Published on November 24, 2014 by Fred Zaspel

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Reviewed by Steve West

In this book Vern Poythress considers the large subject of philosophy, with special attention given to metaphysics. He synthesizes into a coherent whole much of the fruit of his earlier studies on a variety of specialized philosophical topics. Since Poythress and John Frame have collaborated together so prolifically over the years, and Poythress is drawing on their earlier work, the reader can get the impression from the first third of the book that it is really a summation, distillation, and exposition of their earlier material. For those who have not read many of their works, this can be very helpful stage-setting. For those who are somewhat familiar with their work, this can a good refresher. For those who are intimately familiar with their work, it may seem like a long read before arriving at new and original material.

Nevertheless — even for those who are very familiar with the writings of Frame and Poythress — the discussion on multiperspectivalism is as clear as anything in their previous work. What is particularly helpful is the way that Poythress demonstrates how the main branches of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory) are perspectivally related. The recognition that philosophy is a sub-discipline of theology is also extraordinarily important for Reformed theologians.

The most refreshing section of the book is Part Four, where Poythress gives examples of metaphysical analysis. One of the shortcomings of presuppositionalists is that they often speak in grand generalities, but do little to illustrate their theoretical constructs. Poythress does a brilliant job in showing the interpenetrating, multiperspectival nature of something as ostensibly simple as going for a walk. His analysis moves through all the major domains of philosophy, explores theology and worship, and places the act of walking before the face of God. Even in walking there is no neutrality or autonomy. This section provides a wealth of practical philosophical analysis, as well as theological and biblical reflection. As an illustration, it also gives the reader a framework in which they can begin analyzing aspects of life in the same way.

The last third of the book deals with other subdivisions of philosophy and explores examples of defective philosophy. This material is good, but very brief. There are insights and some very interesting observations, but the reader may be forgiven for wanting more. It is certainly not that Poythress is incapable of giving more. His treatment of the presuppositions of analytic philosophy is very good. His treatment of Kant is interesting but feels far too truncated. These are not really substantive criticisms — it is actually a reasonably high compliment to suggest that one finishes these chapters wishing to read more! Yet, on the other hand, in Chapter 21 “Specialized Branches of Philosophy,” where philosophy of religion is treated in three paragraphs, and the philosophy of language, the philosophy of history, and the philosophy of science are treated in one paragraph apiece, the reader has the right to feel like the subjects were worth treating at more length, or perhaps ignored altogether. The only thing that can help at this point is to recognize the multiperspectival nature of philosophy, and the interrelationship of the sub-disciplines therein. If this can be done, then perhaps the reader can draw on the material in the rest of the book to help understand the sub-divisions in a more comprehensive manner.

On balance this book is clear, perceptive, and reliable. Readers who are unfamiliar with Frame and Poythress will find it a helpful introduction to large categories of their thought. Those with more awareness of their existing works will find the new material in this book to be on par with Poythress’s most stimulating writings. It is a helpful work, especially as a stimulant to one’s own thinking about the issues discussed in the book.

Steve West is Lead Pastor Crestwicke Baptist Church, Guelph, Ontario. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary and an Assistant Editor here at Books At a Glance.




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Redeeming Philosophy: A God-centered Approach To The Big Questions

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