Reviews - What do customers think about Philosophy and the Christian Faith: A Historical Sketch from the Middle Ages to the Present Day?
Why is this awful book still being sold? Sep 30, 2007
Colin Brown, professor of systematic theology at an evangelical institution published this book in 1968 to give a survey of the history of philosophy and its effect on the Christian religion. The surveys starts with Thomas Aquinas, his main "enemy" and ends with Francis Schaeffer (a fundamentalist missionary / activist who is not a philosopher)...
Let me be direct: the book is full of awful errors. Misconceptions or ignorance stain every page. Just an example: while leading his main assault against Aquinas, Brown shows that he has not the least understanding of Aquinas, including the five ways, and in particular of the cosmological argument. He thinks that the argument fails because it would require the first cause to be also caused... so he is unaware of the distinction between contingent and necessary beings... Who would not be ashamed of writing such a book?
In addition to the ignorance of the subject-matter, Brown takes party, moralizes, praises or condemns. Taking the same philosopher again, Aquinas is failure because his various arguments could lead to several gods (hasn't Brown heard of Ockham's razor?) or because his God is not necessarily identical tp the God of the Hebrew patriarchs (so what?)....
No need to display more of this and put more shame on Brown. In the preface to a more recent book, Christianity and Western Thought, vol. 1 (IVP, 1990), which should have been a revision of the present book, Brown honestly admits : "Twenty years ago I wrote a book entitled Philosophy and the Christian Faith (...) I feel a growing kinship with Saint Augustine who towards the end of his career wrote his Retractations. (...) I have never heard of (...) If I had paid more attention to the texts of (...) I might have known better. But I did not. My ignorance (...) I have made countless changes in my exposition and assessment of numerous thinkers and movements. (...) I have also changed my perspectives. (...) limitations (...) limited perspective and failure to see (...). shortsightedness..." Indeed Brown has in these years learned some basics of philosophy, the number of errors and misconceptions in Christianity and Western Thought is not appealing as in the present book, it may be acceptable although I would not recommend it, but rather Copleston's nine volumes History of Philosophy, or for those who want a short history, Ralph McInerny's A History of Western Philosophy.
A first question comes. How could someone write a book on something he knows almost nothing about? The answer is to be found in the inclusion of two fundamentalist, fideist thinkers at the end of the book, Van Til and Francis Schaeffer. The later wrote some extremely radical and arrogant booklets (e.g. Escape from Reason) on the history of Western ideas, while he knew absolutely nothing of the subject. Inspired by the example of Schaeffer, Brown thought he could write such a book without knowing philosophy, naively holding Schaeffer's totally wrong ideas for revealed truths. The results shows. Even if Brown at the end of the other book (Christianity...) explains that he rejects foundationalism (foundationalism = accepting basics such as logic, common sense, evidence as foundations for thinking), following Wolterstorff's Reason within the Bounds of Religion (1976), he has luckily departed from Schaeffer's nonsense. This is possibly due to the good influence of L. Rush Bush (Southern Baptist Theol. Sem, mentioned as a great help in the preface), whose humble books dealing with philosophy and the history of ideas display a knowledgeable and sound approach.
My second question is more disturbing. Why couldn't the publishers of the present book (Tyndale, then IVP) see through its blatant, shameful weakness? Why would they naively think it so good to the point of asking for a second edition? And Brown, who does not hide that he knows how horribly wrong this present book is (see Christianity and Western Thought), seems happy about the dozen of printings this book has undergone, not to speak of the numerous translations. When a manufacturer produces a product with a defect, he recalls it. Why can't IVP or Brown, whom I would expect to be servants of Truth, stop selling this book?
Great Intro to Philosophical Theology Aug 2, 2007
The author writes that the aim of this book is to make a survey of the main thinkers and intellectual movements of western thought of the past thousand years, with a view to showing how they affect Christian belief" (9). He writes, "There are many people who have heard of such names as Kant, Hume, Aquinas, and Kierkegaard and keep coming across terms like empiricism, rationalism, Existentialism and Logical Positivism, and who want to know what they mean and how they affect Christianity" (10). This is the book for those people. He divides the book into 4 sections:
1. Medieval Philosophy 2. From the Reformation to the Age of Enlightenment 3. The Nineteenth-Century Ferment 4. Philosophy and Faith in the Twentieth Century -----In just over 300 pages, Brown covers a lot of ground. This is a great intro to philosophical theology, or for a general overview of the history of philosophy. Quotes: -----"to go through life putting off thought about ultimate questions is to miss the whole point of human life." 30 ----"As we saw when we were looking at theological trends in the nineteenth century, Evangelicals made great contributions to evangelism and even to biblical scholarship; but they contributed little or nothing to the philosophical defence of their faith. For many, scholarship had a largely negative value. It was useful to defend the faith against hostile criticism. Few Evangelicals seem to have considered the philosophical implications of a faith based upon God's revelation of himself and their significance for apologetics." 245
Helenization of Christianity to Baptism of Aristotle Oct 23, 2004
Work Scope: Dr. Brown starts by introducing his own reflective observations, on the tenuous liaison of philosophy and faith. Both theologians and philosophers had their respective doubts and frustrations. He pursues his goal by surveying the intellectual movements and their western thinkers during the second millennia. He categorizes his work thus; "Histories of philosophy are not normally designed to be read through in bed, and the present one is not necessarily intended to be read through consecutively."
Views & Conclusions: Colin Brown exposes an insightful brief survey of alternative philosophical bases of Christian doctrine, that influenced the faith of Christian Churches in the course of history. This is a systematic work of an uncommonly talented, and deeply commited theologian to present an analytical history of philosophy, with an emphasis on the different interpretations of the sustained encounters of the fads and fashions of philosophy with Christian faith. Colin Brown concludes in the postscript with lessons from the past criticizing the incompleteness of philosophical systems. Although he warns against dependence on a particular philosophy, he recognizes the necessity of the philosophy's invigorating inquiry that drives Christian theologians to reconsider their positions.
Unique treatment: In contrast to his intentional fast tour of medieval philosophy, he already started to interpret Anselm by Barth and Hartshorne. The author gave the Twentieth Century a relative elaborate and critical evaluation of new trends in logical positivism, and religious language before he reviews existentialism in the example of Bultmann and Tillich. He then introduces New Radicalism in Bonhoeffer, before his thorough exposition of J.A.T. Robinson's, Honest to God. He would not refrain from analyzing the 'Death of God' movement, but gives his debut on Cornilius Van Till and Francis Schaeffer.
Biographical note: Colin Brown (D.D., U. of Nottingham; Ph.D., Bristol University) is professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. He is an Episcopal minister, and has served as Associate Rector of his parish church for decades.
Historical Survey of Philosophy & Christian Effect Feb 13, 2001
Brown provides a fine, brief survey of philosophy from the historical viewpoint. He begins with medieval thinkers, which set the pattern for so much of the thought that followed and still has its affect today. Covering Augustine to Aquinas, it is Augustine who sets the framework for the successors. Brown stresses a good point here, that the Middle Ages were focused not on the physical universe for its sake, but for the sake of the reality behind it. A strange mixture of Christinaity, pagan philosophy and a great portion of Greek philosophy. At the end, comes the major thinker Aquinas with his arguments that natural theology forms the intellectual basis for the philosophical arguments of the church.
Moving to the 16th-18th centuries, Brown shows that this was the cradle for modern thought. Recovery here of world and man for their own sakes, and the Reformation turns away from natural theology to revealed theology. Thus, the development of the rationalists, empiricists, deists and to Kant, this is time of major turning in philosophy. Major directive to modern man's power of reason to understand his world.
Creatively taking tagents off of this is the 19th century world of Schleiermacher, Hegel and Kierkegaard, spurning on the prominent 20th world of Barth, Tillich, Bultmann, etc.
This is a great, general intro to philosophy and its relationship to Christianity. Brown warns against alignment with any particular philosophy too closely, but does see the need and value of the stimulus philosophy provides for Christian thinkers to rethink their position.
Bibliography leans toward British publishing. Great reference is the five-volume "A History of Western Philosophy" by W.T. Jones.
Excellent introduction to philosophy Sep 1, 1999
This book covers the history of philosophical ideas with special emphasis on one of the most important philosophical questions, the existence of God, from the viewpoint of a British evangelical. The views are honestly described, but also critiques from a Christian perspective are provided -- so the philosophy doesn't leave one completely disoriented after reading the entire history of philosophy.