What Does Philosophy Have To Do With Apologetics?

by Tim Chaffey

     If you asked me this question five years ago I would have probably responded by saying "Nothing!"  My approach was usually from an evidential stance.  I am not a big fan of philosophy in any way, shape, or form.  I am a theologian (aspiring) at heart and concur with Paul's comments about philosophy in 1 Corinthians 1 - 3.  However, in the past few years I have begun to see its importance to the apologist.

     Philosophy literally means "love of wisdom."  Its history is filled with arguments for and against a particular idea.  Philosophers have generally tried to explain some of life's most important questions: Why are we here (if we are here)?  Is there a God?  If so, is it possible to know Him?  What is the nature of reality?  Growing up in a Christian home I took these for granted so philosophy class did not seem very important. 

     Now that I am out in the "real world" I can see why it is important to understand what some of the leading thinkers throughout history have thought and taught.  It is amazing to see how philosophy has permeated our society.  Especially prevalent in our day and age is agnosticism - even though many that adhere to this view are unaware of it.  The church has been hit hard by pragmatic thinking.  So why is all this important to the apologist?  Do we really need man's wisdom to defend the faith?  I will answer that with a qualified "sometimes."  God's Word can stand on it's own.  The Bible proves itself to be the Word of God.  In that way, it does not need man's wisdom to come to its defense. 

     Yet, many are unwilling to ever open the Bible for one reason or another.  Perhaps they do not believe it is possible for God to communicate with man.  Maybe they have been led to believe absolutes do not exist (see Absolutes? Absolutely!) so why even "waste" time on a book that makes absolute truth claims.  This is where philosophy can aid the apologist.  In the first volume of his Systematic Theology, Dr. Norman Geisler covers eleven preconditions that may need to be met before a person may be willing to even look at the Bible.[1]  An understanding of these preconditions may assist the apologist in reaching the lost and/or defending God's Word.

     I have found it helpful to use philosophy to knock out a person's unbiblical worldview.  Once they realize that their whole system of belief has been decimated, it is usually easier to train them in a biblical worldview.  In this way, and perhaps others, philosophy can aid the apologist.  I would strongly caution against relying on it, though.  God's Word is sharper than any two-edged sword and is capable of bringing the sinner to his knees in repentance (Hebrews 4: 12; cf. Isaiah 55: 11).  Philosophy may serve as a tool in this process but should never be considered to be more valuable than God's Word.

[1] I agree with John M. Frame that God's Word is capable of penetrating through the layers of skepticism and doubt without the aid of philosophy.  The Holy Spirit is capable of convicting a sinner without an exhaustive philosophical study.  At the same time, Jesus commanded us to use our minds so we dare not forsake one of the means He has given us to reach the lost.



(back to articles)