My biggest regret with hindsight to my many years of tertiary education is my failure to study philosophy. Having majored in media and political science, I also took classes in history, international relations, fine arts, and theology. Without a doubt, I have been blessed to have been able to attend several well-renowned institutions that not only taught subjects but inspired me to think and learn.
It is often said that every child deserves a caring mother and father in a loving home, to which I concur strongly. But I would follow up in saying that every child deserves a truly liberal education underpinned with philosophy and theology. To flourish in this world no matter your circumstances requires a deep-seated understanding of where our societal principles come from. It is when a person can reckon with the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, that they start to appreciate the gravity of critical thought and the philosophical underpinnings of how humanity functions.
Underneath our noses
Most people, let alone Christians, do not realise that there is an ongoing clash of cultures in our world from our universities to the street corner. Very often we rationalise such points of difference to merely lifestyle choices or an upbringing from another context. But this is much more than just alternative viewpoints, it is the tensions of the differing worldviews which ultimately reflect competition upon philosophical ideals. Enlightenment and postmodern thought patterns are fundamentally in conflict with the theistic Christian worldview.
Followers of Jesus cannot be indifferent to the mind-shaping institutions, such as our schools and universities, that birth the next generation of societies’ leaders. To see academic faculties as merely certificate printing mills is a gross misunderstanding of the power that tertiary education institutions have on our twenty-first-century society. Despite the growing unpopularity of legacy media, traditional journalists continue to play a substantial role in shaping the cultural narrative. Perhaps in not what they say or write, but in what is not published.
My experience at Australia’s second-largest newspaper and subsequent following of current affairs throughout my time at seminary has led me to realise that the public square is something that the church has failed to grasp. Christians can forget everything they learn in apologetics and evangelism courses if they fail to live out the Gospel. Like everyone else, we traverse the public square yet, more often than not, we are afraid to be seen. The Gospel is never heard alone estranged from everything else that is going on in the world, it is one of many systems of beliefs that is available on the market whether we like it or not.
The necessary revival
Our post-Christendom churches need philosophers that can viably give credit to the Christian faith among an onslaught of secular and multicultural milieus that appear rational to most people. Philosophy is foundational to every walk of life even if we do not ascribe a label to a particular way of thought or lifestyle that drives our decision making and lived experiences. Christians need not be afraid to take faith out of the confines of the chapel or the philosophy department at university. Instead of focusing on the creation of bastions where God is still acceptable, the wider world waits for the Gospel through well-thought-out responses to questions that often reflect deep-seated pursuits of understanding hidden at first by ego.
The case for Christ is not won through mere intellectual discourse with straightforward responses or an appeal to the mysterious or unknown. But rather much value and opportunity lie in the argument of philosophical ideals through the comparative study of various forms of worldviews at hand. Too often our Sunday pews are filled with Christians simply to be taught from the preaching but unprepared to learn from the Gospel. A Christian cannot just be spiritually saved, but also needs to have their minds renewed so that they do not think like non-believers. A renewing of the mind, in essence, is the critical understanding of how Christian theology stands among the bevvy of philosophical worldviews.
Even though the Western world is in a post-Christendom phase with many churches noticing increasing emptiness in once-coveted pew seating, the strength of a church should not be measured primarily based on attendance. But rather the strength of the church’s conviction ought to be its defining trope in the community. A small congregation of credibly equipped Christians able to defend the faith in a sea of pluralism and misguided scientism is much better off than a church having its pews filled with ‘Sunday bests’. The best of one’s Christian faith should not be on the Sabbath but rather throughout the other one hundred and sixty-seven hours of the week where it stands out among culturally competent defenders of enlightenment, post-modern, secular, and pagan thought.
Think about it
Even in Christian circles on the odd occasion that the question of ‘who Jesus is’ is raised, the default answers are Son of God, Saviour, and Good Teacher. But we forget that Jesus not only is the totality of such but, throughout His ministry on earth, was intellectually sound in his teachings. Jesus knew what He espoused both on a spiritual and philosophical level. This means that Christianity is not a faith of mere acceptance of Jesus’ resurrection but one that is grounded in the continual inquiry that calls on us to be constantly questioning our faith.
A living and seeking faith may even involve doubt at times, but that is not to be shunned. Through a deeper understanding of philosophy in the world, we can make the most of the public sphere with the applied knowledge of God at work. To be equipped thoroughly for Gospel mission is to be able to live out the Word both in articulated practice and thought. Being able to respond effectively to the critiques and challenges arising through dialogue is quintessential to the Christian faith in action.
This article was first published at Christian Today Australia on Thursday 3 December 2020