I recently interviewed philosopher Garry DeWeese, Professor of Philosophy & Philosophical Theology in the Department of Philosophy at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, to talk about his new book, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (IVP Academic, 2011).
In Part One of my interview we explore the meaning, significance and broad implications of philosophical work for the Christian community. In part two of our interview, we will discuss the implications of Christian philosophy for metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics, and philosophy of mind, philosophy of science. Finally, in part three we will discuss particular practices for “doing philosophy as a Christian.”
Here is the crux of Garry’s thesis:
Doing philosophy as a Christian means doing philosophy under the authority of the Lord Jesus and of the Bible, the Word of God. It means reasoning within the bounds of religion. It means, in the end, doing philosophy in a way that aims intentionally at the ultimate goal of personal transformation into the image of Christ, and of extending a meaningful invitation to others to enter into that transformation—that is, of extending the kingdom of God on earth (page 67)
In the interview, I asked him about the interrelationship between philosophy and theology work, especially in light of his chapter 3.
Joe, I’ve thought an awful lot about what I said in that chapter, and it really forms the core of my vision of integration as a philosopher. As Christian scholars we are of course free to entertain all manner of “what if” questions, some heterodox, some heretical. I can ask, for example, “What if modalism about the Trinity is true? What would be the implications for my day to day life?” “What if global Lapacian determinism were true? What would we think about moral responsibility?”
While we’re free to entertain such thoughts, I believe we are constrained by our faith to answer them in certain ways. If it seems to me that a particular claim is well-argued but it contradicts a significant tenet of the faith (what Billy Abraham calls “canonical Theism,” not more detailed denominational distinctives), then I should seek to refute rather than defend it. St. Thomas says as much in the first 8 chapters of Summa contra gentiles: To paraphrase, if the conclusion of some argument seems to contradict the faith, we can by proper use of our reason find the flaws in the argument and refute it.
So I think that if we are to be thoroughly Christian in our philosophizing, we need to be quite conversant with the Bible, with the great ecumenical creeds of the church, with historical and systematic theology, and with the particular doctrinal or confessional standards of the Christian community to which we belong. The Holy Spirit has been teaching the Church for 2000 years; let us not be arrogant in thinking all who have gone before us have been in error.
I’m not saying Christian philosophers have to be expert theologians—few actually manage to straddle the two disciplines. Nor am I saying that we philosophers need to wait around for theologians to recognize some value in what we do and ask for our opinions. The past four or five decades have seen Christian analytic philosophers engaging issues traditionally located in theology departments, and making striking contributions. That’s a very healthy development. But in such engagement, we philosophers need to be respectful both of the theologians and of the tradition. Of course that goes both ways—or so I say.
Garry’s main point here is further elaborated by how he learns from Jesus to do philosophy as his disciple. Specifically, in chapter 4, he says that “We Christian philosophers need to live in a dialectic, cycling between our philosophizing and Jesus’ teaching, each serving as a provisional heuristic for interpreting the other, but at the end of the day recognizing where the authority truly rests” (94). I asked Garry to elaborate upon this in light of his own practicing of doing philosophy as a Christian:
… We all, I think, have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives. Worship becomes what we do in church on Sunday morning; prayer is what we do each morning or evening or before a meal, philosophy is what we do at our desk or in the library. But I think the biblical vision is that in a very important sense, all we do is worship, all we do is prayer. Sometimes—but not nearly as often as I would like to—I have envisioned Jesus sitting beside me, conversing about what I’m reading or writing. What would he ask me? What would he say? Would he be smiling, frowning, laughing? Would I be happy to have him read my last paragraph, to evaluate my train of thought, to ask about my use of time, or about my last interaction with a student or a colleague? Have I loved them as I love myself? I think that something like that is in line with Brother Lawrence’s famous “practicing the presence of God.”