Three Thinkers, Two Poets, One Teacher -- By: Harold O. J. Brown

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:2 (Summer 2002)
Article: Three Thinkers, Two Poets, One Teacher
Author: Harold O. J. Brown

Three Thinkers, Two Poets, One Teacher

Harold O. J. Brown

Harold O. J. Brown is John R. Richardson Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also professor emeritus of biblical and systematic theology at Trinit y Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Dr. Brown co-founded the Christian Action Council with former United States Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Among his numerous publications are Sensate Culture, and Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present.


The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries produced a number of thinkers, philosophers, theologians, and scientists whose thinking, writings, and discoveries did much to create the world that we call modernity, which is now supposedly giving way to post-modernity. The field is so full of eminent figures, often following and replacing one another with astonishing rapidity, that it may seem much too arbitrary to choose from among them only three and to argue that they paved the way for much that is best and for much that is worst in the contemporary world of religion, philosophy, and culture.

At the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, there were two poets: one looked back to the simpler and happier world that was vanishing, the other looked into what the world was becoming. The insights of those two poets will help us understand why it is the work of three thinkers can stand as a lighthouse beacon shining to enable us to reach a safe haven across a tempestuous sea.

Of our three thinkers, the names of two will be known to most college students, whether or not they have actually read anything by them. The third name will be more familiar to Christians, but unfortunately they too may know his work better from hearsay or from films. His influence has spread more widely through motion pictures and video than through his writings. Our three thinkers are the Dane Søren Kierkegaard (1818–1855), the German Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), and the American, for many years an exile in Europe, Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1985). The First World War brought an end to the nineteenth century’s European dream of endless progress, of la belle époque. If people had listened to the Dane as he attacked the massive structures of the idealistic philosophy of the early nineteenth century and its consequences for true Christianity, Christendom might have recovered before plunging into that dreadful war. But they did not listen to Kierkegaard; later, they would pay attention to Nietzsche, to their loss.

One of the two poems mentioned below symbolizes what kind of world would end in 1914; another ind...

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