“A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy” Paul Copan

I want to thank IVP for sending me a copy of this book. When read the first book in this series on theology I was thoroughly impressed with the content in these short books. This is the third in the series of Little Books (the first being on theology and the second on science).

Copan writes this book with two audiences in mind. First, the philosophically inclined Christian which includes those who are uncertain about the connection between Christianity and philosophy and the philosophically initiated who have begun to explore philosophy either formally or informally. Second, he addresses this book to the philosophobic Christian who thinks philosophy is a waste of time or even consider it spiritually compromising.

Copan argues that philosophy has acted as theology’s “handmaid” acting in a ministerial role in helping us to more fully grasp and understand Christian doctrine. In order to help the philosophically inclined and the philosophobic Christian better understand what it means to do philosophy Christianly, he breaks his book into to simple parts; why study philosophy and how to study philosophy.

Philosophy, he argues, has clear value for every individual. First, it can be mind sharpening by creating new neural pathways in the process of our philosophizing. Second, philosophy can help us to see that ideas, not just actions, have consequences. Third, philosophy can help us to expand our horizons by introducing us to other ideas and topics. Fourth, philosophy acts as a fence to our thinking and can help to isolate bad and sloppy thinking. Fifth, and I believe most importantly, philosophy works to strengthen our theology. He concludes that while many, well-meaning Christian pastors have warned (as I was warned when I was young) to “avoid studying philosophy in college because it will ruin your faith.” Copan believes that this does not need to be our relationship to philosophy as Christians and the author will argue why in the following chapters.

As with any argument, it is critical to define your terms. Copan defines philosophy etymologically as the “love of wisdom.” While many believe that philosophy is itself a worldview, he argues, rightly so, that philosophy is a tool that aids us in the development of our worldview. Philosophy, thus, is neither Christian nor secular it is a “way of thinking, not the result of your thinking” (pg. 33). He continues that all truth is God’s truth and thus, as Christians, we should be committed to knowing truth in its various forms and through various methods such as philosophy. Scripture does not point us away from philosophy but away from God informed philosophy. He argues that “used properly, whether to write a logic textbook or to build bridges or skyscrapers, reason expresses the divine image within us. And God has often used reason to persuade inquiring minds of the truth of the Christian faith” (pg. 57).

The second half of his book contains his argument for how to study philosophy. He argues that philosophy must be done with an attitude of humility, kindness, and charity and always done in community, for the Christian community and the Christian philosopher have much to offer each other. He concludes with a section addressing the role of doubt in the life of the Christian arguing that we should embrace our doubt rather than avoid it. This embracing of doubt should not lead us to cynicism, as foolish doubting will lead to, but it should lead to further understanding as we “doubt wisely.”

Overall, I think that the author has accomplished what he meant to. He made solid arguments from scripture and church history for the helpful nature of philosophy when done properly. While Copan said that he wrote this book for two audiences it seemed to be slanted more toward the philosophically inclined and those who are deciding whether or not to pursue philosophy at the collegiate level which was a bit disappointing as I was expecting a book for a more lay audience. But, despite that, this book was well written and was an easy ready (I put maybe 4 hours into reading it). This will be a helpful book for those beginning their journey into philosophy as a Christian.

Readability: Easy

Quality rating: 4 stars

Recommended Reader: The beginning philosopher

Price: $9.00 (Amazon)

Pages: 128

 

 

 

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