22 February 2016

review: philosophy in seven sentences

Douglas Groothuis. Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic. Downers Grove: IVP, 2016.

I might suppose that the title of this book is, at the same time, intimidating and intriguing – it is intimidating to those who have learned a default reaction to run away from the word "philosophy" as a difficult and dry enterprise; it is intriguing in that here is a volume that wants to open the doors of such a big world simply by looking at seven sentences. Hopefully the latter reaction will overcome the first, because this book is certainly worth recommendation.

Let's be as clear as the author's introduction (and even the subtitle): there are vast amounts of philosophical thought that will not be addressed in this book. The intention here is to provide the individual with a primer to philosophy. But Groothuis here accomplishes more than giving us a concise survey of broad ideas. These are engaging discussions that seek not only to take the reader on a journey through history, but to demonstrate how relevant these ideas remain in our modern world. It is quite surprising, even for those more familiar with philosophy, just how timely these seven sentences can be.

Each chapter gives some biographical and historical context to a particular philosopher, which enables consideration of a particular line of thought. Sometimes this thought is focused rather tightly on the one sentence that has been chosen, and other times the sentence is a starting point to opening up broader philosophical thought (even showing contrasts and comparisons with other philosophers and philosophies along the way).

Stated simply: this is a good primer on philosophical thought and history. There is a constant eye on questions which are theological in nature (10), though the primary focus of the book remains on these seven philosophical sentences in their own context, and in interaction with the world around them – both then and now. For the believer especially, however, this short study is an introduction to reason and thought that will not be an assault on theological inquiry; this is constructed as a safe place where thinking about faith can be strengthened rather than attacked. In this regard, more in the church should take notice of this book.

This book is well-written and engaging, a welcoming to a topic written by someone who knows it well. In reading it I was reminded just how much I enjoy philosophical thought, something that began the first time I sat through my college introductory seminar, and was fueled in various courses I was fortunate enough to take along the way. Since then, I have focused in other directions, and this little exercise renewed my enjoyment for engaging the work of these historical thinkers. What is more, Dr Groothuis presents them in such a way as to remind us just how important these voices might be for our world today, yet another gift to the modern work of the church.

Books such as this are a helpful reminder to step away from the noise of contemporary society and think. And pray. And think some more. For, as Kierkegaard said (and this is Sentence Number Seven in the book), "The greatest hazard of all, losing one's self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all."

1 comment:

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