The Benefit of Philosophy in Theology and Apologetics
by Randy Everist
Some people, when they hear what it is I am interested in theologically and academically, listen politely for a while, but ultimately say something like, “We are limited by man’s understanding.” Sometimes they’ll even say “these kind of questions are prompted by satanic influences,” or “the Bible forbids getting involved with philosophy and vain janglings.” Is this true? If it is, it should be noted interpretation of the Bible requires inference, so that philosophy must be done on at least some level. If it is not, what role does it play in apologetics and theology?
First, philosophical reflection can influence theology greatly.
Suppose one believes, philosophically, that divine omniscience cannot coexist with human freedom. On the basis of this philosophical reflection, then, one either denies divine omniscience to be true, or denies human freedom. From there, one’s entire theological perspective may be altered dramatically as implications arise.
In a less dramatic and more useful (biblically) way, I have discovered certain “problems” in theology can be readily solved once philosophical reflection gets involved. Take, for instance, the problem of Jesus’ ability to sin. There is quite a contemporary debate among laymen as to whether or not Jesus could have sinned. However, applying possible world semantics, we can point out if Christ could have sinned then there is a possible world in which he is not God. But since God is a necessary being, either Jesus could not have sinned or he is not God at all. Jesus is God; therefore, Jesus could not have sinned. Other problems in theology may be solved this way. In short, problems in theology can be exacerbated by bad philosophy or solved by good philosophy. Since philosophy is inescapable, which would you prefer?
Second, philosophical reflection can influence apologetics greatly.
Perhaps one of the largest problems in apologetics is the problem of evil, pain, and suffering. Pure theological reflection only (if there is such a thing) can help those who are already saved greatly in this area. The answer for them is something like this: you have trusted God already for your salvation, and you know he is good. Trust him to be good here. This is a very biblical response, and I would never minimize it for the believer. But for the unbeliever this response comes across as intellectual hand-waving.
Philosophy can help us to question even the questions behind the objections to God’s existence…
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