Christians often refer to the “sufficiency of the Scriptures.” Consider what we usually mean when we discuss this topic. First, there is an abundance of evidence showing that God communicates to us in modern times exclusively through His written word, the Bible.1 So, we can determine what God wants us to believe and do. Second, the Bible claims to be our exclusive source of religious authority. We have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). The inspired word of God can make us “competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Thus, we must do all things by Christ’s authority (Colossians 3:17), and we can know what Christ has authorized because He has revealed it to us in the New Testament. Third, we must not look to any man-made creeds, traditions, or alleged continuing revelation as sources of religious authority.
Yet when some sincere, well-meaning Christians talk about the sufficiency of the Scriptures, they additionally suggest that, because the Bible is sufficient, we should not be doing philosophy. Allegedly, we should concentrate on God’s word instead of doing philosophy. These good people may mean that we should not adopt the views of any particular philosopher(s). Yet there is at least some unclarity about this, due to the ways in which the practice of philosophy is sometimes devalued and discouraged among Christians. (In other words, Christians may advocate fideism without really meaning to. Fideism is the view that faith is “blind,” i.e., evidence is irrelevant to belief; see my article about fideism here.) In this article, and future ones, I would like to challenge this rejection of philosophy, pious as its motivation may be. In fact, we can’t avoid using philosophy as we build our faith by studying His word.
Philosophy literally means “love of wisdom,” and one way to define it more specifically is that it is critical thinking with the purpose of justifying beliefs and actions. Philosophy includes a rational mindset and the logical principles that govern thought. One way of describing the philosophical mindset is that it motivates the development of good reasons for beliefs and actions. Peter commands us to be ready to give a reason for our hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Peter is essentially telling us to be philosophers—not to adopt the views of any particular philosopher, but to develop the ability to justify our beliefs to ourselves and to others. Once we have discovered that our Christianity is reasonable and defensible, we will be much less likely to fall away from it, and much more likely to share it with others.
Philosophical practice runs deeper than just organizing our explicitly apologetical efforts. In fact, as I have defined it, a philosophical practice is implicated (if unacknowledged) even at the basic level of understanding the Bible. Consider an occasion where I ask, “How do I know x, which I believe to be true?,” where x is a proposition that is taught in the Bible (e.g., “Noah built an ark,” “Jesus said that he would build His church,” “Paul wrote a letter to the Colossians”). Even if the answer to “How do I know x?” is more or less that “The Bible teaches x,” by asking the question I have introduced a process of critical evaluation that includes at least the following: (1) Recognition of a phenomenological state of confidence we call “knowledge.” (2) Recognition that justification for a belief is necessary before knowledge can be claimed. (3) Recognition of a source of information as being an appropriate source of authority for the claim at hand. (4) Recognition of a sound method of interpretation that provides authentic meaning from the authority. Philosophy is undoubtedly going on.
Christians, and indeed all people to one degree or another, are engaged in philosophy. Some do it better than others; those who do philosophy well are those who have taken the time to reflect on what they are “up to” when they make claims and therefore work to defend them well. As one philosopher put it, philosophy “is a style of life, a life of ideas or the life of reason. . . . [I]t is living thoughtfully. . . . Philosophy puts our lives and our beliefs in perspective by enabling us to see afresh the ways in which we view the world, to see what we assume, what we infer, and what we know for certain.”2
There is a sense in which children are actually the best philosophers. “Part of our acculturation process is learning to take some things for granted. Children have not learned to do this yet; they question everything without worrying if their questions make them seem ignorant. Paradoxically, to be a good philosopher you need to become like a little child again.”3 Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when He asked us to become like little children—to not presume to have everything figured out prior to asking, “How do I know?” Surely this is part of the humility our Lord prescribed for those in His kingdom (Matthew 18:3-4).
Robert C. Solomon, Introducing Philosophy, 9th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 10. ↩
Anthony J. Graybosch, et al., The Philosophy Student Writer’s Manual (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1998), 23. ↩