This is exactly the sort of book I was looking for. I mean, let’s be real. Who WOULDN’T love an 875 page compendium filled with all sorts of information on not just philosophers but ALSO theologians? MMMMM. Delightful! While I’ve loved spending my time in the hallways of theology the past few years I couldn’t shake this nagging frustration I’ve had since completing my philosophy degree in undergrad: I had yet to walk through an entire “history of philosophy” text from start-to-finish. This fact was starting to haunt me. I just could not shake the shame. So I began looking for a detailed and yet fairly simple textbook – one that would make clear the overall chronology and the relations between each main philosopher within the Western tradition. This, because I want to have a better knowledge of the overall layout, or map of philosophy. I’ll be the first to admit: I’m still not quite where I want to be, but after reading this book I could fill out the timeline with a bit more fluency than I otherwise could have.
By the time I reached the end, I was amazed that someone (anyone really) could be as well read and informed as Frame while at the same time find ways to summarize, explain and analyze the tradition so simply. Perhaps great learning + lots of reading should = easy-to-understand teaching, like a formula or something. But it rarely does, whatever that means. But Frame is a special case. The more I read this book the more I found myself admiring the author. Reading the book felt very reminiscent to what it’s like to be in a classroom with a teacher who deeply cares about his students. I didn’t agree with all of his conclusions, but nonetheless, on every page the writer was doing everything he could to help the reader to learn. And I did learn, a ton.
One of the little details that helped me stay on task was that the publishers included a chapter outline on every single page. For me, this was extremely helpful as I went through the information because at a quick glance I could remind myself of the big picture amidst the details: who did I just learn about, and who is on the docket next? And it’s worth mentioning: The format of the book was very easy on the eyes (I’m not sure what font they were using but it was nice). The footnotes were at the bottom of each page which makes for a smoother read as I generally like to glance at them as they show up vs. having to flip to the back. The publishers definitely made it easy to get through the material and this helped me get through the book quicker than I was expecting.
I was intrigued by Frame’s overarching theme or what you could call his “lens of analyzation,” when he sought to show how every non-Christian philosopher vacillated between rationalism and irrationalism. I found out this is in united tow with Cornelius Van Till’s own syntheses. I hadn’t run into this dialectic before as an overarching perspective and found it quite illuminating as it pertained to certain philosophers – oftentimes the applied concept felt significantly apropos (but other times, a bit stretched). Frame discusses the dynamic as the following:
“If rationalism is true, the mind should not make errors in its quest for knowledge. But it does. When it does, philosophers do not want to blame their autonomous reason (the subject of knowledge). Rather, they blame the world, the object of knowledge. The mind cannot attain perfect knowledge because the world is not perfectly knowable. So rationalism leads to irrationalism. But how do we know that the world is irrational? By our would-be-autonomous knowledge, of course. So irrationalism leads back to rationalism. Or, to shorten the discussion: Philosophers assert rationalism irrationally, for there is no adequate ground for asserting it. And philosophers assert irrationalism rationalistically, on the basis of their autonomous intellect. So, in the end, the two positions, inconsistent as they are, are based on each other and are in one sense identical.” (Page 33)
I appreciated looking at each philosopher through this lens. It helped me not only learn the content but also forced me to make decisions about the level of validity of each respective worldview. The book was nothing near neutral in this regard, but I didn’t mind. I was wondering if I’d learn of any new philosophers going through the book, and there were three that stuck out to me, such as:
- Esther Lightcap Meek (1953 – ). I hadn’t heard of her before. But Frame mentions her in his last chapter of the book: “recent christian philosophy”. Apparently she was a student of Frame in the late 1970s. She is a Professor at Geneva College near Pittsburgh and also Visiting Professor of Apologetics at Redeemer Seminary. Her work focuses on epistemology, unpacking the implications of the work of Michael Polanyi (who I also wasn’t too familiar with before reading this book). Her “ordinary view of knowledge” is interestingly, “person-centered.” Her descriptions of reality and knowledge as personal is very distinctive, and I look forward to reading her books in the near future. You can see her website here: http://www.longingtoknow.com/.
- Adrea Seu Peterson (1951 – ). She is a Faith & Inspiration columnist for WORLD magazine. I’ve found some of her stuff here but haven’t yet had time to read it: https://world.wng.org/authors/andr_e_seu_peterson. While Peterson is not an academic theologian or philosopher, Frame has often said that she is the “best theologian writing today” (page 537). He says, “She has a knowledge of Scripture that dwarfs that of most theologians and philosophers, and she has a nuanced understanding of every life situation she deals with. Her columns draw me into the Lord’s presence more than any other writing (outside of Scripture) that I know of.” Wow, high praise indeed. I can’t wait to dig in.
- Henry Jellema (1893-1982) was the founder of Calvin College’s philosophy department. While I’m very familiar with Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, I didn’t realize both of them were substantially affected by Jellema’s teaching when they were classmates. In fact, Plantinga left Harvard just so he could learn from Jellema (You can see Plantinga’s self-profile on Google books here). Apparently, this Jellema character was a teacher-phenom-par-excellence. I want to see if I can locate any of his material (even though he never wrote a book) – perhaps there is some hidden treasure lying around some library somewhere. I did find this article online which confirmed the high praise: http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1447&context=gvr. Will try to find out more in the future.
Andddddd, I’ll end the post here. Let me know if you have any questions. MP