“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
On the one side, there is philosophy. On the other side, there is Christ. The two are very different. Philosophy begins with man – “after the tradition of men.” When we speak of Christ, we begin with God – “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Sometimes, philosophy may try to find God. In the philosophy of religion, we hear about the arguments for the existence of God. When these arguments are discussed, it soon becomes clear that it is questionable whether such arguments can be regarded as ‘proofs’ for God’s existence. There are arguments. There are counter-arguments. We’re left wondering, “What does all this really prove? – Neither side of debate is likely to convince many on the other side. There may be some who will move from one side to the other – but there will be many who will stay where they are. Even when some move from unbelief to faith, we have to ask the question, “What kind of God do the ‘proofs’ speak about?” Do they lead us to Jesus Christ, our Saviour? or Are we left with a ‘God’ who is a bit more like “the unknown God” (Acts 17:23) than the God whom we see when we turn our eyes on Jesus Christ? Are we not left with the feeling that there’s a big difference between the conclusion of an argument and the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ, who is “Emmanuel… God with us” (Matthew 1:23)?
Before I ever heard anything about philosophy, I heard the words of the opening verses of the letter to the Hebrews. I remember, as a young man, hearing my minister, Rev George Philip, speak of the way in which the King James Version begins with the word, “God.” We read, in Hebrews 1:1, about speaking through “the prophets.” The second verse takes us beyond the prophets. It takes us to someone who is greater than all the prophets – “God has spoken to us by his Son.” This is so different from the way in philosophy speaks about. Whenever philosophy speaks about God, it’s always as a subject for discussion. When Hebrews 1:1-2… speaks about God, it speaks about the living God, the God who takes the initiative, the God who comes to us in love. He’s not the end-result of an argument. He’s our starting-point.
How are we to respond to the difference between the two? Are we to mix and match – a bit of this and a bit of that, a little bit of philosophy and a little bit of Scripture, let philosophy take us as far as it can and then move over to Scripture to fill in the gaps? Here are two quotations from Carl Henry’s “God, Revelation and Authority.” – “It is impossible for fallen man to arrive at the truth of God by beginning with himself.” “If we are authorized to say anything at all about the living God, it is only because of God’s initiative and revelation.” Taken together, these two quotations say what needs to be said about the difference between “philosophy” and “Christ.” Start with philosophy’s arguments for God’s existence and you’ll find that they only take you so far, and no further. Begin with God – the God who has spoken, the God who still speaks. Go to the prophets (Old Testament). Go to Christ (New Testament). Listen to what the Lord is saying to you. Let your mind be instructed by him. Let your heart be drawn to him. Let your will be submitted to him. May you say, in your heart, “All knowledge of God that has been given to me by him. It has not come from myself. It has come from him.” Let us not be deceived into thinking that we have taken the initiative in getting to know God. Let us say, from the heart, “Lord, you have come to me in love. In response to your love for me, which, always, comes before my love for you, I open my heart to your love. Teach me more and more about your love for me, as I read your Word.”