“What Has Athens To Do with Jerusalem?”
written by Dr Antić
Director Ellen G.White Centre
Why study philosophy in a Christian college?
What does theology have to do with philosophy? Or, to put it in the words of Tertullian, second century Christian apologist from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” According to him, philosophy is not based in the early Christian church tradition, it has often ruined theology and as such should not be used in theology.
However, some other early Christian Church fathers claimed that there is kind of interdependence between these two academic disciplines. For example, Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.), even after his conversion to Christianity and after becoming one of the most influential Christian defenders and missionary looked at himself as a philosopher and considered Christianity to be the “true philosophy.” Augustine, often considered the most influential Christian theologian of all times, argued for a reasonable approach saying that theology and philosophy frequently support each other although one must make sure that a philosophical understanding of a certain subject must be authenticated by the Christian pledges.
Furthermore, apostle Paul himself has been involved in a number of cases when he debated Greek philosophers and had shown a considerable familiarity of Greek literature and philosophy. To prove his theological points, he often was able to quote by memory the citations from the works of Greek philosophers and writers. For instance, in Acts 17:28, in his address to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Areopagus, Paul quoted Epimenides, Greek philosopher from the six century B.C., “For in him we live and move and have our being.” In the very next sentence, he quoted Aratus, third century B.C., “We are his offspring.” Thus, Paul was able to correlate biblical concepts to the thought forms of the contemporary world of his time and make them comprehensible and acceptable.
In the Epistle to Philippians 4: 4-9, Paul creatively used a method known in ancient psychiatry as ‘bona cogitare’ which consisted basically of two processes, ‘avocatio’ and ‘revocatio.’ It meant that human mind in order to reach the state of balance and peace must be called from the hardship (‘revocatio’), from the things that disturb us to the contemplation of pleasure (‘avocatio’). Epicurus, Cicero and Seneca wrote about and practiced this method (‘bona cogitare’). It was purely a mental exercise method which did not involve any supernatural involvement. On the other hand, Paul promised Philippians a peace of mind if they tell their worries to God, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure . . .think about such things.” “And the peace of God, which transcend all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Hence, apostle Paul spoke about the secular psychiatric approach of his time which was known to his audience and suggested a new, superior way to reach peace of mind by involving supernatural power of God as well as ‘avocatio’ and ‘revocatio.’
Paul Tillich, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20thcentury, claimed that, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the god of philosophers is the same.” He also stressed that “no theologian should be taken seriously . . . if his work shows that he does not take philosophy seriously.” He wrote that the philosophy, especially existentialist philosophy, is the ‘good lack’ of theology because it has asked the hardest and the most important questions in human existence but has no answers for these problems. Theology does have answers and therefore theology and philosophy need to be in the state of correlation and every theology should be an answering theology.
Therefore, Christian theology is not based only on faith, it is not irrational. Human beings are intelligence with rational abilities given to us by God. David in Psalm 27: 4 asks only one thing from the Lord and that is “to seek him in his temple.” The Hebrew word ‘baker’ (‘seek’) means, ‘detailed examination of evidences to determine the truth.’ Consequently, the students at Christian colleges should study philosophy in order to better understand the thought forms of the contemporary world and to be able to communicate the gospel message to the world in a competent way.