Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"A Little Manual for Knowing" Review

I like Esther Lightcap Meek. Her proposal for covenant epistemology is rich in potential. It is illuminating and helpful on many levels. However, her work Loving to Know is fairly massive and wordy. Students who are on the journey in studying epistemology would probably be put off by its sheer size and depth. A Little Manual for Knowing by Esther Meeks attempts to remedy that situation by providing a more accessible guide to covenant epistemology. Does it succeed?

I'll tell you how I honestly felt: I felt like I had just swallowed whip cream after reading this. I knew I had just digested something but it left my largely unsatisfied. There were times throughout this 100 page book where I had very little clue on the actual contours of her thought were. There were some things that the text did very well. It explained subsidary-focal integration better than her larger work Loving to Know. It was if the author put together some of her more beautiful ideas but never really connects the dots.

I know my review sounds ambiguous. Part of the reason for that is because of the nature of Meeks writing. She is capable of deep philosophical discussion, yet the work just comes across as ethereal.  I'll give you an example of a quote from the book that I think best demonstrates this issue:

"A second key strategy to invite the real is to place ourselves where what we are looking for is most likely to show itself. " (pg. 43)

This sounds good but practically, I'll confess that I have no clue what to do with this. Even after reading her larger work, I am puzzled on how to deal with this practically.

I recognize this sounds extremely harsh and probably seems like the whole book is a waste of time. So let me pull back and say that the book has some really great qualities. It is thought provoking and has some really great quotes. I really love Meek's discussion on how we need to change our thinking about how and why we acquire knowledge. All knowledge is essentially covenantal and knowing in relationship.  There are many great diagrams as well to help make sense of what Meeks is saying.

So I guess I would recommend this work, provided that there is a teacher that can help the reader discern how the puzzle pieces fit together. It is short enough to keep the reader engaged and Meeks a lot of great examples to keep the pace moving along at a solid clip.

In the end, I feel as if this book is almost too truncated. That doesn't diminish the value of the work. I think the work will meet a need in a freshman philosophy course as a supplemental text. I also think that those looking to have their way of thinking challenged will find much to like in this work as well.

*Thanks to Cascade Books for providing a free review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review*

"A Change of Heart" book review

Timothy George has called Thomas Oden "one of the most remarkable Christians of our time." Yet if you don't run in theological circles you are probably left wondering who the heck Thomas Oden is. I wasn't really aware of who he was until about 2008 when I stumbled upon his three volume systematic theology. What impressed me about the work was how saturated it was in the church fathers. I amazed at the breadth of understanding Oden had...so much so that the volumes felt a bit intimidating. Beyond my very limited interaction with those volumes, I had virtually no clue who Oden was.

A few years later I stumbled upon an anecdote that mentioned how Thomas Oden used to be a very liberal (both politically and theologically) Christian who later had a change of heart and became a staunch defender of Christian orthodoxy. I was captivated by the story mostly because you tend to see the results flow the other way: conservatives tend to become liberals.

When IVP announced that they would bee publishing a personal and theological memoir of Thomas Oden, I was excited to get some of the details behind his story. However, having  A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir cover to cover, I got even more than I expected.  Simply put, this work is a treasure trove of anecdotes, insights into American and religious culture, beautiful writing, encouragement and challenge.

Oden takes each decade of his life and records his memories. He is an expert writer so the text runs smoothly. His style reminds me of Marilynne Robinson. He stories are fascinating. From his time growing up in a rural town in the Midwest, to his days in seminary, to his change of heart and to his editing of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, I found the whole work stimulating. There is seldom a page that goes by that doesn't have some fascinating story.

I found the pastoral wisdom alone in this book to be fantastic. There is something really encouraging watching a Christian mature in his thinking and life over several decades. I found myself often praying to God, "Help me persevere like Thomas Oden!"

The life of Oden is remarkable. He is a scholar with a pastor's heart who has labored for the unity of the church for years. I cannot recommend A Change of Heart highly enough.

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Spring Break, Epistemology and Rest

Spring break has given me a chance to slow down and reflect on some random strains of thought that I am going to try to tie together in this post.

Currently I am reading a book called Loving to Know by Esther Meeks. Without going into detail (since I am writing a review on it) I'll just say that Meeks views all knowledge as inherently relational. She proposes what is called a "covenant epistemology" based off of the philosophical work of Polyani and the theological work of John Frame.

The whole proposal is interesting and I have found it extremely enlightening. For instance, even if there is no such think as a "covenant with creation," since knowledge is inherently covenantal, that must mean that, on some level, the mere act of creating Adam and Eve with the capacity to know and be known was a covenantal act. This obviously doesn't have a lot of exegetical warrant but I think it has a lot of philosophical backing.

Image result for shalom
I think the entire idea of knowing is interesting for another reason. I love to study and I love to read and I love to learn things. That is all good. However, the act of knowing itself should lead to God and God is the ultimate giver of shalom or peace. I think that a lot of times when I study, I am not looking to encounter the God of peace and rest but another mountain of knowledge to traverse. In some sense I feel like that is what the author of Ecclesiastes felt when he said

 "All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled wit hearing." (Ecclesiastes 1:8) 

Which leads me back to the idea that in my pursuit of knowledge I have to find rest--a shalom that comes in being satisfied with what I do not know and a joy that comes in finding what I do not know in the One I do know. The infinite depth of God and his knowledge should lead me to joy and rest, not exhaustion or frustration.

I think the best theological thinking I have ever done has been when I have embraced the idea that I am a known-knower. I am known by God and I am a knower of God. These are not symmetrical forms of knowledge. God knows me completely and I know God incompletely.

I can rest in what God knows and I can rest in what I do not know...and what I do know. What I know, while finite, is nevertheless grace. It is by grace that I know anything of the infinite. That is the heartbeat of "covenant epistemology."

So in that, I can find my shalom.