Christian Philosophy – Introduction
What is Christian Philosophy? Because it requires faith in biblical revelation, you might assume that the Christian worldview cannot possibly have a philosophy of its own. According to the secular worldviews, naturalism and materialism are grounded firmly in modern scientific methodology and enlightened human experience. How can we as Christians, who are required to postulate existence or reality outside the material realm, ever hope to prove that our beliefs are true, reasonable, rational, and worth living and dying for?
Unfortunately, some Christians adopt just such an attitude, concluding that their faith is indefensible. They attempt to avoid the whole problem by stating that what they believe is “beyond reason.” These Christians point to Colossians 2:8, where Paul writes “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy...“ and from this they draw the conclusion that God does not want us to meddle in such a vain and deceitful discipline as philosophy. However, people who use this verse as an anti-philosophical proof-text often omit its ending, in which Paul describes the kind of philosophy he is warning against—philosophy “which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
Christian Philosophy – Faith and Reason
When it comes to Christian philosophy, the Bible does not ask us to abandon reason in order to accept its truth. “Come now,” records Isaiah, “and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). The Apostle Peter encourages Christians to present logical, compelling reasons for their hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). But is this possible? Is Christian faith, and more specifically Christian philosophy, defensible?
C.E.M. Joad, who lived most of his life believing that the concept of God was unacceptable, finally concludes, “It is because...the religious view of the universe seems to me to cover more of the facts of experience than any other that I have been gradually led to embrace it.”1 He concluded his long personal pilgrimage by admitting “I now believe that the balance of reasonable considerations tells heavily in favor of the religious, even of the Christian view of the world.”2 This is the same Joad who appeared on BBC radio with Humanist Bertrand Russell attacking Christianity.
Many who finally begin to reflect on the deeper things of life—“How did I get here? Why am I here? Where am I going?”—simply discover that Christianity answers these questions more completely than any other worldview. Those who earnestly seek truth will ultimately find themselves face-to-face with the God of the Bible. While some may enjoy debating about whether or not God exists, for the average person such debate is irrelevant—he or she is aware of His existence on a soul-deep level. Even today the vast majority of people (some polls place the figure as high as 95 percent) believe in a God, a fact Paul also found to be true in the Athens of his day (Acts 17:23).
Christian Philosophy – Rational Foundation
The basic tenets of Christian philosophy are rational because they are held by average, rational men and women. But surely Christianity must still run into an epistemological problem—how does the Christian “know” without clashing with science and experience? How can the knowledge we gain through faith in Biblical revelation compare to knowledge gained by a scientific investigation of the universe?
The answer is not as difficult as you might imagine. All knowing requires faith. Faith precedes reason or, as W.J. Neidhardt puts it, “Faith correctly viewed is that illumination by which true rationality begins.”3 In other words, every worldview begins with a basic assumption about the nature of reality that cannot be proven by using the scientific method or logical deduction. This becomes the starting point from which to build a total view of life.
While Marxists and Humanists wish to portray science as primary knowledge and faith in biblical revelation as blind second-class epistemology or even superstition, the fact remains that all methods of knowing ultimately rely on certain assumptions. Edward T. Ramsdell writes, “The natural man is no less certainly a man of faith than the spiritual, but his faith is in the ultimacy of something other than the Word of God. The spiritual man is no less certainly a man of reason than the natural, but his reason, like that of every man, functions within the perspective of his faith.”4
The basic problem of philosophy is not the problem of faith versus reason. “The crucial problem,” says Warren C. Young, “is that some thinkers place their trust in a set of assumptions in their search for truth, while other thinkers place their trust in a quite different set of assumptions.”5 That is, Humanists and Marxists place their trust in certain findings of science and experience, neither of which can be rationally demonstrated as the source of all truth.
Christians also appeal to science, history, and personal experience, but they know such avenues for discovering truth are not infallible. Christians know that scientists make mistakes and scientific journals can practice discrimination against views considered dangerous. Christians know that history can be perverted, distorted, or twisted and that personal experience is not a good source of fact or knowledge. On the other hand, Christians believe that Biblical revelation is true and that God would not mislead His children.
Christian Philosophy – All Philosophy Requires Some Faith
Christian philosophy does not reject reason or tests for truth. Christianity says the New Testament is true because its truths can be tested. Christians do not ask non-believers to put their faith in a revelation of old wives’ tales or fables, but instead to consider certain historical evidences that reason itself can employ as an attorney building a case uses evidences in the law to determine questions of fact. Christian epistemology is based on special revelation, which in turn is based on history, the law of evidence, and the science of archaeology.
Philosophical naturalists also make assumptions that they, by definition, accept on faith. All naturalists agree that there is no supernatural. “This point,” says Young, “is emphasized by the naturalists themselves without seeming to be at all troubled by the fact that it is an emotional rather than a logical conclusion.”6
Faith is critical in every philosophy. When developing a philosophy, we must be extremely careful to base our case on the most truthful assumptions—otherwise, should one of the assumptions prove to be untrue (as it appears the assumptions of the theory of evolution will be), the whole philosophy will crumble. If evolution crumbles (which is quite possible—Dr. Karl Popper believes evolution does not fit the definition of “a scientific theory”), Marxism and Humanism are intellectually dead.
So far, we have established two things regarding Christian philosophy: many hold it to be the most rational of all worldviews, and it requires no more faith than any other philosophy. Indeed, we could argue that it takes a great deal more faith to believe in the spontaneous generation of Darwinian evolution or the randomness of all nature (i.e., that the universe happened by accident) than it does to accept the Christian doctrine of Creator/Creation.
Christian Philosophy - Conclusion
Christian philosophy represents an entire worldview, a view that is consistent with the Bible throughout. In the end, you must choose between a materialist/naturalist worldview and a supernaturalist worldview—and your choice will create repercussions throughout every aspect of your life. The Christian philosophy embraces the meaningful, purposeful life, a life in which you shape your beliefs according to a coherent, reasonable, truthful worldview. As a Christian with such a worldview, you will not be tossed to and fro by every secularist doctrine. “In the same way,” says Dr. Young, “it can be said that the Christian philosopher and theologian must be acquainted with the contending world-views of his age. Philosophy after all is a way of life, and the Christian believes that he has the true way—the true pattern for living. It is the task of the Christian leader to understand the ideologies of his day so that he may be able to meet their challenges. The task is a never-ending one, for, although the Christian’s worldview does not change, the world about him does. Thus the task of showing the relevance of the Christian realistic philosophy to a world in process is one which requires eternal vigilance. To such a task, to such an ideal, the Christian leader must dedicate himself.”7, 8
Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.
1 C.E.M. Joad, The Recovery of Belief (London, UK: Faber and Faber Limited, 1955), 16.
2 Ibid., 22.
3 Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 6 vols. (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1976), 1:169. Henry mentions W.J. Neidhardt’s work “Faith, the Unrecognized Partner of Science and Religion” as the source for his comments.
4 Edward T. Ramsdell, The Christian Perspective (New York, NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 42.
5 Warren C. Young, A Christian Approach to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1975), 37.
6 Ibid., 182.
7 Young, A Christian Approach to Philosophy, 228–9.
8 See Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999); J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003); and Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000).
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