A Tale of Two Hats

Imagine there are two hats on a table in front of you. One says “Biblical Exegesis” and the other says “Analytic Philosophy”. Most of us recognize the importance of wearing the philosophy hat, but even for those who don’t, it’s an indispensable part of daily life. When we learn how to wear it, we wield the awesome powers of logic and reason – it provides us with one of the pillars of our modern lives. Unfortunately, we can get into trouble when we want to wear the exegesis hat… what happens when we forget to take off the philosophy hat, or perhaps think we don’t need to?

The philosophy hat is worn from much use… it was, in fact, a present handed down to us by a long line of great thinkers and biblical scholars. In modern contemporary theology, pastors and teachers such as John Piper love to wear this hat. He loves to wear it because it was passed on to him from Jonathan Edwards. Edwards loved to wear that hat because John Calvin wore it. Calvin loved to wear it because he recognized that Augustine loved to wear it. (In the 16th century, Augustine was chic!)

Don’t think that this philosophy hat is exclusively for the use of our Reformed/Calvinist brothers and sisters, though. Jacob Arminius loved to wear it as well, and he passed it on to the Wesley brothers. Thomas Aquinas and the medieval scholastics made it look good. Other Christian thinkers such as Luis Molina, Anselm, Irenaeus, Origen, John Chrystostom, and many other church fathers wore it. I personally enjoy reading modern Christian philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig because they wear it so well. 1I want to be clear – analytic philosophy is not a bad thing. We just need to be cognizant of how and when we use it!

The problem starts to become noticeable when we keep going back – past the early patristics all the way back to Paul, Matthew, Luke, Peter, and the other biblical authors. Academics such as Marvin Wilson, author of Our Father Abraham, have rightly pointed out and emphasized that the biblical authors were near-east Semetic thinkers, not particularly interested in the rigid structure of the Greco-Roman logic that is a staple of our modern way of thinking. That certainly doesn’t mean that they were illogical or irrational people but simply that they were not primarily driven by a desire to appear perfectly step-wise logical (syllogistic) to their audience. 2Our Father Abraham, p. 150-153 Their primary desire was the revealing and preaching of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah to both Jew and Gentile.

The problem compounds when we then forget to take off our Greco-Roman philosophy hat while exegeting the New Testament. We end up imposing our way of thinking – a foreign epistemic methodology and bias – onto the text, while not accounting for the differences between eastern and western thinking. 3Seriously… go pick up a copy of Marvin Wilson’s Our Father Abraham. It’s a fantastic book. When that happens, we risk making anachronistic readings of the text, and we risk misconstruing the theology and doctrine of the biblical authors.

This topic will come to the fore again when we begin discussing the history and practice of building systematic theologies. When we begin to think and approach the scriptures systematically, have we left the epistemic boundaries of the biblical authors? In other words, is it possible to systematize something that was written by people who were not systematic thinkers?

What happens when we make sure to take off our Analytic Philosophy hat the next time we put on our Biblical Exegesis hat?

References   [ + ]

1. I want to be clear – analytic philosophy is not a bad thing. We just need to be cognizant of how and when we use it!
2. Our Father Abraham, p. 150-153
3. Seriously… go pick up a copy of Marvin Wilson’s Our Father Abraham. It’s a fantastic book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *