- Series: Clarendon Paperbacks
- Paperback: 168 pages
- Publisher: Clarendon Press (January 4, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198261969
- ISBN-13: 978-0198261964
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,329,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Clarendon Paperbacks)
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"A most learned, well-written, and provoking book, with some surprises for all."--Expository Times
"Very appealing. Louth is a superb scholar who should be a standard participant in the current 'conflict of interpretations.'"--Theological Studies
"A provocative essay which raises crucial questions about the nature of contemporary theology."--Journal of the American Academy of Religion
About the Author
Andrew Louth is at University of London.
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Top Customer Reviews
The matter under discussion in this well-reasoned and clearly-written book is the way we search for truth. Louth starts by examining the legacy of the Enlightenment, which biases Western civilization to accept uncritically the benefits of rational thought. Using the arguments of Vico and Dilthey, Louth makes the case that the imaginative moral reasoning we use in the humanities has just as much validity as the type of reasoning we use in rational analysis. If rationality is concerned with external truths that we must seek out empirically, the truths of the humanities (and, by extension, theology) are more accessible to us because all humans experience the human condition - those truths exist within us, awaiting extraction.
He then marshals the arguments of the philosophers George Gadamer and Michael Polanyi to question the notion of scientific objectivity. Gadamer argues that all knowledge occurs within a context of historical tradition and personal prejudices, and that the scientific method is but one way of decoding reality. Polanyi sees scientific observation as involving a "tacit dimension" which includes the assumptions - often unacknowledged - of the observer. This tacit dimension creates a subjective viewpoint that affects the outcome of the observation. Thus the pervasive belief in the modern scientific method as the most effective and legitimate way of discovering truth rests on a shaky foundation: the biased observer.
Louth makes an important distinction between solving problems and grappling with mysteries. The skill of good science is to pose questions in ways that make answers possible, which is to effectively reduce the complexities of the world to problems that can be solved. The problem-solving approach has added immeasurably to our knowledge and given us means to communicate and pass on our discoveries. But, he asserts, many interactions in the realms of philosophy, art, and religion - and just living in the world - cannot be reduced to problems; attempting to shoehorn all of life's experiences into a scientific framework can take us down false and constraining paths. What Louth is after is a method for dealing with the mysteries of existence that is rigorous but not reductive.
The central mystery Louth is trying to discern is the mystery at the heart of the Christian experience, which is how and why a god chose to become a man. If you're not interested in unraveling Christian theology, use Louth's insights on this mystery: if it turns out that we're simply random genetic accidents instantiated for an indeterminate time before being transmuted into decaying organic matter, what purpose or nobility can possibly exist in the human condition?
Louth proposes that the most fruitful process for dealing with the mysteries of the human condition is to first accept them them as mysteries, without trying to reduce them to problems that can be solved. He also argures that it's important to understand how how others have grappled with these mysteries. You need a sense of the tradition you stand on if you aspire to go higher yourself. Whether it's poetry, philosophy or theology you're using as your stepladder, what makes meaning is the process of active engagement between the author and the reader through the medium of the text. Actively engaging with your tradition allows you to come to grips with it in a personally meaningful way, and to use it as the basis for moral action in your life.
Ultimately, Louth is grappling with faith. To him, embracing the mystery of god in Christ and accepting it as a mystery is the precondition for truly understanding the human condition. Atheists and rationalists embrace the idea that the human record will be decoded once we gain greater insight into the physical workings of the world, which is a leap of faith in its own right. In either case, you're probably well-advised to not try and force all of the complexities of human existence through the narrow passages of biblical exegesis or the scientific method. Whichever aspect of the mystery you embrace, faith becomes the bridge that allows us to pass back and forth between the rational and intuitive parts of our being. The good news, as Louth so eloquently points out, is that accepting the essential mystery of our life on earth doesn't mean you can't engage with it. On the contrary, only by accepting it can you engage it fully with your head and your heart.