Philosophy: A Student's Guide

Philosophy: A Student's Guide


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433531279
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 09/30/2012
Series: Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition Series
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

David Naugle (ThD, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, University of Texas at Arlington) is the distinguished university professor and chair of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University. David lives in Duncanville, Texas, with his wife, Deemie.

David S. Dockery (PhD, University of Texas) is the president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, following more than eighteen years of presidential leadership at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is a much sought-after speaker and lecturer, a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and the author or editor of more than thirty books. Dockery and his wife, Lanese, have three sons andseven grandchildren.

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[Saint Paul] asserts that Christ is the wisdom of God and that only Christians can attain true wisdom (1 Cor. 1–2).

— E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism

Jesus Christ is Lord of philosophy. To be sure, no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Certainly no one can say Jesus is Lord of philosophy, and mean it, except by the same Holy Spirit. A substantial change in inner being and outlook fostered by Pentecostal power is surely necessary to affirm Christ's lordship in general and his lordship over philosophy in particular. To affirm Christ's lordship over life and philosophy, in other words, is a function of regeneration. You must be born again (John 3).

Affirming that Jesus is Lord of philosophy is a radically countercultural position. It is sure to appear ludicrous to many. C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) once bemoaned but later applauded Jesus Christ as the "transcendental Interferer" in life. Jesus is the "transcendental interferer" in philosophy as well, a proverbial "game-changer." More theologically, Jesus Christ as incarnate Savior and Lord interferes with philosophy by redeeming, converting, and transforming it. He decisively shifts the philosophic paradigm.

If we have a christological disposition, we should ply our philosophic tradecoram Deo — before the face of God. Augustine (354–430) is an example. By God's grace, he and those who have followed after him have recognized the supremacy of Jesus as the creator and redeemer of all things and knew he was the one "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3).

Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) certainly wanted to honor Jesus and his lordship over all creation, including education and the academic disciplines, philosophy among them. The noted Dutch polymath offered his signature proposition on the matter in these often quoted words from his inaugural address at the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880: "There is not a square inch," Kuyper thundered, "in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"

Kuyper's Spirit-inspired affirmation of Christ's lordship over everything is certainly a biblical notion. It is derived from God's native supremacy and sovereignty (see Ex. 9:29; Deut. 10:14; Job 41:11; Pss. 24:1; 50:12; 103:19; Dan. 4:17; cf. 1 Cor. 10:26). God's rule is especially manifest in the redemptive triumph of Jesus over sin, death, and Satan and other wicked forces that had deformed humanity and creation. In Christ, the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15). Jesus is Christus Victor (Col. 2:15). In light of his conquest, God exalted Jesus by granting him authority and lordship over all things as the Great Commission and Paul's words make clear (Matt. 28:18; Phil. 2:9–11).

God's existence and sovereignty and Christ's lordship couldn't be more influential for the study of philosophy. Or complicating! In light of these realities, we have to ask different questions and participate in new conversations, if we are to reclaim a Christian intellectual tradition in philosophy (actually, the questions and conversations are rehabilitations of older ones). In short, we want to know how to philosophize in light of God and the gospel. We want to grasp the philosophic implications of the Scriptures as divine revelation. Perhaps the recent turn or re turn to religion in philosophy and cultural affairs will facilitate discussion of these questions. That is, unless ABC prevails.

Regardless, we must ask: What are Christian implications on metaphysics, anthropology, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics? These matters constitute a veritable Gordian knot that is difficult to untie, almost as challenging as apprehending the mystery of the Trinity. Hence, we need a prolegomena to help us sort this out.


Prolegomena is derived from the neuter present passive participial form of the Greek verb prolegein, which means "to speak beforehand or predict." A prolegomena, or a word spoken beforehand, is a preliminary exercise to any subject matter or discussion. Its purpose is to spell out the fundamental assumptions, methods, principles, and relationships that guide any specific inquiry, especially academic ones.

Normally, theologians offer a prolegomena at the outset of their theologies to inform people of the basic concepts that are driving their reflections. From time to time, theologians' prolegomenas are quite biblical. Other times, they deploy extrabiblical ideas as the bases on which they theologize. Regardless, a theological prolegomena is quite influential. "Show me your prolegomena," says one theologian, "and I will predict the rest of your theology."

A prolegomena is also philosophically prophetic. Very often, however, and this is a very important point, philosophers philosophize unprolegomenously. That is, philosophy's main practitioners, Christian philosophers included, pursue the subject without giving much, if any, attention to prefatory concerns. With a tip of the hat to a presumed objectivity, many jump right into the philosophic process and churn out theories willy-nilly. We think our thoughts and theories can explain reality unmediated. We think that reality is automatically present to mind and directly expressible.

This approach, however, is naive. Philosophies have antecedents (as well as consequences), and philosophers ought to state their assumptions up front so that people will know from where they are coming. As C. S. Lewis reminds us, "For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are." Show me your prolegomena, and I can predict the rest of your philosophy.


Before I build, however, I must do a little blasting. My concern is that a fair number of Christian philosophers have often relied on non-Christian sources to guide them in their thinking. Plato and the neo-Platonists, Aristotle and the Aristotelians, Descartes and the Cartesians, Kant and the Kantians, Hegel and the Hegelians, Reid and Common Sense Realists, Heidegger and the Heideggerians, and so on, have supplied various and sundry Christian philosophers with their basic principles by which they have offered an alleged Christian philosophy.

However, we must ask whether such appropriations help or hinder a Christian philosophical apprehension of God, life, and the world. For example, did aspects of neo-Platonic philosophy assumed by the early church fathers help them produce a more biblically faithful understanding of things? What influenced Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35–c. 107) to write this comment in his epistle to the Romans: "I have no delight in corruptible food nor in the pleasures of this life"? Is this a Christian sentiment? Just how orthodox were these early Christian theologians and philosophers? Note Friedrich Nietzsche's charge that Christianity overall was basically "Platonism for the people." Where does such thinking come from? It seems that various Greek conceptions damaged Christian philosophy and theology early on and in a residual way. Aren't we still struggling with the fallout of Christianized versions of stoicism, asceticism, Gnosticism, and so on?

We might also ask how more recent appropriations of aspects of rationalism, empiricism, scientism, idealism, evolutionism, processism, logical positivism, linguisticism, pragmatism, existentialism, Marxism, feminism, and so on, have affected Christian thought. Have these "isms" helped or hindered our understanding of God and his ways? What about modernism? Or postmodernism? These are huge issues. Has Christian philosophy been in thralldom to a kind of philosophic captivity over the centuries? No doubt the very idea of a "Hellenization," used here to stand for interpreting Christian truth by means of foreign outlooks ("Christ of culture") has continued unabated.

Though there will always be imperfections and impurities, we conclude, nevertheless, that a Christian philosophy requires a biblically sound prolegomena, not an interloper. A prolegomena should be indigenous to the material it directs, like a native guide pointing out the features of his or her homeland to visitors. Let's call it a "prolegomena to the glory of God."


I begin with the claim that faith is a universal component of human nature. Faith is the deepest thing within us, and, as a result, it guides our thinking and living. For all of us, then, and not just Christians, "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).

If we are creatures living naturally in a God-given, faith-based mode, this means at least two things. First, we cannot divide the world between believers and nonbelievers since all people have faith and everyone believes. To be sure, objects of faith differ, and we can still divide the human race between those who possess saving faith and those who do not. Saving faith itself, however, is best understood as a graciously redirected function of the faith-based nature we all possess.

Second, in light of this we cannot say that religious philosophers have faith and nonreligious philosophers do not. Or that the former are biased because of faith and the latter are unbiased. Or that religious philosophers are faith-based individuals dealing with subjective values, while nonreligious philosophers are scientific and are concerned with rational, objective facts.

Rather, faith as a universal structural component of human nature levels the playing field. It means that all philosophers are people of faith and all are as biased and subjective as anyone else. In a shared way, all philosophers see and hear certain things, and don't see and hear others, because of who they are and where they are standing. Various and sundry controlling stories and control beliefs quietly guide the thoughts and lives of philosophers, even if the philosophers themselves claim to bracket their prejudices when doing philosophy.

Bracketing the presuppositions we posit underneath in advance and hold by faith in our hearts, however, is impossible and doesn't happen. Can we even identify our assumptions? Who can strip himself of himself or herself of herself? Even if it were possible, who would want to? Hence, presuppositions are consistently at work guiding philosophic reflection in hidden and yet powerful ways, as the moon affects the tides. Philosophers with presupposed, faith-based presuppositions are not nonreligious in nature, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. All philosophers are religious philosophers. Secularism hasn't eliminated religion, just relocated it, especially in the direction of various forms of contemporary worship. Thus, as Roy Clouser has shown, this means that religious neutrality in scholarship and theory making, philosophy included, is simply a myth. Thought is a function of religion.

Another main point in this prolegomena follows directly from this. The faith of Christian philosophers ought to rest upon God, and they should derive their philosophies from canonical Trinitarian theism. This is a shorthand expression for the Christian faith, referring specifically to the Trinitarian God, who has made himself and all his works known in the inspired revelation of the biblical canon from Genesis to Revelation. "Canonical Trinitarian theism" is also known, more commonly, as a biblical or Christian worldview, or as a Christian "social imaginary," if you prefer. Regardless of the name, Christian philosophers ought to be Christ followers, and Christian faith ought to be the primary source of Christian philosophers' philosophy in metaphysics, anthropology, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and other subdisciplines.


On this fundamental foundation about faith, let me add some additional features to a Christian philosophical prolegomena. First, in light of the doctrine of creation (Genesis 1–2), there is an important distinction between God the infinite creator and his finite creation. This prevents us from identifying God with nature (naturalism) or of identifying nature with God (pantheism). Nature is nature or creation, and not God. God is God or divine, and not nature or creation. This distinction also prevents us from equating God and humans. God is God and not people; people are people and not God (Ps. 100:3). Finally, it maintains God's sovereignty over the world he created. He is incomparably great in his person, power, and presence. Acknowledging God and his authority in this reverent way, according to Scripture, is unsurprisingly the beginning (and end) of both knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10).

Despite this ontological division, heaven and earth are not strangers. God upholds all things in existence (Jer. 33:20; Col. 2:17). All reality is holy (Isa. 6:3), "shot through with the presence of God" as Alexander Schmemann (1921–1983) has said. The world is not a neutral place. It is God's. Christian philosophy must reflect these profound realities based on the distinction and intimacy between God and his world.

The next basic principle of a Christian prolegomena is that grace restores nature (GRN). GRN is established on the inherent connections and theological unity that exists between cosmology (nature) and soteriology (grace) in the biblical story. The doctrines of creation and redemption are deeply connected. God made a very good creation. It fell into sin. Out of covenant love, God saves and renews all things in Christ. The movement in Scripture is from creation to a new creation. God is not interested in making new things since the first things he made were very good (Gen. 1:31; Rom. 8:18–25; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:20; Rev. 21:5). To use an analogy, God created a barn. It got rats, but he didn't burn down the barn to get rid of the rats. Rather, he got rid of the rats in order to get his barn back. Christianity, in other words, is about the restoration of a sin-wrecked world.

The Catholic Augustine and the Protestant Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) advocated GRN. So did Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann. "Christ came," Schmemann writes, "not to replace 'natural' matter with some 'supernatural' or sacred matter, but to restore it and to fulfill it as the means of communion with God." This has tremendous philosophical implications, for if grace restores nature, or salvation renews culture, and philosophy is part of culture or nature, then salvation and grace restores philosophy. In other words, Christ restores philosophy. Saving faith enables Christian philosophers to seek philosophical understanding in him.

A third feature of a Christian philosophical prolegomena is the distinction between structure and direction and the associated notion of antithesis. Structurally, the creation was very good (Gen. 1:31). Yet, sin parasitically affected everything and all of life went in the wrong direction. Though deeply entwined, sin is still distinct from creation. To equate creation and sin is Gnostic or Manichean, not Christian. Sin is ethical misdirection. It's a moral matter, not a metaphysical one.

We can make bad use of good things, according to St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 318–387). There is nothing wrong with sex, food, or self, he said, since God made them all. It's their misuse that's sin. The same is true of the words we speak. We can pour into them the wine of truth or error. They are the good gifts of God, but they can be used to hurt or heal — the antithetical directions (Prov. 12:18).

John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) and Augustine espoused the structure, direction, and antithesis distinctions. So did C. S. Lewis. In his earlier days, Lewis disdained the customary idea of loving the sinner (structure), but hating the sin (direction). Then he realized there was one person who had been the gracious recipient of this distinction all along, namely, himself. As he confesses in Mere Christianity, "However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it." Lewis loved and embraced himself as structurally good, so to speak, even if he didn't like his misdirected behavior on occasion.

A fourth feature of this Christian prolegomena is common grace. By it, God shows nonsaving favor to all by bestowing natural gifts such as rain, sunshine, and food, on all creatures, by preserving creation and restraining sin in human affairs, and by giving diverse gifts and capacities to all people who are able to make distinctive contributions to the common good. As we read in Psalm 145:9, "The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made."


Excerpted from "Philosophy"
by .
Copyright © 2012 David K. Naugle.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Series Preface 11

Author's Preface 15

1 Prolegomena 19

2 Metaphysics 33

3 Philosophical Anthropology 47

4 Epistemology 61

5 Ethics 73

6 Aesthetics 87

7 The Vocation of Christian Philosophers 101

Questions for Reflection 115

Glossary 117

Resources for Further Study 121

Index 123

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A very readable, theologically sensitive treatment of crucial philosophical issues of central concern to the Christian faith. Dr. Naugle has done a first-rate job of covering a wide range of issues in a responsible way, while keeping the level of discourse at a truly introductory level. This book fills a needed gap in the literature, and I am delighted to endorse it.”
J. P. Moreland,Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author,The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters

“This fine book not only makes important explorations in Christian philosophy accessible to those who may be starting out on their intellectual journey; it also offers insights to those of us who are well along in that pilgrimage. Dr. Naugle combines solid scholarship with a firm grasp of how a biblical worldview can help to reclaim a strong Christian intellectual tradition in these confusing—but exciting—times.”
Richard J. Mouw, President, Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Adolescent Christians entering adulthood often have plenty of zeal for the faith, but stand in need of theological facility and in even greater need of philosophical awareness. This little book opens both doors and welcomes the newcomer in to what proves to be—and this, too, can be surprising—a single room of treasures. I especially love how exploring the room brings to light, not only the treasures, but traces of the copious inquiries of an experience Christian scholar and caring teacher of philosophy. It inspires and summons to a life of loving wisdom (philosophy) and loving God.”
Esther L. Meek, Professor of Philosophy, Geneva College; author, Loving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology; A Little Manual for Knowing

“Although I disagree with my esteemed colleague at some points (philosophers are always arguing with each other!), this astute primer serves as a learned, well-written, deeply historical, and biblical treatment of what it means to philosophize as a follower of Jesus Christ. Readers will be richly rewarded by Professor Naugle's insights, passion, and Christian commitment to philosophy as a divine calling.”
Douglas Groothius, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary; author, Christian Apologetics

“David Naugle’s book is an insightful guide for all ‘lovers of wisdom.’ It is readily understandable to the philosophical novice while at the same time offering a rich, theologically informed overview of philosophy’s themes to benefit and challenge the scholar. Dr. Naugle is a philosopher who knows well the importance of worldview formation but also has a passion for thoughtful believers to be transformed into the image of Christ.”
Paul Copan, Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University

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