Do Christians Need Philosophy? Question #20
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some Christians have such a condescending attitude toward philosophy. I usually hear things like, “we don’t need intellect, we need more heart and to trust Jesus”, or “the gospel is simple, we don’t need philosophy to tell us what God’s word says”, and even, “you shouldn’t use philosophy when talking about God or the bible”. The face value problem of course is that these are self-defeating statements. Meaning that to say “we don’t need philosophy” is itself a philosophical statement about philosophy. Namely, their philosophy is that we shouldn’t use philosophy, yet, that itself is a philosophical outlook. With that being said, lets clear up some confusion about the value and use of philosophy in the Christian life style.
The greatest commandment in scripture tells us to love God with all of our heart, strength, and mind (which literally means your intellectual capacity and faculty of understanding). The first thing to note is that we are commanded to exercise our faculty of understanding as a way of honoring God, being made in His image, as a reflection of His intellect. Hence, loving God with all our mind as an act of worship. As a Christian, or as merely a person with a mind, we need tools to help guide our thinking. Philosophy and theology are vital tools that God has given us to exercise such guidance. Already, I can see a common objection such as, “The Holy Spirit is the only guidance I need, not philosophy”. Again, we can see the self defeating assessment in that this statement is not a statement guided by the Holy Spirit, but rather, guided by that person’s philosophical outlook on philosophy. And as a side note, could we not say that the Holy Spirit has guided us to engage in proper philosophy? The issue here isn’t with philosophy, per say, but in engaging in proper philosophy.
We should not think of philosophy as man trying to make up stuff to sound smart. That is what Christians who have bad philosophy tend to do. Philosophy literally comes from the words “philo”, the love of, and “Sophia”, meaning wisdom. So it literally means the love of wisdom, and a quick look at the book of proverbs clearly tells us much about wisdom. Proverbs 8:17 reads, (wisdom being personified) “I love those who love me and those who seek me find me”. Philosophy is a field that touches virtually every other field of study. Take medicine for example. If we have good philosophy, we will have good medical practices, but if we have bad philosophy, we will have bad medical practices. Recall an old medical practice called bloodletting or leeching. This was a practice that viewed sickness as being caused by “bad blood”. In order to remove the sickness, leeches were applied to areas of the head for headaches to remove the “bad blood”. Here was a bad medical practice caused by a bad philosophical outlook. Hence, if we have good philosophy, our thinking will be properly guided when we engage in virtually every other field of study. Especially and most importantly, our theology- the study of God.
Colossians 2:8 is a popular verse used to object using philosophy as a believer. It reads, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” The context of this verse here is Paul speaking to Christians who have had people attempting to persuade them using “hollow and deceptive” philosophy. The key in this verse is to avoid the BAD philosophy, and not simply to avoid philosophy altogether. And of course, the best way to avoid bad philosophy is to know good philosophy. Thus, this verse is clearly an implicit mandate to know and use good philosophy. Moreover, good philosophy helps guide our thinking and avoid bad theology. I’ve heard people espouse things such as, “God created Himself” or “God can choose to not be all powerful or all knowing”. With good and proper philosophy, one can avoid such nonsensical views and will guide one’s thinking in having a proper understanding of God. For example, to say God created Himself is to misunderstand God’s property of being a necessary being. Something that is necessary can not fail to be. For example, 2+2=4 is a necessary truth. It makes no sense to ask when did 2+2=4 because it is a necessary truth and can not fail to be true. So, to say God created Himself is to assert that God began, and is not necessary, and at one point did not exist. What’s worse is that this view is also a self-defeating as well. To say God created Himself is to say that He existed prior to His existence, in order to bring Himself into existence. This makes no sense. Please note, we give God no glory when we utter logical absurdities.
To take a look at the other assertion, “God can choose to not be all knowing or all powerful” also fails to understand that there are essential properties that make God who He is. For example, the number two has the essential property of being an even number. It makes no sense to ask, “can the number two not be even?” because this would fail to make the number two what it is. That is to say, it cannot lose that property of being even, because being even is part of what it means to be the number two. Similar, the same can be said about God’s essential properties, such as being omniscient, omnipotent, and so forth.
Lastly, I’d like to address the view that some Christians take by saying, “the gospel is simple, we don’t need philosophy to understand it”. The error again is that this is not only false, but un-biblical. How can we have the audacity to assume that our own thinking is so precise and proper, that we can afford to be intellectually lazy and neglect the very tools God gave us to help understand all that He is? Are we really that prideful to admit we don’t know it all and need help? Or are we too lazy and find it easier to simply say, “the Holy Spirit will just tell me.” This is not how Christ lived his life, because he himself grew in wisdom (luke 2:52), and in claiming otherwise, we make ourselves out to be better than Jesus. Such assertions make these people hard to be taken seriously. So, what does the bible say about these issues? 2 Peter 3:16 says, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Here, one of the greatest apostles and authors of scripture is literally saying that some things in scripture are actually quite hard to understand. So, if one guy who literally wrote parts of the bible admits this isn’t easy, who are we to say otherwise and call Peter, God, and the bible a liar? Now, we mustn’t be disappointed at this challenge. Name one thing about being a Christian that is easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Rather, we must keep in mind that the greatest commandment that tells us to love God with our mind. It is an exciting, virtuous, and fulfilling challenge that God gave us. Philosophy is a gift from God, and a gift that will enrich our lives, our minds, our worship, and our outlook on who God is. This is what it means to love God with our minds.
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3 thoughts on “Do Christians Need Philosophy? Question #20”
This is a great article. I hope some of my Christian friends take it to heart.
I should congratulate you. Really interesting post.
Thanks for sharing this.
Very kind of you, thanks.