Philosophy for Christians (and other non-philosophers): a book reveiw

Mark Foreman knows that philosophy has an image problem. There are lots of reasons for this. Some assume that philosophy is reserved only for the ‘super intelligent (16)’. Other people only begin their study of philosophy late in their academic development (16-7). Some dismiss it for having no practical import and can’t see what possible benefit it has for them (17). Among Christians,some regard philosophy with suspicion, especially in light of Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Mark Foreman, associate professor of philosophy and religion at Liberty University has written a helpful introduction to the discipline of philosophy. Prelude to Philosophy: an introduction for Christians is written with two audiences in mind. The first is an academic, undergraduate context. This book is a ‘prelude’ or ‘prolegomenon.’ The chapters of this book are intended to help orient newcomers to the task and tools of philosophy. The second audience Foreman envisions are skeptical Christians who wonder if philosophy has any value, at all.

While there are no formal ‘parts’ to this book, only chapters, the material roughly divides into two sections. The first four chapters provide an introduction to philosophy while the final three chapters describe the ‘tools of philosophy.’ The first part of the book begins with a chapter describing what philosophy is. Foreman gives the working definition of philosophy as ‘examining life.’ He describes the characteristics of the philosophical task, and compares philosophy with other disciplines (philosophy is a second order discipline focusing on methodology rather than concerned with direct action or observation).

Chapter’s two and three focus on the benefits of philosophy in general(chapter two) and for the Christian in particular (chapter three).  Foreman sees several benefits of developing a ‘philosophical mindset.’ He sees philosophy as important for bringing clarification and consistency to our thinking. The discipline of philosophy is also important for cultivating a consistent worldview. Despite the passage from Colossians cited above, the Bible has nothing negative to say about philosophy. Reading that verse in context, we find it isn’t commenting on philosophy in general, but the vain, human tradition which led the Colossians astray(79). In fact, much of what the Bible says elsewhere commends a philosophical mindset as beneficial for proper biblical hermeneutics, theology, apologetics, polemics and evangelism.  Chapter four gives an overview of the divisions of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology), and the types of questions that philosophers try to give a reasoned, consistent answer to. These include: ethics, aesthetics, religion, scientific methodology, ethics, etc.)

In what I would call part two of the book (chapters 5-7), Foreman switches gears from describing philosophy and its benefits to giving readers a glimpse of the ‘tools of philosophy.’ Chapter five describes basic logic, chapter six identifies various informal fallacies (not exhaustive but a good taste of how logicians parse arguments), chapter seven imparts principles which will help readers analyze arguments. I hadn’t had a logic course since college, so I enjoyed brushing up on the elements of argument.

An epilogue describes the seven virtues of a Christian philosopher. These include: love of truth, diligence, intellectual honesty, fairness and respect,  intellectual fortitude, Epistemic humility and teachableness. To my mind,  the treatment Foreman gives these virtues is too brief. I would have enjoyed a full volume exploring the value of these for Christian philosophers and apologists (as well as Christians in general).

This is a good introduction to philosophical thinking.  I think the people who would most benefit from this book are Christian college students (perhaps at a Christian college) who are engaging in the discipline for the first time. Foreman envisions this book being used as a supplementary text for an intro philosophy course. I think that it would be great for that context. Foreman writes accessibly and interestingly. General readers who wish to explore philosophy will also benefit from how Foreman orients readers to the discipline. I do wonder if Christians who look askance at philosophy would even read this book (and, so be moved by Foreman’s argument for philosophy’s value), but if they do, they will find Foreman an engaging and accessible author, who makes his case biblically (and rationally). I give this book four stars: ★★★★.

Thank you to InterVarsity Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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