Tag Archives: Book REview

Book Review: Knowledge and Christian Belief

Alvin Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian Belief was written as a synopsis of his much larger work: Warranted Christian Belief but is by no means a quick and easy read. While it is only 126 pages (not including index), Plantinga wrote about subjects that should cause the reader to slow down in order to think through much of what has been written. In addition, Plantinga’s writes with sophistication. At times, it seems as if he sought out the most obscure wording or phrasing possible and put them into the book. “What sort of phenomenology is involved in this epistemic process: what does it seem like from the inside?” (P. 97) is one such example. It took this reviewer a while to remember that some people do, in fact, speak in such a manner.

The goal of the book is to show that Christian belief is not without warrant. There is reasoning behind faith in general and the Christian faith in particular. To show this, the author lays out his argument in ten short chapters, going from the basic belief in God to Christian beliefs such as the Trinity, resurrection, and such, ultimately to answer defeater arguments against Christian belief (or belief in God in general). As he began the book, Alvin Plantinga quickly explained the philosophies of the detractors of faith, such as: Hume, Freud, and Marx. In doing so, arguments were made as to why these men were wrong and demonstrating that faith is not irrational, but highly rational when and if the mind is working as it ought.

For most of the rest of the book, Dr. Plantinga utilizes much of philosophy and theology of Aquinas and Calvin, putting their similar thoughts together in what he deems: The Aquinas/Calvin model of philosophy. This model basically states that there is an innate knowledge within humanity that knows there is a higher being. One does not have to philosophize or conjure up some notion; it naturally comes from within. Dr. Plantinga extended the model to other areas of Christian belief. Humanity knows there is a God, it seems then that man is made in his image yet fallen, and in need of a savior. The reader is walked through how this can all come about simply by extending the Aquinas/Calvin model.

It was in chapter four that the book began to come together a little better, but in an odd way. To this reviewer, it seemed as if faith was being deconstructed. This is the chapter from which the quote above was taken. To answer his question on the sort of phenomenology in the epistemic process, Plantinga asserts that “In the model, the beliefs constituting faith are typically basic; that is, they are not accepted by way of argument from other propositions or on the evidential basis of other propositions.” (P. 97). In other words, no one has to argue the point. Scripture is read and because one believes Scripture as authoritative or someone over them who is authoritative, he believes what he read or was read to him.

The sixth chapter is all about the Holy Spirit turning one’s affections toward God. This was by far, the most understandable and thought-provoking chapter in this book. This would be a chapter for every believer to read. Plantinga explained that eros is not simply a sexual love, but a love that has longings. That means that sex is a strand of eros, but not eros in its entirety. This eros is the love that a Christian has for God and God has for the believer as well. The explanation within this chapter can be life-changing for many believers in this world.

The objections begin in chapter seven; systematically and methodically, Plantinga dismantles the atheologian’s arguments. Beginning with higher criticism or as the author calls it, “Historical Biblical Criticism” it is shown that conservative Christians discount this way of reading the Bible because there is no warrant in their eyes to accept it. “It offers her no reason at all for rejecting or modifying her beliefs; it also offers little promise of enabling her to achieve better or deeper insight into what actually happened.” (P. 106). From there, one reads a short chapter on pluralism—the multiple and conflicting religions of the world. The author explained that a Christian believing himself to be right and all others to be wrong does not have to be egoism or elitism. It certainly can be but does not have to be.

Finally, Plantinga takes on the problem of evil. The philosopher is sure to make the reader understand that he is not writing on theonomy but is writing on how evil excludes there even being the possibility of God’s existence. This chapter was written well until he wrote these words: “The list of atrocities human beings commit against others is horrifying and hideous; it is also so long, so repetitious, that it is finally wearying. Occasionally, though new depths are reached.” (P 120). If the author had stopped there, all would be in agreement and continue on. However, Plantinga quoted from a book about such a depth of atrocity. The illustration was absolutely beyond the pale. There was no need, no warrant (to use Plantinga’s word) to put such an illustration into the book. Was not the holocaust, the rape of Nanking, or some other well-known atrocity not enough? What person needs to read such an illustration to know that mankind is capable of such horrors? How or why this got passed the editors at Eerdmans Publishing is uncertain.

For that reason, this reviewer would not recommend this book to be read by anyone. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” as it were, but it is not only a pastor’s job to put good defenses into the hands of his members, but also to protect them from harm. This pastor existentially believes that the illustration could be an assault on the mind and heart. It is possible to use the material within the book to teach a class on this branch of apologetics and leave out the illustration. It is possible to white-out the illustration in its entirety and share the book to one well-acquainted with philosophy. Given its complex language and thought process, along with the illustrations, it is believed that there are easier, clearer books on apologetics for a layperson to read if he desires to learn more.

Book Review: God, Language and Scripture

Moisés Silva’s book, God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in Light of General Linguistics was an interesting read. Rarely was there any part that the writer of this review found boring. What was expected to be a book on Hebrew and Greek ended up being a book on how to understand the writers of Scripture better. That is not to say there wasn’t any Hebrew or Greek (or Aramaic) within the pages; there certainly were. However, most of these were illustrations from Silva that proved his points, the main one being that the translator or interpreter of Scripture must keep linguistics in mind. “Every facet of interpretation must be kept in proper perspective, and the more we know about the nature of language, the more likely we are to ‘handle correctly the word of God’ (2 Tim. 2:15).” (P. 15)

In order to bring about this objective, Silva wrote seven chapters, consisting of 145 pages. The first was simply an introduction, helping the reader get acquainted with what was to come. In his second chapter, one will read the author’s perspective on language from the way the Bible presents it. From the very beginning of the Bible there is language. God speaks the world into existence and so communicated with Adam and Eve. He created them in his own image thus making them people of communication. By the third chapter, the one is reading about the scientific study of language. This chapter involves the evolution of language as well as the various humanity, natural and social science studies.

Once one gets to the fourth chapter, he reads of the history of the biblical languages in more depth. Silva describes how Hebrew and Aramaic are similar—linguistic cousins and why those who read Hebrew do not need vowels. Greek also had its history and much of that history impacted the New Testament writers. The fifth and sixth chapters delve into describing the biblical languages. One aspect that was interesting in this chapter was that of languages’ etymology. This has been discussed somewhat in previous sections, but a greater impact can be read in chapter 5. Silva gives an example that the word gossip comes from the same root as godparent. It was the talk that happened during christenings. Yet, no one brings this up except as a piece of trivia.

[T]here are occasions (as in some poetic passages of the Old Testament) when we come across rare words whose meaning is unclear and for which etymological analysis can provide some help. Most words, however, are widely attested and their meaning can be clearly established from the numerous contexts in which they appear. (P. 88)

Another striking point was that rarely do biblical authors seek to be ambiguous, but at times there seems to be some intentionality in doing just that. Silva explained that if the writer was clearer, it would lead the readers down the wrong path, or as found especially in poetry “the purpose was not to confuse but to impress on our hearts the force of the divine message.” (P. 97). Most ambiguity arises from a distance in time and culture, not in the text itself.

What most grammars do not do, that the author sought to make amends for, is show how words work within sentences and paragraphs. That was the focus of chapter six. In this chapter, Silva gave a handy guide to diagraming clauses (not sentences!) so that the reader could make sense of what was being written. This is helpful with many of Paul’s sentences that seem to be endless clauses rolled into one run-on sentence.

The final chapter was an epilogue. The focus was on continuing to pass the Bible on through textual transmission, translation, and teaching. Surprisingly to this writer, Silva believes that linguistically speaking, dynamic translations are the way to go when it comes to understanding the text better. Literal translations are too rigid and often miss the point of what the biblical writer was saying.

Overall, this book deserves to be read by young and old pastors alike, if for no other reason than the fact that there is an overuse of etymology that is pervasive within churches. To use etymology makes the preacher look smart, but it rarely helps the congregation understand the Word better. That being said, the member who has a proclivity for original languages could benefit from this book as well. The lay-member would benefit from reading the epilogue as they may feel shamed by “more studious” members for having a dynamic translation rather than a more literal one. Having read the book, it helps one to understand the overall use of language within Scripture. However, it does very little with helping one understand vocabulary.