Philosophical Apologetics, The Church, And Contemporary Culture -- By: J. P. Moreland

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 39:1 (Mar 1996)
Article: Philosophical Apologetics, The Church, And Contemporary Culture
Author: J. P. Moreland

Philosophical Apologetics, The Church,
And Contemporary Culture

J. P. Moreland*

In 1756 John Wesley delivered an address to a gathering of clergy on how to carry out pastoral ministry with joy and skill. He catalogued a number of things familiar to most contemporary believers: the cultivation of a disposition to glorify God and save souls, a knowledge of Scripture, and similar notions. At the beginning of his list, however, Wesley focused on something seldom expressly valued by most pastoral search committees: “Ought not a Minister to have, First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness?” 1 Time and again throughout the address Wesley unpacked this remark by admonishing ministers to know what would sound truly odd and almost pagan to the average congregant of today: logic, metaphysics (including the first principles of being), natural theology, geometry, and the ideas of important figures in the history of philosophy.

Wesley’s remarks were not unusual in his time. A century earlier the great Reformed pastor Richard Baxter was faced with lukewarmness in the Church and unbelief outside the Church. In 1667 he wrote a book to meet this need, and in it he used philosophy to argue for the existence of the soul and the life to come. The fact that Baxter turned to philosophy instead of small groups or praise hymns is worth pondering. Over a millennium earlier, Augustine summarized the view of many early Church fathers when he said, “We must show our Scriptures not to be in conflict with whatever [our critics] can demonstrate about the nature of things from reliable sources.” 2 Philosophy was the main tool Augustine used in this task.

Today things are different. Most evangelical seminaries with which I am familiar do not have professional philosophers on their faculties, nor do they train ministerial candidates to do philosophy or motivate them to see philosophical acumen as part of their calling. And in my experience of speaking in literally hundreds of churches, the first thing that comes to many Christian minds when they hear the word “philosophy” is that Col 2:8 (on their view) warns them to stay away from it. It is no accident that

* J. P. Moreland is professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639.

these facts run concurrently with an increasingly marginalized evangelical community, which as a result is struggling with a crisis of self-image as the culture turns neopagan.

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