In this – the final part of my 2007 interview with Ted Cabal, PhD – Dr. Cabal discusses the role of philosophy in the life of the believer.
Should philosophy have a role in the Christian layperson’s life, and if so, what is that role?
Dr. Cabal: I do, and though I wouldn’t teach it in a church, I think that would be mistaken, I might teach a series on Christian apologetics that would have philosophy built into it. I certainly wouldn’t have, personally, though some would probably disagree, a series on Sunday nights, for instance, where I would teach the history of philosophy. I could see, however, if I were discipling some leaders that we share together a couple of months reading a one-volume history of philosophy and discussing the major philosophers.
I think that any person who is pretty serious about getting a grasp on the major ideas that have made the world what they are, especially in relation to Christianity, would do quite well, and indeed should consider, reading something in the history of philosophy a must and probably then to use that as an introduction into certain other things like quality Christian apologetics. One thing we need to remember – it wasn’t that long ago, and still is the case in many schools, that part of a quality undergraduate education was a requirement that all people have some sort of introduction to philosophy, and it isn’t just because it’s an old tradition that’s antiquated. It’s because good thinkers, Christian and non-Christian alike, realized for a very long time that philosophy at its best is intended to make us think better.
What is the role of philosophy in the life of the Christian?
Dr. Cabal: The Bible is a revelation that is to be first understood, which involves the rational process, it is then to be believed, which is also an act of the will, as well, because as the Holy Spirit works on us, we are also forced into a decision: “Will I believe and obey this?” And that leads to a change of life and character as we allow God’s Word to transform us through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. And so, at the very essence of what it means to even learn God’s will for us in Scripture, we have to use our minds, and one of the worst things that anybody ought to be aware of is when people unthinkingly twist Scripture to mean all sorts of nonsense. If we believe the Bible reveals God’s objective truth to us, and we don’t mean to say that every bit of it is as easy each section, we do believe the big, most important things God has for us, such as Who He is and how we are to be saved, are the things that are most clear and laid out in Scripture; nonetheless, even those things, certainly the Bible is as a whole is best understood with a devout, worshipful, heavy duty application of thinking.
That being the case, we are not called to be living off in a church building somewhere, or a monastery, never interacting with the world; thus, when it comes about that we take what it is we become convinced of through careful study of Scripture, and allowing God’s Spirit to illumine us and apply it to our own lives through obedience and transformation, we also find the difficult task of having to go out into the world and find out how it applies, and soon as we do, we’re hit with all sorts of challenges that we may not find a specific verse about. We may encounter other religions. We may encounter false movements claiming to be Christian, that we don’t read specifically about in the Bible and forced to thing through. Thus, when a person coming into our door who says: “Oh yeah, I believe in Jesus as the Son of God,” it doesn’t take us long, that, we realize we have to think through carefully and realize that just saying words that match the Bible may not be the same thing the Bible means, and thus, careful thought may expose theological errors that indeed be heresy.
The same is true in every feature of everyday life which we seek to apply the Bible, because when it’s not a specific, clear verse that’s easy to apply such as “Don’t steal,” we may find ourselves having to reflect carefully on the application of the Bible to some everyday principle. Everybody is forced to make decisions that we wish the Bible would answer that it may not. But careful thinking, first upon all that the Bible teaches and then what it infers as well, and seeking counsel in all the other aspects of seeking God’s leadership – often it comes down to just thinking carefully about the issue with the best we can. A person who works hard at understanding will love wisdom and that’s what philosophy literally means – a philosopher is a person who loves wisdom and hates mental slothfulness. Loving God with all of our heart , soul, mind and strength requires that, even if we’re not professional philosophers, we should be the best thinkers that we can be in obedience to God’s Word.