Consequences of Ideas

Consequences of Ideas

Understanding the Concepts That Shaped Our World

by R. C. Sproul
Publisher: Crossway Books
Trade Paperback, 224 pages
Price: $19.99

There have always been those who've dismissed philosophy as irrelevant, but it seems in many ways they've multiplied like never before in the last few centuries. This anti-philosophy attitude is perhaps strongest among Christians, who think that since Paul warned the Colossians not to be deceived by philosophy we should abandon it altogether. To do so, however, is more dangerous than engaging philosophy and philosophers from an educated and thoroughly Christian standpoint.

Why is it so important for Christians to understand philosophy? Because it affects every aspect of our lives. This will come as a shock to those who see philosophy as a highly impractical discipline undertaken by wrinkled old men who live in libraries, studies, and universities. But, while that description fits some of the most prominent philosophers, it's also true that the ideas conjured up by intellectuals always trickle and sometimes rush down like a flood to the rest of the population.

Take the ideas of Rene Descartes, the Father of Modern Philosophy. His famous cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am") was his attempt to begin philosophizing from first principles, and essentially meant that his ability to doubt his own existence clearly proved that he existed, since how could he think if he didn't exist? This simple but radical idea led in turn to solipsism, which is the idea that only the individual self can be proved to exist.

So far, all of this sounds pretty esoteric. In plain words, Descartes' idea that he could prove his own existence using only reason was a break with past thought, which asserted that it required outside authority (i.e., God's revelation) to prove the existence of anything. By turning this idea on its head, Descartes paved the way for man's reason and not God's revelation to determine truth, reality, and everything else, and the results of this can be seen now at every level of society.

All that is to say that ideas do have consequences, and in The Consequences of Ideas R. C. Sproul offers a brief survey of Western philosophy that shows how the major thinkers in the history of thought have affected society, culture, and Christianity, some positively and some negatively. In layman's terms yet at a fairly rigorous level, Sproul introduces Plato, Aquinas, Hume, Locke, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and many others with precision and accessibility.

Unlike other books that attempt a similar project, The Consequences of Ideas actually deals directly with the ideas of the thinkers covered. While he offers insightful commentary from time to time, he often simply lets the ideas speak for themselves, showing how they've taken root and how they've manifested in culture. An excellent introduction to the history of Western philosophy from a leading Christian theologian, this is an important book for anyone wanting to understand the weird intellectual climate of our postmodern 21st century.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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