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.” 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. 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.
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? 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.”
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.
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?