When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought Paperback – 1 Mar 2009
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Christian theology shaped and is shaping many places in the world, but it was the Greeks who origina....
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Some Christian readers doubt whether such a tour is necessary. Like the third-century Christian Tertullian, they ask, "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy [of Plato] and the Church?" This is a good question. In the first few centuries of the church, followers of the philosophies Reynolds surveys were often critical of Christianity, when not outright rivals to it. One thinks here especially of Gnosticism, which was a religious popularization of neo-Platonism and for centuries a thorn in the side of orthodox Christianity. Sympathy for Athens thus seems like sympathy for the devil. And more generally it's not clear how easily open-ended dialogue sits with divine revelation, the former assuming that answers are yet to be discovered while the latter that they have already been uncovered.
But Reynolds perseveres. On the one hand, he points out that much of Christian thought is simply incomprehensible without knowledge of classical philosophy. Philosophy provided the vocabulary and conceptual tools by means of which the church fathers articulated the faith in their own day and age. On the other hand, philosophy laid out the problems for which Christianity offered the best solutions. The philosophers Reynolds surveys uniformly deplored the Delphic religion of their age, in which the gods were arbitrary and irrational tyrants and reality at bottom was simply "chaos and dark night." How to explain the orderliness of the cosmos as well as the possibility of moral agency? How to provide political unity without sacrificing liberty to tyranny? The philosophers couldn't offer a definitive answer. Christ could and did. Or so Reynolds argues.
In my judgment, Reynolds does a better job outlining Athens' problems than providing Jerusalem's answers. His five chapters on Plato, for example, are a masterful introduction to that philosopher's dialogues. Indeed, if the measure of a good introduction is that it fires the reader's desire to consume the original works, then Reynolds' book must be judged a success, for I wanted to go right out and read (or re-read) each and every one of Plato's works. Reynolds' chapters on Aristotle, the neo-Platonists, Stoics, and Epicureans are less interesting, perhaps because he has less interesting material to work with. Still, one gets a keen sense of the intellectual problematics of Greek philosophy by reading Reynolds' book.
By contrast with his extensive discussion of Athens' problems, Reynolds' discussion of Jerusalem's solutions seems perfunctory and dogmatic. Reynolds is professor of philosophy at Biola University, an evangelical Christian school. An in-depth case can be made for how Christ pointed to the solution of Greek intellectual problems. And perhaps Reynolds will make that case in a future book. My point is that he has not made it here, at least not to my satisfaction, and certainly not in the same depth as his treatment of Athens' philosophies. The subtitle of When Athens Met Jerusalem is "An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought." That description of the book is only half right, in my opinion.
But perhaps it is too much to ask of an author that he accomplish such an immense task in a single book. So, honor where honor is due: Reynolds has written an excellent introduction to Greek philosophy for students and interested laypeople. It succeeds in describing both Greek philosophy and the intellectual problems for which Christian theologians of the patristic era offered solutions. I heartily recommend this book, and I eagerly await another one from Reynolds focusing on patristic solutions.
So the book is good, so good in fact, that I find it very difficult to conceive how the book could be improved. Although I still long for a book that that examines current Christian doctrines and its roots in Greek philosophy. The book is in itself a worthy and successful effort.
Should you buy the book? Believer or Non-believer, this book will not fail to teach you much. After you have read it you will feel very knowledge and will be able to make numerous connections to Christianity and secular philosophies. However he cautions in the last chapter that,
"A wise traveler does not think he has 'done London' after a three day stop,but he does have a richer view of the world having seek things that previously were just shadows in the mind. Where does our brief tour of Athens leave us? Even such a brief tour of Greece shows how much we moderns have lost by ignoring the past. Such ignorance is sometimes planned is the worst part of it. We need alternatives to the threats of scientific materialism and post-modern irrationalits. The ancient world can provide such alternatives. The modern world faces a two-fold crisis, both individual and cultural, occurring in the sciences and the humanities in our major universities. This book tries to renew interest in the classical approach to texts and human problems. I cannot do more than point in a direction for the solution to the problems...."
In other words this book is merely, an introduction [to greek and christian thought] and a signpost [towards solutions]. But this book is the prefect place / read to start the journey to better understanding the influential philosophies of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many others that influenced not only Christian thought but materialist philosophies. Highly Recommended!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: Athens and Jerusalem
1 Building Athens: Philosophy Before Socrates
2 The Death of a Good Man
3 The Ideal Philosopher: Plato and His Teachings
4 Follow the Logos Wherever It Leads: What Is a Dialogue?
5 In Love with the Good
6 The City in Words: On Justice
7 The Likely Story: The Timaeus
8 Breaking with the Master: Aristotle and the "Other" Path
9 The Middle Way: Aristotle's Ethics
10 Preparing the Way for Christ: Hellenistic Philosophy
11 A Postscript: Where Do We Go from Here?
"In the providence of God, Greek philosophy was available precisely at a time when the early church thought carefully about the Trinity, incarnation and other important topics. For centuries, Jerusalem and Athens have been friends. But today there is suspicion and outright rejection of Greek thought in the church. In my view, this attitude rests on confusion about Greek philosophy and its relationship to Christian teaching. With the publication of When Athens Met Jerusalem, we finally have an authoritative guide to these themes. Reynolds's work is an interesting read, accessible to a nonspecialist, and teeming with content. This book should be required reading for all undergraduates in Christian colleges, laypeople and pastors who need to be reacquainted with the important relationship between Jerusalem and Athens."
--J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University, and coauthor of Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
"To create the great civilization of Christendom, of which we are all the heirs, it was necessary to fuse the divine revelation given to the Hebrews (Jerusalem) with the philosophical brilliance of the Greeks (Athens). Now, in order to save the best elements of that civilization, those two great traditions must be united again. In this charming book, one of today's leading Christian educators explains how Christian thought has again become an exciting intellectual adventure."
--Phillip E. Johnson, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of California--Berkeley, and author of Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance
"'Close to the truth,' ah, so close, writes John Mark Reynolds about one of the best ancient Athenian philosophers. That's what Athens has to do with Jerusalem. That's what Plato has to do with Christendom and eventually with Christianity today. The story of the origins of Christian thinking that Reynolds tells is not the one we often hear from the pulpit. There is no bashing of intellectuals, no rejection of the machinations of the mind in favor of the intuitions of the heart, no substitution of faith for the role of thinking. Reynolds himself was brought back to Christ through the reading of Plato's Republic. Astonishing? Yes, but read Plato as Reynolds does and it all makes sense. Written with the passion of a lover of truth and the Word of Truth found finally in Christ, this book will challenge any student of either the ancient Greek philosophers or the beliefs of the early church."
--James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door and, with scientist Carl Peraino, Deepest Differences: A Christian-Atheist Dialogue
"This is a bold, original, salutary book, written with great passion, wonderful wit and deep love. Reynolds argues, convincingly I think, that Athens and Jerusalem, the classical and the Christian cultures, cannot live apart and are both in danger of perishing unless they are brought together in creative harmony. What is so unusual and so compelling about this appeal is that equal weight and equal appreciation are given to both classical learning and Christian faith. Reynolds has indeed accomplished the truly remarkable feat of replacing the ages-old deadlock between reason and revelation, or faith and reason, with a loving and respectful marriage between the two, and thus foretells of and foresees a new beginning for classical civilization and a revitalization of Christian teaching."
--Alfred Geier, University of Rochester
"It must be a treat to sit in John Mark Reynolds's classroom. In its verve and intelligence, When Athens Met Jerusalem is the next best thing. I wish I had read a book like this when I was a student. The need is even greater today, when even the teachers turn against reason, and every day makes clearer that Jerusalem is Athens's best friend."
--J. Budziszewski, University of Texas at Austin, and author of The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction
"John Mark Reynolds is the most stimulating lecturer on the interplay of classical and Christian thought I have ever heard. I have been longing for him to write a book capturing his brilliant ideas on the topic. It is a great blessing that this book has finally arrived--and When Athens Met Jerusalem does not disappoint. It is one of the finest and yet most readable treatments ever in print."
--Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D., founder and director of the Christian Apologetics Program, Biola University, and editor of Philosophia Christi
"John Mark Reynolds writes with the artistry of a true poet and the insight of a true scholar. His passion for teaching shines through the pages of this book."
--Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity
Reynolds has taught hundreds and hundreds (more than a thousand!) of three-hour discussion sessions on the great books since founding Torrey about thirteen years ago, and it must have been a monumental task for him to boil all that discourse down into a concise, focused volume like this one. But now the book for Normal People is here, and it is a zippy, compelling, witty, and accessible book written in common English instead of technical language.
--Fred Sanders, Scriptorium Daily [...], May 25, 2009
We are accustomed to long arguments listing the many reasons why the secular tradition of thought and philosophy (Athens) should come to learn the truths of Christian theology (Jerusalem). While it is true that philosphy without Christ is, at best, an incomplete thought, Reynolds, an apologist and scholar, refreshingly suggests that Jerusalem should not pull away from the valuable foundations of Athens' scholastic traditions; rather, that Christians should acknowledge the value of reason to faith. With surprising approachability, the reader is led through the history of classical thought and the development of Western Civilization to examine just how inter-related these two realms actually are; while it is clear that Reynolds has an opinion about his subject matter, his tone is of one leading a discussion rather than a dogmatic approach, silencing all detractors.
"When Athens Met Jerusalem"'s encourages intellectual Christianity to engage in the great cultural debate, and assists us in taking our place in the heritage of the church and the history of the West.
The book is written in a very simple style which is also quite easy to understand. While ideal for a newcomer to studies of classical thought, I expect that most of this book would be a review for those who have had modest encounters with similar material. The Christian perspective of this book is apparent but small. I had anticipated more references to Church history and synthesis of reason and faith, but overall, the book was thought-provoking and pertinent in a postmodern civilization increasingly attempting to understand her roots.