On the place of non-Christian thought in the intellectual life of the believer.

20 May

I love philosophy, particularly political philosophy. Being a Christian does not mean that non-Christian thinkers offer nothing beneficial to me or mankind. But non-Christian thought lacks something that, as a believer, makes it insufficient. Holy Scripture. Scripture must be the lens through which all thought is read and critically analyzed. When the general revelation, graciously granted to non-believers, is combined with and interpreted through the special revelation of Scripture, the knowledge gleaned is rightfully awed and wholly trustworthy. But there can be no substitute for the glorious truths contained in Holy Scripture. Many learned men, well versed in non-Christian thought, find that when God sovereignly stooped down, humbled them, redeemed them, opened their eyes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and granted them an insatiable love for and use of scripture in their intellectual endeavors, they find their minds have finally been truly and indescribably awakened, never learning, thinking, the same way again. They are able to see what they couldn’t see before. This is precisely what happened to John Calvin, a former humanist, lover of Seneca and Cicero. But upon his conversion, which was both spiritual and intellectual, he was never the same as he discovered the truth and utility of scripture in the great and noble work of human philosophy and thought. Calvin did not stop reading and thinking about non-Christian thought. It’s just that he placed philosophy in the service of theology, which is the only role it may play in the intellectual life of the believer. He placed Athens in the service of Jerusalem. Here’s how he put it: “Now this power which is peculiar to Scripture is clear from the fact that of human writings, however artfully polished, there is none capable of affecting us at all comparably. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle or any other of that class. You will, I admit, feel wonderfully allured, delighted, moved, enchanted. But turn from them to the reading of the sacred volume and whether you will it or not, it will so powerfully affect you, so pierce your heart, so work its way into your very marrow, that compared with the impression so produced, the power of the orators and philosophers will almost disappear; making it clear that the Holy Scriptures breathe something divine, which lifts them far above all the gifts and graces of human industry.”

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

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