“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take very thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)
For too long Christians have had an uneasy mindset towards philosophy. Often quoting Paul’s instruction to Christians not to be taken “by philosophy and empty deceit,” (Col. 2:8) they carry a look of disdain towards Christians who find philosophy interesting and helpful. They claim sola scriptura and sound convincing doing it. But they miss a key element of Paul’s argument. He tells the Colossian believers to guard against philosophy that is “according to human tradition.” While they rightfully judge much of philosophy as not thinking God’s thoughts after Him, does this mean all of it is and, therefore, that is has not value for Christians?
Deep within the rhetoric and logic of anti-philosophy Christians is itself the basics of philosophy. Just as Greg Bahnsen said that atheists sit on God’s lap in order to slap Him in the face and use the air God created for them to breathe in order to denounce His existence with their words, so Christians who chastise philosophy have to use it in order to denounce it. They unwittingly sit on the lap of philosophy in order to poke its eyes out.
People, and Christians, cannot help but do philosophy – even if they do not want to. Philosophy is merely the love of wisdom and as Christians we ought to love it more than anyone else in the world. Christianity owns philosophy because Christianity has the true understanding of wisdom as found in Christ and the cross (1 Cor. 1:24). If Aristotle is right that “all men by nature desire to know,” Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and the Apostle Paul that “In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” then Christians, not just should, but, ought to be the best philosophers the world has ever known.
One such Christian who has spent his life loving the wisdom of God is John Frame. Though he identifies primarily as a theologian, he has kept philosophy close in all he does. Having taught theology and philosophy for decades, Frame has now turned his classroom material into a new book A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (P&R, 2015). This is a masterful and engaging walk through the Western worlds most substantive and contributory philosophers from the Greeks to the present.
What is a History of Philosophy?
A history of philosophy, let alone Western philosophy, is a history of men attempting to think wisely about the big questions of life. Unfortunately, it is marked with unwise thinking. While seeking knowledge and wisdom “according to human tradition” they have tried to push the God of all wisdom and knowledge out of the picture. If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” then philosophy done “against the knowledge of God” is a venture in foolishness.
In walking through the history of Western philosophy, Frame is doing two things: he is mapping out how philosophers have answered the questions of life and he is showing us how many of them have failed to answer them adequately. Just because people suppress the truth of God in their thought does not mean they stop thinking. Often times it is the very desire to suppress their knowledge of God that drives some philosophers to do what they do.
Throughout the book, as Frame clearly lays out each thinkers philosophy, he offers helpful critique of the many “wrong turns” man’s wisdom has taken him (36). Those familiar with Frame will anticipate that he does so from his presuppositional and triperspectival outlook on theology. This makes his work stand out from others who have charted the same historical waters. From Frame’s perspective, a history of philosophy and theology is a history of men suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness in their attempt to answer the big questions of life apart from God and a history of the same for those who have tried to faithfully think God’s thoughts after Him.
Philosophy & God
But this is not just a book on the history of philosophy. It is also a book on the history of theology. For Frame, the two are inseparably linked. To talk of one is to talk of the other. Philosophy is about wisdom and theology is about God and philosophy always makes its way to talking about God. Even atheists have a theology of God and it often comes to light in their philosophy.
What is often missed by naysayers of philosophy is that whenever they do theology they are using the language and provisions of theology to do so. We cannot talk of the trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the nature of the will, and so on without the language of philosophy. While Scripture gives us the theological grounding for talk of the trinity, it is philosophy that has given us the language of essence, being, and person-hood, all of which are essential to properly communicating orthodox teaching on the trinity.
This is ok. God has given us philosophy in order to communicate the Bible’s theology. Unfortunately, much of philosophy has not been done in the service of theology. Frame draws us into the minds of men who have not always thought God’s thoughts after Him and nor do they want to. They are either searching for God in all the wrong places or seeking to push Him out of the minds of others.
C.S. Lewis said that “good philosophy must exist, if for nor other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” This can be wrongly taken to mean that it is the only reason good philosophy should exist. Rather, it is one reason it should exist. Bad philosophy exists because men suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness in their thinking. Good philosophy is possible when men pattern their thoughts after God. Good philosophy should be the norm. To borrow from Augustine, we should not let the abuse of philosophy detract from its proper use.
Benefit for Christians
Christians should do philosophy in service to God but why should they study the philosophy of those who suppress the truth of God in their thinking? For the same reason, and others, that we teach each generation the history of civilizations; Christians need to be students of the history of philosophy in order to learn from it. The history of philosophy is as important for the church as is church history and historical theology.
Frame has made the history of philosophy readable for just about everyone. One does not have to be well acquainted with philosophy and its various systems in order to read this book. It is not dubbed down but it is written in a way as to serve the reader. Here are a number of aspects of the book to aid in learning:
- On the left side of two open pages is a running outline of where you are in each section.
- There are numerous quotes extracted from the body of the book highlighting important time periods, people, or thoughts that should not be missed.
- At the end of each chapter is a comprehensive list of key terms. At the end of the book is a 46 page glossary of terms used in the book.
- To aid the reader in content retention there is a list of study questions at the end of each chapter. The number of questions might overwhelm some but they follow the order of the content of each chapter for easy referencing. Reading them before reading each chapter will be beneficial.
- Each chapter also has a bibliography, a brief explanation of some related books to read, and online links to Frame’s lectures of the related material.
- One of the best features of the book are links to wikiquote.org with lots of famous quotes by the philosophers.
- The end of the book has twenty appendixes covering philosophical ideas and reviews of important books and articles.
A History of Philosophy and Theology is a great achievement in historical philosophy and theology and critique from a master philosopher and theologian himself. Frame continues to provide the church with solid books that will have a shelf life for generations to come.
I received this book for free from P&R for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”