This study, together with three earlier books, is part of Delpi's attempt to develop a theology which at once speaks in "a Yankee idiom" (p. v) and challenges the particular sinfulness of American culture. Delpi claims that Christianity has been from its beginning a religion searching for a metaphysics. He endorses and practices "interdisciplinary theological thinking" in his attempt to articulate an analysis of the human which is an adequate foundation for understanding the relationship of the human to grace. He remains throughout a disciple of Bernard Lonergan's theological method, while recognizing such flaws in Lonergan's perspective as an untenable foundationalism, intellectualism, a flawed transcendental method, and a confusion of the normative with the metaphysical. He finds the remedy for these flaws in the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce.
The book is divided into three major parts. The first part focuses on the fallacies that Delpi is concerned to avoid: essentialism, dualism, nominalism, rationalism, and the extremes of optimism and pessimism. He finds these fallacies in the work of theologically influential thinkers of the past, including Plato, the Stoics, Aristotle, the Gnostics, the Jewish apocalyptics, Augustine, Aquinas, the Reformation theologians, Kant, Whitehead, and Schillebeeckx. At the root of all these fallacies is a priorism, which is unable to distinguish the formulation of an hypothesis from its verification. Delpi proposes the relational, triadic, and social metaphysics of Charles Sanders Peirce as a way to escape this a priorism.
The second part argues in some detail that Peirce avoids the major philosophical fallacies that marred past theologies of grace. To explain this achievement, Delpi analyzes Peirce's creation of a philosophical framework based on the relation between logic and metaphysics, a framework which required and received further elaboration in the work of subsequent American thinkers: Royce, Dewey, Meade, and Berger and Luckmann. Delpi emphasizes the "astonishing degree of originality" (p. 155) of Peirce's philosophy and claims to find there a deconstruction of modernism that, unlike European deconstructionism, makes possible a metaphysics of experience that can provide a ground for theological analysis.
The third part constructs Delpi's own metaphysics of experience and uses it to interpret the gracing of human experience. He takes experience as the root metaphor for reality and develops an analysis far broader than modernism would allow. He explicitly understands experience as relational and affective, involving values, decisions, and tendencies; and his root metaphor encompasses the human experience of God which is possible because of the Incarnation.
This is a meticulously researched book that reflects a thorough and insightful reading of Peirce and of the philosophical and theological traditions. Delpi aligns himself with Peirce's commitment to fallibilism and writes in an explicitly fallibilistic mode. He acknowledges that he has revised his own theological perspective through several books thus far and claims that valid theology requires such openness to ongoing revision. Detailed philosophical analysis and deliberate methodological openness make for analytic excellence, but difficult reading. Delpi's text is dense both conceptually and historically, and very abstract. Readers not thoroughly versed in the history and methodology of philosophy and theology will find this book difficult reading, but persevering through the nine chapters brings significant reward. Delpi produces a rich framework for a metaphysically grounded theology that both reflects and challenges American culture and that provides insights about such powerful concepts as loyalty, community, the transformation of human experience by the Incarnation, conversion, affectivity, faith, and charism both individual and institutional.
Delpi's prose is occasionally lightened and clarified by concrete images and illustrations, but these are relatively rare and do not seem to be part of his natural approach to analysis or teaching. He seems more comfortable with abstractions. This book argues that Peirce built a metaphysics that would need fleshing out in the work of later Americans. Delpi's system likewise bears the marks of what Peirce called an "architectonic" system - one which is so broad and well grounded that it provides the framework for future development for some time to come. Delpi's metaphysics of experience both requires and deserves such development. In light of the relativistic and pessimistic rejection of a priorism by European postmodernism, Delpi's fallibilistic and empirical metaphysics, which avoids both pessimism and relativism through its emphasis on prediction and testing, is a significant contribution to contemporary theology.
It is, in Delpi's own words, difficult "to wrap [one's] mind around" (p. 137) the metaphysics of Peirce. The same is true of Delpi's metaphysics of experience. In both cases, such wrapping in worth the effort.