Saturday, September 03, 2005

Philosophy serves theology

These are the questions from the course syllabus. I'll post the questions from lesson 1 shortly.

Do you as a student of theology resent philosophy requirements? If so, why?

I'm going to answer, "If not, why not" instead. No, I don't resent the philosophy requirements for this program. To me, any liberal art program worth its salt should have some "theory of methodology" discussion, and my sense (possibly wildly mistaken) is that the tools of philosophy are the same we use for theology. Philosophy provides a systematic way to approach a subject. Theology is, in part, the application of a system of thought to the reality of God. It's also a study of things revealed by God, which aren't accessible by reason alone, but we don't want to dismiss the usefulness of reason simply because part of the subject matter is beyond reason.

What is you conception of philosophy?

I see philosophy primarily as a method for forming systems of though or belief. It can also be a specific system of thought or belief. Just as we can speak of language as being a mechanism by which specific languages are constructed and a specific instance of language, we can speak of philosophy as having general and specific forms.

What do you think is the relation between "revealed truth" and "human truth"?

"Human truth" is that which we can discern through our senses and right reason by observing the world around us and coming to conclusions based on that experience. We frequently do this indirectly by accepting trusted authorities (for example, in the world of physics). "Revealed truth" is that knowledge that comes from God through His Word. We cannot ascertain this truth on our own but are dependent upon God's grace to hear and accept it. The two together make up the whole of human knowledge. They cannot be in contradiction with each other.

Is philosophy absolutely necessary for theology or only very helpful?

I originally answered, "It depends." I still stand by this response with a qualification. If we use the terms "theology" and "philosophy" in the technical sense, then philosophy (as a method of inquiry), is absolutely required for theology (as a subject matter). Theology is the study of Divine Revelation. Philosophy is the body of techniques we use to study those aspects of theology that we can ascertain through reason. However, if we think of "theology" only as ways of conceptualizing God, then I could envision people doing this quite readily without a systematic approach (which would be a philosophical approach). However, to discuss God in light of Revelation and human thought, we must employ a method for doing so. If we want to have a systematic discussion of God and His Revelation, we need philosophy.

On a separate note, many writers debate whether it's necessary to "know" grammar to write. It's not necessary to be able to discuss the grammatical constructs one uses in composition, but it is necessary for writers to have an intuitive grasp of grammar in order to attain their ends. A writer who only intuitively understands grammar can only write their word. A writer who understands the mechanisms by which they operate (grammar) can also analyze and address their technique.

What does it mean to say that theology "interprets the Gospel to our culture"?

Originally I thought that the Gospel has to be interpreted through the lenses of the culture into which it's read. I had that model reversed. The Gospel is the lense through which we have to read the culture. Only then can we address the flaws that human imperfection has introduced to that culture. Then the Gospel can be delivered as needed to the culture in question. A ham-handed delivery would only result in rejection.
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