Faith and Works and the Kinds of Christian Philosophy

 

I might have figured out how to be a Baptist philosopher–part of it anyway.  I’ll post an excerpt below from my recently published article (open access) on the subject.  But why should you care?  Best I can do is copy and paste from the article some reasons why I think this matters. And why is this article maybe the least popular thing on my Academic.edu page? Beats me. When I was in undergrad, I would have been delighted to discover an article like this!

But never mind all that. (As if you were going to mind it anyway!) Instead, check out the bolded bits below about faith and works. That stuff is interesting enough.

Since the individual needs to know God for himself, what role does the church play in the knowledge of God? . . .

. . .

. . . the kind of knowledge we are talking about is much, much older; it is the Hebraic idea of knowledge, knowledge as a practical and personal activity, a relationship with another person.

. . .

We have to remember what faith itself actually is. Faith is not merely a belief, but an action. Rather, faith is belief put into action. Any number of biblical passages and themes are relevant to this insight. Every Old Testament story of faith is a story of action. Noah believes, and he builds a huge boat. Naaman believes, and he bathes in the Jordan. New Testament faith is not mere inner belief, but inner belief expressed in action, the first step of which is a public profession sealed with baptism. Paul is no exception, preaching faith with repentance (Acts 20:21). James says faith must be shown by works. Even the Greek pistis, when we consider those of its aspects which are lost by rigidly translating it as “faith,” tells us something. Faith, in New Testament Greek, is trust. But what is trust without action? Pistis is also faithfulness. There is no biblical faith without a life of faith, except perhaps in the highly unusual case of faith begun at the point of death.

. . .

And what has this to do with the part the church plays in the individual’s knowledge of God? Simply this: That life-change is meaningless apart from the church. The church is the context in which the changed life is lived out. What’s more, the church is itself a living community the very life of which is, in and of itself, the activity of this changed life. Paul’s letters testify again and again to these truths.  “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Eph. 13:8).

And here, for anyone actually interested, is a section of the article where I go over some different kinds of Christian philosophy:

First find out how one can be a philosopher, then how a philosopher can also be a Christian philosopher, then how a Christian philosopher can also be a Reformation philosopher, and finally how a Reformation philosopher can also be a Baptist philosopher.

Note that I am not saying these are the only ways to be a philosopher, a Christian philosopher, a Reformation philosopher, or a Baptist philosopher. I am suggesting what I think are good ways. Perhaps it is possible to state necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher, and then again to state such conditions for being a philosopher of a particular type. But it is not easy, and I for one do not know how to do it. An alternative method is to study exemplary cases of philosophy, or of Christian philosophy, in order to identify salient characteristics of these things.  I will do so, and then I will consider the theological distinctives first of Reformation and then of Baptist theology to further narrow down what sort of philosophy would be appropriate to them.

Specifically, and firstly, a good way to be a philosopher is to do what Socrates did. That means using reason to seek wisdom concerning spiritual goods—meaning the goods of the soul. A good way to be a Christian philosopher is to use reason to seek that wisdom in Jesus Christ. Augustine is a paradigmatic example of a Christian philosopher, but we can also connect his approach to some other notable sources on the nature of Christian philosophy: Paul Moser, Plantinga, and Étienne Gilson. A good way to be a Reformation philosopher is to recognize and reflect on a distinction between two inseparable spiritual goods on which we are seeking wisdom: justification and sanctification.  And a good way to be a Baptist philosopher, taking some inspiration from the likes of Locke and Kierkegaard, is to recognize and reflect on some traditional Baptist practices that accompany these spiritual goods: resistance to the idea of a state church and striving for a regenerate church membership by practicing believer’s baptism. After giving these answers I will take two cautious steps into the field of Baptist philosophy. First, I will consider a question in Baptist epistemology: What is the role of the church in the individual’s knowledge of God? Provisionally, I will answer that knowing is an activity of trust in God put into action through loving those in the church. Second, I will consider a question in Baptist ethics: Does government have any legitimate role in supporting the spiritual good of sanctification? Provisionally, I will answer that it does inasmuch as it also has a legitimate role in promoting virtue. For sanctification involves virtue, and government has a legitimate role in promoting virtuous states of character, or at least in resisting vicious states of character, inasmuch as vicious states of character do that harm which it is the function of government to resist.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I have a feeling that I might quietly get off this train once we get to the Reformation station, but until then, I look forward to the ride! 

    (How many stations are there? 12 or 14, of course, depending who you believe.)

    • #1
  2. Painter Jean Moderator
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    How can one discuss Christian philosophy without mentioning Aquinas?!

    • #2
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    How can one discuss Christian philosophy without mentioning Aquinas?!

    By narrowing down the kinds in a particular direction that’s not too Aquinas-ward.

    But Aquinas is great. Augustine is the only one who I’d say even competes with him for the title of Greatest Ever.

    • #3
  4. Bill Berg Coolidge
    Bill Berg
    @Bill Berg

    My personal spiritual journey has been:

    • Decision for Christ at a too early age because of fear of Hell.
    •  Believers Baptism 
    • Lack of assurance because in the early ’70s (the age of the miniskirt), lust was a persistent problem — my soul still had issues (as I believe all souls this side of heaven do), but I took lack of fleshly change to be lack of salvation.
    • Spiritual despair, atheism in college as I could not correlate the Bible with science.
    • Limbo, until marriage, then with an intellectual pastor and a lot of Biblical study, joining the ELCA. 
    • When ELCA went to “gays in the ministry”, moving to LCMS. 
    • My current faith is in salvation by grace, faith in Holy Communion and Holy preaching to keep me attached to the vine (Christ). My Baptist Baptism is still valid because Baptism is God’s work, not mans. 

    In reading the above and having read a lot if both philosophy and theology since my computer career, I think theology would be your best focus, but not needed. None are saved by knowledge, that is Gnosticism and a heresy.

     
    I don’t do judgement, and I’m not going to do any justice to a couple thousand years of philosophy and theology, so I won’t embarrass myself. 

    I highly recommend “Has American Christianity Failed“. 

    Be humble and thankful for a God that died for you. Seek and ye shall find!

     

    • #4
  5. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Bill Berg (View Comment):

    My personal spiritual journey has been:

    • Decision for Christ at a too early age because of fear of Hell.
    • Believers Baptism
    • Lack of assurance because in the early ’70s (the age of the miniskirt), lust was a persistent problem — my soul still had issues (as I believe all souls this side of heaven do), but I took lack of fleshly change to be lack of salvation.
    • Spiritual despair, atheism in college as I could not correlate the Bible with science.
    • Limbo, until marriage, then with an intellectual pastor and a lot of Biblical study, joining the ELCA.
    • When ELCA went to “gays in the ministry”, moving to LCMS.
    • My current faith is in salvation by grace, faith in Holy Communion and Holy preaching to keep me attached to the vine (Christ). My Baptist Baptism is still valid because Baptism is God’s work, not mans.

    In reading the above and having read a lot if both philosophy and theology since my computer career, I think theology would be your best focus, but not needed. None are saved by knowledge, that is Gnosticism and a heresy.

    I don’t do judgement, and I’m not going to do any justice to a couple thousand years of philosophy and theology, so I won’t embarrass myself.

    I highly recommend “Has American Christianity Failed“.

    Be humble and thankful for a God that died for you. Seek and ye shall find!

    Good stuff there!

    • #5
  6. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    How can one discuss Christian philosophy without mentioning Aquinas?!

    By narrowing down the kinds in a particular direction that’s not too Aquinas-ward.

    But Aquinas is great. Augustine is the only one who I’d say even competes with him for the title of Greatest Ever.

    I am an amateur, even a dilettante, in the field of philosophy.

    I understand why Aquinas would be viewed favorably by Catholics.  I think that some of his central ideas are wrong, on important issues on which Catholics and Protestants generally disagree.  As there is no central earthly authority among Protestants, not all Protestants would agree on particular issues.

    One example is that, at least as far as I understand his philosophy, Aquinas claims that the existence of God can be demonstrated by reason.  I think that this is also the position of the Catholic church.  I think that it is wrong.  Further, I think that this is a very important error, as it undermines faith when people realize that the proffered arguments for the existence of God, based on pure reason, are erroneous.

    Likewise, I think that his doctrine of natural law is both erroneous and dangerous.  I find it dangerous because it, too, ultimately undermines confidence in the divine law revealed in Scripture, when people realize that the supposedly rational arguments for a moral position are not sufficient, but rather are something closer to rationalizations.

    • #6
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    One example is that, at least as far as I understand his philosophy, Aquinas claims that the existence of God can be demonstrated by reason.  I think that this is also the position of the Catholic church.

    Yes, and yes.

    I think that it is wrong.

    It’s right.

    Further, I think that this is a very important error, as it undermines faith when people realize that the proffered arguments for the existence of God, based on pure reason, are erroneous.

    Fortunately, they are not.

    But why should it undermine faith if some arguments turned out to be wrong? There are other arguments, and there are wonderful reasons to believe without arguments.

    Don’t make me get all William James up in here.

    Likewise, I think that his doctrine of natural law is both erroneous and dangerous.  I find it dangerous because it, too, ultimately undermines confidence in the divine law revealed in Scripture, when people realize that the supposedly rational arguments for a moral position are not sufficient, but rather are something closer to rationalizations.

    You most likely do not understand his natural law theory and are dealing with a straw man.

    I’m not sure I understand it myself well enough.

    What do you think his natural law theory says exactly?

    • #7
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Don’t make me get all William James up in here.

    Too late. I already did.

    • #8
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Don’t make me get all William James up in here.

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Don’t make me get all William James up in here.

    Too late. I already did.

    I’ve watched that before, and I was just going to go looking for it. Thanks.

    • #10
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