Study the Old Stuff of Philosophy

A good post from a good friend on studying the history of philosophy. Thanks for sharing, Ryan!

Study the Old Stuff of Philosophy.

Review: “The Owlings: A Worldview Novella” Part II

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Dan DeWitt, "The Owlings: A Worldview Novella" (Theolatte Press, 2014)

The Owlings’ main character, Josiah, is a young boy who lives in rural America. Nothing is given by way of information about Josiah when it comes to his age and location. What is said of Josiah gives the reader a glimpse into his interests, of his observations of his small world, and his family life. For instance, Josiah and Addi (his best friend) note their bus driver’s peculiarities in order to detect his mood and tendencies. Also, when Josiah and Addi arrive at her house after school (Chapter 3 “Bad News and a Scary Owl”), the children note the somber mood in the air, making the distance between their parents in the kitchen and the front door seem like “a country mile.” DeWitt’s development of Josiah allows the reader to step into his world and to connect with the issues he’s facing. Unbound by age or geographic location, anyone can relate to Josiah.

As I stated in my previous post, The Owlings is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis, particularly his Chronicles of Narnia, in that throughout the book, Josiah encounters talking owls. Where this book departs from Lewis’ Narnia series is that it lacks the adventure and action of battles, travel between worlds, and mysterious lands and castles. But such aspects would not fit with the dilemma in which Josiah finds himself. Rather than facing evil cronies of the White Witch, our young friend encounters reality of a harsh world (losing his home to eminent domain) and of competing worldviews. It is the seemingly mundane, every-day life issues where finds the greatest tension and the impetus behind Josiah’s transformation.

DeWitt’s novella opens up with Josiah sitting in his thinking spot. On this particular night, the young lad thinks back upon his day at school, particularly his science class. With his regular science teacher out on maternity leave, the substitute teacher (Sam) introduces the class to
naturalism – that nothing exists outside of nature. Though the students seem confused, Sam patiently and respectively answers students’ questions. Josiah Is not sure, though, whether what Sam claims is true; Josiah likes nature and had hoped there was something beyond what we perceive in this world.

Josiah’s world is soon rocked with the news that he and his mom would be required to move from their family farm to make way for a highway expansion. Once Josiah receives the bad news, The Owlings is dominated by his family’s concern about and planning for the move, as well as Josiah’s strange encounter with a bespectacled, caped owl. Sam and his naturalist message takes back stage to Josiah’s impending move until he is visited by three owls on one fateful night.

DeWitt’s juxtaposition of the two dominating themes in Josiah’s life mirrors contemporary culture. Josiah’s concern about Sam’s claim that “nature is all there is” takes the back seat to his family’s impending move and loss of their family farm. Josiah has to come to the realization that not only is he going to lose his home, but he will also have to move away from his best friend Addi, whom he has lived next to his entire life. In fact, as the book progresses, Josiah’s home situation and his curiosity about the owls dominates the story. It lulls the reader into placing greater emphasis on the housing problem as opposed to the worldview clash taking place in the classroom.

And so it goes in the Western culture (particularly American culture) – life’s ultimate questions are typically brushed aside as everyday struggles and decisions are given greater attention and prominence. Questions about the origin of the universe, the nature of mankind, ultimate reality – among others – tend to be relegated to the arena of “personal beliefs” or for those interested in such “academic” questions. Such questions have little (if any) relevance on the goings on and problems of the modern world and do little in solving problems such as that faced by Josiah and his mother.

A significant twist occurs in the story when Josiah is greeted by three owls one evening. They sought to help Josiah with his very serious issue. Josiah – as well as the reader – is taken aback when the owls seek to discuss what Mr. Sam is teaching in science class as opposed to Josiah’s impending move. According to the owls, one’s worldview – how they understand and view the nature of the world – is a far more important issue as it affects how one approaches all of life, including issues like losing one’s home.

Josiah is confused at first; he thought the owls would help him figure out a way to get his house back. Yet, as the owls discuss the importance of one’s worldview, Josiah comes around to understanding the issue at stake. The morning after his late-night conversation with the owls, Josiah and his mother are surprised with the news that their farm home would be saved because their land is home to a rare owl.

The Owlings does not end with Josiah accepting Jesus Christ as his savior. It does not end with him at least going to church to learn more about what the owls shared with him. But, this was DeWitt’s intention. The purpose of the novella is to get anyone – believer and un-believer – to acknowledge at the least that life’s ultimate questions are very important – more so than many are led to believe.

DeWitt intends his book to be a conversation-starter. Unlike the atheistic naturalist who holds that all answers are found through science, DeWitt’s books points one to the need of going to Scripture to know more about the answers to life’s ultimate questions. They are not found in a novella – or any other work of literature; rather, the answers to these vital questions are found in the Bible. As such, DeWitt’s book intentionally leaves the reader with more questions than answers so that they are spurred on to search out those answers from the Wise One Himself – God as revealed through His Word.

DeWitt’s use of literature to illustrate the importance of reflecting upon life’s ultimate questions and on worldview thinking helps make what many feel to be a dry academic topic more accessible. The message is more readily received through connecting with realistic characters than through dry or technical textbooks. The Owlings is an excellent for parents to share with their children as a means to introduce the all-important task of developing a thoughtful and, Lord willing, biblical worldview.

Review: “The Owlings: A Worldview Novella” Part I

Dan DeWitt, "The Owlings: A Worldview Novella" (Theolatte Press, 2014)

Dan DeWitt, “The Owlings: A Worldview Novella” (Theolatte Press, 2014)

 

In a day and age where more pragmatic and results-oriented careers drive universities to offer degrees in the hard sciences, institutions of higher education offer fewer and fewer degrees in humanities and liberal arts. In particular, philosophy is a discipline that has seen its better days when it comes to its perception and reception by not only academicians, but by the public as well. Over the last half-century, philosophy has been relegated more and more to a peripheral area of study – one that serves to merely fulfill an elective or to satisfy the philosophical itch some may have. As a result, our society is increasingly populated by those who lack any basic knowledge of philosophy (or, at the least, have a very minimal working knowledge) and how it under-girds various aspects of human life, including disciplines of study, public policy, economic policy, among other areas.

However, the blame for contemporary attitudes toward philosophy ought not to be placed only on universities – the reasons for the malaise in which philosophy finds itself are numerous and varied (something that’s been written about in many a book and article). Philosophers themselves shoulder some of the blame because of the obtuse, dense, and technical nature of many modern philosophical works.

One of the few things that I remember from my writing courses in high school and college is the maxim to write clearly – write so that your point comes across to your audience.  Unfortunately, this basic maxim is forgotten or neglected by some philosophers with their works requiring specialists to decode their meaning. But, this situation is not as prevalent as some may think; rather, the dense, obtuse,  and/or technical nature of philosophical works is due to the dense, obtuse, and/or technical nature of many philosophical subjects. Thus, without a sufficient background in the basics of philosophy, the non-philosopher finds philosophy uninteresting and difficult, to be ready only by those who are “super-smart.”

So, how does this apply to Dan DeWitt’s new book, The Owlings: A Worldview Novella? DeWitt, Dean of Boyce College, approaches the philosophical and theological concept of worldview in a manner reminiscent of C. S. Lewis – through the medium of narrative. The primary way to communicate philosophical ideas in Western philosophy is through monographs, treatises, journal articles, and other forms generally preserved for academic and professional realms. Such avenues, though effective for the student and professional philosopher, have inevitably isolated philosophy from the general public.[1] If one seeks to communicate philosophical concepts beyond the walls of academia, narrative literature has the potential to make philosophy more palatable and easier to understand for those uninterested in or unable to pursue philosophical study.

The use of narrative is not unique to DeWitt, and not even to Lewis for that matter. One can go back as far as Plato, who presented his philosophy in the form of dialogues between Socrates and misguided or unsuspecting individuals. Jumping forward one millennium and several centuries, Hume, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard employed dialogue in some of their writings, while Sartre, Rand, Camus, and C. S. Lewis utilized fiction.[2] The benefit of writing philosophy in narrative form is that it appeals to our proclivity to connect with stories, it lowers philosophical concepts from the ivory tower into the nitty-gritty of everyday life, and it has the potential of appealing to the whole person – heart and mind.

In The Owlings, DeWitt illustrates in story-form the life-impacting value of worldview thinking as he takes the reader into the life of young Josiah who, in a matter of days, faces the reality of leaving the only home he knows and of the weightiness of life’s ultimate questions. More to come in Part II…. in the meantime, visit Dan’s blog Theolatte to get to know him more.


 

[1] This is a rather loaded claim here that can be misleading. What I intend to communicate here is that while various philosophers have decried the apathy toward philosophy exhibited by many non-philosophers, they have not helped out the situation by making difficult philosophical issues more accessible to the non-philosopher (whether it be through popular works and other non-technical avenues). This is changing, though, in some ways through sites like 8-bit Philosophy and philosophy presented in comic book form (http://www.actionphilosophers.com/). Nevertheless, such efforts appeal to a very narrow demographic and do not have the mass appeal needed if philosophy were to gain a wider audience.

[2] This list is by no means exhaustive; rather, it lists the names of those who have transcended academic circles and therefore recognizable by the general public.

VanTil “History and Nature of Apologetics” on iTunesU

I’m teaching Apologetics I this semester at Boyce College and, in preparation, I’m brushing up on presuppositional apologetics (something of which I’m not too familiar). I’m approaching the course by studying the history of apologetics (using Avery Cardinal Dulles’ History of Apologetics and Sweis and Meister’s Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources) so I’m not going to focus comparing and contrasting the various apologetical approaches. However, it’s helpful to approach the history of apologetics by connecting it to contemporary discussions, particularly one that’s rather prevalent in my circles – the classical approach to apologetics vs. the presuppositional approach.

On a general note, iTunes U has many free lectures on a wide range of topics, so be sure to check it out!

 

New Titles

A New Resource: Center for Ancient Christian Studies

A new center for the study of ancient Christianity was launched yesterday – The Center of Ancient Christian Studies. Independent from the North American Patristic Society, the Center serves as an opportunity for Evangelical scholars to present current work on issues dealing with the 2nd Temple, New Testament, and Patristics. The Center’s website (www.ancientchristianstudies.com) houses the Center’s blog, book reviews of books related to the Center’s focus, interviews, and the Center’s journal – Fides et Humilitas.

In an article titled “What is Ancient Christianity?”, Coleman Ford, Shawn Wilhite, and Michael A. G. Haykin explain why the Center’s focus is on ancient Christianity as opposed to Patristic studies. The term “Patristics” was first used in the nineteenth century to reference the study of early Christian fathers. However, as times have changed institutionally and socially, the term “Patristics” has changed as well, for it does not adequately reflect scholarly work that engages “Jewish literature, female contributors, and broader heterodox literature” (Ford, Wilhite, and Haykin, “What is Ancient Christianity?”,  accessed December 3, 2014, http://www.ancientchristianstudies.com/what-is-ancient-christianity). To include the wide range of scholarly work in the area of ancient Christianity, the Center focuses on Christianity from AD 80-700.

The existence of this Center illustrates the burgeoning interest among Evangelicals in the study of Christianity in its formative years. It’s exciting to see what this Center has in store. Feel free to take a look at the site, and if you have an article, book review, or other work related to the Center’s focus, then visit the “Contribute” page here.

Patristics Resources: Roger Pearse’s “Early Church Fathers” Page

Patristic studies is an area that is experiencing growth among evangelicals, but it’s a field where resources can be difficult to come by. Roger Pearse has an excellent website devoted to the works of Tertullian, including links to online translations of Tertullian’s writings.

Pearse’s site, however, is not limited to Tertullian. Pearse devotes an entire webpage to additional works from the early church fathers (see here). According to a brief statement in the webpage header, Pearse states that the works linked on that page are out of copyright and are not included in the 38 volume Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. The works are ordered chronologically. Included on this page are the likes of Polycarp, Aristides the Philosopher, Hermias the Philosopher, Optatus of Milevis, and more.

JP Moreland’s “Philosophical Apologetics, the Church, and Contemporary Culture”

“Philosophical Apologetics, the Church, and Contemporary Culture” is an article written by well-known Christian philosopher JP Moreland regarding the use of philosophy in the defense of Christianity in today’s culture.  Though he wrote this article in 1996, it’s words still ring true today and it matches the reason why I chose to study philosophy. In short, Moreland states:

In my view, if the evangelical community would give greater attention to philosophy—especially philosophical apologetics in both formal educational settings, publishing, and local church life—this could help a great deal in our efforts to penetrate effectively our culture and proclaim Christ and a Christian worldview to outsiders and to our own brothers and sisters. But if we continue to eschew philosophy we will continue to speak largely to ourselves, and our dialect will, I fear, be fideistic.

Moreland, J P. “Philosophical Apologetics, the Church, and Contemporary Culture.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39, no. 1 (March 1, 1996): 123-140. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Philosophy need not be something Christians shun, but a tool to use, in submission to the Gospel, for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.

You can access this article through EBSCO (SBTS students have access to this through Boyce Library).

The Socratic Dialectic: A Model Worth Following … To An Extent

Book referred to: Samuel E. Stumpf, “Socrates to Sartre and Beyond” in Philosophy: History and Problems, S. E. Stumph and J. Fieser. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003. pp. 39-42.  All quotes are to be found in pages 39-42.

Socrates is one of the most famous classical philosophers for his lasting contributions to Western thought and modern philosophy.  What Socrates is probably most well-known for today is his method teaching and of arriving at truth, which he called dialectic.  This rather simplistic method is “the practice of disciplined conversation.” The parties involved in the dialogue would begin by discussing any problem and throughout the course of the dialogue, they would be forced to clarify their ideas until they arrived at a clear statement of the truth of that problem.  One key aspect of Socrates’ dialectic  was the use of questions to force another to either clarify his proposition or to force him to reconsider his position.  (An example of Socrates’ dialectic Plato’s Euthypro which you can read here.  It’s not long.)  Socrates poked and prodded at his audience’s ideas with his questions, working under the assumption “that by progressively correcting incomplete or inaccurate notions, [he] could coax the truth out of” him and expose any contradiction in their ideas so that they would abandon what they at first believed.  Socrates’ method invites the audience to be active participants in the search for truth.

The Socratic dialogue is an excellent model for Christians to use in not only education but in evangelization and apologetics as well (hereafter, both evangelization and apologetics are both referred to as evangelization).  only to a certain extent.  When speaking with unbelievers, we must be careful to avoid Socrates’ assumption that truth can be coaxed out of the subject. When it comes to the truth of the gospel – that a person is a sinner and, apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, he is separated from God. The truth of one’s stance before God is not something that can be “coaxed” out of the unbeliever through a series of probing and clarifying questions. A sinner does not recognize that he is a sinner unless it is revealed to him by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.

What role, then, can questions play in evangelization if one cannot draw out from the unbeliever the truth of the Gospel?  We learn from Socrates that questions place the onus on the audience to “see” Socrates’ logic in order to lead them to his conclusion. Socrates’ hope is that the audience is persuaded, through their participation in the dialogue, to at the very least see the error of their own view, and at best to accept Socrates’ conclusion. The dialogues, as Plato presents them, poses a problem for the believer, however. It seems that Socrates often leaves the dialogue open-ended (that is, with no explicitly-stated solution to the question originally posed), or he leaves the audience to infer the conclusion he sought to argue. When it comes to proclaiming the truth of the gospel, leaving a conversation open-ended or the unbeliever to infer what the gospel says of their place before God can pose problems. For instance, the unbeliever may infer an incorrect conclusion that leads them further away from the truth of the gospel. Leaving a conversation open-ended allows for multiple interpretations, potentially leaving the unbeliever to accept what makes sense to them as opposed to what the gospel truly teaches. As such, the Socratic dialogue is a helpful evangelistic too, but only to an extent.

In light of this, then, let us follow the example of Jesus Christ, who Himself utilized dialogue when teaching his disciples and small groups, when evangelizing, and when confronting the Pharisees.  Unlike Socrates, who used questions to coax the truth out of another, Jesus used questions to lead others to the truth.  Jesus, the Word of God in flesh, the Truth, then proclaimed the truth of God to an unbelieving people, blinded by sin, incapable of knowing the truth of the gospel in and of themselves.  Jesus always led his audience to an explicit answer so that they may hear the truth, not merely infer it. Even the parables were such that the audience would be able to link the parable to teachings found in the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament). In short, Jesus’ questions were purposeful; he led his audience to his intended conclusion. May we be as Jesus when we proclaim the gospel.  We as Christians can follow Socrates’ dialectic when evangelizing, but only to an extent.

Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project – Evangelical Philosophical Society

I am a little behind in discovering this, but EPS has begun what they’ve titled as the “Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project,” which took shape after Paul Moser’s paper titled “Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United.” among other works of his.  One great aspect about this project is that all papers submitted under this project is free to every one, so if you are not a member of EPS, you can still access and download the papers under this project.  You can access the homepage for the Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project here, at which you can access all of the papers submitted thus far in response to Moser and others.

This is indeed, in my opinion, a much needed project, especially among evangelicals, as confusion over the role of philosophy in theology reigns in evangelical circles.  And, as Christians who are interested in philosophy and seek to serve our Lord through philosophy, this project can help to further define and clarify what Christian philosophy is and how a believer can confidently serve the church through philosophy.

Take a gander at this great resource.  I’ve already download Moser’s first article and look forward to reading subsequent articles.

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