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Credo Book Review

Philosophy meets Neo-Calvinism: Exploring the relationship between a Christian worldview and philosophy

Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen. Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction. Baker Academic, 2013. 

Review by Luke Stamps

Christians have long debated the proper role of philosophy in the theological task. One tendency, represented by the second century theologian Tertullian, has been to diminish philosophy’s significance because of its allegedly anti-Christian assumptions. Another tendency, exemplified by another second century theologian, Justin Martyr, has been to engage the categories of pagan philosophy in an attempt to make the Christian faith intelligible and defensible. Still others have allowed certain prevailing philosophical commitments to exercise control over their theological formulations, sometimes at the expense of biblical considerations.

9780801039119Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen recognize the dangers attendant to any Christian engagement with philosophy, but they consider it a vital aspect of the Christian mission regardless. Following up on their previous books on the biblical storyline (The Drama of Scripture, Baker Academic, 2004) and the Christian worldview (Living at the Crossroads, Baker Academic, 2008), Bartholomew and Goheen tackle the major categories, figures, and movements one must master in the development of a Christian philosophy, as they understand it, in their new book, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction (Baker Academic, 2013).

The Outline

The book is divided into three major sections. The first section, comprising the first two chapters, introduces the authors’ approach to the task of Christian philosophy. In chapter 1, they answer the question, “Why Philosophy?” They show how philosophy is integral to the Christian mission on several fronts: apologetics, cultural engagement, scholarship, and the Christian life. Bartholomew and Goheen understand the task of philosophy as providing a “detailed analysis of the order of creation” in a whole host of endeavors including history, art, politics, economics and so forth.

In chapter 2, the authors address the relationship between faith and philosophy and argue for a worldview approach to philosophy grounded in faith and the biblical revelation. For Bartholomew and Goheen the Christian worldview yields a philosophy, which in turn influences Christian engagement with the various academic and cultural endeavors to which Christians are called. The authors approach the task of Christian philosophy from a self-professed Augustinian and Kuyperian perspective, maintaining that the scope of Christ’s redeeming work extends to the entirety of the created-but-fallen order (24).

The second and longest section of the book traces the history of Western philosophy from the ancient Greek era to the postmodern era (chs. 3–11). In these chapters, Bartholomew and Goheen treat, in turn, the pre-Socratic philosophers (ch. 3); the classical Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and their legacy in Greco-Roman philosophy (ch. 4); early medieval Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Abelard (ch. 5); the Christian theologians of the high medieval period such as Thomas Aquinas (ch. 6); Renassiance and Reformation philosophy (ch. 7); modern philosophy from its beginnings to the twentieth century (chs. 8–10), and postmodern philosophy (ch. 11). These chapters offer a combination of description and evaluation, as the authors seek to bring their Christian presuppositions to bear on these important figures and movements.

The final section of the book provides several sketches of “Christian Philosophy Today.”  In chapter 13, Bartholomew and Goheen survey the works of some prominent Roman Catholic philosophers, including Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Jean-Luc Marion, among others. They conclude this chapter by introducing Neo-Calvinist philosophy, which they spend the remainder of the book examining. The authors treat two different developments within Neo-Calvinism: the Reformed Epistemology of Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and others (chs. 13–14), and the Reformational philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven (ch. 15). Reformed epistemology is more analytic in orientation and has sought to carve out space for a broader set of “properly basic beliefs” than that prescribed by modernism’s narrowly construed foundationalism. Reformational philosophy is more continental in orientation and has sought to provide a transcendental critique of non-Christian worldviews and to develop a philosophical framework on explicitly Christian presuppositions. ..

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We live in a world that screams to get our attention. From the moment you wake up to the second you hit your pillow at night, something or someone wants your time. Hosts of people are waiting for you to friend them on Facebook. The world awaits your next tweet and blCredo Front October 2014 Coverog post. Your phone is buzzing because you have another email that needs your response. When you go home and turn on your TV there are innumerable “must see” shows, as well as breaking news you cannot afford to miss.  Let’s face it, the world we live in is quite loud, and it never sleeps.

In the midst of all this noise, where does extended time in prayer fit in? Or does it? Prayer seems to run contrary to the busyness of life in the twenty-first century. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself this question, “When was the last time I spent more than 15 minutes in uninterrupted prayer with the Lord?” Church history shows that for Christians who came before us, private and corporate prayer was essential, assumed to be a necessary staple for the Christian and the church. After all, it is the God-given means by which we have fellowship and communion with God himself.  Should we neglect prayer we actually neglect God, and the consequences are spiritually fatal. But should we set aside time to pray to God, we will benefit greatly, finding God to be a refuge and a shield in the midst of a chaotic, consuming, and demanding world.

In this issue of Credo Magazine we will focus on prayer, looking at how Christians in ages past have understood the importance of prayer, as well as Scripture’s own emphasis on the necessity of prayer. Not only will we recognize the importance of prayer, but in this issue we will look at how we pray as well. My guess is that most Christians have never even thought about how they should pray. Well here is a great opportunity to do so!

Contributors include: Gerald Bray, Aimee Byrd, Juan R. Sanchez, Peter Beck, Sandy Willson, Tim Keller, Sam Storms, Phil Johnson, Donald Whitney, Nancy Guthrie, among many others.

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