catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 10 :: 2008.05.16 — 2008.05.30


Philosophy in the family

The title of Spiegel's latest work is unlikely for a book that seriously explores doctrines of the Christian faith, "especially where contemporary ideas, both within and outside the church, have strayed from orthodoxy." Instead, judging by the name, one might expect heartwarming stories of family pets and camping adventures. Gum, Geckos and God attempts to do both.

It may sound like an unusual concept, but at the beginning Spiegel describes his roots in academia, from his PhD work in philosophy to his current position as a philosophy professor at a Christian, liberal-arts college. Spiegel describes how his wife and four young children changed his perspective: "While it used to be that my family played a role in my academic life,” Spiegel states, now "…my work in philosophy and theology has informed my role as a father." Later, Spiegel shares that "the greatest practical value of my vocation as a Christian philosopher is how it equips me for this daunting task" of training his children to be wise.

The strength of Gum, Geckos and God lies in its holistic focus. By using the everyday questions of his children as his launching point, set in the mundane surroundings of small-town life, Spiegel roots his discussions in practicality and avoids the temptation to get lost in theory, even though the questions are heavy and complex. The chapters move from "What is God like?" and cover such territory as "How Can God Fix Us?" and "Who Gets to Go to Heaven?" Spiegel encourages his children to explore their own questions at greater depth and offers his own distinctive, philosophically-rooted thoughts on each matter. The answers Spiegel offers are thought-provoking, and don't necessarily represent cookie-cutter, Sunday-school responses.

This book is easy to read, and is both refreshing and thought-provoking. At times, the transition from childhood anecdotes to explanations of orthodoxy and theory can feel a little rough, perhaps because spoken conversation is generally not geared toward teaching in the same way as a literary work or classroom. Even so, both the stories of the family and the theoretical passages are written in a manner that is easy to navigate, and the originality of the book lies in its attempt to tear down the barriers between a study of theology and the real lives of families.

The descriptions of conversations Spiegel has with his kids hearken back to the earnest questing of childhood to know more about the world. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." I recommend this book to parents, to burnt-out students of theology and seminary, to people who get frustrated with the "in-house" jargon of the church and to adults who used to be kids. There is much to be learned from the questions of children. As Spiegel points out, "I never knew that topics as wide ranging as bicycles, gum, and baseball all lead to God. But as my children have shown me, nothing is too mundane to inspire an inquisitive mind."

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