2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Many good Christians evaluate the concept of Philosophy and wonder if its usage in Christian education is really necessary. Some even wonder if can be a Christian practice. These are certainly sincere dilemmas but they do seem to be flawed with a basic misunderstanding of Philosophy itself. Philosophy must not encompass necessarily all the trappings from the Classical to the Post-Modern types. This type of ideology is noticeable as well when you survey the course offerings of many Religious academic institutions; accordingly, many are absolutely void of Philosophy courses or seem reticent to say so. Mark W. Foreman of Liberty University has noticed and expressed this concern as well; however, he is only one of many who can see this famine of Philosophical teaching.
I am not naïve, Philosophy is not a cure-all. Nonetheless, it provokes and asks the question, “Why?” To some Philosophy is a pagan method and therefore should be void of Christian education. I feel this is due, as mentioned, to a fundamental misunderstanding of Philosophy and misapprehending the simple observation that Philosophy was used by pagans. Philosophy is closely linked with certain pagan figures in time; however, its usage is eclectic. Such great philosophers that were either theists or Christians were men like:
St. Anselm, William Paley, and C.S. Lewis contended for a Christian worldview. Other European philosophers such as Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal were similarly inclined in their philosophical constructions. Italians such as St. Ambrose and St. Thomas Aquinas have firmly placed philosophical arguments for the existence of God that are still taught, in principle at the least, in many Universities. The American philosopher Alvin Plantinga from Notre Dame, William Lane Craig, or Ravi Zacharias have given Christianity a firm footing in secular society—one that highly antagonizes the idea of God and Him as Creator.
First. It should be obvious then that decent and good men have used and proved the worth of Philosphy. It is NOT a purely pagan method. The founder of Modern Science—Francis Bacon—once stated, "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." He also noted that “Knowledge is power.”
The term Philosophy simply means “the love of wisdom” (See Miller, Jensen). Philosophy is actually two Greek words, phileo and sophia. φιλέω or phileo means love and σοφία or sophia means wisdom (Newman). However, “have no illusions that this [definition] is not how one comes to understand it [philosophy].” (Miller, Jensen) Philosophy is best understood when viewed as a method to confront or explore a person or institutions ideas, theories, theologies, or etc. It must be participated in; it is not an abstract ideal that only Greek pagans held as dogma to their religious tenets—it is a method of speculation and/or analysis that leads to fruitful discussion and knowledge of God’s Creation.
Second, the thing we must understand is that Philosophy is a method that the most degenerate or simple of persons can enjoy. The most pious of Christians have philosophized in one way or another. To question one’s beliefs is to philosophize, to incorporate reason and deduction into doctrine to establish clarity is to philosophize. It is not the goal of Philosophy to square everything in a nice logical box. It is to make sense of all the data and information we have as thinking creatures, instituted thus by God Himself.
Third, the lack of such philosophical provocation can and will lead to divergent theology and presuppositions (often an inherent assertion/assumption believed without question). Christian Theology has taken a turn in the 20th Century that is fearful. Theology in general—the science or study of God—has always been diverse and eclectic. Christian Theology, however, amid its expulsed heresies, has arisen to a pure form—this is to the credit of one who asked, “Why?” The early 1900’s and subsequent years have helped to reshape the bulk of global Christianity. Statistics give very good favor to the growth and influence of the Pentecostal resurgence in the 1900’s. The Church will come full circle and God will parade His Bride.
Contemporary Christianity has experienced the like of Shelby Spong, David Koresh, The Jesus Seminar, and other various divergent thoughts and peoples. Spong “challenges […] the Church's position on human sexuality, the virgin birth, and the physical nature of Christ' resurrection. […]” (Westar Institute). David Koresh brought a “New Light doctrine” and placed himself as a prophet and adopted a messianic role that was essential to human salvation. “With his focus on the Book of Revelation, Koresh desired to create a new lineage of God's children from his seed, making him the perfect mate for all female adherents.” (
Fourth, Philosophy is inevitable. I am frequently amused by those who tell me to discard Philosophy. In his book A Preface to Philosophy, Mark B. Woodhouse lists 10 examples of the inescapability of Philosophy.
1. A neurophysiologist, while establishing correlations between certain brain functions and the feeling of pain, begins to wonder whether the “mind” is distinct from the brain.
2. A nuclear physicist, having determined that matter is mostly empty space containing colorless energy transformations, begins to wonder to what extent the solid, extended, colored world we perceive corresponds to what actually exists, and which world is the more “real.”
3. A behavioral psychologist, having increasing success in predicting human behavior, questions whether any human actions can be called “free”.
4. Supreme Court justices, when framing a rule to distinguish obscene and nonobscene art works, are drawn into questions about the nature and function of art.
5. A theologian, in a losing battle with science over literal descriptions of the universe (or “reality”), is forced to redefine the whole purpose and scope of traditional theology.
6. An anthropologist, noting that all societies have some conception of a moral code, begins to wonder just what distinguishes a moral from a nonmoral point of view.
7. A linguist, in examining the various ways language shapes our view of the world, declares that there is no one “true reality” because all views of reality are conditioned and qualified by the language in which they are expressed.
8. A perennial skeptic, accustomed to demanding and not receiving absolute proof for every view encountered, declares that is impossible to know anything.
9. A county commissioner, while developing new zoning ordinances, begins to wonder whether the effect or the intent (or both) of zoning laws makes them discriminatory.
10. An IRS director, in determining which (religious) organizations should be exempted from tax, is forced to define what counts as a “religion” or “religious group”.
To conclude this short hodge podge of thoughts I want to elaborate on the first point briefly. Have you considered your consciousness? Where does it reside? Is man merely material or material and immaterial? Philosophy helps us to know these things because the human consciousness is something that is not organic matter. It is an immaterial nature of man.
A philosopher who most likely would want to know more than he did states: “I tell you that to let no day pas without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both myself [sic] and others is really the very best thing that a man can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living.” (Plato).
True introspective examination and true Philosophy will purge thought. Philosophy will challenge ideals, it will dismantle dogma, and it will destroy heresy. Philosophy will help you think more rightly and it will help you understand your relationship with the Creator. Philosophy is simply what we participate in as we desire wisdom and knowledge, it asks “why?”
In every situation there is a right and a wrong thing to do. We must determine which one is right and indeed which one is wrong. Philosophy can get you there. To each of us some things will be clearly right or believable while other things are not. Each and everyone of us are confronted with such things daily. Philosophy begins with ideas, perspectives, and experiences that you and I already happen to enjoy. This is the on ly place to begin, if you want to get anywhere at all.
Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
1. Foreman, Mark W. “Philosophy 201—
2. Miller, Ed L. Jensen, Jon. Questions that Matter: an Invitation to Philosophy. 5th Ed. McGraw Hill Pub. © 2004
- Newman, Barclay Moon. Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament.
: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies, 1993. Stuttgart, Germany
4. Westar Institute, John
6. Plato, Apology, 38-A, tr. Hugh Tredennick, in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, ed. Edith Hamilton and
7. Woodhouse, Mark B., A Preface to Philosophy, Wadsworth Publishing. Pp. 25-26
8. All words from Scripture are from the King James Version of the Bible.