Many have gone before us, and many will go after us. Certainly, we are not alone in wrestling with some of the most perplexing concepts of life. We are fortunate to have the thoughts of so many great thinkers preserved for us to study and read. Few people recognize how much influence so many great thinkers have on our the culture in which we live. This is partly due to to the fact that we give little thought to the formation of our ideas. It was with expectation then that P&R Publications began the release of their Great Thinker series, a series that examines the thinkings and teachings of some of the most influential thinkers, but does so from a biblical perspective.
On December 10th, publishers released the first three books in the series with books on Thomas Aquinas, Karl Marx (read my review of that book here), and Jaques Derrida. The goal is simple: to assess the ideologies proposed by these thinkers from a biblical perspective. For an examination of Thomas Aquinas, that task falls to K. Scott Oliphint. Oliphint’s unique qualification for writing this book is less about being a scholar of Thomas Aquinas, although his grasp is certainly thorough, but more from his specialty in apologetics and systematic theology as a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. As a result, you can expect a book that meets three goals set forth by publishers.
The first is that the book be academically informed and certainly this is the case. At four chapters, the book is relatively short. Two of those chapters include a brief biography and background in chapter one and then concluding remarks in chapter four. This means the bulk of the book is devoted to two topics from Aquinas’ theology: his teachings on knowledge and his teachings on existence (particularly God’s existence). Oliphint brings to light little-known facts about Aquinas (for example, I had no idea of some of the commentaries he had written on Scripture) but more importantly, he draws attention to the primary principles that made up his thinking. To do this he draws heavily from Thomas Aquinas’ own writings and combines that with explanations of his own.
Furthermore, the book is expected to utilize biblical and theological faithfulness. Considering who the publisher is, you can expect that this indicates a reliance on what is known as reformed theology. While there are some minor points of disagreement from reformed theology, my experience with these books thus far is that those points that solid, Bible-believing Christians may have an issue with are not necessary to the topics being discussed. Therefore, readers can expect a book that is biblically faithful. In terms of Aquinas, much emphasis was placed upon human reasoning and ability to know God. However, it is appreciated that the author brings attention to the concept of man’s sin and its impact on human reasoning. Points like this are exceptional in forcing readers to think critically about ideologies like those of Aquinas’ that have been taught to them from such a young age.
Finally, the publisher anticipates a book that is accessible, meaning one that is easily understandable. Of the books released in this series thus far, this is definitely the most difficult to read. However, this is not due to Oliphint’s writing or lack of clarity, but due to the speculative nature of the topics in which Thomas Aquinas dealt with. As a result, it is a book that is very apologetical in nature and relies much upon some of the foremost apologists of the last few centuries. For some, they may take exception to Oliphint’s methods and critique of others because each has their own preferred method. This does not make the book less valuable though, and in fact, that alone means that many apologists should read it. However, the topics in apologetics can be difficult to grasp, and that’s what readers will find in this book.
The Great Thinkers series is an exceptional series that forces readers to confront their worldview. It causes them to examine the ideologies that shape them and are espoused by them in light of what Scripture says. Therefore, they are books that would be beneficial for all Christians, however, note that this particular book will be most enjoyed by those who find enjoyment and understanding in the discipline of apologetics.
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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me for the purposes of review. However, the review was not influenced in any way by the author, publisher, or anyone else associated with this book but is the result of my own reading of the book.