Mark W. Foreman, Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, November 2013. 208 pp. Paperback, $20.00.
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!
When I started at Liberty University, had already completed two years of Bible college, earning essentially an associates of Bible (if there was such a thing). I intended to major in psychology, so one of the first classes I took was developmental psychology. 1 The other class was introduction to philosophy. The instructor was Mark Foreman.
My first foray into philosophy was literally 2 mind-blowing. I probably would have changed majors, but that wasn’t an option. Instead, it became a background interest that when would then get ignited further during my second semester of seminary, and then come full circle to where we are now. In that sense, I owe quite a bit to Mark Foreman’s teaching, and I’m glad to see him producing a popular level book introducing others to the wonders of philosophy.
Rather than an actual introduction, this is just what the title says (always a good thing): a prelude. The typical divisions of philosophy are not discussed in detail until chapter 4, and then the final three chapters after that are focused on logic and rational argumentation. Before getting to those divisions, Foreman spends time explaining in general terms, what philosophy is (and is not), why it is an important field of study, and most importantly, why it is important for Christians. Each of these topics occupy an entire chapter, and I thought provided good reasons for studying philosophy (though I am biased), as well as fending off objections to it as subject for Christian attention. That makes this a good book for a) people wanting to get their feet wet in the streams of philosophical thought, as well as b) anyone wanting to think clearly about any topic.
In the course of his discussion, Foreman defines philosophy as “the critical examination of our foundational beliefs concerning the nature of reality, knowledge, and truth, and our moral and social values” (24). After unpacking this a little further, Foreman lists 6 distinguishing features of philosophy and philosophical study (29-41, my formulations):
- It helps define the criteria we use to study facts
- It regulates the nature and method of studies
- It relentlessly seeks clarity of thought
- It examines and evaluates everything
- It focuses on foundational issues and perennial questions
- It is based on principles and guidelines of sound argumentation
With a definition and description in mind, Foreman then explains why philosophy is important. Though more could be said, Foreman highlights the importance of living an examined life, clarifying our thinking, cultivating a worldview, and refining our ethical decisions. This provides a transition to the chapter on why philosophy is important for Christians. Foreman suggests five ways it plays a vital role (89-93):
- It plays a large role in the task of interpreting Scripture (hermeneutics)
- It provides the principles of systematizing utilized in theology and helps draw out and express theological concepts
- It heavily utilized in apologetics, as in presenting a rational case for the Christian faith
- It can help with polemics against objections to Christian orthodoxy
- It is useful in evangelism, especially in the point of contact with differing worldviews
Building off the first item listed, Foreman goes into greater detail about the role philosophy plays in biblical interpretation. One extreme is to keep the two thoroughly isolated. There is philosophical study, and biblical studies, and never the two shall meet. The other extreme is to disregard the role of philosophy altogether. This extreme looks at Scripture as solo scriptura, and therefore sees no need for philosophical study at all. Without some of the fruits of philosophy to inform their thinking, people who take this approach often end up misusing the Scripture they think is all they need. The solution isn’t to exalted philosophy, but to be willing to utilize insights and harness it to help one be a better Bible interpreter.
At this point, Foreman presents the divisions of philosophy, and it is pretty standard fare. The final three chapters, as mentioned, are on logic and argumentation. Very helpfully, Foreman includes a few brief exercises to limber up the mind. Worth mentioning as well are the seven virtues of the Christian philosopher listed in the epilogue (191-197):
- Love of truth
- Intellectual honesty
- Fairness and respect
- Intellectual fortitude
- Epistemic humility
I would say those are all attributes I would live to strive for, and even if you don’t plan to be a philosopher, 3 they are virtues we should all strive for in our lives.
With that, Foreman’s prelude comes to an end. Along the way he is clear and concise, and demonstrates the virtues he extols at the end. It is an ideal book for an intro to philosophy class at say, the high school level. Because there is no extended discussion of the major thinkers, it couldn’t be a stand alone philosophy textbook, but it doesn’t aim to be, so that’s ok. I could see it being used profitably in tandem with Bartholomew and Goheen’s Christian Philosophy. As a prelude, it really whets the appetite for the fugue that is higher level philosophical study. I’ve been onboard since I took philosophy with Foreman 8 years ago this month. If you’re interesting in diving in, this is a good book to help you do so.
- Fun fact: I never took general psychology. At Liberty you could take developmental or general psychology first and then you could take the other required classes from there. I completed all the required classes for a psych major except general psychology, and then just Clepped out of it. This adds an irony within an irony given that I am a home schooled high school teacher who teaches general psychology as an elective. ↩
- Not literally ↩
- You are one whether or not you plan to, the question is whether you do it well or not ↩