Handbook for Christian Philosophy

Handbook for Christian Philosophy

by L. Russ Bush


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310518211
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 07/01/1991
Pages: 340
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

L. Russ Bush was the author of Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics. He served at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, as the Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy of Religion.

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A Handbook for Christian Philosophy

By L. Russ Bush


Copyright © 1991 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-51821-0

Chapter One

What is Philosophy?

Asking Why Who Are Philosophers? Finding Answers Why Study Philosophy?

A philosophy course in an evangelical Christian school creates for some people a situation that may be described by an analogy with Daniel in the lion's den. Daniel did not want to be in that lion's den. None of the lions wanted Daniel in there. The lions would have eaten him if they could, and Daniel survived only by the grace of God.

Students may see themselves as "Daniels" being challenged by the lion-like philosophies of men. Professors, on the other hand, may see the students as lions and may pray for God to shut their mouths. Home churches may think of themselves as being like Darius. They made a "decree" that their children should go to college and especially that their young ministers ought to attend a seminary. Then they find out that these young Christians will be required to take a course in philosophy. They send their students on to the school anyway, but they anxiously pray; and then on graduation morning they come to ask, 'O Daniel, has your God preserved you from the lions?'

Probably no other field of study has been so frequently criticized by Christian people as the field of philosophy. Yet if one were to ask the average Christian "What do philosophers talk about?" they probably could not answer with assurance. "I think philosophers are liberal," says one. "Philosophy will destroy your faith," says another. "Go on to the class," says yet another, "but just remember that you don't have to believe everything you hear."

Sound advice, or so it seems. But what is it that students might hear that will destroy their faith? Exactly what is the content of a course in philosophy? The question sounds simple enough. Why is it so hard to get a simple, straightforward answer?

It is difficult to explain what philosophy is because philosophy is not a self-contained discipline. Philosophy is more a method of thinking than a specific thing being thought. It is a way of thinking more than it is a specific idea. For example, the term "philosophy" is frequently attached to some other field of study. There is a philosophy of science, a philosophy of art, and a philosophy of history. There is also a philosophy of religion. When someone studies the "philosophy" of something, the content of the course is determined by the specific discipline involved, but the method of study is different from what might be done in the normal study within that discipline. The questions asked by the philosopher are more foundational, more basic, than the questions normally being asked by the practitioner of the discipline.

History can serve as an example. Most modern educational systems require some study of history. One may study the American Civil War or the History of Europe in the Middle Ages. In each case the course would include a survey of the events during the period of time designated. Not every event would be included in the study, however. Only those events that were considered to be important would be included. But wait a minute! How exactly does one decide which events are important? All historians seek to explain the events they are studying. But what is the proper way to explain events? Are events in history "caused" in the same way "scientific events" are caused? What is the nature of valid historical explanation? Are there historical "laws" comparable to scientific "laws," or is history better understood if we use descriptive methods patterned after the kinds of explanations that are appropriate in setting forth the meaning and value of art? Is there one and only one "true" explanation of the flow of events in history? Why do various historians provide different explanations for the same events? If we all had the same information, would we all come to the same conclusions? Is there a pattern in history? Are things moving in a certain direction or toward a definite goal?

History refers to the sum of human events, but in practice no one ever knows or thinks of each and every event. "History" in practice refers to those events that are made known to later generations by written accounts or by the preservation of artifacts and information from the past. Thus, historians try to produce a truthful, sequential account of particular past events. (Chronology is often but not always a necessary element of valid historical accounts.) Philosophy of history, on the other hand, is a study of the basic assumptions that make the study (and the valid and appropriate telling) of history possible.

From this brief illustration, it is already apparent that philosophy is a discipline that asks very basic questions, that seeks to clarify the underlying assumptions of various fields of study. There are, however, some basic assumptions or some fundamental questions that are common to all fields of study. These are the issues that define the so-called "philosophic enterprise."


It is common for people to think of philosophy and philosophers as being characteristically abstract and out of touch with reality. Nevertheless, what philosophy actually deals with is very important to all of us.

Everyone believes something about life. Some people may not spend much time worrying about it, but it does make a difference what we believe about the nature of the universe or the spectrum of human affairs. Those who do not ask or who do not care to ask the basic questions of life will never develop a perspective from which to determine the significance of their own activities and ideas.

Anyone who asks "Why?" is asking a question that ultimately leads to basic philosophical issues. What "ought" we to believe and/or do? How do we know? What is truth? Why does not everyone agree about things? How can we know who (if anyone) is right? How should we distinguish between two viewpoints? How reliable are our opinions?

Many people simply accept without question certain traditional beliefs. Some people never question a reported scientific discovery or theory. Religious ideas are sometimes believed without question or analysis. Philosophers insist that all these things should be subjected to intensive analysis. If the idea or theory is found to be based on solid evidence, and if the views are consistent with other accepted truths, then the reasonable person may conclude that it is justifiable to believe the proposed idea or theory. But without such evidence or without rational support, the reasonable person may question the validity of some proposed idea.

Job accepted the theory that the universe was controlled by a good God. Yet he experienced a series of events that seemed to challenge those ideas. How could God be good when Job (God's servant) was suffering so? Job listened to the various theories expressed by his friends. (The discussions are classic examples of philosophic discourse.) Job's friends express traditional ideas about the nature of ultimate reality, and Job has to rethink these traditional ideas. The accepted system of belief was not adequate to account for what Job knew to be true. Several possible alternative theories are considered throughout the book, but none seems to satisfy. Thus Job concludes that human reason may not be adequate to deal with some of the basic issues of his life. He maintains his faith in God, for God personally reveals his sovereign presence, but Job never received the answer he sought to the intellectual problems raised by his experience.


Excerpted from A Handbook for Christian Philosophy by L. Russ Bush Copyright © 1991 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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