Resources / Why Philosophy

Why Philosophy


by David Chong

Apologetics Seminar conducted by L. T. Jeyachandran of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry

Introduction

"Faith is to believe what you know ain't true," Oscar Wilde once said. Unfortunately, this misconception is commonly found among Christians too. Thinking is dangerous to faith. 

Do we really have to leave our brains outside before entering a church? 

Thankfully, Jesus commanded His disciples to love God with all our minds as well (Matthew 22:37). The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false. 

Therefore, a proper training for our minds to think rightly is needed to remove obstacles with which Satan has blinded the minds of people. (2 Corinthians 4:4) 

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy simply means "love of wisdom"

If Christ is the Wisdom of God, then Christians, of all people, should be `philosophers' (1 Corinthians 1:24). Since the Logos was God, (John 1:1) our thinking should be logical! 

The Bible does warn us against hollow and deceptive philosophy (Colossians 2:8), referring probably to early forms of Gnosticism. To beware of bad philosophy, we have to be aware of it first. 

"To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if got no other reason because bad philosophy needs to be answered." (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory) 

Surely, faith does involve personal commitment and risk. But biblical faith is not "blind leap in the dark" or fideism. It's based on reasonable warrant and sufficient evidence. To know God we need to know something about God. 

How then shall we think?

There are two main methods of philosophy – the Critical and the Constructive. 

With critical philosophy, we dismantle wrong arguments opposing the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). With constructive philosophy, we build an alternative that is immune to falsification. 

We can go on the offensive by stating the opposing view fairly, translate its subtle euphemisms into plain language and carry the view to its logical conclusion. 

We can also learn to ask the right questions. Jesus asked 153 questions in the Gospels. 

For example, Nietzsche pronounced that "God is dead!" Without God, there is no basis for absolute morality. Good and evil are relative like our preference for chocolate or vanilla. If everyone holds such a belief, could the world escape utter chaos? 

With constructive philosophy, we need a livable and comprehensive worldview that explains the origin, identity, meaning and destiny of human experience/universe.

  • Where do we come from?
  • Who are we?
  • Why are we here?
  • Where are we going?

For example, humans are not merely carbon-based, biological machines as Carl Sagan claimed. The biblical view that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1, 3) shows that we are a combination of material body and non-material spirit. This is a more adequate account for our personhood, morality, will and rationality. 

In Romans 1:18-23, Paul develops his case that human beings know God through creation or general revelation. Therefore everyone is rendered without excuse for suppressing the truth. 

To be sure, only the conviction of the Holy Spirit could produce saving faith. Not the evangelist or the van driver. But driving non-believers to church and providing reason for faith is still very important.

How do we communicate?

There are three levels at which philosophy can be communicated: 

Level 1 – Theoretical – Truth is analyzed - Objective
Level 2 – Existential – Truth is clarified - Illustrative
Level 3 – Pragmatic – Truth is applied – Subjective
 

Heated discussions about religion and politics often start and end at Level 3. A good communicator should deftly steer away from emotive issues to sensible conversation at Level 1. However life is not lived out here. So we need to make practical application (Level 3) by means of an illustration (Level 2). 

For example, a friend may ask, "My father is a good man. He died as an unbeliever. Where is he now?" The question is loaded with emotion. A good transitional question would be: "What do you mean by `good'?" and carry on the discussion at "goodness" in general. (Level 1) 

Indeed we can learn much from Jesus' lively and vivid parables as illustrating how truth is to be applied to life. As God's ambassadors, it's our honor to give winsome and honest answers when seekers ask.