Post Author: Bill Pratt
Some Christians have a negative view of philosophy, mostly, I think, because they don’t understand what it is and they see it being wielded against their most cherished beliefs. However, philosophy, properly understood, is not an enemy of biblical authority, but a great support.
Philosophy has been called by one Christian philosopher “the skill of thinking really hard.” The ancients thought of philosophy as the love of wisdom. Surely, if you are a Christian, you are not opposed to thinking really hard or the love of wisdom, but just how does philosophy practically interact with the Bible? To the person who says, “I don’t need philosophy; all I need is the Bible,” what can be said in response?
David Baggett and Jerry Walls, in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, provide some helpful ways to answer this kind of question.
[T]rust in the reliability of scripture in the first place assumes trust in the experiences of those biblical writers whose written words God genuinely inspired. Without the requisite trust in those experiences, we are left without rational conviction in the authority of the Bible. Or take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational, requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation. Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason, which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically.
So we need good reasons to trust that the biblical writers really experienced what they recorded. We also need reasons to believe that when the biblical writers contradict writers from other religious traditions, that the biblical writers can be trusted. These are not issues that can be resolved by appeal to the Bible. We need to think philosophically, or put simply, reason our way to these conclusions using logic, evidence, and argumentation.
Baggett and Walls continue:
The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy. Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally. It’s a fundamental mistake to think otherwise.
No less of a luminary than John Wesley weighed in on this subject:
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said that renouncing reason is renouncing religion, that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion. In fact he happened to believe that a thorough acquaintance with philosophy and logic is an indispensable part of a minister’s preparation.
So how are we to answer someone who says that we don’t need philosophy to understand theological truths taught in the Bible?
The sentiment wrongly assumes that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is the ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think. Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought. Perhaps it sounds pious to say that all we need is the Bible, and Protestants do in fact believe there’s a sense in which it’s true that Christians are to be people of one book, but it’s at worst a sentiment predicated on a laughably shallow, simplistic, naïve epistemology and hermeneutic. It’s just not that simple. We can’t open the Bible and begin to understand it without engaging our reason, and using our critical faculties in this fashion as an interpretive tool is not to exalt the deliverances of reason above the deliverances of scripture.
Don’t think of philosophy as some of kind of esoteric science that threatens to subordinate Scripture. Philosophy simply calls us to think hard, to reason, to use our minds to arrive at truth. Jesus himself commanded us to love God with all of our minds, did he not? So, ironically, those who say we should not philosophize are actually disobeying the Lord.