Aug 04

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, by John Frame ★★★★

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor…

from Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe perhaps best summarizes my feeble investigations into philosophy, law, medicine, and theology, all studied with great zeal, and yet still left feeling like a fool. I thoroughly appreciate Frame’s approach to the history of western philosophy and his merger with theology, as they both breech similar questions and topics of thought. Oftentimes Frame is verbose, oftentimes terse on a subject in discussion. It is impossible to provide a thorough single-volume text to match the magisterial works of Copleston or Windelband. Frame is a philosopher in the school of Kuyper/van Til, though he makes it clear that he is not a rigid vanTilian. For that reason, I have a deep respect for Frame. Frame offers a fly-over view of western philosophy, starting a usual with the Milesians of ancient Greece and ending with modern deconstruction. Frame is always most kind, sometimes too kind when someone deserves to be attacked, such as the modern deconstructionists. Yet, perhaps Frame feels (as I do) that modern philosophy is more a passing fad than a system of thought to be taken seriously.

Frame takes and runs with the vanTil notion that all thought ultimately is defended by circular reasoning, and thus a defense of Christianity demands a position of Scripture as a presupposition and not as a possibility to be explored and argued as true simply through the use of reason. Yet, all belief systems are circular. The rationalists will use reason to defend their case. Like vanTil, the creator/creature distinction must constantly be held, and that the idea of God speaking to man (through Scripture) is a starting point and a given, and not something that you reason into.

More than 40% of the book is added on at the end in the form of multiple appendices, essays that Frame has written over time and now waiting to be published in a philosophical context. Frame might have served the reader better by offering an explanation before each essay as to setting in which the paper was written.

Frame is very kind. As an example, Frame has many disagreements with Gordon Clark, yet emphasizes what Clark truly got right, and how Clark was perhaps misjudged in the vanTil/Clark controversy. After each chapter of text, there is a review of terms and names, as well as questions to stimulate thought; these questions would be invaluable if one were reading the text for a course. I happen to have read it mostly for my own enjoyment and pleasure, and thus did not constipate myself with deeper philosophical ruminations. I also have this book given as a set of lectures in a course given by Dr. Frame. I will soon be applying myself to listening to Frame philosophize. So far, I find that he is easier to listen to than to read.

Do I recommend this book? Yes of course! John Frame has a brilliant mind and thinks well. I appreciate Frame’s perspectives on philosophy and theology. I would hope that the reader interested in philosophy will also find this text thought-provoking and a delight to read.

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Aug 01

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, by JI Packer ★★★★

I have now reviewed a number of Packer texts, and this will probably be the last for a while. Why would I read this book, a very toned down, brief summary of theology themes, when I have already took Packer’s in-depth course on systematic theology? Simple. It’s one of Packer’s texts that I haven’t read yet, and plan on using it as a book that I could refer other to in seeking for texts in classic Reformed theology. Packer is Anglican, ordained in the Anglican church, yet whose theology was formed by the Puritans and the Westminster Confession, of which he freely admits in the preface of this text. In 94 very short chapters, Packer offers a summary of many of the themes of theology. Packer’s skill is that of taking very complex theological issues and making them very simple. His longest two chapters are only 5 pages long, and they are on the church and on baptism. The book summarizes Packer’s thinking quite nicely, while also giving the reader a sense of how Packer handles hot (controversial) issues, which is, in a very gracious fashion. Thus, even Arminians might read this text and find disagreement but will feel that Packer is hard to disagree with. Throughout are little theological gems that make JI shine. It’s a book worth reading, even if you know your theology.

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