Getting your head around philosophy


You can't engage with post-modernity without bumping into some french philosophers, who are de rigueur.

You'll certainly look uncool if you don't know some of them when it comes to emerging church conversations. Then there are some German philosophers, who because they are less cool, seem to get far less attention.

And already I have revealed just how little I know about philosophers. There is a part of my brain that when thinking gets too abstract, just time's out and wants to lay down in a dark room. I need something concrete to latch onto, maybe it's the church planter in me.

And in my PhD research, I bump into philosophy all the time. You can't understand major christian doctrines and their location in our emerging culture without doing some philosophy.

So if like me you know the value of philosophy, but want to know what's important for 'theology', rather than being sucked into the agenda of what's important for 'philosophy', how do you navigate that? How do you learn the 'philosophy' you need for 'theology'?

So as I try to make that navigation, with the abyss of post modern nihilism on one side, and the equally destructive certitude of naive realism on the other, I thought I'd share with you, the most helpful resources I have found.

And I hope you'll share yours with me, here.

1. Philosophy: A very short introduction This book by Edward doesn't seek to summarise the philosophy you need for theology, but it does in only 118 pocket book size pages give you a whirlwind overview of philosophy, it's nature and main thinkers and thoughts.

2. More very short introductions In fact that last book, is part of a large series of further small books by Oxford University press.

Every-time I bump into some reading that references a philosopher, whose ideas I need to know about quickly, I turn to this series. The series has every key philosopher you might need, but it also has short overviews of most topics, and people for history, and other disciplines that you might find useful.

3. The Journey So Far I've blogged about this book by Peter Hicks before.

Peter Hicks, has done most of the work for us in this book. If you want one book that traces world views/philosophies from the time of the bible until today, that’s comprehensive and yet very readable, this book is it.

Peter Hicks was a lecturer I had at seminary/university for my undergraduate theology. He was also a baptist minister/pastor, so his philosophy is well earthed in the real world of church life.

4. A Primer on Postmodernism For a Christian understanding and orientation to postmodernism, this book by the late Stanley Grenz is a classic.

A conversation I had with with Stanley Grenz in the summer of 1999, spurred me to go back and do some more theology. I recommend this book so often to theology students.

5. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy This is one of the largest and best reference books I have on philosophy. Over 1,000 pages to turn to when I need to locate a person, idea or concept.

6. 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance For Theology Now to the really good stuff. This book might not have the most snappy title, but it's 100 pages, of concise reference, that locates philosophy directly to theology.

And one of it's editors is James K Smith from Calvin, who I'd trust with my philosophical life, and I find myself turning to this very often for a quick reference.

7. Philosophy For Understanding Theology Now for a book that directly addresses the topic of this post, what philosophy is key for theology?

I am currently reading some of this superb book each day in my quest for an understanding of the relationship philosophy to theology, and to ensure theology is continuing task.

Lastly here are two more recommendations, just for fun. At least as much fun as philosophy can be.

8. The Matrix and Philosophy This book, taking it's inspiration from the movie the matrix, use the ideas of the movie to group some hard core post-modern philosophical thinkers and discussions.

This book was so popular they made a sequel, but alas no trilogy unlike it's muse.

9. The Slightest Philosophy As a counter point to the last book, and if you sometimes think people into post-modern philosophy are full of themselves, are pretentious and on a head trip, you'll love this book.

In the style of a lively conversation between a student, and a professor, it hits and opposes the roots of postmodern philosophy head on, and re-assures you that we can know things. I guess that makes them uncool, but it's a good read.