Sunday, December 6, 2009

Essence and Function, Part One: The Importance of Philosophy

I’ve been thinking over the series on the Trinity that I’ve been doing here at the blog the last few days...and it has occurred to me through dialogue with others via e-mail that it is important to spend some time explaining the simple philosophy behind the Trinity and the men-women debate.

Now, some may say, “Well, this is a theological issue...let’s just stick to the Bible.” When I was younger, I believed the exact same thing----even until I was a seminary student, I believed the exact same thing. But my time at seminary (in addition to the countless pages of reading I’ve done) has convinced me, via historical theology, that debates in the church are not as much an issue of the Bible as they are of philosophy. In the debate on the Trinity, for instance, everyone will marshal their proof-texts to sway you to believe what they do; however, what happens when you arrive at an impasse? What happens when your opponent has just as many passages for his view as you do yours?

This is where philosophy comes in. During the Middle Ages, philosophy was labeled “the handmaiden of theology” (,9171,871268,00.html) and, although the two fields have had their share of fights, I still believe the statement to be true: philosophy is still the handmaiden of theology. Because Scripture speaks of God as a logical God, a God of order, a God who does that which is just and right, it makes sense to study philosophy. The word “philosophy” literally translated, comes from two Greek words, “philos” (lover) and “Sophia” (wisdom). Put together, the word “philosophy” refers to “a lover of wisdom.”

Scripture testifies that wisdom is a blessing:

“Happy is the man who finds WISDOM, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and ALL THE THINGS YOU MAY DESIRE CANNOT COMPARE WITH HER. Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and ALL HER PATHS ARE PEACE. SHE IS A TREE OF LIFE to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her” (Proverbs 3:13-18, NKJV).

Wisdom is more profitable than “silver,” “fine gold,” and “rubies.” Wisdom is worth more than “all the things” a person could ever desire. In other words, wisdom is the most valuable possession a person could ever own. Wisdom is even worth more than all my college and seminary training combined!

One of the most important things that Solomon wants us to see about wisdom is that “she is a tree of life to those who take hold of her...” Solomon labels wisdom as “a tree of life.”

Does the “tree of life” allusion here ring a bell? It should. This reference takes us back to Genesis, where Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden by eating fruit from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Someone could say, “well, they aimed for, why was it a bad thing?” It was wrong because they were disobeying God! The very act of disobedience itself showed that humanity’s first parents did not have a “fear of the Lord,” which is central to wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10, NKJV). To first have wisdom, then, we must first have a reverential fear for the Lord. God must be first in our lives, and we must long to please him with all our heart, soul, and might (which involves the mind). Once He is Lord over our lives, then and only then can we seek to love Him with everything we are and everything we have. Wisdom, then, is not just a tree of knowledge, but a tree of understanding. And wisdom gives life, prolongs days (“length of years,” Prov. 3—see above).

It is at this point that you may ask me, “Well, I realize that wisdom is important, that it’s more valuable to me than anything I hold dear. How do I get this wisdom?” James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, tell us:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, LET HIM ASK OF GOD, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

I have taken some time here to show the importance of philosophy in the life of the believer. The Lord desires that we please Him with our minds; but in order to do that, we’ve got to become “lovers of wisdom.” The only way to do this is to know what wisdom is—and that starts with “the fear of the Lord.” Once a person has the Lord as the center of their entire existence, then he or she can begin to ask God for wisdom. God desires that we know Him in a most intimate way, so He will give us wisdom if we ask for it. Our desire to study philosophy should be founded upon our desire to please the Lord with our minds, our intellect that He so graciously bestowed upon humanity. Let the wicked and lazy servant be an example to us that, to throw away our minds is to disregard the goodness of our Lord...and thus, make ourselves enemies of His Grace.

I will continue with a discussion of wisdom and philosophy in future posts.

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