Reflections on Biblical and
Christian Philosophy

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Towards a Biblical Philosophy: Basic Principles

 

The following is an outline that I wrote in answer to a Christian as we discussed philosophy relative to theology and the Bible.  I have made only a little effort to be complete, but this outline will also serve to identify in a short form, the basics upon which this website is founded.

 

1.  Scripture is infallible (inerrant)and sufficient for every thought and endeavor for which man is responsible before God.  Scripture is the only truth that we have and can know.  Indeed, it is truth itself.  Its teachings about God and man  provide the only basis for other knowledge that is functionally useful in everyday life.  Interestingly, Scripture fulfills the traditional tests of truth (coherence, correspondence, pragmatism) better than any other system.  One could also add completeness or thoroughness to all of the universe in general and human life in particular.

 

1.1 Science is not truth.  Science is induction which can never determine truth because it cannot survey and experiment in every conceivable situation in the universe.  Therefore, where both science and Scripture speak to a subject, Scripture must rule.  The "science" of today is not the "science" of tomorrow.  For example, compare quantum physics and chaos theory with Einstein's theories and Newton's physics.

 

1.2 The language of Scripture and science and their purposes are different.  That is, Scripture is not written in scientific terminology, and the language of Scripture is not written to "cohere" with science.  So, "translation" must occur from one to the other, but the technical language of each will prevent total correspondence of one with the other.  The authority of Scripture (i.e., of God) must govern all "translations."

 

1.2.1 Application may involve trial and error,so we must continue the attempt..  Kuyper talked about “mining the depths of Scripture” that could only be developed as it was challenged by the morality and the science of the day. 

 

1.2.2 We will make mistakes.  But if we are careful, perhaps we will not make many.  There is only one ethical principle that I can recall in 30 years of writing about which I came to change my mind.

 

1.3 Philosophy has no truth.  I mentioned Peter van Inwagen’s book, Metaphysics: there is no agreement on whose metaphysics is true, so any metaphysics that anyone wants to choose is as good as any other.  The same is true of epistemology: how to you choose one that is true?  There are only two choices: personal choice or a totally true “other” (only Scripture fits this other). 

 

1.4 Man has knowledge of God, Rom. 1, etc.  I think what this particular knowledge varies from person to person, as the knowledge of Christians vary from one to another. 

 

1.5 Scripture comes to us in a complete, objective form.  The canon was virtually, suddenly “just there.”  See F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame, Chapters 22-23.

 

1.6  Philosophy is the handmaiden of (Biblical) theology.  Scripture and deductive propositions from Scripture, as theology, must govern philosophy in all its forms.  See 1.8 on specific theologies.

 

1.6.1 A Biblical epistemology will recognize that "Christian" encompasses a wide variety of theologies, some of which are antithetical to each other.  Perhaps, the most important difference is that of Roman Catholic and Protestant dogma on authority.  Protestants claim sola Scriptura, the authority philosophically and theologically exceeds any other.  Roman Catholics claim the Bible with its additional Apocrypha, tradition, the magisterium, and the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra.  Then, there are Arminian and Reformed differences, as well as Luther and Reformed, etc.  The Christian philosopher who goes about his work without making particular distinctions of these theologies have not even grasped the nature of epistemology.

 

1.7  A Biblical epistemology answers all the questions of the four traditional branches of philosophy: metaphysics (God “is” and God created), epistemology (God is omniscient and the logos—the source of light, that is, all knowledge—Colossians 2:3), and ethics (right is what God says it is).  Logic, reason, and rational thinking are the means of  “doing” theology and philosophy.

 

1.8  Philosophy and theology are virtually one and the same.  See John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, pages 85-86.  Biblical philosophy is unique in that its focus is the realm of philosophy and it language.  To a great extent, philosophy then determines the agenda, but the added dimension of Biblical revelation to epistemology becomes the governing principle for everything in the agenda.

 

1.9  From what is revealed in Special Revelation, we do not know by analogy—we know as God knows.  If we only know by analogy (Cornelius van Til), we know nothing.

 

2.  Who/what is God.  Chapter 2, Westminster Confession of Faith.  For our purposes, He is Creator, Sustainer, Immanent but entirely separate from His Creation, unchangeable (as truth must be), etc., etc.  John Calvin, "the knowledge of man begins with the knowledge of God."

 

2.1  The “God” of various philosophers (Descartes, Kant, Spinoza, etc.) is not the God of the Bible.  Their God is a their own creation of some Biblical characteristics and their own religion (philosophy).

 

2.2 “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one God.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4)  God in His oneness unifies His mind, man's mind, and every other entity in the universe.

 

2.3  This unity is the answer to the philosophical dilemma of how mind's mind corresponds to mathematics, physics, and other "laws" of the universe.

 

2.4.  Natural (general) revelation is insufficient within itself, even with the aid of extraordinary technology, to be understood without all its knowledge being under Scriptural authority.  Natural revelation says nothing that is sufficient for man to understand the salvation that God has provided for him in Jesus Christ.

 

2.5  See the unity of God and His universe at #10 below.

 

2.6  While the mind of God is mostly hidden, He has revealed considerable knowledge about Himself in both natural revelation.

 

3.  God’s Providence gives purpose to history and all that man does.  He has designed the end from the beginning.  Thus, the future controls the present, while most people, including Christians believe that the past determines the future.  RelaxHe is in controltotally.  He is determining my thoughts as I write to you, and even the errors that I make in keystrokes.  But you can work out in your own mind the degree to which He is in control.  Finally, all things are in His hands.

 

4.  God Created the heavens, the earth, and all creatures.  But creation is broken.  Both the universe and people are severely affected by the Fall.  Any philosophy that ignores this distortion, will never be able to speak rightly of either mankind or the universe.

 

4.1  The anthropology of man must begin with his being made in the image of God which is his rational ability, "a reasonable soul (mind)."  Then, it must posit his total depravity that can only be solved by regeneration of individual souls on the basis of the perfect life (keeping of the law), sacrificial death, bodily resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  See 4.3 below.

 

4.2  Man is finite—God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

 

4.3  All mankind is divided into two groups: the saved and the unsaved.  These two groups are variously referred to as pagan and Christian, sheep and goats, tares and wheat, light and darkness, the world and the Church, and the saved and the lost. 

 

5.  The spiritual world is primary.  God is Spirit.  From Spirit, He created material matter.  God exists and spirits (both good and evil) exist.  See Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, “God is Spirit” for the most comprehensive insights on "spirit" that I have found.

 

5.1 Time is imposed (somehow) on eternity.  Eternity is primary.  Philosophers, even the best Christian ones, are still trying to figure out what time is.

 

6.  God posits in the Scriptures, at least functionally, a dualist universe—matter and spirit.  While I personally believe that matter is not ultimately “real,” it only exists in God’s mind and our own, He has posited in Scripture a physical world and a spiritual world.  That is all that we can know for sure.  To speculate otherwise is just that: speculation.

 

6.1  The physical world rests on the "substance" of God Himself as spirit, "the substance of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).  "All things are upheld by the Word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3).

 

7.  The universe is highly structured at every level, from the sub-atomic particles to the giant nebulae of the universe by what men call "natural laws."

 

7.1 The physical universe.  Planets rotate in orbit.  Gravity can be plotted out in mathematical formulae.  Intricate, detailed biochemical equations like the Krebs cycle and photosynthesis.

 

7.2 A commonality of morality exists in every tribe and nation.  The “natural” order of man does not allow anarchy.  Anarchy anywhere will not exist for long, as reason, power, or both will produce some sort of order.

 

7.3 When are the objects of the universe most free: when they are obeying God’s laws.  When do they destruct: when they are caused to violate God’s laws.  When are humans most free: when they obey God’s laws.  So, both freedom and responsibility merge into oneness.

 

7.4  Quantum physics and chaos theory have introduced some new wrinkles into an understanding of both natural science and philosophy, but these wrinkles ultimately have strictly limited outcomes—the possibilities are not unlimited.

 

8.  Natural law and natural science reveals inconsistent and conflicting data.  “Nature is red in tooth and claw,” that is, in the beauty of a universe is found both art and design that defies the imagination and merciless destruction of that design and humans.

 

8.1 Thomas Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church are natural law theorists.  So are many Reformed and other Protestants.  Natural law must always be governed by Biblical law or it will go astray.  See William Blackstone's Introduction, Part 2.

  

8.2 Natural law, natural theology, and the philosophy of religion are one and the same, that is, synonyms.  See Oliphant, Reason for Faith, in many places.

 

8.3 Man cannot by rationalism deduce the God of the Bible.  In fact, a god determined in this way will be amorphous, inconsistent, irrational, impersonal, and confusing.

 

9.  All politics is based upon someone’s ethics, usually a diverse blend of casually accumulated  wishes and power plays.

 

9.1  The only ethical system in which there are no conflicts of the rights of individuals, families, social groups, and governments is that of systematic Biblical ethics.

 

9.2  The Biblical system of law and sanctions (both positive and negative) is the only one upon which justice on earth is possible.

 

10.  There is a particular unity found in Biblical philosophy that is to be found nowhere else.  “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One.”  “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  “In the beginning was the Word (logos: all knowledge, omniscience)… “  In a Biblical philosophy, seeming opposites and paradoxes are solved.  Examples follow here.  For a more complete list see Unity-The Grand Demonstration.

 

10.1  Freedom and responsibility are one.  When is man most free… when he is most fully obedient to God.  When he glorifies God, he glorifies himself.

 

10.2.  Reason and faith are one.  The best system of truth (and truth must be systematic) is that of Scripture based upon man’s best reason (logic).  Even rationalists must start with some presupposition (first principle).

 

10.3.  Scripture, as posited by God, solves the problem of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics.  Again, no conflict from the level of the individual to the state.

 

10.4.  Law and grace are one.  Christ fulfilled the law so that we could receive His grace and live according to the law (Ten Commandments and all His other commandments, such as, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  Traditionally, Jews find 613 commandments in the O.T., and there are an estimated 800 in the N.T.

 

10.5  This is a corollary of 10.1.  Free will and determinism are one.  “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you to will and to do His good pleasure.”  I.e., we are most free when He is most at work within us.

 

10.6.  Freedom and responsibility are one.  That is, man is most free when he is most responsible.  When man is most responsible, he experiences the greatest freedom.

 

10.6  Idealism (classical) and realism have their unity as posited above in God’s description of man and the universe.  The physical world is based upon the spiritual world, as "God is spirit."

 

10.7  Good and evil from God’s perspective are one and the same.  See “Evil” in my Glossary.

 

11.  The tools of language and communication are sufficient to communicate and understand truth because God created language and communicated to mankind in that way.  Wittgenstein’s challenge is thus destroyed.

 

11.1  Language is limited at its extremes.  How do we describe and understand the Trinity?  How do we avoid miscommunication with each other, even when we make our best efforts?  How do we describe infinity? 

 

11.2  Definition is crucial.  If one cannot or does not define his terms, communication cannot really take place.

11.3  Truth, that is, reality can only be understood in the form of propositions. 

 

12.  Biblical revelation reverses cause and effect.  God is "working all things to His glory."  Thus, the cause of all events is not what precedes, but what is the end that has been determined by God.  Thus, eschatology determines all of history.

 

12.1  Thomas Aquinas had his cosmological argument backward.  He should have argued for cause that is determined by the future.  Of course, the immediate cause does have precedents, but they are not the ultimate cause. 

 

13.  Dualism of a physical (material) and spiritual (immaterial) world is a test of Biblical orthodoxy and coherence within a Biblical philosophy.  The Bible clearly posits that God is Spirit;  that man is composed of body and spirit (soul, mind, heart, will); and that purely spiritual beings exist (angels and demons).  To posit monism of either materialism or idealism over against the Bible rests on false premises.  Many professing Christians are "believing" in modern neuroscience over against this orthodoxy.  They have forgotten that the spirit world, i.e., God, is primary. For a devastating critique of materialism, behaviorism, and natural science in general, see the book by Gordon H. Clark, Behaviorism and Christianity, Mindless Men, and "Beware of ... Monism.

 

14.  A Biblical philosophy, as apologetics, does not defend "classical theism" or "theism" as represented in the three monotheistic religions, but Biblical theism which is Biblical Christianity.  Theism without strict Biblical definition and limitation to Biblical propositions is simply, only philosophy of religion or natural theology—a Christianity determined by the "canon" of a man or group of men.  An example of this limitation of theism is well represented by Greg Bahnsen in his opening remarks to the Bahnsen-Stein debate.

 

15.  The Bible posits two great interruptions in the history of the universe and of mankind: The Fall and The Flood.  Man is broken and the universe is broken by The Fall.  The Food again caused a great disruption in each.

 

15.1  Man, as we find him today, is not "normal."  He is totally alienated from, and an enemy of, God until He is regenerated by God to begin the restoration of what he once was.  Thus, the Bible posits a unique anthropology, both concerning what man is and how he must be "saved" from himself, society, the world, and damnation. 

 

15.2.  The universe is not normal.  The Bible posits a broken universe (Romans 8:22).  And, The Fall and The Flood disrupted the uniformity of the universe through time.  These disruptions must be taken into account in all empirical (scientific) study of the universe. 

 

15.3  All men are either regenerate or unregenerate destined for Heaven or for Hell. 

 

 

 

 

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