This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2010 vol. 167 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of TheologyP & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ November 1, 2006
Oliphant is associate professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. In this book he presents an apologetic for Christian philosophy, arguing that philosophy and biblical Christianity are not intrinsically opposed to each another. He also argues that the Christian position “is not simply consistent, cogent, and reasonable for Christians, but because Christianity is true—and true in its affirmations of God and the world—it is the only consistent, cogent, and reasonable position to hold. Thus, the apologetic approach of Cornelius Van Til is between every line of the pages that follow” (p. x, italics his). In short, his goal is “to bring Van Til’s Reformed thinking into contemporary discussions in philosophy and philosophy of religion” (ibid.).
The book is divided into four sections. In part 1, “Introduction and Survey,” Oliphant discusses the relationship between faith and reason, the relationship between Creation and the Creator, and the relationship between the existence of God and the knowledge of God. In part 2, “Epistemology,” he addresses “a Christian approach to knowing, especially knowing God and (something of) God’s own knowing” (p. 84). A chapter is devoted to the meaning of truth and its consequences and another to a critique of Thomas Reid’s common-sense philosophy. In part 3, “Metaphysics,” Oliphant returns to questions of existence and reality. He argues that “basic to everything that we think and do is the fact that God is, and he alone always is and always is who he is. Everything else is created, controlled, and sustained by his omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign hand. Given this basic distinction, there are two, and only two, kinds of ‘reality.’ There is the reality that is the triune God himself, and there is the reality that is everything else” (p. 170). In the chapter “Christian Covenantal Condescension” Oliphant argues that the dependence of everything on God for its existence “entails, automatically, an act of condescension. It entails condescension because of who God is essentially. Given that God is supremely perfect and without need or constraint, to begin to relate himself to that which is limited, constrained, and not perfect is, in sum, to condescend” (p. 233). In part 4, “Implication and Application,” the author discusses evil and freedom. In this section he critiques the free-will theodicy of Alvin Plantinga.
According to Oliphant, theology rules over philosophy, and therefore “the foundational and fundamental content of our philosophical investigations must come from the teaching of Scripture. For what else is theology but a reflection on that teaching?” (p. 341). This conviction has several implications. First, it requires a “revelational epistemology, in which the basic truths of our theory of knowledge, derived as they are from the nature of the world, are taken initially from the teaching of God’s special revelation and from the reality of God’s general revelation” (ibid.). Second, it requires a “covenantal metaphysic, in which our understanding of God is derived from his revelation. We know God only inasmuch as he has revealed himself to us. Given that revelation, we know something of his character as he stoops to interact with his creation” (ibid.). Finally it means that “when we reach our intellectual limits, when we come to a place when we can only say so much and nothing more, we do not thereby jump from our secure place, break through our boundaries, and move into areas that are in conflict with our theology. Rather, we are content, even constrained, in such cases gladly and expectantly to exclaim with the apostle Paul. ‘Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!’ ” (ibid.).
For students of Christian theology and philosophy, especially those who desire to understand Reformed apologetics indebted to Van Til, this book is recommended. It is clearly argued, carefully presented, and consistently readable. Scholars and students will find it helpful, yet challenging.
—Glenn R. Kreider