Theology Versus Philosophy

As someone who loves, and uses, both theology and philosophy on a routine basis, I am somewhat confused by the perceived great divide between the two disciplines. Theologians typically tout the sanctified status of their discipline while demonizing philosophy as though it is evil in and of itself. Meanwhile philosophers boast about their clarity and demean theology as though its contributions to Christianity are not that important after all. Yet each party struggles to define its discipline in distinction from the other. And both have serious problems with relating to the other party. These things should not be!

Those who want to think of themselves as theologians then must recognize that insofar as they think at all they are doing philosophy. They may or may not be doing it well. More often than not it appears as though they are not doing it well. But philosophy is a tool that should be done well insofar as it is done by Christians, and should be done in accord with Scripture, and should be done with the goal of further clarifying, applying, and defending the claims of Scripture. Theologians who are opposed to the use of philosophy in the theological enterprise are every bit as inconsistent as the Campbellites who lay claim to “No Creed But Christ.” There is no getting away from philosophy. Our creeds, councils, and every other piece of theology we affirm in the strongest sense are replete with philosophical statements. If the state of Christian Philosophy is so poor, and Analytic Theology so dangerous, then theologians have no excuse for not jumping into the ring and working on fixing the problems. Instead, asceticism is affirmed with respect to the aforementioned disciplines in contradiction to a proper Christian understanding of our God given intellect. It seems the difficulty here has much more to do with self-righteousness and general laziness amongst many self-described theologians than it does with the alleged inherent evils of philosophy. But citing the latter is a great excuse for the former.

Those who wish to ascend to the great heights of philosophical thought should view themselves as relying upon the work of those theologians in history who committed themselves wholeheartedly to studying the Word of God. Nothing prevents philosophers from making their dependence upon Scripture and historical sources explicit. However, philosophers often opt for awful exegesis and general ignorance of church history if they feel inclined to tip their hats toward theology at all. Philosophy already possesses the inveterate tendency to isolate an individual in his or her thoughts. Hence divorcing the practice of philosophy from Scripture, history, the church, and individuals considered as whole persons is a sure route to rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Philosophers tire of hearing such damning language and in their pride begin to scoff at it. But the point is a valid one, and one that philosophers, if they are to remain faithful to their Savior, must always keep in mind. For what will it profit a man if he gains knowledge of possible worlds and yet loses his soul? The material with which a Christian works in his philosophy is always first and foremost that material which he self-consciously recognizes as revealed by God. Philosophy without content is no philosophy at all. Yet the emphasis philosophers place upon the strengths of their discipline recurrently precludes its usefulness to laypeople. Instead of receiving the truths of God as understood from Scripture throughout history encapsulated in exceedingly clear and understandable language, the people of God receive virtually contentless tidbits written in uncommon language that they cannot comprehend. One begins to wonder why, given their alleged acumen, philosophers fail again and again to realize that there comes a point where no one else can understand their analytic arrangements anymore.

There is much room for improvement in explaining the relationship between theology and philosophy. There is even greater room for improving upon relationships between theologians and philosophers. If I were asked whether I am a theologian or a philosopher, I might respond that I am a mutt. And even then I am only a puppy. But boy do I ever tire of hearing this incessant bickering between “theologians” and “philosophers”! They need each other. I am grateful for those sound theologians who were likewise impeccable philosophers. Augustine of Hippo, Cornelius Van Til, and Greg Bahnsen come to mind. They should serve as examples to us of how we can use philosophy in accordance with theology rather than throwing one or the other under the bus because we happen to be less gifted in one than we are the other.


5 Comments

BC Askins
C.L. Bolt

I hope to write a separate post addressing several different responses to the Sudduth stuff. That one will be included.

So, “no,” not specifically.

Looking forward to the new blog. 🙂

Two New Apologetics Books

[…] and here – https://choosinghats.org/2012/01/theology-versus-philosophy). The disciplines of theology, especially “systematic” theology, and philosophy, are […]

Rena OConnor

I realize this is an older article, but I have been having a discussion with an Atheist about Christianity and whether it is a religion or philosophy. I believe it is a philosophy and that religions use the Christian philosophy as their foundation of their church. Religions bring in many other things such as rituals and practices that are not part of the teaching in the Bible, such as was done by the Pharisees during Jesus time when it came to the observance of the Sabbath where they made many other rules about the Sabbath, such as not walking through a field because if their buckle on their sandal broke they could accidentally clip a grain of wheat and it would be seen as working thus breaking the commandment and committing a sin.

At any rate, I was wondering what your thoughts are on this matter.

RazorsKiss

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:26-27

I think your response, as well as that of your opponent, is actually guilty of the same sort of false dichotomy that this article addresses. Religion isn’t bad. False religion is bad. cf: Col 2:23


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