Book Review: Through the River

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Yesterday I found myself thinking I might share this book I’ve just finished with someone. I thought it might help.  I was immediately confused because my first impressions of Through the River weren’t good.

The book is Through the River: Understanding your assumptions about the truth. It is my latest read for review for the Viral Bloggers Network.

The book is about “truth lenses,” Which is a shorthand term Jon and Mindy Hirst use for epistemology.  There are, in River Town (a mythical community metaphor used throughout the book), three truth lenses: Positivist, Instrumentalist, and Critical Realist.  The Hirsts take the reader through the history of Western Philosophy to describe the progression that has brought us these three truth lenses.

The Positivists represent, generally, conservatives and fundamentalists, and the Instrumentalists represent (again, generally) liberals and progressives. Both these truth lenses are described in detail yet are found lacking.

Like anyone who tries to figure out where a story is going before he gets there, I had the positivists and instrumentalists pegged early in the story as positions the authors do not respect very much.  Characters from either of these perspectives are, in the book’s portrayal, hopeless; they are stuck in their epistemology.  It is only the Critical Realists who have hope, life, and healthy relationships.  I was, at points, surprised not to find the Critical Realists described as wearing capes, masks, and tights.

This methodology strikes me as both counterproductive and typical for evangelicals.  Setting up the opposition, or alternative, points of views as straw men, then knocking them down with one’s superior point of view is, truthfully, neither fair nor generous.

But, alas, for a primer on the history of the development of Western Philosophy, the Hirsts are more generous with what is left out than they are with the sadly lacking “truth lenses” they hope to present.

Case in point: the explanation of philosophy in the West jumps from Plato to Copernicus to Einstein, only the first of whom was actually a philosopher.  For the Hirsts, philosophy is a progressive, building development through history. However, their only source for citing Copernicus as a significant player is Thomas Kuhn, who is perhaps best known for his role in dismantling the progressive, building development way of understanding history, philosophy, and science.

So, in other words, Jon and Mindy cite Thomas Kuhn (a philosopher) as their only source on Copernicus (not a philosopher) to support their use of Copernicus as playing a major role in modern philosophy.  In doing so, they show that they don’t understand Kuhn.

What the Hirsts want is for people, especially Christians, I think, to consider two things: first, that though there is objective, real truth, you don’t have a monopoly on it; and second, through communication and community we can all better come to know the truth and life that God offers us.

One thought on “Book Review: Through the River

  1. Chris,

    Thanks for your review of our book, Through the River. We appreciate you taking the time to review it and think through the ideas presented. It doesn’t sound like you had the kind of experience we hoped you would. While we are sorry it didn’t meet your expectations, there are probably a few reasons for that.

    One is that our book is focused on people who do not have a background in philosophy or theology. Our hope was to mine from the depths of Dr. Hiebert’s work to provide a very accessible book representing the three major ways that people today view truth. Our hope is that someone like yourself would be able to give it to friends or family as a tool for discussion and to help them think through how their truth lens impacts their faith, relationships and outreach.

    Secondly, while we do lean towards Critical Realism, our desire was to show that all three have value. We did this even more than some felt comfortable with but we believe that you can be a follower of Jesus and a person growing in your faith and have any one of these three truth lenses. That being said, one of our hopes in this book was to point the way to the truth lens we believe is most helpful to people trying to engage culture in the 21st Century. Our question to you would be this, “What do you believe is your truth lens and what would you do to validate your approach but also show the positive sides of approaches that might be different from your own?”

    Our hope is that the book will be viewed as a humble yet direct treatment of these three views of truth. We don’t believe that Critical Realism is the “end all” as much as we believe that it is a way forward for us as we seek to humbly learn in community.

    We look forward to your input and hearing about your truth journey. You can interact with us on our blog as well at http://www.throughtheriverbook.com.

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