Book Notice: The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide

Now here is a book (and an entire series) worth reading for pleasure, requiring for your children/students, and purchasing for the library. David Dockery and Timothy George’s The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide (Crossway, 2012) is the first book in the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series (edited by Dockery). The Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series is designed to provide an overview of the distinctive way the church has read the Bible, formulated doctrine, provided education, and engaged the culture. Especially designed for college students, these books will show how the Christian intellectual tradition shapes our understanding of the various academic sub-disciplines and aspects of created reality.

To that end, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking kicks off the series by surveying the history of Christian thinkers and the distinctive ways they have the Bible, formulated doctrine, provided education, and engaged the culture.

There are presently three other books in the series forthcoming in 2012: Political Thought: A Student’s Guide by Hunter Baker (Union University); Philosophy: A Student’s Guide by David K. Naugle (Dallas Baptist University); Literature: A Student’s Guide by Louis Markos (Houston Baptist University).

This series promises to be a valuable tool in the hands of educators and students seeking to grow in and expand the Christian intellectual tradition. BtT gladly welcomes this series and recommends it for all who seek to know and love Christ and his good creation.

Briefly Noted: On David Cooper, Roger Scruton, and Green Philosophy

For those of our readers not yet acquainted with Roger Scruton, allow me to serve advance notice: Dr. Scruton is not a pony-tailed tree-hugger seeking to lead the world into an embrace of yoga mats and tofu wraps. He is politically conservative writer and philosopher whose work is unfailingly stimulating, and whose recent book, Green Philosophy calls for a conservative environmentalism. Scruton’s book is reviewed by David E. Cooper in a recent edition of the Times Literary Supplement (March 2, 2012).[1] Cooper interacts with Scruton’s proposal, which puts political realism, reason, and care for one’s home at the center of its environmental care paradigm.

Al Gore once called for “rescue of the environment [to be] the organizing principle of civilization.” Cooper states, “Scruton’s response to this call is that the real ‘natural bedfellow’ of environmentalism is conservativism, for ‘conservativism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy.’” (10) By chronicling the failures of non-government organization, the EU, and the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scruton argues these organizations display a “total lack of realism” on what works in caring for the environment. Scruton wants a more rational, realistic approach to the environment than those associated with traditional environmental (i.e., liberal) policies.

Hence, Scruton’s thesis is that “environmental protection comes from the Oikophilia of people.” “Oikophilia is Scruton’s coined term for “a family of motives at whose centre is love of one’s home.” Environmentalism often fails in its futile call for one to love everyone and every place, even the whole planet. Scruton’s “oikophilia, however, is a sympathy and concern for those who handed down to us the home we love and those to whom, in turn, we shall hand it down.” Basically, the more one cares for his/her home and passes that care and concern on to others, the better the community will care for the environment. This proposal, Scruton believes, is more realistic than traditional (liberal) environmentalism. The question Cooper asks, however, is can this realism called “oikophilia” actually be a realistic answer for caring for the environment? (see p. 11)

Scruton’s proposal is more compelling and reasonable than its liberal competitors, and yet it falls short precisely because it does not take its starting point, trajectory, and parameters from God’s revelation in Christian Scripture. In order to build a robust framework for environmental/ecological ethics, one must take into account at least four Christian doctrines. These four doctrines are in fact the four plot movements of the biblical narrative—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. These doctrines are central to the Christian faith and indeed can be seen as the four major plot movements in the Christian narrative.[2]

The first movement is Creation, in which we find a created world shaped and formed by the uncreated Triune God; further, it is a good world that God has filled with his image bearers, who are to be stewards of it. If God’s world is good, we ought not to trash it. If God created the world so that we could flourish with it in mutual interdependence, then we should not consciously do anything to harm that. The second movement is the Fall, in which God’s image bearers rebelled against him, alienating themselves from him, each other, and the entire created order. As a result, God’s good and beautiful creation was marred by the ugliness of sin, sin which has deeper and more pervasive consequences than we might typically imagine. Our relationship to the cosmos is no longer one of perfect mutual interdependence. The third movement is Redemption, in which God speaks of One through whom he will redeem his image-bearers and indeed the whole creation. The entirety of the biblical drama points to this One, the Messiah, and the salvation that he will accomplish. We are told that he will redeem not only his image bearers but also the entire cosmos. This brings us to the fourth and final movement, Restoration, in which God restores his good creation. He establishes a new heavens and earth, inhabited by his image-bearers redeemed from among every tribe, language, and nation, who will dwell eternally with him. At this time, we will again flourish and live in perfect harmony on a renewed cosmos, in the glory of God himself.

This narrative provides the framework for a Christian theology of ecological stewardship. Without this framework, humans tend to either enthrone or denigrate the cosmos. In the United States, many political liberals tend to enthrone the cosmos, even creating an alternative soteriology and eschatology with Mother Earth at the center. On the other hand, many political conservatives tend to denigrate the cosmos, mocking any ecological or environmental initiatives. But both of these tendencies are wrong. We are not to worship the cosmos, on the one hand, or trash it, on the other. The cosmos is not ultimate, but neither is it to be denigrated. It is not God, but it is God’s good creation. For this reason, we are to be loving stewards of God’s good creation, looking backwards to God’s creational design and forward to the restored cosmos on which we will dwell eternally and in which we will experience eternal shalom.

For a more extensive essay on a Christian view of the environment, see “Creation Care Founded on the Biblical Narrative (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration).”


[1] David E. Cooper, “With Nature,” in Times Literary Supplement (March 2, 2012): 10–11; Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet (Atlantic Books, 2011).

[2] More than a few recent theological proposals have argued that Scripture contains one basic and overarching narrative within which Christian doctrine finds its home. These proposals are written by a diverse array of scholars, including theologians N. T. Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Michael Goheen, philosophers Albert Wolters and Craig Bartholomew, and biblical scholar Christopher Wright. However, this essay differs from those theologians in two respects. First, whereas Wolters tells the story in terms of three acts, Wright in terms of five acts, and Goheen/Bartholomew in terms of six, this essay sees four acts: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. See N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK, 1992), 139-43; Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005); Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004); Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005); Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006). Second, of the authors above, only Christopher Wright makes extended application to ecological matters.

 

Briefly Noted: Briggle and Frodeman on The Problem with Philosophy

Now these two fellows have gone to meddlin’. In their recent article in The Chronicle Review, Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman argue American philosophy departments are out of touch with reality, and will soon be out of business, if they cannot foster an environment in which philosophers can be generalists instead of specialists, and public philosophers instead of isolated eggheads.[1] Those are my words, not theirs, but that’s the gist of it.

Briggle and Frodeman write, “We are saddled with early-20th-century modes of philosophy. In the 20th century, philosophy abandoned its Socratic heritage in favor of a disciplinary model of practice. Rather than engaging citizens in all walks of life on the issues they faced, philosophers spoke mainly to one another about problems of their own invention.” (B11) This recent development is problematic; it is irresponsible, and politically and economically unsustainable.

The ever-increasing specialization of philosophy is politically and economically unsustainable because such specialization comes at the cost of cultural insignificance. Public perception is that philosophy is a discipline for irrelevant egg-headed navel gazers who make no real contribution to society. “Of course, philosophy is secure at America’s elite universities. But what of the vast number of universities whose future is tied to the decisions of state legislatures or other financial considerations?” (B10) The authors imply that state legislatures and community college CFOs will not long put up with philosophy unless philosophers learn to “go public” which means that there must be a role for generalists.

Thus, “It is time to reclaim the public role of philosophy.” (B11) Rather than operating under a paradigm in which philosophers must focus narrowly on one or two of the philosophical subdisciplines, why not train some philosophers as generalists so that they can work in the public and private sectors?  (B11) “Why, for example, are philosophers housed in philosophy departments? Should groups of two or three philosophers be placed in departments across campus, to draw out the philosophic aspects of chemistry, economics, and business? Why is there no ‘lab’ or ‘field’ component for philosophy courses?” (B11)

In light of these critiques, they offer three areas of reform: “First, we need to reconsider what counts as expertise, rigor, and excellence–the single-model of specialization that keeps us writing philosophy papers for each other…. Second, a new philosophy calls for new types of philosophers trained with the skills necessary for being ‘interactional’ experts…. Third, the case for reform made here involves an appeal to prudential self-interest–devising ways to survive in a harried, impatient, and increasingly market-driven age.” (B12)

I could not agree more with Briggle and Frodeman, and I would expand their critique beyond philosophy to the other academic disciplines, including theological studies. As I see it, both generalists and specialists are needed for the health of academic disciplines such as philosophy and theology. When our universities and seminaries foster an environment in which one must be a specialist in order to be hired or promoted, they (unintentionally) also create a situation in which they are (or, at least are perceived to be) increasingly irrelevant to society and culture at large.

One of the reasons the French existentialists (e.g. Sartre and Camus) were so successful in their day is that they were able to write both for the academy and for the general public. They published not only academic tomes (e.g. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness), but also fiction and drama (e.g. Sartre’s Nausea and Camus’ The Plague), and public opinion pieces in newspapers, magazines, and so forth. Likewise, one of the reasons Abraham Kuyper was so successful in his day was the fact that he was a generalist able to articulate the significance of Christian theology for every dimension of human life and every sphere of culture.

Thank God for the generalists. May their tribe increase (though not at the expense of the specialists).



[1] “A New Philosophy for the 21st Century” by Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman in The Chronicle Review (December 16, 2011): B10–12.