Within a month, The Davenant Institute will release an anthology volume entitled Philosophy and the Christian: The Quest for Wisdom in the Light of Christ. Compared to most of our publications, this particular one might seem rather redundant in our day. Hasn’t enough, maybe even too much, already been said? In the last few decades, there has been a cottage industry of major and minor historical and normative treatments of philosophy written by an Evangelical theologians and philosophers. Why enter the fray with yet another such volume? What could possibly justify the existence of this volume in light of so many other contributions?
Philosophy Is of First Importance to Us Because Truth Is
Philosophy is of first importance to us because truth is. This concern contextualizes the frequent critique(s) of some forms of worldview rhetoric that are often sponsored by the Davenant Institute. The goal therein is not to be edgy or new, but rather to insist that reality is public, that it is knowable, and that the particulars claims of the Christian faith both illuminate that public reality and can endure any inquiry rooted in it. But this is no abstract or easy commitment. Because we are finite and fallen, we confess with the whole of the Christian church that our understanding is partial and liable to error—even willfully so. Moreover, the human heart is wicked in ways that we do not fully understand (Jer. 17:9) and so it is fitting and right to submit our understanding to divine wisdom. Nevertheless, the object of this endeavor, and the importance of these qualifications, is to refine the instrumentation of the human person so that he might participate in common reality in a more fitting way. That is to say, these qualifications need not induce skepticism, but epistemic care. And humble care, cultivated by observation, instruction, and experience—yields wisdom and knowledge of the real public world. In truth, we were made for this and we feel delight and pleasure (an echo of God’s own delight) when we know and understand.
But if not easy, neither is our commitment abstract—an insistence on principle for the sake of principle. Rather, in knowing the world, we know before our glorious God in whose Being all of reality is suspended. He is the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) end of our investigation of the world. What is more, it is before His smiling face (as a good Father in Christ) that we traverse the intellectual journey of discovering our enigmatic selves and our remarkably dense and diverse world.
At stake, therefore, in our insistence on the public nature of reality is that any tendency (whether in principle or fact) to subjectivize human knowledge or to reduce the objects of our inquiry to predetermined epiphenomena of our more fundamental “reality glasses,” cheats the human soul out of a fundamental birthright—a birthright of discovery. As we consider the philosophical enterprise, it is right to be cautious. But we cannot be driven by fear. This is God’s world. It is His reality. He owns and sustains all things from beginning to end, from the most particular to the absolute infinite, from things in themselves to things in their incalculably and exponentially complicated relations to other things. And therefore the journey of knowing can be taken with a childlike trust in its Author—who does not deceive but reveals Himself in the perfections, contours, details, events, ambiguities, hard edges, fuzzy lines, and gravity of the reality grounded in His own self-delighted and overflowing plenitude of Being.
Discovery and the Bible
Of chief importance, of course, is the relationship between such discovery and the Bible. Evangelical theologians are rightly concerned about philosophical trends which seek to force the teachings of Scripture into the mold of extra-biblical hypotheses. And they are even more rightly concerned about those who simply declare the Scriptures to be “wrong” (whether explicitly or by implication). But the antidote to childish construals is not merely the declaration of an alter-ego hypothesis on the other side of the classroom. It is rather a posture of humility befitting discovery, undertaken with God before God.
And this is an innately compelling posture. In an era of rhetorical posturing (the superficiality of which we often feel in our bones), the honest philosophical voyager is innately prophetic—a reminder that reality (like its Author and even ourselves) is more dense and surprising than we give it credit for. Moreover, as we learn the skill of knowing both the Scripture and the world and their relationship in more fine-grained detail, we speak the truth into the public realm with pathos. Our speech has gravitas because it is extraspectically oriented to the world itself. In a word, it is honest speech.
This philosophical journey is not taken alone, however, but with guides and friends both ancient and contemporary. We are social animals in a social world. The offerings of our forthcoming book, therefore, detail the manner in which our Christian forefathers (and some of our contemporaries) have sought to navigate the quandary of the philosophical quest with wisdom. The goal in highlighting so many moments in the history of Christianity and philosophy is not to commend slavish obedience, but to highlight some significant continuities of principle for the sake of fresh in a contemporary context.
Nothing is More Catholic than Reason
It has been said that nothing is more catholic than reason, but nothing is less catholic than the particulars of one’s own life. And it is here that all of those things that we seek to recovery at the Davenant Institute (natural law, etc) must actually be applied. But evident in this way of putting it is that there is no manual for this application. There is finally and only the free man—the lord and servant of all—who lives in this world before God. And it is precisely as courageous inhabitants of our particular journey, guided by the stars of natural law, the winds of reason, and the sails of Holy Scripture, that we witness a God who deigns to unveil Himself in His creation for all who will but grasp it. The philosophical calling is a calling to pursue such unveiling in the mirror of this world.