John Frame’s History of Western Philosophy was just published a few days ago. It is a large volume worthy of consideration, as he tells the story of Western philosophy from a Christian perspective. This is acceptable and desirable because, in his view, theology and philosophy are closely intertwined. Both rooted in revelation, Frame argues that “Christian theology is Christian philosophy, or philosophy with a Christian worldview.” (p. 4). Herman Bavinck, writing in his 1908-9 Stone Lectures, likewise maintained the close connection between the two: “…revelation is of the utmost importance, not only for religion, but also for philosophy, and particularly for epistemology.” (p. 79) Thus, in another place, Bavinck argues that Christian theology “can fashion for herself a philosophy”. (“The Theology of Albert Ritschl”, p. 123)
For these two authors, though theology and philosophy are distinguished in methodology and by the necessity of the division of labor, the latter ultimately depends upon the former. Philosophy is not a non-theological discipline to be conducted by reason alone, and theology is not quarantined. This is of no surprise, of course, since it is distinctive of neo-Calvinism to hold that Christianity produces a whole worldview, with theology as the queen. It is a characteristic of neo-Calvinists to show how exactly a Reformed theology can exert itself materially to form distinct views on philosophy and other areas of inquiry. Other than Kuyper and Bavinck, we see these attempts in Herman Dooyeweerd, D.Th. Vollenhoven, Hendrik Stoker, Cornelius Van Til, and Louis Berkhof. From philosophy to law, to education, their interests go far and wide. Historian George Marsden, for example, argued that it was Van Til who influenced him to reflect on a distinctly theological historical methodology (“The Spiritual Vision of History,” p. 56).
Frame’s new book is a welcome contribution within that strand of thinking – Reformed theology shapes his articulation of the story of Western thought. Now, there is some discussion regarding whether it is even desirable or possible to construct a distinctly Christian-theological view of philosophy or other fields. There is a distinction to be made here: historically, it may be argued that theologians in the past did not hold to the position that theology ought to exert itself in this manner on other fields of life. Maybe. But showing this alone doesn’t negate the normative point that neo-Calvinists want to make – it is the Christian scholar’s task to show how theology is organically generative in every area. If this was a Dutch neo-Calvinistic development, then I would argue it’s a needed one.
I thought it may be useful to survey a little bit of the material that’s been published the last few years. Some of the authors below have disagreements, but it doesn’t negate that they are all attempting to work out an explicitly theological and revelational view of philosophy and other fields of study.
William D. Dennison, having published his A Christian Approach to Interdisciplinary Studies, continues this task of applying theology in all areas of life in his new work on apologetics, Defense of the Eschaton. He explores the ways in which redemptive-history should implicate the field.
Vern Poythress‘s Redeeming series for Crossway, having covered such diverse fields as mathematics, philosophy, chance, hermeneutics, and logic, are all stimulating.
Daniel Strange’s recent book, Their Rock is not Our Rock, drawing from Kraemer, Herman and J.H. Bavinck, explores a Reformed-evangelical understanding of other religions.
The Kuyper Center Reviews published annually by Eerdmans, always includes stimulating work. In the most recent edition, there are chapters on the way in which Kuyper appreciated and re-located Schelling’s philosophy, and Bavinck’s theological grounding of the natural sciences.
We should also mention K. Scott Oliphint and William Edgar’s helpful republication of Van Til’s works, including the new edition of Common Grace and the Gospel. Useful, also, is Oliphint’s 2007 book Reasons for Faith. (A nice collection of essays by Moises Silva, Richard Gaffin, Frame, Oliphint, and others could be found in Revelation and Reason).
Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew’s Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction, following in the footsteps of Dooyeweerd, also assesses Western philosophy with explicitly theological resources.
James Anderson’s What’s Your Worldview is a nice primer on worldview for a popular audience. More academically, his rigorously written Paradox in Christian Theology (drawing much from Alvin Plantinga) is worth considering. Anderson, co-authoring with Greg Welty, have also produced some carefully crafted articles on a theological account of the laws of logic in Philosophia Christi.
Brant Bosserman’s creative, ambitious, and lucidly written Trinity and Christian Paradox, sought to reform the logic of Absolute Idealism within a Christian context.
Neo-Calvinism and the French Revolution (edited by James Eglinton and George Harinck), has some nice reflections on how neo-Calvinism sought to offer a distinctly whole alternative to the ideals of the French Revolution. Some highlights in that volume were Wolter Huttinga’s essay on Bavinck and theology as the queen of the sciences, James Eglinton’s chapter on a neo-Calvinistic view of language, and Matthew Kaemingk’s analysis of secular responses to the Hijab in Islam.
There are also some journal articles worth mentioning.
Paul Maxwell has two noteworthy articles. One in the Journal of the Evangelical Society (JETS) considering how theological methodology affects one’s construal of divine simplicity, and another in Philo, on how Reformed theology may provide one with the unique theological tools to evade a particular a-theological argument.
Nathan D. Shannon has many articles worth considering. His work involves arguing for a specifically theological re-interpretation of logic, music, and religious belief itself.
Ian Clary’s thoughtful piece on Historiography continues the reflections mentioned above by Marsden. Seeing the importance to ground historiography in theology, he appeals to the book of Esther in Scripture to explore a theological-naturalistic (my term) historiographical method.
Finally, I attempt some modest contributions in a few pieces: An article in the International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion continues the discussion on a Reformed account on logic. An upcoming piece in the Journal of Reformed Theology traces and compares a strategy in Herman Bavinck and Cornelius Van Til on how to adopt and utilize non-Christian philosophies.
More work still remains – but I am glad to see much constructive work is already being done in this stream.