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.
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
Philosophy and the Bible
Wisdom begins with fearing the Lord, but although philosophy is supposed to be the “love of wisdom,” much of philosophical thinking represents a revolt against God and God’s truth. Philosophy is used to defend a worldview (or metanarrative). This book presupposes—as well as argues for—the truth of the Christian worldview. Defending any worldview requires some circularity in reasoning. Christians can benefit from studying the history of philosophy because it sharpens our minds and thinking, philosophy has had a large influence on theology, and many of the toughest challenges to Christianity are found in this field. The Word of God is the authority for Christian philosophy and theology. Christian thinking must be done in self-conscious submission to the Lord and his revealed truth. Philosophical thought is essentially religious in character, even if it is non-Christian or secular thought. Philosophers posit things that do not depend on anything else. Non-Christian thinkers try to make their own thoughts, will, or feelings autonomous. This means that secular philosophy attempts to replace the biblical God with idols.
Philosophy can be subdivided into three subjects: metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. Metaphysics is the study of being, the study of the general features of reality. Epistemology examines the subject of knowledge. It investigates the nature of knowledge, its possibility, and procedures for gaining knowledge. Value theory is concerned with that which is valuable—things that should be valued, how we should make value judgments, the objectivity or subjectivity of valuations, etc. These three subdivisions are interrelated and cannot be completely sealed off from each other. They are best considered as perspectives or aspects of philosophy rather than as separate parts. Studying any one of them will inevitably incorporate the others.
The world is a creation of God. God is an absolute personality. As absolute, he is independent and self-sufficient—in fact, everything depends on him. But God is also personal. Other systems of thought or religions have absolutes or personal gods, but the absolutes are not personal and the personal gods are not absolute. A personal, absolute being is unique to biblical revelation (some non-Christian religions—like Islam or some Christian cults—have borrowed from this biblical revelation). This absolute personal being is tripersonal: he is one God in three persons. God’s fundamental relation to the world is as its Lord. God’s lordship involves his control, authority, and presence. We must learn to bring all of our thinking into subjection to the Lord God. Sin is a rejection of God’s lordship in knowledge, ethics, and metaphysics. Unbelievers try to live their lives apart from God and his Word. The believer lives to glorify God, while the unbeliever tries to live autonomously. Their life orientations are antithetical.
This antithesis is revealed when we examine the subjects of metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. In metaphysics, the biblical view is that God is both transcendent and immanent. God is high above us and the sovereign Lord, but he is also covenantally present and knowable. Nonbiblical thinking either makes God unknowable (or nonexistent) or reduces him to the level of other beings. The Trinity is the one-and-the-many (ultimate unity and plurality)—nonbiblical thought cannot relate unity and diversity in a coherent metaphysic. Nonbelievers oscillate between positing a transcendent unifying principle and positing immanent pluralities. God has created the world to reflect his being, so there is genuine unity and plurality. There are both universals and particulars that are interrelated: there is sameness and difference, and they are related as perspectives.
In terms of epistemology, God is the one who grants knowledge and wisdom. Furthermore, he is the authority for all things, including right and wrong, truth and error. Human knowledge is only possible because of the revelation of God. Nonbiblical thought either removes God (thus removing the grounds for knowledge) or reduces God (thus making human reason authoritative). The first option leads to irrationalism, the latter to rationalism. God’s revelation is the highest authority—our knowledge is the knowledge of a servant. Even human systems of logic are subordinate to God. Our reason is competent under God, but never exhaustive or autonomous. Nonbiblical thought goes back and forth between rationalism and irrationalism, and although these two poles are contradictory, the history of philosophy shows how rationalism and irrationalism are actually based on one another.
In value theory, Christians seek to apply the moral norms of God in particular situations, with the proper attitudes and goals. Nonbelievers try to live apart from the ethics of God. They run into tensions between ethical norms, situations, and the ethical agent. Different non-Christian thinkers emphasize one or another of these perspectives, but none of their ethical systems are sustainable. Even though making ethical decisions in particular circumstances can be difficult, Christians know there is a coherence in the moral order that is applicable in God’s creation.
It is a mistake to try to synthesize Greek philosophical thought with the biblical worldview. Studying Greek thought can help us see the negative consequences that attend rejecting biblical theism. Greek philosophy was highly diverse, but it was united in its rejection of the absolute and personal God. Chance or Fate was posited as the great controlling force behind the universe. Around 600 B.C. philosophy was born as a conscious attempt to understand the world apart from tradition and religion, relying on autonomous reasoning. The first philosophers—the Milesians—tried to understand the basic constitution of the world and tried to determine how plurality was related in unity. Their thinking oscillated between rationalism and irrationalism. For example, Thales argued that everything was water, but then the gods were water and our minds are water—but why would we trust the intelligence of waves? Heraclitus saw that things are in a constant state of flux, but he also argued that there had to be a unifying, rational principle that held everything together (the logos). Parmenides argued that change was an illusion and that rationality had to trump our sense perceptions. Epicurus reduced reality to atoms falling downward in a void, but he also introduced the irrational principle of a random atomic swerve, which allowed for movement and freedom. All of these attempts to explain reality produced faulty views of metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory….
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A History of Western Philosophy and Theology