John Frame. A History of Western Philosophy and Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, October 23rd, 2015. 864 pp.
This year (2015) is one of John Frame’s most productive year in terms of the quantity and quality of books published. For many the most anticipated book among them is probably A History of Western Philosophy and Theology. The following is my review of this book.
If there is anyone today that is qualified to give a biblical evaluation and exposition of Western philosophy and how it shapes theology it would be John Frame. This book is the result of the author’s experience with teaching and writing on philosophy, theology and apologetics over the last few decades. Like other works by Frame I appreciate his commitment to Scripture and the Christian worldview. At the same time Frame is knowledgeable of philosophy. Frame is a great model of a Christian scholar: He is charitable but does not shy away from refuting error. All this contribute towards making this work a great book.
I found this book to be an enjoyable read especially as it traced how various philosophers and theologians developed their beliefs in historical reaction to a previous philosopher or movement. I think a chronological account of the philosophers makes one appreciate more of where a philosopher or theologian is coming from. Often when someone is wrong about an issue they are reacting and over-compensating against another error. Studying philosophy in this fashion also makes one become aware of the danger of going from one extreme to another, something that comes to mind again and again throughout the book.
This is quite a large volume, coming in at 864 pages. But don’t let the size intimidate you. I felt at times the book was rather brief concerning its treatment on various thinkers since the book is trying to cover thousands of years of the history of ideas with page limitations. I found myself able to finish the book because as the book progressed it was more relevant and closer to our contemporary age. Readers must not miss the last chapter on “Recent Christian Philosophy.”
The way the book was organized was helpful. The book was generally chronological but the chapters went back and forth between the philosophy and the theology of the times. The ending of each chapter made it ideal for someone learning on their own but also as a textbook on philosophy. There is a list of key terms, a battery of study questions, and a bibliography covering print, online resources. Each chapter also reference links to listen outline from Frame’s RTS lectures. I liked the small subsection of “Read It Yourself” in which Frame gives his recommendation of the best sampling of primary source reading. The book also supplemented the chapters in the book with a large collection of appendixes that vary in degrees of its helpfulness. Some will cover grounds that those familiar with Frame’s theology can overlook. However if one is new to Frame’s method and his writing, I think his appendix must not be missed
Frame is unashamed of his biblical and Reformed beliefs as the foundation upon which he critiques the history of western thought. I am grateful for the book’s presuppositional apologetics framework that brought to bear Frame’s own acute observation and the insights of other philosophers from the Reformed tradition such as Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til. There were many things I learned from the book. As the book progressed Frame made a profound observation of what he called the conservative drift in that those who held unbiblical worldviews in philosophy and theology often sounded more biblical and conservative with each passing generation even though they weren’t. I think Frame definitely proved that there is this trajectory. I also learned about Ritschl and his connection through his influence to what we often call liberals and modernist during the Fundamentalists/Modernist controversy. There is a lot of debate concerning Karl Barth’s theology and Frame is aware of that as he entered contested waters. However I think Frame does document legitimate concern for Barth’s doctrine of revelation and Scripture.
A History of Western Philosophy and Theology is the kind of book that even after one finishes reading it, it will still be useful as a handy reference. I know I would not be able to remember every name mentioned in the book and what an individual believed but I know what I highlighted from the book will be helpful in the future.
NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.