Christian Philosophy? Why Do We Need it?
Why do we need Christian philosophy? Many Christians feel those two words—“Christian” and “philosophy”—form an oxymoron. Do those two words belong in the same sentence? How could philosophy have anything to do with Christian doctrine?
I’ve heard Christians say things like, “Why study Christian philosophy? In fact, why should we have anything to do with philosophy at all? Theology is important. Philosophy is of the world, right? I’m not even sure Christian philosophers will go to heaven.” (Yes, I really did once hear someone say that.)
Then someone will quote Colossians 2: 8, which says:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (NAS)
These accusations are valid. But before we join in this disdain for philosophy, we should ask ourselves a question. After all, Christian philosophy has been around since the first days of the Church. Why? Why did it hang around for so many centuries if it’s just a waste of time, at best, or a pathway to perdition, at worse?
Why do we need Christian philosophy? To help us in our war against the enemy—that’s why! The Bible says in Ephesians 6: 12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (NAS)
How do we fight? We fight by speaking the truth and believing the truth. We fight by living lives of righteousness, holding fast the truth of the gospel. We take up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Some of the warriors in this battle feel called by God to become Christian philosophers.
Our battle is a spiritual battle. Invading the physical world, the battle spans two realities: the physical and the spiritual. Humans also inhabit these two realities. Although we have physical bodies, our spirit, our soul, goes beyond the physical world. We are able to feel, to experience, to reach out and almost touch the person of God. We praise His Name; we give thanks for His blessings; we participate in the battle. The battle is a spiritual battle. That’s why our weapons and armor are spiritual: truth, faith, righteousness, salvation, and the word of God. These items are extremely effective in the spiritual battle.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. II Corinthians 10: 3-4 (NAS)
The enemy counterattacks. He uses lies, malice, and mischief to distract us and the lost persons of this world. We are called upon to make a defense against the enemy. Christian philosophy is part of that defense.
The enemy knows to battle will involve our thoughts and beliefs about God because . . .
We Cannot Stop Thinking About God
Man is the creature who looks to the stars. Not just the stars. We worship. We pray. We feel somehow connected to the greatest, most important mystery of all. That is, who is God and what does He require of me?
Austin Farrer, a Fellow at Trinity College, Oxford, wrote the following in an introduction to works by Leibniz:
If metaphysical thinking is nonsensical, its empire over the human imagination must still be confessed; if it is as chimerical a science as alchemy, it is no less fertile in by-products of importance.
In other words, although metaphysical thinking cannot be verified directly by our physical senses, we cannot deny the idea of God. Thoughts of God have a strong hold over us. Metaphysics is as important and as all-invasive as a basic science such as chemistry.
Since God is such an important part of our psyche, we cannot leave the study of God to atheists and secular philosophers. How can they hope to define or describe God? They are not even sure if He exists! Those who hold onto truth are needed to describe and defend truth. Those who believe in God are essential to argue God’s case to an unbelieving world. The Bible expresses this well in I Corinthians 2: 14-16:
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (NAS)
Since Christian philosophers, as Christians, are connected with the mind of Christ, they are better equipped to study and explain the existence of God than are non-Christians and atheists.
However, for the last two hundred years atheists have owned the intellectual playing field. They strive to convince intellectuals that belief in God is irrational, unscientific, and void of reason. They place believers in an unmerited position. They claim believers are foolish simpletons who ignore reason. This is a lie. Their lie cannot continue.
We Must Reclaim Reason for God
The other day I saw this quote: “To many people now alive, metaphysics means a body of wild and meaningless assertions resting on spurious argument.” In other words, religion is full of wild and meaningless statements that make little sense and are unsupported by evidence or reason.
Atheists work frantically to build a strong wall between faith and reason. They paint Christians as simpletons who blindly follow something atheists say does not exist. “What foolishness,” atheists say. Here are some of their comments:
According to Richard Dawkins:
“The time has come for people of reason to say: Enough is Enough! Religious faith discourages independent thought, it’s divisive and it’s dangerous.”
Is that so? Try to talk to Dawkins about Darwinism. He is a zealot for Darwinism. He works strenuously to convince everyone of Darwinism’s truth. He belittles and humiliates anyone who disagrees. His belief in Darwinism suppresses all reason and rational argument. Does his atheism encourage independent thought? I don’t think so.
Christopher Hitchens wrote:
“Religion is poison because it asks us to give up our most precious faculty, which is that of reason, and to believe things without evidence. It then asks us to respect this, which it calls faith.”
Before I came to belief in Christ, I accepted these kinds of statements. I thought Christians were irrational people. They removed their brains before they went into church—they left their brains at the church door. After becoming a Christian, I was amazed to see all the wonderful minds and historic geniuses who supported Christianity. Some of the greatest minds in history believed in Jesus Christ! The same is true today.
We must reclaim reason for God. Christianity always has been a faith grounded in reason. Christian philosophers help people understand the depth of knowledge and wisdom available to them through Jesus Christ. If these philosophers fail, atheists will convince others that our beliefs are based on foolish nonsense rather than on wisdom, reason, and rationality.
Christianity is based on the wisdom of God. With God’s help, Christian philosophers developed rational, logical proofs for the existence of God. These rational proofs have existed for centuries. They can be grouped according to three categories.
(1) Cosmological Proofs—these proofs are the result of deductive reasoning, logic, and statements considered to be certainty or truth.
(2) Physico-theological Proofs—(to use Kant’s terminology) These are proofs based on science and inductive reasoning.
(3) Ontological Proofs—these proofs are the most difficult establish. They consist of a priori reasoning and transcendental qualities. These proofs blur the line between us and the mystery that is God.
Atheists despise and ridicule these “proofs.” Why? Atheists believe they have control of all “rational” arguments and all reason. Jesus Christ has the power to strip the control of reason and rationality from their very hands. We need Christian philosophers as soldiers and guardians to help us rescue reason and rationality for God.
That’s not all. This world is God’s creation. Science is the handiwork of God. Therefore, . . .
We Need to Proclaim God’s Rule Over Science
Early science was focused totally on the physical world. Although some early scientists were believers and others non-believers, both groups wanted to establish Science as the study of nature. They did not want science to stray into metaphysics.
Metaphysics studies things that are beyond the physical world—things we cannot see, hear, taste, touch, feel, or examine with our senses. Early scientists limited scientific study to such objects.
Although Mathematics is not a physical science, these scientists—both believers and non-believers—accepted Mathematics as a tool to be used for Science. After all, they explained, Mathematics played an important part in ancient Greek science through scientists such as Ptolemy and Euclid. The discoveries of early modern scientists such as Kepler and Copernicus were based on mathematics. Most of these men believed the universe was constructed by God and was governed by natural laws. These laws could be described through Mathematics. Even non-believers saw the mathematical logic of the universe.
Some scientists were so strict that they did not want to accept any other unseen phenomena, not even gravity, radio waves, electricity, or magnetism. These phenomena were called “occult forces.” Many scientists rejected these forces in order to remain focused on the physical world. The purpose of science was to explore the world of nature. Science must be explained according to natural forces and processes.
Then Isaac Newton proved the world moved with the precision of a great machine. Newton praised the God of heaven and earth for the laws He established to rule over nature.
However, other scientists had another interpretation. If the universe worked like a giant machine, who needs God? Perhaps God created the world but then He went away and left the world to run by itself—like a giant clock. These people preached a new doctrine inspired by their rebellious hearts. They believed that God created the universe and them abandoned it. People were expected to control this machine according to their own desires. God would not get in the way. God had no role in their daily lives. These people were called deists.
Along came atheism. Atheism fit into this new science like a hand in a tailored glove. Atheists, in general, seem to have a standard way of exploring complex systems. First, they deconstruct the system, breaking it into its component parts. Derrida did this for language; La Mettrie for the human body. Others performed the deed for such complex systems as society, economics, and, currently, DNA.
Second, they examine each of the parts, fitting them together as parts of a machine. Their complex systems continue to run like great machines. The whole is never greater than the sum of its parts. For example, to an atheist our brains are nothing more than extremely complex masses of nerves, neurons, and other brain cells. Thought is just a mechanical process. There is no soul or spirit. Emotions have no real existence. Everything we think and everything we are, these can be explained by atheists as mechanical, electrical, or chemical processes.
Atheists try to fit everything into their mechanical understanding of nature. When Darwin came along a century later, atheists rejoiced. Science no longer needed God even to explain one of the greatest mysteries of all—the origin of life.
Now atheists think science is their exclusive toy. They preach again and again that science and faith have nothing in common. They place barriers between atheistic science and science based on belief in God.
Physicist Steven Hawking wrote,
“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”
Authority refers to revelation such as the Bible. And, of course, if God does not exist (as any atheist would say), revelation has no authority.
Hawking says science is better than faith because science works. Does Christianity work? Can it make our lives better? Ask a drug addict who abandoned the needle and “got clean” after being converted to faith in Christ. Ask millions of people fed and sheltered by Christians. Because of Christ, millions of naked people are clothed, the sick are cared for, people in distress are given assistance.
Daily miracles and caring for others in the name of Christ, such things are demonstrated in and taught by the Bible. They provide evidence for the authority of the Bible.
Christians advanced science quite well before atheists decided to hijack it. One could make a long list of great scientists from the Fifteenth Century through the Eighteenth Century, including Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. Advanced mathematics also was discovered by Christians such as Pascal, Leibnitz, and Newton.
The Bible presents a different message about science and nature. The very first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God created the universe. God will bring it to an end. He governs the universe day by day. According to Hebrews 1: 10-12:
You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the works of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
and they all will become old like a garment,
And like a mantle You will roll them up;
like a garment they will also be changed.
But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.”
Nature provides proof for the existence of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (NIV) In Romans 1:20 the apostle Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities . . . have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” The evidence of God in nature is so obvious that we have no excuse if we ignore it!
Besides, something happened while atheism was busy keeping faith away from science. Science grew up! Atheism’s mechanistic view of the world no longer fits.
Once upon a time science seemed so simple. For example, consider the human body. When the human body was just a machine, a doctor could treat the symptoms. If you have a stomach ache, take medicine for the stomach. If you have a headache, take medicine for your head. It was so simple.
Now times have changed. Scientific understanding of the human body has grown. Doctors no longer treat a mechanical body that is composed of organs. Medicine has discovered the extreme complexity of the human body. Organs work together, grow old together, and stop functioning at the same time producing multiple organ failures. If our bodies are machines, they are very complex machines. The body is treated more like a community where all parts work together for the common good.
Atheism’s dominion over science is weakening. The growing complexity of modern science does not fit the simple atheistic mindset. This provides a fantastic opportunity to present the truth of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world.
We Must Prepare to Defend the Truth of God
The best way to bear witness to Jesus Christ is through godly living. In I Peter 2:15 the Bible says, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
However, sometimes we do need to defend the faith. Peter continues:
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do no fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (I Peter 3: 13-15, NAS)
At times the testimony of a blameless life in Christ will shout the truth of the God’s Word. But at other times we must actively defend the gospel. How do we know when to do the first and when to do the latter? Proverbs 26: 4-5 describes this:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.
When to answer and when to be silent? This takes discernment. Where can we find discernment? The Bible answers that question in Proverbs 2: 3-6:
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
We defend the gospel through our works of godly living and with our works. Discernment helps us know when works are the best answer and when words are needed. When wisdom asks us to speak, Christian philosophy helps provide answers through a field called Christian Apologetics.
Apologetics! Does that mean we apologize for being a Christian? Absolutely not!
Our word “apologetics” comes from the Greek work apologia which means “a reasoned defense.” The word is used in the Bible at I Peter 3:15 (also quoted above) which says, “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Paul uses the word in Philippians 1:16 when he reports that his ministry is “for the defense of the gospel.”
Christian apologetics uses logic and reason to defend the Bible and its message. The Bible and Christianity are under constant attack from God’s enemies. These attacks can eat away the faith of Christians. Like weeds these attacks can strangle the newly planted faith in a young Christian. (See Mark 4: 13-20). The attacks can crush the seeds of faith planted in new believers before this faith can sprout. Faith is an essential prerequisite for belief in God.
Apologetics tries to bridge the gap between faith and reason. Hebrews 11:6 says,
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (NAS)
Truth is truth. Paul Hazard wrote the following in his book The Crisis of the European Mind 1680-1715:
We ought clearly to understand that, just as we can never add truth to what is true already, so we can never impart truth to what is intrinsically false.
Christians know the truth. Jesus is the truth. Apologetics helps us defend this truth in ways the world understands. Truth is truth. Truth will stand.
Do We Need Christian Philosophy?
Yes, we need Christian philosophy. Christian philosophy engages our secular world. It preaches a biblically correct, theologically sound message in a way that answers secular critics, skeptics, and others who choose not to believe. Christian philosophy provides encouragement for Christians who struggle within the environment of a secular world.
Does Christianity work in our society today? Yes. Can Christianity provide answers for Christians fighting to maintain their witness and bring glory to God? Yes. Christian philosophy can bolster a Christian’s confidence in the gospel while helping him or her defend the faith.
May God bless us both as we seek to serve God and to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.