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The most important theology books of the last 25 years

In case you haven’t seen this yet, Christian Century recently asked a number of influential theologians to name 5 books that they thought were the most important theology books written in the last 25 years. You’ll have to read the post to see the comments that each person made regarding their choices, but I’ve listed their selections below.

I will say that it looks like some of them missed the point of the question. They were asked to list the most important theology books, not just the ones that they thought were really good. Some of these books shouldn’t even be in the conversation for most important theology books of the last 25 years. (Yong, Townes, and Coakley seemed particularly egregious in this area.)

I’d be intrigued to hear in the comments what you think about two things:

  1. Who do you think did the best job identifying the 5 most important books of the last 25 years?
  2. Are there any books that were excluded from all these lists, but that you think should be considered among the most important books of the last 25 years?

Stanley Hauerwas

  • George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age
  • John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel
  • Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology
  • James Wm. McClendon Jr., Systematic Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason

Amos Yong

  • Nancy L. Eiseland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability
  • Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account.
  • Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian

Emilie M. Townes

  • Katie Geneva Cannon, Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community
  • Charles H. Long, Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Inter­pretation of Religion
  • Peter J. Paris, The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse
  • Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community, Earth Ethics
  • Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology

Lawrence S. Cunningham

  • Bernard McGinn, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism
  • Herbert McCabe, God Matters and God Still Matters
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth

Sarah Coakley

  • Andrew Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys
  • Steven Payne, John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism: An Analysis of Sanjuanist Teaching and Its Philosophical Implications for Contemporary Discussions of Mystical Experience
  • Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God.
  • Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter, editors. Feminist Epistemologies.
  • William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ

Kevin Vanhoozer

  • David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission
  • John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Church Dogmatics
  • N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God.
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim That God Speaks.
  • John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church.

George Hunsinger

  • Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church
  • Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist
  • Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account
  • Derek S. Jeffreys, Spirituality and the Ethics of Torture

Willie James Jennings

  • Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • Eugene F. Rogers, Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk

So Whadda Ya Know….

By Brian Johnson

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.

It’s difficult to “know” how much blood has been spilt on the epistemological battlefield – the age-old attempt to “know” how we “know” – if you “know” what I mean.

This posting is my meager attempt to address the issues at hand from an evangelical point of view, and is in part in a reflection upon Vincent Cooke’s article “The New Calvinist Epistemology.”

Epistemology is defined as “the study of knowledge and justified belief” ( Two elements of this (brief) definition stand out in my mind: What is real knowledge? and What is justified belief?

In most of our epistemological discussions, knowledge is treated as propositional statements. Things like: Tom is 6’4” tall. It could be argued that this is but one kind of knowing. Alongside propositional knowledge, we could add experiential knowledge (playing basketball with Tom), and transformational knowledge (where knowledge of my wife has changed me – I’m a better man now that I’m married).

Additionally, it’s important to distinguish knowledge from reality. While I may know that “Tom is tall”, that knowledge is neither “Tom” nor is it “tallness”. It is just information – a mere subset, and in fact, just one small feature of the reality of Tom.

Thus, I believe we error by making knowledge a kind of shorthand for comprehensive, exhaustive knowledge. Often we find imperfect knowledge sufficient for the task at hand. (Perhaps it’s a matter of precision…)

With regard to justified belief, Cooke brings out an excellent point (via Plantinga): that beliefs can be rational without the support of philosophical justification. That is, there are beliefs that we accept (dare I say must accept) that do not lend themselves to ‘justification’ in the technical philosophical sense.

He goes on to argue that classical foundationalism (the demand that all beliefs be accepted only if they are self-evident, un-doubtable, or evident to the senses) does not meet it’s own demands for justification – i.e. that it itself is not self-evident, nor un-doubtable, nor evident to the senses.

Classical foundationalism has put a wedge between theology and philosophy by demanding ‘justification’ for theological propositions – a kind of ‘justification’ that foundationalism fails to provide for itself. Post-foundational epistemology allows theological propositions (like ‘God exists”) to be accepted as we accept other ideas, which are difficult to justify. (Cooke cites Plantinga’s example of this kind of proposition: “that other minds exist.” This test concept cannot be supported via rigorous justification, but is practically accepted as a ‘basic’ belief.) This opens the door for renewed interaction and dialogue between theology and philosophy – allowing us evaluate theological ideas that previous philosophers simply dismissed.

Personally I’m encouraged by the school of criteriologists (those who believe that in certain circumstances we are justified in accepting beliefs without formal ‘justification’) that Cooke describes, and envision fruitful developments between theology and philosophy in the years to come.

What do you think? Am I justified in seeing the crumbling of classical foundationalism as a positive step for the integration of theology and philosophy?

Does Justifiable Belief Exist? (Reloaded)

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

It seems my first post (Does Justifiable Belief Exist?) misfired. This is a reworking of the same tale to achieved more clarity.

This post is a Christian response to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article, “Epistemology.”  Epistemology is the study of human knowing.  Epistemology generally breaks down knowing into few different categories: knowing how to do something, knowing a person, knowing a place, and knowing propositions.  The Stanford article deals only with the knowledge of propositions.  All of the positions in the Stanford article agree (even the skeptics) that propositional knowledge exists.  Since they are in agreement on this point, their arguments are centered on the existence of justifiable belief, not belief itself.  This is my main concern for this post, do justifiable beliefs exist?  Traditionally justifiable beliefs are those ideas that cannot be false, cannot be doubted, and cannot be corrected.  Can humans have justifiable belief?

I’ll summarize the article in brief starting with Foundationalism, the idea that our justified beliefs (can’t be false, doubted, or corrected) rest upon basic beliefs.  Basic beliefs are justifiable beliefs that don’t need justification from other beliefs.  According to Foundationalism, “I think therefore I am,” is a basic belief.

Coherentism breaks down Foundationalism, fundamentally disagreeing with its premise.  According to Coherentism, all beliefs depend on other beliefs for justification; there are no self-justifying beliefs. To the Coherentist, justifiable beliefs are those beliefs that are held up by web of interconnected beliefs. Justifiable beliefs properly fit within the web, they must be included in a coherent system and cannot contradicts themselves or the web. (It is important to note the moderate [modern] versions of Foundationalism and Coherentism have moved away from a strict definition of justifiable beliefs and have since redefined themselves accordingly.  I’m sticking with the classical forms of these positions because they were concerned with a hard definition of justifiable belief – cannot be false, doubted, or corrected.)

Skeptics do not hold to justifiable belief. They attempt to prove justifiable belief doesn’t exist by claiming something fantastic like, “You can’t know that you have feet.”  They base this on the possibility of radical deception; someone could be in the matrix or in a dream world, etc. and at the same time have no way of knowing they were in such a state.  Since you can’t know you’re not in that situation, you can’t know whether or not you have feet.

The skeptics could not be beat on their own terms.   After the skeptics, the definition of knowing changed.  Contextual knowing and fallible (arbitrary) knowing do not hold to justifiable knowledge as defined in this article.   Find the full discussion here.  If you have trouble following all the terms and positions visit, Wikipedia has a nearly identical summary with accessible resources.

Within the confines of this conversation, I am a skeptic.  I do not believe humans can obtain justifiable knowledge through their experience with the world or with themselves.  I’ll add my critiques to Foundationalism and Coherentism to explain my point.  On the one hand, Foundationalism’s strongest thought, “I think therefore I exist,” cannot be build upon without a myriad of presupposition beliefs about what it means to exist or to think. Foundationalism’s founder Descartes built upon this idea and somehow came up with Catholic Christianity. Anyone else who builds upon this idea will come up with something different based upon their prior beliefs.  In addition, the phrase adds nothing to the epistemological conversation.  The conversation starts with the belief in propositional knowledge which requires a belief in the ability to think and a belief in our existence.  Therefore, Foundationalism’s foundational belief does not lead us to even one justifiable belief.  Coherentism, on the other hand, creates a web of interconnected ideas that do not conflict, but there is nothing to say the entire web is right or wrong.  There is nothing to ground the web into justifiable belief.  Further, one cannot point to the boundary of the web.  The web itself would have to be infinite, stretching out in all directions forever.  If there are no boundaries to the web, how could we know the web is attached to reality?

Humans cannot have justifiable belief about themselves or the existent world – through their experience with themselves and the world.  To state the obvious: galaxies, stars, planets, plants, animals and all physical elements can also have no justifiable beliefs about humans or the existent world.  If the physical world is all that exists, humanity has no possibility of justifiable belief.  If we are just talking about the physical world, I am a skeptic.  I, however, do not believe in the physical world alone.

Does Justifiable Belief Exist?

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with humanity’s inability to know. At least, this is my sarcastic conclusion after a brief educational survey of epistemology covered in Stanford’s encyclopedia of philosophy.  Actually epistemology covers a few different ways of knowing: knowing how to do something, knowing a person, knowing a place, or knowing propositions.  The Stanford article deals only with the knowledge of propositions.

I’ll summarize in brief starting with Foundationalism, the idea that our justified beliefs (can’t be false, doubted, or corrected) rest upon basic beliefs.  Basic beliefs don’t need justification from other beliefs. Coherentism disagrees, stating that every belief receives its evidence from other beliefs.  For instance, “I think therefore I am,” presupposes a belief that I think and a belief that I could exist.  Or, “I perceived the chair is yellow,” presupposes a belief in the existence of a chair, the belief in a personal ability to perceived, and the belief in the concept of yellow.  Coherentism is critiqued because one can never arrive at a belief; there is an infinite series of beliefs before that belief.  Skeptics jump all the way in and claim something fantastic like, “You can’t know that you have feet.”  They base this on the possibility of radical deception; someone could be in the matrix, or in a dream world, or similarly disembodied and at the same time being in the situation of radical deception would have no way of knowing they were in such a state.  Since you can’t know you’re not in that situation, you can’t know whether or not you have feet.  In order to defeat the skeptics, the definition of knowing underwent changes.  Contextual knowing and fallible knowing are put forth as potential skeptic killers.   Find the full discussion here.  If you have trouble following all the terms and positions visit, Wikipedia has a nearly identical summary with accessible resources.

Simply put, I’m a skeptic.  I found all the other positions too vulnerable to devastating critique.  Foundationalism’s strongest thought, “I think therefore I exist,” is perceptual knowledge based on existence can only be understood by appealing to someone’s perception of their own existence.   If we all believe that we exist, but we could all be wrong.  If no one existed, no one would know.  If we base our knowledge of existing on our perceived existence all we are left with is perceived existence not justifiable belief (can’t be false, doubted, or corrected).

Coherentism finds the truth but can’t accept it.  I believe Coherentism discovers the true reason why justifiable belief doesn’t exist, because belief is based upon belief to an infinite or at least unknowable/undiscoverable degree.  Coherentism wants to build justifiable belief on a web of interconnected ideas, only they missed the web and fell into a bottomless chasm.

Contextual knowing, in my mind, changes the whole topic of discussion.  We take the problem of the existence of justifiable belief (can’t be false, doubted, or corrected) as a universal human question dealing with propositional knowledge and instead ask, “Can we have justifiable belief in a smaller group of humans controlled by selective ignorance?”  In a group of similarly ignorant and mentally disabled patients there might be a belief that can’t be proven false or doubted within the same group.  However, that same belief has the possibility of being corrected.  Either way, we are no longer talking about universal human knowing; we are discussing group knowledge.  This group knowledge is only justifiable belief in propositional knowledge if it isn’t challenged.  I find this view ignores the fact that we live in the age of world-wide communication and information.  An argument starting with ignorance and ending with a positive result is a poor argument indeed.

Fallible knowledge is also not a response to the same question.  Fallible agrees with the skeptics, in so far as they agree infallible knowledge is impossible.  This is just another way of saying justifiable belief does not exist, but belief does exist.  They seek to have justified beliefs based on knowledge’s inability to be justified.  To believe in fallible knowledge is to believe in nothing more than the usefulness of belief itself.

All of the positions agree (even the skeptics) that propositional knowledge exists.  Since they are in agreement on this point, their arguments (in my mind) are centered on the existence of justifiable belief, not belief itself.  Can humans have justifiable belief?  I say no.  I say no with a caveat.  Humans cannot have justifiable belief about themselves or the existent world.  Galaxies, stars, planets, plants, animals and all physical elements can also have no justifiable beliefs about humans or the existent world.  If these things were all that existed, humans would have no possibility of justifiable belief.  I however, do not believe the above things mentioned are all that exist.  (I’m leaving myself an opening for later.)  Is your belief justifiable?

The Literal Grammatical Historical Hermeneutic and Modernity’s Voice

A guest post by Jerome Wernow.

I wonder if the literal-grammatical-cultural-historical hermeneutic used in current Evangelical exegesis is but a modernist construct arising from the fundamentalist-theological liberalism debates of the late 19th century like that of Charles Hodge’s common sense realism and Baconian inductivism. It seems to have gained traction and solidified in the early 20 century by particularly as advocated by J. Gresham Machen in the Princeton Theological Seminary debates. Here the philosophy wherein the method is structured is predicated upon a logical positivism similar to the early Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ordinary language philosophy. It is taken up by Bernard Ramm and later by Carl Henry’s propositional revelation notions.

My notion has been better clarified by my good friend R.T. Michener where he suggests that “fundamentalism and theological modernism are simply different sides of the same radical modernist coin. Both embrace the paradigms of Enlightenment empiricism and rationalism too seriously. The way I see it ( Hauerwas affirms this and I agree) is that theological liberalism tries to keep the faith by cutting out all the things that don’t fit into the empirical and/or rational modes, whereas fundamentalism tries to defend them using the tools of empiricism and rationalism to the nth degree. Both end up embracing rationalism and empiricism as the first order bases or “metaphysic” as such, upon which to build a worldview. This is what led the fundamentalist strain in evangelicalism, according to Hauerwas, to make “Sola Scriptura” equal to “Sola Text.” After pondering his clarification, I find myself in accord with his musings.

Further, I suggest mining the philosophical constructs of those who wrote grammar and hermeneutical textbooks used in Evangelical seminaries using ‘the method,’ as well as, the content of the books themselves. My counter to those who appeal to antiquity to demonstrate a golden braid free from modernity’s web is this. Could it be that the principles of the ‘the method’ found in antiquity are mere voicings of a Greco-philosophical rationalists’ strand of modernity that is critiqued by Heidegger and more properly Westphal, voicings that ‘became’ the univocity of modernity?

Now, one should not take my concord with the voices of Heidegger, Westphal, and R.T. ( he does not demean) as ultimately demeaning the method. For me, it is “one way of saying being” amidst many ways (William Desmond-Philosophy and Its Others). The method is useful and ready-in-hand as a tool to unlock one of the bolts in order to enter the ‘Doors of the Sacred ’ (to mine Moriah in Tolkien speak). It is not the only voicing needed to open that door, however. Exegesis emerges from a dynamic plurivocity where the Triune God conducts the voices from the middle (the metaxu to use William Desmond speak). He as Conductor leads to conscious emergence of exegetical significance and meaning.

Picture the plurivocity of voices in the narrative of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:25-39). Whatever hermeneutic was involved in the Eunuch’s ordinary language understanding would be but univocal in had he sat in his chariot alone with his text-in-hand. Other voices that are ‘saying being’ co-participated in exegetical emergence when he sought dis-closure-of-truth-in-text. It included the current community narrative of Philip, the Eunuch’s emotional emergence of spiritual consciousness in community worship, the salvation history of church universal in process, spiritual illumination by the Holy Spirit’s voicing, the voice of the angel, and perhaps others as well i.e. Candace.

Well enough, I must return to my exegetical tasks of the day – constructing the sermon…take a look and uncover my hypocrisy

An Age of Arrogant Gullibility

Ten years ago the warning trumpet for Post-Modernist thinking was being sounded almost daily for me.  Today, it is more like the annoying car alarm in Fred Meyer.  I hear it but don’t really pay much attention anymore.  This article was a slap back to reality for me.  Michael Novak is an American Catholic philosopher and writer.  Most of his life’s work has dealt with the philosophical and religious aspects of freedom.  In 1994 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion at Wesminster Abbey.   The following article is an adaptation of the address and is well worth the read.  In it, he speaks of four truths that man has learned from the twentieth century, which was the bloodiest in all of human history.

1. Truth Matters

2. Democracy is better than Dictatorship

3. Capitalism is better than Socialism

4. Vulgar Relativism Undermines All of These and Hastens the Collapse of Society

Although some may wish to quibble about the validity of his comments concerning Democracy and Capitalism (please read his article first) I thought his arguments for truth and vulgar relativism were very accurate.

One principle that today’s intellectuals most passionately disseminate is vulgar relativism, “nihilism with a happy face.” For them, it is certain that there is no truth, only opinion: my opinion, your opinion. They abandon the defense of intellect…Those who surrender the domain of intellect make straight the road of fascism. Totalitarianism… is the will-to-power, unchecked by any regard for truth. To surrender the claims of truth upon humans is to surrender Earth to thugs. It is to make a mockery of those who endured agonies for truth at the hands of torturers.  Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is now polluting every free society on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving. The most perilous threat to the free society today is, therefore, neither political nor economic. It is the poisonous, corrupting culture of relativism.

During the past hundred years, the question for those who loved liberty was whether, relying on the virtues of our peoples, we could survive powerful assaults from without (as, in the Battle of Britain, this city nobly did). During the next hundred years, the question for those who love liberty is whether we can survive the most insidious and duplicitous attacks from within, from those who undermine the virtues of our people, doing in advance the work of the Father of Lies. “There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.” Those who speak in this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.

This warning to the church is a sobering reminder to guard itself from the kind of “vulgar relativism” that would seek to diminish its influence in the world.

Christology and anthropology – a very nice summary of my book

Kyle Strobel has just posted a very nice summary of my book Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate. This is the published version of my dissertation. So, if you don’t have the time (or the money) to read the whole book, go on over to Theology Forum and check out Kyle’s post. I’d be happy to interact with thoughts/comments/questions there.

By the way, if you’re a Th.M. student involved in this semester’s philosophy and theology class may find this post particularly interesting. My dissertation is really an exercise in philosophical theology and in many ways it displays my understanding of how philosophy and theology interact. When we get a little further along in the class, I’ll be using the mind/body debate to explain my approach to philosophical theology.

The Hermeneutical Dilemma

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

I was happily finishing our week’s reading, relieved I was almost through, when I was taken aback by this quizzical statement:

A more recent philosophical development of theological interest, hermeneutics…

I stop the quote here not because there is not important information to follow but because this is where I dropped my book. Could it be!?! I asked myself, apparently aloud for my study partner raised his head. I gave him that snide look that says, That was not for you; get back into your reading, before continuing my reverie. Could it be!?! this time I asked in silence, has the purity of our biblical studies been tainted by this vile beast of philosophy at its very source. Subtle monster. Again, I must have spoken this last bit aloud for my study buddy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His eyes did not rise from his book.

I took a breath and continued. “…hermeneutics, actually has its source in a theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834).” This statement on page 203 of Allen and Springsted’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology, Second Edition (creative citation) held my attention for some time as I sought several ways to dismiss it without serious thought. After feeling I had succeeded I continued on and finished the book certain I had escaped the shameful conclusion that our interpretations of Scripture are informed by, based on, or are in any way influenced by this insurrectional specter otherwise known as philosophy.

Alas, at night my thoughts held me captive and the name of a German theologian tormented my waking dreams: Schleiermacher.

Morning came. After discussing the origins of liberal theology with my wife over our morning tea, at her behest, (gosh, I need to learn to keep these inner thoughts to myself!) I waved goodbye, as she set off for work, and sat down to consider my day’s labor. How could I overcome my fears of this encroaching philosophy? Forgetfulness had failed; it must be faced head on. I decided to study the man himself.

Apart from his reputation bestowed by future generations as the Father of Modern Theology, Schleiermacher was a masterful translator, if not a mediocre philosopher. His translations of Plato’s works were highly influential for a century after his death and are still considered quite good.

Philosophically, Schleiermacher believed that there are deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences between people. He also believed that thought was bounded by (even identical to?) word usage. Taken together these two concepts declare that every individual has a vocabulary that, while heavily informed by their culture and time, is in fact unique to themselves – as unique as their own minds. This makes absolute (and sometimes basic) understanding between any two people challenging, and this challenge is only exacerbated by distance in time and culture. Consequently, the task of the interpreter is to get into the culture and ultimately into the mind of the writer, to learn the language the way it was used at that time and particularly the way it was used by that writer. Understanding is not a given, it is a challenge, and hermeneutics was developed to deal with that challenge. (For more about Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics see the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Schleiermacher:  . Similar concepts are discussed from different vantage points concerning different individuals in Philosophy for Understanding Theology, p203 ff.)

After reading the principles of interpretation as described by Schleiermacher I was stunned… they seemed so similar to my own. And yet, his work was considered ground breaking for its time (even if he was only one of many at that time breaking ground). Could it be that my beloved historical-critical method was not lifted directly from the pages of Scripture but was actually birthed and laid at theology’s doorstep by that whore, philosophy? If so, it is already too late. I cannot disown her now; I love her too dearly. If I were to leave her on this account, who would take her place?

Whoa is me! What is the pure theologian to do?

[Correction: When this was first posted, I accidentally omitted the word "philosophical" from the opening quote. That has been corrected.]

Can’t I disagree with you just because I don’t like you?

I recently had to perform a diagnostic on my racionator (i.e. that part of me that thinks and draws “logical” conclusions). I had picked up a journal article and was just starting to get a feel for the author’s thinking when he revealed that he would be critiquing the position of someone I really don’t like that much. He bugs me. He doesn’t bug me in the same way that Paul Tillich does. I’ve never met Paul Tillich (mostly because he died before I was born), so Tillich doesn’t bug me on a personal level. I just don’t care for his particular approach to pretty much everything. (That’s not entirely fair given that he bugs me so much that I haven’t read enough of what he’s written to know if he really should bug me as much as he does.) But, this guy’s not like that. I don’t have a theological problem with him. And, he doesn’t even bug me in the same way as that jerk in Barnes and Noble who keeps jabbering on his cell phone while I’m trying to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and sponge some free reading from the magazine section. He’s not rude or anything. No, for some reason I just don’t like this guy. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s still there.

So, as soon as I saw his name in this journal article, I immediately found myself gravitating toward the conclusion that his position (whatever it is) must be wrong. It was fascinating. It’s like a found myself on that slippery slope everyone keeps worrying about, inevitably sliding toward the conclusion that this guy just has to be wrong. Please, oh please, let him be wrong.

Then I came face-to-face with how easy it is to oppose someone just because you don’t like them. Often it is someone you don’t like for theological reasons. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve found students unfairly criticizing someone who is in a different theological camp than they are. They’re more than willing to be fair and give the “benefit of the doubt” to people on their side of the fence. But those other guys, forget it. They’re definitely wrong. Other times you might not like someone for more personal reasons. Was Luther an anti-Semite? That’s a question for another post. But, if he was, would that impact how you assess other aspects of his theology? Could Terry Jones be right on something other than whether we should threaten to burn the Qur’an? Probably not, but it’s at least worth considering. Because, of course, the fact that I don’t like what you have to say about X – or even the fact that you are just flat wrong about X, which is basically the same thing – does not necessarily have any bearing on what I should think about your opinion of Y. If Y is a separate issue, then Y has to be evaluated separately. Even if I don’t like you. That is inherent in the task of good academic discourse.

So, was he wrong? Do I get to bask in the joy of knowing that someone I don’t like was wrong yet again? I don’t know. I haven’t finished reading the article yet. I stopped to write this post.

(By the way, this doesn’t hold when I’m grading papers. It’s perfectly okay for me to grade you down on a paper just because I don’t like you. I do it all the time. That’s one of the privileges that comes from being on this side of the desk. That and not having to play the “What does this essay question even mean?” game anymore.)

Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

Guest Post by Danielle Kahut (Western Seminary Student)

A critical dimension in the theological discussion, whether emphasis shall be placed on the objective study of Scripture or the subjective experience of the individual, has its roots in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted only loosely allude to this philosophy-to-theology link in their later chapters. It is of such importance that it needs to be emphasized.

Allen and Springsted do highlight the clear connection between Hume’s philosophy and Kant’s categories. Hume had used the fact that there is no observable link between ‘causes’ and ‘effects’ to say that the entire empiricist enterprise (the philosophical endeavor to ground knowledge on the foundation of experience) was fruitless and would therefore never produce any ‘true knowledge.’ This view, referred to as Humean skepticism, Kant felt a burden to answer.

Unlike the philosophers who had come immediately before him, Kant did not believe that experience was the source of knowledge; however, he did believe that knowledge begins there. The external sensations (touch, taste, smell, etc.) are significant because they arouse our thinking; Kant calls this first stage on the way to knowledge experience. Our reason, Kant said, cannot go beyond these experiences and arrive at true knowledge on its own; instead, our reason categorizes and makes sense of our experiences. Kant posits twelve categories that shape and filter man’s understanding of his experiences (for a good chart on these categories visit the following link: This second stage, in which our categories process and interpret our experiences, Kant calls conception. The third state, knowledge, comes as a result of the forming of the raw data of experience via our categories.

This discussion of the twelve categories, and how they interact with our sense-experiences, is significant because it shifts the center of knowledge from the external world to the mind. Thus knowledge is no longer ‘objective’ in that it is independent of man, but ‘subjective’ in that it is wholly dependent on man and his processing of his experiences. This aspect of Kant’s philosophy soon had a major impact on theology. Friedrich Schleiermacher was primarily responsible for shifting the source of dogmatics from the objective study of Scripture to the subjective study of Christian religious feeling. He perceived the traditional subjects of dogmatics—God, Creation, Preservation, Salvation, Regeneration—through the subjective lens. Although the return to objective theology began on the continent over 100 years ago (cf. Hermann Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics) the shift has yet to take hold in the United States. To understand theology, especially to understand the cultural constructs which shape the current theological climate, we must understand that this turn to the subject (individuals feelings being a source of knowledge) began back in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

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