Book Review: The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley Green
Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 192 pp.
Tertullian once famously quipped, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? or the Academy with the Church?” It seems as if this perennial question must be raised and then answered by every generation in order to respond to the particular objections raised against the truth of Christianity. Bradley G. Green, in his book The Gospel and the Mind seeks to show that instead of seeing some kind of bifurcation between the academy and the church, one ought rather to view the academy as “impossible” apart from the gospel. “Wherever the gospel goes, the academy follows” says Green (175). In other words, it is the gospel that makes the intellectual life possible. Green works in worldview categories, similar to what some have called the “presuppositional” or “revelational” approach to apologetics. But Green does not rely on modern stalwarts of such apologetical methodologies such as Cornelius Van Til. Instead, he goes further back in church history to Augustine and draws substantial insights from his thought to show that the intellectual life, whatever the subject may be, is only made intelligible through the lens of the Christian view of God, man, and the world.
Green demonstrates this thesis in five main themes in the book. First, he shows that the Christian view of creation and history that posits a real and good world with real knowable events that occur in time provides the backdrop for real intellectual investigation.
Secondly, the Christian worldview (pre-modern) maintains that the “goal” or “end” (Grk, telos) to all of life is the vision of God. Contrary to nihilism, this gives mankind a reason to live and goal toward which he may look. Thirdly, Green makes the very bold claim that apart from regeneration, via the cross of Christ, one may not fully have a consistent worldview. This is where Green’s presuppositional thinking enters. Drawing on Scripture with commentary by Augustine Green shows that the regenerated man will seek to “think God’s thoughts after Him” (177). This is important because reality is as God has made it. Therefore, for man to think properly about anything, he must think of it as it really is. God, through general and special revelation, is the grand “interpreter” of all things and thus man’s thoughts must conform to God’s thoughts. The only alternative is to think autonomously but doing so does not accord with reality and is therefore false. The very fount of intellectual possibility is in the cross of Jesus Christ since the mind must be redeemed. Salvation is not just a deliverance from hell and a transformation of the body at the resurrection of the “quick and the dead.” Rather, salvation includes the transformation of the mind unto the mind of Christ. Standing on the shoulders of great minds like Augustine, Hugh of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas, Green shows that faith seeks understanding rather than understanding seeking faith because only a worldview that starts with a creator God can make sense of reality. Green is to be commended for his presuppositional approach to thought. He is careful not to sacrifice “understanding” on the altar of “faith.” Instead, he very appropriately takes the world as it is and makes the bold claim that any explanation of it that does not start with God as the creator is quickly shown to be unintelligible.
Fourthly, Green spends some time explaining the modern theories of deconstructionism, mainly Jaques Derrida, showing that such views deny the possibility of meaningful language. Green responds to Derrida, leaning heavily on Augustine, showing that a Christian view of reality provides “a compelling and coherent account of language” (177). Finally, Green argues what he had been assuming throughout the whole book, namely, that all knowledge is moral. Taking his cue from John Calvin, Augustine, Hugh of St. Victor, and Pascal, Green demonstrates that when our “loves are disordered…we do not approach all things through the reality of Jesus” (178).
One weakness that immediately jumps out at the reader is that positions are more claimed than rigorously explained. When stating that intellectual thought is only possible when “birthed,” as it were, from the gospel, Green quotes some verses from the bible only to show afterward that it jives with what he is saying. That is perfectly legitimate for those readers of his book that are already on his team. Yet a stronger argument will need to be put forth with some fairly hefty examples if the opposing team is to consider such claims with any seriousness.
Green’s love for learning and anchoring all knowledge in the Lordship of Jesus Christ is clear throughout the whole work. This book is a wonderful introduction to the whole enterprise, not just of Christian thought, but of the intellectual life in general. For those already familiar with the epistemological concerns of presuppositional thinkers such as Cornelius Van Til, this book will offer nothing new. Even though this book is not an apologetic primer, it would be a wonderful book to recommend to first year college students who are about to be assaulted with worldviews anchored in nihilism, deconstructionism, and/or skepticism.
Joshua B. Henson
M. Div Candidate, 2012