Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is Covenant Epistemology the Way Forward?

Esther Meek's book Loving to Know is a remedy to modern and postmodern epistemologies. She proposes a model entitled covenant epistemology that seeks to integrate knowledge that we gather from investigation and from emotion. What makes covenant epistemology unique is that it is grounded in covenant theology and assumes that all knowledge is essentially covenantal. Thus Meeks assumes that even non-Christians are under some sort of covenant relationship with their Creator. This allows Christians and non-Christians to integrate our findings since all knowledge ultimately come from God. This allows integration from various fields to be possible.

Meek's philosophy of knowledge is difficult to pinpoint since she draws from such a variety of sources. Meeks integrates the theological thinking of John Frame and Mike Williams as well as the philosophical thinking of Michael Polanyi, James Loder, Martin Buber, John Macmurray, David Schnarch, Colin Gunton and Philip Rolnick. The benefit of this is it allows Meeks to synthesize a massive amount of material. The downside is that it feels as if what is really happening is adopting so many views that it accommodates any issue while solving nothing. In other words, her theory of epistemology feels so unbelievably bloated that I am not entirely sure that she has synthesized anything. With every layer of knowledge discussed, I kept thinking "Do we really need yet another dialogue partner?"

But maybe that is the appeal. Maybe we need an extremely complicated system of knowing because we are dealing with an extremely complex God, right? Maybe the reason Meek's book resounds so much is because we recognize the inherent complexity of living in a world with various viewpoints. Yet these various viewpoints, in Meek's thinking, never collapse into relativism. The voices are all heard at the table and the conversation is allowed to progress without disintegration.

I think the genius of Meek is that she writes like a literature professor with the mind of a philosopher. There is something captivating and beautiful in her work...she makes epistemology beautiful. I cannot think of any philosopher who has done that for me. Her work is long. It comes in at almost 500 pages. She displays a verboseness that really could have (and should have) been reigned in by an editor. The journey becomes wearisome around the 300 page mark. I feel as if some chapters were unnecessary, retreading old ground.

Yet I have to recommend the book. It is too important for Christian theologians and philosophers to ignore.  It is a unique and necessary approach to philosophy that I think allows Christians to engage with a plethora of disciplines. In some sense, her work is groundbreaking. I honestly feel as if I have only just begun to digest her thinking. This is an important work...I would argue one of the most important works on Christian philosophy written in the past decade.

For some of the reasons listed above I cannot give it five-stars. Yet I also have to say this: if you are a pastor, theologian or philosopher, you need to read this book. It is worth the (hefty) price of admission.

*Thanks to Cascade Publishers for the free review copy in exchange for a fair review*

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