Doing Philosophy as a Christian: The Example of Justin Martyr

by Paul Copan

“Our doctrines are not shameful, according to sober judgment, but are indeed more lofty than all human philosophy.” -Justin Martyr, Second Apology 15

NOTE: I have completed writing a short book for IVP Academic’s “Little Book” series: A Little Book for New Philosophers. This book will appear in the fall of 2016. It addresses the “why” and “how” of doing philosophy as Christians. (By the way, the philosopher Alvin Plantinga has said that philosophical reflection is “not much different from just thinking hard.”)

In my book, I attempt to remove caricatures and false representations about philosophy by Christians and non-Christians alike. I also offer suggestions for doing philosophy—with its joys and pitfalls, its benefits and challenges. I am grateful for J.P. Moreland’s kind endorsement of the book:

“Over the last decade or so, Professor Copan has risen in stature among Christians and non-Christians alike.  Many look to him for counsel, for intellectual help, and for spiritual wisdom.  All of this and much more are incorporated into his delightful little book A Little Book for New Philosophers.  Written with the warmth and wisdom of a pastor, yet exhibiting knowledge of an incredibly wide range of relevant philosophical literature, Copan has written the most important book to date as to what philosophy actually is (and should be) and why it is so important for all of us to study philosophy.  This should be read by seminarians, people in vocational ministry, and thoughtful lay folk, and it is required reading as a text in worldview or apologetics classes.  Today, the Kingdom is moving in philosophy, and Copan’s book will expand that movement considerably.  What a delightful read!”

Below I elaborate on the example of Justin Martyr, whose life points the way for those wishing to engage in philosophy as Christians. Due to space limitations, I wasn’t able to include this portion in my forthcoming book; so I post it here.

Background and Conversion

The second-century thinker Justin (AD 100-167) was born to pagan parents in Flavia Neapolis—what was once the ancient Samaritan city of Shechem. Justin not only made physical treks to Alexandria and Ephesus for philosophical study, but he also embarked on intellectual migrations from Stoicism to Pythagoreanism and then to Platonism. According to church historian Eusebius, Justin’s trademark garb was the pallium—an inexpensive, coarse rectangular cloth that identified him as a scholar and philosopher, as it did the likes of Socrates, Antisthenes, and Diogenes Läertius.

While under the influence of Platonism, he came to hear accusations made against Christians. Christians were cannibals for eating the Lord’s body and drinking his blood. They were “atheists” for believing in just one God; in a polytheistic Mediterranean religious environment, monotheism was close enough to qualify as atheism! But he also observed that, when persecuted, these believers were “intrepid in the face of death…

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Doing Philosophy as a Christian: The Example of Justin Martyr