Oct 31, 2005

Preventing Dumbness: The Role of Philosophy in the Academy, the Pulpit, and the Pew - Part 2

In the Pulpit
Time does no permit me to say everything that might be said here, but I will focus on what I take to be the two most vital roles that philosophy can play in the life of the minister of God’s Word. First, philosophy is crucial if the minister is to fulfill the requirements of his apologetic calling. Of course, as First Peter 3:15 makes clear, all Christians are called to the apologetic task. Yet, the Gospel minister has a special responsibility here. People have tough questions. Many times these tough questions are an obstacle to faith. "Is it really rational to believe in the Christian God in our (post)modern society?" "How could a good and all-powerful God allow the attacks of September 11?" "Hasn’t critical biblical scholarship undermined the historical reliability of the Bible?"

In past generations, ministers seldom had to deal with theses kinds of questions because most people in our society would give mental assent to God’s existence and goodness, and to the authority of Scripture. But, no more. As Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said recently to a group of seminary students, "[T]he apologetic task has never been more pressing, more urgent or more important. Indeed, I believe that at this critical time of cultural and intellectual transition, the Christian ministry, taken as a whole, must be understood as an apologetic calling."

The teaching and preaching of today’s gospel ministers must be heavily seasoned with apologetics. And I need not tell you the vital role that philosophy must play in apologetics. Minister’s, then, must read and study philosophical and apologetical works so that they can meet the challenges of our day in their pulpits.

Another way in which philosophy may play a role in the pulpit is in the area of logic. If you take a look at homiletics textbooks from days gone by, you will notice something that is universally absent from modern homiletics texts. They almost always contained chapters on logic and argumentation. Why? Because it was assumed that most if not all sermons would contain at least one argument. And this being the case, it was incumbent upon preachers to know how to formulate valid and sound arguments.

Now I happen to think that it is still incumbent upon preachers to know how to formulate good arguments. And I think this because I think that any good sermon will contain at least one argument, even if only an argument for the superiority of a particular interpretation of a text over against other possible interpretations. I long for the day in which homiletics texts once again include chapters on logic and argumentation. I think that this would greatly improve the quality of preaching in our pulpits.

I can recall hearing one sermon in which the preacher argued that in heaven human beings will be sexless—neither male nor female. Why? Because in Matthew 22:30 Jesus said, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven." But, anyone with a little logic in his head can see that the preacher’s conclusion does not follow from this text. In fact, this text supports neither the sexlessness of humans nor angels. All that follows logically from this text is that in heaven there will be no marriage. These and other similar errors could be avoided with a little training in logic. Fortunately, some seminaries and Christian colleges have courses in logic, but these are seldom required for the average divinity student. However, they should be required, or at least logic should be incorporated into homiletics. In either case, logic is a branch of philosophy, and training in logic is thus one important way that philosophy can play a role in the pulpit.

2 comments:

Bones of Time said...
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Phil Steiger said...

Here! Here! As a pastor, I believe the most useful training I received to encounter and communicate the word came from my philosophical training. For some reason, though, seminaries have relegates philosophy to the back seat, and don't require much/any of it to graduate.

If pastors are to regain their roles as thought leaders in their churches and communities, it will take some serious reasoning and apologetic tools.

I wonder if you have any thoughts on this topic and the contures of our postmodern culture?