The first discussion I undertook with my class addressed the nature of philosophy and questioned whether Christians, followers of Jesus who attest that it is faith in the Bible’s divinely revealed teachings that leads to truth and true living, can rightly engage in philosophical discussion or whether such a thing is contrary to Christian teaching.
To begin the discussion it is best to understand what exactly philosophy is and what it is not. At its core the study of philosophy is the practice of thinking hard about life and its many facets. There are more rigorous definitions regarding philosophies relationship to first order disciplines like science or education and there are many specific subcategories to philosophy such as metaphysics or philosophy of the mind but at its core philosophy is about understand fundamental relationships in any area of thought and then describing them accurately. Philosophy is not a singular path to knowing what is true or better yet deciding what is true. Neither is it a area of study that requires its students remove themselves from practical concerns and become fanciful dreamers unhinged and unengaged in the matters of real life.
Essentially, philosophy is the pursuit or wisdom, which as the ancient Hebrews so well defined it is, the practice of knowing and doing what is good.
The aims of philosophy are simply to discover through the use of reason and based upon solid evidences what is real (in any field) and not just a matter of appearance. It might be understood that philosophy, properly practiced, is about defining things and concepts well and in a manner that makes their apprehension simple, their performance possible, and our interaction with them potent.
Philosophy, similarly to other disciplines of knowledge, uses simple methods; dialectic, the definition of terms, the identification of presuppositions, and the use of argument. Perhaps unique to philosophy is the intense demand for detail that is required for it is through the determined and focussed attention to detail that the philosopher is able to assemble great and powerful ideas.
To be continued…
Date: July 2-6
Location: Pleasantview Bible Camp
Addressing: Junior High Camp
Subject Matter: Knowing God
In lieu of my recent speaking engagements or teachings I want to over a summary of some of my lessons from the university class I offered in Lebanon.
As the title of the blog suggests my first lecture was title An Invitation to Christian Philosophy. Considering that this was a first year class I began by approaching a definition of philosophy in general. To begin, there is no airtight definition. I offered two distinct perspectives: 1) Etymologically the roots of the Greek words in the contraction mean to love (philein) wisdom (sophia). This might loosely define the principles and practices of right thinking and the reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths; and, 2) It might be understood as a second order discipline that studies first order disciplines as a negative check and a positive guide. For example, the philosophy of science may seek to describe right approaches to scientific study based upon perceptions of how we may interpret sense perception and experience or aim to rightly limit the spheres of scientific conjecture considering that as a discipline science is limited to describing tested and observable data and not making metaphysical claims outside its purview (science can tell us the nature of the universe, its age, and the processes of its current development but it cannot tell us what caused it to came into being, i.e. to be created).
Obviously are different ways of defining philosophy but I think that these two broad perspectives allow us a simple means of delineating the Christian study of philosophy into two trajectories. Firstly the Christian philosopher must seek to understand the nature of rational and reasonable thought, the principles of logic, the discipline of knowing with certainty and by causes, learning the methods of making ideas clear, adequately defining words, avoiding unnecessary verbal disputes and the use of argument by reason and evidence expressed through presuppositions and truth claims. Secondly the Christian philosopher must be able to apply all the previously mentioned skills towards answering the fundamental questions of human life including but not limited to: What is real and not just a matter of appearance? What can be known about being, good and evil, motion, the world, humankind and God?
In an effort to lead the students into such a study I broke the class into a series of lectures upon topics which would aid in such an enterprise. Discussions covered the following topics:
- A Christian Justification of Philosophy
- The Relationship between Philosophy and Theology or Reason and Faith
- The Reality and Nature of Truth
- Logic and Argument
- Can we know? The Skeptical Challenge?
- What is Knowledge?
- What is the structure of Justification?
- Religious Epistemology.
- What is the Nature of the World?
- Are there Universals?
- What is a Particular Thing?
- Philosophy of Religion
- Does God Exist? (Part 1)
- The Cosmological Argument
- The Teleological Argument
- The Axiological Argument
- The Ontological Argument
- What is God like? (Part 2)
- Does God Exist? (Part 1)
- Philosophical Analysis of Two Christian Doctrines
- The Incarnation: Is it possible?
- Particularism: Is Jesus the only way to heaven
- Human Nature
- Do people have eternal souls?
- Do people have free-will?
- The Ethical Question – Is it important?
- Natural Objectivism
- Nonnatural Objectivism
- Case Study: Article, “Reconciling Normative Tensions in Biomedical Ethics” Ashley Moyse
- Bertrand Russel
- The New Atheism
- Islamic Philosophy
- The Trinity
In upcoming posts I will address these topics as I did in my course.
Today, I gave a short 10-minute talk to a packed room of extended care patients at the Dr. Cook facility in Lloydminster, AB.
As the basis for my address I read Joshua 4:1-7. I highlighted the idea of the importance to find or see symbols of God’s activity in the world. To introduce the idea I told a story.
The story involved a conversation I had with my elderly grandfather. I don’t remember what sparked the desire but I had never been that close to him and thought I would like to talk and find out more about this man, my mothers father. The conversation covered everything from his upbringing and his sentencing to 1-year of Sunday School by a municipal judge as punishment for a break and enter charge to the death of his only son, his wife and his own knowledge of the brevity of life. He told me stories about logging, farming, running a mill, driving horse-drawn carts, his first truck, and starting his own gravel pit. He talked about honour and respect, work ethic, and loving a woman who had not know love in her childhood.
Don’t get me wrong, the stories were brief and lacking in vibrant detail, my grandpa was not a talkative guy. I remember going to visit him with my wife. He asked if we would stay for supper and spend the evening. As fare he offered corn on the cob and we shared our banana chip-loaf. Then we sat silently, breaking the silence with a Saskatchewan Roughriders game. I loved it and I heard from my mom later that he did too.
I shared in my talk, I asked him what it was that he figured was most important for a younger man like me to know. His answer, though not offered as poetically I summarize here, build good memories and then take time to remember them. It was good to hear.
I segued from this to Joshua and the Israelites building a memorial of stones to God’s past action. The memorial was intended to remind the people of the truth so that they might live according to it in the present and have hope for the future. The application is ready. For those who sit, often because they can do little or nothing else, for those who can do little but think and often are best at remembering one of the things that they can do to strengthen themselves for today and give them hope for tomorrow is to look for and find symbols of good times and of God’s past action.
God is the creator, the sustainer, the redeemer. Experiencing and then remembering these truth’s is important, nay essential. For these blessed seniors whose lives are so limited I suggested that some of lives purest experiences might facilitate this experience and remembrance. Noting the creation of every new day, Embracing the sustenance of the warmth of their rooms and the helpful hands of their caretakers. Finding in the hearing of God’s Word the seed and plant of redemption.
October 28th was the annual meeting of the Classis of the Canadian Prairies, a regional gathering of member churches of the Reformed Church of America. The RCA is the oldest Christian denomination in North America. It has a large U.S grouping and several churches in Canada. While I studied at Seminary in Langley, B.C, Canada I attended an RCA church called Home Church.
Home Church is a recent church plant by Jim Moerman. The churches vision is to be a church for the unchurched, for God’s prodigals who are wanting to come home but may not know the way or are unsure of what they can expect from God their Father. While attending Home Church I served in a part-time capacity for 18 months as the Associate Pastor and my main aim was discipleship ministry.
Jim Moerman recently put me in contact with RCA Executive Secretary John Kapteyn who in turn connected me with Classis of the Canadian Prairies lead Ron Opmeer. Through these contacts I was given an opportunity to be guest speaker at the annual meeting I mentioned above.
I was given 35 minutes to speak on the topic of understanding and responding to Muslims. First, I need to say that such a topic is very wide and has its challenges. Second, it offers a great opportunity for me to speak on something which I am excited about and which I believe is a necessary and important part of Christian life and thought. In order to address the issue I focussed on three specific ideas.
1) The doctrine of Allah.
This might seem an interesting starting point but here is my reasoning. It has been said the proper study of mankind is man. I have also heard it said that the proper study of a person is a study of their notion of God. Let me briefly elaborate. If you can understand the character and nature of that thing, person, or idea which is of ultimate importance to someone than you will be able to deduce what things that someone finds most important. For example, if some person ‘worships’, not literally but through word and deed, wealth than it is likely that their character will evince certain characteristics. It is the same with people and their ideas of the supreme being, of the divine person.
With this as my basis I made a brief study of what it is that Islam’s source materials, the Qur’an and Tradition, teach about the character and nature of Allah. I focussed on the primary notion of Allah’s unity and then upon his will, knowledge and power as these are the primary attributes of Allah emphasized in these source materials. For interpretation of the materials I used the foundational writings of the 9th century Islamic theologian Ash’ari, a man thought of as the father of Islamic orthodoxy.
2) The many faces of Islam.
This second point focussed on the idea that though the Islamic source materials teach certain ideas about Allah, these ideas may be varyingly interpreted by Muslim’s to produce communities that have distinct character’s. For example, Sufi mystics hold to a different idea of Allah’s relation to his creatures and his nature of communicating to man than do Sunni’s and as such each community shows distinct characteristics.
I drew a parallel that this sort of division is seen in less historical groupings as well. There are fanatics who emphasis aspects of Allah’s judgement and wrath. There are vast numbers of Muslims that hold strongly to the traditional interpretation of Allah. There are many Muslims who being influenced by modernism are less dogmatic about the truth claims of the source materials and moralize their faith. There are Muslims who are named as such culturally and not religiously.
I suggested that Christian efforts to understand Muslims must recognize these categories and the variations of interpretation found in the global Muslim community. Considering this is the case a Christian’s best efforts at understanding their Muslim neighbour is to talk to that neighbour, learn from them and discover Islam through their eyes.
3) Responding to Muslim’s
Here I changed the topic a bit. Rather than talk on how to respond to Muslim’s I emphasized that we should rid our thinking of polemical attitudes and seek to build relationships. To do this I focussed on three things.
First, we need to respect our Muslim friends and neighbours as people. Second, we need to communicate with them with integrity, which means we need to understand, live and clearly communicate our Christian faith as we seek to explore spiritual truth with our Muslim friends. Third, we need to know and speak what is core to Christian faith and that is the life and teaching of the man Jesus the Christ.
I hope to have a copy of the video that was recorded on that evening and post a link to it here as soon as I am able.
On occasion my home church gives me the chance to take the Sunday morning teaching time. The church is First Baptist Church in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. The lead pastor Ta Tumu gives me some of these days, I think, because I enjoy the teaching, it allows me to exercise my gift of teaching, and I provide topics and perspectives that are not addressed as frequently in the course of his teaching.
On this particular day I chose to address a passage that I am sure most of the attendees at our church were unfamiliar with, that is Leviticus 17. Take a look at the video.
Part 1 @ http://vimeo.com/28623993
Part 2 @ http://vimeo.com/28931515
In June of 2011 I returned to Beirut to commence teaching a class on Philosophy at a local theological institute.
The course was one of my own design. For textbooks I used Craig and Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for A Christian Worldview and Cowan and Spiegel’s The Love of Wisdom. The class took place over eight days over which I averaged 4.5 hours of lecturing per day. The class consisted of ten students who hail from various regional countries. For assignments I gave a series of vocabulary quizzes, comprehension questions, two assignments on logic and a research paper.
It was the first time I used a translator. I found teaching through a translator difficult but fun at the same time. The biggest challenge was that the translator would get pretty tired after about 3 hours even with the breaks every hour. The next challenge was the specific language the discipline of philosophy uses, for many words translator had to discover how to translate the intent of the word rather than the word itself. For example translating ‘Metaphysics’ came out ‘things outside of the material.’ These translation problems extended to the student assignments. As I do not yet read Arabic it was hard for me to mark the students works. We tried using Google Translate for the documents but it was too poor to be of much use.
The students were a good mix and some of them were more adept with the subject than others. I am not going to share names as some of the students situations are such that to do so may put them into difficulties. One student, I will call him B1, came to the class with a minimum of academic experience or theological background. As such, some of his questions and statements came off as a little heretical. Some of the other students reacted pretty strongly to what he was saying but I found that he was very interested in the material and just didn’t know how to formulate his thoughts. With a little patience I think we made some real ground. Another, lets call him B2, had a background in both Western Philosophy and Arabic Philosophy. Answering his questions was a real challenge. He definitely kept me on my toes but we had some real positive interchanges.
In the end there was some good stuff and some challenges but I look forward to my next trip.