Christian Philosophy
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Christian Philosophy

A Systematic and Narrative Introduction

Bartholomew, Craig G., Goheen, Michael W.

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eBook - ePub

Christian Philosophy

A Systematic and Narrative Introduction

Bartholomew, Craig G., Goheen, Michael W.

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This third book in a series of successful introductory textbooks by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen builds on their previous projects, The Drama of Scripture and Living at the Crossroads, to offer a comprehensive narrative of philosophical thought from a distinctly Christian perspective. After exploring the interaction among Scripture, worldview, theology, and philosophy, the authors tell the story of philosophy from ancient Greece through postmodern times, positioning the philosophers in their historical contexts and providing Christian critique along the way. The authors emphasize the Reformed philosophical tradition without neglecting other historical trajectories and show how philosophical thought relates to contemporary life.

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Informations

Éditeur
Baker Academic
Année
2013
ISBN
9781441244710
part01

1
Why Philosophy?

Introduction
In many Christian circles today, philosophy gets bad press or, even worse, is simply ignored. Abby’s response to hearing that she needed to take a course in philosophy is far too common. There have been times in the history of the church when a good knowledge of philosophy was regarded as indispensable, but now is not such a time. Bible study and knowing how to evangelize are indispensable, but it would be regarded by many Christians as strange indeed if their local church announced a course in philosophy as a vital part of the church’s mission.
However, we believe that a working knowledge of Christian philosophy is a vital ingredient in mission, if by mission we mean facilitating a deep encounter of our culture with Christ. Philosophy, from our perspective, is the attempt to discern the structure or order of creation, and to describe systematically what is subject to that order. The difference that a Christian philosophy makes is that the whole of life, apart from God, is studied as creation. The Apostles’ Creed sums up the biblical doctrine of creation when it states, “We believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” As Genesis 1:1–2:3 and the creed inform us, creation involves God not just ushering the world into existence but ordering it in a particular way so that there is heaven and earth; night and day; seasons; earth, sea, and sky; and plants, animals, birds, and human beings. Much of the order in creation we simply take for granted. We just know that it is normal for human beings to walk upright, and we would be astonished and disturbed if someone came into church doing the sort of leopard crawl that soldiers learn in their training. We can pretend that gravity does not exist, but step out of the window of a high building and the order of creation will manifest itself in no uncertain terms.
But God’s ordering of creation is more complex than this kind of natural order. Genesis 1–3 teaches us that God’s order extends to things like gender (male and female), marriage, farming, and how we relate to God and to the animals. Indeed, the doctrine of creation teaches us that just as the whole of creation comes from God, so it is all subject to his order for it. As Abraham Kuyper, the nineteenth-century Dutch prime minister, theologian, journalist, and churchman, saw so clearly, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”[1] Although curiosity is a major motive in philosophy, the primary emotion driving Christian philosophy will be wonder. The mind-blowing implication is that with creation comes God’s order for things like
  • what it means to be human;
  • history and historical development;
  • culture, in the sense of how we organize the societies we are part of;
  • art;
  • business and economics;
  • politics;
  • sport and leisure;
  • friendship;
  • and so on.
As if this comprehensive range of God’s order were not challenge enough, the fall into sin opened up the catastrophic possibility of humans misdirecting God’s good order for creation. The possibility of family life is a great gift written into the fabric of creation, but we know from Genesis 4 that outside of Eden brotherly love can become fratricide. Humans have the God-given ability to build cities, and these can be places of delight and human flourishing and full of God, but they can also be like Babel, monuments to idolatry (see Gen. 11).
Despite being fallen, humans retain the God-given ability to shape God’s world in which we live in accordance with the complex order of creation; constant misdirection means that in many areas of life, hard work is required to understand God’s order for his creation today. The Bible, as we will see, gives us indispensable clues to such a journey of discovery—but it gives us the clues, not all the answers! The great twentieth-century missiologist Lesslie Newbigin perceptively noted that “Jesus is the clue to history, its goal and source.”[2] We commit the worst sort of folly if we ignore that clue which is Christ, but we are also fools if we fail to pursue that clue in all areas of life as God has made it. Take any of the above topics and you will see that the Bible addresses these issues, but in not one case does it provide us with a detailed analysis of the sort we need if we are to live effectively for God in his world today. Philosophy is precisely the quest for that detailed analysis of the order of creation as it relates to the many different aspects of life under the sun.
The Importance of Philosophy for Christian Mission
Apologetics
The minute we come to Christ and start to live for him, we find our neighbors asking questions about our faith. This has always been so, and it is why Peter tells us that we need to be ready to give an account of the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15). Such an account will range from the narrative of our conversion and what Christ has come to mean to us to a rigorous defense of the faith. So it was with the early church: as their numbers and influence grew, accusations were leveled against them and questions asked. In order to respond to these, early Christians had of necessity to give an account and defense of their faith in terms that their non-Christian neighbors could understand. Inevitably early Christian thinkers reached for concepts from the philosophies of the day in order to provide a robust articulation of their faith.
Increasingly in the West today, Christians are in a minority amid an often hostile culture, and in this situation it is vital that we are able not only to live out our faith but also to account for it. We should never underestimate the compelling power of a life lived in Christ and of a conversion narrative, but the credibility of our faith will still depend to an extent on our being able to provide a logical account of it.
Apologetics cannot by itself convert a person to Christ; that is the work of the Spirit. But it can be used by God to clear the ground for conversion in what is sometimes called preevangelism. One thinks of the long process whereby C. S. Lewis came to faith in Christ. The final step was experiential and not as a result of having Christianity proved true to him. In Surprised by Joy, the story of his conversion, Lewis movingly describes how he got on a bus in Oxford not a Christian and disembarked a believer. His actual conversion was far more than logical, but a great deal of thinking and discussion with Christian friends preceded his conversion.[3] And Lewis of course went on to become one of the greatest Christian apologists of our time. It is less well known that Lewis took a first in philosophy at Oxford University, and he used this to great effect in developing his apologetics.
Francis Schaeffer, who with his wife founded L’Abri in the tiny village of Huemoz in Switzerland, exercised an international ministry as Christian and non-Christian students flocked from around the world to ask their questions and seriously discuss them with Schaeffer and his coworkers. The extraordinary story of L’Abri is told by Edith Schaeffer in her book The Tapestry. At the heart of Francis Schaeffer’s ministry was a welcoming community and apologetics. Schaeffer’s preevangelism and evangelism necessitated that he immerse himself in the culture of his day and in philosophy. Many came to Christ through L’Abri’s ministry, and many Christians awoke to the need to take culture and philosophy seriously.
Clearly there will be a variety of levels of apologetics, ranging from witnessing to what Christ means to you, to answering a neighbor’s queries, to academic defense of the Christian faith at the most rigorous level. A robust apologetic requires Christians to operate at all levels. An example of academic defense of the faith at the highest levels is Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief, the third volume in his magisterial trilogy on epistemology. Of course not all Christians are called like Plantinga to be a philosopher, and even among those who are, few can rise to his level of excellence. But a basic introduction to Christian philosophy will help in answering your neighbor’s queries, and those like Plantinga who are called to be Christian philosophers have a crucial role in making the case for the credibility of Christianity at the highest academic level.
Missional Cultural Engagement
Once we see that mission involves an engagement of the gospel with the whole of our culture and that mission takes place at the crossroads of the biblical story and our cultural story, it becomes clear that serious mission requires a deep understanding of our culture(s).
Here again philosophy can be an enormous help.[4]
Take the issue of homosexuality for example. In our opinion it is clear from Scripture that homosexual practice is unbiblical and not according to God’s design for human life. In this we are in wholehearted agreement with conservative Christians. But how does one engage society from this perspective? It is one thing to believe that homosexuality is clearly wrong, but what does this mean for our diverse societies? What sort of legislation should Christians push for, and how do we actively protect the civil rights of homosexuals while preserving the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman? These are crucial but complex issues, and many Christians are lost when it comes to engaging them. Such engagement requires far more than an understanding of the biblical view of homosexuality; it requires a philosophy of society, an understanding of the role of politics (philosophy of politics), and gracious but determined resistance to political correctness in a variety of ways.
Many orthodox Anglicans who are being forced to face up to the direction of mainstream North American Anglicanism find themselves wondering how on earth they got to the point where church leaders are moving away from the gospel. It is a good question. To answer it, one needs to know what has happened in Western culture and the philosophies that have shaped it over the past several centuries and the philosophies shaping Western culture at present. Only in this way will we be able to understand what time it is in our culture and the forces manifesting themselves in issues like homosexuality and many others. And only from such a deep understanding will we be able to discern the spirits at work and how to engage them missionally.
Lesslie Newbigin tells the story of attending a major conference on mission, where he was sitting next to an Indonesian general. At a certain point in the conference Newbigin heard the general mutter under his breath, “Of course, the number one question is, Can the West be converted?” After spending some forty years as a missionary in India, Newbigin and his wife returned to the United Kingdom. In the remaining years of his life, Newbigin did his best to rouse Western Christians from their slumber to attend to the mission on their doorsteps. The problem with culture is that it is like the water the fish swims in: we get so used to it that it appears normal, until we enter a very different culture and start to see that what we assumed was normal and “Christian” is not necessarily so.
Western Christians urgently need a deep understanding of the culture they live in with all its strengths and weaknesses. Newbigin worked to provide such an understanding, and a cursory perusal of his important writings will indicate the central role of philosophy in such a missional approach to and analysis of Western culture.
Philosophy and Christian Scholarship
Universities play a formative role in preparing students for their life’s work, whatever form that may end up taking. Central to modernity is the view that universities provide neutral, objective scholarship and teaching. Despite this view being savaged in recent decades, it remains dominant in popular culture among Christians and non-Christians alike. What modernity calls a neutral, objective approach to academia is anything but. In any discipline, as you go deeper and deeper into a subject, finally you reach those really fundamental questions that we usually take for granted. That is philosophy. At the foundation of every subject are foundational questions like:
  • How do we go about knowing in this subject area such that we can trust the results to be truthful? This is the question of epistemology.
  • What does it mean to be human? This is the question of anthropology.
  • What is the nature of the world around us? This is the question of ontology.
These are foundational philosophical questions. We like to call them launchpad questions since they are the base from which any subject is launched. And the answers to them are normally taken for granted. Indeed, modernity has had a vested interest in concealing these questions and the impact of modernity’s answers on scholarship. It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that the gospel has major implications for how one might answer these three fundamental questions, and a Christian answer will shape a subject differently than non-Christian answers.
Of course, once we see this, the hard work begins. How does a Christian view of the person shape a contemporary psycho...

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