The University Without a Campus

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To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.”  By that I mean that the post- and also pre-World War II era, including the 1960s, was a time of great political and cultural calamities, and it was a time of great spiritual drought and uncertainty.

There was no Internet on which to search for the topic Christian worldview.  Nor was there an Amazon, Goodreads, or Abebooks on which to find needed resources.  The Christian school movement, including the revitalized classical Christian school movement and home schooling, were largely non-existent.  Christians in politics usually meant more liberal people fighting for Civil Rights (somewhat correctly) or more conservative people opposing Civil Rights (wrongly).  Christianity and philosophy were separate subjects who barely acknowledged one another.  Reformed theology was limited to a small number of folks who clung to the Five Points of Calvinism or some traditional Presbyterians who were hold-outs against the theological wars of the 1920s.

Billy Graham represented in both positive and less positive ways the face of evangelicalism.  There was little concern for finding the Christian mind because few thought that it even existed.

And yet, there were and had been a cadre of Christian scholars and thinkers who had swum against the tides.  They circles were small; their followers were few; their books were obscurely published and, in not in English, usually untranslated.  They found themselves rarely noted, reviewed, footnoted, or referenced.  This was what I called in a series of talks some years ago “The Wilderness Years.”

The topic mesmerizes me.  I was first reminded of it when James Jordan published an article called “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind.”  Later, P. Andrew Sandlin published a similar article titled “The De-Intellectualization of the Reformed Movement.”  For them and for me, the story was powerful because it was autobiographical.  When I rediscovered this topic, somewhere around the year 2005, the age that Jordan and Sandlin wrote about had passed.  For me, it had faded into the back of my mind, but reading about it was like discovering a door leading back into the foundations of my own journey and still incomplete worldview.

As I described the events of the time, an Australian friend described the situation as “A university without a campus.”  I thought it an apt and beautiful phrase.

Like all historical recollections, this one is incomplete and not fully nuanced.  But here in this post, I want to call attention to a world of books that were, even in the most intellectually barren and spiritually slim times, “out there.”  Some few found them.  They told others.  The books got picked up here and there.  Iron sharpened iron.  The remnant read the books.

One can find many books today that are, in most respects, better written, more applicable, and improved.  But these were the books that showed up in those Wilderness Years.

Charles H. Craig

Charles H. Craig may be among the most under-acclaimed heroes of Christian publishing. He took over Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing in 1957 and was responsible for seeing to the publication of so many good books.

THE UNIVERSITY WITHOUT A CAMPUS

Books Published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company

(also called The Craig Press)in the 1950s-1970s

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Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics. 1977

——–Homosexuality: A Biblical View, 1978

Theonomy in Christian Ethics came near the end of the period that I have as my focus.  The picture above is of a much later edition.  In many ways, this book and author were high-jacked.  Dr. Bahnsen wrote a lengthy, detailed study of Biblical law.  It was attached to a movement, alternately called Theonomy or Christian Reconstruction, which made it handy to refute it by attacking some aspects of the movement.  It lessened Bahnsen’s standing as a first-rate scholar in apologetics and philosophy, not because of anything wrong with the book, but because it overshadowed the work of the man.

Whether one accepts any or all or none of its content, this was a powerful study that has yet to receive due compensation from Christian thinkers.

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Gordon H. Clark. Historiography: Secular and Religious. 1971

——–Karl Barth’s Theological Method.

———-Religion, Reason and Revelation. 1961

———-The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. 1964

———-Three Types of Religious Philosophy. 1973

Gordon Haddon Clark was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of the 20th century.  Wheaton College committed a kamikaze attack on its own academic standards when it pushed him aside decades ago.  Controversies within Presbyterian circles pitted Clark against Cornelius Van Til, resulting in the small remnant of Calvinist thinkers battling each other rather than confronting the enemies in the opposing trenches.

Much recovery has been done by Douglas Douma’s biography of Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher:  The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. There are probably more serious students of Clark’s writings than ever before. R. C. Sproul said that Clark is one of the few Christians of our time who will be read 500 years from now.  Almost all of his books are currently in print from the Trinity Foundation.

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by [Doug J. Douma, Lois Zeller, Betsy Clark George]

Norman De Jong. Christianity and Democracy. 1978

———-Education in the Truth. 1977

While many evangelicals accepted, embraced, and defended public schools, the Dutch in America maintained a suspicion and opposition to Christ-less education.  They were not fighting against integration, the removal of non-descript prayers, or evolution; rather, they embraced a whole philosophy of education.  Norman De Jong wrote several books that provided such foundations.

Herman Dooyeweerd. The Christian Idea of the State. 1968

———-In the Twilight of Western Thought. 1960, 1980

———-A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 4 Volumes. 1953

One of the greatest names in philosophy in the world today is a name that is ignored still in many philosophy departments both secular and religious.  Herman Dooyeweerd, a Dutchman, wrote extensively on philosophy and culture. Through most of his life, he was little known here in the United States.  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing picked up some of his books and lectures, or had them translated, for the North American readers.  HD is not an easy read, but he has sparked a number of followers in philosophy, history, and theology.

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David Hugh Freeman. A Philosophical Study of Religion. 1964

———-Recent Studies in Philosophy and Religion. 1962

Freeman wrote and contributed to a number of volumes that P & R published.

E. R. Geehan, editor. Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and  Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. 1971

This work, which probably garnered few readers, was an in-depth discussion of Cornelius Van Til’s thought as critiqued and defended by friends and foes.

Philip Edgecombe Hughes, Christianity and the Problem of Origins. 1974

Reverend Hughes wrote quite a few fine books, including several Bible commentaries.  He taught at Columbia Theological Seminary due to a grant for a theology professor from a wealthy conservative donor.  A British scholar, Hughes wrote the little noticed short work listed above.  I read it for a Western Civilization class taught by Henry Wood, one of that small remnant who read the Calvinist thinkers back in their day.  That short work was powerful. It needs to be made available again.

Jon R. Kennedy. The Reformation of Journalism: A Christian Approach to Mass  Communication. 1972

Both the book and the author are forgotten.  I read it back in the 1970s because I was taking some journalism classes.

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Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee

Francis Nigel Lee. A Christian Introduction to the History of Philosophy. 1969, 1978

———-Communism Versus Creation. 1969

———-Communist Eschatology. 1974

———Origin and Destiny of Man. 1974

Francis Nigel Lee was a prolific writer, a scholar who collected Ph. D.’s like other people collect coffee mugs, and an engaging preacher.  He wrote several fine books, but the biggest was Communist Eschatology.  I spent a couple of years searching for this book.  I could remember back when P & R was just about giving it away.  Finally, I contacted Christian cartoonist Vic Lockman, who agreed to sell me his autographed copy.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting Vic and Dr. Lee via emails.  I was saddened when Lee died some years back.

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Ronald H. Nash, editor. The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. 1968

The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift - Ronald H. Nash Ed. - 1968 HB

In Hot Spring, Arkansas some years ago, I was searching–I thought in vain–through the most worthless, cluttered, junky used bookstore I have ever been in.  98 percent of the books were trade paperback romance novels and the like.  But somewhere in the high reaches on a shelf, I saw a good hardcover edition of this festschrift to Gordon Clark.  Outstanding book, containing contributions from several of the other authors mentioned in this posting.

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Gary North, economist, libertarian political thinker, theonomist, Christian Reconstructionist, author, and more.

Gary North, An Introduction to Christian Economics, 1973

———-Marx’s Religion of Revolution: The Doctrine of Creative Destruction. 1968

Although I now have a couple of dozen books by Gary North, I don’t think I have ever acquired An Introduction to Christian Economics.  From these two books that North did for P&R, he went on to create his own publishing firms which were putting out his books and those of his followers.  It is easy to find fault with Gary North on some topic or the other, but the man wrote some fine studies and has labored hard for the cause of Christian thought.

Vern S. Poythress. Philosophy, Science, and the Sovereignty of God. 1976

This book has been reprinted, revised, and expanded.  Poythress is among the last of the old-time Calvinist worldview thinkers who has lived on to be in the top cadre of such writers and thinkers.  His books are many.  I know because I keep trying to get all of them.

W. Stanford Reid. Christianity and Scholarship.

I am not sure if I have this book or not.  The topic is one on which dozens of books are being published today, but it was not as common in the past.

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Rousas John Rushdoony. Foundations of Social Order. 1968

———-Institutes of Biblical Law. 1973

———-Intellectual Schizophrenia. 1961

———Law and Liberty. 1971

———-The Messianic Character of American History. 1968

———-The Myth of Overpopulation. 1969

———-The Mythology of Science. 1967

———-The Nature of the American System. 1965

———-The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy. 1971

———-Politics of Guilt and Pity. 1970.

———-This Independent Republic. 1964

Pilloried, ignored, discounted, and politely not mentioned, Rousas John Rushdoony was one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century in regard to Christian thought.  Yes, he was wrong sometimes, but try reading Augustine and Calvin for perfect thinking.  RJR was the most widely diffused thinker I have ever been acquainted with.  I met him a few times, corresponded with him a few times, and read and listened to him quite a bit.

The books listed above are, besides being on a variety of topics, brilliant gems.

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C. Gregg Singer. From Rationalism to Irrationality: The Decline of the Western Mind From the Renaissance to the Present. 1979

———John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits

———-A Theological Interpretation of American History. 1964

It was Singer, along with Rushdoony, whose books first taught me a critical lesson:   I didn’t know how to read serious, analytical material.  And another lesson:  I didn’t know how to think Christianly about politics and culture.  Even on points where I disagree with the late Dr. Singer now, I still have to respect what his books taught me.

J. M. Spier. Christianity and Existentialism. 1953

———-An Introduction to Christian Philosophy. 1966

Spier was another Dutchman, I think, who helped pave the way for English speaking people to read and understand Dooyeweerd.

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Hebden Taylor. The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State. 1966

———-Economics, Money, and Banking , 1978

———-Evolution and the Reformation of Biology. 1967

———-Reformation or Revolution. 1970

E. L. Hebden Taylor was a British Anglican theologian and writer.  His books are all out of print and hard to find.  One of my copies came to me from New Zealand.  A dear couple, the young man now deceased, gave me copies of The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics, and the State and Reformation or Revolution.  Taylor was a strong disciple of Herman Dooyeweerd.

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H. Van Reissen, author of Society of the Future and a monograph titled Nietzsche.

H. Van Reissen, The Society of the Future. 1952

Van Reissen was a Dutchman, part of the cast of thinkers in the Free University of Amsterdam orbit, and a profound Christian scholar.

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Cornelius Van Til. The Case for Calvinism. 1964

———-Christian Theistic Ethics. 1971

———-A Christian Theory of Knowledge. 1969

———-Christianity and Barthianism. 1962

———Christianity and Idealism. 1955

———Christianity and Modern Theology. 1955

——–Common Grace, 1947

———-The Defense of the Faith. 1955

———-An Introduction to Systematic Theology. 1966

———The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel. 1953

Cornelius Van Til was one of the greatest apologists of his and our time.  There are plenty of critics around.  I cannot completely land myself within his complete system, but I have gained so much from my limited studies of the man and his labors.

In the late 1990s, P&R would publish two major studies of Cornelius Van Til.  One was by Greg Bahnsen and the other by John Frame.

         

William Young. Foundations of Theory

———-Hegel’s Dialectic Method: Its Origins and Religious Significance. 1972

Young was a translator of Dooyeweerd’s New Critique , and he authored a couple of philosophical studies.  A few years back, another company published a collection of his writings which range from philosophy to theology.

             

Modern Thinkers Series, edited by David H. Freeman

Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen

Kierkegaard by S. U. Zuidema

Dewey by Gordon H. Clark

Bultmann by Herman Ridderbos

Sartre by S. U. Zuidema

Van Til by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Niebuhr by G. Brillenburg Wurth

Barth by A. D. R. Polman

Tillich by David H. Freeman

James by Gordon H. Clark

Freud by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Toynbee by C. Gregg Singer

This set of books was outstanding in its day.  I have several of them and wish I had them all.  P&R has somewhat revived the tradition with its Great Thinkers Series.

Books Published by Baker Book House

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism.

H. Henry Meeter, Basic Ideas of Calvinism. 1939

Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. 1959

Baker Book House often worked in tandem with Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.  These three books are all classics in the field.  I think that they may all still be available.

Books Published by William B. Eerdmans

Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education. 1946

———-A Christian View of Men and Things. 1952

Herman Dooyeweerd, Transcendental Problems of Philosophical Thought. 1948.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. 1923

Four books among many that William B. Eerdmans published that were influential in Calvinistic Worldview Thinking.

Books Published by Ross House Books

Gary North, editor, Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective. 1979

Ross House became the publishing firm for R. J. Rushdoony’s books.  They are still pouring out old and newly published volumes of his work.  This work was an early publication that has some really tough essays on Christian thought.  It is worth searching for and buying.

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Time  fails me from being able to scope out and discuss, even briefly, many of the other works of the Wilderness Years.  Besides the men mentioned above, others like George Grant, John Frame, Joseph Morecraft, Gary DeMar, David Chilton, Calvin Seerveld, H. Evan Runner, Arthur Holmes,  Carl F. H. Henry,  and many more were writing, teaching, preaching, and laying the foundations for Christian thinking from solidly Reformed positions.

Also, much more could be said about the formative roles of James Orr, a Scotsman, and those incredible Dutchmen–Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck.

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Paul versus the Philosophers and America versus the Just War Tradition

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These two excellent morning readings of late are on very different subjects, consisting of multiple contributors, and both enriching.

America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U. S. Conflicts is edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles and is published by Notre Dame Press.

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context is edited by Joseph R. Dodson and David E. Briones and is published by InterVarsity Press.

The overwhelming criteria for my reading plans is that a particular book is close at hand.  I could wish that I had a drive to master particular topics and could read with a greater goal in mind.  But I accept my gadfly reading program and often surprise myself at how themes and commonalities crop up in spite of my non-intentions.

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy

I have been repeatedly made aware of how deficient my own education has been due to a lack of philosophy studies.  I have majors in history and English, but was never required to study philosophy.  It is inescapable for both of those fields.  I have also been involved in studying the Bible and theology since my late teen years.   I served as a pastor in the past and am still a teacher in a classical Christian school.  While philosophy and the Bible are not equal, any serious student of the Bible and theology must, as in MUST, study at least some philosophy.

This is not a case where one must go on a difficult journey to find someone, somewhere, who has written something on the connection between the history of philosophy and the history of the Church, or philosophical issues and theological issues, or of philosophers who were also Christians.  You want to get books on philosophy and Christianity?  Better get a large bookcase and a big budget.

The great thing about Paul and the Giants of Philosophy is its accessibility.  Each chapter takes one of the philosophers of the Greco-Roman world and presents their views on a topic and then contrasts those views with Paul’s writings.  There is more interaction between Paul and the philosophers in the Stoic tradition rather than examinations of Paul’s writings viewed in the light of “The Big Three,” meaning Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  Certainly, more in-depth, scholarly, weighty, academic books can and have been written.

But this book is readable, enjoyable, and geared toward the non-expert.  I firmly believe that my philosophy professor and student friends and son would find reading this book profitable, but it is geared toward those of us who read Paul a lot and Stoics rarely.  But, for those who wish to know more, each chapter ends with suggested readings giving both primary and secondary sources for the more serious pursuit of the topics.  And each chapter has some discussion questions as well.

I believe that this would be an excellent book to use in a college philosophy survey.  It could also be used in any course studying Paul in his historical and cultural context.  Some groups would enjoy this for a series of Sunday school lessons or as a book club read.  And, with strong, hot, black coffee, it is wonderful for morning reading.

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I usually begin with some readings related to the Bible and theology, and after that, I like to read something that fits into the broader Christian worldview perspective.  This is what led to my reading of America and the Just War Tradition.

America and the Just War Tradition

This book is like a long trip for a child.  What was overwhelmingly attracting me was the chapter by chapter survey of the various wars that the United States has fought in, beginning with the War for Independence and going up to current engagements in the War on Terror, meaning Iraq and Afghanistan.

But before one can get into the fun stuff, there is a long chapter written by the editors, Dr. Hall and Dr. Charles, titled “The Just War Tradition and America’s Wars.”  These 50 pages constitute what could be a short book on its own.  We all have a sense of certain wars or aspects of wars being just or unjust.  We all have a list of do’s and don’t’s about what is allowable in war.  On the one extreme, we would find pacifists who would eschew all wars.  There is within the Christian tradition a great amount of history and theology to support such a view.  As one whose military “experience” consists only in teaching about war, I have a heart-felt desire for pacifism.  But it is not easily sustained in light of real world conditions.

On the other hand, you would find extreme nationalist views which would justify any and every war that America or some other country of one’s origins has fought.  I find a certain sympathy with that position as well.  We honor the military men who, as we say, fought for our liberties and right to be free.  But exactly what liberties and freedoms for us were they fighting for in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, and possibly some or all of the others?

The weighing out of justice or injustice in war is not merely a matter of gut reactions or simplistic patriotic urges.  The Just War Tradition largely grew out of the context of Western Civilization, or we could even say Christendom.  The greatest philosophers and theologians have thought seriously about the ethics of conflict on both a personal and nation-wide level.  Growing out of the thinking of such people as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, philosophers have agreed (always a slippery word to use) on what constitutes justness before, during, and after war.  The Latin phrases which permeate this book and topic are Ius ad bellum, Ius in bello, and Ius post bellum.  

Ius ad bellum, justness before war, begins with just cause, which is followed by just authority,  and right intention.  Ius ad bello, justness in war, hinges on discrimination and proportionality.   Ius post bellum deals with how the results are handled, what happens to the people and countries that were defeated, and what follows from that war.

As might be guessed, a war could be started for wrong reasons, conducted honorably (according to the criteria), and ended well.  Or you can mix and match the ingredients in a wide variety of ways.  As helpful as the criteria are, such things are not always clear cut.  War is so horrible that it sometimes seems insane to try to make it a subject of calm, reasoned discourse.

I majored in history in college.  I have taken courses that have included or primarily focused upon the wars of the United States.  I would guess that I have a thousand books dealing with war.  But this book revealed how little I actually understood or had been subjected to understanding the historical, philosophical, and traditional views of Just War.  That is the long journey that the reader has to take before getting to “the answers” in the chapters on America’s wars.

To quickly comment upon the wars, each chapter has a different contributor.  I honestly think there is not a bad or weak essay in the lot.  Part of the delight in this book is the cases where I was surprised or even shocked by the views of the authors.  I would tend, for example, to find the American War for Independence just and defensible, but Dr. John D. Roche thinks not.  Amazing argument, this chapter didn’t convince me, but it did humble me a bit. Many chapters later, I thought that there was little or no way to defend the American experience in Vietnam, but Mackubin Thomas Owens’s chapter blew me away.

As indicated in the review above regarding the Bible and philosophy, history teachers must study philosophy.  Just War is a philosophical and ethics related tradition and a theological concern as well.  Studying this book will not give you the set of pat answers to why this war and not that one was right or wrong.  But it will give perspective.

History teachers, read this book.  As a further note, it is chocked full of other reading suggestions on both the specific wars and on the topic in general.  I am convinced that I must acquire Michael Walzer’s book Just and Unjust Wars.  Also, I am confirmed in my conviction that Mark David Hall is one of the best resources for serious historical and political studies in our time.  I learned of him last year from political theorist Koty Arnold just after Hall’s book Did America Have a Christian Founding? was published.  I am now on a quest to obtain and read all that Dr. Hall writes.

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Philosophy 101 Claimed by Christ

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A clueless, naïve college freshman walks into a classroom.  The course is Philosophy 101.  The bearded, intimidating professor, decked out with a bow tie, tweed jacket, and an armful of books walks in.  He announces that this is a course on the study of PHILOSOPHY.  As he passes out the syllabi to the students, he goes on about some of the benefits of taking the course. Then comes the clincher:  As he walks back up to the front of the room, his stentorian voice rings out, “Write this on a sheet of paper:  I don’t believe in God.  Postdate the paper for May 12, 2020.  For by that date, and by the time you are taking the final in this class, you will not believe in God.”

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Wow!  How many times have I heard this kind of story? And there is even a movie made about it.  And even Einstein is resurrected with words put into his mouth answering the atheist professor.  And many a scared young Christian has feared either going to college or taking philosophy, and maybe he has been scared about confessing to his parents and pastor that he is studying philosophy. I am sure it actually happened somewhere.  I am sure that there have been professors who maybe had an agenda for discounting belief systems in their students.  I had lots of college profs who seemed to have little regard and even less understanding of Christianity, but if any were trying to dissuade me, I didn’t even realize it.  (Most teachers I have ever had have had a genuine appreciation for any serious students.)

To tell the truth, I would actually be more frightened if I were an atheist, agnostic, or skeptic about entering a philosophy class than I am afraid as a Christian about the field, the study, and the teachers of philosophy. If there is one area where Christians today are waging war, one area where we are capturing the high ground, one area where the vast treasures of the past thought are being uncovered in our favor, one area where we are winning, it is philosophy.  CHRISTIANS ARE DOMINATING THE FIELD OF PHILOSOPHY.

Forget end times, tribulation, despair and decline, retreat, and hopes for being raptured as a last effort to save a shrinking band of surviving believers.  Christians are winning cage matches, tag team matches, philosophy-mania, and more. This is not to imply that there are no battles to be fought.  This is not to imply solidarity among Christian philosophers and philosophy teachers.  This is not to imply that philosophy has morphed into a praise and worship team. “In this world, you shall have trouble.  Be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world,” said Jesus.  Let’s paraphrase, “In the study of philosophy, you shall have trouble.  Be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world.”  Not escaped, sidestepped, or retreated from, but overcome. I assure you that if you are a Christian and are wanting to study philosophy, the resources available to you are vast and growing.  And these are not little booklets written by non-philosophy types like me.  (My background studies are in history and literature, and I am, at heart, a junior high and high school teacher.)  We are talking Ph.D., peer reviewed journal contributions, top name colleges, and books as dense or readable as you wish.

There are many fine books on the market aimed at Christian college students introducing the field of philosophy.  Alongside that, there are the secular presses that have hundreds more–new and old–to choose from.  For many, beginning with a book like R. C. Sproul’s The Consequence of Ideas is a great foundational work.  For those wanting to see how a writer without Christian presuppositions approaches the topic, there is Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind.

Most of the introductory books will be largely a historical survey of the philosophers and ideas that have come and gone through the ages.  Some, in contrast, will focus more on the issues that have engaged philosophers.  Every history and literature teacher, along with every pastor and Bible student, should have a hefty stack of such introductory books.

In this review, I would like to highlight John Frame’s We Are All Philosophers:  A Christian Introduction to Seven Fundamental Questions.  This book is published by Lexham Press, a favorite publisher of mine.

This small hardback book is a great accompaniment to any of the historical survey-type intros to the field.  Frame is a theologian with a solid philosophical background. He studied at Princeton and Yale, as well as studying theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary.  Frame is a student of Cornelius Van Til and a prolific author on theological topics.  His larger work on philosophy is A History of Western Philosophy and Theology–a magnum opus in the field.

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology - By: John M. Frame

Concerning We Are All Philosophers, here are the seven questions:

  • What is everything made of?
  • Do I have free will?
  • Can I know the world?
  • Does God exist?
  • How shall I live?
  • What are my rights?
  • How can I be saved?

One might think that these questions are either irrelevant (in regard to what everything is made of) or merely religious (as in regard to questions about God and salvation).  Everyone has to confront what everything is made of.  If we are merely material stuff, then lots of other questions get answered differently than if we are being with material bodies and non-material souls.

The question of God’s existence is the one that shows up in the stories and anecdotes concerning the fabled atheist Philosophy 101 profs.  At its heart, the question goes beyond just a Ray Comfort Man-In-The-Street evangelistic interview.  Is belief warranted, rational, and certain, or is it merely hunches and hopes.

The question of rights gets to the heart of many of the political agendas that are being debated in the current election year.

Avoid these seven questions (which I don’t think is possible) and you avoid life.  And if you give wrong answers?  Then we go to history class and prepare by taking a major anti-depressant.

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Eleonor Stump’s book The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers is published by Marquette University Press.

Dr. Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louise University and is recognized as a leading expert on Thomas Aquinas.  This short book is based on lectures she gave at Marquette University.

All through the years, philosophers and theologians have borrowed from each other, but also battled each other.  A theologian poring over the Bible and a philosopher poring over philosophy texts can and have reached different conclusions, given varying explanations, raised different questions and provided contrary answers.

But is that an insurmountable divide?  Are these two fields separated by the guiding presuppositions?  Is the Christian who enters philosophy bound to always be a philosopher who is a Christian rather than a Christian philosopher? This question has been discussed numerous times.  It is a great question with lots of implications for al of life.  Dr. Stump gives some strong reasoning why we should not feel compelled to put our Bibles aside while studying philosophy.

If you took note of the picture posted at the top and bottom of this discussion, you will see several other fine Christian works on philosophy.  The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy by Steven B. Cowan and James Spiegel, published by B & H Publishing Group, is a fine and weighty study on the issues one studies in philosophy.

A History of Western Philosophy: From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism by C. Stephen Evans is published by IVP.  It is a survey of the history as the title says of famous philosophers, schools of thought, and major ideas.

Philosophy: A Christian Introduction by James K. Dew, Jr. and Paul M. Gould, published by Baker Academic.  I became aware of this book after reading and loving Dr. Gould’s book Cultural Apologetics.

Final comments on the two books by Dr. Frame and Dr. Stump:  Both are small, short, nicely done hardback books.  Great for carrying along on a trip or a meeting where you might just find a few free minutes.  Frame’s book is a good “learning to swim” book, while Stump’s book is a serious plunge in the deep end of the pool.  Even the most serious students need to get a refresher on the starting fundamentals of philosophy, and even we beginners need to be exposed to some of the depth of the subject.

 

 

New Year Morning Reads–2020

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I recommend my method of reading for only one person:  Me.  It might work for you, but most likely, everyone will find their better times, places, and selections that suit their style and needs.  But for me and for the present, this is how I am doing my morning reading time.  I am also using this as a way of promoting some of the all-too-many review books that I need to read, review, promote, and share.

One of my resolves for 2020 is to read and use more Bible commentaries.  Since I left the pulpit, I have largely ignored commentaries on the books of the Bible. Even when I was preaching, I was often hastening through a commentary more in search of a quick fix to my pulpit inadequacies than in growing in Bible understanding.  Amos, Jonah, & Micah is by JoAnna M. Hoyt and is published by Lexham Press.

This is a massive book and is a part of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series edited by Wayne House.  Twelve volumes are currently available in this series.

I am studying the last part of this commentary–the Book of Micah.  I determined to read it from beginning to end and that meant plowing through the technical and background information.  Did I enjoy that part?  Not much, but I agree with what Matthew Kim said in his book titled A Little Book for New Preachers (IVP).  He says that the preacher must immerse himself in the background and setting of the book.

I am now going slowly through the commentary portion of Micah, chapter 1.  Small bits of study each day so far.  It will take a while, but I am determined.

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Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck and edited by John Bolt is published by Baker Publishing Group.

I was so excited when this volume finally came out.  I was even more excited when my copy arrived.  And then…it sat on the shelf, it got covered up by other books, it enjoyed only a passing glance or two.  In my feeble defense, I did plug away at the background information, usually on Sunday mornings.

A second resolve I have this year is to read the longer and weightier books that often get started, but never finished.  I like the thought of getting a 5 books read instead of 1.  For that, I must repent and change.

Now that I am into this book, I am truly enjoying it.

Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization by Samuel Gregg is published by Regnery.

This is the kind of book I love.  It is a survey of history, philosophy, and theology that all tends toward an apologetic defense of the Christian worldview I embrace, teach, and read about.

The gist of this book is a refutation of a long-standing trope that reason contradicts faith.  Along with that is the notion that faith is a heart and emotion based feeling while reason is spawned by the mind.  Of course, Christianity gets jabbed in the process.

Building upon the work of men in the past like Christopher Dawson and Herman Dooyeweerd, echoing works like Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? and R. J. Rushdoony’s The One and the Many, this book reclaims Western Civilization and its accomplishments.  The thought patterns of the West built upon Greek and Roman heritage in part, but even those civilizations had to be filtered through the lenses of Christendom.

Today, I was reading the portions of the book about Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.  Like any short treatment, more can be said, but we have to be grounded in the grammar of the subjects before we can delve more deeply.

America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U. S. Conflicts is edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles.  It is published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Here is another case of combined loves.  This book deals with American history, particularly the wars that have been waged, and it is written from a Christian perspective that examines the Just War Theory.

I recently discovered Mark Hall’s scholarship and writing as a result of reading Did America Have a Christian Founding?  Determined to read more of his writings, I discovered this book.

I am still in the introductory essay which Hall and Charles wrote.  This is good, but slow going.  More details later.

Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans by Robert Elmer is also published by Lexham Press.

I reviewed this book a few days ago.  I try to read only a page or two of it with the hope of making the Puritan prayers my own.

The Hanging God: Poems and The Fortunes of Poetry in the Age of Our Unmaking are both by James Matthew Wilson, one of America’s premier contemporary poets.  The Hanging God is published by Wiseblood Books, and The Fortunes of Poetry is published by Angelico Press.

I am reading these two works for a number of reasons beyond just my responsibilities as a book reviewer.  I am using these two works as therapy so that I can recover from the often disastrous graduate course I took in the fall on poetry and literary criticism.  Let us just say that the study of literature is in danger in the modern secular universities, assuming that my experience was common and not unique.

The Fortunes of Poetry is tough reading at many points, so I suspect that I will need to re-read portions or get instruction from someone named Wilson on how to assimilate the information.

Note to blog readers:  Please don’t speculate that I am neglecting the foundational parts of morning reading:  The Bible and strong coffee.  The Book of Common Prayer is also being kept close at hand so that this Presbyterian who is a member of a Baptist church will be a better Anglican. (Thank you Zachary Jones.)

Also, thanks to my sister-in-law Toni Lemley who gave me the coffee cup with the old pickup truck on it.  I am not going to stop using it just because Christmas is nearly over. I also got a wonderful picture of old pickup trucks from my other sister-in-law Marla Robert.

 

Truth Considered and Applied by Stewart Kelly

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There is a lot of book packed into the pages of this work.  Truth Considered & Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith is by Stewart E. Kelly, who is a philosophy professor at Minot State University (in North Dakota) and the author of several books.  This book is published by B&H Publishing Group.

The website says that it is for philosophy and theology students.  I agree, but would add that it is valuable for history teachers and students as well (referring to college level history majors).

Here is a bit of my experience with this book.  Back in the fall, I found a stack of copies of this book at a religious bookstore.  Most Christian bookstores don’t have too many titles that are brainy or philosophical books.  Just try this: Walk into your nice Christian bookstore and ask for books by Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, Van Til, Gordon Clark, Rushdoony, James K. A. Smith, or Christopher Dawson.  (Byron Borger’s Heart and Mind Books is an exception.  There are others.) But this store had this book on truth and postmodernism in abundance.

I went back to my office to look up this “new” title.  To my surprise, I learned that this book had been out since 2011.  And no customer reviews were posted on Amazon.  (I am changing that.)  I soon acquired the book, but it has taken a while to work my way through it.  The slow pace was due to the many books I am trying to read, as well as the challenging nature of this book.

For those who want an enjoyable and anecdotal survey of some modern ideas, look elsewhere.  This book has the feel of being a professor’s expanded outline notes.  It has a mountain of bibliographical and footnoted information.  It is a walk through the section of the library dealing with modern thought with glances through the writings of key thinkers.  It will overwhelm you (in a good way) with the books, terms, ideas, and names which have contributed to modern thought and postmodern thought.

The pastor counseling a couple with a few marriage problems or the history teacher with a classroom full of eighth graders will not find answers here.  But I really hope that pastors and history teachers have the time and inclination to get outside of their boxes and explore these issues.  There are connections between the ramblings of brilliant, but misdirected philosophers and the cultural and social problems that we face in everyday life.  As I once told Richard Weaver, “You know, Richard, that all of these ideas I am teaching you have consequences.” (Don’t fact check that story!)

For beginners and novices, like me, this book is a good survey or introduction to lots of issues.  Well chosen quotes begin each section.  The quotes alone are good glimpses of some of the ideas that have been bouncing back and forth between intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, and academics.   I would love to take a class, preferably with Dr. Kelly teaching it, where we were reading and discussing this book.

The first 152 pages of this book are on postmodernism itself.  It is titled “Friend or Foe: The Challenge of Postmodernism.”  The next section, titled “Truth and History,” is much more my area of interest.  In that part, Kelly covers the ways that historians have interpreted history over the past hundred years or so.  Sometimes we may wonder why a person would read four different books on the same topic or era of history.  Certainly, the facts don’t change.  But history books have never been and can never be about listing facts.  Even the encyclopedia is selective and interpretive about what facts to include.

Schools of thought and methods of interpretation change.  With two major world wars and the rise and fall of various ideologies, the histories of the twentieth century are going to reflect both the time they were written and the school of thought of the authors.  This may not change the way that I hope to finish my discussion of Gettysburg next Monday in history class, but it does affect my historical understanding at other levels.

There are people who like hamburgers.  That’s fine.  But some people have to go beyond the culinary delight of two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun to understanding the cattle industry, wheat production, vegetable harvests, and food distribution.  Likewise, some people like history.  May their tribes increase.  Whether it is good biographies, the History Channel, historical fiction, or touring Civil War battlefields, all such interest is good.  But some of us really need to understand the inner workings of the discipline.  This book will help.

In short, some of you really need to get this book and study it.  Pick up on the recurring names and ideas.  Let this book be a launching pad for deeper and further studies.

Post Script:  Dr. Kelly devotes about two pages of small print in an extended footnote listing authors and titles of history works that have influenced his understanding of “postmodern historiography and historical epistemology.”  As one who has been around the library and history block a few times, I am astounded at the range of books he calls attention to.  The journey never ends.

 

 

Augustine and the Problem of Power

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A recurring argument for a book is “the test of time.”  There are exceptions to the rule, for some really good books vanish from sight and mind while other mediocre books continue to be read.  In the field of academic studies, an abiding book is even more rare.  Continued scholarship, new insights, the chipping away of older interpretations results in scholars being interested in the latest work from the presses.  Certainly, there are problems with this approach, but it has its merits as well.

Almost unimpeachable are the books considered as the fundamental classics in the western world.  Many of us have now spent decades trying to erase the shame of having degrees and supposedly being educated without having to read the great minds from Homer to Augustine, from Aquinas to Dante, from Luther to Kuyper.  But along with the great books and world-changing authors are the books that are built upon, that comment and expound, that interpret and apply the great books.

As a matter of practice, it is better to–especially when playing a decades overdue catch-up–to try to hit the actual sources.  Besides, many of the books about Plato and Aristotle are harder to read than Plato and Aristotle.  Many classic works are really short (excepting Herodotus’ Histories, Aquinas’ Summa, or the Leatherstocking Tales of Cooper).  Many classic authors wrote some selections that are short and readable.  One who cannot wade through Calvin’s Institutes can manage the excerpt from it titled The Golden Book of the Christian Life.  For every classical epic, there are plenty of sonnets.

One indisputable giant in Western Civilization is Augustine of Hippo.  (Of course, he is disputed, all the way down to how to pronounce his name.)  The corpus of his works are daunting to tackle.  The City of God itself is a massive and weighty read, but he can be approached through Confessions and through On Christian Doctrine as well as sermons and shorter selections.  Still there is a need for some, many in fact, to attempt to have a working understanding of The City of God.  I know the challenge, for I have read it a couple of times and have taught large portions of it in a high school class.

While it may not have remained on the best seller lists or on the most popular surveys for 1500 years, it has impacted our civilization and has yet to be a spent force.  City of God is relevant to today and is more relevant than many of the current and trending topics and issues.

Charles Norris Cochrane lived the short happy life of a professor grounded in history and literature.  An Oxford trained Canadian, Cochrane served in World War I and then began his academic career at the University of Toronto.  In 1940–not the best year for publishing a book–his defining work Christianity and Classical Culture came out. The intellectual community praised it.  Jaroslav Pelikan  called it “the most profound book I know on Augustine.”  The poet and literary scholar W. H. Auden said, “I have read this book many times, and my conviction of the importance  to the understanding not only of the epoch of which it is concerned, but also of our own, has increased with each rereading.”

Cochrane was positioned to occupy a major role in scholarship for decades to come and was invited to lecture on Augustine at Yale University.  But a heart attack led to an early death and left the world primarily with only the one book. (Cochrane had previously written a work on the Greek historian Thucydides.)

Yet the man of one book remained a key force for studies related to Roman history, Christianity, the transition to the Middle Ages, philosophy, and theology for decades to come.  Christianity and Classical Culture remains in print to this day having been reprinted by the Liberty Fund.

Now, over seventy years since Cochrane’s book first appeared,  we have the sequel.  Cochrane gave a series of four lectures at Yale on “Augustine and the Problem of Power.”  These lectures can be seen as a distillation or summary of his larger work.  He had also written and spoken on other topics related to Roman culture, Machievelli, and Edward Gibbon.

Augustine and the Problem of Power

Long lost to the academic and book world, these papers were discovered by his granddaughter.  As the scattered writings began to be read and thought about, a decision was made to publish them in book form.  From that unexpected series of events, we now have the book Augustine and the Problem of Power:  The Essays and Lectures of Charles Norris Cochrane.  This work is edited by Professor David Beer, who also wrote a lengthy introduction to the collection.  It was published this past year by Wipf and Stock.

I readily, but cautiously, recommend this book.  Readily because of the reputation of the author and the blessing of having a further work by him.  Cautiously because this is not a “Augustine for Dummies” work.  This book is a slow read.  The title of the book is also the title of the four lectures which make up over a third of the book.  The lectures delve into the Greek and Roman views of society and politics that Augustine was answering and refuting.

Quite simply, the Greeks (and the Romans who followed) believed that a perfect or model or ideal society could be fashioned by the right political order, the right political philosophy, the right legislation.  Man and society were, at least to a large degree, perfectable with the correct philosophical and governmental actions.  In short order and directly, Cochrane labels the Greek and Roman political worldview as idolatry.

The antidote to the idols of that age or this one is the Christian faith.  Cochrane says, “Christian faith rests upon the unshakable conviction that, not withstanding the efforts of secularism to rationalize and justify its pretensions, the order of nature revealed by Christ and the Scripture is, the true order; to acknowledge which must therefore be the starting-point for all genuinely fruitful investigation into the problem of perfection”  (pager 78).

The statement above is not easy to swallow without some serious chewing.  It is not bumper-sticker or sound-bite Christian answers to current questions.  It takes unpacking and thinking.  And that is why this book–Augustine and the Problem of Power–and Cochrane’s previous work–Christianity and Classical Culture–and Augustine’s City of God–are so important today.

I received a review copy of Cochrane’s book and am not obligated to sing its praises, but will do so anyway.

Gordon Clark: Presbyterian Philosopher

I first became aware of Gordon Clark somewhere around 1975-76.  He was approaching his last decade, but was still actively writing, while I was just newly introduced to the vast realm of Reformed theology and thought.  There were, for many of us newly minted Calvinists of that time, two primary pillars that were both the attraction and battering rams in Reformed life.

One was soteriology, and remember that we like big words like that.  Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation, and for Calvinists, this began with grasping the Five Points of Calvinism.  The quick track to the 5 Points was found found in a book consisting mostly of Bible texts, titled The Five Points of Calvinism:  Defined, Documented, and Defended by David Steele and Curtis C. Thomas.  But that short book was originally an appendix to Steele and Thomas’ key work titled Romans:  An Interpretive Outline.  Both books were published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

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The man who wrote the introduction for the Romans book and who urged Charles Craig of Presbyterian and Reformed to publish it was Gordon Clark.

At that same point in time, Presbyterian and Reformed mailed out a newsletter every month.  At the bottom of the newsletter was a list of books that were on sale, often for a dollar. One of the book I got was Karl Barth’s Theological Method by Gordon Clark–a hardback edition for a buck! I also got Clark’s book Biblical Predestination.  

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The book on Barth was out of my league, but I was reading everything I could find on predestination.

Over the years, I continued to buy books by Gordon Clark here and there.  I never sytematically or rigously read his books, but through the years I read one here and there.  Favorites included Historiography: Secular and Religious (reviewed here), The Christian Philosophy of Education, A Christian View of Men and Things, and his commentary on 1 Corinthians.

Also, I have read and re-read and have had a love/hate relationship with Clark’s book Logic.  Here is what I wrote about it back in 2006:

Right now, we are studying Gordon Clark’s book Logic in both classes. For Logic class, the book is an introduction, albeit a “push you off into the deep end of the pool” approach…. Clark was a brilliant man, a key Christian philospher, and according to many student testimonies, a great teacher. He was not necessarily a great writer or communicator of logic skills. His book rambles; he makes statements without support; he raises questions he does not answer; he slips wit in where more details are needed; and he strays off here and there. The book gives me the sense of sitting in the presence of a brilliant man whose years of study, reading, and writing are being displayed for all to delight in. I love the book, and I rejoice that I do not have to use it as my primary logic text. It is a great supplement, a useful introduction, a helpful refresher.

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And then there was that weird, jam-packed used book store in Hot Springs, back around the year 2004.  You could not move around in the store and there were stacks and boxes of books everywhere.  But this was a nightmare place, not a delightful hunting ground.  Most–as in 90%–of the books were trade paperback romances and other forms of pulp fiction.  But I am a hunter.  Somewhere in a stack of books almost too high to reach was a book that caught my eye:  The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Restschrift, edited by Ronald Nash.  It was a hardback book and was priced for $5.00.  (I later–to my regret–missed a chance to buy an autographed copy of the same work.)

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My copy is hardback with a dust jacket. The book has been reprinted as Gordon Clark and His Critics.

The big awakening came somewhere around 2005 or 2006.  A friend, Jeff Bruce, sent me a link to an article titled “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind” by James Jordan.  The article completely blew me away.  But it wasn’t because it told me something new, but rather it reminded me of something from my past, as well as that of Jordan and many others.  It was like discovering some vital links in your family tree.  Yes, here were the Calvinist writers who had impacted and dominated my early years.

Jordan’s article was soon followed by a similar type article by P. Andrew Sandlin, titled “The De-Intellectualization of Reformed Theology.” (Why is this not available on the internet somewhere?)  My own contribution to the topic shows up here in a blog post titled “Reformed Thinkers.”  Then I had the opportunity to give some talks in both Virginia at the Christian Worldview Student Conference and in Alaska at a Reformation conference.  My Virginia lectures were called “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Years” and my Alaska talks were called “Spheres of Reformation.”

Clark was back on the radar, but I realize now that I did not then nor have given him the wide berth he deserves as a pioneering Calvinist philosopher, worldview thinker, theologian, and model of scholarship.  Douglas Douma’s newly published biography–Gordon Clark:  The Presbyterian Philosopher–will be step one in remedying a widespect neglect of Gordon Clark’s life, thought, and books.

A few brief points on this book:

  1.  Notice the second part of the title:  The Presbyterian Philosopher.  The good news is that Christians–Reformed, Catholic, and otherwise–have carved out a wide swath in the field of philosophy in our day.  As is always the case with academic fields, philosophers–even those sharing Reformed credentials–fall into different schools of thought.  Many are Dooyeweerdians, meaning that they subscribe to or borrow from or build upon the work of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.  Many ascribe the expansion of Christian philosophical thought to Arthur Holmes who built the philosophy program at Wheaton College.  The contributions of Charles Taylor, Catholic philosopher and author of The Secular Age,  cannot be ignored.  Time does not permit us to give the praises due to Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantiga.                But Gordon Clark is often ignored, overlooked, or dismissed (and disliked?).  Long before Holmes developed the philosophy department at Wheaton, Clark was there influencing young scholars who made their own contributions in the field of Christian thinking.  While Dooyeweerd’s work was still untranslated, Clark was writing on philosophy.  While even card-carrying Calvinists sometimes flinch from the difficult doctrines of Scripture, Clark was using the Bible as a hammer–along with a strong does of Aristotelian logic–to pound philosophies secular and religious that he thought fell short of Biblical truths.

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  1. Worldview thinking has become popular in Christian circles.  There are many books on developing a Christian worldview, and I have and love quite a few of them.  But Gordon Clark did not write about “developing a Christian worldview.”  He demonstrated one.  Consider the fact that he wrote about philosophy, theology, politics, education, pyschology, science, historiography, and other subjects.
  2. Clark is often remembered today for the many theological controversies he was embroiled in.  Beginning with the defining battles in the day with J. Gresham Machen and the liberals of the Presbyterian Church in the north, the twentieth century was the era of “Machen’s Warrior Children,” to use John Frame’s phrase.  A great battle within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was the debate over “The Incomprehensibility of God.”  It pitted two giants against each other–Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til.  Douma’s biography aptly covers this conflict, which is often referred to as the “Clark-Van Til Controversy,” but could be called “The Incomprehensibility of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til” controversy.   We can take sides, eschew both sides, wring our hands, vilify either combatant–or more properly, those who continued the combat, or just shrug our shoulders over the whole mess.  But it happened and it impacted–and likely reduced–the influence of Calvinistic thought and Presbyterian church life in America.  The failure of Presbyterians to build more inroads and expansion within Fundamentalist churches have left us with small, very orthodox Reformed congregations.  Leave it to a Calvinist like John Piper to market the message to a wide audience.
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The two primary combatants–Gordon Clark (left) and Cornelius Van Til (right).

3.  Gordon Clark’s name and fame may not be in big lights right now.  And I suspect that Gordon Clark: The Presbyterian Philosopher will not be a “New York Times Best Seller.”  But this is an excellent book and will be a catalyst for many to read Clark again (like me) and others to discover him (as Douma himself did while reading John Robbins’ book on Ayn Rand).  When asked which theologian from our times will be read in 500 years, R. C. Sproul answered, “Gordon Clark.”  Well, I reckon that Dr. Clark, Dr. Sproul, Douglas Douma, and I can judge that comment more accurately in that other realm and not having that long to wait, read Clark now.

But begin with this biography.

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Although they sparred over theological and philosophical points, both Clark and Van Til respected and esteemed one another. As Van Til often affirmed to friends, “Soon we shall sit at Jesus’ feet.” Before that day arrived, they were reconciled.

By the way, I must admit to not liking the author Douglas Douma.  I am not well acquainted with him, but I have this against him:  1.  He is too young to have written such an outstanding book.  2.  He is too smart, since he has degrees in mechanical engineering, business, and theology. 3. And he is athletic and outdoorish.  All three traits have me miffed.

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Should a serious author really be standing at Horn Peak (13,450 feet) like this?

Philosophy–An Area Where Christians Are Winning

I am a history and literature teacher.  To be specific, I am a high school and junior high history and literature teacher.  To get even more specific, I have a junior high understanding of the world.  Frequently, I hear people talk about their desire or ability to “get a Ph.D. and teach in college.”  I don’t believe in such a world because, even with my 8th grade perspective, I read scholars.  Most people sitting in an audience listening to a great pianist or to Ricky Skaggs playing a mandolin should not think that with 3 months of lessons, they could be the ones on the stage.  Completion of a freshman level college course, or even the teaching of such a course (which I am doing now), do not a serious scholar make.

I am in the audience.  One thing I have learned is when to applaud.  Concerning history and literature, I can not only applaud, but also lean over and comment to whoever is sitting next to me.  For example, I could say “That was a good explanation of isolationism, but more needed to be said about Wilson’s foreign policy before World War I” or “Bret Lott may not call himself a Southern writer, but Jewell definitely reflects lots of the same themes as other 20th century Southern authors.”

Philosophy is a different matter.  I don’t even dare applaud, unless those sitting near me applaud.  But I am confident in applauding Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.  This book is both an historical survey of the key philosophers who appeared during different historical eras and an explanation of the views and issues of philosophy.  Philosophy as a field of study is a vital subset of the study of Western Civilization.  (I don’t doubt the existence of non-Western civilizations and philosophies.  I just know almost nothing about them.  And we are in the stream of Western Civilization.) This book uses a series of ficticious letters between a girl named Abby and a boy named Percy.  Abby is attending a Christian university, while Percy attends a secular university.  Like all young couples in love, they discuss philosophy courses in their letters.  The point of the book and this approach is that it contrasts the difference between a Christain approach to philosophy from a secular approach.  Certainly there is common ground and common sources that are read; however, at many points, and certainly at the presuppositional level, the two approaches to philosophy (and one could add any other subject) differ. Because of the increasing skepticism and despair in Western culture and thought, many philosophers after the French Revolution lost confidence in philosophical answers.  The quest for meaning in a grand or universal sense became a quest for meaning in a personal sense.  By that, I mean many philosophers sought ways that the individual could cope with a meaningless, purposeless universe.  Novels, drama, poetry, art, and music followed more modern philosophies (as they always do) in seeing a disjointed, cruel, hopeless universe.

The Dutch Christian scholar Groen van Prinsterer posed the key question:  “Can Christianity,  after the French Revolution, be revived  in order to have a salutary effect on the direction of western culture?”  The French Revolution is all too often claimed as kinfolk to the American Revolution.  There were similarities, just as there are similarities between a novel and a car repair manual.  The revival of Christianity after the French Revolution occurred.  It has often been marginalized to focus on the soul rather than the culture.  Groen van Prinsterer was not doubting as he raised the question.  In fact, he did some major work in applying Christianity to Western Culture.

Christians often expect to read or hear about yet another cultural defeat in one area or another.  (I even suspect some Christian friends of truly enjoying the Obama Administration because its actions feed their fears.)  “Things are getting worse and worse.”  All too often premillennial Christians are able to build bigger and better facilities because of their conviction that the end is near.  Postmillennials are usually not a very hopeful lot either.  There is an increasing cultural divide.  The anitithesis, a favored word of Francis Schaeffer, is becoming more clear.  But the story is merely not one of Christian retreats and holding actions.

Time magazine reported an amazing trend in 1980.  They said that “a quiet revolution in thought and arguments that hardly anyone could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback.  Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers…but in the crisp, intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almight from fruitful discourse.”  In other words, the philosophy departments in many universities had been infiltrated.  The scholarly writings among philosophers, not usually not outside the academy, were including an alien group.  Christians are storming the ramparts of philosphy.  (The history in the book Christian Philosphy clearly points to this having happened numerous times before.)

The two major Christian philosphers highlighted in the book are Alvin Plantinga, described as the “world’s leading Protestant philosopher of God,” and Nicholas Wolterstorff.  Both Plantinga and Wolterstorff have roots in Dutch Reformed theology and culture.  Both are heirs of Abraham Kuyper.  This book, which devotes 2 chapters to the work of Plantinga and Wolterstorff, contrasts “Reformed epistemology” with the more continental (European) “Reformational philosphy” of Herman Dooyeweerd.  The philosophy of Dooyeweerd gets its own chapter.

All in all, Christian Philosophy is instructive and challenging.  “Introduction” doesn’t mean easy or overly simplified.  This is or ought to be a college introductory text.  It is fun and informal, but yet very challenging.  The two authors, Bartholomew and Goheen, have previously written two other introductory books.  They are Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story and Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview.  Both books are now high on my wantlist.

Postscript:  The book Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers, edited by Kelly James Clark, contains great accounts by Plantinga and Wolterstorff regarding their spiritual and academic journeys.  Both were students at Calvin College and both studied under Harry Jellema, a forerunner of the renaissance in Christian philosophy.

 

 

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They are no longer youthful, but they have changed the landscape for Christians in the field of philosophy.