Sermons

Summary: Paul states explicitly here that there are philosophies that sound logical and reasonable but are simply wrong, and take us away from the Good News of Jesus. Logic and philosophy are good, but they can only take us so far.

Colossians 2:8 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.

Paul considered how Jesus makes the Christian faith different from all others. I hinted at the empty arguments to the contrary. Paul states explicitly here that there are philosophies that sound logical and reasonable but are simply wrong, and take us away from the Good News of Jesus. Logic and philosophy are good, but they can only take us so far. Christians have included Greek philosophical systems as part of their reasoning and apologetics from at least the third century. Augustine was a Greek Philosopher, influenced by Plato, before he came to Christ, and after coming to Christ he used platonic philosophical principles to argue biblical theological points like the trinity. Boethius was one of the most influential thinkers of the medieval era and he used a vision of Lady Philosophy to teach Christian theology, including issues of God’s will, predestination, and the nature of God and humanity. Thomas Aquinas believed the mind was not fallen with the rest of our human nature and that through reasoning alone we could come to knowledge of God. Francis Bacon was a committed Christian who felt philosophy and religion were useless unless they bettered humanity. Descartes was a deeply devout Christian, who sought to establish a philosophical system based on first principles and from those principles to understand the world. His retreat to basic principles, arguing we can’t know much for certain, and can only build a philosophy of life on certainties, lead him almost to solipsism (the idea that I am the only thing that exists, or, in your case, you are the only thing that exists). He started with the first principle “I think, therefore I exist” (cogito ergo sum), and built his philosophy from there. From there two main camps developed. The first can be represented by people like Isaac Newton and John Locke, who believed that through careful scientific enquiry we can come to deep knowledge about the universe, and through that knowledge, improve human conditions. On the other side, Kant argued that the human mind was the basis of all understanding and, in a sense, reality. But, heavily influenced by the Christian culture of his day, he also grounded his ethical system on the rule that we should only do those things that we would wish to be universalized-we should treat others the way we would want to be treated-a reworking of Jesus principle ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’. But his teaching, based on Descartes, that the human mind is the basis of all reality and ethics, lead to a deconstruction of ethics and humanity and truth. Nietzsche’s rejection of any absolute ethical moorings heavily influenced such 20th Century thinkers as Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. Today, still influenced by these great minds (not Hitler & Stalin, the other guys), philosophers tend to either see science as the only path to human knowledge and truth, or conclude that all perspectives of truth are entirely relative to the observer and, therefore, impossible to apply to all people and all places at all times-essentially we can’t know anything with certainty. These philosophies have infiltrated the seminaries of the world and continue to influence how trained theologians look at the Bible and the world.

I know. That was a long paragraph. I’ve given a very brief and incomplete overview of the path of Western Philosophy and its influence on Christian thinking because it seems to me that the evidence points in the direction that philosophy still has its limitations. It can only take you so far. Logic is good. But I can make a logical, rational argument for horrific acts. The Nazis, believing that genetic development over time had lead to the formation of a super race logically concluded that manipulating the genetic code through grotesque human experimentation was not only philosophically consistent, but rationally required. Today, if I believe that we are merely the products of evolutionary development I can rationally justify many things that are morally repugnant. If I see two people crossing the street in front of my car here in Bangalore, clearly not giving me enough time to slow my vehicle to avoid hitting them, I can do a quick logical calculation and conclude that they are people of inferior intelligence, and, logically, I would be doing all future generations of humanity a favor by removing them from the gene pool. This is an entirely logical and rational conclusion. It is also morally completely wrong headed. Philosophy, logic, and critical thinking can help me understand the world in many ways-it can lead to great advances in science and medicine. But it seems devoid of power to make us better people. And philosophy is powerless to bring us to knowledge of God (Yes. I believe Aquinas was wrong about that).

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