Athens and Jerusalem: Why Philosophy and Theology Are Not Opposed

Over the last few weeks, the box office gains have soared for the newly released movie “God’s Not Dead.” The film tells the story of Josh Wheaton, a college freshman who enters his first philosophy class with high hopes. But what he finds in the classroom is a challenge that will shake him to the very core. He must publicly disavow the existence of God in order to pass the class. While it is by no means my goal to critique the film, I do think it illustrates an attitude that is prevalent among many of our Christian brothers: the fear of philosophy. The idea is this: if you take up an interest in philosophy, it will shake your faith. A philosopher’s goal is to undermine Christianity and make everyone atheists. Upon hearing ideas like this, many believers naturally react negatively toward philosophy. But it is my contention that philosophy and faith are not enemies. In fact, they are closely related. There are several reasons that I hold to this.

First, philosophy and theology both work toward a common goal. Both disciplines seek to accurately describe the world in which we live. It is important here to give a succinct definition of what philosophy actually is. According to Dr. Norman Geisler, philosophy is, “the critical analysis of fundamental concepts of human inquiry, and the normative discussion of how human thought and action ought to function, as well as the description of the nature of reality.” Essentially, analytic philosophy seeks to determine what a man means, and whether or not it is true. Philosophy is concerned with the pursuit of truth. The definition of the word testifies to this fact, as philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom”. So, with a neutral understanding of what philosophy is, it becomes easy to see why it compliments theology so well. Theology seeks the truth about God and our life in relation to him. Philosophy seeks this truth as well. Who is the divine? How do we know him? Does he make sense? These are questions that both philosophers and theologians ask. Clearly then, the two are really a team and not opponents.

Second, philosophy lends clarity to theology. As the church has moved through history, it has faced various doctrinal crises, such as the Arian controversy. In moments like this, it became necessary for the church to formulate creedal statements that are theologically accurate, and yet comprehensible and clear in thought. The Athanasian Creed is a good example of this. The creed seeks to lay out the doctrinal truths behind the Trinity in a way that makes sense without contradicting. So theology was present to formulate the doctrinal core, but contradiction, logic, and sense are the realms of philosophy. We use philosophic tools to determine whether or not something is a contradiction, or whether it makes sense. What resulted at Nicea was a creed that is theologically accurate and logically valid. It serves as an example of a scriptural merger between theology and reason. In fact, we apply philosophy to our theology all the time. If you have ever sat in a theology class or a church service and tried to understand how exactly a teaching made sense, or whether or not it is true, you have used philosophy. We should engage in philosophical reasoning to make our doctrinal positions as clear and forceful as possible.

Third, every single person is a philosopher in some sense or another. This goes hand in hand with the above point, but it bears repeating. Philosophy is the pursuit of truth. It is the use of our natural, God-given faculties of reason to come to reasonable conclusions based on good arguments. So if you have ever thought “that makes sense” then you have done philosophy. Even if you think it is wrong to do philosophy, you can not express that belief, or reasons for that belief, without engaging in philosophy because philosophy is reasoned statements about reality and logic.

Based on the above three reasons: the common ground of philosophy and theology, the clarity philosophy lends to theology, and the universality of philosophy, it is abundantly clear that good philosophical reasoning and good theology are close friends. The Christian need not be terrified of giving reasons for his belief. He should not be afraid to ask or face the hard questions about truth. In the words of Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

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Christian. Apologist. Undergrad. Missio Deo

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Posted in General Apologetics, Theology
One comment on “Athens and Jerusalem: Why Philosophy and Theology Are Not Opposed
  1. […] Athens and Jerusalem: Why Philosophy and Theology Are Not Opposed […]

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