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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Theology and Philosophy-Two Scary Words?

Written by: on April 19, 2015

There are words that can create fear and misconceptions. Theology is one of those words.  Some people associate the word “theology” with superior intellectuals, institutions, and long and dry debates that only lead to arguments and disagreements. Yet, theology is about the study of God and God’s relation to the world. In a practical way, the study of God is reading the Scriptures to discover who God is, what God has done, and how God, through Jesus Christ, interacts with humanity. We do theology every day.

Philosophy is another word that can create fear. And the misconception is that it is a word used for a few intellectuals who sit around a table piled with books and are removed from everyday life. Yet, philosophy is about everyday life!

“Philosophy is not just about how to think; it is about how to live. Philosophy takes a closer look at the ideas behind how we live our lives. What we think is true affects our view of ourselves and how we treat other people and the world.”[1] This is how Raeper and Edwards begin their introduction in “A Brief Guide to Ideas.” The authors state that everyone carries ideas around which stem from the men and women who, throughout the centuries, have helped form the way we think.[2] In their book, Raeper and Edwards take us on a journey of different ideas, from different times, different people and different places.

But how are these ideas generated? How are ideas developed? Asking questions is fundamental to the nature of philosophy. As Raeper and Edwards put, “philosophy is not what you know, but how you think.  It is not about finding the right answers but framing the right questions.[3]

These two words, theology and philosophy, scary as they may seem, are words that have influenced the Christian faith in the Western culture. And this is evident in the work of The Church Fathers. The Church Fathers sought to harmonize Greek philosophy with the Christian faith. The Church Fathers found that they had to answer philosophical questions which had no apparent answers in the Bible. How was Jesus both God and man? What did God create the world out of?[4] These difficult questions led the Church Fathers to philosophy in order to help them with their speculations.

One of the greatest early Church Fathers was Augustine of Hippo. His struggles, passions and concern with the problem of evil drove him in a search for truth. In his search for truth he became a sceptic and fascinated with astrology. Yet it was in the Apostle Paul’s letters that Augustine was able to experience words of truth that allow him to see that “he needed grace, help from God, in order to be a whole person and find authentic freedom.”[5]

For Augustine, philosophy became the study of God and the human soul. (35) Augustine saw philosophy and theology as rooted in the one truth of God. Philosophy can be used to interpret the Bible; the Bible can be quoted to illustrate philosophy.[6]

Two scary words…theology and philosophy…both challenge us to ask questions that can transform our lives. What critical questions are you asking that can influence your life today? What ideas are you thinking about that can influence how you deal with the world and others?

 

                [1] William Raeper and Linda Edwards, “A Brief Guide to Ideas” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997) pg. 11

                [2] Ibid., 14

                [3] Ibid., 15.

                [4] Ibid., 31.

                [5] Ibid., 34.

                [6] Ibid., 36.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

13 responses to “Theology and Philosophy-Two Scary Words?”

  1. Miriam,

    Thanks for your solid post. I liked it a lot.

    You say, “It is not about finding the right answers but framing the right questions.” I so agree! Our questions are what are most important. I am glad that God is OK with our questions and even with our doubts. Sometimes we just don’t have the answers, but we do have the questions. I am grateful for this, eternally grateful, daily grateful.

    Here are some of my present questions:

    – Why do I seem to know less the older I get?
    – Why does God love me when I am such a mess?
    – Why does God feel so far away most days?
    – Why does God not to seem to answer certain prayers, such as the years of sincere prayer from my son who suffers with a serious bi-polar illness?
    – Why do some (many) Christians today seem so out of touch with reality?
    – I have many more than these, but this is a start.

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Bill, I believe that if we matter to God, if God loves us, then God also listens to our questions and our doubts. Thank you for sharing the questions that are on your heart.

  2. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Miriam,
    I welcomed your thoughts … similar to some of my own questioning and thinking.

    I have not been as nearly frightened by theology as by philosophy. In fact this “Brief Guide to Ideas” (philosophy) really has impacted my thinking (idea of philosophy).

    As I look at my shelves of books, I have many books on theology, very few, in fact only a couple on philosophy and some are part of the required reading for the DMin course of study. A couple books that I read some time ago that I would highly recommend: John Caputo “Philosophy and Theology” and a book by Diogenes Allen and Eric Springsted, “Philosophy for Understanding Theology.”

    Allen and Springsted claim that their “book aims to give a person the philosophy needed to understand Christian theology better, for often the lack of knowledge of some key philosophic term or concept impedes significant understanding of a vital issue” (x). The authors focus on philosophy and philosophers that have influenced Christian thinking. Helpful? Yes, but I need to read it again more in the context of our course readings.

    One of my favorite Caputo statements: “The supernatural gift of faith seeks to understand itself in theology, and philosophical reason is the natural means, the natural gift, God has given us to do so.” He notorious advocates that theology and philosophy can co-habitat; the disciplinarians need each other even as the disciplines are complimentary. As a philosopher, he makes this admission: “If we think of philosophical and theological thinking as two different acts or modes of thinking, as two different dimensions of a whole human life, then we can imagine the two acts cohabiting happily in the same head, yielding a person who would be a thinking believer, or a believing thinker, a person of learning and of faith.”

    John Caputo. “Philosophy and Theology” (Kindle Locations 82-84 and 232-233)).

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Ron

      I’m with you…I have more theology books than philosophy. Thanks for recommending the book “Philosophy for Understanding Theology.”–I’ll take a look at it.

  3. Hey Mariam absolutely good questions that you’re asking here. Indeed our worldview is not so much made up of what we think we have figure out as much as the questions we are willing to ask. I have always enjoyed the study of both Theology and Philosophy and feel that they are not that far away from each other. As AW Tozer states, “the highest thoughts a man can have is his thoughts of God.”

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Mitch, yes, I agree Theology and Philosophy may not be that far from each other. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Richard Volzke says:

    Miriam,
    You explained that theology and philosophy are two words that cause fear in the hearts of many Christians. I agree – and find myself hesitating before I dive too deeply into these topics. Then, I realize that have to step back and take time to understand, I must slowly think through . Richard

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Miriam, well done on this post. Ron and Bill too shared about their past ambivalence with Philosophy. And in my response, I also mentioned that theology too bears a stigma in some circles as you ably articulated. If my experience is like anyone’s, then I think that at times it seems overwhelming that one has to work hard to learn and understand God through the study of subjects like philosophy and theology. Also some people do not learn this way and so these the requirement of these disciplines the academy can sometimes be limiting for others. Your ask, “what critical questions are you asking that can influence your life today? What ideas are you thinking about that can influence how you deal with the world and others?”

    As I continue to grow, I am always asking God and also seeking to understand what love is? I am constantly asking how I can learn to love my neighbor and whether I being a loving neighbor?
    I am always asking God for His will for the moment?

    Thanks Miriam for those reflective questions.

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Michael, you are correct when you say “at times it seems overwhelming that one has to work hard to learn and understand God through the study of subjects like philosophy and theology.” Yet I think that people do this without even knowing they are doing it—they just don’t use the “scary” terms theology and philosophy. How do you teach theology and philosophy in practical ways that people can learn and understand? Thanks for your comments.

  6. Miriam!
    One of the highlights of reading Raeper and Edwards was the manner in which they presented (and reminded) us that theology has always (can I say that?) had to engage in and with the prevailing philosophy. The manner of “known” truth and learning must be for theology to present truth revealed. It was a helpful read.

    So my friend… you posed two questions. What answers are stirring for you?

    This past week the 2nd teaser video was released for the upcoming new Star Wars movie. I have been thinking about anticipation. How does the church wrestle with anticipation, present anticipation and live in anticipation of God’s renewing kingdom? That is one of the things I’m thinking about.

    Blessings! 🙂

  7. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    Miriam, I really like your first quote. The way we think and feel determines the way we act… I think it’s interesting when when people think that thought and action could be separated… It’s a difficult way to live.

  8. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Miriam,
    I love that you boiled down philosophy and theology to “ideas.” Much more approachable.
    Sometimes we over complexify.
    Let us seek to be aware of our actions and think about their implications, but not get bogged down in the very processes which are meant to further bring freedom and grace.

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