Reasoning from Faith

Fundamental Theology in Merold Wesphal's Philosophy of Religion

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Justin Sands
Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion
  • Bloomington, IN: 
    Indiana University Press
    , January
     328 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In Reasoning from Faith: Fundamental Theology in Merold Westphal’s Philosophy of Religion author Justin Sands proves himself to be a deft interpreter of Westphal’s works. Sands argues that “Westphal’s thought functions less as a philosophical reflection on the Christian faith and more as an active engagement of philosophy that begins from within the Christian faith” (1), shifting it from the realm of philosophy of religion to theology. Sands fleshes out his claim that Westphal’s work is theological in nature through the undertaking of an intellectual history, not of Westphal’s works, but of Westphal himself. 

In chapter 1, Sands argues for a reading of Westphal not as an original thinker, but primarily as a reader of texts. Using different quotes from Westphal’s works, Sands demonstrates Westphal’s consistent method of placing “Athens and Jerusalem” in conversation with one another, employing a “hermeneutics of suspicion as an appeal to alterity” (15).

In chapter 2, Sands explains Westphal’s recontextualization of the Hegelian Aufhebung as mediated/suspended by the Kierkegaardian usage. Sands argues that this recontextualization, produced through putting Hegel and Kierkegaard in dialogue with one another, is essential to Westphal’s philosophy of religion and demonstrates his “gentle despoilment” of his sources: appropriating them while remaining faithful to them.

In chapter 3, Sands uses Westphal’s reading of Hegel to illuminate the political nature of his philosophy. At first glance, this seems to work in opposition to Sands’s overarching attempt to re-categorize Westphal as a theologian, but Sands emphasizes Westphal’s political inclinations as rooted in reflection on revelation, a theme continued throughout the book.

Chapter 4 moves on from Westphal’s reading of Hegel, turning instead to Kierkegaard. Sands argues Westphal’s understanding of faith is grounded in Kierkegaardian prophetic philosophy, and as such is wholly dependent on revelation without a grounding in reason (100). This understanding of faith, Sands suggests, functions more theologically than philosophically.

Chapter 5 further fleshes out Westphal’s understanding of faith. In this chapter Sands further illuminates Westphal’s theological underpinnings by highlighting the ways in which faith serves as political critique and how Westphal’s reading of Kierkegaard and Levinas adds an ethical impetus to revelation: namely that they call all to become liberation theologians focusing on the “least of these”.

Chapter 6 addresses the ways in which Westphal holds to both Christian faith and postmodern philosophy, suggesting their critiques of religion give them common ground, but ultimately argues that Westphal skews theological in his insistence upon starting from a recognition of revelation in faith. 

In Chapter 7, one of his shorter chapters, Sands elucidates Westphal’s reframing of Levinas and Kierkegaard via Hegel to discuss the transcendence of the soul and the ways in which Westphal espouses onto-theology maps onto reality via faith.

Chapter 8 moves into a discussion of the myriad of debates between Westphal and Caputo on the nature of radical eschatology and onto-theology. Westphal identifies faith as the primary mode of understanding transcendence and lives out an epistemic humility which acknowledges that we are not God, whereas Caputo’s postmodernism asks whether belief in the existence of God is possible. In juxtaposing Westphal with Caputo, Sands reemphasizes Westphal’s theological leanings.

In the final chapter, Sands places Westphal in dialogue with Kearney to critique Westphal’s phenomenology as improper in his appropriation of sources and use of philosophical methodologies for a theological project.

Sands adroitly argues for a reconceptualization of Westphal as a theologian and does so without elevating or denigrating Westphal’s work, using Westphal’s own comparative method to examine his arguments. Through the example of Merold Westphal, this book also addresses the difficulties in distinguishing between philosophy of religion and theology. Thorough and highly accessible, Reasoning from Faith is an excellent resource for those interested in philosophy of religion, theology, and/or Merold Westphal, novice and seasoned scholar alike.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rebekah Gordon is the Book Reviews Editor for the Religious Theory blog associated with the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory and a doctoral student in Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy at Florida State University.

Date of Review: 
October 23, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Justin Sands is a Postdoctoral Fellow at North West University, South Africa.


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