Archives For Philosophy

Yesterday on Instagram, I promised a post on predestination and free will. Rather than get all controversial, I thought I’d post about Trump and politics instead. At this point, he has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States (technically 44th person to hold office though because Grover Cleveland). This video was from back in February, when it was still somewhat doubtful he’d get the nomination, let alone win. However, I think some of the themes hit on in this video help explain some of what transpired in the past 11 months. In slightly PG-13 fashion, and with an assist from French Marxist philosophers, it helps explains the conditions that would lead to the rise of a politician like Trump. In an age of political theater, truth isn’t what it used to be and frankly, isn’t what people seem to be looking for in the first place.

You can see that to some extent even in the evangelical world by looking at comments and such on this article by John Piper (you can see the comments on FB or Twitter). Many people seem to fail to grasp basic reading skills, much less simple logic and the ability to offer cogent arguments. They also seem pretty reactionary and volatile for no particular reason (or in some cases, petty reasons). I think it’s a much needed article from someone, who like myself, didn’t support Trump back in the fall. It offers wisdom and guidance for living under less than ideal circumstances. We should be thankful for men like John Piper, not quick to dissect and disagree with them when they don’t say things that immediately line up with our own thinking.

While more could be said on this topic, I’m not particularly interested in doing that at the moment. If you like these kinds of videos, you might also want to watch this one and find out if President Trump is a fascist, since that might drastically affect the next four years of your life. And regardless of what you think after watching it, pray for your new President whether you like him or not.

With so many bands going on 10-year anniversary tours for albums that came out between 2005-2007, I’ve been thinking about nostalgia. The cynical part of me wondered if these tours were simply cash grabs to take advantage of the fact 10 years later the demographic is older and will buy more merch. The musician in me understood that bands play music live because they really enjoy it and playing familiar songs that haven’t been played in a while could be refreshing. There is also a sense in which the crowd would show more energy for old favorites than new material.

I liked the different take in the video, suggesting that nostalgia takes familiarity from the past in order to help navigate the present and future. I’d like to do some more exploring on the subject, but in the meantime, I’ve got some tickets to buy for a 10-year anniversary show next weekend.

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It’s a New Year and time to resurrect philosophy Friday. Maybe not every Friday mind you, but many of them. In the past I had previously just posted videos with sparse comments (see here for instance). Now I’d like to actually do some philosophizing (with and without a hammer), as well as post about some philosophy books I’ve read or am reading. We’ll kick it off with a recent bio of Kierkegaard which pairs nicely with another book on him I’d recommend (this one).

First off, thanks to Zondervan for not only sending me a copy of Stephen Backhouse’s Kiekegaard: A Single Life, but also the sweet tote as well! I wasn’t able to make it to ETS and so missed out on coming by the Zondervan booth and perhaps getting the tote that way. I should probably use the tote to cart books around, but I’m pretty committed to using my biceps to curl a stack.

As far as Backhouse’s book though, I enjoyed it over coffee for a couple mornings before finishing it with zest. While each chapter moves more or less chronologically through Kierkegaard’s life, they each highlight a different theme. Kierkegaard is a complex figure, if you weren’t aware. And even if you were, it doesn’t change that there’s much to uncover in the mystery of his life.

I am by no means a Kierkegaard scholar. I just find him intriguing and have general grasp of some of his major ideas. Backhouse’s book helps you learn about Kierkegaard the man, and in turn helps you better understand Kierkegaard the philosopher. Though I read Mark Tietjen’s book first, I would recommend reading both of these in reverse order. They overlap at places but are ultimately complimentary to one another. Backhouse’s book doesn’t avoid dealing with themes in Kierkegaard’s writing, but they are not the focal point. By contrast, that is Tietjen’s focal point as he is trying to introduce Kierkegaard’s thought to new readers.

After reading both books, I think Kierkegaard represents a philosopher that evangelicals ought to pay a bit more attention to in coming years. That of course is different than saying “adopt uncritically.” But, it seems that much of what Kierkegaard was against in the Danish church has found its way into many American evangelical churches. One need only look at this book list to see what I might mean. By learning more about Kierkegaard’s life and context, I think we are better able to adopt his posture in some regards, without making some of the mistakes he made (and maybe avoiding pseudonyms altogether). In that light, take and read this great intro to Kierkegaard.

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Shortly before there was a sudden resurgence of interest in Trinitarian theology, I had been reading Thomas McCall’s Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology. You know, just light beach reading.

The book covers a lot of ground in its 250 or so pages. The first section gives an overview chapter on recent discussions within philosophical theology, biblical foundations for monotheism, and some principles for doctrinal analysis. The second section tackles either a key theologian’s ideas, or a specific issue. The three theologians in question are Robert Jenson, Jurgen Moltmann, and John Zizioulas. The specific issue is Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS for short). Pretty timely right? Especially since this was published in 2010, and so written ever a year or more before that.

McCall brings a helpful analytic tool to the discussion that I’m not sure has been utilized in the recent online writings. He distinguishes between “soft” and “hard” EFS. The former is would be something along the lines of “The Son is functionally subordinate to the Father during the time of his incarnate and redemptive work, and this is true at all times” (176-177). McCall notes that unless you confuse temporal and logical modalities, there hardly anything controversial with this statement.

As for the latter, here McCall specifically highlights Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. Here the claim is more related to the interior divine life, how God is ad intra. In other words, it would be claim that regardless of the incarnation and redemptive work of Christ, the Son has always been functionally subordinate into eternity past.

From here, McCall raises some questions and poses a serious problem. The problem can be laid out in a serious of propositions (179-180):

  1. If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.
  2. If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.
  3. If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially
  4. If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not
  5. If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios

He gives a sampling of possible responses, and then gets into a section that asks whether there is a biblical basis for hard EFS (which is what Grudem claims for instance). McCall suggests that there are not any passages that push one to have to accept hard EFS, but rather are consistent with a soft approach instead.

Certainly people aware of the debate are aware that it often ties into understandings about gender roles. However, if hard EFS is true, it does not actually support a complimentarian position. Rather, as McCall relays a point from Keith Yandell in a footnote (187n37), it strongly suggests that women are inferior to men. If you look back up at the list of propositions and substitute “women” for “Son” and “men” for “Father,” it’s rather obvious that’s how the argument would work.

It seems at the end of the day, it is more consistent with the tradition of theological reflection, and not inconsistent with Scripture to affirm a soft EFS and deny its hard counterpart. Also, in doing so, the affirmation would not have a strong connection to gender roles. Or, to anticipate one of McCall’s theses below, it is an aspect of Trinitarian doctrine that is now detached from a sociopolitcal agenda.

If you’re interested in this debate, and the topic in general, I’d encourage you to read this book. It might take a while to wade through, but it is worth the effort. To give you an idea what some of his conclusions are, I’ll just close with the 15 theses he lists in his own conclusion to the book. He breaks them into categories, and I’ve done the same.

Theses on Trinitarian Theological Method

  • Trinitarian theology should attend to important issues of theological prolegomena (220)
  • Trinitarian theologians should work to see the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of the broader biblical narrative (222)
  • Trinitarian theology should not conflate Trinitarian doctrine with sociopolitical agendas (224)
  • Trinitarian theologians should be clear about the place of “mystery” (227)
  • Trinitarian theology should be clear about its goals; I suggest that attempts to deal with the “threeness-oneness problem” should offer an account that is coherent (or at least not obviously incoherent), is compatible with the biblical portraits of the distinctness of the divine persons, is in accord with the scriptural account of monotheism, and is consistent with t he major creeds of Christendom (229)

Theses of the “Threeness-Oneness Problem” of the Trinity

  • Trinitarian theology should be committed to monotheism (233)
  • Trinitarian theology should insist on the full divinity of the distinct persons, and it should avoid whatever might compromise the full equality and divinity of the persons (236)
  • Trinitarian theology should insist on an understanding of persons that is consistent with the New Testament portrayal of the divine persons, that is, as distinct centers of consciousness and will who exist together, in loving relationships of mutual dependence (236)
  • Trinitarian theology should reject ST [Social Trinitarianism] theories that relay upon merely generic perichoretic unity, RT [Relative Trinitarianism] theories that leave open the door to either moralism or anti realism, and LT [Latin Trinitarianism] (241)
  • Trinitarian theology should adopt either the constitution view (CT) or a modified version of ST (243)

Theses on the God-World Relation

  • Trinitarian theologians can, and should – although perhaps not always for distinctly Trinitarian reasons – hold that creation is continent rather than necessary (246)
  • Trinitarian theologians should maintain that creation is the free expression of the holy love that is an essential attribute of the triune God (248)
  • Trinitarian theologians should affirm Jenson’s “Identification Thesis” but deny his “Identity Thesis” (250)
  • If properly nuanced, the doctrine of perichoresis can be a helpful category for understanding divine purposes for creation (and the God-world relation more generally) (250)
  • Trinitarian theologians should affirm that the providential and redemptive actions of the triune God should be understood in light of the triune identity and purposes for creation (251)

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Well, Mike Bird has done it again. “It” meaning “written a book.” This time it is a primer on The Apostles’ Creed, aptly title What Christians Ought to Believe, and Zondervan was kind enough to send me a copy. In just over 200 pages Bird introduces readers to the creed, explains why you need it, and then devotes roughly a chapter per phrase of the creed. At the end of most chapters, he summarizes the story of the creed so far, and in every chapter he offers a few resources for further reading.

While focused on The Apostles’ Creed, this volume is a good companion to Bird’s larger systematic Evangelical Theology (which I still need to post a review summary for). There is similarity here to a previous Zondervan publication, Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, and then later rewritten abridgment Pilgrim Theology (I’m more a fan of the latter rather than the former, although the price makes it less enticing). However, in that case, the small volume was covering more or less the same ground, just in a more accessible way. Here, Bird is writing about The Apostles’ Creed, but when a more in-depth discussion is warranted on certain points, he can merely direct readers to where he’s covered it in his larger volume.

As it stands, this would be a good volume to use to introduce readers to theology, but through a classic, catholic (little c!) creed. There is just enough here to get your feet wet, and then wade into the waist deep water of the beliefs that all Christians should share. It would make an excellent book for a small group that wants to study theology in an organized way, but doesn’t want to commit to a systematic. Plus, you have the advantage of Bird’s clear and at times humorous writing style. The result is an accessible engaging volume that effectively introduces readers to Christian doctrine.

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On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. While no less clear than Bird, this slim (less than 200pp) volume introduces readers to philosophical theology. Well, I suppose the two terms are not exactly interchangeable. Philosophical theology developed out of philosophy of religion as the tools of philosophy were applied to Christian theology.

Now, the preferred term is analytic theology. Quoting from William Abraham, McCall uses this definition: “it is systematic theology attuned to the skills, resources, and virtues of analytic philosophy” (16). This comes from the introduction where McCall helpfully lays out what analytic theology should be, and then clears up misconceptions about what it isn’t.

The remaining four chapters demonstrate analytic theology in practice. First, in relation to our understanding of Scripture. Second, McCall shows analytic theology’s virtues when it comes to the history of doctrine. The next chapter puts analytic theology to use in a case study concerning creation, evolution, and the historical Adam. The final, briefest chapter, is where the invitation in the title comes in, as McCall casts vision for what analytic theology can contribute and encourages readers to pursue it.

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to what could easily be an overwhelming field of study. It defines the topic clearly, puts it into practice in a variety of subjects, and shows that it has value for the church and world. Hard to ask for more than that.

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Recently, IVP Academic has stepped up their series game. In the past they’ve released the Christian Worldview Integration series, Contours in Christian Theology, and several commentary series. They continue to publish titles in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, as well as the Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology series.

Now, they’ve added the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series, and thanks to their generosity, I’ve gotten the first two volumes. In brief, the series “promotes evangelical contributions to systematic theology, seeking fresh understanding of Christian doctrine through creatively faithful engagement with Scripture in dialogue with Catholic tradition(s)” (back insert).

The series will be edited by Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer, so it is only fitting that they coauthor the inaugural volume, Theology and The Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account. Like any book associated with Vanhoozer, you can see the allusion game is already strong in just the title. In the opening Unscientific Preface to Mere Evangelical Theology, the authors state “we do not pretend to give a universally compelling description of what evangelicals in fact profess and practice. Our intention is rather to offer a normative proposal of what evangelicals ought to profess and practice, if they would be truly evangelical – if they would correspond to the gospel that is according to the Scriptures” (11).

The book that follows offers readers an agenda (part 1) that explains the material and formal principles of evangelical theology (first two chapters, an leaning into Rorty’s mirror analogy). Then, the authors offer an analysis of what the practice of theology ought to look like (chapters 3-6). Here, we see theology is ultimately in search of wisdom, and that not surprisingly given the authors, this includes a good dose of theological exegesis. It also includes theology in a community and with high standards of excellence.

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The next volume published in this series is Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule by Jonathan Leeman. As he explains right off the bat in the preface,

This book has two main goals. The first is to replace the map of politics and religion that many Christians have been using since the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century with a more biblical one. The second is to explain where the local church fits onto this redrawn map as a political institution or embassy of Christ’s rule (13).

My prayer for this book is that it would give you, the reader, a better understanding of what the Bible says about church as well as how it describes the political map on which the church serves the purposes of Christ’s kingdom. And I pray that it might equip you in the work of building up your local congregation in holiness and love for Christ’s kingly purposes (17).

To accomplish all of this, Leeman starts with two basic questions: what is politics? (chapter 1) and what is an institution? (chapter 2).  Pretty straightforward, but it takes about 100 pages to answer these questions. But it accomplishes goal #1 so Leeman can spend the next four chapters devoted to goal #2. In successive chapters, he covers the politics of creation, fall, new covenant, and kingdom.

It is hard to imagine a more timely book with the upcoming election season upon us. If you are a bit more conversant with political theology than I am, you might want to check out this more in-depth review and response over at Mere Orthodoxy (part 1, part 2, response, questions, joint statement). You might want to just pick up a copy for yourself. Who’s to say?

In both of these cases though, you have solid evangelical contributions to Christian doctrine. As a general rule, if Vanhoozer had a hand in writing something, you probably want to grab it. And when he’s editing a series with Dan Treier, you better put it on your watch list. If you’re invested in the development of evangelical theology, you’re going to want to add both of these titles to your library.

You can see the publisher’s page for both here and here, and get a sneak peek at the newest volume that comes out later this year here.

 

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Christians have had an interest in western philosophy for pretty much as long as both existed. If you’re late to the game, you’d probably be surprised that many philosophers, at least post-Augustine, would have considered themselves Christians. The Enlightenment kind of gradually ruined that, but not before some significant thinkers emerged. One of those was Søren Kierkegaard.

When it’s comes to Kierkegaard, it is hard to imagine a philosopher simultaneously receiving as much love and disdain, both from Christian circles. Depending on who you ask, Kierkegaard is either super important and helpful or misguided and to be generally avoided.

Mark Tietjen is aware of these realities and tackles them head on in the first chapter of his recently published Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians. This is after a noted philosopher and Kierkegaard scholar (Merold Westphal) has foreworded and commended the book to us. In that first chapter, Tietjen says right off the bat, “My goal is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Søren Kierkegaard is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church” (25).

From here, he briefly sketches Kierkegaard’s life before dealing with questions related to Christian appropriation of philosophy in general and Kierkegaard in particular. He then gives an overview of the general areas of Kierkegaard’s thought and how broad ranging and practical it can be.

The remaining four chapters are the core of the book and deal with Kierkegaard’s general thought on Jesus Christ, the human self, Christian witness, and the life of Christian love. Tietjen illustrates and illumines throughout by exposition from Kierkegaard’s writings. Here readers will be able to determine for themselves the value of Kierkegaard’s writings for us today.

I was particularly drawn to the motif in the subtitle. One may well wonder what being a Christian missionary to Christians entails. In the conclusion, Tietjen draws together the threads for why Kierkegaard would see the task as not only possible but necessary. He then lists out the rationale (161):

  • If there are some who are Christian in name only, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are some who have inherited a perverted form of Christianity and know nothing better, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who value created goods over the Creator, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who struggle to trust in God and his goodness, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who fail to believe God can redeem even the least redeemable person, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who lose hope that God’s kindness, forgiveness, and redemption extend even to them, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who “speak in tongues of angel,” and so on, but have not love, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians

Given what I see in our contemporary culture, it’s not hard to suggest there is a still a need for this kind of role. One might call it a “prophetic” type role, but I like the idea of a Christian missionary to Christians. In some sense, I feel like my calling involves a bit of that, especially as it relates to youth and college culture. Kierkegaard can serve as a model and template for how to pursue this calling.


Mark A Tietjen, Kierkegaard: Christian Missionary to ChristiansDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 173 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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I’m always on the lookout for helpful primers on the subjects I study. Often, introductory texts can be so daunting it is hard to know where to start. Thankfully, new books continued to be published. Even if there is overlap at times, that just means there are more options for just the right audience. In that light, here are three primers I’ve come across recently that I really enjoyed.

First off, J.A. Medders and Brandon Smith have published Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. Russell Moore thinks its legit and you should too. I corresponded with Brandon a bit about it and then the publisher, relatively new Rainer Publishing, graciously sent me a review copy. In a relatively brief 120 pages, Medders and Smith introduce readers for the need to study theology, and then cover four key topics: God, His Word, Redemption and The Gospel, The Church and The Future. Experienced readers will notice this is the basic contours of a systematic theology. However, this is written for someone who doesn’t know that and so it is jargon free. Though not necessarily in narrative form, the topics are expounded in relation to the general story line of Scripture. This gives the book a good connection to biblical theology and makes the entry point easier for someone who hasn’t study the topics in detail.

Because of its style, length, and focus, I decided to make it a required book for my 9th grade Bible class. Traditionally, this class is an Old Testament survey, but since I teach Systematic Theology for 11th grade, I thought it might be a good introduction earlier in high school to prepare them for a more detailed study a couple of years later (if you’re curious, I use Bible Doctrine for that class). I suppose I’ll have more to say after putting it to use in class this next year, but I’m excited to see it help open up a window into studying theology for many students.

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While we’re discussing books I’ve liked and decided to use in class, let’s talk about Jared Wilson’s Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. Thanks to Baker Books, I snagged a copy and devoured it pretty quick, as is my custom with many of Wilson’s book. I was reading as I was finishing up my last spring with a senior class I had taught since they were freshmen. Many of the topics in Wilson’s book had come up in class throughout the year, either directly or through Ask Anything Friday. Looking ahead to the next graduating class, I thought they’d benefit from reading a solid book in a conversational tone to supplement our class discussions.

Topics that Wilson tackles include subjects like how the Trinity is practical/relevant, the difference between the Christian God and other gods, how the Christian view of humanity is both the most realistic and optimistic, how Jesus claimed to be God, and how he triumphed over evil and injustice. You know, pretty basic stuff right? Actually, several of these are potentially thorny issues. There are full length apologetics books on each of the topics Wilson addresses, but he introduces readers to the core issues in an understandable way. In other words, I think he presents his case for Christianity in a way that a high schooler could pick up on and (hopefully) not get too confused. Even if you’re not using this book in a class like I am, it seems like it would be a great book to read with a friend who has legitimate questions and wants to explore what makes Christianity so unique and compelling (to borrow from the subtitle). As with the previous book, I’ll try to remember to let you know how it works out in class.

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Lastly, and not for a class (unfortunately), IVP sent along Douglas Groothuis’ Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to A Vast Topic. The history of Western philosophy, while a footnote to Plato, is not an easy topic to master. The best way to march through the history is with Coppleston’s volumes (11 I think). But, most of us don’t have time for that. What you do have time for is Groothuis’ book. You also have no excuse to not know something about philosophy since it shapes just about everything in our culture whether you like it or not.

Because you’re hopefully curious at this point, these are the seven sentences that Groothuis uses to introduce us to the history of philosophy:

  • Man is the measure of all things (Protagoras)
  • The unexamined life is not worth living (Socrates)
  • All men by nature desire to know (Aristotle)
  • You have made use for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you (Augustine)
  • I think, therefore I am (Descartes)
  • The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing (Pascal)
  • The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all (Kierkegaard)

Certainly other key sentences could be chosen. However, I think this is a good balance of ancient and modern, and covers a broad range of topics within philosophy. It is hard to imagine two more influential sentences than those listed by Socrates (found in Plato’s writings, just FYI) and Descartes. Likewise, the sentence from Augustine is from his Confessions, which is a must read for anyone really, regardless of your interest in philosophy. It is both an introduction into Christian life and conversion, and the first autobiography of sorts.

The sentence from Protagoras gives you an idea of the foundations of Western philosophy, a tradition that sought knowledge without recourse to revelation. Likewise, the sentence from Aristotle shows just how relevant philosophy is to any context, ancient or modern. The last two sentences show that philosophy can easily cross over into psychology and that for me, was my initial draw to the subject. I was blown away by my intro to philosophy class early in my studies at Liberty. Since then, I’ve come back to it again and again, and this little primer by Groothuis is a great introduction to the topic.

This is not necessarily the best introduction to the richness of Augustine’s thinking. However, it is an interesting look from a post-Christian perspective. For those of us embedded in a Christian theological context that appreciates Augustine, this is a different view on why Augustine is important.