Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith Hardcover – Sep 15 2001
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.,."A welcome addition to Christian philosophy and to the interpretation of religious themes in contemporary Continental thought."
About the Author
Merold Westphal is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University and author of Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism.
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Westphal's task is essentially to argue "for the possibility of a Christian (or, more broadly, theistic) appropriation of certain postmodern themes." His central point is that the central themes in postmodern philosophy, such as the hermeneutics of finitude and suspicion, can be separated from the atheism of the most well-known proponents of postmodernism (think Derrida, Foucault, Rorty, as well as Nietzsche and Heidegger). Even more, these themes can greatly contribute to the Christian view of humanity and our knowledge.
Although I cannot agree with every element of appropriation that Westphal strives for, I believe that his is a necessary work, both challenging and rewarding. I think that he probes with wisdom and insight, something which should be appreciated by all readers.
A side note: Unfortunately, Westphal uses a number of philosophical terms in German without giving a translation or meaning. Unless you are already familiar with these terms, several passages will be a bit difficult to wade through, despite Westphal's wonderful writing style.
"It will be argued in more general terms that it is always dangerous to go to the Philistines to sharpen one's tools (1 Sam. 13:19-21). After all, to mix biblical metaphors, the gold taken when Israel spoiled the Egyptians ended up in the golden calf. No doubt some of it did. Appropriation is inherently dangerous. But some of that gold ended up in the tabernacle as well, and it is that possibility I hope to keep open. (p. 175)"
Beyond being a good philosopher in his own right, Westphal is one of the most creatively prudent Christian intellectuals in North America. This book, taken with his `Suspicion and Faith' (and many other relevant articles), has become launching points for the Christian entry into continental philosophy in the English-speaking world; mark my words: history will recognize the influence.
In this book, Westphal advocates for and executes a critical `appropriation' of so-called postmodern philosophy. Interacting with the likes of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Lyotard, etc., Westphal demonstrates for us (as he has so many times before) that patient dialogue yields more productive and critical insight than trite repetitions of reductive caricatures. He actually reads and justly interprets those thinkers he wants to both learn from and criticize. His defense of anti-realism, his rigorous distinction between mega- and meta-narratives, his insight into faith as an openness toward others, and the humility this requires, are but a few of many gems swimming throughout these pages.
This book is a must read for any Christian intellectual wishing to do rigorous, reflexive, creative, and relevant work in theology and philosophy of religion.
Highly, highly recommended!
(For a counterpart introduction to and appropriation of Anglo-American postmodern thought, Nancey Murphy's book "Anglo-American Postmodernity" is a perfect complement to Westphal's "Overcoming Onto-Theology.")
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