Starting Right Where I Am
by Marilyn Stewart
The first in a three-part interview with Paul Copan, professor of philosophy and ethics, and the Pledger Family Chair at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and author of numerous books on the Christian faith.
Mention the word “study” and most of us want to run. “Training” might be worse as it conjures up images of sitting for hours hearing about a subject you’d rather not learn.
So, learning to defend the faith might just seem a little overwhelming.
Paul Copan, well-known philosopher and author, uses his ministry of writing, teaching, and speaking to help fellow Christians in their walk toward using the mind for the glory of God. In Dr. Copan’s answers to the questions below, there is something for everyone, no matter how far down the path you are. The starting point is right where you are.
Q: The world seems so different than the one I grew up in. Where are we as a culture and how did we get there?
A: R.C. Sproul says that we, as the church, are suffering from “the worst case of anti-intellectualism in history,” and I agree that we are failing to emphasize the importance of the life of the mind.
But it is true for our culture, as well, that truth and rationality are taken far less seriously than they ought to be. Two generations ago, many in our culture took biblical authority seriously. We have since slipped into a postmodern mood in which we have no universal, objective truths—just “your truth” or “my reality.” And the church certainly is not reinforcing the importance of the life of the mind. “Certainly you want to reach society, but unfortunately a lot of times churches are content with the status quo and don’t encourage the use of the mind, which equals a more superficial
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approach.”In the 18th century, great thinkers like Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley emphasized the importance of argument, logical coherence, and utilizing intellectual resources to deepen and sharpen their faith. By contrast, we are now living in a society of sound-bites and piece-meal information. The church has been affected by the spirit of the age.
Certainly you want to reach society, but unfortunately a lot of times churches are content with the status quo and don’t encourage the use of the mind, which equals a more superficial approach. Not taking seriously the life of the mind allows things to be perpetuated in a more shallow manner. For example, sometimes our praise songs are fluffy, me-centered, repetitious, and, I think, overlooking some the rich theological themes of our Christian heritage and neglecting the great things of the gospel.
Of course, emphasis on the life of the mind shouldn’t mislead us into intellectualizing the Christian faith. We are called to love God and to love others as our primary duties, and when the intellect moves us away from fulfilling this, we have lapsed into idolatry. And while defending the Christian faith (apologetics) is an important ministry that local churches should take very seriously, it is not the solution to all of the church’s ills. It is part of the broader, holistic mission of the church that involves worship, preaching and teaching, evangelism, helping the needy, freeing the oppressed, and using spiritual gifts of all sorts.
Q: In your book, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? you say that Jesus is your favorite philosopher. Should we change how we portray Jesus to our people and how we talk about Jesus?