Science in Christian Perspective



The Philosophical Implications of the 
Christian Relig ion
Chairman of the Bible and Theology
The King's College, Delaware

From: JASA 6 (September 1954): 14-19.
It may at the outset appear as very strange to some that there should be any link between the spheres of philosophy and theology; that there should exist any connection between that which by its very nature is rational, philosophy, and that which is revealed, theology. To many, these articles may seem exceedingly far-removed from the "practical" aspects of Christianity. However, we are by no means the first to suppose that a connection between the domains of philosophy and theology not only exists, but is very vital to the support and advancement of the Gospel. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo; Irenaeus; Tertullian, the converted Roman lawyer; Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelic Doctor;" most of the reformers and a host of other worthies too numerous to mention believed, despite their differences, that there is a rather close co-ordination, an actual cooperation, between the quest given impetus by man's thinking powers, as exemplified in philosophy, and the answer to the quest, as exemplified in theology and revelation. Nor does the fact that many a philosopher has failed to recognize the significance of the revelation militate against or vitiate the truth of the foregoing assertion. To phrase it in another way, God thinks and speaks; man hears; whether accurately or poorly, whether willingly or unwillingly, whether obediently or disobediently, whether understandingly or not understandingly, MAN hears and then proceeds to think and to act according to the attitude in which he has received the message, the divine communication.

Now, this attitude in which the message is received may be viewed as the "pre-conditioning factor" in the tensional relations that the very given character of the revelation creates, or at least calls forth. Man can not remain the same AFTER he has once heard God's voice, as he was BEFORE he heard it. This is essentially what is meant by "tensional relationships" at least in these articles. If man responds favorably to such revelation; or in evangelical parlance, if he "repents and believes," then the tension is dissolved on the basis of Christ's work upon the Cross. If, however, the revelation is repudiated, or even simply ignored, then the tensional relationships, far from being dissolved, are increased and augmented to the degree and to the point where judgment becomes inevitable, that is "God's grace strained to the breaking point."

A word may here be said as to the emphasis of philosophy. Philosophy proposes metaphysic as read ers of the Greek Sage, Aristotle, all know; Christianity assumes a metaphysic as readers of the Hebrew Prophet, Moses, are all aware (Ex. 3:14). Philosophy argues, in its better moments, for the reality of th e existence of God, as the well-known "five-fold proof for the existence of God' proposed by Thomas Aquias exhibits. Revelation, significantly enough, never argues for the truth of God's existence. Revelation simply assumes the validity of the proposition "God exists," then progresses to erect its entire ontology, or science of being, its entire epistemology, or theory of knowing, its entire ethic, as embodied in the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, its entire scheme of redemption, as demonstrated by Calvary, its entire construction of eschatology, or things yet to come, upon one eternal and sublime declaration: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1J). One will find no pantheism here, for God created the universe as something distinct and separate from Himself. One will look in vain for any hint of materialism here, for its cause originates not in itself, but in a power above and beyond it. One will discover no traces of the doctrine of the possibility of the eternity of the creation here, for "He spake and it was done." Atheism, Agnosticism, which is sometimes at least just a euphorism for the first word, as well as Deism, Skepticism, etc. are all discounted by this divine evaluation of their inadequacy as legitimate contenders for a valid worldview.

Now, it is to be admitted there are many types of philosophy in general, and of religious philosophy, to which we must confine our discussions, in particular; Platonism, Aristotelianism, Cartesianism, Hegelianism, Kantianism, and of late logical positivism to mention but a small portion of the vast and complex areas of thought. To hope to give even the briefest recapitulation of these would involve us in matters which would take us far beyond our purposes in this series, to say nothing of taxing the reader's mind and patience to the limits of endurance. Suffice it to remark that these ,philosophical systems of thoughts proposed by their respective founders, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hegel, Kant, and the late John Dewey, all had at least one thing in common, a certain set of governing ideas or principles, without which their philosophies could not even have been formulated, much less promulgated. Since the right of these philosophies, whether true or  false, to possess a "springboard" for their speculations can not be lawfully challenged, does anyone dare to have the temerity to allege to the Christian that he has no right to announce and uphold a set of principles, upon which he can also build his theological edifice? Whether or not these principles are worthy of credence may be another matter, technically speaking. But that those principles must be allowed to be firmly held and clearly stated is beyond debate, except by those who secretly fear, as the Communists, the inherent
power of the Christian position to prove itself again and again correct, when allowed leeway to do so! In fact, the most remarkable aspect of the whole situation is that, even when suppressed, as in the past, by the Nero's, or in the present by the Malenkov's, a strong, virile Christianity always expresses itself with or with out the licensure of man. What, then, are the presuppo sitions of evangelical Christianity? To our mind, there are at least four such assumptions without which Chris tianity might exist in name but not in essence. Viz:

I. Supernaturalistic.
II. Historic.
III. Redemptive.
IV. Culminative or

I. The Aspect of the Supernatural

We make no apologies for commencing at this level: IT IS EXACTLY WHERE THE BIBLE COMMENCES. To begin anywhere else would not merely be a mistake in logic, but would be guilty of treason to the Christian Cause, in that it would give the benefit of argument to the infidel and skeptic. The very first verse of Scripture, already quoted, sets forth a SUPERNATURAL GOD WHO WORKS IN A SUPERNATURAL WAY. If the school-men of the middle ages had been designated to write the first few pages of holy writ, with what elaboration, with what philosophic ostentation, with what acute argumentation would they have perhaps proceeded from the level of the natural to the level of the supernatural, all short cuts carefully avoided!

Exactly the reverse is true, however, of the divine recordings of the genus of history. No philosophical display, no grandiose presentation of argumentation for the existence of the Supreme Being here, no analysis of necessity of contingency, but in one uniquely brief, but all-penetrating statement, "IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH." God bursts through the darkness of man's thought, and bursting through cries, "Let there be light." "And it was so."

IL Historic Aspect

Now the close relationship of history to time and time to history is so apparent that it need scarce be pointed out. Time is the stage on which the drama of all history is well or poorly played. Take the example of the importance of dates, those same dates of which we are never quite certain or positive; the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C., the sack of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the reign of Jeroboam in 933-911 B.C., the desecration of the "Holy City" by the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D., etc., all bear witness, whether we can recall them on the spot or no, these dates, we repeat, testify of the moving dialectical scene of history from its original inception to its final eschatological consummation. Augustine, perhaps the first genuinely Christian philosopher, and Bishop of Hippo, saw the importance of this when he pointed out in The Confessions that "TIME WAS WITH THE CREATION." Thus when asked the even now oft repeated question, "What was God doing before the Creation?" he would try to demonstrate to his questioner that the inquiry was devoid of sense of meaning, by the fact that the terms of either "BEFORE" or "AFTER" are contingent upon the idea of time. To employ his own illustration, if not his very words, he would take the BIRTH OF CHRIST as an ungainsayable example, and then clearly show that all events BEFORE are referred to in one way, and all events AFTER are referred to in another way.

Thus to ask what God has been doing SINCE the Creation has a genuine answer, and thus is a legitimate question. God has been seeking for LOST men, down through the ages. Since the Creation, or after God had made the world, He has been on a quest, the quest of men. His methods of seeking may indeed vary, but the objective of the search has been the same. "My Father worketh even until now and I work" (John 5:17). "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:17).

But to demand or even expect an answer to the query "What was God doing BEFORE the CREATION?" is absurd because, as Augustine has stated, "Time was given with the Creation." In other words, time is just as much a part of the Creation, as, say, trees, rocks, stars, animals, man or the whole universe itself. This when we think about it, gives a certain philosophical justification to the doctrine of eternal punishment or Hell. (If, indeed, we need such a justification.) Man is part and parcel of the creative act of God; Time, as we have already implied is likewise part and parcel of the same. Heaven exists as ETERNAL life; Hell, its opposite, exists as ETERNAL death. We Christians make the common' but gross error of thinking of the term or word "ETERNAL" to be put quantitatively different from temporality. That is, we suppose that ETERNAL LIFE is naught but the stretching of the yardstick of our present life, so that we never need to make out wills, purchase our cemetery plot, or summon the undertaker "in glory." Now, we are by no means denying that ETERNAL LIFE includes and embraces these glories, but it goes much further and deeper than that. In a word, there is not alone a quantitative difference, there is and must be a qualitative difference as well.

Perhaps not too much can be made of the following consideration. However, it is at least suggestive. "And they shall be tormented day and night f orever and ever" (Revelation 20:10b). There is an implicit inference here that the dialectic of the space-time continuum still prevails in the region of the lost. However, in the heavenly Jerusalem, we are told that, "There shall be no night there" (Revelation 22:25b). As we said before, we are not pressing the issue, but it would seem that while those who are redeemed are impervious to time, those who are lost are yet conscious of time, a never-ending, ever-painful, ever-pressing, concept of time. This would render the punishment for Christrejection all the more severe because the weight of conscious responsibility would be akin to a condemned man in the death-cell awaiting an execution not localized to the moment of infliction, as at the throwing of the switch, or the springing of the trap. But, an overinflicted penalty all the more terrible because of its unending duration.

That man as a fallen, sinful being stands in need of the redemptive act of God is one of the cardinal, if not the cardinal presupposition of Holy Writ. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Redemption may be defined as, that act of God, whereby He, through no merit of the creature, has nonetheless entered into self-assumed, promissory relationship to save, to pardon, to forgive, and to restore to the Divine favor all those who exercise repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ, and having as its ultimate end the vindication of the fidelity of the Triune God.

Without burdening the reader with an excess of linguistic luggage, it may be well to point out that the preposition translated "for" in our versions does not convey in our language the tremendous force that it possesses in the original. It is the word "HUPER," and the word "ANTI." These terms signify not only the usual notions involved in our word "for," but, the concept instead of, in the room of, in the place of, in exchange for, as a substitute for, as a ransom price of, as a penalty for, another individual. Thus, when a child utters the seemingly simple words, "Jesus died for me," he is verbalizing the most profound truth of all communicated revelation.

Man is faced from the Divine viewpoint with two antinomical positions: the one, the Divine righteousness, the other, his own depravity. This tension in man's being becomes so acute as to invite, yes demand, the awful displeasure of an Holy God. Were there no point of relief, how desperate would man's plight be! However, the tension becomes resolved at the "meeting place of the concourse of the ages" the place called Calvary, where God in infinite grace and love assumes the responsibility for man's sin, on the man's faith, thus bringing about the Divine synthesis of redemption, forever alleviating man's tension, and meeting the utmost exigencies of the Divine Holiness arising from God's own independent being.

The doctrine of man as created "Imago Dei" (in God's image) underlies the Biblical concept of redemption. That this does not mean a physical, but moral, rational and emotional image should be imnied'ately apparent to all above the cradle roll level in Sunday School. Along with the concept of the aforementioned "Imago Dei' there runs a parallel truth of "creatureresponsibility." Now where there is such responsibility. unless words are utterly meaningless, anything like absolute determinism, the baptized named for "Fate" is outside the pale of reason. If I am to be held responsible or accountable for my actions, I must h ave bestowed upon me the right to exercise the power of choice or, to put it bluntly, the free-will. However,' free-will can only be properly evaluated in man's original status, i.e. man's state before the fall. We judge we can do no better than to let the greatest of all preReformation theologians, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo speak for us. "Free-will was given for choice and not for sin, but since man has chosen sin, he can do nothing but sin, until and unless alleviated by Divine grace." We realize that this is a high position with a high price. But may God make us willing to bear at least this much of the Cross. With this position rigid as it may appear agree the words of the Apostle Paul: "So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God." The unregenerate man is in essence a coenantbreaker. The unregenerate, the unsaved, the unconverted are unable to please God. Thus, when he performs the most simple act, as drinking water, it must be a sinful act because the covenant-breaker while using the Creator's benefits, the cold water, is still denying the Creator's sovereign authority over his life.

On the other hand, what of the regenerate man? He is no longer a covenant-breaker, but a covenant-keeper. Though it may be at the subconscious level, it is true that when the genuinely regenerate individual performs a simple act, as drinking water, he does it with a thankful, obedient heart. In a word, the heart of the unregeneiate is an unconverted, unredeemed, unsanctified h6art. "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified." Thus it is evident that regeneration goes much deeper than a mere provisional method for guilty sinners to escape the Hell which is their just desert. As one has long ago said, "Heaven will not be filled with pardoned criminals, but with redeemed saints."

Redemption thus includes the whole totality of man, regardless as to how theologians may care to divide him. There is no aspect of the creature that has been left unredeemed by the Creator. Man is redeemed physically; man is redeemed metaphysically. Man is redeemed Spiritually; he is redeemed ontologically. The blood of Christ not only covers all man's sin, but all man's being as well. Through the process of redemption eternal rapport has been established between the august Creator and the finite creature.

IV. Culminative or Prophetic Aspect

The proper understanding of Christianity cannot be reached, however, until we consider that final reference, that ultimate goal towards which Christianity points by promise, precept, and warning. Beginning with the simplest of all statements in the so-called Lord's Prayer "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done" and culminating with the intricacies of the interpretation of the Revelation there is an unfolding scheme of eschatology which must be firmly united to that corpus of revelation which has preceded it in the Old Testament setting forth in sometimes beautiful, sometimes lurid, sometimes promising, sometimes terrifying features the concept of a final omega to history. Properly understood, Christianity is the only religion with a definite eschatology. The Greeks, for example, had no proper appreciation of the idea of an end, an ultimate to history. Up to a certain point the philosophers to whom Paul spoke on Aeropagus were at least in civil rapport if not in philosophic agreement "but when they heard of the resurrection of the dead some mocked' (Acts 17:32). The doctrine of the immortality of the soul was by no means a new doctrine to the philosophicallyminded Greek. Plato had enunciated and elaborated it in his famous dialogue the PHAEDO and still more fully in his work the PHAEDRUS. Not only did Plato hold that the soul shall have continuous existence after death, but that the soul has had existence in a preexistent state eternally before birth. This will be all recollected as we call to mind Plato's parabolic device of the "Winged Steeds." The one steed is represented as the noble animal gazing into the brilliant light of the sun and signifies the rational aspect of the soul, the reason. The other steed, however, cast his eyes downward choosing not to gaze into the sun, but rather to fix his eyes on the transient ephemeral things of earth. This ignoble steed, or, horse, portrays metaphorically the passions and emotions. Thus does Plato, by this literary device, attempt to construct a rationale for the present sinful state of man. In non-technical terms, this is Plato's attimpt to explain the fall without the benefit of Genesis 3. The punishment for the deflection of the soul who did not continue to look at the bright light of the sun, the being of God, was that of being placed in a body. This has given rise to the famous Platonism of soma-sema, "the body a sepulchre." In other words, for Plato the punishment for sin was to be placed in a mortal body. In one of his dialogues Plato says that as the body of a condemned criminal isimpaled upon the stake, so the soul is impaled upon the cross of the body. Plato is irresistible in his logic. The best thing possible is for the soul to rid itself of the prison house of the body. A note of caution must be sounded here, however, lest it be thought that Plato contemplated suicide. For one to commit suicide is like a condemned man serving out his time, but who at an unguarded moment breaks jail. "For such a person, there could be no hope, as he would be deliberately resisting the punishment imposed upon him not as a barbarity but as a remedy." However, the doctrine of the soma-sema is quite foreign to Christian theology. True it has from time to time in the history of the church been imported expressing itself in extremes of fasting, flagellations, self-imposed tortures, and celibacy, but all this is an extraneous importation into Christian thought. The body of man. as part of creation shared part of creation's blessing. Sin may be localized in the body. The body may on occasions be the instrument of sin, but the body is never the originating cause of sin. One may speak figuratively and say that my hand sinned in performing an act of theft, but the hand would lie limp at the side if it were not for the covetous mind dictating the act. Thus the body, far from being a prison house, is under God the divinely-appointed channel through which the purposes of God f or the life which now is comes to realization. Thus to return to the bearing of all this on the doctrine on last things we note that the new element, or one of the new elements, which Paul enunciated in his address upon the hill of Mars was a Christian doctrine of the resurrection. Now the doctrine of the resurrecti6n, important as it is in itself, does not find its end in itself, but the doctrine of the resurrection of the individual must be ever focalized upon the doctrine of our Lord's resurrection. "Now if Christ be not resurrected from the dead, we are of all men most miserable . . . but now is Christ risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those that slept." Thus in a real sense the first step in the final eschatology of Christianity has surprisingly been achieved for the first step from the rather long chain of events was forged on the fulcrum of God's sovereignty when He raised Jesus from the dead, the third day, the first day of the week. Thus revelation supplies that of which philosophy knows nothing. If philosophy will accept it, well and good. But even if it chooses to join its laughter with the men of Athens, the Christian doctrine of the resurrection cannot be silenced by the laugher, even of the philosopher. Thus the first distinctive contribution of the Christian revelation to that of rational speculation is the contribution of resurrection. There are those who try to by-pass this by speaking of the Spiritual resurrection. We need only point out that the word "resurrection" is meaning ful only as a contrast to death and burial. A spirit neither dies nor can it be buried, therefore in that sense it cannot rise again except in the sense of being reunited with the body which it deserted at death. The physical body, however, undergoes both death and burial or similar dispositions and thus does rise, shall rise again. The Bible reveals that there shall be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust "out from among the dead" (ek ton nekron).

The second main phase of the Christian scheme of eschatology is that of the judgment. The Christian idea of the judgment differentiates sharply in its concept from that of other ideas of judgment. Referring again to Paul's address on Mars Hill we read these words which should strike terror into the heart of every sinful and unbelieving individual.

Inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. Acts 17:31.

The Greek text, significantly enough, does not employ the regular future tense of "KRINO" or to judge, as one might expect, but rather uses the somewhat periphrastic device of the verb "MELLO" plus the normal infinitive formation . It is generally held by Greek scholars that this particular grammatical formation connotes a certain swiftness, a certain sense of that which is impending, or that which is liable or even probable to take place at any given moment. The verb auxiliary used with the principle verb "KRINO" to judge, therefore intensifies and emphasises the thought of the judgment to a far greater degree than would the simple future. I know that I shaIJ die, but at the moment it does not give me much concern; but if it were told me that I were about to die, how diff erent might be my reactions to that piece of intelligence. The thought, however, is not so much to stress the nearness of the time, but the suddenness of the manner. This hour, the hour of the playing of the instrument for our pleasure; the next, the blowing of the trumpet of judgment summoning us to give an account for our deeds. This hour, the hour for the investing of our talentsthe next, the hour of reckoning for our stewardship. This hour, the hour of play and frivolity; the next, the hour of anguish and consternation. As in the Biblical account of Belshazzar and his impious feast, the handwriting on the wall brought swift and irremedial destruction, so the long, gaunt, fiery finger, which shall write the verdict of our lives is ever pointed in our direction. "That same night was Belshazzar the king slain." "And their destruction slumbereth not " (11 Peter 2:3b). All of this, to be sure, was also directly antithetical to Greek philosophy. The Greeks believed in the ever-reoccurring, dialectical process of history; that is to say, that there would never be an abrupt, final end to history. But the Pauline address, yea the Biblical revelation cut sharply across man's thinking in this respect. Not only is history to end, but God will end it, and will end it in and through the Person of Jesus of Nazareth! How forcibly! How dramatically! Ho ominously do these words fall not only upon the ea of the Athenian philosophers, but upon the philosopher of our civilized cities today. For fearful as the though may be of annihilation by the atom or hydrogen bomb the thought and the prospect of the termination of civil ization by the intrusion of the Crucified is even threatening. If one doubts this, let him but turn to the closing chapters of the Bible and behold there the spectacle of utter panic which seizes hold upon the godless. And what is it that causes their great trepida tion r is it the threat of strange, wierd beings from other planets in space ships coming to overmaster the hu man race? No! Is it the terror of weapons yet conceived, horrible mechanism of warfare which cause such consternation? No! Is it some dire calamity of nature such as floods, flowing lava i n a volcano, or terrifying earthquake, or other natural disturbance which thus calls forth such almost craven fear in the hearts of normally brave, stout-harted men.? It is no one of these things singly, nor all of the above conjointly. It is but a single glimpse once smitten, spat upon, countenance o sorrows and men seek and court disaster natural circumstances they would do avoid Avalanches are preferable to such a being if only the avalanches will bury them so deeply that they cannot be resurrected. The grim silent, stony rocks, whose hearts can feel no compassion, or whose breast knows no pity, are now chose rather than to meet face to face with the judge of al the earth. Is not this Calvary in reverse? Roman soldier, where is now thy crown of thorns that thou didst once place upon the head of the lowly Nazarene? Judas Iscariot, does not the jingling of the thirty pieces of silver of betrayal money make thy fate a little easier to bear? Go and offer it now to the judge. Perhaps an act of bribery will save thee from the most dire punishment. Men who did gamble for His clothes at the foot of the Cross, where are the garments for the hiding of the nakedness of your miserable souls? Yea, executioners, who drove the nails into the throbbing flesh and sinews of the Son of God, is there no petitition for forgiveness raised for thee now? "All the world has become guilty before God."-God in Christ, the Man Christ Jesus. As Plumtre has so well expressed it in the French and which we now take the liberty to render into what we trust is reasonably exact English:

For a Jew, to say that Jesus will preside at the judgment, is the same as saying that He is the creator. Also, I do not know of a clearer proof than the immense impression produced by the Galilean than this simple fact ... that after He had been crucified, it was a Pharisee, as Paul had been, who was able to see in Him the judge of the living and the dead.1

Different shades of interpretation, variant schemes of the prophetic schedule, arrangements and rearrange ments of the nuances of Christian eschatology many, and will probably continue to be so in their relative state of imperfection, until "that which is per fect is come." But of this one essential, hard, basic, tremendous fact of revelation there can be no debate or controversy, at least among those who profess to any degree to honor and esteem the objective word of God. And that one essential, hard, basic, tremendous fact of revelation, a revelation yet to be revealed is that Christ, that God in Christ, that Christ who is God will come at the end of the age personally and in judgment, "in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God and obey not the Gospel." As steel  moves toward a magnet, so creation tends, perhaps slowly but nevertheless assuredly, to that inevitable, inescapable day, to that inevitable, inescapable event, to that inevitable, inescapable MAN, the MAN Christ Jesus. The man on time's horizon is the timeless man who will at his epiphania end the dialectic of time. I have been have stood in the center of the great, resounding hall of time. Methinks I have heard the footsteps of the so called great of earth as they have stalked its corridor. They have somewhat deafened me at times by their heavy ominous tread. But the hall is strangely silent now. With bated breath I wait-one more footfall, one more tread, one more heavy step upon the threshold, one more ponderous knock upon the door, and then the hall of time itself shall be no more. The waiting room of eternity shall vanish and you and I shall be in His presence with greatest joy or greatest of anxiety. The currents of philosophy run deep, but they have this in common. They bear us with frightening swiftness to the judgment seat of Christ.

lPlurntre, as quoted by R. J. Knowling in The Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. II on the Acts of the Apostles; Wm. B. Berdman's Publishing co., Grand Rapids, Michigan; 1951; p. 379.