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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.
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?