Friday, September 16, 2011

"Doing Philosophy as a Christian" Book Review

While philosophy used to be considered the handmaiden of theology, it has seemed that an ever increasing gap has formed between philosophy and theology over time. I am not completely sure why this is but I suspect it has to do with the defective view that the Bible is the only thing that can speak truthfully to the human condition. Regardless of where it began, Garrett J. DeWeese, professor of philosophy and philosophical theology at Talbot School of Theology, has written a book, Doing Philosophy as a Christian, that hopefully will begin to correct such faulty thinking.

DeWeese's thesis concerning theology is simple and yet profound. He states,

"Doing philosophy as a Christian means doing philosophy under the authority of the Lord Jesus and of the Bible, the Word of God. It means reasoning within the boundaries of religion. It means, in the end, doing philosophy in a way that aims intentionally at the ultimate goal of personal transformation into the image of Christ, and of extending a meaningful invitation to others to enter into that transformation--that is, extending the kingdom of God on earth." (67)

The rest of the book sets out to work under the parameters of Christ's lordship and the authority of the Word of God. After outlining in the first four chapters how philosophy and theology merge together seamlessly, DeWeese sets out to answer the "inescapable questions" in chapters 5-7. Those inescapable questions involve metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. After discussing each segment from a Christian point of view, he moves on to second-order questions such as "who and what am I "and "philosophy of science."

It should be noted from the outset that DeWeese is writing to those who are beginning in the field of philosophy. This means that while his discussions are not overly technical, they certainly are beyond a simple "introduction to philosophy." He does not explain everything for those who do not have a philosophical background. I suspect that some of his discussions in the area of personality and free-will in chapter 8 will be over the heads of some (it was certainly a stretch for me!). Nevertheless, I found the book very approachable overall.

The best thing about Doing Philosophy as a Christian is the fact that DeWeese really does draw the reader back to Christian thinking. One gets the feeling that for DeWeese, thinking rightly in philosophy concerning Christ really IS an act of worship. As a result, I found many of his discussions extremely relevant for myself as a youth pastor. I cannot think of a man in ministry who would not benefit from reading through this book as an example of what it really means to submit his thinking to Christ's authority. In particular, I found chapter 7 on ethics extremely beneficial and relevant.

In conclusion, I would urge anyone remotely interested in thinking well as Christian to check this book out. I think that while DeWeese does not necessarily break any new ground in this book, he advances the idea of the Christian Worldview further. In other words, DeWeese sees that there is no field where Christ does not proclaim his authority over. We should see the same thing and Doing Philosophy as a Christian will inevitably help you do that.

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me a free review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review*

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The African Memory of Mark" Book Review

In a time of rapid globalization, scholars are quickly needing to push aside ethnocentric views of both history and theology and reinspect old prejudices in light of new findings. Thomas C. Oden, author of The African Memory of Mark, seeks to do just that in this new release from IVP Academic.

Oden sets out to construct a biography of John Mark using African sources from the early church as his guide. In this way, he hopes to advance both church history and biblical studies. The results are refreshing and courageous. Oden proposes some fairly radical things. He argues that John Mark and Peter may have been distantly related. Likewise, he proposes that the upper room where the disciples had their last feast was owned by John Mark's parents. Similarly, he proposes a radical re-reading of traditional history in regards to John Mark's own location during the events of Acts. Rather than seeing Mark as a somewhat quiet figure in the Bible, Oden suggests that Mark was active and courageous in his proclamation of the Gospel.

The reader will be struck by these radical readings of the history of Mark. The question is, are they persuasive?  This question is much more difficult to answer because they lie, says Oden, in how one views the original sources. Oden argues against Bauer and attempts to reinstate trust in the original sources--primarily the African sources. Often we, in our modern "enlightened" mindset, think we can reconstruct history better than the early church fathers themselves. Oden, as one might guess, opts for an honest reading of the fathers--one that takes them both truthfully and seriously. He allows for the possibility that the "legends" behind some of Mark's miracles (such as the conversion of his father) was not in fact legend but truth. Thus I would label Oden as optimistic and hopeful when it comes to early church history and the reliability of sources.

To answer the question above--is Oden persuasive?--the simple answer is: sort of. As one might guess, much of Oden's arguments are based off hypothesis and theoretical possibilities. How much weight one will assign to any conclusions Oden makes will be based upon whether they think Oden is theorizing too much. Personally, I found his arguments plausible. The author himself is tentative in proposing too much and acknowledges when he might be stretching things a bit. At the end of the day, I felt his book was more to win over my trust in the early church fathers than it was to really educate me on Mark (although I learned quite a bit in the process).

Perhaps the greatest thing that Oden's book does is give voice to the often marginalized African church. This is a book that should both excite and encourage young African theologians! They have a great legacy and much to contribute to theology. The job of the Western Church now is to have ears to hear.

*Thanks to IVP for providing a free review copy in exchange for an unbiased review*