Item description for Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status (Paternoster Biblical Monographs) by James Anderson...
Overview How can Jesus be fully human and fully divine? How can God be three-in-one? James Anderson develops and defends a model of understanding paradoxical Christian doctrines according to which the presence of such doctrines is unsurprising and adherence to paradoxical doctrines can be entirely reasonable. As such, the phenomenon of theological paradox cannot be considered as a serious intellectual obstacle to belief in Christianity. The case presented in this book has significant implications for the practice of systematic theology, biblical exegesis, Christian apologetics, and philosophy.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.89" Width: 5.88" Height: 0.77" Weight: 1.11 lbs.
Release Date Aug 31, 2007
Series Paternoster Biblical Monographs
ISBN 1842274627 ISBN13 9781842274620
What would you say of a book that makes it part of its aim to establish that certain essential Christian doctrines (say, the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation) present the appearance of logical contradiction? What would you think of a book that argues that no theologian in history has been able to present a statement of those doctrines that do not avoid logical tension via (some kind of) inconsistency, while simultaneously remaining faithful to Christian orthodoxy as presented in the culture-identifying creeds of the early church, or to the explicit (and implicit) statements of Scripture (from which those creeds derive their authority)? In other words, Christians can have their logical consistency, or they can have their orthodoxy, but they cannot have both. What if the author of this book believes that he established those points? In addition, what if he looked at some of the best contemporary Christian philosophers and their attempts to put forward fully consistent models (ones which do not lead to any logical headaches) and showed that they all fail as well (in the sense described above)? Indeed, what if this book argued that the Christian was without theological and philosophical defenses that save both orthodoxy and logical consistency (of the implicit kind)? You might think I am describing the latest atheological work to hit the market.
What if I also added that the author not only demonstrates the above, agrees that some of our most precious doctrines of the Christian faith resist full logical consistency in our formulations of those doctrines, but that he is also a Christian? He is an orthodox Christian who operates out of the venerable Reformed tradition. Not only that, what if I told you that the author not only believes these doctrines to appear logically inconsistent (making them paradoxical), that we also have not resolved the paradoxes, but he also believes that the Christian (almost any kind of Christian, from scholar to layman) is warranted in believing the conjunction of claims that lead to the paradox? That it is a perfectly rational thing to believe? That the presence of paradox cannot be seriously considered as an intellectual obstacle to belief in Christianity? What if I included that information? You might very well scratch your head and call it a mystery! Don't we all love a good mystery novel? . . . The book I am about to describe is just that. It is a mystery novel. One in which the mystery is left unsolved, at that!
In his bold book, Paradox In Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status,1 James Anderson sets out to show that certain doctrines of the Christian faith are paradoxical, but may be reasonably believed in spite of this feature (if not because of it). Anderson also argues that these doctrines are not actually contradictory, but merely apparent.2 However, believing this appearance could be cause for the charge of irrationality to stick. Thus, Anderson provides a model by which the Christian cannot only show that the doctrines are not actual contradictions, but how he can also be rational in affirming these apparently contradictory sets of propositions. With the rigorous mind of a philosophical theologian operating within the analytic tradition (and I believe with the heart of a pastor), Anderson successfully presents and defends this model. In so doing, he offers one of the most intriguing and ingenious responses to one of the most difficult challenges to the Christian faith.
If that were not enough, PCT will lift the Christian reader to profound new heights of reverence and awe as they contemplate a God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8).3 And so, if I can offer a seemingly paradoxical observation of my own: PCT will provide new insights about God and how he has structured things in our world and in our cognitive equipment, yet we will stand in more awe of God with this increased information. This is seemingly paradoxical because usually the more you learn about someone, the more the gap between the two of you decreases, but it is just the opposite with God. The more we learn about him, the more we realize how far the distance is between creature and Creator. It appears that the more we know, the less we know. (This is not paradoxical in the sense used in the book, though; but in keeping with the theme of the book under review, I figured my hyperbole might be forgiven.)
I am sure it is obvious that I think highly of this book. It is a work of philosophical theology, and Anderson writes in a clear, precise, and detailed fashion. (However, this does not stop him from slipping in a few humorous quips from time to time.) His command of the literature, the history, the intricacies of the historical debates, and the arguments on all sides is nothing short of impressive. He interacts with contemporary theologians as well as contemporary philosophers. He discusses a multitude of topics and brings them all to his reader in a clear, accessible way. The reader may have to work hard in parts, but that hard work definitely pays off in spades.
In PCT, Anderson thus establishes himself as one of the brightest, rising stars in Christian philosophy and apologetics today. The rest of this review will consist of looking at the three aspects Anderson seeks to analyze regarding paradoxes in Christian theology: (i) its presence, (ii) its character, and (iii) its epistemic status, and provide his answers. Anderson presents and defends his thesis in two parts. I will follow the structure of his book for this review. I do include some criticisms of his book throughout the review; but be careful, if you blink you may miss these comments (especially since most of them are filed away in the endnotes), as I agree substantially with Anderson and really have no major gripes or criticisms. (I do recommend that the reader read the endnotes as they contain what I take to be some valuable resource material, as well as (I hope) some valuable comments above and beyond any remarks critical of PCT.)
The Introduction (Ch.1)
Before Anderson looks at his paradigmatic doctrines, which begin in part one of the book, he lays some foundations, defines some terms, and offers in a broad-brushed way the approach he takes in the book. This is all very helpful, and is indicative of the patient way Anderson approaches his subject, always remaining careful to make sure his reader is given the necessary framework to follow Anderson's building project. Chapter 1 lays some groundwork.
As stated above, Anderson's goal in the book is to show that certain doctrines of the Christian faith are paradoxical, but may be reasonably believed in spite of this feature (if not because of it).
But why even write a book on this issue? Is it even significant? The significance of paradox in Christian theology "lies in the potential implications for the epistemic status of Christian beliefs." Atheists and agnostics have appealed to their presence in support of their non- or disbelief. Within the Christian camp, however, some have been disposed to laud their presence, while others loathe their presence.
The various attitudes towards paradox can be expressed thusly:
[P1] It is always irrational to affirm a paradoxical doctrine; some central Christian doctrines are paradoxical; therefore, adherence to Christian faith is always irrational (because of paradox).
[P2] It is always irrational to affirm paradoxical doctrine; no central Christian doctrines are paradoxical; therefore, adherence to Christian faith is not always irrational (because of paradox).
[P3] It is not always irrational to affirm paradoxical doctrine; some central Christian doctrines are paradoxical; therefore, adherence to Christian faith is not always irrational (because of paradox).4
Each position has problems, notes Anderson. [P1] is problematic for those Christians who believe they have good epistemic grounds for their faith; [P2] is out of touch with the widespread notion (of both Christian and non) that there are unresolved paradoxes in the Christian faith; and [P3] has failed to offer a satisfactory account of the circumstances under which said paradoxical doctrines might rationally be believed. Anderson says that some advocates of [P3] have offered sketchy defenses of the intellectual propriety of paradox; none of them address the prior question of what constitutes rationality; i.e., (i) what is required for a belief to have that honorific title `rational' bestowed upon it, and (ii) whether adherence to paradoxical doctrines can ever meet these requirements. Anderson sets out to fill this gap.
However, you cannot get very far in discussions of this nature without people asking you how `paradox' is being defined. Anderson is sensitive to this, and so immediately offers his definition.5 Anderson defines `paradox' thusly:
X is paradoxical = df X amounts to a set of claims which taken in conjunction appear to be logically inconsistent.
Note well the qualifier `apparent.' Thus, a paradox does not entail a logical inconsistency per se, just the appearance of logical inconsistency. This definition "presupposes that a meaningful distinction can be made between apparent and real contradiction." Anderson defends this distinction in 6.2.1 and 7.4.1.
Lastly, Anderson gives the reader a preview of what to expect in the coming pages, whetting the appetite of the reader.
Anderson notes that [P1] --> [P3] suggest the presence of two key questions concerning paradox in Christian theology: (i) Are any essential Christian doctrines genuinely paradoxical? If they are, (ii) can a person rationally believe them? Answering these two questions will determine which of the positions, [P1] --> [P3], "is closest to the mark." Anderson's book consists of two parts. Part one deals with (i) and part two with (ii). How Anderson fills out parts one and two make up the material of the book. Part one has three chapters (2, 3, 4) dedicated to answering (i) as well as various strategies employed to deal with the presence of paradox. Part two has four chapters (5, 6, 7, 8) dedicated to answering (ii).
Anderson answers both questions in the affirmative. As for (i) Anderson first argues (in Ch. 2) that the doctrine of the Trinity is paradoxical. He reaches this conclusion by: (a) surveying the early Trinitarian controversies that lead us to two "definitive statements of orthodoxy" (the Niceno-Constantinopolitan and Athanasian creeds), and by (b) critically examining contemporary interpretations of the doctrine of the Trinity, especially those that try to develop the doctrine with the aim of logical consistency and maintained orthodoxy. Then in Chapter 3, Anderson looks at the doctrine of the Incarnation and concludes that it is paradoxical in much the same way he proceeded in Chapter 2. Anderson chose these two doctrines because they have a putative status as paradoxical, and because of their ecumenical appeal. Thus, all stripes of Christians can profit from Anderson's book (he also believes the same about "several doctrines distinctive to the Reformed tradition," but does not focus on these for obvious reasons, such as "relevance" for "the wider Christian community"). Then in Chapter 4, Anderson considers a "range of responses to the paradoxicality of Christian doctrines." He intends to show that these "coping strategies" fail on either theological or philosophical grounds (or both). This paves the way for him to present his case for an affirmative answer to (ii).
In part two Anderson supports his affirmative answer by first setting forth an account of how affirming Christian doctrine in general can be rational (Ch. 5). Chapter 5 introduces the reader to many epistemically important concepts that lay the groundwork for his account. Chapter 6 "sets forth a model for construing theological paradox" in terms of which believers that run the intellectual gamut can be rational in holding to said paradoxical doctrines. Chapter 7 defends this model against many potential objections (potential, you must remember, because Anderson's work is highly original). Lastly, Chapter 8 highlights what Anderson takes to be the main implications and offers suggestions for further study.