For many of us, our contact with philosophy probably comes from Colossians 2:8 which says "See that no one take you captive through philosophy and empty deception." So why would any Christian want to have anything to do with philosophy?
Many Christians today feel that they and the church have been pushed to the edge of the cultural discussion: they feel marginalized. How did Christians in the past earn the right to be taken seriously in their culture? What did they do in the "good old days"?
Dr. Moreland spoke of John Wesley's requirements for a minister of the gospel. What was first on his list? A capacity for sound reasoning. And what should he study? "Logic, metaphysic, natural theology, and geometry!" Most seminary students today don't even take one course in philosophy, and yet we expect them to understand the times and know how to answer the philosophical skeptics who love to ridicule Christianity.
What did the great Church Father Augustine say in the fifth century? "We must show our scriptures not to be in conflict with whatever our critics can demonstrate about the nature of things from reliable sources." Philosophy was the main tool Augustine used in this task.
Philip Johnson, a distinguished law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, speaks and writes pointedly about the weaknesses of what he calls philosophical naturalism. This is the philosophy that undergirds not only evolution, but also much of the way our culture looks at all of life. It proclaims that science gives the only facts we can know are true, and if science cannot study something, then it isn't important. This is a deeply held philosophical position, and Dr. Johnson's arguments have been philosophical ones, but he has made them understandable to most of us. He has been an excellent example of using philosophy to show the weaknesses of a world view that attacks Christianity.
What can the church be doing to carry forward the task of "letting philosophy provide structure and sharpness to our discourse in the public square"? We need to integrate philosophy into the everyday work of the church. We can encourage our seminaries to hire at least one philosophy professor. We can make classes and institutes a part of the church's teaching ministry and attend them. We can set aside funds for students who want to study philosophy. We can bring Christian philosophers into the network of the church to both teach us and be a part of the body of Christ.
"As the history of the church has shown us, the broader development of the life of the mind is important for advancing the kingdom of God, and learning philosophy is crucial for developing a broader life of the mind."
So, perhaps each of us needs to think a little more and encourage those who lead us to teach us how to think carefully, logically, and clearly so that we can have accurate, well-thought-out answers when people challenge our Christian faith. As Peter says, God expects us to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). Are you prepared?
What if, as some recent historians have argued, we can have no objective knowledge about history, that we can never really know what happened in the past? Most historians now recognize that personal preferences, group affiliations, different systems of historical interpretation, and different world views create a barrier between the historian and what really has occurred. But is the barrier total and unscalable?
Dr. Gary Habermas, professor of philosophy and theology at Liberty University, recently addressed the topic of apologetics and history at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual conference in Philadelphia. His address noted some of the strengths and weaknesses of evangelical scholars in their use of and contributions to the study of history. However, what might be the most important issue dealt with was this growing assertion in Western academia that knowledge of the past cannot be known objectively. If this position is accepted as valid, then we can never know that Jesus Christ even walked the earth other than in a personal subjective way through the eyes of faith. One way some historians state this view is that history is only found in the historian's mind; that is, it cannot be found in the facts or evidence of past events. Philosopher Karl Popper writes, "There can be no history of the past as it actually did happen; there can only be historical interpretations; and none of them final; and every generation has a right to frame its own."
Dr. Habermas points out some weaknesses of this position. First, just because one holds personal prejudices and preferences it does not follow that objective standards cannot be established. Do we nullify a doctor's diagnosis of an illness because of his feelings towards his patient? Second, the claim that all historical knowledge is relative is self contradictory. By merely making this claim about history one is assuming that at least one claim about history is somehow true. Could there not be others? Third, many historians write as if historical relativism is true, but then ask us to take their works of historical interpretation seriously. Charles Beard's writings on the founding of our constitutional system ask us to accept many of his conclusions about what really happened as true, yet he has been an advocate of historical relativism. Fourth, prejudice can be recognized and handled. Thomas Nagel writes, "The very fact that biased thinking can be detected and its sources investigated shows that objective explanations in history is not necessarily hopeless." Finally, the study of history employs normal inductive measures that render knowable conclusions. Evidence can be offered, debated, and interpreted for historical events just as it is in the search for scientific knowledge.
Although much work needs to be done in the area of linking apologetics and the work of historians, there is good reason to believe that the effort is worth making.
Dr. Charles Thaxton, currently teaching at Charles University in Prague, told his audience at the recent meeting of the Evangelical Theology Society that more and more scientists are beginning to step back from their own private hole in the Swiss cheese of naturalistic materialism and are stepping back to see that the entire thing is riddled with holes.
The first hole to appear was that the universe was not infinite. The Big Bang theory has left in ruins the idea of a self- perpetuating universe. Something or Someone has caused our existence. Then even within the context of the Big Bang, mathematicians determined that there is still not enough time for the universe to produce life. Then with the invention of the electron microscope we began to see that the cell was not just a blob of protoplasm, but a highly complex machine operating at a speed and level of complexity that far outstrips our most complex computers. On top of that the time period to produce the first life suddenly was reduced from a billion years in the early earth to less than 100 million years. The ability to form even the simplest building blocks of life became nearly impossible to achieve in the early earth. If you are a reader of TIME magazine, you saw in a recent issue that the earliest complex life appeared in what has been known as the Cambrian explosion. This period was first thought to encompass 75 then 30 and now less than 10 million years. Scientists are becoming very uncomfortable because they simply cannot see how natural processes can accomplish all this. Not only is the Swiss cheese full of holes, but the holes keep getting bigger.
The biggest hole Dr. Thaxton described involved biology and the DNA molecule. We have stressed this point many times at Probe. If you recall, it goes something like this: DNA contains the information in each living cell for its formation and all of its processes. Primarily this is accomplished by the fact that the sequence of nucleotides in segments of DNA called genes, code for the sequence of amino acids in proteins. The function of the protein is dependent on the sequence of amino acids and hence on the sequence in DNA. The genetic code is therefore an informational code. Information theory and communication theory are united in proclaiming that informational codes only arise from an intelligent source. Naturalistic materialism cannot accomplish that.
In a conversation with me after his lecture, Dr. Thaxton indicated that he first of all wanted to communicate that science is not the enemy. If something is true, science will support it. And second, that the evidence concerning DNA is available to almost anyone. It is solid persuasive evidence that will cause any open inquisitive mind to stop and consider the implications. With many skeptics today, that small window is enough for the truth of the gospel to get through.
1. Is the willingness to suffer for truth intrinsic to the Christian understanding of the truth? Dr. Oden answers by stating that "No Christian teacher is worth listening to who is not willing to suffer if need be for the truth that is being taught." Thus if we are going to stand for the truth in the face of opposition, we must realize that it may include persecution, even physical persecution. This sobering truth is found throughout the New Testament. Its application continues today.
2. How is the concept of the "non-Christian" world best understood evangelically? "It can only point to a world which lives in despair," not realizing that the redeeming love of the Incarnate living God has been revealed. But as we live in the midst of such despair, we should be cautious to not take the world's fallenness more seriously than the world's redemption through Jesus Christ.
3. What is happening in the confessing evangelical movements within the North American mainline? The answer to this question can give us hope. The mainline denominations, which have progressively abandoned historic orthodoxy over the past thirty years, have begun to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. The faithful remnant within these denominations are gaining momentum which can effect needed changes. Thus we should observe these movements and learn what God is doing as opposed to spending all our energies voicing "moral outrage and repeating negative grievances."
4. Is the history of exegesis recoverable after a century of reductionist historicism? Dr. Oden states that "the Holy Spirit has a history. When this history is systematically forgotten, it is incumbent upon evangelical guardianship to recover it by new rigorous historical effort." The wisdom of the past has been dormant much too long. It must be recovered. We need not continue to suffer from amnesia.
5. At what point will we learn to kick the post out of ultramodernity? Perhaps you have heard the term postmodernism. Dr. Oden makes a distinction between this word and ultramodernity by asserting that postmodern describes the orthodox person who has gone through the nightmare of modernity only to awaken in the "central tradition of classical Christianity." Ultramodernity best describes the ravings of the "academic avant garde." "The period after modernity is a required course for evangelicals who attest the risen Lord amid a dying culture."
6. Where is the Holy Spirit leading evangelical apologetics? After suffering through the demise of Western thought, the Christian community is now being led back to a study of the word of God made known in history.
7. Will the church endure? Dr. Oden believes that even though the church has always struggled with apostasy and always will, "the church as body of Christ will be preserved till the end of time."
These seven questions and Dr. Oden's answers certainly provide food for thought. The apologetic task is great and sometimes threatening. But God is still at work among His people.
Historically, more than ever before, modern scholars are attempting to redefine Jesus. The well-publicized Jesus Seminar not only denies the physical resurrection of Jesus but is now spending its time making claims about which of those red-letter sayings in the gospel accounts in your Bible were actually uttered by Jesus. It seems that they would rather have Jesus provide a model of a twentieth-century social activist who sought to empower the masses. They regard the real historical Jesus as a fable from more unenlightened times. It is heartening to know, however, that Christian scholars are rising to the occasion and responding with devastating clarity to these challenges.
Science and faith have historically fought on a rather bloody battleground. While the lines are as sharply drawn as ever, the powerful edifice of scientific materialism is rapidly crumbling. Philosophers and scientists alike are finding more and more holes that simply cannot be closed. The concept of intelligent design is powerful and pervasive as an interpretation of the natural world. For the first time in over 100 years theologians are seeing science as more of an ally than an enemy.
Theologically, the liberalism of mainline denominations has led to the inevitable abandonment of many of the historic truths. This in turn has loosened the moral underpinnings of the culture. Crime, divorce, rebellion, suicide, sexual freedom, and a host of other societal ills have affected or touched us all. The result is a nation crying for relief, searching for an answer. People are trying gurus, mediums, self-help groups, pagan rituals, and the ever-present dollar for satisfaction. They have questions and few are answering. While the gospel is clearly the answer, we have become a church unable to think, unable to answer the most basic questions.
Philosophically then, we must educate ourselves and make sure our children are properly educated. We must raise up a generation of thinkers that can answer the questions of the atheist, the New Age pantheist, the Marxist, and the Islamic fundamentalist. Logic, defense, and argument all have a place in the Christian's arsenal to always be ready to make a defense. Our homes, schools, and churches must not only be places where people of faith meet but also places where people know how to think. We must both out-think and out-love the surrounding culture to make an impact.
Probe Ministries exists for that very purpose. Probe is a group of Christian scholars which promotes a Christian world view by analyzing and challenging contemporary culture and presenting balanced, reasoned, biblically-based information. Check out our World Wide Web page at http://www.probe.org. Our library can also be found on CompuServe. Just type GO CIN then go to Ministry Center I. Schedule a Mind Games Conference for your church or city so that we can train your young people and adults to understand, defend, and live out a Christian world view. Let us help you to reach the twenty-first century for Christ.
© 1996 Probe Ministries International
Don Closson received the B.S. in education from Southern Illinois University, the M.S. in educational administration from Illinois State University, and the M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He served as a public school teacher and administrator before joining Probe Ministries as a research associate in the field of education. He is the general editor of Kids, Classrooms, and Contemporary Education. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Rich Milne is a former research associate with Probe Ministries. He has a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary. Rich works in the area of the philosophy and history of science, focusing in particular on the origin of the universe and the origin of life, and the history and philosophy of art. He and his wife, Becky, are currently on staff with East-West Ministries in Dallas, Texas. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jerry Solomon, former Director of Field Ministries and Mind Games Coordinator for Probe Ministries, served as Associate Pastor at Dallas Bible Church after leaving Probe. He received the B.A. (summa cum laude) in Bible and the M.A. (cum laude) in history and theology from Criswell College. He also attended the University of North Texas, Canal Zone College, and Lebanon Valley College. Just before Christmas 2000, Jerry went home to be with the Lord he loved and served.