A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
About the Author
John Frame holds the J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and is the author of many books, including the four-volume Theology of Lordship series.
In this book, John Frame has brought together his lifetime of teaching philosophy, apologetics, and theology to provide an analysis of the history of Western thought. He approaches the subject as a committed evangelical Christian, working from the Reformed tradition and as a Van Tillian presuppositionalist. Frame surveys the key eras, thinkers, and movements in both theology and philosophy. This work is descriptive but also prescriptive—Frame evaluates, criticizes, and commends. He seeks to outline a biblical worldview and then traces the contours of Western thought and thinkers, analyzing their contributions and testing them against the standard of God’s truth. The result is a book of considerable breadth and depth.
Today we provide Part 2 of our Summary.
Table of Contents
Foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
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
Appendix A: “Certainty”
Appendix B: “Infinite Series”
Appendix C: “Ontological Argument”
Appendix D: “Transcendental Arguments”
Appendix E: “Determinism, Chance, and Freedom”
Appendix F: “Self-Refuting Statements”
Appendix G: “Unregenerate Knowledge of God”
Appendix H: “God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence”
Appendix I: “Scripture Speaks for Itself”
Appendix J: Review of The Legacy of Logical Positivism 8
Appendix K: Review of New Essays on Religious Language
Appendix L: Review of Paul M. Van Buren, The Edges of Language
Appendix M: Review of Paul L. Holmer, The Grammar of Faith
Appendix N: “Ogden on Theology”
Appendix O: Review of Paul Helm, Belief Policies
Appendix P: Review of Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know
Appendix Q: “Christianity and Contemporary Epistemology”
Appendix R: “Reply to Gordon H. Clark”
Appendix S: Review of Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction
Appendix T: “Van Til Reconsidered”
Annotated Bibliography of Philosophy Texts
Friedrich Schleiermacher is usually considered the father of modern liberal theology, even though he wasn’t the first liberal theologian. He believed that religion was more than morality—its hallmark was a feeling of absolute dependence. Scripture is not about dogma and propositional theology, but rather is a record that shows us how the authors felt—in Scripture we see how Jesus’ disciples felt about their experiences with him. Religion is internal and subjective. Redemption is growing into the actualization of a God-consciousness.
Albrecht Ritschl did not agree that religion was mainly about subjective feelings. Ritschl thought that theology was concerned with the historical Jesus and the life of the believer today. His historical Jesus, however, could not do anything supernatural. Jesus was divine because he was the best that a human can be—every person can be like Jesus and bring family reconciliation and harmony between God and others. Following Ritschl, Wilhelm Herrmann continued to advance a strongly subjectivist understanding of revelation and religion. Appropriating Scripture and Jesus was about making a value judgment about their worth. Adolf von Harnack also rejected the accounts of Jesus’ supernatural works, arguing that the message of Jesus was about the Kingdom of God, which reduced to love and social justice.
Ritschlianism was riding a powerful wave early into the twentieth-century. It was growing in many denominations and schools. From an evangelical perspective, the movement was attacked by the fundamentalists, but with little effect. More damaging was work done by liberals on the historical Jesus, which called into question the Ritschlians’ interpretation of Jesus as a social reformer. The incredible fighting and bloodshed generated by the two World Wars wiped away the liberal confidence that the human race was evolving religiously towards global brotherhood and peace.
Soren Kierkegaard is difficult to interpret and classify. He did not examine the regular lineup of philosophical and theological subjects, but rather focused on topics like dread, choice, anxiety, and decision-making. Kierkegaard thought that rational analysis did not determine choices—a choice was always between genuine alternatives (hence his book title “Either/Or”), but analyzing the merits of each choice is not the same as making the decision and choosing. Kierkegaard thought that people could advance through three stages of living commitments. The first stage was the aesthetic, living for pleasure without real principles. The second stage is the ethical, where the individual tries to maintain their purity—in this stage failure and anxiety are common. The third stage is the religious and it requires a leap of faith. We cannot prove whether God exists. We are also called past the ethical in this stage, so we relate to God only as individuals, ready to do whatever he requires, even if that transcends our ethical codes. In the stage of faith, sin is not breaking rules, but rather the more painful breaking of fellowship with God. Truth has a significant subjective side—what we believe is important but so is how we believe it.
Nietzsche, Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Existentialism
Friedrich Nietzsche lived during the 19th Century but his thinking is more at home in the 20th. He taught that people’s knowing and truth is really a product of their will to power. We believe what we want, and our beliefs are formed on the basis of what is useful for us (and we might be wrong about what is actually useful). The end result is that all of our thinking is relative to our own perspective and everything is interpretation. The concept of truth can apply to everyday facts (postmoderns grant this too) but not to metanarratives and general theories. God is dead, so God cannot provide meaning and truth. Joy can only be found by the superman who transcends the values of the herd….[To continue reading this summary, please see below....]
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A History of Western Philosophy and Theology