An Ongoing Critique and Review of
Christian Philosophers: Protestant and Catholic
This area will be an
ongoing review of Christians who are philosophers or who write
on subjects pertinent to philosophy, science, theology, and
other subjects. As I do
research, I encounter relevant evaluations that I would like to
present without writing a formal paper.
Thus, this area is “ongoing,” as material will be added
on an ad hoc basis.
A significant number
of philosophers of
religion affirm open theism: William Hasker, David
Basinger, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Swinburne, Peter Van
Inwagen, J. R. Lucas, Vincent Brümmer, Peter Geach, Richard
Purtill, A. N. Prior, and Keith Ward.
Alston, William P.
Philosophy of religion..."is distinguished from theology by
the facts that it takes nothing for granted, at least nothing
religious; ... it takes the liberty of calling anything into
question. Theology, in the narrow sense of that term, sets
out to articulate the beliefs of a given religion and to put
them into systematic order, without ever raising the ultimate
question of their truth." This halts short of stating that
theology centers in unreflective commitment; it calls to mind,
nonetheless, the claims of logical positivists who debunked all
metaphysics, theology, and philosophy of religious rights, as
nonsense. Yet Alston clearly implies that philosophy has
crown rights to reason and truth and that theology thrives in a
climate of reasoning prejudice." (Alston quote from The
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967, [6:287]; This whole
paragraph from Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and
Authority-Volume 1, page 181-182)
"I have no tendency to regard the Gospels or any of the rest
of the Christian Bible as 'inerrant.' Sticking to the
Gospels, I recognize that there are factual mistakes... There
are discrepancies that cannot be reasonably be harmonized... I
have no tendency to suppose that in the Gospels we have the
exact words of Jesus, or exact translations thereof. Oral
transmission of speeches and conversations even at its best
cannot be expected to issue in a verbatim report (unless the
Holy Spirit made certain that such transmission was "perfect,"
not "best"—Ed).... My assumption, for what
it is worth, is that the early church's interest in preserving
the memory of Jesus' utterances and actions was sufficiently
stronger than any countervailing influences to give us a record
that, by and large, preserves the gist of many of Jesus' most
important utterances and most important actions (again, the Holy
Spirit is quite capable of transmitting a "record" of "exactly"
what the Trinity wanted Christians to know of Jesus' speech and
actions—Ed). "Historical Criticism of the Synoptic Gospels" in
Craig Bartholomew, et al, Behind the Text: History and
Biblical Interpretation, 153)
Craig, William Lane
- Classical Apologist
“Because the defense of Christianity has, at
least historically, taken place in the context of philosophical
objection to the faith, apologetics has taken on a reputation
as, in the first place, a philosophical discipline.
Much of the history of apologetics has been concerned to
show philosophically that Christianity can stand intellectual
scrutiny and emerge without too many bruises.
“This trend, however, has had the effect,
directly or indirectly, of undermining the discipline itself.
It has led many to believe, and some to argue, that the
most difficult issues of philosophical theology or theological
philosophy should be engaged only by those philosophically
trained, those whose minds have been able to meld together the
best of theology with the best of philosophy.
“To cite just one example, William Craig,
notes in The Only Wise
God, and again in
Time and Eternity that those who want to know how the deep
things of God relate to his creation should consult Christian
Some readers of my study of divine
omniscience, The Only
Wise God, expressed surprise at my remark that someone
desiring to learn more about God’s attribute of omniscience
would be better advised to read the works of Christian
philosophers than of Christian theologians.
Not only was that remark true, but the same holds true
for divine eternity.
(Time and Eternity,
“This line of thinking is most unfortunate.
As happened in the medieval period, such thinking will
inevitably lead to the need for a radical, biblical reformation
of those ideas and concepts developed by philosophers.
If one wants to know about God’s omniscience or his
eternity, if one wants to know to think deeply about God and his
relationship to the world, if one wants to do apologetics, the
first place to look is to Scripture, and then to those
theologians who faithfully articulate its teachings.
Philosophy, even Christian philosophy, has a long and
resolute history of turning its back on a consistent Reformed
therefore, has not fared well with regard to theological (or
(K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton,
Revelation and Reason:
New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, 2-3)
For more on Oliphint's criticism of Craig, see
Westminster Theological Journal, 63(2), "Book Reviews."
Dooyeweerd, Herman (1894-1977):
philosopher of the Dutch Calvinist-Reformed tradition
who was instrumental in the development of cosmonomic philosophy
which is now represented by the Association for the Advancement
of Christian Scholarship, the Institute for Christian Studies in
Toronto, and the National Association for Christian Political
Action. John Frame has reviewed this work extensively in
Dooyeweerd and the Word of God.
Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament: "Heidegger set forth not only
the basis for the so-called “New Hermeneutic” of Ott, Ebeling,
Fuchs, Bultmann, and Gadamer but also the foundation for the
widely and often naively used Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of
the New Testament. Among the troubling hidden premises in this
massive work are the contentions that: 1) The origin of a term
is the key to its meaning; 2) This meaning is non-conceptual and
mystical; 3) Language is symbolic, not descriptive. Even the
liberal James Barr exposed Kittel’s Heideggerian presuppositions
in his Biblical Semantics. Considering the extensive and often
philosophically uncritical use of Kittel by even evangelical
scholars...." (Norman Geisler, "Beware of Philosophy: A Warning
to Biblical Scholars, Christian Apologetics Journal,
Spring 1999, page 8)
Insight reviewed by Greg Bahnsen,
Method in Theology reviewed by Greg
MacKay, Donald: MacKay
has written The Clockwork
Image and other
materials that advocate “Christian behaviorism,” “truths” of
science, an empirical test of Christianity, and a general
acceptance of the theories of modern neuroscience.
His theology and ethics are seriously defective from both
a Biblical and properly rational understanding.
Rather than repeat what others have accurately written, I
simply cite those sources here.
Gordon H. Clark, “Mindless Men: Behaviorism
Gordon H. Clark,
Christianity (book), may be purchased
J. A. Cramer, The Clockwork Image Controversy (I),
McGrath, Alister. McGrath
likes to see himself as the next J. I. Packer, but I think that's
a bit too generous. I would say that he is broadly orthodox (in
the Nicene Creed sense), immensely prolific, sympathetic to
historic evangelicalism though not himself a conservative
evangelical (e.g., he's a theistic evolutionist). As a
historical theologian, he has written a lot of material that is
relevant to the Reformed faith. But most historical theologians
do not take him seriously because, as a result of publishing so
many books, he sometimes lacks depth and penetration. However I
do not think the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian
Church in America, and like-minded groups, would consider
McGrath a fellow confessionalist. But they would
appreciate his work in the same way as one might appreciate G.
K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and authors of that caliber and
range of work. Another way to put it would be to say that,
theologically, McGrath is a little bit to the right of someone
like C. S. Lewis. But he would be more liberal than Carl Henry,
J. I. Packer, John Stott, or D. A. Carson—but
I think it would be unfair to call McGrath an outright "liberal"
per se. That may be a bit negative, but that's the rough sense
that I get. A final comment would be to say that many
evangelicals see McGrath as the "savior" of orthodox
Christianity—especially since he
wages so many battles on the apologetic front (most recently,
against the "New Atheists").
An avowed theistic evolutionist. See
First principle of "secular humanity."
"In all my works on the philosophy of
religion, my approach has been to start from where secular
humanity stands, develop a philosophy of that area of thought,
and then show how that philosophy leads to a Christian
understanding of things in some respect. In
Responsibility and Atonement I started from the human's
moral understanding of obligation and supererogatory goodness,
and argued thence to a conclusion about our moral status in
relation to God. In the earlier trilogy I began with the
inductive standards implicit in science. In my next book,
Revelation, published in 1992, I start from ordinary
sentences having meaning and develop thence a philosophy of
meaning before I move on to theological matters. There is
no other way to proceed in the philosophy of religion if its
results are to be made rationally acceptable to those who are
initially nonreligious." (Kelly James Clark,
Philosophers Who Believe, 197-198)
Swinburne makes major philosophical and
Biblical blunders with these statements. (1) One wonders
why Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles did not start with such
philosophy. If Christianity rests on "secular humanity,"
then that would surely be the place to begin. There are
five solas of the Reformation; none include "secular
humanity." Thomas Aquinas had the same approach as
Swinburne and thus necessitated the Reformation three centuries
later. The Enlightenment and the Renaissance began with a
separation from Bible-based Christianity to "secular
humanism." One should examine history and society to see
the twisted and broken results. The Bible, Jesus, Paul,
and all the writers of the Bible begin with "Thus says the
(2) Swinburne does not understand first
principles and basicality of belief. One has to start
reasoning somewhere! First principles cannot be
proven by definition because they are starting points.
Swinburne's first principle, as stated, is "secular humanity."
By contrast the first principle of Christianity is the Bible.
Swinburne's system and Christianity are incompatible, nay
anathema. First principles cannot be reconciled because
they are first principles. Secular humanism may be
reasoned into the stalemate of its incoherency, but it can never
lead to a "Christian understanding." The law of
noncontradiction prevents such "leading," as well.
(3) Does not Swinburne know that "induction"
is always a fallacy? Its very method examines only a
fraction of the universe, so how can it make a universal claim?
Well, one could say that there is uniformity of nature.
However, how does one know that nature is uniform? By
induction. It is a circular argument.
(4) Swinburne wants to make his "philosophy of
religion" "rationally acceptable to those who are initially
nonreligious." Has he read in the Bible that the
"nonreligious" (whatever that means, presumably non-Christian)
are enemies of God, that they suppress "His truth in
unrighteousness," that they live in "darkness," and that they
think Christianity is "foolish?" He wants to design his
approach to satisfy those people? He is going to convince
the secularists that their own godless approach leads to God?
Paul the Apostle says that "God has made foolish the wisdom of
this world" and that "Christ is the power and wisdom of God" (I
That Swinburne makes such errors is not the worst aspect of his work. The
worst aspect is that he is mostly welcomed in the Christian and
evangelical world as an astute philosopher.
“I regard myself to as free to appeal to any widely accepted
But, despite the fact that I believe in divine revelation
and believe that many of
the things God has revealed have important metaphysical
implications, I make no appeal to revelation.
The reason is simple enough: by appealing to physical
cosmology, I do not restrict my audience in any significant way,
and if I were to appeal to what I believed to be divine
revelation, I should no doubt restrict my audience to those who
agreed with me about the content of divine revelation—and I do
not wish so to restrict my audience.”
Edition, page 7—Ed’s emphases)
Ed’s brief response.
Van Inwagen makes serious mistakes in his omission.
(1) Every philosopher is going to restrict his audience
by his subject matter, in his first principles, in his
reputation, and in many other ways.
And, he will be widely known as a
Christian because of
his personal beliefs anyway.
(If for no other reason, he teaches at a Christian
he omits God’s own insights into metaphysics—that is, he omits
God’s truths from his
work. (2) By
omitting revelation, he has no more to offer the philosophical
world than the non-Christian.
Two pages later, he even admits there are no answers in
Well, why is there no philosophical information?
Why is there no agreed-upon body of philosophical fact?
Why is there no such thing as a philosophical discovery?
Why are there not even philosophical theories that,
although they are admitted to be unsatisfactory in various
aspects, are at least universally agreed to be the best theories
treating their particular subject-matter that we have at
(3) All knowledge outside the Bible is
empirical, and by definition, false.
If anyone doubts this truth and wants empirical
refutation, read Wrong:
Why experts keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust
them by David H. Freedman (2010).
One could also read my
own remarks about empiricism:
Empiricism: A Modern Danger Among Christians? A Refutation.
seriously, there is no Christianity without divine revelation.
To deny Scripture a role in one’s professional or
personal thinking is to deny the God of that revelation.
Voegelin, Eric (1901-1985):
A prolific author who is considered "conservative" by many in
the evangelical, and even Reformed camps. However, he
hated Christianity and butchered its well-known history in many
of his works. For more, see
Conservatism: An Autopsy.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas (1932- ):
Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology Emeritus at Yale
University, philosopher, author of many books, and originator of
"Reformed epistemology" with Alvin Plantinga. Because he
has written extensively, other comments here will be added in the
future. His unbiblical opinions and statements follow
Economic ethics: Wolterstorff
viciously and maliciously attacks capitalism and promotes
socialism and communism. "It is the ideology of socialism
and communism, not that of capitalism, that alleviation of
poverty is given high-priority" (33). "We as human beings
have sustenance rights. We have a claim of our
fellow human beings to social arrangements that ensure that we
will be adequately sustained in existence" (353). Further, he
endorses Liberation Theology. "Liberation theology arose
from (a biblical theme of poverty, altering) the agenda of the
world church" (40). "I want to say that, as emphatically
as I can, that our concern with poverty is not an issue of
generosity but of rights" (354). Ed: Ethics is a
subdivision of philosophy. Wolterstorff's comments on
these subjects bring into serious question whether other parts
of his philosophical system is Biblical or not.
(References are from Through the Eye of
a Needle: Readings on Stewardship and Justice, Third
Edition, published by the Calvin College Department of Economics
and Business  1986.)
Political democrat and natural law:
Wolterstorff believes that "liberal democracy
has a very thick moral basis" and that natural law theory is
valid. "We suffer from a great many social ills nowadays.
I think those are mainly to be laid at the door of capitalism
and nationalism, not at the door of our liberal democratic
political structure, and at the door of the church for failing
to teach its members how to be discerning critics of capitalism
and nationalism." Ed: Capitalism is not the primary
problem. The greater problem is a divorce of social
concern from Biblical ethics and a weakening of the
constitutional structure that was founded on Biblical
Justice is grounded in
rights, not responsibility. "As I see
it, justice is grounded in rights. A society is just insofar as
its members are enjoying those goods to which they have a
right.... ? How do I decide whether justice requires that I
treat a student of mine in a certain way? I ask whether my not
treating her that way would amount to treating her as if she had
less worth than she does have." (Ed: what happened to the
Biblical standard of justice?) Ed: Justice is grounded in a
Biblical worldview that includes both rights and
responsibilities. "Goods" are the least concern.
Evangelism and a Biblical worldview are the greatest concerns.
Theodicy, no answer.
"The traditional question of
theodicy is, 'Why does God permit moral evil and permit suffering
that serves no discernible good?' If we hold that God is not
impassible, then in addition to that question we have another:
'Why does God permit what disturbs God? Why does God allow what
God endures in tears?' I do not know the answer. In faith I
live the question." Ed: God is not disturbed by
anything that He does. He does only good and rejoices
every aspect and dimension of it.
"Wolterstorff rejects the notion that God is metaphysically or
ontologically immutable (cannot change in any way whatsoever),
yet he contends that the Bible teaches that God will ever change
in his loving purposes towards creatures." Kelly James
Clark, et al, 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their
Importance for Theology, 21) Ed: If God is not immutable,
then we have no reason to hope in our salvation.
View of Scripture:
Wolterstorff has a weak, non-Reformed view of Scripture
according to the quotes below.
What does this same about his being one of the
originators of “Reformed epistemology?”
Quotes are from Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976,
“In Protestant thought especially, the
suggestion has been made that the entire doctrinal content of
the faith is to be found among the body of foundational
certitudes. For it
is held that this just consists of what the Bible teaches, and
the Bible is infallible…. To many of those acquainted with the
history of this development it now looks all but dead.
So it looks to me.” (33)
“Our reading and interpreting the Scriptures
does not provide us with a body of indubitably known
propositions by reference to which we can govern all our
acceptance and non-acceptance of theories.” (62)
“It is crucial to the character of this
(Christian) community with a tradition that it has certain
sacred writings, those of the old and New Testaments.
(They are) authoritative guides for the thought and life
of those who would be Christ-followers (i.e., Christians).”
(71-72) Ed: Is
“authoritative guide” sufficient for the Word of God written?
I think not.
“Some of what God wishes us to believe may be
fit and proper for us as his “children” (his quotes) to believe,
yet strictly speaking false.
For all we know, this may lead to theories, though fully
satisfactory for our human purposes, are also strictly speaking