Would Jesus cleanse the temple of Philosophy?

Unknown-1In his introduction to Jesus and Philosophy, Paul Moser asks, “How, then, is Jesus relevant to philosophy as a discipline?”[1] This is a great question. Possible answers include “not at all,” “insignificantly” or “significantly” relevant.

Many in the academy would argue that Jesus has little or no relevance to the discipline of philosophy. Recently, the philosophers David Chalmers and David Borget conducted a survey that targeted 1,972 philosophy faculty members from 99 different institutions to determine the actual beliefs of philosophers on perennial topics within the discipline. Of the 931 who replied, 72.8% considered themselves atheists, while only 14.6% considered themselves theists. Undoubtedly, many of these atheist philosophers think Jesus has no place in philosophy. For those atheists who do allow Jesus a seat at the table—perhaps as a moral teacher or examplar—still, my guess is they are wary of Him and His followers. Just recall Quentin Smith’s essay published in 2004 in Philo where he laments how the “secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967.”

Moser, on the other hand, argues that Jesus bears significantly on philosophy.For, in itself philosophy is inadequate and incomplete. It needs to be reconceived under the banner of Christ in order to yield an adequate understanding of intellectual and moral reality.

As Moser puts it, “Philosophy in its normal mode, without being receptive to an authoritative divine challenge stemming from divine love commands, leaves humans in a discussion mode, short of an obedience mode under divine authority.”[2]

That is, philosophy, carried out in the discussion mode consist of endless conversations, debates, arguments, circles, twists, and turns …with little action, little change, and little movement toward faithful obedience to Christ for the love of God and the good of man. Many of us who participate in the academic discipline of philosophy can relate: the endless march of journal articles responding to person A and position X, who is, in turn, responding to person C and the once-removed-cousin-of-X, who is responding to … (you get the point) can make one wonder what is really going on the discipline of philosophy.

In reality, I think important work is going on in philosophy, and in the academic journals of philosophy. Truth is being sought and Lord willing, found. (I think knowing the truth about reality is an intrinsic good and so being rightly related to reality and helping others to be rightly related to reality is a good thing, and done under the banner of Christ, a God-honoring pursuit). What is needed, and what is lacking according to Moser, however is the “movement beyond discussion” to action.

Hence, when brought to bear on the discipline of philosophy, Jesus overturns our conference tables, pushes us out of our offices, and into the world in which we “lives and moves and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In calling philosophy to faithful obedience beyond the mere discussion and acquisition of truth, “He thereby cleanses the temple of philosophy and turns over our self-crediting tables of mere philosophical discussion. He pronounces judgment on this long-standing self-made temple, in genuine love for its wayward builders.”[3]

This is an interesting thought. In this sense, I think Moser is right: Jesus is concerned with exposing the rank idolatry in our midst, and to the extent that we philosophers make the pursuit the novel idea (disconnected from its divine source), or career, or status ultimate in our lives we fall into a kind of false worship. This temptation to live for self instead of something greater is a temptation in which Christian philosophers are not immune. Jesus indeed will cleanse this temple.

So, part of what it means to be a Christian philosopher is to give Jesus supremacy in the realm of ideas and our way of life. Jesus is the font of all wisdom and knowledge. As such, Jesus is brilliant. As Dallas Willard reminded us many times, Jesus is the smartest person. But, Jesus is more—He is the Savior, and as such, he demands our lives. What this means for the Christian philosopher is that our philosophizing, and our living, must be understood in light of the gospel. Does this make a difference to philosophy? It makes all the difference.

For an excellent discussion of the implications of Jesus to philosophy, see the series of essays from the “Christ-Shaped Philosophy” page at the Evangelical Philosophical Society website.












[1] Paul Moser, “Introduction: Jesus and Philosphy,” in Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays, ed. Paul Moser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

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