First, I must begin with a warning: Do not attempt to read Reason and Worldviews with decaf or weak coffee. Make it stronger than usual. Avoid distractions. Don’t confuse this book for a morning devotional.
Reason and Worldviews is by Owen Anderson, assistant professor of Integrative Studies at Arizona State University. It is published by University Press of America. It bears the very descriptive subtitle Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til and Plantiga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics.
Often my book reviews are tied to some experience I have had in my life. In this case, I read a couple of essays around the years 2008 and 2009 that rekindled my interest in my first experiences in confronting Calvinistic or Reformed theology. On the one hand, there were those many Bible flipping evenings where I was reading Boettner, Pink, Steele and Thomas, and others and looking up the proof texts for Calvinistic soteriology or views of salvation. But prior to those experiences and subsequent to them as well were explorations into the Calvinistic worldview.
It was first introduced to me with the German word Weltanschauung. That mouthful was explained as meaning a world and life view or a comprehensive view of all things from a particular viewpoint. God grabbed me by the mind and did not let me go. I had the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, but the life of the mind was pretty mushy, vague, and vulnerable. A Fifth Column of Presbyterian and Reformed warriors, including Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, Gordon Clark, Francis Nigel Lee, H. Van Reissen, and Phillip Edgecombe Hughes sidetracked me and forever changed my way of thinking.
That was the 1970’s and it was, to repeat myself, the years 2007 and 2008 when I re-engaged with the thinking that had created this initial effect. There were men, like those mentioned above, who were not exactly the public intellectuals because most of the world–both secular and religious–either did not know they existed or they ignored them. But they reached a remnant of thinkers, and like a stone tossed in a pond, the ripple effect spread out widely.
I had the opportunity to give a series of talks in Newport Newes, Virginia and later in Alaska in 2008. My series in Virginia was titled “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers During the Wilderness Years,” and in Alaska, my topic was “Dutch Worldview Thinkers.” I loved the subject (if I may call it that) and have continued to read on the various influential Reformed theologians and philosophers who have grappled with the issues of modern thought.
When I first saw the title and subtitle of Reason and Worldviews, I was sold on the book. Being a more specialized monograph, it bears a high, but not prohibited price. So, it took me a while to get the book, and this past few weeks, I have been reading it.
The word “Apologetics,” which appears in the subtitle, is a rather broad word within Christian thought. I have and have read dozens of books on apologetics, which is the field of defending the Christian faith. Many books focus on the range of arguments Christians confront in the classroom, in conversations, and in our culture. Hence, such books teach provide us foundations for believing the Bible, answering objections, and dealing with stumbling blocks to the faith.
This book, however, is dealing with much more difficult issues. Christian theology has not merely brushed up against the field of philosophy, but has confronted and, we might say to some degree, converted it. Or at least, it has taken thought captive–as Paul admonishes us to do in II Corinthians 10:5. For many years, Princeton Theological Seminary was the center of Christian philosophical thought as well as theological thought. Harvard had caved; Harvard Divinity School hired Ralph Waldo Emerson to teach whatever it was that he believed. Yale had waffled. Princeton stood as the bulwark of Christian thought.
Truth doesn’t change, but the way we present the truth changes. We teach our young children truths, but we expand and adapt these truths to fit their minds and lives as they grow up. The issues confronting Princeton changed through the years, and sad to admit, but Princeton changed as well. That is another story, but as long as the Hodges and later Benjamin Warfield occupied key positions, Princeton was a ruling force.
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield is the key Christian theologian/philosopher in this study. He wrote on a wide range of theological topics, although many have lamented that he never compiled all of his thinking into a systematic theology. To some degree, this has been remedied by Fred G. Zaspel’s book The Theology of B. B. Warfield.
In Anderson’s study, Warfield is examined for his approach to the issue of how we know God, how we interpret revelation of God, and to what degree man is excusable or inexcusable from life experiences.
Warfield had a beloved friend and fellow theologian across the pond named Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was a key figure in the theological and political world of the Netherlands. He was invited by Warfield to give the Stone Lectures for the year 1898. Those lectures were published and have been reprinted many times under the title Lectures on Calvinism. While Warfield and Kuyper could walk arm in arm on many issues, they had different approaches to apologetics and how unbelievers were to be confronted and held accountable.
In time, a young Dutchman and immigrant to America, attempted to bring the differences of Warfield and Kuyper together. His name was Cornelius Van Til, and he is well known in Calvinistic circles for presuppositional apologetics. For many, Van Til has provided the definitive and last word on apologetics and how the unbeliever thinks and/or suppresses the truth. At the same time, in good old Calvinistic fashion, some fellow believers rank Van Til’s thinking somewhere below that of Joel Osteen.
Others have grappled with these issues as well. Two of the big names in Christian philosophy in our day are Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga. Plantiga has promoted the position that Christian belief in God is warranted belief. In other words, we Christians are just a bunch of simple minded crazies. (Okay, well some of us are, but not all.)
Each variety of thought–Warfield’s, Kuyper’s, Van Til’s, and Plantiga’s–has attempted to deal with some difficult issues, and each has its limitations. As a way of bridging some of the gaps here, Anderson proposes that we seriously examine the much neglected idea of Natural Theology. In his conclusion, he brings us back to Warfield who was, in many ways, closer to the answers found in Natural Theology, than some of the others.
“Ben,” you ask, “Do you even know what you are talking about?” Okay, I admit it. I walked out to the pool expecting to wade, but I got thrown into the deep end–again. Owen Anderson is not teaching basic swimming lessons. He had to pull me out of the water several times, in fact. But he ends each chapter with a series of questions. On my next reading, I want to have those questions in view as I read. And he includes a really useful glossary of terms and key people mentioned in the book.
This is not, as I said above, a morning devotional. Nor is it a fast, once through and then shelve, book. Who needs it then? First, people like my son Nick and many others I know who study philosophy, but who have a theological grounding. Second, pastors and teachers who need to branch out beyond their sermon helps. Third, Christians who have been given the blessings and gifts of the enjoying the life of themind. Fourth, me.
I deeply love Warfield, Kuyper, and Van Til. I suspect that the more read of Plantiga, the more I will love him. But this is more than just hero worship (of which I am often guilty). There is the great concept of “Glorifying God and Enjoying Him Forever.” Forever doesn’t begin when we arrive in heaven. Enjoying God–even to the extent that it means examing the heights and depths of philosophy and theology–begins now.