A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY
Scripture utterly condemns human philosophy in a host of places, such as Col. 2:8 and I Cor. 1. God’s wisdom and Man’s pretended wisdom cannot be harmonized. They are utter opposites. Whole books have been written showing the inconsistencies of trying to merge the two, and others have refuted human philosophy point for point.
But the Biblical alternative must also be presented. It is not enough to condemn philosophy; we must have a truly Christian philosophy in its place. Such should be obvious. But how do we go about formulating a Christian philosophy? Some attempt to construct one by using the same materials of the philosophies they have demolished. Such is futile and dangerous. Others have plundered the philosophers and sought to use their insights in order to build a Christian philosophy. That, too, is the wrong approach. The only truly Biblical approach is to use the materials that God Himself has provided – not natural reason, but divine revelation. The only truly Christian philosophy must be a truly Biblical philosophy.
As you know, the word “philosophy” in Greek is taken from two words, PHILO (love) and SOPHIA (wisdom). Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Human philosophy is the love of Man’s pretended wisdom; it is pride in Man’s deluded notion that he really understands the universe. By contrast, the Christian loves true wisdom and realizes that only God truly understands the universe.
The question, then, is this: “What is true wisdom?” The Bible answers this for us: “True wisdom means seeing things from God’s perspective.” It means believing what the Creator has said about Himself and the Creation. It starts and ends with God. It is God-centered wisdom. Psa.111: 10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Human philosophers do not fear God, therefore they do not have even the rudiments of a true philosophy. The Christian, however, does fear God, and so he has taken the first step towards a true philosophy. He believes God.
But it means more than merely fearing God in a grudging way. That is not wisdom. True wisdom means realizing that what God says is true because God says so. Wisdom is simply the recognition of truth, and acting accordingly. But, again, this is not a grudging thing. One must love this wisdom in order for it to be the love of wisdom, or philosophy. It behooves each of us to ask ourselves, “Do I love God’s truth? Or do I secretly wish it were something else? Do I love God’s Word?” Christian philosophy loves God’s wisdom and rejoices in it. More than that it causes the believer to exult in the Lord and exalt His wisdom. No philosophy is truly Biblical unless it moves one to worship God, who is the Truth and knows all things, and whose ways are good and right. Biblical philosophy is a doxological philosophy.
One of the key discussions of these questions is found in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon was the wisest man on earth – the greatest philosopher. But he turned his back on God, and ran from God by means of a host of various philosophies (Hedonism, Rationalism, Irrationalism, Nihilism, to name a few). They all failed, of course. They were all dead ends. All human philosophy is a dead end. Man’s philosophy only leads to despair and death and Hell. Philosophy itself is sin, unless grounded in God’s Word. But you recall old Solomon’s conclusion when he returned to God via the road of true philosophy: “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:14). That is true philosophy. Fearing and obeying God is the wisest thing any man can do.
Human philosophy errs so greatly because it does not fear God. Conversely, one can build a true philosophy only by fearing and believing God. That leads to faith in what He says the answers are. And that in turn produces obedience to His will.
One could discuss a Christian philosophy in terms of the famous “Five Questions of Journalism”, viz, who, what, where, when, and why.
Who? The ultimate answer to this question is: “God.” Christian wisdom sees all things through God’s perspective. It is a God-centered philosophy. Moreover, it is a Christocentric philosophy as well. Christ is true wisdom (I Cor. 1), and He is the only way to know God. Col. 2:8 warns against human philosophy for the basic reason that it does not cling to Christ. Clinging to Christ, then, is much the same as fearing God – the two are inseparable. What does this mean in terms of understanding the cosmos? Just this: Christians are called on to submit all their thoughts to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). That is true wisdom. Only by doing so can one ever really understand what life is all about.
What? This question is what Plato was asking in his famous question, “What is truth?” The answer is, “God’s Word.” Truth is what God says it is. Reality is determined by God the Creator, and we can understand truth only if the God of Truth tells us. God has done just that in the Bible, the Word of Truth. In this sense, the Bible is the only true book of philosophy. Hence, the foundation for forming a Christian philosophy must be the words, “Sola Scriptura” – Scripture alone.
Where? This is another question of philosophy, and the only correct answer can be what God says. Where? This is God’s universe. It is what God created, and we can understand the Creation only by believing what the Creator of it says about it. He has not chosen to divulge everything to us about the cosmos, but what He has revealed is true and sufficient. This has implications, for example, in discussing questions such as the nature of matter, the natural and the supernatural, and so on.
When? To this question, Christian philosophy replies: “God’s time.” God is the God who inhabits eternity. He has also created time, and all things in time go according to His clock and calendar. There are no coincidences. There is a time for everything that God has foreordained (Eccl. 3:1).
Why? Why does the cosmos exist? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Mere human philosophy can only ask these questions and guess at the answer. The Bible tells us in simple, yet profound words: the glory of God. Everything exists in order to give glory to God (Rom. 11:36). People exist for this reason, and they should make it their highest goal in life to live and think to the glory of God. And this brings us back to that essential element of true wisdom, namely, doxological philosophy.
The child who worships God is wiser than the philosopher who asks the great questions.
Scripture says much more about the subject of the love of God’s wisdom. Romans I is such a passage. Time after time it lays the axe to the root of Man’s pretended wisdom, which Paul says rises from the sewer of sin and always leads to idolatry. True philosophy, then, is just the opposite. True wisdom recognizes God as the Creator, and gives Him thanks. True wisdom worships the Creator, not the Creation. True wisdom does not trust the sin-ridden mind of Man, but relies completely on the revelation of God. And true wisdom leads to righteous living, not increasing degradation.
Another way of looking at Christian philosophy is by examining its components with relation to the cosmos and its various disciplines. Human philosophy sets forth its suggestions for epistemology, for instance, which seeks to answer the question: “How can we know?” This is what is known as the philosophy of knowledge. Man suggests reason or feeling as the answer. God says otherwise. A truly Biblical philosophy answers the question like this: “It is written”. Truth is what God says it is, and the only way we can know is by believing God. “Thus says the Lord” is the hallmark of Christian philosophy in this area.
Then there is the matter of jurisprudence, or the philosophy of law. Plato asked, “What is justice?” God replies, “My Law.” God’s Law is the standard of right and wrong, both in personal ethics and in civil jurisprudence. Divine wisdom is practical without being pragmatic. Remember, true wisdom fears and obeys God.
Then there is the discipline sometimes called “the philosophy of religion”. This is Man’s philosophy of discussing certain problems of philosophy where they affect religion, such as the problem of evil (“If God is holy and omnipotent, why is there evil in the world?”). Such problems can only be answered by submitting all our thoughts to the sovereignty of God. For example, why did God decree to allow the existence of sin? Answer: for His own glory, in punishing it or in forgiving it. There is enormous profundity in that great truth. Human philosophy, of course, is not satisfied with the answer, so it invents all sorts of nonsensical alternatives.
The true philosophy of religion would run something along these lines. God reveals His truths to us as His behest. Some things He does not reveal at all (Deut. 29:29). And what He reveals has various depths to it. Some things are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). But the most important things are revealed with greatest clarity, so that even a believing child can understand. Profundity lies within simplicity. The greatest truths are simple and plain, such as “God is God” and “Christ died for our sins.” And yet, these are also the most profound truths. It is true wisdom to believe them and not seek after complicated Man-based answers which pretend to be philosophically profound, but which are erroneous in their foundations.
Then there is the philosophy of beauty, or aesthetics. Plato asked, “What is beauty?” Is it merely a matter of personal taste and opinion? No, that would be the aesthetics of Relativism, or situational beauty. Follow that, as some have, and you will attribute beauty to that which is really ugly. This is closely connected with what Man worships. Human art is necessarily idolatrous (cf. Acts 17:29). Where, then, is true beauty? Highest of all, true beauty resides in God alone. God is ultimate beauty. He is altogether lovely. In sum, God’s glory is His beauty. And whatever reflects that beauty in some measure in this world, to that same measure is also beautiful. Idols are not beautiful, but ugly. Art that is blasphemous or pornographic is not beautiful, no matter what the connoisseurs of human art say-It is ugly because it does not reflect the beauty of God. The unfallen cosmos was beautiful because it displayed divine glory without flaw; but since then, it is like a slashed painting – some beauty, some ugliness. These are the basics of the true philosophy of art.
Then there is apologetics, or how Christian philosophy is contrasted with and is victorious over human philosophy. We could say much here, but suffice it to mention just the key points. First, it is aggresive, prophetic and evangelistic. When Paul entered the Areopagus in Acts 17, he did not issue a rapprochement of dialogue or dialectics. Rather, he preached the Gospel. He countered the errors of Greek philosophy by proclaiming God’s truth and wisdom. He explained the truth and proclaimed the truth, by appealing to God’s revelation and not Man’s reason. He did not offer evidences, but divine truth. He challenged the very essentials of all human philosophy, by cutting to their very presuppositions. He did not play by their rules, but by God’s. He was not polite, but prophetic- He was not neutral, nor did he treat the philosophers as neutral. He addressed them as erroneous rebels against their Creator. He was aggressive. Truth is a sword.
The true Christian philosophy, then, does not pussyfoot with truth and error. It is bold, it is absolutist, it is uncompromising. It does not praise the purveyors of human philosophy, but exposes their errors at the roots. One early Christian philosopher to see this was Tertullian. He wrote, “What has the Academy to do with the Church? What has Christ to do with Plato – Jerusalem with Athens?” (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-16) True Christian philosophy has no more to do with human philosophy than Christianity has to do with Islam or Satanism. Truth is utterly incompatible with error. The true Christian philosopher will see this and not pretend otherwise, even when he is seeking to convince the philosophers.
Biblical philosophy will also have a Biblical Weltanschauung, or world-and-life- view. True wisdom sees the cosmos from God’s perspective, and seeks to bring the Creation under the dominion of the Creator to His glory. This is just another way of saying that true wisdom is not just theoretical, but practical. God’s Word is our standard for faith and practice, for theology and ethics. It tells us how to live in His world in all its aspects and spheres (politics, education, the family, the arts, etc.). God has given us the Owner’s Manual on all this, and that book is the Bible. It is the only valid blueprint for a true Weltanschauung.
The Christian’s philosophy, then, is both positive and negative. It demolishes the pretensions of Man’s philosophy and puts God’s wisdom and truth in its place. It answers the great questions and tells us how to live. It is the sure guide for Man in how to think rightly about himself and about his Maker. It is the only true philosophy. It is the wisdom of God. It is the “truth as it is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). It is the truth which Man in his sin rejects and distorts (Rom. 1), but it is also the truth which corrects and converts Man in order that he might truly know God. It is the wisdom of God and to the glory of God.