Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Spirit and Wisdom United
Paul Moser proposes a thoroughly Christ-shaped philosophy as a model for other Christian academic disciplines. He argues that Christian philosophy will proceed as a discipline confessing that Jesus is Lord, beyond theistic and deistic models of philosophy.
A Christian philosophy would accommodate the subversive Christian message that the outcast Galilean Jesus is Lord. In its talk of Lord, this message assigns distinctive authority to Jesus Christ. Even the authority proper to God. The claim that Jesus is Lord figures not only in who counts as a Christian, namely the one for whom Jesus is Lord, but also in which philosophy counts as Christian, namely the one for whom Jesus is Lord.
A philosophy can be theistic or deistic without being Christian, because it can acknowledge God is authoritative without affirming that Jesus is Lord. We can generalize these points to academic disciplines outside philosophy, such as theology, psychology, sociology, and the natural sciences. Our aim, however, will be to clarify Christ-shaped philosophy, as a model for other disciplines. First something about Paul as a philosopher for Christ. Following Jesus as the founder of the Christian movement, the apostle Paul is the most profound advocate of a Christ-shaped philosophy.
We therefore should attend his insights on the wisdom and the Spirit of Christ. Christian philosophy, in his approach, depends on God’s Spirit, and the Spirit in question is Christ-shaped, being the spirit of Jesus Christ. This perspective calls for a Christ-oriented approach to the kind of wisdom sought by many philosophers since the time of Socrates and Plato. So the general picture is, philosophers in general have been after this thing called wisdom, whatever else they’ve been after, they’ve been after wisdom, and they’ve had various ways of pursuing it, but a Christ-shaped approach offers a unique angle on this pursuit.
Christians need a philosophy to live by, not just to think by, and Paul points us in the right Christ-word direction. The Spirit of Christ always points to the volition of struggle of Gethsemane, particularly to the struggling Jesus in Gethsemane where Calvary was sealed. In doing so, this Spirit promises to lead us non-coercively from death to resurrection life now, as lasting reverent companionship with God, in all ares of our lives, regardless of our academic disciplines. This story is good news, but it rarely gets a serious hearing from philosophers or other theorists. We’ll correct this deficiency. A key lesson will be that Christ-shaped philosophy should be joined with Christ-formed philosophers.
It would be odd, indeed, to propose that a Christian philosophy has little to do with the conditions for being Christian. Paul’s letter to the Colossians offers a striking portrait of Christ-shaped philosophy. To that end, it affirms a warning. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and not according to Christ. Notice the contrast here between philosophy and Christ. Philosophy outside the authority of Christ, according to Paul, is dangerous to human freedom and life. The alternative is philosophy under Christ, and this involves a distinctive kind of wisdom. If philosophy is the love and the pursuit of wisdom, then Christian philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom under the authority of Christ, which calls for an ongoing union with Christ, including one’s belonging to God in Christ.
You can’t understand Paul on faith without understanding this as a relationship of union and belonging. Paul illuminates wisdom under Christ. He prays that the Christians at Colossae be filled with quote, “spiritual wisdom, “and understanding, so that you may lead lives “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, “as you bear fruit in every good work, “and as you grow in the knowledge of God”, end quote. spiritual wisdom in Paul’s approach is wisdom intentionally guided and empowered by the Spirit of Christ.
It therefore yields lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him. No merely theoretical, or intellectual wisdom has the power to guide such lives intentionally. And thus, Paul refers to spiritual wisdom, which amounts to Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-guided wisdom. The redemption of humans calls for an intentional guide or agent who leads and empowers receptive humans inwardly in accordance with God’s character, even when rules and arguments fall short. Philosophers may clamor for principles and arguments, but God sends, instead, a personal agent in Christ. Paul links spiritual wisdom to the word of Christ, to gratitude, and even to spiritual songs as follows.
Quote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. “Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, “and with gratitude in your hearts “sing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs to God”. The wisdom in question, Paul suggests, is anchored in the Word of Christ, and prompts the kind of gratitude that overflows in spiritual songs to God.
Perhaps secular philosophy is deficient then, not because of any broad consistency issues, but only to its neglect of the word of Christ in spiritual songs to God. More specifically, hymnody might be a neglected litmus test for philosophy. With no central role for “Be Thou My Vision” or “What Wondrous Love”, one might suggest, a philosophy and a philosopher are sure to fail. I would bet on it. Paul’s talk of the word of Christ is talk of God’s word of Christ, and Paul offers in Colossians, a definite portrait of this word. He reports that he’s been commissioned by God to make God’s word fully known.
In particular, he identifies God’s word with the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages but has now been revealed. Paul speaks of the riches of the glory of this mystery. So in Paul’s picture, all of history is culminating after all the ages, in a grand mystery that we dare not miss, and he says, “This is Christ in you, “the hope of glory.” This mystery prompts him to teach everyone in all wisdom, in order to present everyone mature in Christ, being rooted and built up, not in some grand theory, not in some particular set of principles or arguments, but in Him, in Christ. God’s main mystery, according to Paul, is Christ Himself, qua intentional agent, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom, not in principals, not in arguments, in Christ. This inward Christ is alive and interactive with God’s wisdom and power. Indeed, Paul offers a cosmic picture. It’s breathtaking. God created all things for Christ, so that He might be preeminent in everything. Now if Christ is to be preeminent in everything, then He should be preeminent in philosophy and in every other academic discipline, too.
According to Paul, in Christ, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and the Colossian Christians have come to fullness in Him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. So Christ’s authority, in this perspective, is second to none. It’s is God’s authority. In this grand portrait, God wants everyone to be mature, or complete in Christ. So God wants everyone, even every philosopher and every other theorist, to yield reverently to the authority of Christ, and this is not a merely external or Juridical authority. Instead, the authority seeking maturity in Christ aims for a mysterious, and there’s a mystery about it, inward union or communion, between the exalted Christ, and the people yielding and belonging to Him as Lord.
This inward union stems from God’s aim that all people become Christ-like in moral and spiritual character, anchored in reverent companionship with God as Father. It thus demands that one be an intentional agent who freely appropriates the life-giving power of Christ as Lord. Let’s examine this power a bit. Part of my emphasis here, is that we must reorient philosophy, if it’s going to be Christian philosophy, from principles, arguments, concepts, claims and the like, to a distinctive kind of power that has immense significance cognitively, psychologically, ethically, metaphysically, and so on.
Paul identifies the Colossian Christians as having clothed their selves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. They’re being renewed in the image of God, and hence, of Christ, who Himself is the image of the invisible God. The renewal of humans in the image of God in Christ is no purely external matter in Paul’s philosophy.
On the contrary, it’s personally inward, owing to, and here’s the key, an inward agent power, rather than a mere event power, and Paul captures is as follows: “I have been crucified with Christ “and it’s no longer I who live “but it’s Christ who lives in me, “and the life I live now in the flesh “I live by faith in the Son of God “who loved me and gave Himself for me.” This agent inwardness of Christ, although mysterious, fits with Paul’s statement to the Galatians that, “I’m in the pain of childbirth “until Christ is formed in you.”
It also fits with Paul’s poignant question to the Corinthians, “Do you not realize “that Jesus Christ is in you, “unless indeed you fail to meet the test?”. His earlier question to them was, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”. Let’s clarify this test for the inward power of Christ. Christ lives in Paul, but he does not, that is Paul does not suggest, that he himself becomes extinguished or depersonalized by Christ. On the contrary he affirms, that he himself lives by faith in Christ.
If Christ’s agent inwardness extinguished or depersonalized Paul, then Paul would not be able to live by faith in Christ, or have any faith at all. The Christ-human union then, does not obliterate human selfhood. It does not entail an absorption mysticism of no personal distinctions, as some religions do. As a result, Paul would not say and does not say, I am Christ. Instead, he honors Christ as God’s son who created Him, loved Him, forgave Him, and redeemed Him, with inward, divine power. The key feature of Paul’s idea of Christ in you, is the inward agent power of Christ working directly at the level of psychological and motivational attitudes toward a cooperative person’s renewal in God’s image, as God’s beloved child. We may call this appeal to the inward agent power of Christ the Gethsemane union approach to Christ in you, because it comes by a Gethsemane struggle.
Paul’s approach to human union with Christ resists any reduction to shared ethical commitments. Ethical commitments and commands do not yield the inward agent power of Christ central to human union with Christ. Paul explains to the Corinthian Christians, “Christ is not weak in dealing with you, “but is powerful in you, “for He was crucified in weakness “but lives by the power of God”. No mere ethical or juridical account of union will capture the inward agent power of Christ mentioned by Paul.
One can have all of the right ethical or juridical commitments, but lack the power of Christ to carry them out. The power in question corresponds to Paul’s talk of a test of whether Jesus Christ is in you. The test is for an inward agent power characterized by Paul as follows: and here I like to pause, because here were at the foot of the epistemologically most important passage in all of the New Testament, and all of the Bible, and in all of Christian literature. [audience laughs] I’m not exaggerating. I’m not doing what Steve was doing.
This is the truth, [students laugh] but also the most neglected, and I can’t imagine why. I mean, superficially, I can imagine but, you know how people say that just to heighten. I can’t imagine why. Well, I can. I’m confessing. Lemme confess here. Romans 5:5, Paul says, “Hoping God “does not disappoint us, “does not put us to shame, “does not leave us unreasonable, “does not embarrass us.” You can translate the word of any of those. “Because God’s agape “has been poured into our hearts “through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Paul would say that, “Faith in God “does not disappoint us, either, “but passes a test for the same reason. “Namely, we have been flooded in our deepest experience, “by the presence and power of God’s personal”, and that is agent driven “agape, “courtesy of the Spirit”. Without this experience one will have a hard time adequately understanding what the Good News is all about in Christ, and so when you run into people who aren’t excited about it, and adventurous about it, and thrilled about it, and exuberant about it, you should ask, have you been flooded with the agape of God in your deepest place by God’s Spirit?
An appeal to the testimony of God’s Spirit, will fall short cognitively and existentially, if it omits reference to the experienced flood of the Spirit’s agape. It then will be too remote from God’s actual, self-revealed moral character in Christ. Christian philosophy should hallmark this unique and vital flood. Why hasn’t it? I don’t know. I can imagine why but separate question. So, be clear on this. The flooded agape in a human experience isn’t an argument. God doesn’t give you two premises and a conclusion. He’s not that boring.
He rather [audience laughs], he rather comes with supernatural power that is evidence, evidence, and evidence is not an argument. Evidence is a truth indicator that can be a salient experience that can play a role in supporting an argument but cannot be reduced to an argument because it’s not a judgment. God’s agape doesn’t come as propositions affirmed. There’s something much more dynamite-like about it and the word that Paul uses for, powers indeed cognate with, our term dynamite.
Faith in God is neither mere or sent to a proposition. Even the demons believe. Nor a leap in the dark. I don’t know where pastors get this, but I visited several churches over the past year just out of curiosity, and I don’t know if it was me, or something was way wrong, because every sermon, every sermon the pastor stood up and preached that Christian faith is a kind of leap in the dark, and so you shouldn’t expect anything like evidence for it. [sighs] And then people wonder why, you know, when people go to college, they simply renounce it all.
Instead, faith is the responsive commitment of oneself to the God who sends His Spirit with evidence, concrete, experiential evidence, agape, and the corresponding forgiveness to prompt Gethsemane union with Christ, because that’s the new life. So God moves first with the flood of agape when one is receptive, and then in cooperating with it, one enters into Gethsemane union with Christ. That’s what faith in God is, appropriating this agape flood that God is eager to give everyone, even his enemies, such as you and me.
Faith in God includes one’s ongoing resolve to receive God’s moral character in Christ inwardly, and to belong to God in the reverent attitude of Gethsemane. Not my will but yours. God calls first by showing us His agape for us, and human faith responds with receptive self-commitment to this God who intervenes in our experience. When we remove the needed human resolve from faith in God, we end up with faith that lacks a vital human struggle to make Christ preeminent in our lives and in our moral characters.
We then have dead faith, however much philosophy and theism we have. Amazingly, divine love comes to God’s enemies, and therefore we can test for God’s love in us by testing for inward love and forgiveness for our enemies, including our intellectual enemies, to the extent that we resist inward enemy love, we resist God Himself. That is, we’re pushing away the salient evidence of God and God Himself. So even if we have shrewd arguments for our theism, and for our various Christian philosophical positions, if we aren’t guided and formed by this flood of God’s enemy love, we aren’t cooperating with God in Gethsemane, we’re doing something else. Now painfully, and I mean it is painful, there’s nothing abstract or amorphous about this test for the inward Christ and His salient power.
Just raise the standard, and almost automatically you have to say I’m undone, woe is me. I haven’t met the test. Depart from me. I’m a person of unclean lips, and so on, and so on. There’s honesty in those prophets. Minimal honesty here reveals our desperate need for divine grace, and it is on offer, and so this is part of the Good News, and this shows our need for renewal in the image of Christ as God’s beloved child.
Paul identifies an inward agent’s testifying, or bearing witness to God’s redemptive love. He says, “When we cry or shout Abba Father, “it is that very Spirit of God bearing witness “with our spirit that we are children of God. “God’s testifying Spirit, thus, can be noisy at time, “and hence cannot be reduced,” to what Calvin and some others refer to as the secret testimony of the Spirit. I think Calvin uses arcane as the relevant term.
There’s a kind of privacy about it, but I don’t like the translation secret testimony, because Paul does have in mind shouting, crying out Abba Father, and for Paul, that’s real evidence of God’s Spirit at work within to yield to God Himself. While Paul is very well aware of false spirits that oppose the Spirit of God, and therefore he gives real substance to his approach beyond vague talk of a divine Spirit.
All kinds of religions wanna talk about the Spirit, don’t they? I mean, I’m a spiritual person, you’re a spiritual person, and I guess we’re all just good, spiritual people, but Paul will not settle for that. He insists that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ, and therefore has certain definite, very specific, salient, offensive features. Paul gives form or shape dere to his Spirit talk. That means going beyond just a judgment, dere, concerning a reality. He gives dere shape to it by means of the life, the very life, including the inward life of the crucified and risen Christ. Not just by means of de dicto talk about His life, the actual dere life of Christ differs from the de dicto talk about this life, because the former has a distinctive agent power not possessed by the latter. The inward Christ is an intentional agent. Mere talk is not.
And the agent power in this picture comes from the inward life of Christ and it shapes how God’s Spirit witnesses to God’s reality, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness. In other words, God’s Spirit witnesses, in exactly the pattern you see in Christ who gave his life for His enemies. So there are hard edges here, on what Paul means by spirit of God. The agent power of the divine agape in Christ enables the kind of witness mentioned in Romans 5:5. That is, God’s love is poured out or floods our hearts, and this is God’s self-giving love for His children, including for Jesus, as God’s preeminent son. This kind of experienced agape prompts the filial cry immortalized by Jesus and His earliest followers; Abba Father. That’s just not empty talk.
It’s anchored in this experience of God’s flooding love. So the witness of God’s Spirit with our spirit is based on agent power anchored in God’s flooding a receptive human heart, with His special kind of love shown, distinctively, in Christ. This is a life-changing power, and the corresponding test for it goes beyond mere truth, knowledge, understanding, or explanation. All of those fall short. They may be pointers.
They may be helpful pointers but they aren’t the real article. In addition, one can receive this power even if one has a very limited understanding or explanation of it. Paul puts this agent power first in his list of the fruit of God’s Spirit, and he exalts this power above mere faith, hope, knowledge, prophecy, and self-discipline. That’s in First Corinthians 13. Prior to Paul, Jesus Himself had indicate the power of agape as something underwriting one’s being His disciple, that is, a disciple of God as Abba Father, and of one’s being known as such.
That’s in Matthew five and John 13. Paul thinks of the power of agape within Christians as the very power of the inward Christ. That’s what’s so dangerous about all this virtue talk and Christian ethics talk. It depersonalizes what is inherently a matter of an intentional agent. And so we see people say, “I’m interested in “Christian virtues or Christian ethics.”, and they never get around to talking about the risen Christ as the inward power and companion who empowers any kind of virtuous action. That’s a real scandal, to omit that, but you can see how pressure to do more secular ethics would push you in that direction.
We’re afraid to talk about Christ as the risen personal Lord who empowers these so-called virtues. There’s nothing wrong with talk of the virtues, but when you isolate them in the way they so often are, you’ve got big trouble. So Christians here rarely follow suit in thinking of the inward Christ as the One who empowers Christian virtues, and this is to the detriment of Christian thought in life. Paul writes, “I want to know Christ “in the power of His resurrection, “and the sharing of His sufferings “by becoming like Him in His death “if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead”.
Similarly, he says, “While we live, “we are always being given up to death for Jesus’s sake “so that the life of Jesus may be “visible in our mortal flesh”. He doesn’t say something like the life of Jesus. It’s a dere claim. Paul thought of the inward Christ as empowering his life, and if contemporary Christians have a problem with that get over it. I mean this is the heart of the Good News. This is what the Good News is about.
It’s not about being forgiven or having life that never ends, or some such abstract thing. It’s about entering into companionship with the living risen Christ now and forever. If that’s not there, we’re out of touch with what Paul called being a Christian. So this is very important stuff. We are to live out in our own lives, the pattern of the self-giving life of Christ by His power from within, as long as we are receptive and cooperative.
It’s not like God flipping a light switch. This is intended to be a cooperative agent to agent companionship. “If we have been united with Christ in his death”, according to Paul, “we are to live now, “in the newness of life with the risen Christ”. This is Romans six. You don’t have to claim that this comes only in Ephesians or Colossians. This is Paul’s official view about resurrection. Bodily resurrection comes later, but a kind of spiritual resurrection of newness, of life with Christ now is contemporary.
Paul thinks of this agape as cruciform, as moved and conformed to the divine motive that led to the cross of Jesus. And so he tells the Philippian Christians to have the same mind in you that was in Christ, who humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. This calls for cooperation with the God who is at work in you, enabling you to will and to work for His good pleasure.
And this is a very important theme in Paul, because it suggests that the Christian life is one of working out what God has offered to you so that there’s an ongoing struggle to work out your salvation in a way that entails dealing with God in order to appropriate what God has offered. So even if the death of Christ is for us, and that’s very easy to preach, right? Christ died for you. Isn’t that wonderful? The big question is: how does this event, this historical event, become powerful to us in the pattern of our lives?
Christ’s death is, of course, an event of ancient history roughly datable to a Friday in April of A.D. 33. Perhaps its power is only that of a historically remote event, and adequately powerful to make a contemporary life new and resilient with the divine agape. Clearly then, the historical cross of Christ, must not be left as merely historical if it’s to motivate Christians adequately today.
The Good News, therefore, calls for the Gethsemane union of all Christians even today with the Christ who obediently suffered the Roman cross in ancient times. If we omit this union, the cross of Christ loses its divine redemptive power for us today, however attentive and even emotional one’s response to it is. The message of the cross, then would be reduced, to so much talk and emotional response and Christians would lose their divine motivation from this reality of Gethsemane union with Christ.
And I think that’s an ongoing threat in the Christian church and with Christians generally, because there’s an absence of emphasis on the needed appropriation on Gethsemane union with Christ, and hence, the message of the cross is left as more of a declaration, maybe something merely juridical or involving a pronouncement of forgiveness, and that’s a huge mistake. That’s preaching half of the gospel at best.
Now a lot of people are afraid of this Gethsemane union talk because they wanna say well, isn’t that somehow Roman Catholic or, a lot of people who are Protestants worry about that. Isn’t that Roman Catholic? And let me relieve you. Although I teach at a Catholic institution, I’ve been a Protestant all of my Christian life, so you can breathe a sigh of relief. I’m not pushing you toward Rome, [audience laughs lightly] and I won’t touch that topic here, but suffice it to say, I’m giving you the apostle Paul’s view, and he was not a Roman Catholic… [audience laughs] So far as we know.
Now Gethsemane union with Christ, although volitional, is grace-centered, because it revolves around God’s unearned offer and sustenance of companionship with receptive humans. “One must work out this union for salvation”. That’s what Paul says in Philippians two. Protestants are afraid of that. I don’t know why. I’ll tell you why in a minute. [audience laughs] I like to say that. It’s a bad habit I have. I’ll tell you why. But such working out is nothing more than volitional cooperation with God that differs from works as a means of earning or meriting salvation. There’s all this obsession too, especially among people in the reform tradition, the one I know best, about well, if anything of a human act is involved, then you’ve infringed on grace. And that’s just, that’s your most basic confusion.
When Paul’s talking about works in Romans 4:4, he gives you the definition. He says, “By works I mean something that’s “earned or merited”. Does it follow that an action or obedience is a work? No, because an action or obedience doesn’t have to be a meriting or an earning. Somehow that’s lost in contemporary discussion. It’s just unbelievable. So Paul describes himself as struggling according to all of the energy, struggling, working according to all of the energy that God empowers in him. There’s no pelagian threat here because we can simply distinguish the terms for offering a gift, which are completely gracious and unearned, from the conditions for appropriating the gift, which requires cooperation with what God has offered.
But cooperation is not earning or meriting. A requirement of active human cooperation with God after the model of Jesus in Gethsemane does not ental a requirement of earning at all, despite widespread confusion here. What then, of Christian philosophy? If Christian philosophy is genuinely Christian, it should follow suit in somehow representing or accommodating the Good News of Gethsemane union with Christ. Could I just add a little footnote here, although the paper doesn’t have footnotes? I’d like to see Christian philosophers talk more about the Good News that Jesus and Paul talked about.
If I could just put in a special request to all of you young Christian philosophers. Could you get that more into your writing? The Good News of God in Christ as the power of God for salvation. Could you get that into a footnote? I mean, after you do all your fancy arguments and all of your conceptual analysis, could you get that in just for me? [audience laughs] Now Paul remarks that, “Knowledge puffs up “but love builds up”, and he could have added that philosophy puffs up too, but then so does every other academic discipline. But he reports that he does not trade in eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. That’s in First Corinthians one, chapters one and two.
They’re very powerful for philosophers, so please read them. This suggests that a philosophy can empty the power from the cross of Christ. Imagine that. Paul has in mind the redemptive power of the cross, as he immediately mentions the cross as the power of God for us who are being saved. Is it still okay to talk about being saved at Biola? It is? Good, [audience laughs loudly] I’m glad. There’s nothing wrong with talk of being saved. People are timid about it in the academic circles I move in but it’s an important notion. How then, can a philosophy empty the redemptive power of the cross of Christ?
The answer: in may ways, give that there are many ways to mislead and obstruct people regarding God. Paul has in mind, at least the tendency of the world’s wisdom and philosophy to obscure or divert attention from the reality of Christ as the power of God, and the wisdom of God. One such diversion occurs when a philosophy, perhaps even a philosophy called Christian, ignores the redemptive importance of Gethsemane union with the inward Christ. If attention is directed away from this union, as with most philosophy, one easily can neglect the importance of this union in human redemption.
A test question arises for any proposed Christian philosophy. Does the philosophy uphold the importance of one’s obediently dying with Christ, under the guiding agent power of God as Abba Father? If not, the philosophy misses the mark of a Christian philosophy. Most philosophy fails this redemptive litmus test, because redemption as being saved by God, is ignored by most philosophers, who thus fail to honor the unique redemptive mediator from God the inward Christ. Aside from the diversionary dangers of philosophy, Paul acknowledges that, “Among the mature, “we do speak wisdom, though it’s not a wisdom of this age”. He would add that, “Among the mature, “we Christians do offer a philosophy, “though it’s not of this age”.
He has in mind the era of the risen Christ, whose Good News is that people of all nations are called by God into the lasting life, not just believing that Jesus is my savior, but life of union with the risen Christ. A philosophy of the era of Christ is distinctively Christian because it gives preeminence to the risen Christ with whom people are to share this Gethsemane union. This preeminence includes giving pride of place to Christ, and hence to redemption in Gethsemane union with Him.
The neglect of this preeminence entails neglect of a distinctively Christian philosophy. Christian philosophy joins Gethsemane union with the religious epistemology oriented toward the Spirit of God in Christ. Christian philosophy must find knowledge of God like human redemption in divine grace, rather than human earning. In particular a Christian philosophy must acknowledge that the things of God are taught by God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, and not by human wisdom. Paul thus states, and this is First Corinthians two, “We have received the Spirit that is from God, “so that we may understand the gifts “bestowed on us by God.” In making Christ preeminent in all things, even in wisdom and in philosophy, God does not allow the world to know God by its own wisdom.
This is First Corinthians one: In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through its wisdom. Instead, according to Paul, Christ Jesus became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and redemption. The latter treasures are offered by divine grace, but have to be appropriated by us in the struggle of Gethsemane union with Christ where we too pray, not my will be done but Your will. So a Christian philosophy must accommodate the heart of what it is to be Christian, namely this Gethsemane union with Christ.
This union is no mere correct belief that something about Christ is true. Instead, it calls for genuine volitional cooperation and companionship with Christ, who empowers and guides how we think, not just what we think. So the rare fruit of the Spirit of Christ, love, joy, peace, gentleness, and so on, should apply even to Christian thinking and thinkers, even to me.
Divine redemption values the inward process of human cooperation and companionship with Christ as much as any objective reality. They’re both utterly significant, but you can’t diminish the importance of the inwardness for the objective reality. That’s to give half a story at best. Christian philosophy should follow suit. It should acknowledge that communing with and obeying God, can awaken one to otherwise neglected realities and evidence of God, as God emerges more clearly as Abba Father in one’s experience.
So, I claim you get a whole epistemology out of Gethsemane, that evidence becomes more salient, and it becomes more, shall we say, rampant in your life regarding God, as you cooperate in Gethsemane, and I call that a Gethsemane epistemology, but that’s a separate story. Here’s the big problem now: the frequent divorce of Christian belief and philosophy from the Christian foundation of the inward Christ and our union with Him.
The result is correct intellectual belief, without the needed divine power, guidance, and companionship from this inward Christ. In that case, even if one talks voluminously of Christ, one’s moral agency does not underwrite that talk by witnessing to the powerful agape character of the Christ within. So people are left with a conflicted witness at best, with talk and the absence of the corresponding agent power of agape. Christians thus begin to look and act a lot like the world, regardless of their extensive talk to the contrary.
Talk, however, is cheap indeed. Christian philosophy cannot be merely academic or impersonal because it cannot abstract from questions and facts, about our deepest motives and our personal standing before God in Christ. Some philosophers object, and have objected, to my bringing Gethsemane union into Christian philosophy, on the ground that we should keep philosophy personally impartial, anchored in principles and arguments, and not make it confessional in any way.
You got Christian philosophers have objected in that way. The philosophy classroom in this common view is no place for personal confession or redemption. In other words, keep is clear of that messy stuff. We’re doing serious academic work here in the philosophy classroom. Let’s just leave it that way, thank you. I’m not making this up. And I suspect some people in this room may have a similar temptation. This view is very puzzling, because it suggests that we should do Christian philosophy without attending to the key redemptive reality, reality of being Christian in union with Christ, beyond the mere notion of being Christian.
In other words, the idea is keep philosophy to the notions, don’t get it messed up with the reality of the situation. This leaves Christian philosophy as impotent as secular philosophy. Philosophy itself needs redeeming and that, by Christ.
A Christian philosopher may prompt and inquire to ask why he or she lacks evidence reported by some Christians, such as the evidence of the inward flood of agape from God’s Spirit. This invites motivational issues about one’s desires and intentions with regard to God, such as the question whether I’m willing to yield reverently with Christ to God in Gethsemane. Have I hardened my heart to God in all of the intellectual flurry in my life. Am I truly willing to submit to and cooperate with the authority of the divine agape on offer to me even if my academic peers take exception, and offer ridicule.
If we avoid such questions of Christian authority we will not be able to accommodate the religious epistemology in Christian philosophy which is inherently volitional, and is sensitive to the volitional tendencies of inquirers. A philosophy can be more or less Christian, but if it omits the preeminence of Christ, and this feature of union with Him, it’s Christian in name only. So the fact that a Christian produces a philosophy, even about God, does not make that philosophy Christian. Part of the distinctive content of a Christian philosophy comes from reflection on the preeminence of Christ, but a qualification is needed. Human reflection can stem from motives contrary to the divine love commands exemplified in Christ.
In that case, we will lack robust Christian philosophy, even if we have an intellectual skeleton of the true article. Christian philosophy must be continuous with the content of the Good News of God in Christ. If however, one pursues philosophy just to understand, acquire truth, avoid error, or sharpen one’s intellectual skills, improve one’s critical thinking, rather than from and for the glory of God in Christ, one is not doing robust Christian philosophy, anchored in Christ-like motives and prayer.
So we have an indispensable Spiritual standard for Christian philosophy courtesy of the Christ who is our wisdom, our righteousness, and our redemption. In Him we find both how Christian philosophy is to be done, and what it should regard as preeminent. In Christian philosophy, God as the supreme and perfect authority, ultimately testifies to Himself, via the Spirit of the risen Christ, God’s own image. And so God can be self-authenticating, and self-attesting. Neither claims nor subjective experiences can be self-attesting or self-authenticating, but God is an intentional agent with causal powers, and so God can attest to Himself regarding His reality, Christ’s reality, and Christ’s character.
And that’s the bottom line for any Christian epistemology, that God is self-authenticating in keeping with God’s character, worthy of worship. All the other fancy stuff in epistemology is just a side show. That’s the bottom line right there. This has major implications for Christian epistemology and philosophy, and this may be called, following James S. Stuart, a truly remarkable Scottish preacher, the divine self verification of Christ in conscience.
Permit me one brief quotation here, from Stuart. “This is a very wonderful thing which happens. “You begin exploring the fact of Christ”, or maybe the historical Jesus, “perhaps merely intellectually and theologically, “and before you know where you are, “the fact is exploring you spiritually and morally. “You set out to see what you can find in Christ, “and sooner or later God in Christ finds you.” That is the divine self-verification of Jesus, and it needs the full attention of Christian philosophers.
They should welcome this experienced reality unashamedly, confidently, the need is long overdue. So to move toward my conclusion, the idea here then, is God manifests His own character of agape, in the experience of receptive humans, by pouring out His enemy love in our hearts. This is something only God can do. Mere humans and counterfeit gods, including imaginary gods, they lack the needed power and character. So if people from the social sciences try to say to you, well, maybe this is just something from your upbringing, or your parents, or a bad weekend you had, or some fictional object, the response is very simple. All of those things lack the needed power and perfect moral character, being sui generis on this front.
I thought I would use a term like that just to show you I know of language. That sui generis there just means God is one of a kind, right? God should be expected by us, that is, having this, being the only one with this moral character worthy of worship, we should expect God to have to testify to Himself, as the Book of Isaiah says. God says I can’t swear by anything else. I’m gonna swear by myself here. So no other agent has the self sufficient agape character of enemy love needed for the task, so no other agent in town is worth of worship, or is divinely self-manifesting.
God then gives us this divine corrective reciprocity in our experience, particularly through conscience, and we’re challenged to move toward enemy love and forgiveness, away from our more natural human tendencies. What this means, ultimately, is that we Christians do not convince other people regarding God. God does, and we contribute by being in union with God in Christ, thereby manifesting some of the power of God’s own character beyond the mere talk. What does all this mean?
In short, that Christian philosophy depends, ultimately, on Christian spirituality. I used to cringe when I heard that term, spirituality, but then I, when I used the word Christian as an adjective it felt better, so I’m gonna talk about it, just briefly, because it requires discerning God in Christ for our ultimate authority. That is, we are involved as intentional agents in our discerning power and in our volitional tendencies. This discerning is not casual or speculative. It requires a kind of volitional cooperation with God, and this depends on Christ’s Gethsemane prayer. Abba Father, not what I want but You want.
If we fail to make this prayer our own daily, we fail to enter into robust Christian philosophy, and even Christian life. May we enter in reverently, as children in response to God’s first move, echoing that old hymn, Father hear the prayer we offer, not for ease that prayer shall be, but be our strength in hours of weakness, in our wanderings be our guide, through endeavor, failure, danger, Father, be Thou at our side and even in us. Amen, thank you.
Man: Paul, I thought there were some magnificent things in what you said. As you say Christian philosophers, you say need union with Christ. Of course we do. Christ should be in me. I need Christ in me. I need the power of Christ. I need to be flooded with God’s love. I need the agent power of Christ and His Spirit. I need to experience His love and presence. I need enemy love. As a Christian philosopher, I need all those things, and I aim to be a Christian philosopher. But it seemed to me you inferred, or semi-inferred, or suggested that if all that’s so, then I shouldn’t be that much interested, shouldn’t be all that interested in arguments, explanations, concepts, trying to understand things and the like, and that doesn’t seem to me to follow at all.
Let me give you an analogy. You said this. You said, “Philosophers want principles, “arguments, definitions, but God sends Jesus Christ”. That seems to me to be right. You might, but here’s an analogy, doctors want skill in surgery, and wisdom in diagnosis, but God sends Jesus Christ. Well God does send Jesus Christ, of course, and that’s the fundamental reality for us, but I doesn’t mean that doctors shouldn’t want skill in surgery, or wisdom in diagnosis. It doesn’t follow that Christian philosophers ought not want to, ought not to be interested in arguments, definitions, principles and the like. St. Paul, whom you quite properly quote, a lot, says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension “that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”.
Well, I think you demolish arguments by refuting them, by giving a counter-argument, by showing the argument doesn’t work, by doing the sort of things that philosophers typically do. He goes on to say, “We take captive every thought “to make it obedient to Christ”. And I think one way to do that, one possible way to do that, is to understand our world and the phenomena of our world in terms of Christ, from a Christian perspective. Think about knowledge, for example. How does this work? I’m a Christian, how should I think about knowledge?
Well, maybe you think about it from that perspective, you come up with something interesting and worthwhile. So, I don’t know if we really disagree or not, but [chuckles and audience laughs], but I think your sort of downgrading of arguments, you talk about fancy principles and the like, I’m not sure that’s useful.
But that’s really not what, your point wasn’t about what’s useful. You were making a point about something beyond usefulness.
Man: Yeah, useful for the Christian life, or useful for Christian philosophy. That’s what I’m thinking of, yeah.
Yeah, well as you say, it’s not clear we’re disagreeing, I spend my life using concepts, formulating principles, and arguments, and assessing arguments. Far be it from me to suggest that what I spend my life doing is useless. What I’m urging here, is a reconnect, a reconnect that is desperately needed, because I see much of Christian philosophy, and much of Christian intellectual life, as floating free from that anchor that I think is the actual source of Christian wisdom and knowledge of God, namely that real life experience of companionship with the risen Christ.
What’s troubling is that so much of Christian philosophy never gets around to this reality. It’s as if the fights are being fought at side court, and nobody’s playing at center court, and I just wanna bring the discussion back to center court, where the debate is about what really matters, namely, has God done something so that you don’t have to be disappointed with your faith in God? Has God flooded the receptive human heart with this divine agape?
If so, then why isn’t there more discussion of this in Christian philosophy, instead of the endless discussions on other fronts? So, arguments are only as significant, ultimately, as their ultimate evidence, and the ultimate evidence I’m pointing to is something dere. It’s not merely de dicto, and it should become a center of focus for Christian philosophers. I know it means talking in ways that are very foreign in universities. To talk of a risen historical being as inwardly active, that suggests you’re troubled in some way. [audience laughs] And so it’s much safer for a lot of Christian philosophers to play the game the way universities play the game. Stay away from Romans 5:5 if you’ve read it, just because it’s too delicate.
I really won’t fit in. So, no problem with the value of arguments. We do need to deflate that, arguments, and we should, but if we are gonna do that, we had better make sure we’ve done it right, or we’re just setting up a kind of distraction, and we see a lot of that too, I think, in so-called Christian apologetics, going after a large-scale view, and not quite taking it out and then you get a whole industry of literature. Part of my concern, too, is just the distracting effect of a lot of it. You never get back to what is the heart of the matter.
And so, what I wanna say is that once you get the heart of the matter right, you will have the needed foundation. And it is true to say that, in a sense, the rest is a side show. It can be an important side show, but let’s not make it what’s front and center. So that’s part of my plea here, and I am invoking the apostle Paul, just because I couldn’t think of anybody better to invoke. I know a lot of people don’t like Paul these days, but you should like him. [audience laughs] The flurry of arguments competing will end up being such a diversion, that it will be harmful to the person. Why? Because it distracts from who the risen Christ is now inwardly, as a living reality. If that’s not there, you are not dealing with a Christian message.
You’re dealing with some counterfeit, some half-baked version of it. And I think we see in our own lives, whenever we fail to give attention to the reality of the inward Christ, the fruits of the Spirit start to disappear. Just try it, I mean, go home and test it, and you will find out, I’m not just making this stuff up. But that experiential component is utterly crucial to the story, because that’s where the living God intervenes in human lives with His moral character of agape.
That’s God’s perfect moral character, and so one of the profoundest insights in the New Testament is in First John, just summarizing that God is inherently agape in God’s character. That’s an utterly profound insight, you might even say a revelation. And if that isn’t something that is powerful to us, then I would wanna say we shouldn’t pretend to be promoting the Christian message as it should be promoted.
We should take a week off, and find out why Romans 5:5 is foreign to us. Just, you know, take a week off, and ask the Lord, why does Romans 5:5 seem so foreign to me? I mean, if this is a living Lord, and if this is a Lord who intervenes then find out from Him instead of taking up this self-made profession that doesn’t accommodate the heart of the Good News.
So I guess that would be my plea, and it would be a plea that applies to me, too. If I’m not going to live in accordance with this God’s Spirit, I don’t think I have any business giving these various elaborate defenses of claims in the New Testament. I think I’m defective as a witness, and should take some time off.
I really loved how you concluded with a hymn. It pleases me, ’cause I work on poetry, and I love those hymns, older hymns. So, it was convicting, your whole talk was convicting to me because I had thought of ending with Psalm eight, and because one of the writers I was talking about, she was saying, “We have to use the Psalms communally, “for worship more”, I was even thinking of getting everybody to say Psalm eight together, and then I wasn’t brave enough, and then you were brave–
You have a second chance! [woman laughs] Go for it! You won’t have a third!
Ah, it’s so, I have a question for you first, so it was brave to end with the hymn.
Oh, the question’s more important.
And I’m just curious. [audience laughs loudly] Well, I don’t know, we could read Psalm eight?
Let’s do first things first, okay?
Okay, we’ll do it, and then I’ll ask my question? [all laugh] Okay sure, yeah, so Schimmelpenning, she says, “Psalm eight shows this contemplative sublime”, and then Barbauld says, “We have to read “the Psalms together and worship more, “especially in intellectual Christian communities.” So we can do it. Do you have your–
Okay, I need a. Oh, it’s so lovely.
I’ve never been at a philosophy conference where we’ve done this, so this is a first for me.
Yeah, there’s something radical about what you’re saying, and it’s pushing us. It’s pushing us. Okay, so we’ll read it together. I would love that, actually. Oh Lord, our Lord/
All: How majestic is Thy name in all the earth, who has displayed Thy splendor above the heavens, from the mouth of infants and nursing babes, Thou hast established strength because of Thine adversaries to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thous dost take thought of him, and the Son of man, that Thou dost care for Him, yes Thou hast made Him a little lower than God, and does crown Him with glory and majesty. Thou dost make Him to rule over the works of Thy hands.
Thou hast put all things under His feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea. Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth?
Oh, that pleases me
Amen, amen, amen!
Woman: So much!
Paul: Thank you!
Woman: You answered my question, which would be we can do this here, because we’re the Center for Christian Thought world, but what about in a philosophy conference, or what about if I was at a literature, a romanticism conference? Can we be so bold to try something like that, and could we–
Include people of the same way, yeah. [audience laughs]
No, no, no, look, look. The One we’re here to honor said something about casting pearls, right? He meant it. Be careful. Don’t be a fool. So, use your discernment. In some settings you get the sense you can go for it. In others, don’t go near it, because it will just create more revulsion. So discernment as you’re in communion with the Lord is the key here and everywhere. So that would be my suggestion. Here, it’s a wonderful opportunity, and I’m glad you brought it up.
Man: You talked a lot in your talk about different inputs, right? So to be a Christian philosopher means to have Christ’s power–
Man: To be filled, to be overwhelmed by the risen Christ and so forth, and I was kinda hoping you would talk a little more about the outputs, too, of that. You mentioned a few general things like loving one’s enemies, and you kind of listed some off, but I like. What are the–
That’s pretty particular isn’t it? [audience laughs]
Man: What are the actual like, outputs, in the terms of how that’s gonna play out, and actual ways in which we go about doing Christian philosophy?
I just think of the hardest case for me, and that’s enemy love. And if that’s present, I know I’m sensitive to the Lord’s Spirit. But that list of the fruit of the Spirit is very important. If there’s no gentleness there, I’ve probably wandered from the Lord. If there’s no patience at all, I’ve probably wandered. So those for me are very concrete and particular. Those are not general and abstract. How I treat my enemies is a daily struggle, I guess, because I have a lot of enemies. [audience laughs loudly] And can I confess here? Is this a safe audience?
I’d like to see them get their due. [audience laughs] And what is their due? Agape. So, and so Paul can say that he’s indebted to the Gentiles, for this opportunity to bring the Good News to them. Start thinking of your enemies as opportunities for gratitude for you to bring the fruit of God’s Spirit to them, and they take on a whole different light.
So, my view is, the Lord will fill this out in your own life, in your own way, relative to your own particular needs, but for me, the role of enemy love and forgiveness is a vital, particular, existential test, and it’s one that constantly bothers me every day. So that’s why I call it an ongoing struggle. It’s very easy to talk about loving everybody until you start talking about loving your real enemies, those people who have actually done real harm to you. Then it takes on a whole different life. Does that seem right?
Man: Thank you Paul, for coming and making this presentation, and my question relates to the way that you’ve talked about the Gethsemane union as a source of evidence. You say that this, well I think that you’re saying, that this Gethsemane union is essentially morally oriented, but that it has a cognitive significance.
Man: “And there’s something mysterious about this”, you said, and you’ve cautioned us about over dependence on argument and concepts and so forth, but it seems to me that there might be another distinction be drawn, if I’m understanding you correctly and that has to do with the difference between your conception of this kind of experience of God in Christ, and what is otherwise valued among many as experience of God as intimacy.
There’s a kind of mystical component about it, but it doesn’t always get stressed that it includes any kind of special moral component, and I think though, it does stress a kind of cognitive element. So I wonder if I’ve noticed something different of your conception of the experience in question, from what is often described as a Christian religious experience of God, and its moral and cognitive significance.
I think relative to the kinds of beings we are, the intervention of God’s morally perfect character always comes with a challenge, namely, be like Me. I am holy, therefore be holy. And this is an echoing theme throughout the Jewish and Christian scripture. “Be like your Father, who is perfect”, Jesus says. That’s why you should love your enemies, because He loves His, according to Matthew five.
So I agree here with Emil Brunner, and I’m glad somebody cited Brunner, because he’s terribly neglected, and terribly profound. When Brunner said that God’s gift always comes with a demand, and the demand is, get in line with what God is doing. Be like God in God’s moral character. So I don’t wanna relax the moral side of the story at all, given the nature of God’s holiness, and that holiness is moral perfection. The cognitive side of things is especially interesting because you might wonder, well, how’s my attitude in the Gethsemane context relevant at all to my evidence for God?
And that’s a common question that philosophers ask when they hear this kind of view. And here I’m in agreement with a tradition I learned about only fairly recently, that comes out of some Scottish theologians. H.R. Mackintosh wrote a famous piece called “Obedience the Organ of Knowledge”, and he’s got a lot to say about how human disobedience or opposition to God clouds, clouds one’s appreciation of evidence for God in Christ. And he tries to give a little account of that and it’s, it’s innovative.
It’s a little sketchy but, H.R. Mackintosh is looking in the right direction, as is James S. Stewart, another Scottish preacher from the Church of Scotland. And they’re both very interested in this volitional side to knowledge of God. The way I look at it is pretty simple. It’s that if I put my selfishness first, if my will is first, I’ll have a hard time even seeing the importance of Christ relative to God. I mean, who is this character in Gethsemane that says, “I don’t like this but, “yeah I’ll go down the road to Calvary”.
Yeah, he’ll just look like a weirdo to me, if for me, selfishness is a premium. I mean after all, if my will is first, then I think that’s okay, then there must be something wrong with him, because he’s not following that out. So there can be kind of obscuring of the glory of Christ, if my inflated selfishness is getting in the way of my vision of what God is about. I think that’s one way volitional elements can bear cognitive fruit. But I think there’s a deeper story here, and that’s the one I try to tell on divine hiding, or divine elusiveness, and my story is just this: God is purposive.
God isn’t just this object, the way you can, you know, put up a screen, and there the evidence is, a thing, with its various empirical features. God is an intentional agent who bobs and weaves in the Old Testament. He hides. Surely you are a God who hides Himself. He withdraws from people. They wonder, where did he go? We haven’t had evidence of Him forever. What’s the story here? I mean, is He died, did we miss His funeral, what’s up?
So He’s a God who is interactive, and selectively gives evidence and withdraws it. He’s on the move. He’s an intentional agent who gives evidence purposively. And so I claim that evidence of God is purposively available to humans. What’s God’s purpose? To redeem us. How does he do that? By trying to make us like Him morally in companionship with Him. This is eternal life, to know the one true God. Not just to live forever, but to be in companionship with Him, and the One He has sent Jesus Christ.
Woman: Biola University offers a variety of biblically centered degree programs, ranging from business, to ministry, to the arts and sciences. Visit biola.edu to find out how Biola could make a difference in your life. [lively music]