What do these questions have in common: Does God exist? Can God change? Does God know our future? How can a good God allow evil? How do humans know? What does it mean to know? What does it mean to be good? Can we objectively interpret the Bible? The answer: all of these questions are inherently philosophical.
With the recent decision by a very prominent evangelical institution to remove their philosophy department, why should anyone at all care about philosophy? Some would argue that Christians shouldn’t care about philosophy because, as Luther so colorfully put it, philosophy “is the devil’s whore.” In other words, man’s (autonomous) reason cannot be trusted. We only need to preach the gospel and not worry about worldly philosophy. Many in our culture argue that philosophy is mere opinion, worthless, impractical, and a waste of time. The study of philosophy is often seen as useless and a waste of a good education that could have otherwise been helpful in finding a good paying job. Ironically, the reasons given for such positions are necessarily philosophical. Why? Because philosophy is unavoidable.
I personally found this out when I enrolled at Southern Evangelical Seminary in the fall of 2004. I initially enrolled at SES to study apologetics. I had no idea the impact philosophy would have on me. My first three courses were Intro to Apologetics, Old Testament Survey, and Hamartiology and Soteriology (Sin and Salvation). None of these courses were inherently philosophical, at least so I thought. Dr. Tom Howe taught Old Testament Survey and Dr. Norman Geisler taught the other two courses. As it turned out, all these courses were loaded with philosophy.
For example, Dr. Howe demonstrated the role philosophical presuppositions play in arguments marshalled against Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). Such presuppositions were the product of rationalist thinkers like Descartes, Spinoza, and Hume. Dr. Geisler demonstrated the role philosophy plays in talking about the nature of truth, God’s existence, and miracles. He even showed how our philosophy of man determines our view of the soul and its relationship to the body (which is important for sin and salvation). Later, Dr. Howe demonstrated how integral philosophy is to hermeneutics (interpreting and understanding a text).
I found out that a philosophy course called Metaphysics (the study of being as such) was being offered in January of 2005. I asked Dr. Doug Potter, the SES Registrar, if I should take that class. “Yes,” he said, “it’s the foundation of all that we do.” I really didn’t know what that meant, but I took it. As it turns out, from a philosophical standpoint it really is the foundation for all that we do, whether in biblical studies, language studies, hermeneutics, etc. Philosophy really is unavoidable.
Dr. Brian Huffling
Dr. Brian Huffling’s research interests include: Philosophy of Religion, Philosophical Theology, Philosophical Hermeneutics, and general issues in Apologetics and Biblical studies. See his personal blog here.