This book is explores the themes of whether, and how, Christians can develop a rich and passionate life of the mind. Although it is written for Christian students bound for university, it is useful for any Christian who is serious about the intellectual life.
One of the authors' goals is to defuse the "warfare" mentality concerning faith and "secular" learning that some Christians, particularly those who are not very mature in the faith, often seem to develop. They propose to do this through the model of "Incarnational Humanism."
"Incarnational Humanism" takes the incarnation of Christ as a starting point for a Christian approach to learning. "In Christ," the authors state, "all fragmentation ends and a new humanity begins, a new creation in which all knowledge is united (or taken captive, as Paul puts it) under the lordship of Christ because in him the divine and the human are firmly joined forever." The pattern of the incarnation suggests that we should expect to find that truth is not "an abstract, timeless concept," but rather is mediated through human language, culture, and tradition. Therefore, Christians should not be afraid of truth located outside the hermetically sealed world of our particular religious subcultures.
In short, the authors place a Kuyperian notion of "common grace," as mediated for generations of Christian college students by Arthur Holmes' famous dictum that "All Truth is God's Truth," into the postmodern context. While the authors thus acknowledge the postmodern turn, they firmly deny the destructive Nietzschean postmodernism, evident in figures such as Michael Foucault, that rejects any notion of classical humanism in favor of a heuristic of power relationships.
The answer the authors suggest to Nietzsche and Foucault, however, is not a resurgent Christian rationalism dusted off from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. Rather, they hearken back to the sort of humanism that is evident in many of the Church's great minds, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, prior to the Enlightenment. In this classical Christian humanism, truth is more than power - indeed, truth in many ways is the antithesis of power - because the divine Truth became man and gave himself for us.
There are many riches in this book. The phrase "Incarnational Humanism" is a beautiful one that deserves broad attention, and it is high time that "All Truth is God's Truth" be given a postmodern reading. There is also, however, a glaring weakness in the authors' arguments: they do not deal adequately with the effects of sin. A model of truth that hearkens back to Augustine, but that glides over any reading of Augustine's thoughts on sin, will not present a thoroughly <em>Christian</em> humanism.
I wish the authors had acknowledged the tension between the incarnation and human sinfulness, and had contextualized it, as scripture and the Christian humanist tradition do, within the "already / not yet" of the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, this is a valuable addition to the literature on the intellectual life as a Christian vocation. Let us hope that a holistic, incarnational understanding of faith and learning once again infuses the Church, rather than the rationalist, atomistic, confrontational approaches that so often seem to dominate our thinking.