Impulse of Power: An analysis of Western man's guiding presuppositions            A Review by Jack Kettler

After having had the pleasure of reading Dr. Michael W. Kelley's two previous works, On Stone or Sand, the Ethics of Christianity, Capitalism & Socialism and The Burden of God: Studies in Wisdom and Civilization from the Book of Ecclesiates, I eagerly awaited the publication of this present volume. I was not disappointed. Dr. Kelley has emerged as a scholar par excellence. In this present work, Dr. Kelley demonstrates his comprehensive knowledge of the philosophy and history of Western Civilization. Of noteworthy value is Dr. Kelley's examination of the enormous influence Greek philosophy, particularly Plato's, has had on Western man's view of government: ran by an elite group of philosopher wise-men or experts with its oftentimes accompanying tyranny.

His analysis of Christianity's unique contribution to Western Civilization, both positive as a moral force and negative when infused with pagan ideas, is particularly notable. Man has been accurately described as incurably religious, or a religious creature. Consequently, it is not a question of whether mankind will be religious; it is the question of which religion will man follow. Similarly, Dr. Kelley argues "that man has a natural-born `impulse' to power" (308). In other words, basic to man's created nature, man among other things is destined to be a cultural-creature. It then becomes a conflict between which religion will inspire man's "impulse" to build culture. Will mankind self-consciously attempt to build culture upon his own ideas (humanism) or upon the revelation of God in Scripture?

Dr. Kelley in this most excellent elucidation of Western Civilization and its formative ideas challenges the adherents of Christianity to build culture with consistency and faithfulness to its covenantal presuppositions in the areas of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics with the goal of fulfilling God's ordained purposes in history.

Note: Dr. Kelley's book may be out of print at this time. However, a search on the Internet may turn up a used copy. It is well worth tracking down a used copy of this book if a new copy cannot be found.

Are non-Christians influenced by Greek Philosophy?

In his book The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought, Dr. Van Till says the following concerning Greek philosophy:

The ultimate concern of the Reformers was to bring the fullness of grace in its purity to men. They therefore sought to set it free from the encrustations of Greek metaphysics which are the metaphysics of fallen man. (171)

Van Til's use of the word encrustation shows how pervasive he believed Greek philosophy to be. The philosophical positions advanced by the Greeks influenced to such a large extent the areas of epistemology, ontology, ethics, and teleology that the Greek argumentation is a sufficient cause for positions that have been adopted by western religions and philosophy.

While admitting that many aberrational religions and philosophers may not be aware of the original source of some of their positions, they nevertheless are dependent upon Greek philosophical ideas at numerous points. Apostate thinking down to present day has never escaped entirely from Greek thought. I believe that many forms of paganism are related, too, and are the result of the superior apostate thinking of the Greek philosophers.

Has Christianity been influenced by Greek Philosophy?

See Ronald Nash's Was Christianity Influenced by Pagan Religions?

Only Christianity has been able to break free from Greek apostate thinking. This is true insofar as the Christian follows the Reformers in placing the self attesting Christ, speaking authoritatively in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as paramount in all thought. One of the battle cries of the Reformation was “sola scriptura.” Paul describes it this way: "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Every other form of western philosophy has to a large extent resulted from the thinking of the Greeks. The religions of the west have suffered from the same problem.

There is a relationship between religion and philosophy. Philosophy deals with how we know things, the nature of reality, ethics, and concepts of history. The Bible also deals with these same questions although there is a different emphasis.

Some comments from Gordon Clark's Thales To Dewey may be helpful concerning Christianity and pagan influence. Clark makes the following summary in his section on paganism and Christianity:

For such reasons as these it may be concluded that paganism and Christianity are radically distinct. Any points of similarity are superficial and trivial. To speak of them as alike is no better than indentifying Epicureanism and Platonism on the ground that both were founded by men. This conclusion is not weakened by two cautions that should be observed. First, since the New Testament was written in Greek, it uses words found in pagan writings. John even used the term Logos. But the point in question is not the use of words but the occurrence of ideas. Logos in John and hypostasis in Hebrews are not evidences of pagan ideas. Nor should one find Aristotle in the Nicene Creed because it says God is a substance or reality. One cannot forbid Christian writers to use common words on pain of becoming pagans. The second caution is that while Christianity and the Greek philosophies, as systems, have no element in common, the Christians, as people, often held pagan ideas. They had been converted from paganism and could not divest themselves of familiar modes of thought all at once. Therefore when they came to expound and defend Christianity, they inconsistently made use of Platonism or Stoicism. By a long and arduous struggle these inconsistent elements were gradually removed from a few fundamental areas, and thus a purely Christian Nicene Creed came into being. But on other topics, and especially in cases of individual authorship, the struggle was not so successful. Then, too, as time went on, the attempts to escape pagan ideas and to preserve the purity of New Testament thought grew weaker, and one might say, almost ceased. (195)

Mr. Kettler is an ordained Presbyterian Elder and the owner of the http://www.Undergroundnotes.com web site where his theological, philosophical and political articles can be read. He has worked in corporate America for over 30 years. Mr. Kettler can be contacted by e-mail at: jack@kettlerwellness.com

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Jack Kettler
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