1968, 1990, 2000, 2009
What do these dates have in common? (I’m not after something mathematical.)
In 1968 Colin Brown’s Philosophy and the Christian Faith was published.
In 1990 we published Colin Brown’s Christianity & Western Thought, Volume 1: From the Ancient World to the Age of Enlightenment
In 2000 we published Steve Wilkens and Alan Padgett’s Christianity & Western Thought, Volume 2: Faith and Reason in the 19th Century
Now, in September of 2009, we have just published Padgett and Wilkens’s (the switch in the order of names is significant) Christianity & Western Thought, Volume 3: Journey to Postmodernity in the 20th Century
In the first volume of Christianity & Western Thought, Colin Brown introduces us to the story of these books:
Twenty years ago I wrote a book entitled Philosophy and the Christian Faith: A Historical Sketch from the Middle Ages to the Present Day. It was written with the fire and passion of youth—or at least the fire and passion of an aspiring scholar in his thirties writing his second book. Since then the book has gone through more than a dozen printings in America and Britain. It has been translated into Chinese and Portuguese: and an Indonesian translation is underway. Numerous people have told me that this was the book that helped them get through philosophy at college, university or seminary. To be told this is both encouraging and humbling. In the meantime InterVarsity Press invited me to undertake a revision to make the book more useful for the present generation. As I worked on the revision, I could not suppress the growing feeling that tinkering about with the original book would ruin whatever good was in it. If I did anything at all, I needed to write a completely new book. There is much in Philosophy and the Christian Faith that I still stand by. There are many passages which—try as I may—I cannot improve upon. For all that, I feel a growing kinship with Saint Augustine who toward the end of his career wrote his Retractions. I have therefore written what is virtually a new book on the same basic theme.
Brown goes on to explain that when he wrote Philosophy and the Christian Faith he had never heard of Pyrrhonism, but now found himself devoting an entire section to it. Other handicaps of the original book he attributes to the limitations of the book’s setting:
Perhaps this shortsightedness [five pages got him to medieval philosophy!] may be put down to the facts that Philosophy and the Christian Faith was a product of the 1960s, and that its author was a child of the age of linguistic analysis. That era was already passing, but its children were still being taught that the main problems of philosophy were reducible to the problems of the meaningfulness of language. So far as the history of philosophy was concerned, modern philosophy (i.e., the only worthwhile philosophy) began with Descartes.
The rest of this introduction is worth reading. You will find there that it was IVP editor Jim Hoover who suggested to Brown that he revise and update the original book. I recall being thrilled at the prospect, since I was one of those who had been greatly helped by the original book as I took philosophy courses in a public university. My paperback edition is dated 1971 (and IVP’s Downers Grove, IL, P.O. Box number is “F” rather than our longstanding “1400”). Back then, books of this sort from an evangelical perspective were as rare as the gold of Ophir.
When we come to the preface of Christianity and Western Thought, Volume 2, we find a brief explanation of how Brown had given up on the project and handed it off to two able young scholars, Wilkens and Padgett. (At that time they were both teaching at Azusa Pacific University, just down the road from Brown at Fuller Seminary. And Wilkens had been Brown’s doctoral student.) The volume has a nice endorsement from Brown:
The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century changed the shape and character of the church for all time. The Enlightenment and its nineteenth-century aftermath did the same for the modern world. We cannot understand contemporary culture, values and ways of thinking and their impact on Christianity without an appreciation of what has gone before. Steve Wilkens and Alan Padgett have performed an important service in exploring the interface between the driving ideas of the nineteenth century and Christian thought. They are uniquely qualified for this task. Steve is a trained theologian with an interest in philosophy. Alan is a trained philosopher with an interest in theology. Between them they have produced a judicious, balanced and well-documented survey of European and North American thought that will serve students and teachers alike. Their work has no rivals in this field.
Over the past eight or nine years we have repeatedly been asked when volume three would be published. “It’s coming,” we’d say. Well, it’s here! The first two volumes have been widely used as textbooks in philosophy and theology courses, and we expect nothing less of volume three.
I received my copy several days ago, and I’ve been dipping into it here and there whenever I get a chance. I’ve already enjoyed a judicious treatment of Bultmann. And this morning I found that their discussion of the early Wittgenstein goes well with oatmeal and peach. This is exactly the kind of book that any academically minded person—whether philosophy or theology is their field or not—will value. Bruce Ellis Benson’s blurb says it well:
Covering the twentieth century’s major figures and movements in philosophy and theology in one volume is truly a feat! That the authors have managed to narrate the history of both analytic and continental varieties of thought in an engaging and lively way is even more impressive. But what is perhaps more remarkable is how judicious and measured the authors have been in their appraisals of the respective figures and movements. The result is a most welcome achievement.
Hey, good things take time. First the acorn, then the spreading oak forty years on.
Posted by Dan Reid
at September 18, 2009 12:12 PM
Thanks for this retrospective, Dan. I studied with Colin Brown at Fuller, and love the man, and this book (the first edition) particularly. It made philosophy approachable . . . and, like his classes, made me want to go back and read some of the classic, formative works.
And I agree with you: his introduction is just a delight.
(By the way, I just received an email from Fuller saying that Colin's wife Olive, who served as reference librarian at Fuller for 22 years, died on September 6. What a kind, intelligent women she was.)