Conformation: Philosophy Reconceived Under Christianity
Learn more about the Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Zondervan, 2016) by going to the EPS book page.
Christians and others do well to ask whether there is such a thing as Christian philosophy and, if there is, what makes it distinctively Christian. I argue that Christian philosophy ought to conform to God in Christ in a manner foreign to other approaches to philosophy. As a result, Christian philosophy seeks a distinctive kind of wisdom—God’s wisdom in Christ—instead of what the apostle Paul calls “human wisdom.” God’s wisdom has the divine power, including the self-giving agap?, to give a lasting good life with God to cooperative humans. Christian philosophy as the love and pursuit of divine wisdom calls us to a volitional union with God in Christ, in keeping with the model set by Jesus in Gethsemane. Philosophers conformed to Christ are philosophers conformed to a new life of dying and rising with Christ in the power of self-sacrificial agap?. Going beyond philosophers themselves, the conforming of philosophical content involves pursuing questions that are distinctively Christian and/or that contribute to God’s redemptive kingdom under the good news of God in Christ. So, Christian philosophy does not condone the pursuit of just any questions found in philosophy at large, and this is what one should expect if God in Christ has authority over all domains of life, including inquiry.
Many Christian philosophers are side-tracked by the speculative arguments of natural theology. Such arguments, however, will not take us to the maximally exalted Jewish-Christian God, because they do not yield a God worthy of worship. God’s unique self-manifestation alone will take us there, courtesy of God’s spirit, as identified in Romans 5:5. Even if one gets to a lesser god by some speculative argument, one still would face the debilitating question of how one gets from the lesser god to the Jewish-Christian God who is worthy of worship. The idea, suggested by various Christian philosophers, that speculative arguments may function as a kind of stepping stone to God is mistaken. We have no reason to think such arguments are stepping stones to the God worthy of worship. Very often they are impediments, because they obscure the distinctive interpersonal challenge and evidence from the true God. In addition, if God did step in to bridge the gap, then natural theology would become dispensable, owing to the new evidence supplied by God. The speculative arguments of natural theology thus should be set aside as being beside the point of the God worthy of worship. This would prepare our attention for the kind of unique evidence to be expected of a God worthy of worship, in keeping with the message of the New Testament. Some arguments for God can be helpful, but they are not the foundation of evidence for God, and they must be a tenable basis relative to a God worthy of worship.
My contribution to this volume offers two challenges to Christian philosophers. First, Christian philosophy under, or conformed to, God in Christ must move beyond endless discussion to obedient action of the kinds indicated in the New Testament. This demand, including the demand to self-sacrificial love of God and man, requires a recalibration of the kinds of questions we ask and pursue as philosophers conformed to God in Christ. All is not equal when philosophy conforms to God in Christ. Practically speaking, questions to be addressed include: How does philosophy conformed to God in Christ change research and teaching? How do the love and the pursuit of divine wisdom fit with the “publish or perish” mentality so endemic to the university? How can Christian philosophy contribute to human flourishing and the advancement of God’s Kingdom?
Second, the conformational model challenges Christian apologists to recalibrate their efforts to convince others of God’s existence. In the place of the speculative arguments of natural theology—cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments for God’s existence— we must offer to others the kind of unique evidence supplied by the God worthy of worship, in keeping, for instance, with Romans 5:5. For instance, a morally transformed life manifesting the agap? of God in Christ can supply evidence of God’s reality. Arguments by themselves will not convince shrewd people of God’s reality, and arguments that do not yield a God worthy of worship will not underwrite the Jewish-Christian God who is worthy of worship. In the New Testament perspective, God’s self-manifesting activity, including the presentation of divine agap? in human experience, provides the needed evidence for individuals of God’s existence. Relevant questions to pursue include: On the conformation model, how should one go about the task of doing apologetics? How is this task different from apologetic models that use arguments from speculative philosophy? The conformation model recommends a kind of “I-Thou” apologetics where God’s Spirit supplies the ultimate evidence and conviction for God’s reality, in keeping with the New Testament teaching. Humans serve as pointers to this work of God’s Spirit, insofar as they represent God’s unique moral character, but humans do not control the actual presence or power of God’s Spirit. Apologetics done right will accommodate this lesson, and let go of the old, ineffective story that arguments alone can be an adequate basis for apologetics or belief in God. The conformation model invites this change in apologetics, after the model set by the writers of the New Testament.