Martin Luther talked of a “theology of the cross” (theologia cruces), The God who suffers with and for human beings reveals himself in humility—most clearly in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Luther disapproved of “theologians of glory” who confidently presented abstract “proofs.” Why? Such theologians may be in danger of obscuring both the cross, which casts “God’s shadow,” and of diminishing the fact that God veils himself for particular reasons. It is true that salvation comes through our self-abandonment and humbling ourselves in response to God’s grace. Even if we may disagree with Luther to some extent, we shouldn’t forget that human reasoning—even constructing arguments for God’s nature and existence— without the aid of the cross and the Spirit of God will miss the mark. Luther is right to point us in a cruciform or crucicentric direction; indeed, the world-defying wisdom of God is found in the cross (1 Cor. 1:18).
Of course, when we talk about the cross, we must keep in mind the entire Christ-event: his incarnation, life, and ministry—indeed, his triumphant, glorious, resurrection from the dead. The cross, however, remains a useful symbol to remind wisdom-seekers about humility, prayer, the Spirit’s empowerment, and a life poured out for others.
Furthermore, when the Christian does philosophy, he shouldn’t do so dispassionately. (Remember lots of atheists are quite passionate, zealous, and even over the top! Think of Richard Dawkins’ recent book The God Delusion, which almost reads like an emotional tirade—with lots of sloppy arguments and caricatures.) Doing philosophy as Christians should spring from the kind of devotion that the New Testament authors had; they wrote of the Christ who had transformed their lives. Their passion didn’t undermine their objectivity or twist the truth—no more so than the passion of Auschwitz survivors Elie Wiesel or Viktor Frankl, who have written with both fervor and penetrating insight about their experience and the human condition. Whether Holocaust survivors or New Testament Christians, or 21st-century Christian philosophers, we shouldn’t stop speaking about what we’ve seen and heard.
Critics who say such commitment is “biased” may actually be engaging in a kind of truth-avoidance tactic. Yet the sword cuts both ways: the critic is still left holding his own bundle of apparently arbitrary biases that needn’t be taken seriously. No, certain perspectives (what some call “biases”)—even passionate ones—can be accurate, and we can many times recognize those that we should dismiss and others that we should affirm.
Reasons for belief in God aren’t private or inaccessible to public scrutiny. Speaking to King Agrippa, Paul asserts that Jesus’ crucifixion and post-mortem appearances—including Paul’s Damascus road experience—“were not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Indeed, the glory of the triune, self-revealing God saturates the creation, is made known through historical events and in Jesus of Nazareth, and is available to all.
Good public reasons and arguments are important though, by themselves, they don’t guarantee participation in God’s family. The Spirit, who can use evidence, assures us of such realities (Rom. 5:5; 8:15; Gal. 4:6), even though his divine influence and wooing can be stifled and resisted (Acts 7:58). We ultimately know the reality of God’s presence and love by his Spirit’s illumination and life-giving power—though we should be prepared to show people evidences and give reasons for the truth of the Christian faith.
Views differ on the relationship between Christianity and philosophy—or “faith” and “reason.” I don’t wish to settle such large disputes here. According to Augustine and Aquinas, “philosophy” is the pursuit of wisdom by “unaided human reason.” I take the view of the church father Justin Martyr. Having gone from one philosopher to another in search of wisdom, he met an elderly man who told him about the Jesus of the Gospels; this led to Justin’s conversion to Christ and his discovery of true philosophy. Philosophy wasn’t the means to finding wisdom but the goal. True philosophy encompasses all wisdom and includes—indeed finds its climax and embodiment in—God’s revelation to us in Jesus of Nazareth, Wisdom incarnate—a wisdom that comes not through unaided reason, but by amazing grace. As Paul affirms, in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
(adapted from Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion [forthcoming October 2007, Chalice Press])