A Calvinist writer, Randy Seiver, with whom I have engaged in discussion from time to time has written a post asking several questions about prevenient grace. Most of the questions center around how enabling grace works and whether it can be resistible.
I am not going to tackle these questions in this post. Instead I am going to tackle something he says in part of his opening statement. Before posing questions, Randy lays down two charges against those who reject Calvinism. The first is that they have a system built on philosophy. The second is that their system is not a biblical one.
I would like to pose a few “philosophical” questions about their position … . Since their position is a philosophical and not a biblical one, I should be permitted to ask what they call “philosophical questions.”
It is this set of charges that I want to address.
Before we begin we need to ask and answer two questions.
- What is philosophy?
- What does it mean to be Biblical?
What is philosophy?
The word philosophy comes from two Greek words (philia and sophia) which together mean “lover of wisdom”. The Florida State University Dept. of Philosophy notes that philosophy is an “activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths”. But defining philosophy is no easy task as Geisler and Feinberg note in the first chapter of their book Introduction to Philosophy. The challenge, they conclude, stems from the fact that asking questions and defining things are what philosophy is all about.
At its core philosophy ask questions that are often deep and complex.
- What is truth?
- What is knowledge?
- What is morality (good and evil)?
- Is there a God?
Peter Kreeft, in his book Philosophy 101 by Socrates, explores rather than defines philosophy by describing its characteristics as found in Plato’s Socratic dialogues. On page 104, he notes:
Socrates is the apostle of reason. He demands that we give logical reasons, grounds for beliefs, and follow the logical consequences of our beliefs, taken as premises or hypotheses, to their logical conclusions through a number of logically compelling steps.
… reason and faith, logic and piety, philosophy and religion are natural allies, not enemies.
Justin Martyr, an early theologian and philosopher, addresses this question in the Dialogue with Trypho (chapter 3) and concludes that philosophy is the search for the “knowledge … and clear perception of the truth”. And happiness is arriving at “such knowledge and wisdom”.
In the very popular Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, the work of a theologian is described as:
collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.
Theology (specifically systematic theology) sounds like an “activity” that seeks to “understand fundamental truths”. Theology sounds a lot like philosophy.
Millard Erickson, in Christian Theology, notes that:
Theology is subject to certain basic principles or axioms. In particular, it is answerable to the same canons of logic as are other disciplines. … It shows an affinity [for the] methodology of philosophy, since it advances metaphysical claims.
later he writes:
a major value of philosophy for the theologian [is] scrutiny of the meaning of terms and ideas employed in the theological task, the criticizing of arguments, and the sharpening of the message for clarity.
In my judgment, philosophy, within somewhat restricted scope, also performs the second function, weighing the truth-claims advanced by theology and giving part of the basis for accepting the message.
In this sense, anyone who studies theology is a philosopher. We are asking questions about God and the world He created and we are trying to clarify what is known (or revealed).
What does it mean to be Biblical?
If philosophy is hard to define, the term “Biblical” may be harder. Being Biblical or not being Biblical is thrown around when two theologians don’t agree, but rarely does anyone stop to define that they mean.
According to dictionary.com it means “in accord with the Bible”.
Theologians come to the Scriptures with different presuppositions and hermeneutic principles. We read the same words (like sovereign, elect, world, and free will) but, for each of us, they mean very different things. We study a narrative yet draw different implications about what it may be teaching. All of these things lead us to interpret passages in dissimilar ways, which in turn lead to a divergent set of conclusions. But do these differences mean that one view is not “Biblical”?
Being Biblical and Philosophical are not mutually exclusive
When we read our Bibles and seek to understand it we are doing philosophy.
When we study (exegete) a passage and seek to understand what it means through the grammar, history, context, and other factors we are employing logic and reason to order our thoughts. We all use philosophical arguments to defend our view and to highlight the weaknesses of another position. When we synthesize multiple passages from various books of Scripture and propose or assert something about God and His dealings with man we are building a systematic theology and we are doing philosophy.
Calvinism and Arminianism are both systematic theologies that are built on Scripture. However, they emphasize different passages and interpret many passages differently.
Calvinism and Arminianism are both systematic theologies that are built on philosophy. They both ask questions, seek understanding, and synthesize Scripture using logic and reason to answer questions about God, man, and salvation.
For a variety of reasons, Calvinism and Arminianism strongly disagree with each other on a variety of topics (particularly about what it means for God to be sovereign and how a person can come to faith) but we should be able to agree that both of these views (in their classic form) are both Biblical and philosophical.