Christ as Lord: Philosophy

Having “Christ as Lord over x” has been extensively discussed in recent posts. We have seen that explaining what this means within whatever sphere of life or study we find ourselves in can be difficult but also rewarding. Philosophy is no exception.  Christian Philosophy[1] began to make a comeback some thirty years ago, and  the Evangelical Philosophical Society has an ongoing project devoted to the topic of clarifying what it means to do “Christ-shaped philosophy”. Since the project is so vast and this blog post so short I shan’t offer an answer to this. But I can offer some guidelines.

1) The nature of Lordship

First, when thinking about what it means for Christ to be Lord over philosophy one need, of course, know who Christ is and what Lordship entails. I assume my reader knows who Christ is so I move to Lordship. Put simply, Christ’s being Lord entails that (i) he has the ultimate authority (i.i) in all spheres of life and (i.ii) on all matters within those spheres, including both belief and practice. This means that our fundamental beliefs (the subject of Philosophical enquiry) will be shaped by what Christ says. I contend that what he says can be found in God’s written word: the Bible. This will have a bearing on the Christian doing Philosophy in two ways; one direct and one indirect. Directly, the Bible, while certainly not a philosophical text book, does make claims that have a direct bearing upon philosophical beliefs. Concerning the furniture of the universe (metaphysics), for example, the Bible refers to angels. As such, the Christian Philosopher, in working out his or her metaphysics, will make sure not to discount angels. Indirectly, the Bible can shape one’s very thought patterns. It may suggest ways in which one should begin to approach questions about metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. It does this, however, without prescribing explicitly a specific systematic – i.e. it doesn’t say “you should think like a Kantian,” “you should think like Hume.”

2) The nature of man

Second, one needs to know about the nature of man – primarily the power of his intellect. This is because (if one accepts (1)) it is human creatures that do Philosophy. Thus knowing what humans are like is essential to answering the question “what does it mean to have Christ as Lord over Philosophy?”  This is particularly pertinent to Philosophy since it is easy to fall into the belief that one’s doing philosophy is somehow not creaturely. Being aware that Christ is Lord and I am creature should act as a guide to my philosophical worldview.

3) The direction of Philosophy

Third, one needs to know what Philosophy is. I cannot answer this question.[2] Perhaps an easier question (but one that will still be useful) is “in what direction has Philosophy developed?” If one can answer this question one can then begin to see what practices and beliefs in the discipline of Philosophy are in accordance or not with both (1) and (2).

4) The danger of guidelines.

Having said all this, working out a system of guidelines to approach a question like “what does it mean for Christ to be Lord over Philosophy?” has both virtues and vices. One of its virtues is that a systematic attempt to answer a question will be more integrative than a non-systematic attempt. This integrity is virtuous not least because it reflects the revealed nature of the One who created all things. One of Its vices could be that of holding to one’s system more tightly than one holds to one’s belief that Christ, being Creator and not creature, can challenge that system.

The challenge of walking the thin line between these virtues and vices is an ongoing one for Christian philosophers. It is prevalent not only when they try to answer the question “what does it mean to do philosophy with Christ as Lord?” but when they try to answer any question.

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[1] I understand the comeback of Christian Philosophy to have begun with the demise of Logical Positivism and the establishment of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP). As with all “comebacks,” however, there were years of hard work being done beforehand. Moreover, these two things did not happen simultaneously.

[2] An interesting attempt has been made in “Doing Philosophy as a Christian” by Garrett J. DeWeese

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Comments

Thanks for these reflections Thom. I really enjoyed them. I’m glad you mentioned angels because they are also ‘creatures’ and are often ignored. There are two kinds of ‘creatures’ that can turn away from God. It isn’t only humans who sin. I’d just like to add that I definitely do believe in both angels and demons but I don’t think they should be understood as ‘supernatural’ beings. I say this because God’s creation is not to be understood as ‘nature’ and ‘supernature’. I find it helpful to scrutinise Colossians 1:16 which distinguishes between visible and invisible creatures. In this sense angels are normally ‘invisible’ but they can sometimes become ‘visible’ as in the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Zecheriah in the temple (Luke 1:11). We definitely need more philosophising about angels!

Hi Mark,
Thanks for your comment. To clarify my position on the matter I do not recognise nature/supernature to be a fundamental distinction. It might be helpful in some circumstances to talk in these terms but I’m yet to find such a circumstance! Rather I prefer, as perhaps you do too, to speak of the creator/creation distinction with angels falling into the category of creation. That is, they exist only as a part of His creation.

The direct bearing on Christian Philosophy that I had in mind was that the existence of angels within the created order seems to prohibit the Christian Philosopher from accepting materialism about the created order (where materialism, for the Christian at least, says that everything that exists within the created order is material (where I understand “x is material” to mean “either x is composed entirely of material simples or x is a material simple,” where material simples are things like quarks, leptons, protons, gluons etc).

This is for the following reason: (1) Angels are not entirely composed by material simples. (2) If angels are not entirely composed by material simples but (3) are a part of the created order then (C) materialism about the created order is false (provided the above definition of materialism is true).

The only premise that needs defence, as far as I can see, is (1). I think the example you give of angels being invisible is a good reason to accept that (1) is true. That is, this is not a way that something composed entirely of material simples behaves. There are other defences of (1) too e.g. the fact that the Bible says that they are ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14).

Hope that’s clearer and a first step towards philosophising about angels!

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