John Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology
Full disclosure, I am not a philosopher. Far from it. However, the history of philosophy has always been an interest of mine. Whether it was working my way through Frederick Copleston’s history or the intricacies of the Hamann-Kant dialogues, the history of philosophy has been a topic I regularly return to.
John M. Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (P & R Publishing , 2015; source: publisher) is a reminder both of my love for the history of philosophy and my inadequacy as a philosopher. Frame provides a wide sweep of the discipline, yet detailed attention to key philosophers and philosophies.
This is all standard fare for a history of philosophy. What distinguishes this history is the author. Frame, known more for his work in theology, offers a uniquely Christian and theological perspective on the history of philosophy.
Cocceius vs. the Cartesio-Cocceians? Probably not the first face-off that would come to mind when thinking about Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669). The more natural pairing would be Cocceius vs. Voetius. But today I want to take a moment to examine a phenomenon that occurs throughout history; namely, the discontinuity between teacher and disciple.
By the 1640s, a cohort of orthodox Calvinists gained the moniker “Voetians,” named after their leader Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676). Over the years they also gained a reputation for affirming a scholastic form of Calvinism and combating heterodoxy in all forms. Cartesianism became a repeated target for the Voetians, claiming that Cartesian skepticism elevated reason over revelation.
George Marsden, author of pivotal works such as Fundamentalism and American Culture and the definitive biography of Jonathan Edwards, returns with a cultural and theological assessment of the “liberal consensus” and its demise. Contributing to previous accounts of liberalism, as in Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion and Matthew Hedstrom’s The Rise of Liberal Religion, Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment (Basic Books, 2014) argues that the 1950s served as a transitional period in this story. The decade witnessed the end of the American Enlightenment, along with its religious foundation, and gave way to an unsustainable liberalism which rewarded consensus and punished dissent.
There are three “motifs” central to Marsden’s work. The first sets the stage with an evaluation of American culture in the 1950s. Beyond popular depictions found in shows like Mad Men, Marsden’s analysis offers insight into the negative impact of technology and mass media on the cultural and moral development of the nation. Mass culture and new technology, such as the TV, fed off each other and propitiated a banal society aspiring for meritocracy. Recognizing this downward spiral, the cultural commentators of the day advanced an elite or intellectual leadership which sought to correct the course towards a more fulfilling culture.