Rarely do philosophical arguments actually bring about belief and faith in God. Paul experienced this when he spoke in the Areopagus. Early in his first letter to the Corinthians (whom he visited just after this episode in Athens), Paul writes, For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Cor. 1:22-23) Paul argues that by its very nature, the Gospel message is antithetical to the wisdom of the philosophers.
So of what use is a book like The God Question, decidedly philosophical in nature, to leaders in the church? Plenty. In roughly 300 pages, Andrew Pessin presents an almost impossibly clear and concise exposition of what western philosophy’s biggest names have said about God in the past 2,500 years. The Old Testament represents the genesis of systematic monotheism in human history. That informs the inquiry of western philosophy into the nature of God and the divine. It in turn informs the theology of the church. The students of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero are the conversation partners of the New Testament writers. In order to fully understand what is being said about God, morality, and religion in the New Testament, we must understand the cultural and intellectual conversations that had long been underway.
Similarly, philosophy has shaped theological reflection and dialogue in the ensuing 2,000 years. For much of that time, the leading philosophers were also the leading theologians. Pessin examines many of these philosopher-theologians from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions. To understand what the church says and has said about the nature of God requires a basic understanding of the intellectual arguments that have shaped our understanding of who God is and how God has been and continues to be active in the world.
Even as we differ and disagree on points of scriptural interpretation, there is a tendency to rest in the assurance that we all believe in the same God. But do we? The God Question helps to put in perspective the idea of God that we, and many others have. There is no single, universal concept of God, and The God Question helps to illuminate just how much conceptual variance there can be.
What we say about who God is and how God acts in the world shape some of the deepest questions of our lives. As pastoral caregivers, we need to recognize the questions beneath the questions. Knowing how some of western civilization’s greatest minds have wrestled with these issues can help us bring to light assumptions about the divine that have a direct impact on our existential crises. We can better understand the limits of some of these assumptions, and perhaps find freedom to encounter God in new ways through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Even if not read cover to cover, this book merits a space on your bookshelf and a small dent in your budget as a helpful reference and resource.
STEPHANIE SORGE WING is pastor of United Presbyterian Church in Harrodsburg, Ky.