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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"History of Western Philosophy and Theology" (John M. Frame)

TITLE: A History of Western Philosophy and Theology
AUTHOR: John M. Frame
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2015, (928 pages).

When studying philosophy, one will have to study theology. When studying theology, one will also need to wrestle with philosophy. It is not possible to study any of the two in isolation with the other. Without the two, any study of the history of philosophy and theology would be incomplete. Using a storytelling style, philosopher and theologian John M. Frame has compiled over 15 years of teaching material from his core course at Reformed Theological Seminary. Called the "History of Philosophy and Christian Thought," Frame writes from a Christian point of view, partly because he is teaching in a Christian school of theology. More importantly, the moment we want to tell a story, we must always have a particular frame of reference and if necessary, a position of conviction that is fair when describing other views. Honestly, there is no such thing as an absolutely neutral book especially when it comes to philosophy or theology. Whether atheist or theist, secularist or representing any one religion, all literature are oriented to a particular point of view. Given this nature, it is far better to acknowledge upfront one's position openly for readers to take note. Frame has been honest about it and readers should applaud the author's commitment to tell the story fairly and justly because the Christian faith demands it. At the same time, there would be evaluations of various thinkers and philosophers and readers will have to make their own personal assessment not only of the thinkers themselves but also on Frame's. That is a bonus for readers having a view and one interpretation of the view to learn from. This book is also unique for the following reasons:
  • It is openly Christian in perspective
  • It is partly apologetic in style but fairly critiques both Christian as well as non-Christian views
  • It stresses the interdependence of both disciplines of theology and philosophy
  • It contains an extensive coverage of modern thought, the most I have seen in any book of this nature. 
  • Most visibly, Frame analyzes modern thought with a strong foundation of classical Western philosophy, arguing from the strengths of the former.

Frame is particularly respectful of the late Cornelius Van Til, whose work according to Frame "had the most impact on Western civilization." Following Van Til's footsteps, he affirms the belief that once we can properly understand the ancient thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel, we would be formidably equipped with the ability to scrutinize modern thought, changing philosophies, and liberal theologies. This is one reason for the author who believes that modern theologians like William Lane Craig will be unable to appreciate the classical philosophical thought processes such as that of Van Til. In fact, Frame argues against Craig's assertion that Van Til was not a philosopher.

The thirteen chapters of the book are arranged as follows:
  1. Philosophy and the Bible 
  2. Greek Philosophy 
  3. Early Christian Philosophy 
  4. Medieval Philosophy 
  5. Early Modern Thought 
  6. Theology in the Enlightenment 
  7. Kant and His Successors 
  8. Nineteenth-Century Theology 
  9. Nietzsche, Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Existentialism 
  10. Twentieth-Century Liberal Theology, Part 1 
  11. Twentieth-Century Liberal Theology, Part 2 
  12. Twentieth-Century Language Philosophy 
  13. Recent Christian Philosophy 
The coverage is exceptionally wide, considering it is written from a Christian perspective. The first chapter presents how the book is to be engaged. Seeing philosophy historically as a "revolt against traditional wisdom," Frame is contrasting the rise of humanism against Christianity. More importantly, there is no one way to understand philosophy. Depending on the worldview one has, whatever study would have to be based on that. This reminds us again that every book on philosophy has to be written from a particular worldview, whether Christian or not. Likewise, every history book has a certain bias and a particular way of story telling. Philosophy and theology influence each other. What I like about Frame's approach is that he first presents what a Christian view is. Then he presents the non-Christian view. Finally, he puts forth his own interpretation of the interactions. Though he can be accused of being biased, I prefer to see his approach as fair. Again, his material in this book is prepared for students of a Bible college in the first place, so there is no hidden agenda.

At the end of each chapter, there is a list of key terms and study questions for students to work through. Accompanied by a respectable list of bibliography resources, advanced readers can use this book as a primer to plunge into further research. As a bonus, there are free online lectures available to accompany the book here. There is also a section of "famous quotes" which really packs in the interest. Who says philosophy is boring?

Frame makes it clear that Greek philosophies are drastically different from biblical views. The best Greek thinking is incompatible with biblical thought. One reason is because there is no single Greek thought. The Greeks themselves are not united in their philosophies. This is another reason why it is better to approach Greek philosophical studies from a framework of Christianity. If we were to do the reverse, we would have to write several books as Greek thought is extremely fragmented.

Moving on to Christian Philosophy, we see an impressive list of thinkers from the Early Church Fathers; the Medieval ages; the Reformation; the New Rationalization; the Enlightenment period; the 19th Century; and the Modern Era. I appreciate the expanded list of recent philosophers and theologians. No prize for guessing who is on the list. Cornelius Van Til of course.

With nearly a thousand pages packed with all kinds of resources, this is by far the most comprehensive textbook on history of philosophy and theology written from a Christian perspective. The bibliography alone is already worth the price of the book. Updated with lots of links to web resources, this book presents the textbook of the future, combining the best of the traditional textbook, supplemented by audio resources, and packed with plenty of useful information put together for the convenience of the busy and time-stressed out student. Teachers, professors, pastors, and leaders will find this book a gem to keep and to teach from.

If I am teaching a course on history, philosophy, or theology, this will be my recommended text.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of P and R Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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