book: Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought ...
Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought
P & R Publishing
, 2007 - 424 pages
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Rich yet concise analysis of the history of philosophy
For many reformed minds, philosophy is done purely in an analytical vein with little reference to history or the origin of ideas. Knowing that I fell into this camp, I had long considered it a shortcoming. But do I have time to embark upon a history of philosophy degree? Do I have time to read the primary works from thinkers of the past? Certainly not. What I needed, then, was a comprehensive overview of the history of philosophy. Admittedly, I was excited to see _
_ advertised in World magazine in early July 2008. Aptly sub-titled "
" and published by a publishing company I deeply respect (P&R), I bought the book immediately.
While many excellent history of philosophy texts exist already, I can imagine that none of them pay homage to biblical Christianity like this. These authors, all reformed, see the presence (or lack thereof) of Christian ideas as the driving force of history. A secular thinker, then, might regard the early church fathers, the Reformation, and the Protestant Awakenings as noteworthy, but certainly not driving philosophy. That was accomplished by more "esteemed" men. The inclusion of these topics, therefore, grants the reader special insight unique to this text.
Of course, many Christian texts do probe the history of philosophy, but this book still stands out: reformed, scholarly, graduate level, well-organized and methodical. And, in my opinion, not too long and not too short. Putting all of this together, I can say that _Revolutions in Worldview_ is exactly what I was looking for.
The basic premise, as the title suggests, is that each period in the history of philosophy represents a shift, or perhaps even a "revolution" in the academic "weltanschauung" of the age. This provides a definitive note for the entire book, which I appreciate: philosophy is not static, but dynamic---epic, even. Ideas have consequences. These ideas affect the worldview of entire civilizations, and hence determine the course of history.
Now, some overview and comment of the contents of the book. The book is divided into ten chapters, approximately 35 pages each, with each chapter written by a different author. The margins are large for note-taking, and sometimes include key quotes from the text. Particularly useful is the outline of the chapter found in the top-left of every even page. Aside from organizing the chapter's content, this prevents the reader from getting overwhelmed by providing a reference point to remind the reader of where he is in history.
(Note: The following dates are approximate.)
Ancient Greek (800 BC - AD 270)
John Frame's analysis of Greek thought is exactly what I would expect from him: clever, pointed, and dripping with Van Tilianism (which is a good thing!). Whether it be discussing the antithesis between Greek and biblical thought right from the outset, or later reducing Greek philosophy to absurdity, Frame pays homage to his mentor on every page. The reductio ad absurdums, while interesting, are a little too terse to be understood and fully appreciated. Frame's discussion of Greek "way of worship" explains the origins of the earliest Greek philosophers. This is very helpful, because it is easy to suppose that the brilliance and novelty of Plato (to whom some say that the rest of western philosophy is merely a footnote) popped out of nowhere.
Hebrew (1400 BC - AD 31)
In the second chapter, John Currid shows that OT sets the stage for the entire biblical narrative. While this is common knowledge, perhaps, he also proves that revelation did provide an entire worldview for the Hebrews. God's covenantal demands shaped every facet of Hebrew life. They were entirely set apart from other peoples. As Currid shows, this forms a powerful polemic against those who assert that the Hebrews borrowed from pagan cultures. Slightly disappointing, however, was Currid's suggestion that Genesis need not be taken plainly. Assuming that Currid holds to sola scriptura, non-plain theories (reading Genesis as something other than historical narrative) are simply intolerable.
New Testament (AD 31 - present)
Poythress' chapter is by far the most disappointing, in my opinion. Apparently he never got the memo: this is a history of philosophy book, not just a description of worldviews. Indeed, Poythress' chapter is nothing more than Christianity 101 in forty pages. (A nice summary, granted, but not why I bought the book.) There is no interaction with other ideas during NT times, nor discussion on how Christianity might shape history. I would have appreciated some discussion on whether Christianity is a copycat religion, in a vein similar to Currid.
Early Church Fathers to Charlemagne (AD 100 - 800)
While I had always heard the exciting tales of self-appointed theologians and apologists trying to articulate and defend the faith, I never really understood where they fit in history amongst one another. Richard Gamble summarizes Christianity's formative years nicely, detailing the influence of Christianity on Rome and vice versa. Augustine is discussed in depth, as is appropriate. Contrary to what some have taught, Christians were not straining to create a worldview during this time. As Gamble shows, they had a worldview, and they applied it to culture.
Medieval (AD 1000 - 1300)
In this chapter, Peter Leithart does an excellent job of tracing the origins of modernity. From here on out it becomes apparent that the history of philosophy is little more than men trying to reason apart from God. This desire springs up in the scholastics, particularly Abelard, who made theology a science dictated by Greek principles and not sola scriptura. This manifests itself in an antithesis between faith and reason, which Aquinas and many men after him would work desperately to reconcile. (We are reminded of Frame's earlier words: beware of "Greeks bearing gifts"!)
Renaissance (AD 1200 - 1600)
Immediately Carl Trueman dismantles the notion that the Renaissance was comprised of a single, unified worldview. Though Greek thought reached its pinnacle of influence, it did so differently in the "logical" scholastics and the "poetic" humanists. (And Renaissance humanism, as we learn, is not the same as modern day humanism, which is inextricably aligned with atheism.) We also see how economic factors largely affect politics of the day. Though the streams seem disparate, Trueman still brings the Renaissance to life by examining it from multiple perspectives: philosophy, science, politics, literature, art. Particularly interesting is Trueman's discussion on how the Renaissance influenced the Reformers.
Reformation (AD 1517 - 1600)
The Reformation, though influenced by scholasticism, proved to be a very sharp break from the autonomous trajectory of previous theologians. Consequently, I was very pleased to see Scott Amos discuss the epistemology of Martin Luther and John Calvin---well done, Dr. Amos! The return to scripture *alone* as the authority was nothing less than a revolution. Aside from Luther and Calvin, Amos also discusses the anabaptist movement, the significance of which I had underestimated.
Enlightenment and Awakening (AD 1600 - 1800)
Thus far we could say that the soil has been tilled and the seeds sown. But now, with the advent of the Enlightenment, we begin to see the full-grown fruit of autonomy. While the Enlightenments were extremely influential, Hoffecker also points out the great influence of the Protestant Awakenings. Indeed, the Enlightenments and Awakenings "competed for the public mind." The former expresses itself primarily as deism, with science as the true-knowledge giver. Many grandiose philosophical figures are discussed at length: Locke, Hume, Descartes, Pascal, and Kant. Truly, this chapter was a lot to swallow, yet incredibly fascinating. On the Protestant side, German pietism and Edwards are discussed. I would have appreciated some attention turned towards Spinoza and Leibniz, but this chapter was already packed.
Quite possibly the best chapter in the book, in my opinion. Not only does Richard Lints provide excellent summaries of the thought of key figures (the "secular prophets"-Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche), but he organizes the chapter beautifully and explains with great clarity how the 19th century fits in with the previous and following century. He notes that the 19th century is more or less a footnote to Kant, and that Hegel and Nietzsche actually act as the opening and closing parentheses for the whole era. Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard are discussed, and even the Princeton theologians, though to a lesser extent. Lints also discusses "eclectic" movements (Romanticism, transcendentalism, idealism, liberalism, existentialism, pragmatism), which provides an interesting look at how the same seeds of autonomy can grow into different types of fruit.
Michael Payne's closing chapter is, without a doubt, the hardest to read. Early on the reader feels drowned out by verbosity and undefined concepts. For the laymen, much of the chapter, particularly the first half, will feel overwhelming. Fortunately, Payne does frequently repeat and summarize himself. The chapter begins by discussing the designative-expressive debate, which leads into the early Wittgenstein, using Nietzsche as a bridge. The relationship between linguistics and epistemology, particularly verificationism (though I don't think that term is ever used) is discussed at length. Eventually the linguistic turn is discussed, leading into what we now refer to as "postmodernism," as popularized by Rorty. I would have appreciated more discussion of Derrida and deconstructionism, and perhaps Baudrillard and Lyotard. Payne closes out nicely, however, with poignant insight regarding the unnecessary dualism in language (expressive vs designative)---the result of abandoning the biblical God, who alone is the foundation for knowledge.
In conclusion, this book has added a tremendous amount to my learning. Apologists should not be without a strong grasp of the history of philosophy if they are to intelligently engage the culture. I would recommend _RiW_ to anyone who really wants to "understand the times" in a deeper sense than currently presented by many pop-apologists. Those new to philosophy will struggle through _RiW_, however, because it is written at a graduate level.
Quite an adventure, indeed, and I thank the men who wrote this fine work! I look forward to reading it again.
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The thesis of this book is that
has experienced a series of profound changes in thinking ? nothing less than
. Within these ten trajectories additional shifts and conflicts
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