Reviews of Books -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 60:2 (Fall 1998)
Article: Reviews of Books
Author: Anonymous

Reviews of Books

Paul Helm: Faith and Understanding. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997. N.P.

Let us allow Professor Helm to explain the purpose of this book: “The aim of this book is to discuss and evaluate the relation between religious faith and philosophy as this finds expression in the ‘faith seeks understanding’ tradition. According to this tradition, philosophy is not an antagonist of faith but provides tools and doctrines which may be used to articulate the faith, and so understand it better.” (vii, 3). The first part is an analysis of the philosophical-theological program of fides quaerens intellectum with its central concepts. In the second part the author discusses historical manifestations of this approach in the form of five case-studies. The exposition of Augustine, Anselm, Edwards, and Calvin is not so much contextual as it is philosophical. This latter part brings out a unified view of philosophical reason as a clarifying and articulating aid to faith within a diversified use of the faith seeking understanding (henceforth ‘FSU-’) approach.

The first chapter is very rich and deserves further consideration, but I must limit myself here to a survey. Helm distinguishes between general uses and senses of reason as well as between various relevant senses of the word “faith.” In addition, different epistemological positions for “faith” (in the sense of the act of trust or reliance) is explored. These positions result in different ways of epistemic justification. This can be related to the last chapter where Helm presents theories on the warrant of Christian belief. There is also a valuable discussion in the first chapter on different views on the place and value of testimony in acquiring knowledge and their implications on the place and value of divine revelation in the epistemic situation of humans. Helm also defends the philosophical genuineness of the FSU-approach and distinguishes it from fideism.

The next chapter is concerned with the multiple and fruitful ways faith and reason have been linked within the FSU-program. The chapter begins with a survey of the origin, history and meaning of the slogan “faith seeks understanding.” The slogan is transmitted from Augustine through Anselm to Aquinas. Helm summarizes the unity in diversity:

For Augustine, the understanding which faith ultimately seeks is knowledge by acquaintance or vision; for Anselm it is the provision of reasons grounded in the nature of things, including of course the nature of God himself. For Aquinas (if we make a distinction between rational demonstration and the gaining of understanding) then understanding is gained through the resolution of opposing opinions, as in the two Summae (35).

This var...

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