“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord…” (Isaiah 1:18a)
Maybe you’ve heard of J.P. Moreland. Maybe you haven’t. If you’ve read Lee Strobel’s The Case For a Creator then you have. Or maybe you’ve looked into apologetics in metaphysics or postmodernism. Maybe you’ve read Scaling the Secular City, Love Your God With All Your Mind, or Kingdom Triangle. Or maybe, this is all new to you.
Over the past twenty-five years, J. P. Moreland has done much work to equip Christians to love God with their minds. In his work as a Christian philosopher, scholar, and apologist, he has influenced many a students, written fresh and advanced books, and taught multitudes of Christians to defend their faith.
So in honor of Moreland’s ministry, general editors Paul Gould and Richard Davis have assembled a team of Moreland’s friends and colleagues to celebrate his work in three major parts: philosophy, apologetics, and spiritual formation. These scholars interact with Moreland’s thought and make their own contributions to these important subjects. Moreland concludes the volume with his own closing essay, “Reflections on the Journey Ahead.”
Part 1: The Building Blocks of the World
I want to read more by Moreland because of this book. I’ll admit, Part 1 was really difficult to wrap my brain around because I know so little about metaphysics. While there were parts I understood, much of it was over my head like a bridge without stairs. It’s above me, and I don’t know how to get up there. The scholars do “dumb down” some of the language and try to explain their philosophies, but this is still a ‘thinking’ book. You will have to pay attention, and close attention, to many of the topics (and sentences) to understand fully what is being said.
Depending on your background, Part 1 could either be right up your alley, or it will make you put the book down. I’ve read some apologetical and philosophical (Francis Schaeffer) writings to have heard of some of these terms and to make it through this section, but it was still no walk in the park. Phrases like “non-arbitrary classification”, “tertiary ontological category”, and “x is a natural subclass of y if x is a subclass of y and x is a natural class” make me question if I mistakenly picked up a book on advanced mathematics. And we can’t forget about objects having universal (abstract) and particular (concrete) properties dealing with bare particulars and their ordered aggregates!
I like the idea of learning philosophy, logic, and making sense of the world, but this was no introduction to Moreland’s philosophically *Platonistic ideas (nor was it supposed to be, I’ll admit). I can’t exactly fault the book for that because I know someone will understand this book. But since I didn’t understand, I couldn’t even really begin to tell you the benefits of this section and how they arrived at the application.
There were good points: Chapter 1 had a short ending paragraph on Jesus being human and being able to share in our humanness. But The Fray said it better, it’s all over my head. (Of course, they’re talking about a girl while I’m talking about a book on a philosophical Platonistic Christian scholar).
[all phrases taken from p. 21]
[*Platonism = the philosophy of Plato. It refers to the philosophy that affirms the existence of abstract objects, which are asserted to “exist” in a “third realm distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness… Oh boy. Fun!]
Part 2: Thinking for Christ in the World
In Part Two, the reading started to get a little easier and a bit more applicational.
Chapter 6 was informative because it talked about the importance of objective knowledge [knowledge which cannot be contested or refuted]. However, it felt like it didn’t really go anywhere.
Chapter 7 (Since What May Be Known About God is Plain to Them: JP Moreland’s Natural Theology) was helpful.
CS Lewis said it would be strange for us to hunger or thirst if no food or water existed to satisfy those longings. To follow suit, it would seem legitimate to consider our deepest inner needs as well – the longing for significance, security, deliverance from fear of death. Could there be an ultimate source of satisfaction? What has this Being actually done to help humans out of their miserable, broken condition? Natural theology can serve as a doorway to Christ – arguments for God’s existence create a plausible structure where embracing Christ becomes a credible option (p. 122). If humans have such a deep longing for the transcendent, for meaning, for significance, that should actually serve as a pointer to God’s existence.
There was an interesting statement about leading atheists such as Nietzche, Freud, Sartre, and Russell who all had negative to nonexistent relationships with their fathers which could help explain their insistence of a life without God.
A few of these chapters had good points, but within the grand scheme of things (i.e., this book) I was unsure of how they related, or what the point expressed was meant to be.
However, I did enjoy Part 2 (chapters 6-10), especially Chapter 10, “Not Willing That Any Should Perish: An Apologetic for Pro-Life Activism.” Some of the topics expressed were Abortion, Infanticide, Prenatal Genetic Testing, Embryo/Embryonic Stem Cell Research, and Physician Assisted Suicide. This was informative because most of it are things I’ve never researched into so it helped me to see where my beliefs line up with the world around me.
Part 3: Living for Christ in the World
Part 3 was much more applicational and relational.
“….[A]pologetics is a dialogue between two people, and the speaker should always be aware of how his listener’s mind has changed if he is to make contact. The target moves but the bullets remain the same” (p. 172).
JP’s Cultural Apologetic:
“Culture is the constant and curious conversation that goes on between every one of us and the environment in which we reside” (p. 176).
Being authentic is to be vulnerable, and it is in the beginning of this chapter that Moreland is vulnerable. The chapter starts off with a quote from him waking up stressed do to work, sickness, and finances. Christianity doesn’t fix us of all of our sicknesses and woes, but we are better able to get through our circumstances because we know the One who created everything and died for us in love. That doesn’t mean fear and worry can’t come in, but it doesn’t have to overtake us (Phil. 4:6).
Chapter 12 is on watching, praying, being alert for spiritual warfare, and intentionally relying on the the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to resist Satan to be able to stand firm in our faith.
Chapter 13 is about what it means to be happy. What’s wrong with the way the world perceives happiness today? Is it really having pleasure 24/7? Being comfortable in every opportunity, situation, and circumstances? Or living a virtuous life according to the standards of God in Christ?
“….[A]pologetics, theology, and philosophy…we often tend to focus on these topics as subjects to be studied, and neglect to appreciate that a personal being is at the heart of Christianity, rather than an argument, concept, or system” (p 207).
Chapter 14 is on the witness of the Church, “Christians no longer constitute a cultural, social, or intellectual majority; this is good news, as the church of Jesus has always done its best work from the margins of culture, as opposed to its center” (p 221-222). The book ends with an afterword from Moreland.
We need to actively promote an active God in the creation of man, rather than one who said back idly while evolution plodded on. Why should we start to believe in an active God now? Should we change what we believe just because the world puts pressure on us? We should consider what we believe and make sure we do believe it so we don’t crack when the pressure is laid on. Stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13).
Congratulations! You’ve made it this far. You might be just interested enough in this book to read it. I wouldn’t recommend this book to just anyone. Only if you have a good grasp of metaphysics and philosophy (or you want to have a better grasp of it) should you read this book, at least Part 1. Part 2 was easier to understand, and Part 3 the easiest and most applicational. But Part 1 will fly over many heads. I liked this book, and I did gain insights from in. But I haven’t read many of Moreland’s own books, and that might be my biggest problem!
But as for me, I wouldn’t buy this book for myself or for another person (unless I knew they wanted it and would like it).
I would prefer to read books written by J.P. Moreland himself [Amazon]