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Philosophy & the Christian Faith Paperback – April 1, 1969
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About the Author
Colin Brown is senior professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He served as editor of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and is the author of several books, including Miracles and the Critical Mind, History and Faith, and Jesus in European Protestant Thought.
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"...no system of philosophy has ever turned out to be complete and perfect. In fact, it could be said that those systems which, like Absolute Idealism, have laid the greatest claims to comprehensiveness and completeness are precisely those which are the most defective. At almost regular intervals down the centuries someone will hit upon an idea which has some claim to truth. It is then blown up into a system which is thought to be capable of explaining everything. It is hailed as a key to unlock every door. But sooner or later its advocates find themselves obliged to deny the existence of anything that their key fails to unlock, or to admit that it was not quite what they thought it was...what often happens in philosophy is that someone stumbles across something that has been ignored or feels a need to account for some aspect of experience or relate it to 'modern' thought....In each case the thinkers concerned were so impressed with their particular insight that they built it into a more or less rigid system which virtually destroyed its original usefulness." - Colin Brown, Philosophy & The Christian Faith, pg 268-269
But it was a nice description of Soren Kierkegaard who was the father of this process that made me understand how it could be compatible.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 1968 book, "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. It is written from the standpoint of one who is deeply committed to the Christian faith. But in the first instance it has not been my intention to indulge in polemics and apologetics... Instead, I have tried to analyze for the student and general reader the principal factors which have made the present intellectual climate what it is... I have not refrained from commenting on what seem to me to be the strengths and weaknesses of the person or movement concerned." (Pg. 9)
Unlike most histories of philosophy, he does not begin with the Greeks, but with Medieval philosophy (Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, etc.); he also devotes significant space to the Reformation, and covers theologians such as Schliermacher, Bultmann, Tillich, etc., as well as philosophers. He also covers recent figures such as Cornelius Van Til, Karl Barth, and Francis Schaeffer.
In his chapter on the "Nineteenth Century Ferment," he observes that "Papal infallibility was not defined until 1870. Up till then Catholics were deeply divided on the subject. It is no secret that many informed Catholics today wish that the dogma had never been defined. They are embarrassed by the fact that there are no grounds for it in Scripture and early church tradition. And the facts, both that Catholic theologians are uncertain which papal pronouncements are infallible, and that there has never been an official, infallible list of infallible pronouncements, are some indications of the vacuity of the dogma. Nevertheless, its advocates felt that the dogma was a logical development of Catholic teaching, and that they were striking a blow at modern secularism." (Pg. 163)
He argues against Tillich, "The Systematic Theology, vol. 1 never adequately demonstrates that his concept of 'being' is a valid one. The mere fact that the English language contains the word does not mean to say that we can add up the sum of everything that exists and then call it 'being,' as if being were a meaningful description of the sum total or a tangible abstractable common characteristic. Still less does it give us leave to talk about the 'ground of being,' the 'power of being' and 'alienation from being' without more ado. These ideas upon which the whole edifice is erected are not demonstrated but taken for granted." (Pg. 199)
He concludes, "The task of the philosophy of religion is the descriptive and critical analysis of the act, content and presuppositions of belief... It will seek to analyze the phenomenon of prayer, and the validity of claims that are made that God answers prayer. It will be interested in the credentials of alleged miracles (both biblical and otherwise). The question of the existence of evil is one which each generation has to face. It will be specially interested in the Christian claim that God is the creator of the world and its sustainer in the light of the widespread assumption that the world is to be explained entirely in terms of natural causes. The study of philosophy is no task for those who have opted out of life... There are many unsolved problems... But because the Christian is convinced that God is the God of all truth, he will not lose heart." (Pg. 288-289)
Brown seems more at ease discussing theological and apologetic thinkers, rather than purely philosophical ones; but his analysis (as far as it goes) is excellent. Christians looking for a more straighforward and traditional "history of philosophy" from a Christian standpoint might consider Gordon Clark's Thales to Dewey;: A history of philosophy.
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Dr. Brown starts by introducing his own reflective observations, on the tenuous liaison of philosophy and faith.Read more