Marion G. Deckert is professor emeritus of philosophy at Bethel College.
I want to express my appreciation for Mennonite Life's publishing the Nichols-Huebner debate. I find Huebner's "Response" to be a most coherent, honest, and lucid account of the current philosophical views in our colleges. As such it is an important, necessary, and useful statement. I happen to fundamentally disagree with this current fashion of thought. Given Huebner's account I can more easily and accurately express some of my reservations.
I. Two Conversions: It seems to me that Huebner comes close to saying that in order to become a Christian one must first have a philosophical conversion and then one can be open to a Christian conversion. He is quite clear that the "foundationalist" cannot understand what he is doing and even worse does not even have the ability to conceive the "categories" necessary for such an understanding. Furthermore, he implies that it is impossible to understand the true nature of Christianity outside of his own philosophical system. In Huebner's view is it possible for the "foundationalist" to be a true Christian? Were there any good Christians during the 300 year reign of "Cartesian foundationalism?"
II. Tradition Relativism: On Huebner's view truth is not an individual matter. It is not a quality of single statements or views. It is a quality of traditions. Different traditions may differ with respect to what is useful or helpful or right or good. But presumably specific individuals from within the same tradition cannot have meaningful differences of this sort. In any case, the point is that limiting the truth to traditions is a sort of relativism. Pacifism is true relative to the Anabaptist tradition, it may not be so relative to the Catholic tradition.
III. Tradition Testing: Huebner makes an effort to blunt the problem of Tradition Relativism. He thinks there can be meaningful engagement between traditions. Such engagement takes the form of witness, presumably this means it is not a debate. But in the end the tradition that is to be chosen must be the one that is most useful and the one that most convincingly explains and persuades. The problem is how to determine usefulness and power to explain and persuade. It would seem that here one must revert to some sort of "universal rational" standards or some sort of beginning "foundations" that both traditions can agree on. For both traditions to stay within their own parochial "logic", their own parochial foundational (?) assumptions, must necessarily lead to inauthentic communication.
IV. Christian Logic: Huebner apparently denies that there is such a thing as "universal logic". This is to say that there are no basic thought patterns that are universally the same for all humans. Rather he thinks that there are only special tradition-based logics. For Christians there is "Christian logic". A "Christian logic" would be one that rejects any conclusions that contradict the tradition-no "unfettered reason". A "Christian logic" would be limited to finding ways to put the tradition in the best possible light. A "Christian logic" would be one that starts with the conviction that only what advances Christianity can be true, anything else must be ruled out by the rules of ("Christian") logic.
I acknowledge that my portrayal of "Christian logic" is much too sharp edged. But I do not wish to try to add all the nuances that soften the edges because I believe that the general picture that this caricature portrays will remain no matter how much one qualifies it.
If Christian philosophy must be limited to this sort of special pleading, to this sort of rationalization, then I for one am not prepared to sign on as a fellow traveler.
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