Who's Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood
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Who's Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood

Baker Academic / 2014 / Paperback

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Following his successful Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? leading Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith introduces the philosophical sources behind postliberal theology. Offering a provocative analysis of relativism, Smith provides an introduction to the key voices of pragmatism: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Richard Rorty, and Robert Brandom.

Many Christians view relativism as the antithesis of absolute truth and take it to be the antithesis of the gospel. Smith argues that this reaction is a symptom of a deeper theological problem: an inability to honor the contingency and dependence of our creaturehood. Appreciating our created finitude as the condition under which we know (and were made to know) should compel us to appreciate the contingency of our knowledge without sliding into arbitrariness. Saying "It depends" is not the equivalent of saying "It's not true" or "I don't know." It is simply to recognize the conditions of our knowledge as finite, created, social beings. Pragmatism, says Smith, helps us recover a fundamental Christian appreciation of the contingency of creaturehood.

This addition to an acclaimed series engages key thinkers in modern philosophy with a view to ministry and addresses the challenge of relativism in a creative, original way.

The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 160
Vendor: Baker Academic
Publication Date: 2014
Dimensions: 8.50 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 0801039738
ISBN-13: 9780801039737
Series: Church and Postmodern Culture

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Author Bio

James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he also holds the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. He is the editor of Comment magazine. Smith has authored or edited many books, including Imagining the Kingdom and the Christianity Today Book Award winners Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? and Desiring the Kingdom. He is also editor of the well-received The Church and Postmodern Culture series (www.churchandpomo.org).

Endorsements

In Who's Afraid of Relativism? Smith takes a beautiful risk, boldly and successfully making a case for the relevance of pragmatism for contemporary Christian self-understanding. In this remarkable book, he not only succeeds in making the difficult and enigmatic work of complicated thinkers like Wittgenstein, Rorty, and Brandom accessible to the uninitiated (no small task in itself) but also argues convincingly that the pragmatist emphases on contingency and fallibility should play a key role in a Christian understanding of humans as dependent creatures. The mutual hostility between religious thinkers and pragmatists like Rorty is well known; Smith has the wisdom to see past this impasse in a timely and radical effort to encourage contemporary Christians to think differently about themselves.
-Ronald A. Kuipers,
author of Richard Rorty

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  1. Bibliophile
    Indiana, PA
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    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Tired of being god?
    February 23, 2017
    Bibliophile
    Indiana, PA
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: Male
    Quality: 5
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    Meets Expectations: 5
    The idol of modernity's certainty will topple before the contingency of creaturely confession and humble truth claims.
  2. Mr Bultitude
    Vancouver
    Age: 18-24
    Gender: Male
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    Excellent Engagement With Relativism
    August 22, 2014
    Mr Bultitude
    Vancouver
    Age: 18-24
    Gender: Male
    Quality: 4
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 4
    I am very grateful for James K.A. Smith's scholarship. Modeling St. Augustine's "looting of the Egyptians," Smith ably appropriates insights of non-Christian philosophers and thinkers and demonstrates how their thought can constructively impact and orient theology and Christian practice.

    Overall, I preferred the earlier "Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?" to this book, largely because at the time I read it I was finishing up my undergrad in sociology and Foucault is one of that discipline's key contributors. "Who's Afraid of Relativism?" explores the work of Wittgenstein, Rorty and Brandom (I had never heard of Brandom until reading this book). Smith criticizes those who abhor any hint of sympathy with relativism because they claim it will lead to nihilism; Smith argues that admitting our relativism is NOT necessarily going to lead someone into nihilism. I think Smith makes convincing arguments for Christians to adopt "relativist" and "pragmatic" approaches although I he could have explained himself more succinctly. He effectively points to the Incarnation as the ultimate act of condescension to mankind, an act necessary because of our contingency and creaturehood. His main point is that we can't just have cognitive belief or ecstatic expression; Christians need to be in community and be taught practices that orient us to Christ. Chapter 5 is the KEY chapter in which all the insights of the three philosophers are brought together and woven together with how the Church should act. I was a bit wary that Smith would entirely withdraw "natural law" from the table (to the horror of apologists!) but he affirms that there ARE indeed universals but that they can only be understood by being gifted with the interpretive lens of faith. The relativism discussed here is not so much MORAL relativism but the fact that are knowledge and practices are dependent upon context and circumstances.
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