightly and thoughtfully pursued, offers us multiple clues that point to the existence of a deity. (150)
McGew, therefore, accepts and endorses a natural theology and defends it here. Though he is aware of its limitations: 
Natural theology may suggest that there is a deity, but it cannot tell me whether there is redemption for sin … (141-142)
Moser in his rebuttal makes an excellent point:
The New Testament writers could have used arguments of natural theology, but they chose not to do so. This is significant, and it raises the question of why they avoided such arguments. (167)
Moser obviously is obviously dubious of natural theology – rightly so, in my opinion. He espouses a convergence model:
My approach to Christian philosophy offers philosophy under, or conformed to, God in Christ, which involves a distinctive kind of wisdom, namely, God’s wisdom in Christ. If philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom, Christian philosophy is the love and pursuit of God’s wisdom under divine authority in Christ, which calls for an ongoing volitional union with Christ, including one’s belonging to God in Christ. (175)
He sets this against what he describes as speculative philosophy
Speculative philosophy goes awry in not giving a primary and irreplaceable role to God’s self-manifestation of his character—his righteous love—in the message of Christ crucified. This message enables God’s presence and character to be confirmed and witnessed to by God’s unique Spirit, with no need of speculative argument. (197)
Speculative philosophy assumes that, at least for some people, God’s self-manifestation in the message of the cross does not adequately witness to God’s presence and reality. (198)
The focus then for Moser is wisdom and for ‘kingdom-enhancement’ philosophy. Though I’m not quite sure what he means by that. If all truth is God’s truth, then couldn’t all aspects of philosophy be kingdom enhancing?

The book concludes with a piece by the editors Gould and Davis. Here they note that it is clear that the mind matters and that ideas matter. Amen to that.

This book is a welcome contribution to the series – sadly there was no contribution from a Reformational philosopher such as Roy Clouser, Danie Strauss or Renato Coletto, a contribution from any of these would have been an excellent addition.