Reflections on Biblical and
Christian Philosophy

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How to Discern Errors in the Speaking or Writings of Christians Who Are Philosophers

More accurately, this essay discerns the unbiblical nature of Christians who are philosophers.  "Christian" is used far too loosely in the jargon of Christians.  For more on this issue, see this discussion.

1. Use of the word “integration” relative to the world of nature (general revelation) and Scripture (special revelation). God’s authority in His Word cannot be integrated. As He is Lord of His Creation, He is Lord of knowledge. His Word is truth. All other knowledge is only functional and temporary. As Robertson McQuilkin has written about psychology, Scripture must be the “controlling authority."  I have adapted his article to medicine, but the general principle still applies.

2. Use of the phrase, “All truth is God’s truth.” This statement is almost always used as “integration” is above, to equate knowledge from natural revelation (including the studies of men)  to that of the Scriptures. These authors rarely discus the difficulty of discerning truth outside of Scripture (both formally and informally), when such knowledge by its very nature is temporary and inductive.

3. Failure to discuss the issues of authority, the canon, and the translations of Scripture.  These are the major issues of a truly Biblical epistemology.

Corollary:  Failure to cite Scripture as evidence, even "proof" (within a Biblical worldview), frequently and substantively.

4. Failure to discuss that there are two different worldviews and populations on earth. One worldview is that of Biblical Christianity. The other is any other philosophy or religion. The Bible calls these the world (the non-regenerate peoples of the earth and their ideas), the flesh (the ideas of the world that persist in the regenerate), and the Devil (the personification of evil and everything that is anti-God).  The two different populations are the regenerate (Christians, spiritually minded, etc.) and the unregenerate (pagan, worldly minded, etc).  The two different areas of knowledge are "light" vs. "darkness" and "wisdom" vs. "foolishness."

Philosophy for the regenerate Christian is entirely different than that for the unregenerate person.  For the Christian, philosophy has the same goals and methods as theology.  Towards the pagan, the goal of the philosopher who is a Christian is apologetics, that is, to show the unregenerate person that the Biblical system is the best answer to all the arguments of consistent pagan philosophers.

Corollary: Philosophy is traditionally divided into such branches, as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and logic. A Biblical philosophy would have to add soteriology because man needs to be saved from himself, the world, and ultimate damnation by God.

Corollary: The state of being regenerate or unregenerate is a preconditionor better, presupposition—to any other methods of knowledge and brings with it that the Bible is Spirit-breathed and the very Word of God.  So, whether a philosopher believes in free will or not, at least this one presupposition is inescapable.

Corollary: What is foolish, and what is wise.  "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'"  Those that are unregenerate are also foolishthe epitome of anti-wisdom.  "Foolish" is different in the Biblical sense.  It is not just "unwise" or not the best policy, but it is ethical and religiousenmity against God.  This attitude is easily seen in the atheism and agnosticism of our day.  God has chosen the foolishness of the CrossHis greatest wisdom—to humble the earthly wise (I Corinthians 1:27).  True philosophers, who "love wisdom," will love the Word of God and discuss it at length in their speaking and writing.

5.  Failure to discuss soteriology.  Man's greatest problem is his estrangement from God and being under His wrath.  All secular philosophies and non-Christian religions totally fail to provide any answers in this area.  In fact, they distract man from this need with "windy verbiage" (Will Durant).  The Christian philosopher must have a Biblical soteriology clearly and substantively in his discussions.  While soteriology may not be his primary focus, salvation must be  prominently found there.

Corollary: A failure to invoke some urgency.  Philosophy is not a game without consequences.  Bertrand Russell thinks that the pursuit of philosophy in itself is an adequate goal.  But Christianity posits an eternal destination for all men: heaven and hell.  No person is immune to the possibility of death, whether child, teenager, or adult due to disease or accident.  The immediate and most important concern for every person on planet earth is to be at peace with whatever eternal destiny that he concludes awaits him.  This conclusion should only come after considerable study and logical application.  Where is this message ... this keygma ... among Christian philosophers?  Blaise Pascal understood this immediacy in his famous "wager."  Moderns should follow his Biblical lead.

6.  Failure to recognize that the ends of philosophy and religions are the same: an understanding and being at peace with the universe.  In Biblical Christianity, the universe is both subjective and objective (without compromise of the Creator-creation distinction of orthodox Christianity).  Neither the philosopher nor the non-Christian worshipper can hide in the nuances and mysteries of their personal beliefs.  For indeed, all philosophies and religions are based upon belief.  See All Philosophy Is Unavoidably Religious.

Corollary: Failure to define "religion."  In my study of philosophy in among both Christians and non-Christians, I have found the lack of precise definitions appalling.  Why appalling?  Because philosophy is about logic, reason, and definition.  Without definition, the law of noncontradiction cannot be applied.  Yet, I challenge any reader to find where "religion" is ever defined.  What one will find, if religion is defined, is that it can be only defined in two ways: Biblical Christianity or individual belief of every person on plant earth.  The characteristics of what are called "religions" are too diverse to subsume under one definition.  For more see "philosophy of religion," below, "religion" in my Glossary, and a review here.

7.  Failure to state that belief is prior to reason, but not independent of it.  No matter what one's starting point is, that starting point is a presupposition.  For the empiricist, sense reliability is the first principle.  For others, self-coconsciousness is the starting point.  Etc.  But, the starting point may be challenged by reason; it may even deny its own starting point.  But, even so, another starting point will be inevitably chosen.

8.  Failure to state that special revelation settles once and finally any questions of metaphysics, epistemology, and a source of ethics.  Once special revelation is recognized for what it is, The Very Word of God, then three of the four dilemmas of traditional Western philosophy are answered.  Philosophy, then, becomes theology and vice-versa.  Philosophy can no longer roam the vast ranges of man's speculation about these three subjects.  However, the "tools of philosophy," such as logic, language and communication, definition, and grammar, are also the tools of theology.

9.  Failure to write in a way that any person with reasonable intelligence and effort can understand.  Certainly, there is a place for academic discussion that is technical and precise.  However, one wonders whether issues that cannot be summarized and stated in clear, simple terms really have much value.  What impact has the mountainous theorizing of Christian philosophers of the last four decades had on teaching and ruling elders and the man in the pew?  Worse yet, what sort of young men are we turning out to preach and pastor their flocks after their post-seminary indoctrination?  I have been in the ivory tower of medicine and little that goes on there has any pragmatic value.  In fact, one can make the argument that the academy in medicine has done more harm than good.  From my short and limited perspective, the same seems to be true for Christians in philosophy.

10.  Statements that allow other areas of knowledge to be equated with Scripture, as J. P. Moreland in "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It."  This position is really just a different way of saying, "All truth is God's truth."  A Christians first commitment to Scripture is to its authority as God's truth, infinitely above any conclusions by sinful and finite man. 

Then, his commitment should be to the application of Scripture, as widely as deductive reasoning allows.  For example, some may not consider the Bible to speak to politics and civil government, but it surely does.  This limitation of Scripture sometimes is presented by the phrase, "The Bible is true in every area to which it speaks."  The hidden meaning here is that the Scripture is somewhat or quite limited to the number of areas to which it speaks.  That is, it may speak to matters of personal morality and salvation, but little else.  Or, it may speak to many areas, but is still limited in some areas, such as mathematics.

11.  Lack of concern with hermeneutics, the rules for interpretation of Scripture.  In reality, certain tools of philosophy (especially language study and logic) offer the best analyses for Scripture.  For example, the law of non-contradiction will now allow many of the "dichotomies" or "inconsistencies" that many Christians and non-Christians believe.  Philosophy encourages accurate definitions; certainly interpretation of Scripture needs more attention by Christians to definitions.  For example, few Christians today seem to have a Biblically accurate definition of love.

12.  Failure to distinguish a philosophy or theology that is different for Roman Catholics and Protestants.  Epistemology in concerned with how one knows the truth.  The formal positions of Catholics and Protestants are incompatible with each other.  For Protestants, sola Scriptura, is the only source of truth.  For Catholics, tradition, the magisterium, and the Pope speaking ex cathedra are equated in their authority with Scripture.  Catholics also include their Apocrypha in addition to the canon of the 66 books of the Bible.

Are philosophers what they are supposed to be?  Professional philosophers are trained to think carefully, reason logically, "examine their lives" (Socrates), and otherwise "love wisdom" (philo-sophia).  But this failure to state that Catholicism and Protestantism (as least as it is portrayed in Reformed theology) are logically incompatible.  A person cannot be saved by "grace alone" and grace infused;  a person cannot go to Purgatory or straight to heaven; the Bible alone and Catholic sources of truth are incompatible; and, if one prays to Mary, he is not praying to one who can help.  These theologies are logical incompatibilities, inconsistencies, and therefore fallacious.  How can Protestant philosophers teach, and be allowed to teach, at Catholic universities?  How can Catholics be allowed to teach at Protestant universities?  Please!  If philosophers are trained thinkers, even "analytical," and these situations exist, then they belie their training and the very essence of what they are supposed to be!

13.  Failure to posit a clear dualism of the nature of man and the universe.  The Bible is clear that man is a composite of material (body, physical) and spirit (soul, heart, mind, will).  An "epiphenomenalism" that is supposed to be based upon the brain (physical substance) is unbiblical.  Man is made in God's image, and God is spirit.

14.  Too much of a focus on Christ and not enough on His Word, the Scriptures.  Whoa!  I must quickly say (if it is not readily apparent from all that is said on this website), that I am in full agreement with orthodox Christianity on all its teachings about Jesus Christ, particularly as stated in the Westminster Confession of faith.  But all that we know of Christ comes from the Scriptures.  For example, some say that they have "No creed but Christ."  But that statement is really facile and inadequate.  Christ has been defined in several dozen ways over the centuries, so I ask, "Which Christ?"  The answer is the Christ who is the sum of the truths about Him in the Scriptures.

And Christ has spoken from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.  He has spoken to every area of life, scholarship, and worldview in the Scriptures.  We must proclaim "the whole counsel of God" or we are only speaking partially to the problems of this world, including philosophy.  Theologians may be more culpable of this error, more than philosophers, who are often more concerned with other matters.

15.  Failure to posit that all epistemologies are based upon circular reasoning.  To many philosophers, circularity is a horror.  They want their systems to be basic or integral to all systems.  However, all systems are circular.  In fact, as stated above, there are really only two systems: that of man beginning with himself and that of the Christian beginning with Biblical revelation.  Autonomous man will not accept the latter, and the Christian should not accept the former.  Since their systems are built upon these first principles, all reasoning will be circular.  "No system can avoid circularity, because all systems—non-Christian as well as Christian—are based on presuppositions that control their epistemologies, argumentation, and use of evidence."  (John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, page 130)

16. Failure to distinguish between "classical theism" and Biblical theism.  "Classical theism" is a concept of a god who exists only in the individual mind of the philosopher who uses it.  While this god may have certain attributes in common with the Biblical God, he lacks central characteristics, such as, the Trinity, the purpose for which man was created, his Fall, and plan of redemption.  The Biblical God is summarily represented by the expression found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter Two.  For a description of "classical theism," see here.

Corollary: Frequently, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are lumped together in discussions of "theism."  The God of Biblical Christianity is not the god of the other two "theistic" religions.  A defense or a discussion the God of the Bible when lumped with the othe two is both immoral and philosophically incoherent.  Either project is immoral because the Triune God of both testaments will not share His glory (defense) with another.  Either is incoherent because the logical arguments for the Biblical God is far greater than arguments for the other two gods.  This "lumping" is possibly the worse form of "philosophical imperialism."

17.  Failure to "keep it simple."  God in His wisdom, gave us His Revelation, consisting of 1000-200 pages, depending upon the translation.  This Book is "sufficient" to give a right answer to every problem encountered by anyone over the entire course of the history of humanity (II Timothy 3:16-17).  It even says that since Solomon's time, "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  And, "no trial has come your way but such as it common to man" (I Corinthians 10:13).  Many, if not most, modern Christian philosophers multiply minutiae upon minutiae.  Now, I am not against ferreting out the nitty-gritty details of philosophy, theology, and ethics.  I have done some of that myself!  However, there comes a point at which there is minutiae to the absurd.  For example, where does "justified" belief end: reductio ad absurdum of the words themselves, answering every question that any other philosopher or theologian or person can devise, or drawing out symbolic logic to the extent that it looks like an analytic proof for calculus?  Gordon's Clark's books are an excellent example of this simplicity.  His system does not intend an effort at exhaustive detail, but coherence that is based upon simple propositions, logic, and an understanding of first principles (positions of faith).  And, his insights are extraordinary quite often.

18.  Failure to recognize and state that "philosophy of religion" in Western society is really "philosophy of Christianity."  The term, "philosophy of religion," seriously obfuscates that in the West "philosophy of religion" concerns Christianity.  The vagueness of the term allows a discussion of "religion," as if it were somehow distant or divorced from Christianity.  This result gives a freedom to discuss philosophical and religious issues without consideration of the central truth of Christianity—its Scriptures.  Without them a philosophy of religion becomes a discussion of virtually any philosophy, that is, all the "gods of the philosophers" that have been imagined by them, beginning with Descartes.  One example of this obfuscation is the formation of Society of Christian Philosophers, based solely upon one's statement that he is a "Christian."  The major denominations of Christianity in Europe and America are heretical by orthodox beliefs.  So, they are allowed into that organization?  Is that not obfuscation that Christianity is objectively true in the Scriptures, and not just subjectively in the person?

This obfuscation also gives credence to other "religions."  "Philosophy of religion" strongly implies that all "religions" are valid, as the term is so generic that it places Christianity among all other claims.  There is only one religion: Biblical Christianity.  All the others are false and deceivers.  That Christians in general, and theologians and philosophers in particular, commonly used "religion" to apply to both Christianity and other beliefs is a denial of the singularity of Christ and His Word in the 66 books of the agreed-upon Bible. 

19.  Failure to invoke some urgency to the philosophical quest.  Death, more than taxes, is the great certainty of life.  Thus, what happens after death is more important than what happens in one's earthly life.  Once one attains the "age of accountability," or perhaps, "the age of investigation," death and its subsequent state must be the central issue of one's life.  But where is the urgency in anyone's philosophy, including that of Christians.  Certainly, debate about the minutiae of justified true belief or freedom of the will is fun and important, but they and any other concepts pale in the face of eternity.  This message of finality and eternity does not have to be prominent in philosophical discussions, but it must be there ... else the Christian fails in his first duty: to proclaim the Great Commission and its terms and promises of salvation.  Is this urgency not the primary message of Ecclesiastes, one of the Wisdom Books?

20.  Many Christian philosophers work from the position of "philosophical imperialism."  John Frame created this term and discussed here.

Corollary: Secular philosophy should not be allowed to define terms for Biblical or theological understanding.  Scripture has only one root (noun: pistis) for "belief" and "faith," yet philosophy often uses each with slightly different variation because the English language has no verb form for "faith."  "Love" has a wide range of definitions by philosophers and ethicists, but Biblical love (both agapeo and phileo) includes duty and specific commands for fulfillment (John 14:15).  One of the major areas where confusion occurs is "knowledge."  I have written on that subject elsewhere.

Corollary: Christian philosophers "group-think," that is they think in the same terms and constructs as non-Christians.   One dimension of philosophical imperialism is that Christians with most of their education and training in secular philosophy carry those concepts over into their work in Christian areas.  Perhaps, the most crucial area is that of Special Revelation and epistemology.  The objective Bible is God-speaking and written.  Surely, that fact is the most important to a Biblical epistemology.

 21. There seems to be a fascination within the "academy" to make the simple into something complex.  I have always disliked the word, "cognition."  It simply means "thinking," but "cognition" seems so elevated and erudite.  There are many other words of a similar nature: epistemic (know), justified true belief (believe), personhood (person), metaethics (predisposed belief), cogent (pertinent), and others.  (These may not be the best examples, but they will suffice for my point.)  This "flighty" language reflects that those in the "academy" have a superior language that non-academicians do not have.  One of the many dimensions of Abraham Kuyper's "sacred theology" that is accurate is his insistent, and personal testimony and that scholars cannot, indeed must not, divorce themselves from the life of society and the church.  To separate themselves in this way is to separate themselves from the true theology of the Gospel.  Norman Geisler has other admonitions for scholars in his "Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars."

22.  Reference to Scripture as "authority," even "ultimate authority" or "final authority."  Christians in philosophy (and other disciplines, as well) like to refer to Scripture with these two terms.  On the surface, this stance seems appropriate.  However, the generally accepted references to the content of the Bible today is "infallible," "inerrant," and even "sufficient."  (See the position of the Evangelical Theological Society.)  A listener or reader of those who use this referent to Scripture will find that the Word of God is not really their "ultimate" or "final" authority, but tradition or their own reasoning ability.  While this use is not always the case, it certainly is the majority of instances.

 


 

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