Because of its reputation as an esoteric field thanks to areas within the broader discipline concerned with matters barely connected with everyday life, many ask, “Why study philosophy?” when confronted with the subject. Related to this are concerns and reservations raised by many sincere Christians regarding this area of study because of luminaries such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx who used their formidable cognitive abilities to undermine the Judeo-Christian framework of Western civilization.
But in reality, philosophy can be a powerful tool capable of helping the Christian to better comprehend God’s universe and to fulfill their Scriptural obligations as salt of the earth. In “Introduction To Philosophy: A Christian Perspective”, Norman Geisler provides the reader with a number of reasons why the study of philosophy is useful beyond the exercise of mental abilities (20-22).
For starters, philosophy can aide the individual in understanding human society. Though many fail to realize it, philosophical issues are found at the base of civilized life and how a populace approaches these issues will determine the very quality of life enjoyed throughout society.
For example, does a woman’s right to reproductive choice outweigh the human rights of the tiny life growing within her? Or, is it just to discriminate against those who have done no wrong in order to benefit the descendants of those who have faced historic injustices even though these descendants currently enjoy a considerable degree of equality?
It has been said that America is the only nation based on a set of ideas rather than an accident of geography. Those seeking to solve these complex social issues had better offer justification beyond the brute power of the state if delicately balanced liberties are to remain intact.
Professor Geisler also points out that philosophy with its emphasis on clear thought can help liberate the individual from provincialism and clarify the meaning of Scripture. Many times what the Church considers holy writ are in fact human accretions added on for whatever reason. These might be legitimate or mere grabs at power whose origins have been forgotten in the distant past. Besides assisting the Church in sifting between what is God’s directive and man’s opinion, legitimate philosophical inquiry can elucidate the holy reasoning behind a number of divine decrees. For example, through the application of reason and analysis, one can deduce that the Biblical dictates forbidding adultery are in fact rules set down by a loving Father rather than by a deity seeking to be a cosmic wet blanket.
It would be an accurate analogy to compare history’s philosophical giants with the great military leaders of the past. Just as aspiring military officers study the strategies and tactics of these figures for the purposes of perfecting their own craft in order to defeat their battlefield adversaries, Christians must know their own opponents in the arena of ideas so that they might win souls for Christ and to retake social territories in the culture war (or at least prevent the loss of additional intellectual or moral ground).
For those turned off by military analogies and comparisons, John Warwick Montgomery suggested that the apologist must soak up the ideology of his day in a fashion not unlike a missionary learning a foreign language in order to communicate with those spiraling down the path towards eternal damnation. Philosophy, rightly applied, can be an immense help in the accomplishment of this task, especially when so much of contemporary thought is an eclectic mishmash of Nietzschean, Darwinian and Marxist ideology. With even a passing familiarity with philosophy, one is able to realize how many blows are struck at human liberty simply through poorly defined phrases and concepts.
II Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” For too long assorted factions within the Church have sought to sanctify their own ignorance. As a result, culture is reaping a harvest of bloodshed, blasphemy and disbelief.
It must be realized that God is the God of all creation, including philosophy when built upon a solid foundation. If Charlie Church is to reach out to Phil Philosophy, he must do so by showing that this field rightly divided also points back to the creator and sustainer of all things.
By Frederick Meekins