Book Review: A Mennonite Thinks About Knowing

It is not every day epistemology is used as an argument for actually following Jesus but this is what Steven Brubaker does in his new book “A Mennonite Thinks About Knowing” published by Faith Builder’s Educational Programs. If Brubaker has done his job well the common perception that conservative Anabaptists are unconcerned with epistemology may be inverted in that they have a profound interest in “first things” (reality) and merely not as much interest as they might in “second things” (accurate descriptions of reality)

The book starts by defining truth using a widely accepted definition: “accurate descriptions of what is”. It then goes on to emphasize that Jesus & the New Testament not only define truth as a description of what is but also as “reality itself” using texts such as “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) The book notes that “our understanding of truth should encompass both the substance (the thing itself) and the accurate description”.

our understanding of truth should encompass both the substance (the thing itself) and the accurate description

The book also takes a look at different models of how beliefs relate to each other (balance, tension, knife-edge & road-ditch) and notes a useful model that avoids some problems of the others is that of first & second things. This model emphasizes which of the related items is “more basic, primary or fundamental than the other” instead of setting related items against each other as some of the other models tend to do. Using this model to compare “reality itself” with “descriptions of what is” the conclusion is quickly drawn that the former is a first thing and the latter a second thing. The examples of Jesus and writings about Jesus and being and doing are given to show the explanatory power of this model.

Instead of limiting our defense of the truth to logical arguments, we offer love as the preferred apologetic

This view of truth leads, by what might be an unfamiliar path, to a very characteristically Anabaptist insight: “Instead of limiting our defense of the truth to logical arguments, we offer love as the preferred apologetic.” The book also takes an interesting look at the problems that result when the first & second related truths are reversed, confused or separated.

What I’ve outlined are some of the ideas that stuck out to me from chapter 1 and the chapters that follow look at what reality is, coming to terms with reality, knowing by describing and participating and confidence in knowing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book on epistemology from a Mennonite perspective. It is very common for Christian apologetics to primarily focus on an accurate description of what is and it is interesting to hear a careful explanation why there might be reasons to look further for a more complete conception of truth. We can describe the agape of God and we can allow God to make agape a reality in our lives and clearly the reality is a “first thing”. The world could use more of this inversion I think. The book does an interesting and nuanced job of describing when Christians can agree and disagree with both modernists and postmodernists. This book makes the clear Christian case that Jesus is at the center of any worthwhile effort at finding truth. If epistemology is of interest to you I recommend you read this book.

If you want to read the eBook right now, below is the link.

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