Philosopher Friday: Diogenes Allen

“God’s ontological uniqueness limits our understanding of God, and the essential hiddenness of the divine permeates all our theological reflection and formulations of doctrine” [1]. And so here we see the reverentially simplicit writing style of Princeton Seminarian and philosopher Diogenes Allen (1932-2013). I have chosen Diogenes Allen for this week’s philosopher focus because of his great work in the area of the philosophy of religion and especially because of one of my favorite books, Philosophy for Understanding Theology. In the preface to the book, he writes:

Everyone needs to know some philosophy in order to understand the major doctrines of Christianity or to read a great theologian intelligently… The usual college or seminary course in philosophy and the usual book that surveys the history of philosophy do not give nearly enough help. The material is selected on the basis of what is important for philosophy, not what is important for theology. [2]

And as such, his book is an exposition of that very title: philosophy for understanding theology. Upon first reading this book, I had noticed Allen made this enlightening and highly enriching statement: “… Christian theology is nonetheless inherently hellenic. I use the word ‘hellenic’ instead of ‘Greek’ to refer to the spread of Greek culture and ways of thinking to non-Greek peoples, an influence which received powerful impetus from the conquests of Alexander the Great and Rome” [3]. Thus, this very paragraph led to the inspiration for the name of this blog: Hellenistic Christendom. A truly inspirational ideal for me:

…likewise we would not have the discipline of theology without the hellenic attitude in Christians that leads them to press questions about the Bible and the relations of the Bible to other knowledge. Thus when people call for purging Greek philosophy from Christian theology, unless they are referring to specific ideas or concepts, they are really calling for the end of the discipline of theology itself, though they may not realize it. [4]

A Short Biography of God’s Philosopher

It was a bit difficult for me to dig up any real significant material in regards to Allen’s life/career, but a few resources did happen to surface. Diogenes Allen was the Stuart Professor of Philosophy emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, which he joined as an associate professor in 1967, then later becoming a full professor in 1974. As a frequent writer and scholar, Allen wrote many books in respect to the practical Christian life, making his 1987 work Love: Christian Romance, Marriage, and Friendship very popular (which later became a video series) [5].

According to the Episcopal Digital Network, Allen earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kentucky in 1954, and went on to study at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He earned a B.A. (1957) and later an M.A. (1961) from Oxford. He earned his B.D. (1959), M.A. (1962) Ph.D. (1965) from Yale University [6]. Before joining the Princeton Seminary faculty, Allen taught at York University in Ontario, Canada, from 1964 to 1967. Allen’s main books include:

  • Theology for a Troubled Believer (2010);
  • Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Help Today (1997);
  • Nature, Spirit, and Community: Issues in the Thought of Simone Weil (1994, with Eric O. Springsted);
  • Quest: The Search for Meaning through Christ (1990);
  • Christian Belief in a Postmodern World (1989);
  • Love: Christian Romance, Marriage, and Friendship (1987);
  • Primary Reading in Philosophy for Understanding Theology (1992);
  • Philosophy for Understanding Theology (1985);
  • Mechanical Explanation and the Ultimate Origin of the Universe According to Leibniz (1983);
  • Three Outsiders: Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Simone Weil (1983)
  • and many others.

Allen was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2002, and was also a priest associate at All Saints Episcopal Church Princeton after his retirement. Then in January of this year (2013), Diogenes Allen died at the age of 80. He died in hospice care at Chandler Hall, Newtown, Pennsylvania.




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