[I wrote this article back in 2002 for the now-defunct UK website Facing the Challenge. Reposted here, with minor edits, for posterity.]
What would you do if you were accused of a murder you had not committed… yet?
So runs the tagline for Minority Report, the latest action-thriller-cum-futuristic-noir from director Steven Spielberg. Intriguing though the question may be, it is by no means the only conundrum raised by this equally entertaining and thought-provoking film. As The Matrix did to a lesser degree, Minority Report touches on a host of age-old ethical and metaphysical puzzles — some raised explicitly, others apparent only on later reflection — but in an imaginative, contemporary, and stylish manner.
Are we free to determine our futures or are we destined by fate? If you know in advance that someone will perform a certain action at a certain time, can that person then be acting freely? Could it ever be just to punish a person for a crime they didn’t commit, yet surely would have committed had others not intervened to prevent it? Is a crimeless society thereby a virtuous one? When are privacy and freedom more valuable than safety? Where does justice end and vengeance begin? Is it ever justifiable to treat human beings (even abnormal ones) as means rather than ends?
[The following review is forthcoming in the Expository Times. It is reproduced here with permission.]
Craig G. Bartholomew & Michael W. Goheen, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction, Baker Academic, 2013. £14.99/$22.99. xii + 289 pp. ISBN 978-0-8010-3911-9
Finding a reliable and engaging one-volume introduction to the history of philosophy from an orthodox Christian perspective is rather like finding an empty taxi on Hogmanay, but Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen have significantly eased the task with this new offering.
In the opening chapters the authors set out their vision for Christian philosophy. Foundational to this vision is the doctrine of creation; thus philosophy is “the attempt to discern the structure or order of creation, and to describe systematically what is subject to that order.” From this base, the authors discuss the importance of philosophy for various elements of the Christian mission: apologetics, practical ethics, cultural engagement, and Christian scholarship. They reflect on the relationship between faith and philosophy, focusing on the concept of a worldview, grounded in the biblical metanarrative, which plays “a vital mediating role between Scripture and philosophy.” A worldview is unavoidable, and while a worldview is not equivalent to a philosophy, it can be “developed into” a philosophy.
Here’s the longer version of my review of Who’s Afraid of Relativism? by James K. A. Smith. Edited versions were recently published by The Gospel Coalition (here) and Reformation21 (here).
For some time now James K. A. Smith’s agenda has been to enter into critical but charitable conversation with postmodernist writers, looking for points at which their arguments resonate with Christian claims and undermine the common enemy of modernism. I believe this is a worthy and worthwhile project, although I have questions about whether Smith is sufficiently critical, as I will indicate below. Smith’s 2006 book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? purported to “take to church” three leading postmodernists: Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault. He argued that some of the distinctive claims of these writers have been misunderstood and misrepresented by evangelicals; properly understood they offer epistemological insights that ought to be affirmed by Christians. The hope was to introduce a lay Christian audience to “the real postmodernism” and to foster, if not a close friendship, at least a fruitful mutual acquaintance.
Who’s Afraid of Relativism? is a follow-up to Smith’s earlier book. On this occasion Smith seeks to play the role of defense attorney for ‘relativism’; more precisely, the philosophy of pragmatism as propounded by the controversial American philosopher Richard Rorty. His central thesis is easily identified, since it is repeated in different forms throughout the book: pragmatism is a philosophy centered on the recognition of our dependence, finitude, and contingency; thus Christians, who acknowledge the dependence, finitude, and contingency of the creation, ought to be sympathetic rather than hostile toward pragmatism. As Smith puts it, “My thesis is that Christians should be ‘relativists,’ of a sort, precisely because of the biblical understanding of creation and creaturehood.” (p. 12)
Posted in Philosophy, Reviews, Theology
Tagged George Lindbeck, James K. A. Smith, Ludwig Wittgenstein, postliberalism, postmodernism, pragmatism, realism, relativism, Richard Rorty, Robert Brandom
My review of Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed by Alan J. Spence has been published in the Journal of Reformed Theology. Post-print version posted here with permission.
The following is the unabridged version of a review published in the Christian Research Journal 36:3 (2013). Thanks to CRI for permission to post it here.
Christian philosophers have been developing and refining arguments for the existence of God since the earliest times, but it’s not often one comes across a convinced atheist making a powerful philosophical case for the existence of God. Yet that’s precisely what we find—quite contrary to the author’s intent—in Alex Rosenberg’s book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.
The latest issue of Themelios includes my review of James Dolezal’s God Without Parts.
The Gospel Coalition invited me to write a short review of Mitch Stokes’s book A Shot of Faith (to the Head). It isn’t exactly “Alvin Plantinga’s Apologetics for Dummies” (as another blogger put it) but it’s pretty close — and in a good way!
Ars Disputandi has just published my review of Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, edited by Oliver Crisp and Michael Rea.
Apologies to Randal Rauser, whose first name I managed to misspell. (It was an ‘L’ of a mistake to make!) I’m told the error will be corrected the next time the AD site is updated.
The latest issue of Themelios includes my review of The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology.
The latest issue of Themelios has just been published online. It includes my review of Michael Sudduth’s book The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology. Short version: I like it a lot.