Question of the Week
Question: "Should a Christian study philosophy?"
Answer: The word philosophy comes from the Greek word philosophia, which means “love of wisdom.” The study of philosophy is about using rational argument and critical thinking to analyze the way human beings think and know and perceive the world around them—both the physical world and the abstract world of ideas. Questions like “what is real?” and “can the truth be known?” and “what is beauty?” are all philosophical questions. There is nothing wrong with a believer in Jesus Christ loving wisdom (Proverbs 4:6; 7:4), and there is nothing wrong with a Christian studying philosophy. The book of Ecclesiastes is very philosophical, dealing as it does with several different worldly philosophies before concluding that a philosophy that fears and obeys God is the best (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
A Christian believes that all necessary questions pertaining to life can be answered by the Bible. However, philosophy is a fascinating field of academic study, and, if a believer’s mind is inclined toward it, the study of philosophy can be enlightening and prove beneficial in one’s dealings with the world. An understanding of the various philosophies of men is a valuable tool in evangelism. Paul was able to engage the philosophers on Mars Hill because of his familiarity with Greek writings (Acts 17:28), and he quoted a Cretan philosopher to make a point in Titus 1:12.
Faith is often seen as a “non-intellectual” pursuit; it is viewed as something understood with the spirit and the heart and therefore doesn’t need to make sense to the rational mind. This idea goes all the way back to ancient times. The Greek culture, the birthplace of philosophy, could not understand the Christian message, which seemed irrational to them. The preaching of the cross was foolishness to the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). Paul here intimates the limitations of human philosophy. The philosophy of man can never arrive at the truth of God on its own.
God’s wisdom is revealed to man when God gives him the mind of Christ. Without God’s revelation, man in his natural state cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). Wisdom does not come from the natural, rational mind because man’s mind and his reason are fallen; that is, they are affected by sin. Wisdom is a beautiful thing, poetically described as the worker by God’s side as He created the world (Proverbs 8:12–31). To truly be able to think rationally, a person must be introduced to the ultimate source of wisdom, which is God Himself. Faith in God is not foolishness—though it is perceived that way by those who trust solely in reason—it is rather what informs reason. “By faith we understand” (Hebrews 11:3). Through faith, we access true wisdom (Proverbs 3:5–6).
On the one hand, the study of philosophy is totally harmless—simply a way to understand human concepts and learn to think critically about the world. On the other hand, if a person does not accept man’s fallen nature as revealed in Scripture, philosophy can turn into the assertion of man’s reason as the ultimate source of wisdom. When people trust in their own reason to lead them to truth, they lead themselves astray. For this reason, the study of philosophy is fraught with pitfalls; the reasoning of unsaved men fills the textbooks, and the Christian must be aware. But philosophy as a field of study is simply a tool—it can be used to build beautiful and enlightening arguments based on what is revealed by God to be true, or it can be used to deconstruct and confuse a fallen mind that trusts itself rather than its Creator.
Recommended Resource: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
Question of the Week