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Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology

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Oliphint sets forth a Christian approach to thinking philosophically. Arguments against Christianity are increasingly taking place on a worldview or philosophical basis. This requires Christians to know how to counter differing ideologies and identify the Christian position as the consistent, cogent, and reasonable one offering genuine solutions.


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Oliphint sets forth a Christian approach to thinking philosophically. Arguments against Christianity are increasingly taking place on a worldview or philosophical basis. This requires Christians to know how to counter differing ideologies and identify the Christian position as the consistent, cogent, and reasonable one offering genuine solutions.

30 review for Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Reasons for Faith is Scott Oliphint's (O, hereafter) foray into a Reformed approach to philosophy of religion (PR, hereafter). He represents the presuppositionalist school. Though he barely mentions Van Til, "his fingerprints are on every page." Since Van Til merely claimed to stand on the shoulders of the giants of the Reformed faith, O represents traditional Reformed orthodoxy, as is seen by his copious quoting and footnoting of men like Calvin, Turretin, and Vermigli. O also relies heavily on Reasons for Faith is Scott Oliphint's (O, hereafter) foray into a Reformed approach to philosophy of religion (PR, hereafter). He represents the presuppositionalist school. Though he barely mentions Van Til, "his fingerprints are on every page." Since Van Til merely claimed to stand on the shoulders of the giants of the Reformed faith, O represents traditional Reformed orthodoxy, as is seen by his copious quoting and footnoting of men like Calvin, Turretin, and Vermigli. O also relies heavily on the work of Richard Muller in this book. But, O isn't content to stay within the comfortable halls of Reformed orthodoxy. He interacts with many non-Reformed philosophers too. He interacts with the usual suspects, viz., Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant, but also with more contemporary names, viz., W.L. Craig, J.M. Fischer, Helm, Plantinga etc. O tries to show the (Reformed) Christian position is "not simply a plausible alternative," "but the consistent, cogent, and altogether reasonable position that is able to offer solutions to the problems posed" famously and traditionally in the PR. He holds that philosophy is minister to theology, not magistrate. Thus "Theology, therefore, provides the parameters in which philosophy must work. It does not define all of philosophy's content; it does not define the specific method(s) that philosophy must use; it does not define the specific details of a philosophical system. But it does provide the ground, as well as the boundaries, from within which philosophy must work." With this I agree. This is where the book excels, in my opinion. I think it is much better in what it attempts to do (and the heart in which it attempts it), than what is actually ends up doing. Paul Helm notes these points in his review of the book: Paul Helm's Review A rough summary of the chapters might go like this: * In 1 O discusses faith and reason. O surveys the history of the discussion, giving a general description of how those terms have historically been understood as denoting different sources of knowledge. He then shows that the Reformed have had their own say in the matter. That say has not assumed unaided reason's capacity to know God but placed that knowledge in revelation. A distinction between implanted and acquired knowledge of God was employed by the Reformers. They meant both of these as given by God - either implanted or acquired through creation. Later enlightenment categories did away with that distinction. O then places the current faith/reason discussion in the evidentialist objection to faith and shows that two main ways have been invoked to deal with the challenges. He presents Aquinas and Plantinga as two proponents of those ways. * In 2 O "reforms" reason and offers arguments for its staus as minister or servant to theology, relying heavily on Turretin. He notes 4 uses philosophy has for theology and four dangers. * In 3 O notes that the concepts of the relationship between being, essence, changing and unchanging, were and are basic questions in metaphysics with many different answers by almost everyone. Problems were created when trying to relate those concepts to the "Ultimate" or "God." * In 4 O notes that relationships between God, being, the world, and how we know are central issues of the PR. Metaphysics and epistemology are intimately related. Kant's program was important in the history of this discussion. Kant sent our knowledge ion sense perception but also included necessary presupposed categories of the mind as knowledge had a priori. But things outside experience cannot be known. Thus God, the self, the thing-in-itself, could not be known. This is in the tradition of earlier views about God and his being (if he has one) being unknowable. There's nothing like a consensus on these issues, so O, taking some cues from van Inwagen, sets out to go looking for something better. * In 5 O claims that the doctrine of creation is the best place to start when saying something Christian about the nature of things. Things are either creator or creature. We need to take revelation as our source of knowledge about God and world. Reason and philosophy are ministerial to the task of theology. In knowing God, the doctrine of simplicity is important. God has no parts and his attributes are identical to his essence. O discusses Aquinas and some problems he had. * In 6 O continues with problems for Aquinas mainly due to his transcendental notion of being. O tries to answer these problems by keeping simplicity and applying creator/creature distinction. So there are different kinds of being or ways of existing. We only know God by revelation. It is God's way of signifying who he is. It is based on his knowledge of who he is. Since simple, his knowledge is identical to his essence. * In 7 O hints at a sketch of revelational epistemology. He beings by discussing Plantinga. He detours from Plantinga on the sensus divinitatis SD taking it to be knowledge rather than a capacity for knowledge. The knowledge is implanted directly in us by God through nature. Since it is knowledge it is automatically warranted. Since it is given by God, he doesn't leave it up to us to reason from scratch to his existence. O then briefly discusses Plantinga's objection to foundationalism and his own version of Reidian foundationalism. He ends by asking if this approach is sufficient for Christian epistemology. * 8 discusses the problems with Scottish Common Sense Realism. SCSR attempted to ground knowledge in knowledge, not reality. A Christian Reformed approach should ground knowledge in reality - of God and creation. O also notes it is also important to note that our knowledge is given by God, not obtained by fallible processes. It cannot be liable to error, then. * 9 is a good chapter. O takes his "two-being" approach as essential for PR. God is original and all else is image. He introduces an essential feature of his system - the Eimi/eikon distinction. He again discusses philosophy's relation to theology as one as minister. * In 10 O uses his Eimi/eikon structure and applies it to a traditional question in the PR: Does God have an essence and how is the decision to place x or y into the "essence" box grounded? To help answer O uses possible worlds semantics as a helpful way to approach the question. To this he appeals to aseity. * In 11 O looks at a popular and thorny problem in the PR: how can God have contingent properties. This question is borne out by various "incompatibility" arguments. O discusses time/eternity and impassibility. He claims that it is the relationship with creation that creates (!) the problem. In creation God determines to bring something into being that is metaphysically different than himself. In trying to deal with these thorny problems O charges that many philosophers have demoted God. * 12 tries to answer the problem of the last chapter. O introduces the doctrine of covenantal condescension to show how God could have contingent properties. By deciding to create God voluntarily takes on contingent properties by way of covenantal relationship. He doesn't lose what he is but "adds" something(s) he is not. O sees a good analogy in the Incarnation. * In 13 O calls the problem of evil the toughest challenge to the faith. He briefly describes it and goes over Plantinga's defense of Christianity to the (logical) PoE. He notes Plantinga requires libertarian free will to make his argument go through. This minimizes God's sovereignty (as defined by the Reformed). So Reformed thinkers must look elsewhere for an answer to the PoE. * In 14 O tries to show how a Reformed free will defense could be given that keeps God's essential properties the same. He first provides a model that shows how the incompatible can be made compatible. He shows how this model works for Christ, who had incompatible properties made compatible. If this could be compatible what prima facie, non-arbitrary reason is there to think sovereignty/free will cannot be so made? * 15 continues to elaborate on his notion of compatibility, using the incarnation as the exemplar, in showing how we can be free yet determined. He interacts with Fischer and charges him with ignoring a orthodox view of God. * 16 distinguishes the kind of necessity involved in Reformed views of foreknowledge/freedom. He agrees with Turretin et al. in affirming necessity of consequence. This is not incompatible with liberty or contingency. Seems to solve PoE without demoting God. Concludes by looking at why God would create this world with all its evils. Answers with some good Reformed views on the matter. Some problems I had: i) My friend James pointed out one in to O's attempt to show how God could have contingent properties. It seems O makes a modal error. It would appear that God had (or would have had) contingent properties even without creating and thus condescending. For example, "before" creation God had the property of being identical with every other concrete entity that existed (IOW, he was identical to himself). Since we deny pantheism, God is not identical with all concrete entities "after" he decided to create. ii) Another problems is that one might appeal to magic beans as the unifying factor that makes incompatible things compatible. It seemed O just asserted that "God did it" in regard to anything incompatible. God just "makes them" compatible. And, could God make a square and a circle unified and neither lose their essential properties? If not, why not? The human mind can't determine this, says O. iii) I think he was generally dismissive of some of the philosophers he discussed, and his discussion on free will will hardly be convincing to the non-Calvinist. He failed to take on the biggest challenges from the libertarian action theorist.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Simon Wartanian

    Too technical, especially toward the end, for laymen.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Juan Reyes

    This book was a difficult read. In my opinion, the book is too scholarly to be taken up by a lay person. The author interacts with a lot of people in this book, including well known philosophers throughout history (e.g., Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas). Because of this the book can be a bit tedious to read at times. The author seeks throughout the book to develop a Christian philosophy that is faithful to Scripture, above all. He comes from a Reformed background, drawing heavily on thinkers like J This book was a difficult read. In my opinion, the book is too scholarly to be taken up by a lay person. The author interacts with a lot of people in this book, including well known philosophers throughout history (e.g., Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas). Because of this the book can be a bit tedious to read at times. The author seeks throughout the book to develop a Christian philosophy that is faithful to Scripture, above all. He comes from a Reformed background, drawing heavily on thinkers like John Calvin, Cornelius Van Til, and others. Oliphint makes clear that his standard is not human reason or experience, but the revelation of God Himself. With this starting point, he proposes that we start our philosophical endeavor with a metaphysics and epistemology that center around God’s aseity. When the triune God creates, He takes on covenantal properties in order to relate to His creation. There is a critical distinction to be made here: the Eimi/eikon distinction. We cannot grasp God’s essential properties (think Eimi, “Am”), all we can grasp is what God reveals to us in an analogical way (think eikon, or “image”). With regards to epistemology specifically, Calvin’s notion of the sensus divinitatis plays a huge role in Oliphint’s treatment (the author also takes Romans 1:18-32 seriously; all people know at some level that God is real, yet they suppress this truth). In the final chapters, Oliphint applies his approach to philosophy and theology (philosophy being the maidservant of theology) to the problem of evil. He interacts with Plantinga’s Free Will Defense and offers his own Reformed version. A lot can be mined here for those who are looking to do philosophy and apologetics in a way that honors God. See Oliphint’s other books for more on his Van Tillian approach to theology, philosophy and apologetics.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Craig French

    I'm not a huge fan of Oliphint's writing style. This is a somewhat dense book with shining moments interspersed. While broadening the Van Tilian version of presuppositionalism, Oliphint also works at rebranding it as well. I'm not necessarily opposed to that, but the word "covenantal" is really being bludgeoned to death lately, as well as "ectypal"...and their use abounds throughout. I would have enjoyed more interaction with postmodernism. At one point he dismissed it rather flippantly while el I'm not a huge fan of Oliphint's writing style. This is a somewhat dense book with shining moments interspersed. While broadening the Van Tilian version of presuppositionalism, Oliphint also works at rebranding it as well. I'm not necessarily opposed to that, but the word "covenantal" is really being bludgeoned to death lately, as well as "ectypal"...and their use abounds throughout. I would have enjoyed more interaction with postmodernism. At one point he dismissed it rather flippantly while elsewhere offering a view of language that seems to follow some contours of postmodernism. This is a good book that is well-worth the read. It will be a stretch for those accustomed to popular-level books as this is between popular and academic. I, for one, found myself skimming sections, especially where he got into modal logic. That's just a mixture of my dislike and ignorance. Oliphint does an excellent job of showing that our creaturely way of knowing is not identical to God's knowing, but is also adequate and good.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    While I'm no longer in the presup camp, I did enjoy this book and it's probably the best presup represenative out there. O deals with some of the toughest challenges from analytic philosophy. While I'm no longer in the presup camp, I did enjoy this book and it's probably the best presup represenative out there. O deals with some of the toughest challenges from analytic philosophy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Reading this book felt like a journey through the woods where I was lost most of the time. I'm not well-versed in philosophy or theology. The ideal reader of this work is meant to be already familiar with the definitions of many Latin terms and many of the philosophical arguments for and against the Christian positions generally, and the Reformed positions more specifically. I, dear reader, was not the ideal reader. So there was a lot of Googling, reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Reading this book felt like a journey through the woods where I was lost most of the time. I'm not well-versed in philosophy or theology. The ideal reader of this work is meant to be already familiar with the definitions of many Latin terms and many of the philosophical arguments for and against the Christian positions generally, and the Reformed positions more specifically. I, dear reader, was not the ideal reader. So there was a lot of Googling, reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and using Google Translate to under stand some of the more esoteric (to me) Latin phrases that the author employs. My biggest problem while reading this book was following the author's train of thought. Oliphint utilizes a very thick, academic, even opaque, style of English that serves to establish a precise and historically rich context. However, this style made it difficult for me to grasp why one premise led to the next. I won't lay all of that confusion at the author's feet, however, since most of the confusion was probably due to my inexperience with many of the relevant topics. My second problem with this book is the reasoning style in which it was written. There's not a lot of argument present. The general strategy here is appeal to a certain dogma, outside of which we most certainly may not trespass, and try to find a solution within those boundaries. That dogma may be found in the Bible, the "historical, orthodox Christian" position (which seems like a misnomer to me because of the multitude of debates within the early Church concerning these positions), or Reformed dogmatics. I would've like to have seen more rational argument instead. I might revisit passages of this book at a later time. I found parts of this book interesting, other parts I felt were just out of reach of my understanding, and I couldn't make heads or tails of certain contours of his discussion on possible world semantics. PS. Oliphint loves to italicize random words. If that annoys you, steer clear!

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is a difficult book to review... partly because it is such a thick read, partly because Oliphint's goals are so lofty. In RFF, Oliphint sets forth "A Christian approach to thinking philosophically" (ix), but to even get to that point Oliphint first works apologetically to build a defense for faith itself, God, and the Christian conception of God. For those familiar with VanTil, Oliphint's book is a helpful exploration of a VanTillian (Reformed) philosophical perspective built from the ground This is a difficult book to review... partly because it is such a thick read, partly because Oliphint's goals are so lofty. In RFF, Oliphint sets forth "A Christian approach to thinking philosophically" (ix), but to even get to that point Oliphint first works apologetically to build a defense for faith itself, God, and the Christian conception of God. For those familiar with VanTil, Oliphint's book is a helpful exploration of a VanTillian (Reformed) philosophical perspective built from the ground up. For those not familiar, I think you'll find that a slower reading pace might drive you mad. Read for the structure and you'll then begin to appreciate how Oliphint assembles the pieces. I'm glad the publisher spruced up Oliphint's cover, but don't be misled, Oliphint isn't a lightweight. He is thoroughly conversant in the worlds of both theology and philosophy and doesn't let up as he steams through metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical quandries. In the end, his thesis is simple: Reformed theological reflection can provide the only credible basis for resolving the philosophical problems facing us today. It's a bold thesis and one that's backed up by heady and incisive writing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Justin Mccurry

    Excellent survey of philosophy and religion ancient and contemporary, and excellent application of The biblical and the theological to the philosophical conceptions. Great service done to the church in this book. I appreciate Dr. Oliphint's informative and engaging thought in this work. I could never put it down! Thanks the LORD that we have teachers who can give us the tools we need to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ! Excellent survey of philosophy and religion ancient and contemporary, and excellent application of The biblical and the theological to the philosophical conceptions. Great service done to the church in this book. I appreciate Dr. Oliphint's informative and engaging thought in this work. I could never put it down! Thanks the LORD that we have teachers who can give us the tools we need to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eric Molicki

    This was a difficult read for not a lot of benefit. I was predisposed to want to like this work, but I found the author's dense exploration of the philosophical field's relationship to theology to be... unnecessarily dense and with little insight. While there was nothing I disagreed with in the end, there was also nothing I really gained as well. This was a difficult read for not a lot of benefit. I was predisposed to want to like this work, but I found the author's dense exploration of the philosophical field's relationship to theology to be... unnecessarily dense and with little insight. While there was nothing I disagreed with in the end, there was also nothing I really gained as well.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Boettcher

    A really helpful presuppositional apologetic for the priority of theology and how philosophy helpful, but subordinate role. The writing style was a little hard to follow at times and practical application was almost completely absent. However, I think this book would be an excellent resource for its intended audience- Christians in the field of philosophy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Oliphint

    Tough sledding, but very good.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cory Kierkegaard

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Secrest

  14. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Meisenhelder

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cp Smith

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rial R

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lorenzo Adler

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ramon Bolin

  21. 5 out of 5

    K.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Snider

  23. 5 out of 5

    Drew Norwood

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Diedrich

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

  27. 5 out of 5

    Troy Gibson

    good, but a bit over my head. interesting taking on god and evil

  28. 5 out of 5

    Drew Dill

  29. 4 out of 5

    sarah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Worldview Institute (Cory Kierkegaard)

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