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Paths Not Taken: Fates of Theology from Luther to Leibniz.

PATHS NOT TAKEN: FATES OF THEOLOGY FROM LUTHER TO LEIBNIZ. By Paul R. Hinlicky. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009. Pp. xiv + 385. $50.

Paul Hinlicky joins a growing chorus of theologians who wish to salvage a theological (and Platonic) humanism from modernity, while they try also to avoid succumbing to modernity's many problems or to the postmodernist critiques of modernity. Surprisingly, Leibniz is lifted up as a flawed exemplar of what H. seeks to establish theologically. Drawing on recent Leibniz research and highlighting his Lutheran heritage, H. pries Leibniz free from the Kantian narrative that reads him, in the wake of Kant's Copernican turn, as a "rationalist." H. argues that Leibniz's philosophy depends on his adoption of the proposition that finitum capax infiniti, which adoption is in turn grounded in his trinitarian theology and, more specifically, in his imago dei anthropology.

H. takes clear aim at several, mostly philosophical errors (e.g., at the deus exlex of nominalism and at the overly apophatic approaches of contemporary theology); he persuasively corrects barbaric atomistic interpretations of the windowless monad. Nonetheless, H.'s focus remains especially on Leibniz's theology, as he offers a noteworthy, enlightening, and provocative reading of that theology. Leibniz's main insistence, according to H., is that the triune God must be understood as all loving, wise, and powerful--these predicates deserving simultaneous and equal emphasis. He begins by noting rightly the ontological purposes and content of a proper Christian via negativa; then he contrasts that form of apophaticism with Kant's transcendental epistemological project, the latter understood as having its roots, interestingly, in Spinoza. According to H., Leibniz remained stuck between traditional dogmatic theology and modern epistemological projects, and unfortunately was eventually overshadowed, both philosophically and culturally, by Spinoza and Kant. Now we are in a position to reclaim much of Leibnitz's insight and thereby correct for that obscuring.

H.'s argument is weak at several points. For example, in his discussion of God's wisdom, love, power, and knowability, he offers no treatment of traditional accounts of divine simplicity, of the convertibility of the transcendentals, and of how these relate to traditional Christian apophaticism. His argument, therefore, remains undetermined; he wants to lay claim to traditional and Augustinian dogmatic theology in Leibniz, Luther, and Melanchthon but does not establish the link. Similarly his justification for appealing to Christian theology and dogmatics remains undetermined. He rightly uses Milbank's Theology and Social Theory to show that sociological treatments of theology lack indubitable epistemological foundations. However, he could learn from Milbank's more recent turn to a rehabilitation of reason: Milbank makes the case that Christianity is more reasonably persuasive than are other traditions. To argue that all traditions and cognitive claims lack certain epistemological foundations, Milbank discovers, is not the same as saying all traditions are equal, even epistemologically speaking. H. makes an admirable attempt to restore Leibniz's understanding of sufficient reason, but he never explicitly appeals to Leibniz's sufficient reason to ground any larger issues other than to argue on behalf of Christian philosophy, which begs the question.

H. is at his best when describing and evaluating modern philosophy and theology; especially impressive is his grasp of the history of theology. He incisively critiques Barth's and even Jungel's nominalism and idealism, and highlights the way Luther and Melanchthon, in their influencing Leibniz, helped shape modern theology, even while he enlists both Luther and Melanchthon to support his own case for a Christian humanism.

Charles Taylor's A Secular Age was being published in 2007, about the time H. was finishing his own text. H.'s argument can profitably be deepened by entering into dialogue with Taylor. Both find modernity's sources in medieval nominialism and agree that nominialism has had negative effects culturally and intellectually. However, where Taylor argues that the Reformation contributes to the secularization of society by constantly seeking reforms in the public sphere, H., in good Lutheran fashion, would defend Luther and argue that he is part of a solution to the current theological malaise in the wake of (post)modernity.

Given the dominant climate of largely sociological and historical treatments of theology, H.'s unabashedly cognitive and dogmatic account of Christian theology and philosophy is a needed and welcome contribution to both theology and philosophy. I hope he continues this work and that others follow him down these untrodden paths.


University of Dayton, Ohio
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Author:Furry, Timothy J.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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