Light and fun read. If this is your only primer for philosophy, it leaves tons out that you should probably understand if you are to talk intelligiblyLight and fun read. If this is your only primer for philosophy, it leaves tons out that you should probably understand if you are to talk intelligibly about the discipline. But what it does illuminate, it does, in an interesting and engaging manner. And of course its funny. I wonder if I learned more about how to categorize jokes by their philosophical underpinnings more than I learned about philosophy from the jokes. Then again I wasn't a complete neophyte. ...more
A good number of book reviews tell you more about the reviewer than they do about the book. This is one such review and the 3 stars should not make yoA good number of book reviews tell you more about the reviewer than they do about the book. This is one such review and the 3 stars should not make you think that this is a middle of the road sort of book. It may well be fabulous, but as it was written by one of the greatest philosophers of religion in the 20th century and employs highly technical language, it is of limited use to me. This is Kantian idealism applied to the realm of religious symbolism.
This book is derived from chapter IV-VI of Dupré's earlier volume The Other Dimension: A Search for the Meaning of Religious Attitudes(1972). In it, Dupré explores the nature of religious symbol in ritual, language, art and myth. This is the order in which he treats each topic, and the order I would rank the chapters in terms of what I found most illuminating. Below I will survey some of what I found most helpful about symbols and the implications for sacraments and preaching:
The chief insights on the nature of religious symbols are that 'they signify more than the represent but also fail to disclose the nature of what they signify. They conceal more than they reveal(6).' Thus an interpretive framework is necessary to understand a 'religious symbol' versus a pure aesthetic one. Religious symbols are often vague enough to be endowed with richer symbolic meaning and therefore symbols cannot simply be explained in a reductionist way (i.e. Baptism means x). But it is a way of using imperfect forms to express something of transcendence. As Dupré explains, "Religious [humanity] has recourse to images because he cannot say directly what he wants to say and images help him escape the given reality.(10)"
In describing rites, Dupré compares the nature of liturgy to games, concluding that both have the same mixture of nonfunctional purposelessness and meticulous disciple (15). This attention to the playful nature of religious liturgy sheds light on of the ways in which the sacred the profane are sometimes delineated from one another. "The play ground or stage is as much 'staked out' as the locus sacer of the temple(14.)"Dupré asserts that mere play is the play-rite deprived of its symbolic potential (16).
But rites are not just play, they also re-present and re-enact siginificant events in order to bring meaning, order and comprehension to the world, not in the sense of 'memorial,' but in making the past present(18). Dupré then discusses the nature of sacraments and distinguishes it from mere rites in that sacraments yield a 'numinous influence,' that is partaking in this rite is to partake in the trancendent reality from which it derives its efficacy(23). Dupré also demonstrates that what gives a sacrament transcendent significance is that it is carried there by the 'religious word' giving word primacy over action. So This is significant for sacramental theology because it is the Word that gives the sacrament meaning and carries it out of the realm of ordinary rite (27). Thus a celebration of communion apart from proclamation, may have significance, but it is no sacrament.
In discussing the nature of Religious words, Dupré discusses the ability of symbolism to address the 'subjective involvement of the religious speaker and the transcendent nature of the referent. (65). As with the discussion of rites and rituals, Dupré explores the inability of religious language to adequately name that of which it speaks, and yet still signify transcendent reality. Thus symbolic language is both adequate and inadequate in expressing truths to religious outsiders. The significance of this for preaching is that religious discourse is always trying to make comprehensible the incomprehensible. There is a tension between communicating meaning and mystery which needs to be respected by those who preach. There is an apophatic nature to religious language. Even the best words/symbols are always inadequate.
The rest of the book was interesting, but honestly a little bit beyond me. I do appreciate Dupré's reflections on the ways in which art has been used as symbol to signify transcendent and religious realities. And certainly his accounting of myth has implications for how we make sense of our world and history. Yet I really caught about 65% of what he said here. Smarter people could fill this in, or maybe I need to read it again. If I get it, Louis might get another golden star. Though that probably wouldn't be adequate.
My first reading of Emerson and I appreciate a lot of what I see here. Emerson looks with wonder on the natural world. I follow him part way with hisMy first reading of Emerson and I appreciate a lot of what I see here. Emerson looks with wonder on the natural world. I follow him part way with his idealist metaphysic, though I am suspicious of his mystical spirituality and find myself in deep disagreement with him.
Torode did a great job of combining the text with images and inscriptions....more
When Karl Barth, the great twentieth century theologian, famously denounced natural philosophy it appeared to some that he was anti-rational and no plWhen Karl Barth, the great twentieth century theologian, famously denounced natural philosophy it appeared to some that he was anti-rational and no place for philosophy within his theological framework. Indeed he did reject a 'theology from below' which worked out a basis for belief in the Triune God through reason or from some generalized theistic position. But this does not preclude that possibility of Christian philosophy. Philosopher Kevin Diller (PhD, St. Andrews) brings the work of Karl Barth into conversation with Alvin Plantinga and argues that together they present a unified response to Theology's Epistemological Dilemma.
Diller aims at showing both the combined response of Barth and Plantinga to epistemic problems and their areas of incompatibility. The two great thinkers stand about a generation apart, and Plantinga did not interact much with Barth's theology. They occupied two different guilds in the academy, Plantinga's work is useful in some apologetics while Barth doubted the value of apologetics (102). In Barth, theology is personal while Plantinga jumps much quicker to propositional truth (100). Despite the differences, their respective projects both rest on the fact of Revelation as Divine gift.
Diller's book divides into two parts. In part one, Diller begins by identifying 'theology's epistemological dilemma. Modernity posits a high view of truth but is highly skeptical about human ability to apprehend truth. Postmodern approaches to epistemology are personal and pragmatic, valuing what is known by the individual but denying but is skeptical about an overarching Truth. Diller posits that neither option is available to the Christian theologian. Against post-modernity, Christians hold to a high view of truth; against modernity they assert that Truth can be known (albeit not through our cognitive means alone).
From here, Diller turns his attention to Barth's theology. In chapter two he illustrates that for Barth, theological knowledge is rooted in God's own self revelation, that knowing God is a personal, cognitive, participative knowledge (54), that it is self attested, Divine initiated grace (60), resulting in transformation and reconciliation with God (64). Chapter three explores the way that (and the degree that) Barth engages with philosphy. Contra Harnack and Pannenberg, Barth is not anti-rational and anti-philosophical but he does reject Enlightenment epistological assumptions, namely the: (1) the obligation assumption which argues that theological knowledge needs to account for the grounds of its metaphysical claims; (2) the general-starting point assumption which claims that such an account must stem from general epistemology; and the access-foundationalist assumption which anchors theological claims in trustworthy, readily accessible grounds (75). Over and against these, Barth argues that theological knowledge is not contingent on our fulfilling the obligation to give an account of said knowledge (76-7), that theological knowledge comes from above (through revelation) rather than being reasoned to from below (81), and therefore God is the ground for theological knowledge rather than nature (87-8). None of this negates the positive contribution of Philosophy. What Barth rejects is enlightenment style foundationalism and 'philosophy's presumed competency' to speak of God and matters of faith (90,92).
Diller than turns his attention toward Plantinga and shows how his idea of Warrant similarly calls the question on Enlightenment foundationalism and Scientific evidentialism. Yet, Plantinga is more positive on the role of reason though even positing a form of natural theology--a sensus divinitatis (147). Nevertheless, Diller sees ten areas of convergence between the two thinkers:
- The knowlege of God comes as a real gift. - Tuth is 'theo-foundational'--grounded in God's self revelation. - The revelation of God is transformational. - Knowledge of God is corporately known through participation in the body of Christ (church). - All knowledge of God is contingent in some way on the grace of God. - Knowledge of God is both personal and cognitive (relational and propositional). - Our knowledge of God is mediated to us through the Bible and church, but knowledge of God is not reducible to this medium. - Communion with God is the only secure grounding for the knowledge of God. - Theology is 'faith seeking understanding' and so is not concerned primarily with prolegomena but seeks to think in light of the givedness of God's self revelation - Theological knowledge is coherent and warranted (169-72) In Part Two, Diller explores further the tensions between Barth and Plantinga and the way that their unified response speak to the realm of natural theology and reason (chapter seven), the nature of revelation and human knowing (chapter eight) and the ontology and authority of scripture (chapter nine). Diller makes the case that Plantinga's version of natural theology is compatible with Barth's theology of revelation because it is rooted in God's revelation and does not function independently (219). Diller further demonstrates that their unified approach provides a beneficial place for apologetics (though a much more of a humble place than some of apologists' presume).
Diller's proposal of a unified Barth-Plantinga approach to epistemology is intriguing. I am a better reader of Barth than Plantinga and I think Diller does a good job of presenting Barth's views (especially as found in Church Dogmatics 1.1, which I am currently reading). He avoids many of the caricatures of Barth (i.e. he correctly points out that Barth is neither an apophatic theologian or against critical thinking). My knowledge of Plantinga's thought is mostly mediated to me through secondary literature, but I found Diller's description compelling. This does point a way forward for analytical theology and Christian philosophy and warrants careful study. I give this book five stars and recommend it for Christian theologians and philosophers. This is 'faith seeking understanding' at its finest. Five stars: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic for the purposes of this review. I was not asked to write a positive review....more
Peter Leithart is a fun theologian. As professor of theology and literature at New Saint Andrews College, contributing editor for Touchstone and presiPeter Leithart is a fun theologian. As professor of theology and literature at New Saint Andrews College, contributing editor for Touchstone and president of Theopolis Institute, his books often wed theology with cultural, literary or historical connections. Traces of the Trinity showcases the kind of creative theological thinking I've come to expect from Leithart as he probes creation and the human experience to see signs of the Triune God.
Leithart picks up on the tradition of looking for vestiga Trinitatis--traces of the Trinity--clues to the Triune life, the imprint of perichoresis (vii). He is not trying to argue compelling evidence for the Christian concept of God apart from special revelation. Leithart takes special revelation as his starting point, affirming that the God revealed in scripture is revealed as Trinity. He then works backwards, and seeks to trace God's presence in His creation.
The themes of perichoresis and mutual interpenetration runs straight through this book. In chapter one, Leithart picks up on the Cartesian distinction between the Self and the outside world and shows how though these realms are distinct, they overlap and penetrate one another (i.e. our bodies are outside our mind but part of the self, we need to consume matter and eliminate to remain alive in ourself, etc). Chapter two describes the individual and her relationship to society. As with Cartesian dualism, Leithart affirms the distinction between individuals and society but shows how each domain contributes to and defines the other. Chapter three discusses the visceral interpenetration of sex and the accompanying physical, spiritual and psychological intermingling. Chapter four examines the way the past and the future inhabit the present (the past through memory, through structures and culture making, the future through possibility and the telos of things). The inter-textual nature of words and languages also evidences an interplay between shared language and individual expression (chapter five), as does music (chapter six). Chapter seven implies an ethic of hospitality--making room for the other--which underlies human community and chapter eight probes concepts, logic and relationship further. Chapter nine is where Leithart speaks specifically about Trinity and also the perechoretic unity in the thing called church.
This brief summary points at the breadth of Leithart's survey (all within about 150 pages) but the beauty of this book is in the details:
The world is not patterned by mutually opposing things that need to be kept in "balance." Things are much more intricately interlaced. The world is designed according to a pattern I've called "mutual indwelling" "reciprocal habitation" "interpenetration." I've used words like "intertwining" and "interleaving" and "twists" and "swirls, whirls, curves and curls." I've written of how things circle back on themselves, of Mõbius strip and Celtic knots. I claim to see the pattern everywhere--in physical reality, in language, sounds, sex, personal relations, ethics, and the concepts we form to understand the world. (129).
This romp through philosophy, politics, culture, music, sex and ethics highlights the interconnection between the alleged poles. This is poetic theology and an enjoyable read. Leithart is at times concrete and in other places abstract, which makes this book somewhat complex in its execution, but it is tightly argued and well thought through. It is worth tracing Leithart's argument all the way through.
Leithart is careful to call these instances of perichoresis 'traces.' Leithart's project doesn't appear to be another Thomist attempt at 'analogy of being' (at least how I understand it). This seems far less ambitious than that. Leithart starts with the Divine life (as described in the Bible and the theological tradition) and argues that the inter-relationship between Father, Son and Spirit gives us a window into the nature of creation. That creation images God is discernible only to those who know the God whom they seek. I give this book four-and-a-half-stars and recommend it for anyone interested in the nature of revelation.
Notice of material connection, I received this book from Brazos Press in exchange for my honest review. ...more