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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!
As I said a few weeks ago when I reviewed Education For Human Flourishing, so far, I’ve been pretty impressed with IVP’s Christian Worldview Integration Series. Though I didn’t review it, I enjoyed the book on communication, and here on the blog I’ve reviewed the books on business and literature (and the above mentioned one on education).
Now, we’re ready to look at my favorite book in the series so far, Garrett J DeWeese’s Doing Philosophy as a Christian. For a philosophy book, it is much more readable than you’d expect (which is incidentally true of most good philosophical writing). Since philosophy covers a broad range of topics, this book can in no way offer a systematic overview of either the history of philosophy of the current range of philosophical inquiry.
Instead, DeWeese sets a more modest goal and instead aims to show how doing philosophy as a Christian is somehow different. Overall, the books is split into four parts to illustrate DeWeese’s claim from multiple angles. In the opening chapter, appropriately titled, “Why Should You Read This Book?” DeWeese gives his fairly simple goal:
The thesis of this book is that there is something distinctive about how a Christian should do philosophy, and in what follows I aim to draw out what I take to be some of the implications of this thesis (33).
The book is primarily written to philosophy majors, or recent philosophy graduates, or just those with questions and concerns about how their faith impacts philosophical inquiry. Though the intended audience is of the more scholarly type, DeWeese intentionally tried to write in a “conversational style that is (I trust) accessible and clear” (36). I think (and don’t just trust) that he succeeded with flying colors and that is one the book’s strengths.
Another strength is the way DeWeese anchors the discussion after his introductory chapter. Working on the assumption that “much of contemporary philosophy has lost the practical goal of wisdom – that of discerning what makes for a good person, a good society, a good life” (39), DeWeese goes back to Scripture to unpack the nature of biblical wisdom and the biblical role of sage. After briefly surveying the wisdom literature, DeWeese concludes that “true wisdom is Christocentric in its origin and application” (63).
The following chapter then turns to the issue of faith vs reason, which as it turns out, really isn’t a versus battle after all. Interestingly, DeWeese argues that “authentic Christian philosophy should be philosophy done within the limits of religion” (66, attentive readers will catch the philosopher referenced there). To expand on this, DeWeese says
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 bounds 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, of extending the kingdom of God on earth (67).
In essence then, DeWeese is arguing for Christian philosophers to do philosophy in a self-consciously Christian way, namely, in submission to Christ and in order to expand the kingdom, all to the glory of God.
From here, it is only natural to turn, as DeWeese does in chapter 4, to a discussion of Jesus and philosophy. DeWeese will argue that the average Christian philosopher “must have more than a Sunday school-level grasp of Jesus’ teaching” (95). He presents the case rather forcefully for looking to Jesus as the model for the philosopher, as a guide for how to think and how to teach.
This rounds out the foundation for his approach to philosophy as a Christian, and the second part then begins digging into traditional philosophical questions about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Chapter 5 is devoted to a survey of some metaphysical issues; chapter 6 turns to epistemological questions; and chapter 7 divides time between ethics and aesthetics (which are both subdivisions of axiology, the study of values). Each of these chapters presents an adequate survey of many relevant issues, centering the questions “What is real, What do I know, and What should I value?” This all helps to illustrate the inquisitive nature of philosophy and how question driven some of the more tedious aspects of life that philosophers seem apt to discuss (tedious to you maybe, but I’m ok with it!).
His discussions here are not exhaustive, but more or less sketch out how DeWeese envisions a distinctive Christian approach should look with the questions he does tackle. This leads to the third part of the book which gets into more specialized questions of philosophy. The two topics that DeWeese picks to examine further are philosophy of mind in chapter 8 and philosophy of science in chapter 9. You should immediately see now why this is my favorite book in the series since it covers philosophy (the focus in my masters degree), pscyhology (my undergrad), and science (my teaching job at the moment). The chapter on philosophy of science is especially valuable not just to Christian philosophers, but to Christian scientists as well as anyone who is entering into current debates like those regarding creation and evolution. One thing that is usually missing is clear thinking about the nature of science (on both sides) and DeWeese’s chapter goes a long way to remedy that. He discusses “the” scientific method and what goes on behind the scenes in theory evaluation and selection. Though I didn’t use this book, I’m inclined to think that a very short section on this kind of thing should be required in teaching high school science, and DeWeese’s chapter here goes above and beyond anything you might find in a biology textbook.
Finally, in the fourth and final part, DeWeese concludes the book with a look at “the end of the matter.” Specifically, the final thoughts are offered on the interface of philosophy and spiritual formation. This ties back into the much maligned (or even missing) telos of philosophy that DeWeese discussed in the opening of the book. He ends by reiterating the thesis about doing philosophy as a Christian from chapter 3 (quoted in block form above), and also says that
For a Christian reflecting on doing philosophy as a Christian, the doing must be more than a fascinating intellectual expedition through ideas that form cultures and shape empires, and it must be more than a vocation that allows us to have an effect, sometimes profound, on eager young minds (331).
This is something I have to continually keep in mind. It is often too easy to pursue intellectual endeavors purely for intellectual enjoyment. Instead, my intellectual pursuits must be linked to a purpose and that purpose is found in Christ. In that light, DeWeese’s book is not only a great contribution to thinking philosophically as a Christian, it is a great reminder to those of us engaged in philosophical inquiry to do it to the glory of God and to do it for kingdom purposes.
If you are interested in philosophy, and interested in reading about a distinctively Christian approach to important philosophical issues and discussions, I would highly recommend DeWeese’s book to you. It is very accessible as a book, and may serve as an entry point to further philosophical study.