Brief Reviews, VOLUME 1

Brief Review: Transforming Philosophy and Religion, Wirzba/Benson, eds. [Vol. 1, #46]

A Brief Review of
Transforming Philosophy and Religion: Love’s Wisdom,
Norman Wirzba and Bruce Ellis Benson, eds.

by Chris Smith.

Transforming Philosophy and Religion: Love’s Wisdom, a new book from Indiana University Press edited by Norman Wirzba and Bruce Ellis Benson, is a fine collection of essays that “call our attention back to the fundamental role that love plays in being wise” (10).  The essays here explore the role of love in philosophy, theology and a host of social issues from justice to gender to bioethics.  Norman Wirzba opens the collection with a compelling argument for the “primacy of love” in philosophy (lit. the love of wisdom).  Consider his poignant conclusion:

“The history of Western culture demonstrates that philosophers have wanted to be rulers far more than they have wanted to be lovers.  Rather than offering ourselves up in a loving response to the world – in ways that would promote mutual flourishing – we have instead sought to bring others within our control.  The result has been the world’s and our own destruction or disfigurement.  More than ever before, what we need is a transformation of philosophical practice so that an affirmation of others in their integrity can take place” (25).


I was pleased to see that a number of these essays engaged Kierkegaard’s works, most notably Amy Laura Hall’s “You’d Better Find Somebody to Love,” which maintains that Kierkegaard’s Works of Love may shed some light on the bioethical quagmires of the present.  Two other excellent pieces were that of John Caputo, who examines the meaning of the biblical concepts of “love” and “law” in the present age of postmodernity, and that of Tyler Roberts, who addresses the question of whether Christianity embodies Slavoj Zizek’s notion of a “militant love.” 

            However, the best piece in this collection is Edward Mooney’s “Love, This Lenient Interpreter,” in which he examines the possibility of a hermeneutic that is characterized primarily by love.  Taking as an example, two recent studies of Kierkegaard’s life and works, Mooney contrasts these two works to illuminate the importance of how we read a text (love vs. suspicion or mistrust).  This piece is one that should be read and discussed early on in the academic career of any aspiring philosopher or theologian in the Church.

            Taken together, these essays in Transforming Philosophy and Religion offer a resounding affirmation of St. Paul’s proclamations about the emptiness of knowledge without love (I Corinthians 13).  Given its contributors (esp. Caputo and Wirzba) and the topics that they engage (e.g., Paul, Zizek, etc.), it will be of particular interest to the aspiring theologians of the emerging church.

Transforming Philosophy and Religion: Love’s Wisdom,
Norman Wirzba and Bruce Ellis Benson, eds.

Paperback: Indiana UP, 2008.
Buy now:   [ Amazon ]

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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