Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Part I

This post, and the subsequent posts, originally appeared in my now defunct blog “Musings of a Wannabemuser.”  I want to repost this interview with Dr. Mark Coppenger of SBTS as it fits within the purpose of my blog and he offers some key insight into the role of philosophy for the believer.  I have left what I wrote in 2007 intact.

I had an opportunity to interview with Dr. Mark Coppenger, Professor of Christian Apologetics, of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on October  9, 2007. This interview is the second part of an indefinite number of interviews designed to show the value of philosophy to the Christian faith.  What I intend to do in this interview is not to raise philosophy to a high standard such that it replaced the Gospel; rather, I want to make an awareness of its importance in the life of the believer and of the Church. 

Two primary areas are dealt with in this interview: general misconceptions of philosophy held by Christians and the professor’s answers to these misconceptions, and what Christians can do to familiarize themselves with philosophy.  As with my interview with Dr. Cabal, I first begin with Dr. Coppenger’s own ‘testimony’  in regards to philosophy.In editing the interview transcript, I try to keep it as close as possible to the actual interview.  By allowing this transcript to read conversationally as it appears on the recorded version, I intend for the professor’s thoughts to remain intact while avoiding the mistake of my editing misconstruing his intention.  I did clean up some obvious grammatical errors (mostly on my part!), make some clarifications, and leave out some redundant statements.  Overall, this transcript closely matches the recorded interview which I hope to post soon (as soon as I figure out how to post a file in .wav format).

Danny:  What is your history with philosophy – how did you come to know that you have a joy for it?  Did you ever have misconceptions about philosophy, and how do you answer those misconceptions?

Dr. Coppenger: My dad had a Doctorate in Church History and he taught at Baptist schools – Carson Newman, Belmont and Ouachita.  There weren’t a lot of trained Southern Baptist Philosophers back then, so they would draft some of the religion teachers and bible teachers, and he was drafted to teach philosophy.  So, I grew up on family trips hearing him talk in passing about philosophical things.  He would have names out there like Plato, or dialectical materialism, or metaphysics, and I just thought that was about the grandest thing on earth.  I would ask him questions about this and that, and in my junior high years, I remember thinking that [philosophy] was interesting.  Every now and then I would pick up one of his textbooks – he was teaching Church History, Greek, Theology and other things, but he also had this going – and so, I became interested in it.  Philosophy wasn’t, then, sort of scary or other-worldly, it was just something my dad did.

It was the 60s when I was in college (I started college in ’66 and graduated in ’70).  There was a lot of upheaval – cultural and intellectual upheaval: old verities were being questioned, there was innumerality, they were burning flags, anarchy was exotic, and people were smoking dope and having sex and all that kind of stuff.  Also floating around the campuses were some pretty strong anti-Christian thoughts (not my campus – Ouachita).  You had logical positivism – all religious talk is meaningless (Bertrand Russell, A. J. Ayer).  Then you had existentialists, people who were following John Paul Sartre; it was all just a sort of subjectivity, dread, cynicism and meaninglessness.  So, I got a missionary sense, like, “Wouldn’t it be great to be a Christian in the midst of all of this, to be a voice representing the truths of the Bible, yet philosophically competent?”  And so, I felt called.  My dad’s formula back then for God’s call was to follow your bent – your inclinations.  Look for the gleam as you take steps – is there a sense of rightness and wholeness?  Then, watch for open doors.  Well, the door opened, and I got a full scholarship to Vanderbilt.  One thing led to another, and I had my Ph. D.  So, it was basically hanging around my dad – picking up the language and being intrigued by it, pursuing it and then seeing it as a mission field.

Danny:  So you didn’t really grow up with some misconceptions about philosophy because you saw it practiced?

Dr. Coppenger:  Right.  My dad was a supply preacher and he taught at the college.  I would go with him as he preached at churches across Arkansas.  He was very sound.  My mother was a WMU leader.  So, we weren’t on the fringes of anything.  He just made it very normal that you would do [philosophy].

to be continued in another post…

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012

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