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. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

New and recent books from Reformational scholars

There are a number of excellent books that have recently been published or are about to be published by Reformational scholars. These include:

Lambert Zuidervaart 2016. Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. McGill-Queen's University Press.

Craig Bartholomew 2017. Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction. IVP Academic

Robert Sweetman 2016. Tracing the Lines: Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship (Currents in Reformational Thought). Wipf and Stock

Mike Wagenam 2016. Together for the World: The Book of Acts. Lexham Press.

Craig Bartholomew 2016. Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture. Baker Academic.

Craig Bartholomew 2016. Revealing the Heart of Prayer: The Gospel of Luke. Lexhmam Press.

Maarten J Verkerk, Jan Hoogland, Jan van der Stoep, Marc J. de Vries 2016. Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction for Technology and Business Students. Routledge.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The history of the Reformational movement in the UK - part II

The second part of my paper on the history of the Reformational movement in the UK has now been published in the journal Koers.

Bishop, S., 2016. "A History of the Reformational Movement in Britain. II: The Post-World-War II Years to the end of the Twentieth Century". KOERS — Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 81(1). Available at: http:// KOERS.81.1.2251

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Copan's Little Book for New Philosophers

A Little Book for New Philosophers
Why and How to Study Philosophy
Paul Copan
Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2016
128 pp; pbk; £6.99
ISBN: 9780830851478
Publisher’s website here

This may be a little book but it tackles a large task: examining how and why Christians should study philosophy. Philosophy has been more than a little denigrated in the church, it has become a byword for worldly thinking or at best a tool for theology. So Copan’s task is an important one. 

Copan’s aim is ‘that this small book will offer new material for some, reminders for others and, hopefully, reinforcement for all to look afresh at the implications of doing philosophy under the lordship of Christ’ (9). The need to do philosophy under the lordship of Christ is crucial. For those beginning to study philosophy will find this book a helpful guide.

Copan sees a number of important roles for philosophy. These include sharpening our minds, helping us see that ideas have consequences, to isolate and deal with sloppy thinking. These are all crucial roles and not just for Christians. In addition he for Christians he sees philosophy as being able to strengthen theology. Though we need to be careful to see philosophy as the handmaiden of theology. Philosophy should not be a naturalistic tool, as Copan puts it: ‘If God is the originator of the universe, why can’t he also be at work within it? Why must the Christian bow to naturalistic demands and assumptions?’ (90).

What is perhaps most surprising is that one of the foremost Christian philosophers, one who has done much to establish Christian philosophy, Herman Dooyeweerd is not mentioned in this book. Nevertheless, this book will help philosophy students see that philosophy can be a much a Christian calling as doing theology, and as such it is a welcome addition to this new series of ‘Little Books’. As Copan has it:
‘Ultimately, our philosophizing—as with our eating, drinking or whatever we do—should be done to the glory of God. Undertaking the study of philosophy should be an act of worship, and thus we devote our mental exertions, our research and our reading to God. Our philosophy should be undertaken in a spirit of prayer and dependence on God for understanding, insight and wisdom about what projects to undertake’ (119-120) 

Amen to that!


Why Study Philosophy?
1. Philosophy and Baking Bread 
2. Philosophy as Loving Wisdom 
3. Faith, Philosophy and Scripture 
4. Thinking About God

How To Study Philosophy
5. Virtuous Philosophy
6. Philosophy and Community 
7. Doubting Wisely
8. Considering Philosophy

Name and Subject Index 
Scripture Index

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Philosophy of Technology by Maarten J Verkerk, Jan Hoogland, Jan van der Stoep, Marc J. de Vries

Philosophy of Technology
An Introduction for Technology and Business Students
By Maarten J Verkerk, Jan Hoogland, Jan van der Stoep, Marc J. de Vries

A new book has been published by Routledge.

'Philosophy of Technology: An introduction for technology and business students is an accessible guide to technology’s changes , their ubiquitousness, and the many questions these raise. Designed for those with no philosophical background in mind, it is ideal for technology and engineering students or specialists who want to learn to think critically about how their work influences society and our daily lives.'

Part I: Thinking & Making
1. Thinking & Technology: Between analysis & criticism Portrait Carl Mitcham
2. Speaking in a Two-Sided Way: The meaning of disclosure & the disclosure of meaning Portrait Martin Heidegger

Part II: Making & Designing
3. The World of Technology: Three kinds of complexity Portrait Lewis Mumford
4. The Artefact [I]: Diversity & coherence
Portrait Alasdair MacIntyre
5. The Artefact [II]: Identity, function & structure
Portrait Gilbert Simondon
Case Study I: Nanotechnology
6. Knowledge of Designing: The role of the engineer
Portrait Herbert Simon
7. Design & Reality: Methodological obstinacy Portrait Bruno Latour
8. Technology & Production: From dehumanisation to the human measure
Portrait Larry Hickman
Case Study II: The New Factory

Part III: Designing & Thinking
9. The Rules of the Game: Technology as a social practice Portrait Langdon Winner
10. Symmetries: Between pessimists & optimists Portrait Jacques Ellul
11. Clashing Worlds: Globalisation & cultural diversity
Portrait Albert Borgmann
Case Study III: Network Enabled Military Operations
12. The Homo Technicus: From device to cyborg Portrait Don Ihde
13. ‘Good’ Technology?: Normative artefacts & the web of responsibilities Portrait Egbert Schuurman Case Study
IV: Innovation in Health Care
14. Expectations for the Future: The secular sacred and the limits of technology
Portrait Andrew Feenberg