A HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY – John Frame (2015)

frameThe Word of God is emphatic about our role as we enter the marketplace of ideas. The apostle Paul sounds the warning in Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Scripture instructs Christ-followers, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ …” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, ESV).

John Frame maintains and promotes such a mind-set in his latest offering, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (HWPT). The discipline of philosophy, which is defined as “the disciplined attempt to articulate and defend a worldview,” is broken down into three subdivisions including metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. Readers familiar with Frame’s work will immediately recognize his commitment to perspectivalism, a powerful grid for thinking which includes three perspectives: normative, situational, and existential. This commitment has been clearly articulated and defended in his Lordship series, a series of books which are essential tools in every pastor’s library.

HWPT is dedicated to Dr. Cornelius Van Til, whose influence is evident throughout the book. Readers who are entrenched in Van Til’s methodology will quickly recognize themes such as the Creator-creature distinction and the charge that non-Christian thought lapses into the intellectual bankruptcies of rationalism and irrationalism.

On a large-scale, HWPT leads readers on a fascinating journey that educates, contextualizes, and warns.

Education

Frame has a reputation for educating not only his Seminary students but a rather broad reading audience. HWPT is no exception. The author gives readers an up-close look at the history of western thought. Unlike the typical tour of philosophy and theology, Dr. Frame provides readers with the proper lens with which to view such ideas. The book is built on the immutable, authoritative, infallible, inerrant Word of God. Readers are alerted in advance that the author carries certain presuppositions, above all – an allegiance to sacred Scripture. The author clearly reveals the presuppositions which guide his writing and inform his worldview:

“As a Christian, I am committed to a worldview that comes from the Bible: God the Creator, the world as his creation, man made in his image, sin and its consequences as our predicament, Christ’s atonement as our salvation, his return as the consummation of all things.”

Such an admission is rare in the world of philosophy. Frame’s candor should be respected and greatly appreciated by believer and non-believer alike.

Context

HWPT stands alone by contextualizing the various philosophic movements and the thinkers who represent those movements. The author helps readers understand how various philosophers influence future generations and worldviews. Such an approach is greatly needed, especially among undergraduate students who often see philosophy in bits and pieces instead of a unified whole.

Warning

The most helpful aspect of HWPT is the warning extended by Dr. Frame, a warning that takes Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 to heart. The author demonstrates how various philosophers have influenced generations and have contributed to the erosion of the Christian mind. These thinkers, most of whom continue to rule from the grave are exposed and for their futile thinking, which generally follows Van Til’s charge of being rationalistic and irrational at the same time.

I commend HWPT to pastors, Bible College students, Seminary students and Christ-followers who have a passion to see the picture in the world of philosophy and theology. HWPT is a serious book for serious Bible students. It is a book that I will return to again and again. May God use John Frame’s latest work to glorify the great God of the universe and encourage a new generation of Christian theologians, philosophers, pastors, and leaders.

Soli Deo Gloria!

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review.

LOGIC: A GOD-CENTERED APPROACH TO THE FOUNDATION OF WESTERN THOUGHT – Vern Poythress (2013)

1433532298_lLogic is one of the last things one would expect to hear about in a church. I have found that some Christians even have an aversion to logic – a statement which interestingly enough is not very logical! We should be thankful to men like Very Poythress who share their gifts with the church as well as the academy. One such gift is his latest book, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought.

The first thing readers will notice about this work is volume. It weighs in at over 700 pages which includes a large appendix that supplement the fine work that Poythress presents.

The author organizes his book into three parts, namely – Elementary Logic, Aspects of Propositional Logic, and Enriching Logic. Readers familiar with the discipline of logic will be very familiar with the terminology that is included in the table of contents. At first glance, the book seems to have much in common with a standard textbook on logic. But the real beauty of the book is found in the relationship of logic to God. Poythress rightly shows the logic comes directly from the hand of God. Indeed, he is “the source for logic.” The other demonstrates the rationality of logic and the personal nature of logic: “Logic in this sense is an aspect of the mind of God. All God’s attributes will therefore be manifested in the real laws of logic, in distinction from our human approximations to them.”

Poythress captures the essence of preuppositional apologetics and appears to pick up where Van Til left off: “We can praise God for what he has given us in our logic and our ability to reason.” Yet, sinners suppress the truth of God’s existence. “Everywhere we are confronted with the reality of God – and everywhere we flee from this reality.”

Logic helps us discern between truth and error. Logic on its own can not tell us what is true. But it will serve as a powerful aid in the discerning process. This work by Vern Poythress is a powerful anti-venom in a toxic world that is on a death-march away from logic. Sometimes people just don’t make any sense!

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THOUGHT: A Philosophical Guide to Living – Luc Ferry (2011)

0062074245_lA Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry is a fascinating account of the history of western thought.  Ferry begins by answering the thorny question, “What is philosophy?”  One of the answers that emerges has to do with the so-called quest for salvation.  Ferry brilliantly surveys the history of philosophy and presents various answers to the question from the ancient Greeks to the Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, and concludes by examining the thought of Nietzsche and Heidegger.  Ferry demonstrates how Christianity dominated and displaced Greco-Roman pagan thought and played a key role in the history of ideas.

While Ferry does not accept the conclusion of historic Christianity at the end of the day, his honest and open-minded treatment of the dominant philosophical questions is commendable and encouraging.  Strawman arguments are nowhere to be found in this work.  At play is an author who is honestly wrestling with ideas and assessing the facts as he sees them.  The broad sweep of historical thought that he presents is very helpful.

GODFORSAKEN – Dinesh D’Souza (2012)

Dr. Dinesh D’Souza serves as the President of King’s College.  He is also a prolific writer.  His newest work, Godforsaken picks up the theme of human suffering and the problem of evil.  It is clear from the outset that the author is familiar with the various attempts to resolve the so-called “Achilles heel of the Christian faith.”  Unconvinced by the typical atheistic approach to the problem, D’Souza’s goal is to provide an answer that is both rational and practical.

The author begins by admitting the problem of evil.  Both unbelievers and believers wrestle with this age-old problem.  Both respective groups approach suffering with completely different perspectives: “While the atheist merely uses suffering to confirm disbelief in God, the Christian who is suffering feels betrayed by God.  The atheist is intellectually triumphant – See, I told you there is no God! – while the Christian is heartbroken … godforsaken.”

In a surprising twist, D’Souza argues that Christians and atheists seem to be the most perplexed with the problem of suffering.  He demonstrates how Muslims refuse to question the plan of their god.  Hindus and Buddhists assume suffering as a normal part of life.  But Scripture argues in the opposite direction: “In contrast with the Eastern religions, which treat suffering as either illusory or deserved, the Bible portrays suffering as very real and unequivocally bad.”

D’Souza’s approach to the problem of evil appears to be unique.  He argument is essentially this: “God is the divine architect, the Cosmic Designer … [He] wanted to create conscious, rational agents who could understand his creation and also freely relate to him.  Given God’s objective to make humans, God constructed the universe not in the best possible way, but in the only way that it could be constructed.  In other words, God chose the sole option available to produce the result that he wanted.”  D’Souza labels his defense the “Only Way Argument.”  The author is totally unconvinced by the traditional approaches to theodicy.   Our task is to determine if  his approach is any better.

D’Souza’s theodicy is based on the philosophical notion of  free will.  As such he rejects all forms of determinism, even so-called soft-determinism.  The author shows his hand in chapter five: “If God truly has foreknowledge, how is it possible for us to choose differently?  If God knew at the beginning of Creation that at a given point in time, I am going to write this book, then it seems that I cannot choose at that particular time to write a different book instead.”  This notion, otherwise known as libertarian free will is the standard Semi-Pelagian notion that has crept into the church  and has gone largely unchecked.

D’Souza hints at a compatibalistic understanding of free will – where God has comprehensive foreknowledge of free choices, yet allows the creature to make a meaningful free choice (although he does not use the term).  But he rejects what he calls a “halfway concept of free will” and argues that such a notion is “hardly satisfactory.”  Hence, he rejects the biblical notion of compatibalism.

Chapter six sets out to answer the question, “Why did God create a lawful world – that is, a world conforming to discoverable and predictable laws?”  Again, the answer is centered exclusively on the free will of man.  There is no hint of God’s will of decree in D’Souza’s answer: “No wonder there is so much evil in a world where evil is determined not by God’s will but by human choice.”

The author seeks to answer the age-old question, “Why are there natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, and other forms of natural suffering?”  His answer relies on scientific data that points to an old earth, which in the final analysis argues for a universe that is billions of years old.  Pain and suffering which is a part of the warp and woof of the universe is not only a fact of life, it is as the author posits, “built into the fabric of nature’s laws … With regard to what we can discern by reason about the only world we can really know, pain and suffering are inextricably bound up with the good.”

D’Souza continues his argument by pointing to the Anthropic principle or the  so-called “finely tuned universe.”  In other words, certain conditions need to be met for human life to flourish (which is the essence of his theodicy).  He holds that “evil and suffering are inextricably bound with the structure of creation.”  The author concludes, “When we consider that God has so finely tuned the universe in such a way as to allow us the freedom to take up our own cross and follow him and also, through that suffering, to draw closer to the divine, the suffering itself can be rendered sublime.”

Dr. D’Souza is a fine writer.  He clearly articulates his views and has a tremendous grasp on the history of intellectual thought and understands the dominant arguments that are emerging from the so-called “new atheists.”  While I appreciate his efforts, his arguments at the end of the day, remain mostly unconvincing.

The first glaring weakness with Godforsaken is an approach that appears to render the Scriptures as secondary.  He admits, “It is written by a professed Christian, yet its purpose is to examine the problem of evil and suffering not primarily on the basis of revelation or sacred authority but on the basis of reason, science, and experience.”  While his approach is understandable, he jettisons the very basis of his hope.  Surely, he starts off on the wrong foot.

The second weakness is a radical commitment to libertarian  free will.  Indeed, the entirety of the book leans on the frail fabric of free will.  And in typical libertarian fashion, the free will of man is pitted against the absolute sovereignty of God.  For example, the author essentially argues that God lacks comprehensive foreknowledge.  “Think about it,” says D’Souza.  “If God truly has foreknowledge, how is it possible for us to choose differently” (p. 85).  The author borrows the libertarian musings of Boethius: “No longer do we have to worry that God, in knowing the future, is in some sense controlling the future.  God is omniscient, but this does not prevent free creatures from making their own choices that God knows about but does not dictate.” Apparently, his prior commitments have clouded his biblical judgment.  He appears to posit a “take it or leave it” mentality.  Either there is libertarian free will or there is  no free will whatsoever.  That is to say, if there are any restrictions on free will; if one does not have the ability of contrary choice, it follows that free will totally evaporates.  This “all or nothing” mentality fails to take into account the biblical position of compatibalism; the view that presents a God who ordains everything that comes to pass and allows creatures to make free choices.

Since the author does not distinguish between God’s will of command and God’s will of decree, he falls stumbles at another point that concerns suffering.  For instance, he posits this crucial point: “Just as man’s use of free will can produce results that were not part of God’s plan or purpose, so the necessary structure of the universe can result in miseries that were also not intended by God” (176).  One wonders where the cross of Christ fits in this confusing scheme.  Surely, the most wicked event is the crucifixion of Jesus, the unjust punishment of the only innocent man in the universe.  Yet it appears as if God is taken off guard.  It appears that something may have happened that he never planned.  And all these things occur to safeguard a commitment to libertarian free will.   This kind of logic must be immediately discarded in universe that is sovereignly controlled by God!

Third, while the author waits until the end of the book to address his beef with Reformed theology, the juices of anti-Calvinistic bias are simmering and quite frankly, render the “stew” unsavory.   For instance, he falsely caricatures the Calvinistic notion of double-predestination and in the process he charges God with sending people to hell who had no intention of going there.

D’Souza minces at a God who may offer grace to some but withhold it to others.  He writes, “I find this concept of God extending grace to some while keeping it from others to be unworthy of God.  It is an idea not lacking in justice, perhaps, but certainly lacking in benevolence.”  He continues by laying his soteriological cards on the table: “… The point seems to be that God has given to every person the grace, which is to say the ability, to decide either way.”  These arguments are nothing new.  Arminians have been advancing the “prevenient grace” argument throughout church history.  What is disturbing is – why is the argument posed here?  What does this have to do with undermining an atheistic worldview?

The author is obviously knowledgeable and seeks to tear down the stronghold of atheism and provide a satisfying answer for the problem of evil.  His writing is engaging.  He is fair-minded and congenial.  He offers several fascinating insights but his reasoning, in the final analysis appears to fall short.  Instead of unifying the tension-points of faith and reason that have been at odds since the days of the Enlightenment, he actually escalates the war that pits reason against faith.

2 stars

THE GOSPEL AND THE MIND: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life – Bradley G. Green (2010)

R.C. Sproul has stated, “We live in the most anti-intellectual period in church history.”  Sproul’s words are right on target.  His timely words are a sober reminder that once we have lost the Christian mind, we have lost all basis for discussion.  Indeed, we have lost our basis for meaning and morality.  When the epistemological scaffolding collapses, one may as well give up the quest for truth.  And when one abandons the quest for truth, one abandons the quest for God!

Bradley Green has brilliantly captured the essence of the Christian mind in his book, The Gospel and the Mind.  The subtitle goes to the core passion of the author, namely – “recovering and shaping the intellectual life.”

Green’s theses is clearly presented at the outset:

1. “The Christian vision of God, man, and the world provides the necessary precondition for the recovery of any meaningful intellectual life.”

2. The Christian vision of God, man, and the world offers a particular, unique understanding of what the intellectual life might look like.”

The remainder of the book defends the theses with skill and precision.  I found the book most helpful and should be included in the arsenal of any thinking Christian.

5 stars

THE JOURNEY: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims – Peter Kreeft (1996)

The Journey by Peter Kreeft is a sort of philosophical roadmap for truth seekers.  This allegorical tale which is something akin to Pilgrim’s Progress is a practical tool for travelers.  It is a practical guide to help them choose a life philosophy.  The author is quick to remind readers that every person has a philosophy.  Even a “n0n-philosophy” is a philosophy!  Ten questions are stated in advance by the author:

1. Shall I question?  Shall I go on this quest for truth at all?

2. If I question, is there hope of answers, or should I be a skeptic?  Is there objective truth?

3. If there is any objective truth, is there objective truth about the meaning of life?

4. If there is an objective truth about the meaning of life, is it that life is meaningless?

5. If life has real meaning, is it spiritual and not merely material?

6. If it is spiritual, is it moral?  Is there a real right and wrong?

7. If there is a real right and wrong, a real moral meaning, is it a religious meaning?  Is there a God?

8. If there is a God, is God immanent (pantheism) or transcendent (deism), everywhere or nowhere?

9. If God is both immanent and transcendent (theism, creationism) his prophets, his mouthpiece to the world?

10. If the Jews are God’s prophets, is Jesus the Messiah?

Socrates accompanies the pilgrim throughout this allegorical journey.  He reiterates the point made above, “Remember – you do not have a choice between some philosophy and no philosophy, only between good philosophy and bad philosophy.”

The traveler encounters a wide variety of philosophers, one of which is Protagoras the Sophist.  He maintains, “Truth is subjective, not objective … Whatever you believe is true, is true for you.  Man is the measure of all things.”  Thus Protagoras promotes the lie of relativism so prevalent in American culture.

The next traveler on the path is Diogenes who admits that there is some absolute truth.  He also admits that “it is self-contradictory to say otherwise.”  Socrates confronts the cynicism of Diogenes by showing the futility of the “proving is believing” model.

Gorgias emerges next on the path who represents a nihilistic worldview.  He summarizes his worldview: “First, nothing is really real.  Second, if it were, we could not know it.  Third, if we could we could not communicate it.”

Next, the traveler and Socrates come face to face with Democritus the materialist (Darwin, Marx, and Freud’s predecessor).  Socrates makes mince meat of Democritus’ arguments and “unquestioned faith.”  The author (who speaks through the Socratic character) clearly delineates the reason for the popularity of materialism as a worldview: “It offers exculpation from guilt … only a self can be guilty, because only a self can be morally responsible.  If we are nothing but clever apes, as Darwin says, or pawns of our economic system, as Marx says, or bundles of sex urges, as Freud says, then there is no free moral agent to blame, and no one to feel guilty.  Morality becomes a myth.”

The thoughtful friends continue their philosophical journey and eventually encounter the relativistic worldview of Thrasymachus.  His worldview that embraces the notion that “there is no natural law of good and evil” is immediately exposed.

Xenophanes is the next philosopher to appear on the trail who magically transforms into Nietzsche, the quintessential atheist.  The travelers are unimpressed with the antics of Nietzsche, so they scurry down the path.

Parmenides, who some consider to be the first philosophical pantheist appears next alongside Aristotle, the “first philosophical deist” (Kreeft compares him to John Locke and Immanuel Kant).

The travelers continue their philosophical quest and bump into Moses who quickly turns the discussion Godward!  He reveals the essence of man’s problem: “Sin.  Rebellion against God, and his will, and his law.  Sin blinds the mind.  Sin makes us forget God, and his will, and his law.  It makes us rationalize instead of reasoning.”

Moses directs his new friend to the creative power of God: “Our God gave the universe not just its shape or its motion but its very existence.  He created it out of nothing, not out of something.  Matter itself is his creation, not just form.”

The journey ultimately leads to the foot of three old crosses.  The middle cross pointed to the “King of the Jews.”  C.S. Lewis appears and reveals that his responsibility is to point people to the truth.  Lewis turns the attention of the traveler to the Messiah: “His claim on you is to be more than your teacher, like Socrates, and more than your prophet, like Moses.  His claim is to be your God.”  Lewis continues his dialogue with the traveler and unpacks the gospel message in a way that is theologically correct and philosophically pleasing.

Kreeft brings the journey to an end in an epilogue that finds its culmination in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He points readers to Christ, the true source of freedom and forgiveness!

Most people would immediately turn away upon seeing some of the philosophers presented in Kreeft’s book.  And people are generally intimidated by emerging worldviews.  However, Kreeft’s work enables readers to interact with ancient worldviews that have surfaced in our culture and effectively dismantles erroneous arguments and unbiblical presuppositions.  His narrative forces readers to choose between worldviews when faced with a fork in the road.  As usual, Kreeft’s work earns high marks for creativity and clarity.  The book is both educational and witty.  Postmodern pilgrims (and college students) need Kreeft’s book in their arsenal, especially in the difficult days ahead.

4 stars