19 Turning Points in the History of Philosophy and Theology

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The following is adapted from John Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (P&R, 2015).


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Jesus is crucified and resurrected. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ establishes the truth of the Christian worldview and fulfills the history in which redemption from sin and death forms the core of the Christian gospel.


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Justin, of the first generation of Christian philosophers and apologists, dies as a martyr to his faith.


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Roman Emperor Constantine issues the Edict of Milan, which ends empire-wide persecution of Christianity. In 325 he convened the first ecumenical council of the church at Nicaea, which affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ.


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Augustine’s writings culminate the theological and philosophical achievement of the patristic era and mark the beginning of the medieval, in which the church takes over from the Roman Empire the dominant role in philosophy and the preservation of ancient thought.


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Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae combines Platonic, Aristotelian, and biblical elements to form the classical medieval synthesis of faith and reason. Aquinas relegates the Greek form-matter scheme to the realm of natural knowledge, and then adds a higher level in which faith and revelation supplement reason.


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Martin Luther attaches Ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Philosophically, the Reformation renounces the autonomy of reason (including Aquinas’s “natural reason”) and seeks to govern its thought by God’s written Word


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Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury enumerates fine points of natural religion in De Veritate, which marks the beginning of English deism and the liberal tradition in theology. The liberal tradition renounces biblical authority and seeks knowledge in ways that follow the autonomous pretensions of secular thought.


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René Descartes’ Discourse on Method introduces a radically secular turn in philosophy, similar to the beginning of the discipline in 600 BC. As Thales set aside all tradition and religion to think by reason alone, so Descartes sets aside everything he considers doubtful, including Scripture and Christian tradition.


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Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason creates a “Copernican revolution” in epistemology, in which the forms of experience are imposed on the world, not by God, but by the human mind. Thus Kant establishes human autonomy far more firmly as the fundamental authority for philosophy and theology. In Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Kant draws out the theological implications of this change, transforming the Christian gospel into an autonomous ethic. In Kant, the human mind essentially replaces God.


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Georg W. F. Hegel publishes his Phenomenology of the Spirit, which renews the rationalist tradition after Kant’s critique, but continues Kant’s program of identifying God with the human mind.


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Karl Marx publishes his Communist Manifesto, which converts Hegel’s neo-rationalism into a political ideology. Marx calls the proletarian working class to unite in a revolution to overthrow the capitalist bourgeoisie in order to establish a classless society.


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Abraham Kuyper, in his inaugural address as a professor at the Free University of Amsterdam, announces that there is not one square inch of territory over which Jesus Christ does not say, “Mine!” Kuyper’s work begins a new era, in which Christians no longer seek to validate their work by secular models, but rather to assert forcefully the distinctive worldview of the biblical revelation.


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Albrecht Ritschl publishes The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, developing Kant’s moralism into a theological movement with great influence in the churches.


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Karl Barth publishes The Epistle to the Romans, which fell “like a bombshell in the playground of the theologians” and proved the end of Ritschlianism. But in many ways, Barth’s work was another synthesis with secular thought.


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Ludwig Wittgenstein publishes his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, launching the method of solving all philosophical disputes by examination of language. But at the end of the book, he recognizes that his project is self-refuting.


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Martin Heidegger publishes Being and Time, which (with the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and others) seeks to reconstitute philosophy on a consistently atheistic basis.


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cornelius-van-til-e1327351072989Cornelius Van Til publishes The Defense of the Faith, which seeks to establish philosophy and Christian apologetics on a distinctively biblical epistemology.


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Alvin Plantinga publishes God and Other Minds, beginning a new era of professional acceptance for Christian philosophers.


The Last Judgment

Jesus Christ returns on the clouds with power and glory to judge the living and the dead, to vindicate his disciples, and to turn over his kingdom to his Father in the Holy Spirit. His appearance settles all arguments as to the truth of divine revelation and begins a new era of faithful human philosophic exploration.


Taken from The History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John M Frame (ISBN 978-1-62995-084-6), appendix pages 871-875, used with permission of P&R Publishing Co.  P O Box 817, Phillipsburg, N.J. 08865  www.prpbooks.com

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