Thursday, March 13, 2014

A somewhat unusual document landed on my desk a few days ago, in page proofs, sent by Eerdmans, the major Evangelical publisher. It is a book about to be published, written by James K.A. Smith, a decidedly Protestant philosopher on the faculty of Calvin College—How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Taylor is the much celebrated Catholic philosopher, retired from McGill University, author of the massive book A Secular Age (2007). Smith is of a younger generation; I have read one of his books before—Thinking in Tongues (2010)—a feisty book billed as a Pentecostal contribution to Christian philosophy, in which Smith criticizes Christian philosophers for cutting the ground from under their own feet by accepting the naturalistic premises of secular philosophy—and then trying to find space for the supernatural that their faith must affirm. Smith (whose Pentecostal allegiance is apparently relatively new) instead suggests that Christian philosophy should from the first “think in tongues”—that is, base itself on the assumption that the world is indeed suffused with Spirit, is precisely what Christianity says that it is. I’m not interested in arguing whether that is a good philosophical method, but it is probably good pedagogy: “I won’t try to dissuade you from your view that we are in France; let me rather show you that we are in America”. (Whatever “tongues” Smith thinks in now, he is still listed as a professor of Reformed theology. So I was reminded of Karl Barth in his feistiest days. Barth once observed that he was completely uninterested in dialogue with Hindus or any people from other religions. He was asked, how then did he know that they were wrong. He replied: “I know it a priori”. This is not my style of thinking, but I must admit to a certain admiration for its Calvinist chutzpah! In the book mentioned here, Smith continues in the same vein, except that he now undergirds his argument with Taylor’s phenomenology of our supposedly secular age.

Read it all.

No comments: