A BOOK REVIEW OF FAITH AND REASON
Faith and Reason: Three Views. Edited by Steve Wilkens. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014. 185 pp. $20.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-4040-3.
The relationship between faith and reason (and the related subject of the relationship between philosophy and theology) is probably one of the most important, and currently one of the most debated, subjects in Christian theology and philosophy. What one holds about the relationship between faith and reason will frequently determine how one develops their theology, apologetics and philosophy. In this book review we will begin by noting the purpose of this book, we will note the respective views that are presented in this book (making comments on the presentations as we go), and we will finish with a comment on relative the worth of this book.
The purpose of this book, as the title lets on, is to present the reader with three predominant views (within Christianity) concerning the relationship between faith and reason. The editor notes that the dialogue that he is attempting to create in this book is within the walls of Christianity, is presenting three nuanced views that all affirm the validity of faith and reason, yet which posit different relationships between them. The intended audience of this book is, basically, any and all Christians, whether they be scholars, pastors, or interested lay-people. This book, as with other multiple views books, is arranged with a main article, followed by short critical (positive and negative) responses from the other authors of the book. There are three authors. As such there are three main articles, each followed by two critical analyses of the main article. The book begins with a lengthy introduction by the editor, and ends with a short conclusion. The introduction does a good job of surveying the subject (providing a brief history of different views of the subject, as well as an overview of the importance of this subject). The conclusion provides an interesting note on the importance of discussion between different views within Christianity, and how such discussion should be carried out.
The first chapter, written by Carl A. Raschke, presents the position that sees an irreconcilable tension between faith and reason. It is a very interesting article that seeks to demonstrate that faith and reason have always been in tension. It is, perhaps, a curious coincidence; but it seems almost ironic that those who tend towards eliminating or minimizing the role of reason in the proper understanding and articulation of the Christian faith also tend to keep company with the likes of Soren Kierkegaard, Jacques Derrida, and Martin Heidegger. Indeed, Raschke relies a great deal on the Existentialism of Kierkegaard, and the hermeneutical post-modernism of Derrida and Heidegger. I am only a little surprised that Karl Barth did not show up for the party. Many of Raschke’s contentions were directed primarily at either an enlightenment rationalism or analytic philosophy. Interestingly enough, aside from the many straw men, gross exaggerations, factual errors, and cases of special pleading, many thomists would have agreed with what he had to say about faith and reason, though those sections that were not directly speaking about faith and reason were often highly debatable. Boyd and Padgett both delivered very powerful critiques of Raschke’s position.
The second chapter, written by Alan G. Padgett, presented what he called the Faith Seeking Understanding view. In this view faith and reason work together, cooperating, if you will, in understanding this world, the scriptures, and God. It was an interesting chapter, much of which would be recognized as the traditional Christian understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. This being said, there was one alarming point that he mentions in this chapter, and further develops in his critique of Boyd. In this chapter, when it comes down to explaining the role of reason and philosophy in Christianity, we are left with the impression that reason and philosophy do their best to discover truth, but that they always end up with confused and differing models that it is impossible to adequately examine in order to know the truth (p. 101-102, 114). Later, in his response to Boyd our suspicions are confirmed. Padgett seems to think that, or at least implies that, no one philosophical position concerning the world can be true. This seems to lead to a form either of Relativism or of skepticism. We are left with the idea that the theologian can pick and choose between whatever philosophical concept he thinks might be useful (there are none that are intrinsically true); though whatever the theologian chooses he should not hold on too hard, because it might be right or wrong, and there is no way to really know.
The third chapter, written by Craig Boyd presents us with what might be simply called the thomistic understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. His comparison of the relationship between nature and grace and the relationship between faith and reason is of great interest and is a wonderful corrective to a number of false notions that have been circulating in various evangelical circles for the last 50 years or so. The major difficulty with Boyd’s article is that he tries to fit too much into such a small space. For those who understand the thomistic position they will realize that it is really quite difficult to explain such a nuanced subject in just one article. One critique that I would make concerning Boyd’s article is that Boyd did not seem to use the distinction that he made between the fideist and evidentialist positions concerning the role of evidence in faith. The reader is left wondering where Boyd was going with that distinction, and what Boyd’s position is. The critiques of Padgett seemed somewhat misguided (based on not seeing someone truth emphasized enough to Padgett’s taste, or assuming that Boyd must be saying some position that is not explicit in the text).
All in all this book was very interesting, and quite informative. Carl Raschke’s article was quite interesting, however I wonder at the pertinence of having a post-modern existential theologian represent the Tension view when one might have had a Barthian or Presuppositionalist apologist or theologian present their view (a view that is probably a lot more predominant in the evangelical world). That being said, I would highly recommend this book to everybody and anybody who is interested in theology, philosophy or Christian Apologetics. It is a must read for anybody who is pursuing an education in any of these degrees, and would be a great required reading book for courses on theological prolegomena or Christian Apologetics.