Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Christians, Philosophy, and Denver Seminary

[Permit me a short essay related to the program I administer at Denver Seminary.]

The evangelical world has endured the ups and downs of a love/hate relationship with philosophy. Evangelicals rejoice when an intellectual, such as C.S. Lewis, defends the faith rationally and persuasively. How many readers have given a copy of Mere Christianity, a perennial bestseller, to an inquiring friend? (The first section gives a philosophical argument for the existence of God based on morality.) On the other hand, evangelicals often view philosophy with suspicion, if not hostility, deeming it merely human thinking that attempts to come to terms with reality apart from divine revelation. After all, some claim, no less an authority than the Apostle Paul condemned philosophy as “hollow and deceptive” (Colossians 2:8). Moreover, many secular intellectuals disdain any consideration of Christianity in the classroom, the courtroom, or the press.

Philosophy pursues truth about ultimate realities—the things that matter most in life. A philosopher must have a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility. This is a laudable goal for all Christians. It is my passion to articulate a biblical view of philosophy as well as a Christian worldview to my students at Denver Seminary.

While philosophies and philosophers may be secular or pagan in their worldview, the practice of philosophy itself is not “hollow and deceptive.” In Colossians 2:8, Paul condemned worldly and pagan philosophy, not philosophy itself. When teaching on Mars Hill, Paul—as a good public intellectual—showed that he understood the philosophies of his day and even cited non-Christian thinkers where they agreed with a Christian worldview (Acts 17:16-34). In On Jesus, I show that Jesus himself was a kind of philosopher, since he often used arguments (always cogent ones) in his disputes, and because he evidenced a well-formed worldview. Being God Incarnate, he did not pursue truth fallibly in the manner of Socrates and philosophers after him; but Jesus did esteem rational argument and never denigrated the intellect. Jesus beckoned us to love God with all of our being, including our minds (Matthew 22:37-39). He would not call us to do something he himself shunned.

Within the last three decades, Christian philosophers have moved from the shadows into the limelight within their discipline by defending the rationality of the Christian worldview in very compelling and sophisticated ways. The journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Philosophia Christi, now has the largest subscription base of any philosophy of religion journal and has quickly become well respected in the field.

I applaud this academic success, but I also see the need for Christians to defend the Christian worldview at street level through teaching in the church, public lectures, debates, editorials, and person-to-person witnessing. Denver Seminary’s philosophy of religion degree equips students either to go on for a doctorate in philosophy in order to teach at the university level or to pursue ministry in the church or parachurch or marketplace. Like Paul, we encourage our students to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) in the hopes of outthinking the world for Christ.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., directs the Philosophy of Religion masters degree at Denver Seminary, where he has served since 1993. You can learn more about Denver Seminary at: www.denverseminary.edu.

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