I am half way through my second year of a Philosophy degree. Like most philosophy students, I began my degree with dreams of grandeur (in fact, now that I think of it, that might be a prerequisite). Ready for the rigour of a classical education, I had the voice of Aristotle in one ear, and Simone de Beauvoir in the other.
Of course, I also heard the niggling voice of the Apostle Paul—‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.’ (Colossians 2:8). But, I figured, I had a good head on my shoulders. I wasn’t about to be taken captive. I was—and am—confident that God made a rational world over which Christ is Lord. Philosophy is one way to understand more of that world. I would simply enjoy the wisdom and reject the folly. What’s more, I was sure that it wouldn’t be long before I was breaking ground as a Christian Philosopher—educated in the epicentre of secular thought.
I was wrong. Not about all of it, but certainly about some of it. The reality has been more difficult, more humbling and more wonderful than I could have guessed. Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far.
Reality is Very Strange
My metaphysics lecturer often reminds us, ‘If you find yourself thinking that your theory is the only sensible one out there, remember that every theory is crazy’. Perhaps the biblical worldview seems like the most rational thing in the world to you. Of course there is a personal God who created everything, revealed in the Bible and manifest in Jesus. Then, just for a moment, maybe when you’re trying to explain it to someone else, it hits you. This is a bit weird. If you’ve never thought it yourself, you’ve certainly heard critics of Christianity say it.
The biblical worldview is no more ‘weird’ than any other attempt to understand reality. In fact, in many ways, it is less so.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a philosophy student is this: the biblical worldview is no more ‘weird’ than any other attempt to understand reality. In fact, in many ways, it is less so. Set foot in a philosophy class. Soon, you’ll be forced to think about the existence of consciousness. You’ll talk about the nature of time, causation, language, truth and personhood. Underneath the big question—‘why are we here?’—are a million, smaller, mind-bending questions that no-one has a ‘sensible’ answer for. Even the most hardline naturalist philosopher must resort to ‘spooky’ (a technical term in metaphysics, I’m not joking) solutions.
The world is very strange place and it demands uncomfortable and often unintuitive explanations. This should be a comfort for us. For every objection to Christianity, the objector must find their own strange explanation to this strange world. Christianity is not a crazy alternative to all the logical options. Every option seems crazy the more you think about it.
Far Less Crazy than the Rest
Yet I have never walked out of Philosophy class tempted to give my allegiance to any other worldview. Many times, I have walked out of class with my head spinning. Many times, I have walked out of class far less comfortable than I walked in. But, I have never walked away tempted to jump ship. Why? Because although reality is indeed strange, Christianity provides a stunningly beautiful explanation. I have the privilege of studying philosophy with a dear Christian brother. Last year, in the middle of an aesthetics class, he slid a note onto my desk. He had scribbled a cross. I knew exactly what he meant, ‘We have the answer to this’. There have been hundreds of similar moments in the last two years. When explaining a theory, lecturers will present questions that the theory cannot answer. I am often amazed at the solutions available in the biblical worldview. If you ever wish to marvel at the explanatory power of Christianity, think about some of these classic philosophy questions:
- How do we account for consciousness?
- Why is there beauty in the world?
- What is good and evil? Why are humans prone to define behaviour in these categories?
- How to objects persist through time?
- Who are you, most fundamentally?
- How is it possible to communicate?
A Rational Faith
No matter what field of philosophy you study—from ethics and political philosophy to metaphysics—logic is a key skill. The ability to discern rational beliefs and arguments is fundamental to the study of philosophy. I’ve learned to ask hard questions of my faith. This hasn’t always been a pleasant experience. But, I am thankful to God for what he is teaching me. I have deconstructed and reconstructed the foundation of my faith. Here is the result, in the form of a short logical argument. About six months ago, I wrote a version of this as a note on my phone.
Premise 1. When I look around the world, my senses and my experiences tell me that reality is created. This world—in all its complexities, beauty and pain—is not a product of chance. Therefore, it is likely there is a god.
Premise 2. There is only one God who has revealed himself in history. The God of the Bible claims to have revealed himself through Jesus.
Premise 3. Historical evidence leads me to conclude that the most likely explanation for the New Testament and the rise of early Christianity is the physical resurrection of Jesus. This fully and finally affirms the claims of the God of the Bible.
Conclusion. The biblical worldview is the true and proper theory of reality. In his resurrection, Jesus’ confirmed the Old Testament and affirmed the New Testament. My own relational experience of God, enabled by the Holy Spirit through faith, is further evidence.
Obviously, this is not all there is to say about the Christian worldview. It’s just a note on my phone. It’s a shortcut for me, on days where I find myself overwhelmed by the strangeness of reality. It’s a deep breath in the middle of an existential crisis.
There, But For The Grace of God, Go I
When I enrolled in Philosophy, I had ideas about how God would use it to shape me. I wanted him to sharpen my mind—to see him more clearly. Perhaps he has done that. But, more obviously, he is humbling me. Christianity is rationally satisfying. It is worthy of my confidence. Yet, if it weren’t for the grace of God, I would deny it. I would not see what is right in front of my eyes. I would subscribe to some ‘hollow and deceptive’ philosophy. For the first time in my life, I am not naive about the weakness of my faith.
There are days—and classes and assignments—where it’s all I can do to stumble and tremble toward Christ. Some days, my most frequent prayer is, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24). When I ask the Father for my ‘daily bread’, I am asking for faith enough to know the truth that day. I need eyes to see Christ as the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Studying philosophy is wonderful. It is exciting and challenging. By grace alone, I will graduate as a follower of Jesus, the only wise Philosopher and the very Son of the God who has revealed himself.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.