Many Christians view relativism as the antithesis of absolute truth and take it to be the antithesis of the gospel. In Who’s Afraid of Relativism, Smith argues that this reaction is a symptom of a deeper theological problem: an inability to honor the contingency and dependence of our creaturehood.
Saying “It depends” is not the equivalent of saying “It’s not true” or “I don’t know.” It is simply to recognize the conditions of our knowledge as finite, created, social beings. Pragmatism, says Smith, helps us recover a fundamental Christian appreciation of the contingency of creaturehood.
“It is often observed that one of the most important and revealing questions you can ask someone identified as a ‘thinker’ is ‘What are you afraid of?’ Writing with clarity and great sympathy, Smith helps us see that Christian theologians have betrayed their best insights by being afraid of relativism. He helps us see that the challenge is not relativism itself but rather the epistemological concerns that produced relativism.” – Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School
“In very readable and reliable expositions of Wittgenstein, Rorty, and Brandom, Smith builds an extremely attractive case philosophically for recognizing the place of contingency, finitude, and dependence in human life. From a Christian perspective, this actually reaffirms an acceptance of creaturely existence and thus of a properly orthodox version of relativism, which there is no reason to fear. A wonderful thesis.” – Fergus Kerr, University of Edinburgh
“In Who’s Afraid of Relativism? Smith takes a beautiful risk, boldly and successfully making a case for the relevance of pragmatism for contemporary Christian self-understanding….The mutual hostility between religious thinkers and pragmatists like Rorty is well known; Smith has the wisdom to see past this impasse in a timely and radical effort to encourage contemporary Christians to think differently about themselves.” – Ronald A. Kuipers, author of Richard Rorty
James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he also holds the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. He has authored or edited many books, including Imagining the Kingdom and the Christianity Today Book Award winners Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? and Desiring the Kingdom.
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