Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Sound Christian Philosophy of God (Part 1)

The word philosophy comes from a combination of  the two Greek words phileo*  and sophia. In its most basic sense, it means a love of wisdom. Proverbs 2:6 informs us, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” When the Christian talks about wisdom and being wise, it must be understood that he is not talking about the same thing the non-Christian is talking about when he talks about wisdom. For the Christian, the very beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Absent the fear of God, wisdom in the sense of how the Christian uses the term, is for all intents and purposes, absent. What this means is that a familial relationship with God resulting from the supernatural experience of regeneration is a necessary condition for wisdom. In other words, if there is no fear of God, then wisdom is impossible. The only possibility for wisdom to exist in the life of any human being is for there to be a healthy and right fear of God. Apart from the presence of a biblically defined fear of God, wisdom simply cannot exist.

Curiosity - the desire to understand and know - lies at the root of all science and philosophy. Man, as created in the image of God, has an insatiable appetite for knowledge. The Hebrew word translated wisdom in Proverbs 2:6 is ḥākam. In ANE use, it carries falls into the domain of knowledge, understanding, to inform or explain. Clearly, then, philosophy has an indelible link to knowledge and knowledge an indelible link to God. The basic meaning of the verb. is suggested by the qal., be/become wise; gain wisdom.

A more detailed, but still uncontroversially comprehensive, definition [of philosophy] is that philosophy is rationally critical thinking, of a more or less systematic kind about the general nature of the world, the justification of belief, and the conduct of life. The aim of this project is to explore what makes for a sound philosophy of God. What sort of being is God? How do we know that God is one kind of being and not another kind? How does the existence of this particular kind of God and our knowledge of Him impact and shape human  values or morality?

In most cultures, the term “God” is somewhat ambiguous. The range of possible meanings is far too broad to hope that one could have any meaningful conversation about such a subject, at least not at any depth. The difficulty in defining the term God creates a serious challenge for anyone considering the subject of a philosophy of God. The term God can mean one thing within one worldview or paradigm and something completely different in another. For example, when a Christian talks about God, he means something radically different from what the Muslim means when he talks about God. Unless this fact is taken into account, meaningful conversation about the subject of God is nearly impossible. Another challenge is represented by the question, just how close in our respective definitions of God do we have to be before we are considered to be speaking about the same being? This is no small challenge.

The question of a philosophy of God falls within the field of philosophy of religion. But that conversation is anything but clear. For instance, one writer says, “In the major theistic traditions, philosophers have distinguished between religious truths discoverable and even knowable through human reflection unaided by divine revelation and religious truths that we can know or reasonably believe only through special revelation.” This statement actually leaves off one very important view: reformed Christianity, or what some would call, biblical Christianity. Many Christian philosophers would argue that biblical Christianity holds that all knowledge of God is revelational and that knowledge apart from divine help in one way or another is simply not possible. This is an important difference that seems to be overlooked by one of the most fundamental sources of philosophical study available. In other words, some would contend that biblical Christian holds that God is the necessary precondition for human knowledge. Second, that man cannot attain genuine knowledge independent from God is a view that many reformed philosophers and theologians affirm. If a standard reference tool like The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy is lacking in such clarity on something as basic as fundamental views on religious epistemology, that is enough to make the point that it is extremely critical for us to understand what we mean when we use the term God within the context a philosophy if we hope to experience meaningful dialogue on the subject. The truth is that the dictionary has ignored, to its own detriment, the doctrine in Christianity known as general revelation, and in place of general revelation, it has inserted autonomous human reason.

There is tremendous confusion around the subject of God today and, to be sure, this confusion began several thousand years ago, in a garden, when only two human beings existed at the time. If men are to develop a sound philosophy of God, they will need a reliable source, not to mention a competent teacher. 

The ChallengeOne of the basic problems for developing a sound philosophy of God is that God is unlike anything human beings find in nature. God is not a physical being with physical properties. This makes it impossible that one should develop a sound philosophy of God with something like the tools of science alone. However, this has not stopped some philosophers and theologians from employing such tools to demonstrate that science can provide for a sound view of God. The principle of causality has been a popular tool employed over the years. But it has been shown to fall far short of its aim. Thomas Aquinas employed an argument from sufficient cause along these lines. But such an argument does not tell us anything about the God that exists. It only tells us, supposedly, that some God is the sufficient cause of the universe. And that is simply not helpful when one is interested in understanding the sort of being that exists that we call God. It seems to me that the Muslim God could have been just as sufficient a cause of the universe as the Christian God. The philosophical proofs for God fail for very similar reasons from the first to the last of them.

The nature of the proofs for God’s existence is the reason the arguments fail and it is also the reason the arguments cannot produce a robust philosophy of God. The basic problem is that the traditional proofs for God all begin with man. If we go back to the Cambridge Dictionary, we realize that each of the proofs begin with the presupposition of autonomous human reason. If God is unlike anything in the physical universe, it seems difficult to imagine how something within the physical universe, namely man, could, in and of himself, string together a constructive and meaningful philosophy of something so vastly different from himself. However, as fascinating as it might be, this fact has done nothing to hinder man from undertaking the philosophy task of not only proving that God is, but what sort of God this God actually is. One could shrug this behavior off as mere intellectual curiosity but such a response seems inappropriate given the sheer amount of attention the subject receives. Still, we could say that the subject of belief in and about God is a very intriguing psychological phenomenon and nothing more. Yet, something in our psyche tells us that is more than that, much more. 

Given the constructive task of philosophy and the nature of the subject of God, one can readily see the challenge posed by the goal of a sound philosophy of God. God seems to be, for all intents and purposes, hid from view. He seems to be as slippery as the word slippery could mean and then some. But the challenge is not only seen in the nature of philosophical inquiry coupled with the nature of the subject with which we have to do; it is also felt even more forcefully when we turn to the nature of the inquirer: man. Man has several impediments that get in the way of his project which involves coming up with a sound philosophy of God. First, he is a finite creature with exceptional limitations. Not only are his tools of science limited, but his intellect is limited as well. There is only so much that he can do with a subject like God and he can do no more. But man is also challenged with what are the inevitable consequences that God’s existence introduce. The possibility of a friendly God, a God that man can get along with is not at all a problem. But what if God is not like that at all? What if God is the sort of being that man does not like? What if God is an enemy, hostile, possessing attributes and characteristics that man finds repulsive? Would man still be interested in such a God? What if there is something within the nature of man that makes man a natural enemy of the sort of God that exists? Would man still be interested in knowing and learning about this God? What if man could not, at the same time, preserve his desired lifestyle and live in harmony with the God that is? Would man be tempted to pretend that some things about this God could be ignored? How many things could man ignore about this God before man has actually created an entirely different God than the one that is actually there? 

We see then that Man has an ethical interest in the sort of God that exists. This raises another challenge for man. Can man approach the subject of a sound philosophy of God from neutral ground? Is man capable of an ethically and morally neutral epistemology when it comes to his knowledge of God? Of all the challenges man faces in his quest for a philosophy of God, this one proves to be, in my opinion, the most difficult. 


  1. Ed, I trust in Part 2 you are going to at least mention Jesus?

    1. I guess I should sing that old hymn, "Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon." Good observation by the way. I like it. Actually, I am behind on my blogging and just copied and pasted from a paper I am writing. The lazy man's way I suppose or the very busy man's way.


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