The Function of Philosophy and Theology

Scott_OliphintI came across what seems like a simple question “Logic to interpret Scripture or Scripture to interpret logic?” The question on its face seems simple. The question makes some poor assumptions and therefore while simple in form, it’s simplicity exposes poor thinking. In the assumptions that are given, it poses logic against Scripture. From the questioner’s point of view, when you are interpreting one, you are therefore not using the other. I want to use their terms to illustrate the problem with the question.

When you use your logic to interpret Scripture. It is therefore by implication that Scripture therefore cannot at the same time interpret your logic. When you are using logic to interpret Scripture, what you are doing in reality, is using your thinking and rationalizing to determine if something is true or false.

What the person in this scenario is doing is determining if something is true or false. They are the authority over Scripture. The Scripture therefore is waiting for someone to determine if the contents are true, false, or unknown. What they have done is made Scripture on par with any and every other book in history till the reader determines otherwise. The Bible in this scenario is no longer a revelation from God. It is a historical book that has value equal to all other books.

I could talk about the nature of Scripture and that would answer the question fine. But in this post I want to discuss the function of philosophy in theology. In doing so I would recommend Scott Oliphint’s work Reasons for Faith and Turretin’s Institutes volume 1.

I think that we can better arrive at the answer the person was wanting by understanding the question this way. Reason is a tool we all have for our use. The question in we ask now is “What is its proper use with respect to our knowledge?” To illustrate, a hammer has a use where it serves its purpose well. However, if we try to use the hammer for something it wasn’t designed for then it is not serving us well. We are using the hammer inappropriately and we need to use a tool that is designed for the task at hand.

Reason/logic is inappropriately used when it is used for a function it wasn’t intended. How do we understand this relationship of reason to faith? When we misunderstand the function of reason, then we can attribute to it more than it deserves.

First, reason has a task to judge consistency and coherence of biblical truth. This seems pretty clear initiailly. Reason determines when something is contradicting itself or when it isn’t for example. But our reason is a tool that is used by us. It like having me play the violin. It would be horrible and unpleasant to anyone. However if we put a violin in the hands of Samvel Yervinyan thousands would gather to listen. Same instrument, different user. We must recall, the Scripture makes a distinction of the believer’s reason and the reason used by the non-believer. The non believer uses the tool of reason not for the glory of God, but in the suppression of knowledge. They actively suppress truth and they do not seek it. The idea that reason is blind and therefore used equally regardless of the user is a dangerous idea as Turretin wrote in his Institutes of Elentic Theology (1:32) “We speak of enlightened reason giving its decisions from the word.” (1:33)

But do we as Christians now tell the non-believing world, “Christianity is true because it “is in accord with the law of contradiction.”? Van Til had a concern with this line of thinking, he called it pointless. His point being that when we tell this to the non-Christian they can still take it to mean something entirely different. Van Til rightly mentions that the non-Christian sees the law of contradiction as all other laws. The non-believer therefore does not see this law as something that finds its source in the work of God. The non-believer is in rebellion to God. The Christian is in obedience to God. Therefore the Christian trusts in the Deposit of God’s revelation (Scripture) to determine what is possible and impossible. The Christian trusts in Scripture to determine what is true and not true. The non-believer trusts in themselves. The non-believer determines as Van Til writes “the field of possibility and therewith the stream of history by means of the law of contradiction.”

Therefore the second function of reason is that it always functions as a servant and never as a master to theology. It does provide tools as I mentioned earlier that make theology helpful to understand and apprehend. But it also therefore means as a servant that the law of contradiction can never finally determine whether or not a particular Christian doctrine is true. Revelation determines that. Reason can help to organize revelation and expand the truths of Christianity, but it cannot determine if they are true.

Turretin helpfully explains “Although the judgment of contradiction is allowed to reason in matters of faith, it does not follow that the human intellect becomes the rule of divine power (as if God could not do more things than human reason can conceive). God’s being able to do something above nature and human conception (which is said with truth in Eph. 3:20) is different from his being able to do something contrary to nature and the principles of natural religion (which is most false). (1:34)

Third. Reason’s function in faith is not in interpretation but in the service of organization and articulation of those interpretations. We do not need an external source in order to compare and bring God’s truth together. Therefore, we understand that in regeneration, our reason is enlightened and while it may judge the consistency of doctrine, it never takes a magisterial role with respect to theology. And it is a help, in that it organizes and articulates our interpretation of Scripture.

Rom. 11:33   Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Rom. 11:34    “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Rom. 11:36   For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Rom. 12:1    I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.