Back to issue

This volume is another contribution to the multiple views genre, a swelling collection of books that address disputed issues within contemporary theology. The burden of this iteration of the genre is how to best characterize the relationship between faith and reason. Steve Wilkens brings together three contributors to address the question: Carl A. Raschke, whose chapter is titled “Faith and Philosophy in Tension,” Allan G. Padgett offers a “Faith Seeking Understanding” model, and Craig A. Boyd develops a case for “The Synthesis of Reason and Faith.” The book begins with a helpful introduction by Wilkens in which he summarizes the positions while outlining some of the historical antecedents and motivating factors for each view.

Raschke begins his chapter with a resuscitated variant of the Harnack thesis: “Hellenism” and “Hebraism” are fundamentally opposed, Paul rejected “Hellenistic wisdom” outright in 1 Corinthians 2, and Platonism was smuggled back in by the “so-called Apologists” of the Second Century (pp. 36–39). Raschke’s contribution to this line of argumentation is his claim that Paul, relying on the Old Testament usage of ’ěmûnâ, meaning “‘trust’ or ‘firmness’ rather than ‘belief,’” uses the term pistis in repudiation of Plato’s use of the term (p. 43). Whereas “for Plato, pistis was an inferior version of truth” and third from the top in a fourfold hierarchy of knowledge, Raschke claims that “Paul refutes Plato by pushing pistis to the peak of the hierarchy” (pp. 44–45).

From this claim he moves to an outline of Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” contrasting it with Hegel’s “rationalism.” Following this section he invokes the Protestant Reformer’s (alleged) suspicion of all efforts to “rationalize” faith, referencing Luther’s famous identification of reason as “a great whore.” After this he moves to a historical narrative about the rise of analytic philosophy in the twentieth century and the “Mephistophelian bargain” struck between Christian philosophers and the analytic method. He concludes by suggesting that faith is “impervious to propositional or dialectical reasoning” and “hence, is in the final analysis not rational but relational” (p. 64, emphasis original).

Padgett builds a case for the interdependence of faith and reason, arguing that they work together in the disciplines of theology and philosophy. Padgett defines his terms as follows: by faith, he means trust (a disposition), rather than the content of faith (beliefs), or practices associated with faith (embodied faith). Reason is “a function of the whole embodied human person” and cannot be separated from other activities of the human person, including trust (p. 87). Thus, all rational processes depend on faith—construed broadly as trust and not merely as saving faith. It follows that faith and reason do not belong in two radically separate categories but are mutually interdependent. Padgett then turns to the relationship between theology and philosophy. He constructs an argument for the validity of “informal reasoning” within these two disciplines which he defines as inferential and inductive processes handed on within a tradition of inquiry whose standards of rationality are internal to that tradition (a concept somewhat similar to Alasdair MacIntyre’s “social practices”). Though philosophy and theology should be collegial, theology should not be beholden to the standards of philosophy or (presumably) vice versa.

Boyd’s chapter develops a case for “the synthesis of faith and reason” built on a Thomistic account of the relationship between nature and grace. In abbreviated form, his argument runs as follows: “nature” is both an object of scientific inquiry and the fulfillment of the natural telos embedded in humans in creation which was damaged but not destroyed by the fall. “Sin,” understood as a privation, is parasitic on that which is more basic—nature. Thus, grace does not destroy nature but rather presupposes, heals, and perfects it. Analogously, “reason” is the faculty by which humans apprehend, judge, and engage in discursive processes. Faith presupposes reason in as much as it is an act of apprehension and judgment, and perfects reason because it supplies access to truths not knowable by reason alone. It follows that there is a deep congruity between truths known by reason and those known by faith, though he is careful to point out, “It is a mistake to assume that reason is ever ‘unaided’ by divine grace since it was created by divine grace and—although damaged by sin—never fully loses its efficacy” (p. 158).

Readers familiar with the multiple views genre are likely aware of the liabilities inherent in the format: a level of reductionism, as well as the implication that there are three (rather than thirty) possible positions on an issue can be expected of any text that utilizes this approach. Nevertheless, this volume suffers from more than these predictable concerns. The first regarding the scope of the book: Wilkens is unclear in the introduction whether the book intends to address the relationship between faith and reason on the one hand, or between theology and philosophy on the other. These questions overlap, but they are by no means coextensive. The failure to select one question obscures the aim of the book and complicates assessing the various proposals: Padgett deals extensively with the relationship between the disciplines of theology and philosophy, whereas Boyd focuses on faith and reason.

It is also unclear the extent to which Padgett and Boyd’s positions differ. Their difference appears to lie in that Boyd affirms the ability of reason to arrive at truths about God aided by the creational grace of God, but unaided by special grace (p. 149). In contrast, Padgett argues for the work of prevenient, special grace as a necessary condition for arriving at truths about God—this seems to be the one substantive difference between them (pp. 171–72). Given their agreement on other issues (e.g., the interdependence of faith and reason, the legitimacy of natural theology, and the deleterious effects of the fall) it may have been preferable to select contributors with more divergent views.

Finally, Raschke’s chapter is a poor representation of the fideist position. Padgett and Boyd point out several problems: the use of false dichotomies, his “biblical” concept of wisdom that relies on dubious word studies, his readings of Luther and Kierkegaard, and his narrative about the advent of “relativism.” However, there are further lapses than these. For example, his claim that analytic philosophers “give lip service to the [Western philosophical] tradition” but fail to actually engage figures like Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant. On the surface this statement is obviously false, and unless Raschke clarifies his statement in non-obvious ways this claim is actually false—Harry Frankfurt on Descartes, Robert Adams on Leibniz, and Andrew Chignell on Kant being conspicuous counterexamples (p. 60). His claim regarding Aquinas adopting “Aristotelianism carte blanche” is likewise a problematic caricature (p. 47). Moreover, his argument against Christian analytic philosophy depends on his assumption that because the analytic tradition was pioneered by “militant atheists” like Bertrand Russell, philosophers who would use this method are “making an unintended pact with the devil” (p. 57). The assumption seems to be that because method X was pioneered by atheist Y, Christian philosophers should not make use of method X. Of course, this assumption is equally applicable to Raschke’s methodological preference for the Continental tradition—an implication he does not address. Boyd observes that Raschke’s chapter employs “equivocation of terms, definitions, and meanings combined with straw-men arguments” (pp. 76–77). I consider that to be an accurate assessment.

These concerns make it difficult to give more than a qualified endorsement, as the strengths of the multiple views genre are that it should display distinctions between positions and serve as an introduction to a disputation within a field of study. Boyd’s chapter provides an exemplary account of the Thomistic construal, and Padgett raises some important concerns regarding whether or not reason can ever be unaided by special grace. Yet, as Boyd notes, the difference between their positions is ultimately “one of degree rather than kind” (p. 125). Boyd and Padgett may be worth the price of admission, but Raschke’s chapter contains enough problematic elements to forego recommending the volume to students new to the field.

Joel Thomas Chopp
University of Toronto, Wycliffe College
Toronto, Ontario, Canada