On My Borrowing Philosophy
Other Christians have once again accused me of borrowing philosophy from pagan thought. This argument is tired. It goes something like this: “Your belief about the nature of God, His simplicity, His eternal nature, His ineffability is a Platonic/Ne0-Platonic corruption to Jewish thought and the Bible.” Ironically, this indictment is quite self-refuting, being grounded in an unbiblical philosophy itself. Let me explain . . .
From Jerusalem to Athens: A Christian Pursuit of Philosophy
Before I engage with my compadres who have brought the accusation, we must first understand what philosophy is. Philosophy, at its core, is the love of wisdom and the pursuit of understanding fundamental truths about existence, knowledge, and ethics. After all, that is what it means: “lovers of wisdom.” Therefore, just as we are all theologians, whether we like it or not, we are all philosophers. To say that we should not engage in philosophy is a philosophy itself.
The Origin of Philosophy
Let’s talk about philosophy for a second:
When the Corinthians were cautioned against philosophy (1 Cor. 2:6-8; Col. 2:8; 1 Cor. 1:18-21), it wasn’t an outright dismissal of all philosophical thought. Instead, it was a distinct warning against the contemporary philosophies that veered away from God’s truth.
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (emphasis mine).
Similarly. . .
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
These verses tell us that all of humanity, whether knowingly or not, borrows from God’s philosophy. Principles like the law of non-contradiction and the law of excluded middle point to a greater truth, one that’s aligned with God’s nature. We could not even read or understand the Bible without the inherent logic of a subject-verb-object relationship! As R.C. Sproul used to put it, “You don’t bring steel to Pittsburg.” Why? Because it already has it. I have no idea if that makes any sense to you, but it has served as a perpetual reminder of how God has preprogrammed us and the world with so much truth. Christians can mess some things up. And unbelievers can get some things right. Good philosophy is like the rain. God gives it to the just and unjust.
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So, when Christianity mirrors certain elements or doctrines from external philosophies (like Platonic philosophies), we are not borrowing from them. It is just raining on both of us. If they get something correct, they are mirroring God! Again, (and I know I am belaboring this point) all philosophies get some things right because they are, like us, drawing from the wellspring of general revelation. General revelation is a vast ocean of truths that is available to all people, everywhere, at all times.
All Truth is God’s Truth
Look at the Apostle Paul. In Acts 17, he engages with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers at Mars Hill. He even quotes their poets and thinkers! Not to affirm their entire worldview but to bridge the gap and introduce the gospel. This is a classic example of engaging with philosophy while staying rooted in divine truth. They got some things right. We are not to look at all pagan systems and attempt to alleviate our minds of everything they believe.
In essence (again!), all truth is God’s truth. If philosophy touches on a truth that aligns with God’s revelation, it’s not borrowing; it’s affirming what’s inherently known.
The Bible as Our Guidepost
As buoys in the ocean keep ships from straying too far, the Bible points us in the right direction for our salvation while it sets guideposts for our innate philosophy. It acts as the map of our philosophical pursuits, ensuring we remain pointed in the right direction while exploring the vast oceans of thought.
A Restored Earth Theology
The Restored Earth Theology offers a captivating perspective on our continuous spiritual and philosophical growth. It envisions a future—a restored earth—where our philosophical beliefs perpetually mature within the framework established by God. We are consistently guided and molded by the teachings of God through his word and creation, ensuring a seamless integration of faith and reason. I know what some of you are saying: this is very Thomistic. Saint Thomas Aquinas did well in emphasizing the importance of Natural Theology. I am not Catholic. Aquinas was. Does this mean I run from his way of thinking just because he is Catholic? Of course not. Do you see the pattern?
Let me offer another example that follows the same path. Some argue that modern Christians practices have roots in pagan traditions. They may indict church buildings as pagan practice as they, according to these, have their origins in pagan temples. Another one is that Sunday morning service comes from the Roman sun god. Everything from Halloween to clerical vestments, according to these, come from a pagan culture outside of Christianity, and because of this, they are all wrong.
This argument mirrors the criticism that Christianity borrows from philosophy. The underlying premise is that borrowing from external sources is inherently bad or inauthentic. However, this perspective is dangerously flawed. It assumes that anything outside the Christian tradition is automatically wrong or harmful.
Freedom in Christ
Paul, in his letters, often speaks about freedom in Christ. In Colossians 2:16-17, he writes, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Paul’s point is that believers have freedom in areas that are not explicitly addressed in Scripture.
Just as we have freedom in matters of practice, we also have freedom in engaging with philosophy. To automatically reject anything that originates outside the Christian tradition is to limit our understanding and growth. Society, in its neutral state, allows us the freedom to explore, grow, and change. It’s through this exploration that we can affirm the truths that align with God’s revelation.
As we journey through the intertwined paths of faith and philosophy, it’s imperative to remember our foundational truths. While there might be overlaps and shared insights between Christianity and other philosophies, the core essence of Christian thought is rooted in God’s eternal truths. And these are drawn from the Scripture, reason, and creation. Just as rivers from different sources might converge into a single ocean, various philosophical streams may seem to merge. Yet, the ocean of Christian understanding is unique, vast, and deep, drawing its sustenance from the divine. As believers, our task is not to resist the ebb and flow of thought but to discern, reflect, and draw closer to God’s wisdom. By grounding ourselves in Scripture and being open to God’s natural revelation, we ensure that our beliefs remain pure, steadfast, and ever-evolving toward a deeper understanding of Him.
Tertullian, an ancient father of Christianity who lived around the 2nd century once said, “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” as he fought against the divergent philosophies of the day. I answer, “What have both to do with God?”