Paul Copan, “A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How To Study Philosophy”

This book was given to me by a good friend, who noted that the author has written books with William Lane Craig, whom I greatly admire (Craig is mentioned a couple of times in this book).  I was happy to see in it several references to Blaise Pascal and C.S. Lewis, namesake authors of this blogsite.  And, as a sometime Methodist, I was also happy to see favorable reference to John Wesley (40).

It’s a good book and, as its title promises, a short one:  just 120 pages of text.  It’s divided in half, the four chapters in the first part discussing, “Why Study Philosophy,” and the four chapters in the second part discussing, “How to Study Philosophy.” As the back of the book’s cover says, it “offers a concise introduction to the study of philosophy” and “is both a survey of philosophy’s basic aims and categories and an apology for its proper function in the life of a Christian.”


I found especially valuable the discussion of cultivating faith (114-15, footnote omitted, emphases in original):

…. For one thing, if our experience becomes the full extent of our encounter with God, it will be shallow indeed.  To more fully experience God’s presence, we need to get out more!  If Christ indwells our fellow believers, we can often glimpse God’s presence through them as we read the Scriptures, pray, share in worship and the sacraments, and live life together with them.  Our faith can be strengthened by the writings of the saints and their experiences of God.  We can readily locate credible sources concerning the work of God through visions, healings and supernatural answers to prayer, which can encourage our faith. ….

…. [One] can undertake the “devotional experiment.”  The devotional experiment acknowledges that we cannot directly change our beliefs by simply wanting to, like flipping a switch; rather, we assent to certain things we find to be true.  While some truths run counter to our feelings or our present frame of mind, we can exercise our will by accepting a belief to be true — by “reckoning” it so (Rom 6:11 KJV).  For example I can trust in God’s promises in Christ over against my own doubts or feelings of condemnation in my conscience (1 Jn 3:18-20).  And sometimes accepting those truths can lead to assenting.  That is, we can choose to put ourselves into an environment that is conducive to producing — indirectly — a cluster of new beliefs.

We can go further.  Rather than surrounding ourselves with cynics (Ps 1:1-2), we should diligently and patiently seek God where he is more likely to be found.  Seekers and doubters can intentionally spend time with thoughtful, serious-minded, transformed believers and open themselves up to the experience of the Christian community’s love.  They can mediate on Scripture, pray and read the stories of faithful Christians.  While we can’t choose our beliefs, we can choose our actions, through which we can better position ourselves to experience the reality of God and his influence in our lives.

Also of special interest to me were:

  • The discussion of St. Paul’s speech in Athens (52-53);
  • This quote (57):  “Reason, we’ve seen, is a gift from God for all humanity.  Used properly, whether to write a logic textbook or to build bridges and skyscrapers, reason expresses the divine image within us.  And God has often used reason to persuade inquiring minds of the truth of the Christian faith”;
  • A reference to Craig S. Keener and his documentation of “hundreds and hundreds of miracles accounts, many with medical authentication and eyewitness testimony” (92, citing his two-volume 2011 book, Miracles:  The Credibility of New Testament Accounts); and
  • This sentence (111-12):  “It’s fascinating to note that the world’s leading atheists or hard-nosed skeptics like Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre, and [Bertrand] Russell had one thing in common:  they all had a negative to non-existent relationship with the father-figure in their lives.”