Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: C. Stephen Evans. "Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith."

In this short book, C. Stephen Evans has done an admirable job of making the incredibly complex world of the philosophy of religion attainable to new students in this field. As such, this work would make a very helpful textbook at the introductory college level. Throughout this work, Evans does a remarkable job of defining the seemingly unending array of technical verbiage, while giving helpful illustrations to explain their usage to the reader.

"Philosophy of religion," as a technical term, is the particular branch of philosophy which, as its name suggests, grapples with religious truth claims and beliefs through the grid of reason and logic. Among the topics covered in this book are:
  • the classical "proofs" for the existence of God, 
  • the validity of religious experience, 
  • the nature and possibility of miracles, 
  • particular objections to theism (such as evil and the apparent contradictions of science), 
  • and the unsettling difficulties related to religious pluralism.
Each one of these topic could easily fill an entire volume.
In this reviewer's opinion, the most helpful aspect of this work is the way that Evans fairly and evenhandedly deals with skeptics' attacks on theism. While Evans eventually does show the rationality of theism (and particularly Christianity) in each chapter, I don't think anyone could accuse Evans of attempting to deal with the skeptic's challenges unfairly or impatiently. Where he sees weaknesses in the theistic position, he does not attempt to hide them. Where he sees strengths, he likewise argues back with equal force. 

No chapter of this book should be seen as an outright apologetic defense of theism in general or Christianity in particular. It is not a book on apologetics. On the other hand, Evans does his best to show over and over again that belief in God is rational, logical, and coherent in the face of a number of threats and claims to the contrary.

In his chapter on the classical proofs for God's existence, for instance, Evans does not pretend to claim that any one 'proof' would compel all rational thinkers. On the contrary, he does assert that the preponderance of the evidence points in a cumulative way towards the existence of God. Likewise, in his concluding chapter on religious pluralism, he admits that Christians in particular have appeared to be arrogant in their claims of religious exclusivity, and yet he concludes this book by acknowledging the inherent humility of Christianity, even as it regards our evangelistic mission.

In conclusion, I think three groups of readers will find this book helpful.

1) First, the student who is interesting in determining for himself whether theism in general and Christianity in particular holds any water logically and rationally; 2) secondly, the non-theist who has many skeptical reasons to deny the validity of religious faith, but who nonetheless is open to reviewing his presuppositions; and 3) finally, the pastor who is interested in presenting some of the logical basis and rationale for Christianity to his congregation in an accessible manner.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following on Twitter @matt_everhard.

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