Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Interview with Paul K. Moser: Kerygmatic Philosophy

In November, Paul K. Moser presented a plenary paper at the annual EPS meeting, titled, "Kerygmatic Philosophy." We interviewed Moser about his paper in light of one of his most recent books from Cambridge University Press: The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology.

What is “Kerygmatic Philosophy”?

Kerygmatic philosophy is philosophy anchored in and motivated by the Good News of God’s personal redemptive intervention in human lives, particularly through God’s authoritative call to humans as represented paradigmatically in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The key term “kerygma,” as used here, means “proclaimed Good News.” Christian philosophy, according to the metaphilosophical position developed in The Elusive God (Cambridge University Press, 2008), is inherently kerygmatic in virtue of stemming from God’s Good News call as personified (in human form) in Jesus.

What does kerygmatic philosophy uniquely offer compared to other Christian approaches to philosophy?

It preserves a unique role for God’s personal redemptive call to humans, and it encompasses an epistemology that is pneumatic and incarnational. The accompanying epistemology is pneumatic owing to a distinctive cognitive role for personal divine Spirit (who cannot be reduced to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis), and this epistemology is therefore foreign to secular epistemology and even to much philosophy of religion that claims to be Christian. It is also an incarnational epistemology, given its distinctive cognitive role for God’s Spirit dwelling in humans, in such a way that they become a temple of God’s Spirit (see 1 Cor. 6:19). We may think of incarnational epistemology as requiring that human inquirers themselves become salient evidence of God’s reality in virtue of becoming God’s temple. According to this approach, characteristic evidence of God’s reality is increasingly available to me as I myself am increasingly willing to become such evidence, that is, living and personified evidence of God’s reality. Philosophy in general and epistemology in particular thus take on an irredeemably existential significance and thereby exclude any merely spectator, armchair, or ivory tower approach.

The epistemology offered in kerygmatic philosophy is grace-based, in that firsthand knowledge of God’s reality is a direct gift of God’s grace. The cognitive grace in question supplies a cognitive gift that replaces any demand for intellectual earning, controlling, or dominating with a freely given presence of God’s inviting and transforming Spirit who seeks morally transformative fellowship with humans. This cognitive, irreducibly personal gift must be appropriated by humans in Gethsemane struggles (of submitting one’s will to God’s non-coercive will), given the human condition of sin, but it is not shrouded in philosophical sophistication of the sort accompanying contemporary natural theology. This gift is directly challenging toward natural human ways that resist God, including toward human cognitive idolatry (that exalts cognitive standards inimical to God’s character), but it does not get bogged down in its own intellectual complications. The EPS paper on kerygmatic philosophy shows how natural theology fails in areas where incarnational epistemology makes a needed contribution.

How does the thesis of this paper reflect your recent CUP book, The Elusive God.

The EPS paper develops the volitional epistemology of The Elusive God in a way that bears directly on natural theology. The motivation is to challenge some harmful effects of natural theology, including its neglect of (a) divine elusiveness, (b) the cognitively crucial role of God’s call to humans, and (c) the cognitive importance of human repentance before God. More specifically, natural theology obscures the desperate human needs for (i) the cognitive grace of God’s call to humans and (ii) human turning, in repentance, to receive and obey that life-giving transformative call to fellowship. This obscuring arises from the focus of natural theology on merely de dicto arguments rather than on an experienced divine call de re to humans. In effect, the history of natural theology has been the history of trying to secure knowledge of God’s reality without acknowledging evidence of God’s authoritative personal call to humans.

If Christian philosophers are to take seriously kerygmatic philosophy as both an approach to and the content of philosophical work, what would kerygmatic philosophy work look like?

I offer The Elusive God as an attempt to instantiate kerygmatic philosophy with special attention to epistemological issues, including issues of skepticism. Its metaphilosophy makes a case for the central role of God’s personal redemptive call in Christian philosophy. Given its argument for kerygmatic philosophy, people are well-advised to look carefully for a divine call in their lives. In particular, they should be attentive to experiences that convey a divine call to fellowship with God. Philosophy can and should help with this life-giving project. It can make such contributions as (a) an elucidating phenomenology of a divine call to humans, (b) a clarification of the human conditions for noticing and receiving a divine call, and (c) an account of how evidence of a divine call can be conclusive and thus resistant to skeptical challenges. It is, however, very rare to find such contributions in the philosophy of religion. In neglecting the potential divine call to humans, philosophy of religion has neglected the vital cognitive role of the Good News that God has reached out to confront humans directly in their distressed and dying condition, for the sake of divine–human fellowship. Kerygmatic philosophy can revitalize and redirect philosophy in ways that make it vital and urgent for human life and relationships. This kind of provision is long overdue in philosophy, which has become a fractured discipline without a unifying guide. See chapter 4 of The Elusive God for some details of kerygmatic philosophy and its contrasts with some other philosophical approaches.

Who are some thinkers that have influenced your reflection and development of kerygmatic philosophy and its significance?

My perspective on philosophy and epistemology is based on various New Testament writers, particularly Paul and John. I read the Gospel of John as an inherently epistemological gospel, offering the basics of an epistemology of human knowledge of God. I read some sections of Paul’s letters as similarly epistemological, for instance, 1 Cor. 1-2, Rom. 5, 8. It’s noteworthy that the New Testament writers show no need of arguments of natural theology. They do, however, make important cognitive use of the human experience of God’s call, and they acknowledge the importance of the human will in apprehending evidence of divine reality (see, e.g., Jn. 7:17; 1 Jn. 4:8). For some Pauline remarks on God’s call, see, for instance, 1 Cor. 1:9; cf. 1 Cor. 1:2, 26, 7:17–24, Rom. 1:6–7, Eph. 1:18-19. For 20th-century efforts to preserve the central role of God’s call in philosophy and theology, see Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative, and the works of two evangelical Quaker Christians, Rufus Jones and Thomas R. Kelly (especially the latter’s Testament of Devotion).

If you were to communicate and relate pastorally to Christians that are laboring in philosophical work, how would you encourage them about their life and vocation, their priorities and aspirations, their relationship to both the church, to the academy and to their communities?

I would note that God tries to meet us in our daily lives even when we are unaware of God’s presence. Usually we are looking for the wrong kind of thing. God does not favor the circus settings of the contemporary revivalists or the rarified arguments of academic philosophers. Matt. 25:31-46 tells us where we should expect to find God’s presence. The cognitive problem is squarely with us humans, not with God or with the evidence characteristic of God. We tend to want the wrong kind of evidence, the kind we can use take self-credit or otherwise to puff up ourselves. God offers the kind of evidence that promotes unselfish love and fellowship. So, we need eyes to see the crucial evidence, and we need to ask God for the needed clear vision. Perhaps prayer, then, is central to epistemology done right. Philosophers do well to redirect their attention, and their lives, to that neglected but vital area. The need for transformation is not easy, but it is, in the end, the only road to life without end.

Paul K. Moser is a professor of philosophy and the chairperson of the department of philosophy at Loyola University (Chicago). He is also working on an ongoing philosophical and theological project that discusses the nature and significance of idolatry and its various forms. More info can be found at his faculty website.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another Consideration for the Problem of Evil

I am currently writing a book on the problem of evil. No doubt this is a monumental task, and I'll admit I probably will not be completely satisfied with the final result. That nothwithstanding, something has come to my attention concerning the literature ranging over the evidential problem of evil. We recall the famous article by William Rowe (1979) entitled "The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism." His argument (simplified) is that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God is unlikely given the extent, distribution, and apparent existence of gratuitous evil. Of course, by gratuitous it is generally agreed that these are evils where no outweighing good results as a consequence of their having obtained. The vast majority of the literature in response to Rowe centers on a debate as to whether or not we can understand the reasons God has for allowing certain instances of evil to occur (often called theistic skepticism). Would we expect, given our finitude, to understand all of God's ways and workings in creation--or is it more reasonable to believe that there are goods "beyond our ken" that only God apprehends that result from evil having occurred? Many suggestions as to what God is up to have resulted, ranging from various free will theodicies, soul making theodicies, or even eschatological theodicies (or perhaps some combination of these). Admittedly, I still do not understand the need for resulting goods from evil to be "outweighing" goods (perhaps someone can enlighten me). In terms of the consequences of actions, it seems that God can remunerate a "matching" good for the harm done, and that be a sufficient response to the problem (if in fact the matching goods theory were worked out--which is not what I'm doing here).

My observation is that there is an underlying assumption in the evidential argument that provides its force, namely that God has some obligation (moral) toward his creation that binds Him to act in ways that correlate to human relationships. In an excellent article entitled "The Persistent Problem of Evil," Bruce Russell argues the following:

1. If God exists, then nothing happens which he should have prevented from happening.
2. If something happens that any human moral agent should have prevented if he knew about it and could have prevented it without serious risk to himself or others, then something happens which God should have prevented from happening.
3. Something has happened that any human moral agent should have prevented if he knew about it and could have prevented it without risk to himself or others.
4. Therefore, God does not exist. (the numbering of the propositions is changed for our purposes).

Of course, the critical premise is 2, and in the rest of my post I want to offer an initial line of thought (admittedly sketchy at this point) to respond to Russell. Rather than worry about the problem of outweighing goods, my concern is to ask "in what sense is God obligated to any of His creatures?" If there is no account of divine obligation, then we have sufficient reason to reject premise 2, and with it goes the rest of Russell's argument.

Obviously we cannot obligate God in any meaningful sense. We do not have the status to legislate the moral values of actions to Him. The only account of divine obligation that makes any sense is that God obligates Himself to certain actions, and perhaps this obligation obtains as a result of His covenant or promises. But such a contruel is far from clear, and I think part of the confusion rests on conflating what is "good" with what is "right". In perfect being parlance God is the sum of all perfections, His goodness is perfect. I understand this to mean that when he promises to work in a certain way (say, to bless Abraham as a result of His covenant with him) He will do what He says He will do. But more importantly, God does not need the force of an obligation to "draw" Him to fulfill His word. If God needed the force of an obligation to carry through with His promises, then that would imply a defect in His character--in effect saying that He doesn't want to fulfill His promises, but will since He promised. Such a defect would give us reason to doubt his goodness (which is ontological), and to provide a moral injuction binding Him to His word (which would be deontological).

Thomas Morris provides a helpful distinction between an agent acting "under a rule" and acting "in accord with a rule." (see his excellent introduction to philosophical theology called Our Idea of God. For a good buy see Amazon at Acting in accord with a rule means an agent carries out actions without any need of external motivation (such as a moral injunction). Acting under a rule speaks of when an agent requires the force of an injunction to carry out what they have said they will do. In other words, moral obligation only obtains on morally defective agents. God, being perfectly good, has no moral obligations. Therefore, saying that God should bring about an outweighing good implies that He is morally obligated to act in just such a way--a notion, I contend, is incoherent (contra premise 2).

Again, these thoughts are preliminary, but I think if they can be developed more sufficiently, then a different undermining objection to the evidential argument is on the horizon.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Take Advantage of the New Subscriber Discount Before it Expires!

Only a few more weeks before we expire our first-time subscriber discount to Philosophia Christi.

Now is time to purchase a subscription to Philosophia Christi!

Regardless if you are full-time professor, a student, or you want a subscription for your library, here's the deal that we are running, which is set to expire 12/31/2008:

$30 = current issue + 2 year subscription (4 issues).

Order now before this opportunity expires!

The current issue has two major symposiums; one on Allison's Resurrecting Jesus and the other on Abraham's Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation. Of course, there's other great articles, notes and book reviews by such authors like Graham Oppy, William Lane Craig, Paul Copan, and Michael Rea -- and yes, Antony Flew reviews Dawkins' God Delusion!

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Comment on the 2008 EPS Papers

We welcome comments on the EPS papers that were presented at the 2008 annual meeting.

Most of the abstracts have been uploaded and some of the papers are available.

You can quickly browse Wednesday, Thursday or Friday's sessions.

Two highlights of particular importance: Paul Moser's plenary paper, titled, "Kerygmatic Philosophy" and the book symposium on C.S. Lewis as Philosopher.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Welcome Jeremy Evans!

We are grateful to have Jeremy Evans join us as one of our blog contributors. Be looking for his future blog posts!

Jeremy is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is married to his best friend Wendy, and together have two children (Avery and Kaely). His current writing projects range over the problem of evil, philosophical theology, and an edited volume on religion in the marketplace of ideas.

Jeremy was also recently elected as an Executive Committee member at the EPS.