First off, you’ve gotta admit this is a pretty incredible cover. Logic textbook or not, there’s just something about this design that just draws you in. This is perhaps a good thing since most people won’t take a formal class on logic at any point in their education, much less read a textbook on it.
Though it is very conducive to being used as a textbook, Vern Poythress’ Logic: A God-Centered Approach is part logic textbook and part theology of logic. It comes as the newest installment in a long line of “God-centered approaches” offered by Poythress (see also science, language, and sociology). Much like those volumes, this one draws on John Frame’s triperspectivalism which is something we can all rejoice about. However, Poythress also blends in insights from his background in mathematics (he did a Ph.D in math at Harvard before seminary) and the result is a book that every serious Christian thinker out to have on their shelf.
The book is split into three main parts and a fourth part that is composed of supplements. Part 1 introduces elementary logic and has four sub parts. The first is 6 shorts chapters that introduce the basics. And by short, I mean some chapters are only a couple of pages long. However, that is nothing new for Poythress. After presenting a very basic overview, the second sub part introduces God’s relationship to logic and is worth the price of the book. Well that part and the third sub part which covers the issue of classification and how we ascribe meaning to statements. He briefly intros the theistic arguments and then offers a re-vision of western thought. The final sub part of part 1 introduces aristotelian syllogisms and venn diagrams.
Part 2 has three sub parts, and is where the book starts getting technical and symbolic. Intending to cover aspects of propositional logic, in the first sub part he explains the relationship of truth to logic. In the second, he begins unpacking the different ways truth can be logically represented. Finally, in the third and final part he gets into propositional logic per se.
Part 3 is where the real heavy lifting comes. Here Poythress discusses predicate logic (sub part 1), quantification (sub part 2), functions (sub part 3), formal systems (sub part 4), and special and more enriched forms of logic like modal logic and multivalued and intuitionist logic (sub part 5). Many of the chapters build on symbolic notations introduced earlier so it may as well be a foreign language if you weren’t tracking closely in the earlier chapters.
The final part, which is an almost 200 page assortment of supplements. These supplements are grouped into to six sub sections. The first sub sections goes with the first part of the book and the second goes with the second (which is helpful). Sub sections 3 and 4 both go with the main part 3 of the book, which the 5th and 6th sections are miscellanies and concluding thoughts on philosophy and logic respectively. All in all these various supplemental chapters cover topics as diverse as the different figures for syllogisms, Godel’s incompleteness theorem, the halting program for computer programs, the failure of Kantian subjectivism, and the general role of logic in modern philosophy.
In navigating all of this, readers have two options. The first is to cherry pick chapters to get a feel for the nature of logic and it’s role in modern thought. To do that, I’d read the first 3 sub parts of part 1. Then the chapters in the rest of the sections that present Poythress’ summary thoughts of how that facet of logic is centered in God. That would be these chapters:
- 26 (theistic foundations of syllogisms)
- 31 (divine origin of logical functions)
- 37 (harmony in truth)
- 44 (imitations of transcendence)
- 47 (theistic foundations for predicates)
- 49 (theistic foundations for quantification)
- 57 (theistic foundations for proof theory)
- 59 (theistic foundation for computation)
- 61 (theistic foundations for models)
- 66 (theistic foundations for modal logic)
The second option is to track with Poythress chapter by chapter and answer the questions for further study at the end of the chapters. If you’re a teacher, you’re already setup for using this as a textbook since it has problems to be solved (too bad there’s no answer key!) If you’re not, and you’re disciplined, you could use this book to learn much of what you would learn in an actual logic class. And the bonus would be that you see the theistic foundations of it all and gets some keen theological and apologetics arguments to boot.
As you might guess, I’m going to heartily recommend this book. It isn’t exactly beach reading, but if you’re a student with your summer free, it might just be a good time to get some logic foundations in place. I think every seminary student, and really every one who wants to be taken seriously when they make arguments, ought to take a class on logic or read this book (or both I suppose). Knowing sound principles of logic is an invaluable apologetic tool and Poythress’ book is set firmly in that context. If you’re going to take the time to learn logic, this book with its God-centered focus is the route to go.
- Author: Vern S. Poythress
- Title: Logic: A God-Centered Approach
- Publisher: Crossway (February 4, 2013)
- Paperback: 736pgs
- Reading Level: Early parts general reader, later parts, heavy lifting unless you like symbols
- Audience Appeal: Anyone who wants a God-centered textbook on logic
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Crossway)