Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Dangers of Philosophy

Philosophy has been defined as the love of wisdom, taken from the two Greek words that form its final state. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 1:7 that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Paul tells us that the whole plan and scheme of salvation, to include its message and method of delivery has its source in the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:21) Luke tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom and if fact, that He kept increasing in wisdom. (Lu. 2:40, 52) When the apostles were selecting deacons in Acts 6:3, they looked for men that were filled with the Spirit of wisdom. And then in Acts 6:10, we are told that the Jews were not able to resist the wisdom of Steven. Clearly, the Bible has much to say about the significance of wisdom in the life of the Church and especially in the life of the individual Christian. Wisdom is a virtue that every Christian is obliged to seek. Christians must love wisdom, the must pursue it, and they must acquire it.

Every Christian should pray to be a good philosopher. James 1:5 uses the Greek imperative to instruct us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God and He will give us wisdom. Philosophy is the intellectual quest that leads us beyond science leads us beyond art, beyond historical inquiry, beyond political science, beyond every field in which the search for knowledge is pursued.[1] Philosophy is the attempt to understand reality, knowledge, and ethics. What is human existence, how do we know, and therefore, how should we live our lives? Philosophy is the attempt to pull it all together, reality, knowledge, and morality so that we may lead a virtuous life. However, what ends up happening all too often is that human methods for doing philosophy produce disastrous consequences leading to despair, skepticism, and a meaningless existence. Not only are such consequences unattractive, they are altogether unnecessary.

There are two very basic dangers that every philosopher must avoid. The first one is creating an illegitimate distinction between theology and philosophy. The difference between theology and philosophy is less pronounced than contemporary Christian philosophers admit. It is impossible to love wisdom and be a God-honoring philosopher without a proper theological foundation upon which to construct your philosophy. Two prominent philosophy textbooks provide an excellent illustration of this concern. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland's massive textbook, "Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview" does not even contain a Scripture index. Moreover, when one reviews the author index, Solomon is not listed once. I realize that does not mean Solomon is never quoted, but it is telling that all the Greek philosophers are easy to find while the wisest believer to ever walk the planet does not appear in the list. There is no acceptable explanation for this oversight.

A second textbook making a large splash in the field of Christian philosophy is the work of Steven Cowan and James Spiegel, "The Love of Wisdom." This book actually does have a Scripture index and this is very encouraging. In addition, Proverbs is referenced nine times in the book and Ecclesiastes is mentioned once. This is certainly a step in the right direction. However, one should note that Socrates is quoted a dozen times or more in this book.

The second danger that philosophy poses is the unwitting integration of godless philosophies with biblical theology. The danger of formulating a theology that is infected with godless Greek philosophies remains a threat in the Cowan and Spiegel work referenced above. Cowan informs us that one of the main goals of philosophy is to develop a reasonable worldview.[2] The obvious question is what passes for reasonable? What are the criteria that determine the reasonableness of a worldview? Moreover, isn't that very criteria included in the worldview itself? In other words, worldviews will bring their own criteria for what determines reasonableness with them. Why should worldview A give up its criteria because it contradicts worldview B's criteria for justification?

"As important as it is to build a Christian worldview, the most important goal in doing philosophy is the acquisition of wisdom."[3] First of all, we do not construct the Christian worldview. It exists apart from us. The Christian worldview is discovered, not constructed. The work involves the saving grace of God and work of illumination and the sanctified rational pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Second, apart from the Christian worldview, the only wisdom that remains is autonomous human reason. In this case, Cowan and Spiegel elevate philosophy above theology. Regrettably, this practice is all too common among Christian philosophers. The consequences to biblical theology and Christian theism are often devastating.

William Lane Craig comments on John G. Gager 's perspective on philosophy in the early Church, making the outlandish remark, "Gager argues that it was primarily the presence of philosophers and apologists within the Church that enhanced the self-image of the Christian community because these early scholars showed that the Christian community was just as rich intellectually and culturally as was the pagan culture surrounding it."[4] Here it seems that Craig reveals the reason why we should seek to have philosophy guide and dictate our theology for us. And that answer comes down to academic and cultural respectability. It was not the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist or the pastor that kept the body of Christ intact. Rather, it was the work of the philosopher and the apologist. By the way, Cliff McManis, in his work on Biblical Apologetics argues quite convincingly that there really is no office of apologist in the body of Christ.

I said at the beginning of this paper that many philosophers define philosophy as the love of wisdom. From the Christian perspective, we don't just mean any kind of love and any kind of wisdom. A good philosopher always defines his terms. There is more than one kind of wisdom that exists in the world. Failure to distinguish between godly wisdom and ungodly wisdom is no small oversight. James referred to a certain kind of wisdom as earthly, natural, and demonic. (James 3:15) Paul tells us that the world did not come to know Christ through worldly wisdom. Moreover, Paul insisted that his arguments and preaching were not conducted with superior oratory skills or with human wisdom. God wants our faith to rest in the power of the gospel, not in Greek philosophy, human reason, or sophisticated rhetoric. Paul then says that he does speak with wisdom, but not a wisdom of this age, but rather God's wisdom. To miss the point that Paul was contrasting and assuming the antithesis that exists between Socrates and Solomon, Aristotle and Paul, and Plato and Christ is not easy to do.

Paul tells us in Col. 2:8, "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." Philosophy done properly is philosophy conducted according to Christ. This philosophy does not seek academic respectability, cultural relevance, or a seat at the table of the elite. Rather, this philosophy seeks the truth that is only found in the one and only triune God revealed in Sacred Scripture.

[1] William H. Halverson, A Concise Introduction To Philosophy, 4th ed (New York, NY: Random House, 1981), 5.
[2] Steven B. Cowan; James S. Spiegel, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction To Philosophy, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), 7.
[3] Ibid., 10.
[4] William Lane Craig; J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2003), 16.

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