Philosophy after Christ: A Short Review

Philosophy after ChristTony Flood was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book, Philosophy after Christ, and I promised I would post a brief review. As the introduction explains, the title of the book is inspired by Colossians 2:8, where the apostle Paul contrasts two kinds of philosophy: philosophy that is “after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world,” and philosophy that is “after Christ” (KJV). The English word ‘after’ translates the Greek preposition kata, which in this context might be better rendered ‘according to’. As such, Flood’s agenda is not to expound a philosophy that is subsequent to Christ or beyond Christ, but rather according to Christ. Since Christ is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) only a philosophy founded on Christ and his Word can succeed. Philosophy after Christ is thus a spirited and invigorating defense of a truly Christian approach to philosophy and apologetics. As the author notes, the material in the book is not entirely new but consists of revisions of essays written between 2018 and 2021, some of which began life as articles on Flood’s website. However, it is useful to have them collected and systematically arranged in one volume; the assembled whole carries more force that the sum of the parts.

Part I (“Basics”) makes the initial argument that Christian philosophy must be conducted self-consciously in the context of biblical Christian worldview, and, more provocatively, that even non-Christian philosophies tacitly depend on a Christian theistic worldview for their very intelligibility. Flood rightly recognizes that there can be no such thing as an autonomous or worldview-neutral philosophy:

If philosophical problems are embedded in a worldview, then the adjudication of worldview-conflict cannot be such a problem. The attempt to address such conflict also operates at the level of worldview. There is no worldview-neutral stance from which to undertake such a task. (p. 4)

Flood proceeds to argue that if Christ is indeed the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) and the Word of God (John 1:1) then no philosophy that is anti-Christ can ultimately stand, and if autonomous thought must be shunned then philosophers need to recognize their dependence upon divine revelation. As Flood vividly puts the point (with acknowledgements to Scott Oliphint), Christ is “our philosophical GPS” that not only supplies our map but also (crucially) tells us our position. Developing further this recognizably Van Tilian line of thought, Flood contends that the God of the Bible is “under the floorboards” of every argument, even those arguments leveled against God. Moreover, since God’s existence is not only evident (Rom. 1:19-20) but “the very ground of evidence-seeking,” atheists have no excuse for their unbelief.

Part II (“Dialectics”) turns more directly to the realm of Christian apologetics, seeking to explain how the Christian worldview can be rationally vindicated if indeed “[t]here is no worldview-neutral vantage point from which to evaluate rival worldviews” (p. 45). Once again Flood’s debt to Van Til is apparent in his contention that the Christian worldview, centered upon a absolute personal triune God in whom “unity and diversity are equally ultimate,” uniquely supplies the preconditions for the rational intelligibility of the world. Subsequent chapters engage with the neo-Thomism of Bernard Lonergan and the Christian rationalism of Gordon Clark, both of whom are commended for seeking to vindicate Christian theism, but whose epistemologies lead them astray at key points. While I found myself nodding in enthusiastic agreement with most of this material, I venture that the argumentation needs to be filled out with more detail at points. I’ll also note a couple of quibbles: (1) Flood suggests that one does not (cannot?) argue for one’s worldview, precisely because that worldview will serve as the foundation for the rational justification of one’s claims. It is somewhat surprising, then, that Flood immediately proceeds to offer an argument for the epistemological necessity of the Christian worldview! What he should have said, I think, is that one cannot argue for one’s worldview from a worldview-neutral standpoint or from worldview-independent premises. This is precisely the rationale for Van Til’s “transcendental argument” for Christian theism, the kind of argument that Flood is aiming to deploy. (2) Flood appeals to Brant Bosserman’s argument for specifically trinitarian theism. While I find Bosserman’s argument intriguing, I must confess I also find it obscure at the very points where clarity is needed (e.g., what exactly it means for two persons to be “related in a personal context”). I suspect the reader, reaching the end of Part II, will feel that not all promissory notes have been fulfilled.

Part III (“Polemics”) completes the turn toward apologetics with five chapters framed as critiques of non-Christian (or sub-Christian) worldviews. Chapters 11 and 12 explore John Frame’s “square of religious opposition,” applying it to expose the deficiencies of non-Christian worldviews and providing a concrete illustration by way of a critique of David Ramsey Steele’s Atheism Explained. Chapter 13 responds to the potential charge that Flood merely asserts that the Christian worldview alone satisfies the preconditions of intelligibility without arguing the point. Chapter 14 replies to William Vallicella’s friendly criticisms of Van Tilian presuppositionalism. Chapter 15 critically engages with two recent books on apologetics: The Godless Delusion by Roman Catholic authors Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley, and the new edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh and Sean McDowell. The first is chided for failing to acknowledge its debt to Protestant presuppositionalist writers; the second for leaving too much “wiggle room” to the unbeliever.

Flood is a punchy, witty writer, and the material in these chapters is illuminating and a delight to read. As with Part II, however, I found that the argumentation didn’t fully deliver at points. For example, we are told that “[e]very non-Christian philosophy of life believes that an inscrutable, impersonal chance governs the universe” (p. 102). But is that true of Islam, Judaism, and theistic forms of Hinduism, to name just three examples? Or do these not represent non-Christian philosophies of life? No doubt Flood has a response to such concerns, but the book would be stronger if these rather obvious questions were anticipated and answered. Another example from p. 127: “Forms of [the denial of the Christian worldview] can be sorted into perhaps a half dozen bins, e.g., materialism, idealism, empiricism, rationalism, pluralism, monism, leaving open the possibility that another version might evolve or that two versions are to be properly regarded as one.” This is an intriguing claim, but the subsequent assertion that all such ‘bins’ are unable “to account for intelligible predication and its conditions” is left mostly undeveloped. Flood gestures toward Van Til’s argument that the existence of the triune God alone can satisfy the need for both ultimate unity and ultimate diversity. This may satisfy some readers, but others will likely find themselves echoing Oliver Twist’s plaintive plea.

Those familiar with the writings of Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and John Frame will feel very much at home in the pages of this book. Flood succeeds in what I take to be his principal aims: to press for a philosophy that honors the lordship of Jesus Christ, and to draw out some of its major implications for engagement with non-Christian systems of thought. I have indicated a few points (and there are others) where I think the argumentation needs to be fortified and filled out. I hope that Tony will take this as an encouragement to continue to direct his considerable intellectual and rhetorical gifts toward these important issues.

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