The Benefit of Philosophy

Dr Ben Holloway, Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

In Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Christian philosophers, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig provide six benefits of philosophy for the life and ministry of the church (Moreland and Craig, 16-19).

First, philosophy helps apologetics. When an objection is made against Christianity, it is almost always a philosophical objection or involves a philosophical assumption. Consider the following objections:

  • There is no evidence for the existence of God.
  • The presence of evil in the world entails that God does not exist.
  • There is no way to know that the Bible is true.
  • Christianity cannot be the only way to God.
  • Christianity might be true for you, but it isn’t true for me.
  • No human being can come back from the dead.

Replies to those objections require the use of some of the methods and deliverances of philosophy. Hence, philosophy aids the task of giving a reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15).

Second, philosophy aids polemics. The church is called upon to criticise and refute false views (2 Tim 2:25). One important way to refute erroneous views is by philosophical argument. For example, refuting arguments in political debate requires that we have some grasp of ethics and views of human nature.

Third, philosophy aids the expression of the image of God in the lives of Christians. God has given us rationality to use well for his purposes. We should train ourselves to use our what he has given to its greatest measure. Thinking rationally, ethically, and deeply about the most fundamental questions of truth, reality, and values is to use one’s mental faculties at the highest level, getting the most out of what God has given us.

Fourth, Christian philosophy serves the theological task of the church. Whereas Plato thought philosophers should be kings, Christian philosophers think of ourselves as servants. Our primary master is theology, the ‘queen of the sciences’. Philosophy serves theology by (a) clarifying concepts and statements, (b) “extending biblical teaching to issues on which the Bible is not clear/explicit,” and (c) enhancing the study of the Bible through aiding interpretation.

Having a minimal understanding of philosophy will also aid us in our theological studies. We better understand Augustine if we understand Plato; we better understand Aquinas if we understand Aristotle; we better understand modern theology if we understand Hegel; we better understand progressive postmodern theology if we grasp the central tenets of postmodern philosophy and so on.

Fifth, philosophy helps to enhance the confidence of the Christian in the world. As Moreland and Craig point out,

“Historically, philosophy has been the main discipline that has aided the church in its intellectual relationship with unbelievers. Because of the very nature of philosophy itself—its areas of study and their importance for answering ultimate questions, the questions it asks and answers, its closeness to theology—the potential of this discipline for enhancing the self-respect of the believing community is enormous.” (Moreland and Craig, 18).

This is as true now as it was in the time of Justin Martyr, Origen, and Tertullian. Philosophical skills are very demanding! So, developing philosophical skills will give us more power to contribute to our own Christian community and more confidence in what we believe.

Finally, Moreland and Craig argue that philosophy is essential for integration. Integration is the act of blending and combining all our beliefs from all the disciplines into a coherent whole. Human beings do not do well if they are fragmented. Philosophical work helps integrate our beliefs into a coherent whole.

I hope over the past three posts, I have explained what philosophy is, what Christian philosophers are up to, and some of the benefits of possessing some philosophical background and skills. In the following posts, I will try to provide you with some of the more important of those skills and concepts, all the while showing how they help us serve the Lord and his people.

Dr Ben Holloway, Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary