Reflections on Biblical and
Christian Philosophy


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.

 

Open Theists

 

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 philosophers.  Say Craig:

 

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, 11)

 

“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 theology.  It, therefore, has not fared well with regard to theological (or philosophical-theological) discussions.”  (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, Gerhard.  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)

 

Lonergan, Bernard

 

Insight reviewed by Greg Bahnsen, click here.

 

Method in Theology reviewed by Greg Bahnsen, click here.

 

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 and Christianity,” click here.

 

Gordon H. Clark, Behaviorism and Christianity (book), may be purchased here.

 

J. A. Cramer, The Clockwork Image Controversy (I), click here.

 

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. Carsonbut 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 Christianityespecially since he wages so many battles on the apologetic front (most recently, against the "New Atheists").

 

An avowed theistic evolutionist.  See here.

 

Swinburne, Richard

 

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 Lord." 

 

(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 Corinthians). 

 

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. 

 

Van Inwagen, Peter

 

Divine revelation omitted.  “I regard myself to as free to appeal to any widely accepted cosmological theories.  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.”  (Metaphysics, 2nd 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 university.)  Thus, 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 secular philosophy!

 

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 present?

 

(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.  (4)  Most 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 here.

 

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 [1969] 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 principles. Reference

 

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.  Reference

 

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.  Reference

 

God's Immutability.  "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, 1984).

 

“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.  See #22 here.

 

“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 false.” (99)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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