Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is Philosophy UnBiblical?

For my birthday, my parents got me the new ESV study Bible. It's pretty cool. I think it weighs more then I do, which isn't very hard to do. Anyway, I was reading it, and I came across Colossians 2:8.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
I intentionally came across this verse because someone recently asked me if Colossians 2:8 shows that Christians ought not to study "philosophy." I kind of have to say no since I have a degree in philosophy, and I am a Christian.

There are three arguments for why one ought not to interpret Colossians 2:8 to say that Christians shouldn't study "philosophy."

The First, What is Philosophy?
The moment you begin to think about this important question, what is philosophy, you automatically are taking part in the activity of philosophy. So if you think Christians shouldn't do philosophy, you're  screwed right away because in order to even think about what you're against you have to join what you're against.

To answer the question, in it's broadest definition, philosophy is critically looking at our beliefs and assumptions about the ourselves, God and the world around us. (If we do exist, if there is a God and if there is a world around us.) This definition isn't precise, but I hope that it is broad enough to include what has been known as "Western philosophy." Oh, and it's broad enough to include 2 Corinthians 10:5.

The Second, Christianity and Philosophy are Intertwined 
Second, the heathen activity of philosophy is intertwined with the Christian religion. Augustine used Plato, Thomas used Aristotle, Calvin used the stoics, Edwards used Locke, Piper used the Epicureans and so on and so forth. (Okay so saying Piper used the Epicureans is a bit of a stretch...) Even if you believe that philosophy is dangerous and Christians shouldn't study it, you still have to study it in order to understand your own history and theology.

The Third, Interpretation of 2 Corinthians 10:5
My final argument is based off my first. Given the definition of philosophy I have outlined above, Paul was not warning the Colossians to stay away from critically examining their beliefs. Rather, he was saying stay away from systems of belief that are of "empty deceit" and are according to "human tradition" and not according to Christ. Essentially, don't define your life by systems which are not according to Christ. My ESV study Bible was helpful because it has a note which explains this word "philosophy" that Paul uses. Of course this is not the Bible, but it help us understand the context that Paul is writing in. The note says:

The term "philosophy” was used much more broadly in the ancient world than it is today. Josephus, for instance, could call the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees “philosophies.” Even a magician could be called a philosopher. Paul is not making a blanket condemnation of the traditional Greek philosophical schools (e.g., Platonism, Stoicism, Aristotelianism, etc.). His remarks are focused on the particular factional teaching being disseminated at Colossae.

Hence, under the definition of philosophy I gave above, it doesn't seem that Paul is talking about the same philosophy as defined above.

I thought about adding objections to this post, but that would be a bit long. So for next time, objections to this argument will be discussed.

In conclusion, hopefully you better see that philosophy and Christianity are not contradictory.  Philosophy is the handmaid to theology. One can't properly function without the other.

Update: objections are up.

1 comment:

  1. This relates well to your post on whether Jesus is against religion. Religion is a term with similar misunderstanding. It is not in conflict with a spiritual life, but a part of a healthy spiritual walk because it entails discipline and ritual. But it isn't the central thing either. Philosophy is similarly a tool useful to Christians but not the central thing and certainly not an enemy. It can be a stumbling block for some, but to take it away doesn't remove the temptation to unbelief.


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