Memoirs by philosophers typically don’t garner wide readership, but Nicholas Wolterstorff’s In This World of Wonders should. It records vignettes from the life of a leading Christian philosopher who has made scholarly contributions to the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics, among others. His Lament for a Son, written after the death of his son in a climbing accident, has helped many Christians journey through grief and is a spiritual classic.
I became aware of Wolterstorff in college when, as a philosophy student, I was introduced to the “Reformed epistemology” that he, Alvin Plantinga, and William P. Alston pioneered. Wolterstorff recounts the origins of that epistemology here, and provides a short introduction to its basic thesis, but he also shines a light on the development of his thinking in aesthetics and ethics. Given his interest in the former, it’s a good thing that Eerdman’s layout of this book was so well done. It’s always a pleasure to read a book where the beauty of the writing is matched by the beauty of the presentation.
For many years, Wolterstorff worried that his interests in different fields of philosophy had no unifying core. But he came to realize that the biblical concept of shalom, which he translates as “flourishing,” in fact integrated his interests. God created this world so that its creatures would flourish. This world-affirming theology, an outgrowth of a Reformed worldview, has guided Wolterstorff’s thinking over the course of a long, productive career at Calvin College, Yale University, and the University of Virginia.
Philosophically minded folk who have read Wolterstorff will be interested in this memoir, but I also think it presents a model of Christian scholarship—both implicitly and explicitly—that will commend the book to professors in other disciplines too.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, In This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life in Learning (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).
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