We are looking at what is God? Not who is God? or what has God done? We are looking at what his essential nature must be in order to qualify for the title.

One thing I am going to do throughout this series is something that many of you might be very uncomfortable with. You should not be, but you might. However, if you have studied the history of Christian doctrine and are, like me, standing on the shoulders of giants, you will have no problem with what I am advocating necessitating for this study. I believe that we must look to nature and philosophy in order to understand the nature of God. This means that I believe that extra-biblical information is required, yea demanded, by God himself.

My reasoning is simple. There are certain things that the Bible assumes. In other words, there is an information base that God requires before we can handle the Scriptures and biblical doctrine with integrity. These things are areas that are presupposed. For example, the Bible does not teach anyone how to read. It simply assumes such an ability. The Bible does not define its words. It assumes a knowledge base that is equipped to handle the vocabulary. Epistemologically (the justification of knowing), the Bible does not argue for the the law of non contradiction (i.e. that A cannot equal non-A at the same time and in the same relationship) or that propositions have meaning. It simply assumes that you know that. Theologically, the Bible does not make a case for God’s existence, it simply assumes that there is a sufficient base from which to make such a conclusion. There are other things as well, but these examples should suffice for you to understand and follow. (I hope!)

When it comes to making a case, such as I am going to make, about the “what” or “stuff” of God, I am going to be drawing as much from natural theology as I am from biblical theology—and for this I make no apologies. Natural theology is the theology that comes through nature or general revelation. It is a theology that is rationally based and relies much on philosophical deduction.

For example:

If I did not create myself, I am a contingent being (dependent on something else for my existence)

It is most likely that I did not create myself

Therefore, I am under a necessary and rational compulsion to believe that I am contingent (dependent)

I will be make these type of arguments about the nature of God.

If any of you are skeptical about such an approach, I will gladly adduce Scripture for justification of this methodology.

Paul tells the Romans:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the 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.” (Romans 1: 18-20)

Notice a few things here:

1. “Revealed from heaven . . . being understood through what has been made.” This is what can be known about God without the Scriptures. It is God’s revelation through creation and philosophical deduction.

2. “Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . .” This tells us that natural revelation is evident to all. This is often referred to as “general revelation” because it has a general audience that is not limited to a particular people, nation, or time.

3. “God has shown it to them.” This tells us it is from God. God is the author of this revelation.

4. “Invisible attributes . . . eternal power and divine nature.” Ahh . . . Here we go. This lets us know that we can understand many of the characteristics of God through natural revelation. His “eternal power” (aidios autou dunamis) has to do with not only ultimate power and ability, but the necessity of its eternality. His divine nature (theiotes) speaks of his divinity, or the nature that divinity necessarily must encompass, including attributes and characteristics.

5. “They have been clearly seen.” The word for “clearly” (kathoratai) is in the present indicative telling us that this is an ongoing occurrence. The word carries the idea of inward perception coming from our reasoning, not simply seeing with the eye. BDAG suggests this translation:”God’s invisible attributes are perceived with the eye of reason in the things that have been made.” In other words, natural revelation is evidently evident!

6. “They are without excuse.” This is very important to understand. The word here for “without excuse” (anapologetous) has a judicial feel to it. Josephus uses the word in the sense of being “without a defense.” Dio Chrysostom uses this to describe Alexander’s aide to Homer saying that he will not let Homer go “undefended.” This verse is telling us that these characteristics of God are so clear that people are left without a defense of any sort for unbelief.

Therefore, when I refer to nature and philosophical rationale concerning the nature of God, if my arguments are sound, those who deny such because they are not explicitly stated or argued in Scripture (if such be the case) are without excuse.

About natural revelation’s voice, the Psalmist writes:

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. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

In other words, both these passages teach that we are held accountable for hearing through creation the authoritative voice of God.

Here are some implications:

The acknowledgment of the validity of natural theology. Natural theology (the theology derived from natural revelation) becomes a primary source of study in which Christians need to engage more often. While natural theology is not emphasized in many of the more fundamentalist Protestant circles, this has not always been the case for Christianity in general. Great philosophers and theologians of the past have seen the importance letting God’s voice come through creation. Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, Justin Martyr’s God of the Philosophers, Anselm’s “Necessary Being,” Aquinas’ “Five Proofs,” and John Calvin’s “sensus divinitatis all evidence an understanding of the authority of creation’s voice and philosophical deduction. We need to acknowledge this and engage in our study of God’s nature with all the sources of revelation that God has provided. This is why I look to philosophy and you should too.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    42 replies to "What is God (2) – Why I Look to Philosophy and Say You Should Too"

    • bethyada

      One thing I am going to do throughout this series is something that many of you might be very uncomfortable with. You should not, but you might.

      I have heard this sentiment several times, and it seems it is predominantly from the US. What is it that makes people feel uncomfortable about questioning? People should be encouraged to bring their questions. I am not uncomfortable with this post at all and it is somewhat sad that some Christians would be.

      I addressed a group of ~11-13 year-old kids recently about a few questions. One of them was what happens to good people that have never heard the gospel? Good question I say.

    • Nick

      Amen. All truth is God’s truth. I encourage people to go back and read Plato and Aristotle. Dealing with people today? Go read Hume and Kant. If you want to see the other side, by all means go read the new atheists. (Who can’t hold a candle to the old atheists.) All truth is God’s truth again. Whatever you read, if it is true, it will not go against revelation of the special type. It will be an aid to understanding that revelation. As much as we need to learn how to live Christian, we need to learn how to think Christian and part of thinking Christian is thinking logically, which comes from the nature of God himself. The best philosophers should be Christian philosophers.

    • Joshua Allen

      I think we need to be very careful with this line of argument. We should very explicitly stay away from any insinuation that natural philosophy alone, appraised by fallen human intellect, is a suitable way for people to come to know God.

      The verse you cited says that people *should* be able to arrive at an understanding of God by observing the creation, but far more importantly, says that people *don’t*.

      We can see the truth of this with our own eyes. People like Dickie Dawkins start with nature and end up with a blind, dead watchmaker.

      To be sure, the fact that certain arguments are not elucidated in scripture does not make those arguments wrong. And obviously God is never illogical nor contrary to natural philosophy. But those are rather weak claims, and we should be very clear that these are the only claims we are making.

    • j

      I agree the Bible assumes a base of knowledge that can bu summed up as natural revelation. And I agree with the premise that the essential concept of “what” is God is founded in this to some degree.

      But, when we start to get more specific, I think we do run into some methodological difficulties in what we can extrapolate from natural revelation as background for understanding the text. For example, how thoroughly does the Bible assume the law of non-contradiction? And to what does it attribute meaning outside of propositions, that now, 2000–3000 years later, is perhaps not readily understood through natural revelation as a source of meaning?

      Just some thoughts.

    • #John1453

      Just as moral goodness is neither an arbitrary creation of God, nor a standard outside of and over God, but an inherent part of who God is, so also is rational thought. Rational thought and the law of non-contradiction is inherent in the very nature of God. The Bible says, “A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)


    • ScottL

      Michael –

      ‘Therefore, when I refer to nature and philosophical rationale concerning the nature of God, if my arguments are sound, those who deny such because they are not explicitly stated or argued in Scripture (if such be the case) are without excuse.’

      I know you know this, but most atheists and agnostics would not argue about what Scripture says. They would simply deny that Scripture is God’s revelation and, thus, it doesn’t matter what it or you says. Of course, such people would still be without excuse (Rom 1:18-20), but I am not sure that they would even bother by stating, ‘Well the Bible does not argue what you state.’ They would simply disregard the Bible.

      Again, I know you know what I have said, and maybe I misunderstood your statement quote above, but I just didn’t think that particular statement would be effective in regards to using natural revelation and philosophy in explaining God to an atheist or agnostic.

    • C Michael Patton

      Scott, I agree. What I am referring to (though it is not evident as it should be) are Christians who would reject certain attributes of God’s nature because they are not found in the Bible, but, as they say, a product of Greek philosophy. They imply that view such as simplicity or eternality are left over appendages of Christianity’s love affair with “pagan philosophy.” Hope that makes sense. I will make a point to spell this about more as we move along.

    • #John1453

      I have heard or read comments by Christians that logic is not an inherent aspect of God’s nature, and that there is absolutely nothing, no matter how nonsensical or contradictory, that God cannot do. That is, all of what exists in this universe, even the laws of logic, are created and need not necessarily be. This results in a God that is unknowable.

      However, the Bible is helpful in this regard. Hebrews 6:13 states that God cannot swear by any name higher than His own, and Heb. 6:18 states that God cannot tell a lie. Both of these verses help us understand the nature of God and the things that he cannot do, and by so doing help establish the grounds for a “natural” theology.

      What Hebrews reveals to us is that God cannot and will not do anything that contradicts His nature. Hence God cannot lie because truth is an essential property of God’s nature (or essential to his nature, if one does not want to get sidetracked by the issue of “properties” in relation to what God is). Having established the essential nature of truth and truth telling, we then determine that logic is an essential property of God’s nature; He cannot do anything that is logically impossible. God is not subordinate to logic, but rather, logic is a part of Who He is. He cannot do anything that would contradict that part of Him. “He cannot deny Himself.” (II Timothy 2:13).


    • Sheri

      Well said #John.

      I am approaching this one cautiously. I believe there are ways that we can use the nature of God in our witnessing, even a little philosophy. However, I don’t believe that natural revelation and philosophy will bring someone to know God. Or cause them to have a relationship with the Lord, without His divine intervention and Scripture.

      I’m not saying we shouldn’t use other texts, but how is one to come to know something or some-One they know nothing about? Let’s say you have to rebuild your transmission, yet, you know nothing about a transmission, how it works, how it moves, why the car needs one. Now, just opening the hood and looking in isn’t going to teach you anything other than how complicated it looks (natural revelation). Tell me, what kind of instruction would you need to learn how to rebuild this transmission? Do you need someone who works on a farm to teach you? Do you need to take a class on small engine repair? Will you need to know where the spare tire goes (philosophy). No, you need a book about the transmission of that “specific” car. Maybe some of those other things are helpful to “know” your car, but they can’t help you rebuild the transmission. You need instructions on WHAT the transmission is, WHY it is needed, HOW it works and is USEFUL for the life of your car. You need to learn how to put what goes where in order for it to WORK properly. You also need to know how to care for your transmission to keep all the parts working together in unity as they are supposed to do. You see, the more we know about the specific question, the better we will be at taking care of it.

      We, as Christians, can look at nature and see God. Why? Because we know Him. Because we have knowledge, because we have studied “specifically” about Him. We know His book, His instructions, we take classes on Him to get to know more about Him, to have a closer relationship with Him. But before we could truly see Him in nature, we had to have Him in our hearts.

    • ScottL

      Michael –

      Thanks for clarifying.

    • Phil McCheddar

      #John1453 wrote: Logic is an essential property of God’s nature; He cannot do anything that is logically impossible.

      Hi John … I think I agree with that statement but I would want to add a caveat: What seems logical to man is not absolutely logical in every case, and what seems illogical to man is not impossible in every case.

      Imagine a 2-dimensional world where its occupants have only ever experienced life in 2 dimensions and can only think 2-dimensionally. Some things might seem illogical to them which we in our 3-dimensional world easily accept as possible.

      God is not limited to our 3-dimensions and so I am cautious to define what is absolutely logical based on Aristotelian theory.

      There are some doctrines that seem logically contradictory to me, eg. that God, Satan, and humans can act independently in a single event such as the pillaging of Job’s oxen & donkeys, or the selling of Joseph into slavery in Egypt, or the writing of Scripture. I don’t reject one side or the other but try to hold them together in tension, trusting that the whole picture is too big for me to understand yet. Another example: human logic tells me nothing happens unless something else causes it to happen, and yet God exists without having been caused by anything else. My human logic deceives me when I try to comprehend God’s eternal pre-existence.

    • Dave Z

      Sheri, howzabout this…if we accept the moral argument for God’s existance (There is a Law and a Lawgiver and we consistently break that Law) then it is certainly possible that we can reach the point of saying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” as did the tax collector, who went home justified. (Luke 18)

    • Sheri

      Hi Dave, thanks for your reply. I’m a bit confused by the sarcasm I have to say, and not really sure of the point you’re trying make specifically to me. Forgive me if I’ve taken it wrong, but you seem very curt in your reply.

      I’ve read Luke 18:9-14, as a matter of fact it’s one of my favorite passages.

      Could you explain further your point please? I’d really appreciate it.



    • Dave Z

      Whoa, no sarcasm intended in any way. I addressed you specifically only as a response to post 9 and specifically this:

      However, I don’t believe that natural revelation and philosophy will bring someone to know God. Or cause them to have a relationship with the Lord, without His divine intervention and Scripture.

      But again, I did not intend to sound hostile or sarcastic. Sorry if it seemed that way.

      We must remember that scripture has not always existed. Abraham, and Adam and countless others had a relationship with God without scripture, so scripture cannot be mandatory.

      Regarding Luke 18, what I mean is this: “Can a person understand their need for forgiveness simply by realizing that there is a Law and they have broken it?”

      The moral argument says that we can understand that much simply through philosophy. The entire 1st section of Lewis’ Mere Christianity is based on that premise.

      As I see it, there are three crucial elements of the tax collector’s prayer:
      1) Recognize the Lawgiver (God)
      2) Recognize breaking the law (I’m a sinner)
      3) Ask for mercy (humility and a recognition of no other hope)

      And he went home justified. I think one can reach that point strictly from understanding the moral law, which I would include as part of general or natural revelation, which is arrived at philosophically. I know some (including Karl Barth) would not agree.

      Gotta run, so will not be able to follow up until later.

    • #John1453

      Re post #11 by Phil McCheddar

      Yes, I should clarify. I wasn’t referring to particular sets of propositions. I was referring to the basic “rules” or “laws” of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction.

      It may be that in analysing and working out the relationships between propositions we may come across propositions that contradict each other. It therefore cannot be the case that both such propositions are true as defined (e.g., you discussion of human will and God’s will), but that we don’t properly and adequately understand that area of knowledge. Such things are called paradoxes or apparent contradictions. They are indeed real contradictions, but the description of them as paradoxes is intended to convey the notion that further understanding will change what is meant by each proposition so that no contradiction continues or ensues.


    • 'Mash

      I am just pondering…

      Has God revealed the specifics of himself, and we suppress the whole truth by our unrighteousness, and or, is more specific revelation of who God is necessary for salvation?

      Could we talk of Abraham being elect? That God did reveal himself specifically to him, or even Jacob? David never met Jesus but called him Lord, and thus like others before him who believed in the promise, this was deemed to them as righteousness.

      But other peoples and generations act upon an understanding of a god, but not The God. They are missing specific revelation; and though one can be condemned by general revelation, one can only be saved by specific (special) revelation?

      This I believe is why you could be the most devoted, god fearing person, perfect in your worship, praise and adoration; but if not directed at the right God… worthless, and condemning (or remain condemned).

      Just thinking out aloud.

    • #John1453

      Sheri has made some very good observations in her post #9.

      It’s true that God can use either of his revelations (general/natural & special/Bible) to bring someone to Himself, but coming to faith is not inevitable. I was reading this morning’s comment over at First Things, which was about this non-observant Jew David Plotz, who decided to read the Bible straight through and post his thoughts about what he read. The last paragraph of the comment makes an observation that is relevant to both natural revelation and Biblical:

      “So reading every single word of the Hebrew Bible didn’t make Plotz a practicing Jew, and I doubt if he had read the New Testament he would have become a Christian. But it did bring him around to tradition. And though tradition isn’t sacred Scripture, it does put one in conversation with God. Even Plotz gets this: “But mostly I’ve ended up in a yearlong argument with my Boss.” And arguments, as our ancient councils have shown, are a good way to avoid heresy.”

      See http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2009/06/how-to-create-a-heresy


    • Sheri

      Thanks so much for clarifying Dave. Sorry we got started out on the wrong foot.

      I agree with what you’re saying, to a point. We all have it in us to know right from wrong, we are raised that way.

      You’re right, Abraham and Adam didn’t have Scripture, they had what we don’t, or should I say, what we don’t have faith to have. First of all, God walked in the garden with Adam, they hung out so to say. And as with all of the Old Testament patriarchs, God literally spoke to them, one reason being, so we could have the Scripture today.

      I agree with what Mash says about natural revelation. It reminds me of the American Indian culture, they have a natural revelation of [a] god that they worship. That was before they were introduced to Scripture, correct? Until they had [real] knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, they did not believe in Him. That’s the point I’m making.

      #John, great post. Very, very interesting. Thank you.

    • #John1453

      Galileo, from his book The Assayer:

      “Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth.”

      On the other hand, Tertullian (African Christian church “father” who lived approximately from 160 to 220 A.D. and converted to Christianity about 193) famously wrote (in his “Christianity and Philosophy):

      “[T]he Lord …”chose the foolish things of the world” to confound even philosophy itself. For it [i.e., philosophy] is … the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy. … The same subject matter is discussed over and over again by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments are involved. [The heretics and philosophers constantly ask:] Whence comes evil? Why is it permitted? What is the origin of man? … Unhappy Aristotle, who invented … dialectics, the art of building up and pulling down [by using argumentation]; an art so evasive, … so far-fetched in its conjectures, so … productive of contentions–embarrassing even to itself, retracting everything, and really treating of nothing! Whence spring those … “unprofitable questions”, and “words which spread like a cancer”? From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, “See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost”. He had been at Athens and had in his interviews [in Athens] become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth [i.e., philosophy], whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” … Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon”10 who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart”. Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!11 We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus. … With our faith, we desire no further belief.”

      Of course Tertullian was using reasoning (philosophy) to make and argue his point, and Tertullian was not in all his writings so adverse to philosophy. He overarching point is that wat God reveals to us through Jesus and Scripture takes precedence over what Greek philosphers have to say about the world, humankind,…

    • Dave Z

      I think what we’re discussing is “exactly what is necessary for salvation?” It’s a good question and one that comes up regularly with unbelievers. “What about those who have never heard?” In a sense, I think that applies to OT saints. (I don’t really buy the fact that they were all looking forward to Christ. The incarnation was simply not that clear in the early days and early portions of scripture) By what standard were they saved? And can a just God use any other standard for anyone else?

      Regarding John’s comments: no, coming to faith is certainly not inevitable, by either general or special revelation, but I think it is possible by either.

      We had a guy speak at our church a couple of years ago. Can’t remember his name, but as an observant Jew, he held a degree in New Testament! He had read it countless times, had major portions memorized, yet did not believe. Then one night, IIRC, he was in a hotel room and somehow it all came together and he became a believer. It was quite a testimony.

    • Gerrie Malan

      I am afraid I believe spiritual philosophying is the cause of much of the absolute chaos in church doctrines. Spiritual philosophying reads far above and beyond what is written.

      Through spiritual philosophying there is no need for counselling, because “when you are in Christ, you’re a new creation. The old is past and the new has come”.

      Through spiritual philosophying “this generation” (i.a. Mat. 24:34) becomes all kinds of things to all kinds of preachers/teachers to fit their doctrine.

      Through spiritual philosophying one can “prove Scripture upon Scripture that man was created on the seventh day, not the sixth”.

      Through spiritual philosophying, the four lowered the lame friend through the roof “because they had had enough of having to do all sort of things for him”.

      Through spiritual philosophying the reason the priest and levite did not attend to the robbed man, but the Samaritan did, was that the robbed and hurt man was a Samaritan.

      Through spiritual philosophying we have a powerless organization called church.

      I have had enough of philosophy. I need the unadulterated and unpolluted truth of the word that was written, to understand it within the context it was written, without modern philosophies trying to tell me that Paul had me in mind when he wrote to the Thessalonians, etc., etc. Then I should be able to understand the principles that should apply to my life.

      I have great respect and appreciation for MCP and what he writes. But this time, please count me out.

    • #John1453

      Hmm, in Gerrie Malan we have a follower of Tertullian. Unfortunately for her, there is no such thing as the unadulterated and unpolluted truth of the Word. One cannot ignore what Paul had in mind when he wrote, i.e., his knowledge of his language, his culture, his cultural and linguistic assumptions, etc. Furthermore, this type of knowledge is not “philosophy” but archaeology, linguistics, sociology, history, etc. The fact that some of these things are difficult to learn does not excuse us to go stick our heads in the sand.

      From the First Things article I quoted from in my post #17:

      “Heresy is easy to scrounge up. All one needs is the Bible. I mean just the Bible. And that is exactly how Slate editor David Plotz cooked up a carefree pot of blasphemies in his recent book Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Word of the Bible.

      While bored during his cousin’s bat mitzvah, Plotz—“a proud Jew, but never a very observant one”—unsuspectingly picked up the Bible on the pew in front of him and started reading. Unfortunately (or fortunately), he just happened to open it up to the story of Dinah. He was so shocked by the grim sexual details, and the fact that he had never heard them before, that he decided then and there to read the entire book and blog his responses to it. . . .

      Witnessing a sarcastic, biblically illiterate person read the Bible “unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents,” is quite the experience, akin to watching a frat boy try to make spaghetti for the first time without a recipe. It is at times humorous, unsettling, and enlightening (sometimes it helps to see all the ways something can go wrong before the right way makes sense). But is there lasting value to seeing God’s word through such a sloppy inspection? What do his snappy, irreverent observations—“God is like Norman Mailer on a bad day” (in reference to his treatment of women)—accumulate to?

      Plotz hoped that Good Book would give readers a raw version of the Bible: “I didn’t want to spend a lot of time trying to contextualize [the Bible], forgive it, and make excuses for it,” he said in an interview with Christianity Today. But, ironically, every comment he makes is seeped in contextualization—of a most untraditional sort. He contextualizes with pop culture, referencing Married with Children, the Lifetime Channel, David Mamet, Entourage, Pulp Fiction, and Jack Nicholson. He contextualizes with politics, comparing David to Bill Clinton, Joseph to Chairman Mao; he picks up on pro-choice language in Exodus, notes that Leviticus has the first separation of Church and state, and draws in some Adam Smith. And Plotz is very transparent about contextualizing with his own personal experiences. In short, his take on the Bible is anything but the uncontaminated version that he was hoping to communicate.”

    • #John1453

      Further to Tertullian and Malan:

      Sticking one’s head into the sand on these issues does not deliver one from them, but delivers one into the hands of the serpents who misuse knowledge. It is like standing in the middle of the road watching a bus hurtle down at you; turning around so that you can’t see it doesn’t make it disappear or protect you from the consequences.


    • Dave Z

      John, I love the bus analogy!

    • #John1453

      Tertullian’s statement illustrates the anti-philosophical and anti-intellectual approaches that have been common in the history of the church, and which has particularly plagued the church’s evangelical, fundamentalist or otherwise “conservative” wings. has been frequently echoed in one form or another within the Christian community through the centuries. Anti-intellectual christians react like Tertullian, rejecting any claim of human reason to criticize or question what they believe and hold dear. From this point of view, anyone who engages in such inquiry is undermining their faith and, indeed, undermining “the faith”. They, like Tertullian, do not want to be troubled by “disputation” after “possessing” Jesus. Just maintain a
      “simple” faith. Don’t ask questions.

      Tertullian’s position raises an very important issue: Is faith by its very nature only simple commitment and opposed to rational inquiry into matters of faith? Does a commitment to trusting God rule out any questioning that might weaken the trust?

      But it is impossible to think rationally without using philosophy, and philosophy, especially natural philosophy, has a core aspect or meaning of “thinking correctly”. This is what philosopher and Biblical scholar Dallas Willard had to say on this topic:

      “Since truth is not always manifestly attainable, we do not have an obligation to have true beliefs. BUT WE ALWAYS HAVE A MORAL OBLIGATION TO DO WHAT IS POSSIBLE TO ENSURE THAT OUR BELIEFS ARE TRUE. That is, to be irrational is to be morally irresponsible, and to be morally admirable we must be rational. Because of the fundamental importance of true beliefs to human welfare.

      But who is the rational person? Persons are reasonable in the degree to which they conform their thinking, talk and action to the order of truth and understanding or are effectively committed to doing that so far as is possible. They will characteristically endeavour to reason soundly (validly, from true premisses), and be open-minded and inquiring about the issues which require a response from them. They will seek the best concepts, classifications and theories, testing those concepts, classifications and theories by relating them to each other and to the world given by their experience and the experience of others. They will respect facts more than theories, and take pains to determine the facts relevant to their beliefs. (This is only an attempt to characterize the rational person, not to given necessary and sufficient conditions of being a rational person.)

      By contrast, the unreasonable person characteristically: does not thoroughly inquire into the basis for his beliefs, contradicts himself, rejects known means to his chosen goals or ends, demands the impossible, refuses to test or consider criticisms of his beliefs, and fails to seek better means of ascertaining the truth.”


    • Shrommer

      bethyada wrote about the question of what happens to good people who have never heard the Gospel. I would ask the same of bad people, for that matter, since there are plenty of bad people who have heard the Gospel, taken it on board mixing it with faith, and are on their way to heaven shouting victory! What happens to good and bad people who have never heard the Gospel?

      Well, of course a lot of things could happen. They could hear the Gospel. They could get a tooth pulled. They could get married, or robbed, or win the lottery.

      Then I read Dave Z’s awesome words that faith is not inevitable whether from general or special revelation, but possible from either. I’m currently reading “A Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Clark Pinnock and doing a lot of reflection on this.

      I thought Michael did a great job explaining why we can’t say “only the Bible”, based on even such basic things as learning to read or learning a language, and there is always contextualization taking place, otherwise we would not be human. The Bible authors had their contextualization and we have ours. Another principle from Clark Pinnock that I am quite fond of is that just as the Holy Spirit had the job of inspiring the writers to write the Bible, the Holy Spirit has the job of illuminating the readers who read the Bible. It is God working in and through man, even becoming man. Christ is in us. The Holy Spirit is in us, that deposit or just a taste of heaven, before we get the full payment or the full banquet.

      I’d like to try out this statement, though I’m not really sure of it myself: “Through general revelation we know about God; through special revelation we know God.”

      I can see a place for a middle road where we are willing to study philosophy without making it our idol. Philosophy, like fire, makes a good tool but a bad master. (How many things have I read plugged into that sentence?) When we control it, it warms our house. When it takes over, it burns down the house.

      I don’t like the title of “looking to” philosophy, which seems to put philosophy in the place of “I lift up mine eyes to the hills, oh where does my help come from?” Well, not from philosophy, but from Jehovah. I don’t want to “look to” philosophy, but look at it, or consider it? Most certainly.

    • Bryant

      I like where you are going with this, but I need to put a thorn in your side with natural revelation. I hope this is okay to paste a link to NASA’s website, so all can see the natural revelation of Gods’ creation.




      The what of God is more than we can comprehend in an astronomical sense. We have to accept that the God who we see in natural revelation is also the same in macro cosmic scale of the universe, as these pictures reveal we are very special indeed and yet puzzled by all of the sights and wonders of understanding God in this sea of infinitiy, truly amazing is it not.

    • John B


      Keep on truck’in !!!!

    • rayner markley

      # John: ‘They [rational persons] will respect facts more than theories, and take pains to determine the facts relevant to their beliefs. ‘

      That’s right, and I would say that our beliefs are composed of much more than rational facts. Indeed, beliefs are the things that go beyond facts. While facts and reasoning are limited to us, we need to have beliefs concerning matters that are not reachable by human reasoning (at least not yet).

      Nick #2: ‘All truth is God’s truth.’

      This is a profound claim. All truth belongs to God, so aspects of truth found via philosophy, or natural philosophy (science) or even via other religions also belong to God. Will Michael be considering any non-Christian philosophy, for example? I think also of Jesus’s remark that all men will know you are my disciples if you follow my teachings and love one another. Here Jesus is laying a claim that anyone who shows brotherly love or observes the Sermon on the Mount is His disciple.

    • Nick

      I have no problem with reading non-Christian philosophy and thought. I’m reading the Upanishads at night and have in my bathroom while shaving and brushing my teeth the dialogues of Plato that I’m going through again. (Yeah. I know. I’m weird.) After all, when I engage the Hindu, I want to know his faith. I think it’d be silly to say that there is no truth at all in other religions. However, they are fundamentally in error.

      Now can you be a disciple of Jesus unknowingly? No. I don’t think so. I think you’re excluding some important truths. First, the Sermon on the Mount is not about the way of salvation. If anything, it’s showing how much we need salvation. I can go my whole life without committing adultery. How about not looking at a lady with lust? Well….ummm….can I get a 2nd chance? Maybe a second chance times 1,000,000 or so?

      Also, it was love for one another, not just anyone else. The followers of Christ would have a unique love amongst themselves and that love would come from being in connection with their Lord. We love because he first loved us.

    • rayner markley

      I realize that Jesus’s teachings include more than the Sermon on the Mount, but to the degree that a person follows those Sermon points that person is following a teaching of Jesus. Of course, other traditions may teach similar things, but your overall claim is that ‘All truth is God’s truth.’ So, if the Sermon points are true, then they come to people from God even if it’s via another kind of guru.

      Jesus said that such people were following His teaching (disciples). I don’t believe He was referring to salvation.

    • Dave Z

      So, if the Sermon points are true, then they come to people from God even if it’s via another kind of guru.

      That’s a good point, don’t think I’ve heard it put quite that way before.

      Jesus said that such people were following His teaching (disciples). I don’t believe He was referring to salvation

      I just did a quick check – Jesus frequently spoke about following him; not so much about being saved.

    • Bryant

      I realized I did not explain myself on post # 27, Sleepy at night.
      The 1st pic depicts a deep field view of many (waht is termed local group) galaxies. The 2nd pic is our nearest neigbor the andromeda galaxy a mere 2 million light years away. That’s right the light we see tonight left 2 million years ago. The point is the natural revelation of God is beyond our comprehenision, at least in my mind

    • rayner markley

      I’m interested in seeing if Michael treats non-Western philosophy and non-Christian theology as general revelation or special revelation. If he treats them at all. Would it seem bizarre for God to reveal something to others that He hasn’t revealed to us? Maybe not, if other philosophies deal with different problems—or even deal with similar problems but from different natural assumptions.

      Michael has made a good case for seriously considering natural philosophy in a study of the essence of God. However, we need to see that natural philosophy can contribute to that study apart from what we learn from the special revelation. In other words, can we really separate the two? If we had not read scripture, what would we really know?

    • Bryant

      Can we really separate the two? If we had not read scripture, what would we really know?

      I think we can, I believe inherently within our souls we yearn for truth, a spiritualness that is unique to humanity. It is the ones that are awaken to this truth that pursues God’s way(s). Even suppose without the text of scripture on a clear moonless night looking skyward, we can only imagine in our mind, spirit and body, that we are some how linked to this great cosmic scenery, that we are not left alone nor are we are alone. Perhaps that is part of the sojourners experience here on terra firma, our longing for our home, Heaven, right.

    • #John1453

      re 34

      We don’t gain additional truth by using different natural assumptions. We gain truth by testing assumptions and using the correct ones. Looking at other philosophies is a useful way of testing our reasoning and assumptions, but if God is truth, then there is one truth and not multiple truths. Thus if other philosophies start with incorrect assumptions then they are of little or no value.


    • Dave Z

      I’m going to throw in another concept. I suspect I will not get much agreement. I don’t think I’m hijacking the thread, but it is a tangent.

      Even without scripture, I can look back and see the effects of a force or being of some sort at work in my life on a continuing basis. (I consider much of my spiritual life to be, not something that I have done, but something that has happened to me – I am where and who I am today because I have been brought here, even carried, not because I have freely walked. At best I have merely passed through the only doors that were opened to me)From what this force/being has done, I can draw certain conclusions. This force/being has attributes: Power, Knowledge, Purpose and Love. Since I don’t ascribe knowledge or love to an impersonal force, I end up with a being, an entity.

      Now, I’m informed by scripture as to the identity and nature of this being, but I’ve often wondered how I’d react if I suddenly found out that the Bible was not true, or at least not the trustworthy source we evangelicals believe it to be. Would I still have faith? In who or what?

      And I end up with this; even without the revelation of scripture, I see a being at work in my life in whom I place my faith, my complete confidence, and to whom I willingly and humbly submit (in an imperfect manner).

      I see the above as a form of natural revelation. Problem is, I don’t know if I can really separate my natural understanding from the revelation of scripture. The Bible is my context and my beliefs are steeped in it. But even so, I think that on the basis of my experience alone, I know without a doubt that there is a being that has been guiding my life ever since I surrendered to it.

      So, is experience a form of philosophical evidence? I think so, and at the end of the day, for me, it may be the most unshakable.

      Make sense?

    • mbaker

      Dave Z,

      I can fully understand what you’re saying, and I can agree with so much of what you’ve said. God can have His hand on our lives even when we don’t know it. Looking back, I can see how many times He saved me from myself.

      However, the opposite can also be true, because if we put our faith in experience before sound doctrine, we can sometimes get off onto to some very strange and even demonic paths, without even realizing it, as some in the extreme prophetic/apostolic fringe are doing.

      I was involved with some of that for a while, but I think the Holy Spirit raised the red flags with me, because when I started checking my experiences objectively against what the Bible says, I see see how misled I was into thinking that all Christian natural revelation is from God.

      So, while our experience can be a form of philosophical evidence, i.e. personal testimony, etc;) I don’t think it is unshakable, because our reactions to so many life experiences are to a large degree based upon how we perceive things that happen to us and to others on an emotional level. And we all know how changeable, and how powerful, an influence emotions can be for both good and evil.

    • Dave Z

      mbaker, thanks. You clarified my thinking on this. I stand by my point of my experiential faith being unshakable, specifically because it s not in any way emotionally based.

      I know exactly what you mean, having spent some time in a church atmosphere that encouraged an experientially based faith. And by that I mean emotionally based. And frankly, I’ve rejected many of my experiences in that setting as too emotionally based.

      I think the experiences I’m referring to are different; not some kind of spectacular miraculous event, but a steady guiding (and even pushing), to places I would never have dreamed. No less miraculous, but by no means spectacular. This has played out over years. To really express it, I’d have to tell some stories and I don’t want to type that much. (Though I probably should write it all down at some point) Anyway, who I am and what I have done and where I have been is so improbable that I can find no other explanation than a divine agenda. BTW, there is nothing that others would find particularly unusual, OTOH, it’s all very ordinary, but improbable for me and my background.

      This is an extreme example, but it’s almost like the Intelligent Design arguments – the situation is so improbable that the most reasonable explanation is a God-type figure. On a much smaller scale, of course, but I’m fully convinced.

    • Gerrie Malan

      #John 1453.
      You’d have noticed that I have not popped in for a while – have been moving from a house to a smaller place, relinquishing the bigger place to my children and grandchildren. Just unpacked the ol’ laptop.

      Your response sort of proves my point. You see, I’m a he, not a she! You read beyond what is written – something Paul warned not to do (1 Cor. 4:6)

      Also, stating that there is no such thing as the unadultered and unpolluted truth of the word, further proves my point as it justifies compromise as acceptable. I think Peter would have been given to one of his sporadic fits of temper just reading that compromise is deemed OK (1 Pet. 1:22-25)? And Paul? He instructs Timothy to hold on to the pattern of sound teaching, not sound philosophy, that he had heard from Paul (2 Tim 1:13). And he teaches Timothy that all Scripture (not philosophy) is profitable for teaching (NB), for rebuking (ouch!), for correcting (oh my!), and for training in righteousness (wow!), so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (Yesssss!) . Nothing about Plato and other Greek philosophers.

      On the more serious note – modern philosophying of the Scriptures have built on the abomination of the phenomenon prooftexting. If you accept that, then yes, we are worlds apart in our understanding of Scripture. I am not a Darby disciple.

      Please help me now. How can there be any, but any, justification for 30 000+ denominations, all saying they are rooted and grounded in the same Bible? And on the playing field of philosophy – are you satisfied then that man was actually created on the seventh day, seeing that spiritual philosophers can prove it Scripture after Scripture? O, yes, and don’t forget that Samuel slept in the Holy of Holies, under the Ark – that’s how he heard the Lord’s voice and not Eli – this is the philosophy of a sermon on TV. If you read the Not Inspired Version (NIV) that’s a possibility given the word application in that translation.

      I have been misled by spiritual philosophy for far too long. That’s why I have opted out. I have read too much in the Bible that I don’t find in church, and I’m beginning (at age 63) to understand why – too much philosophy and too little Word of God. No wonder a Jewish Christian once said (on a Sid Roth TV broadcast) she went to all kinds of churches looking for God, and not finding Him there!

      And please, I’m not trying to say I have all my Scriptural ducks in a row. I’m only beginningf to learn now at an age where I should have been manifesting the kingdom power even in the little things! I no longer read the Plotzes and the whoevers to see what they say what the Bible says – I study the Bible (literally word for word in the original language) to see what it says it says. Any other, I test against that – not the other way round as I was taught by many well-menaing preachers and teachers.

    • Gerrie Malan

      Recently read an amusing little statement credited to a reverend Sam Pascoe: Christianity started as a fellowship in Palestine. It moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Italy and became an institution. On to Europe, where it became a culture. And then it came to America where it became an enterprise.

      To which an 18 year old Bible student asked: “But are we not supposed to be a body?” The teacher said: “Yes”, to which the young girl remarked that a body turned enterprise was a prostitute.

      I’m not trying to be funny. I’m simply calling those who believe to return to what is described in Acts 2:42-47. 30 000 denominations?
      The product of philosophy perhaps?

    • […] and abiding respect for theologians like C. Michael Patton who are open about the fact that their philosophies of religion are prior to the text of the Scriptures (I do appreciate honesty in a theologian), and I recognize that nobody comes to the Bible as a […]

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