A Little Book For New Philosophers, by Paul Copan
When one reads a book, even a book as little as this one (about 120 pages and small enough to fit in a pocket), one has to ask what motive the author has for writing it. What agenda is the author trying to promote? What audience is he (or she) aiming at? In this particular book, we find that a suitably introductory work to encourage philosophy as a profession–the author even asks the obvious question of what kind of living a professional philosopher can make–ends up also being an appeal for Neoplatonism. As someone who has mixed feelings about the relationship between Christianity and philosophy , this book gave me profoundly mixed feelings, as I could not completely buy the author’s argument but at the same time agreed that there were ways that Christians can and should practice philosophy. There is good philosophy, but this particular book does not quite qualify as it. To be sure, this is a book that encourages and legitimizes good Christian philosophy, but it does not quite live up to the high standard it aims at. At least it aims well, though.
The contents of this short volume are two parts with four chapters each. The first half of the book discusses why a Christian should study philosophy. The author compares philosophy to baking bread and comments on the concerns that many people have about practicality. Then the author talks about what philosophy means as loving wisdom–not necessarily being wise, about the relationship between faith, philosophy, and scripture, and then the way that we should think about God. Unfortunately not all of the author’s advice on this last score is very accurate or wise, to say nothing about biblical. Those who believe in illogical contradictions when it comes to the nature of God should refraim from considering themselves fitting models of biblical philosophy. The second half of the book consists of the author talking about how to study philosophy–as an encouragement to the virtuous life, as part of a godly Christian community, with wise doubts and humility, and as a pursuit. After that comes a couple of indices. Overall it can be said that this book does not overstay its welcome, and it provides a lot of worthwhile quotes and thought-provoking material, so there is a lot to enjoy here, but I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed by it myself.
After all, this author is a Hellenistic Christian and not a biblical one. Those who are intellectually-minded professed Christians will likely greatly appreciate this book. They will find nothing wrong with believing in a faith that does not take the Bible completely seriously and that seeks to curry favor with other intellectual people like deists through having a deeply cerebral religious worldview. To be sure, that is the ideal audience of the book, the people who are already involved in the sort of synthesis the author represents that was typical of medieval Catholicism or certain strains of Reformed thought. I am not the ideal audience for this work, because although I am a cerebral person with a great interest in philosophy, I face a much more difficult task than that dealt with by the author and those he is writing for. Unlike them, I don’t come from a tradition that views Athens with even the grudging respect given by others, and this book quite frankly is not a help to me as an intellectual Christian. It would be nice if it was, but perhaps I simply expected too much.
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