This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig,
I have recently been challenged by my university professor on some of my thinking and it prompted me to ask you the same question. Why do you study philosophy? If Christ is the foundation of our worldview then we need never study philosophy to be an effective witness. If we are to be Christ-like and mimic Him then why are we not more worried about giving all we own away and living like the earliest apostles and of course living like Christ? Why do you believe God has called you to do missionary work through philosophy rather than travel around everywhere like the early apostles. Paul and others engaged in philosophy, but that was more of a side interest than his main one. He was to preach Christ crucified and primarily he was called to the Gentiles. I would appreciate any answer given. Christ bless you and keep you.
William Lane Craig's Response
I am a philosopher because I am a Christian! Had I not become a Christian, I would probably not have been interested in philosophical questions (as a high schooler I wanted to become a director of a large metropolitan zoo). But in becoming a Christian, I was immediately committed to a worldview replete with philosophical commitments regarding the nature of God, the soul, sin, Christ, the purpose of life, and so on and so on. Being naturally intellectually curious, I found such doctrines immensely interesting and important.
Alvin Plantinga has distinguished four divisions of Christian philosophy, each of which is vitally important to the church:
(1) apologetics, which, negatively, answers objections to Christian beliefs and, positively, offers arguments in support of Christian beliefs;
(2) philosophical theology, which explores the central doctrines of Christian theology such as the attributes of God and the incarnation and atonement of Christ, utilizing the tools of philosophical analysis;
(3) Christian philosophical criticism, which exposes the inadequacy of secular approaches to important philosophical questions, such as the relation of the mind and the body; and
(4) Christian philosophical construction, which provides a positive Christian understanding of some important philosophical issue like justification and warrant.
You say, “We need never study philosophy to be an effective witness.” That is surely true in a literal sense; but it is equally true that we shall be more effective a witness if we have studied philosophy and shall be able to reach people who would otherwise not believe the Gospel were it not for our ability to answer their objections and give sound arguments for what we believe. As Plantinga notes, one of the main uses of Christian philosophy is apologetics, which is crucial to effectively witnessing to an increasing number of people.
You ask, “Why are we not more worried about giving all we own away and living like the earliest apostles and . . . like Christ?” Jesus did not call everyone to give away all his goods and live in poverty. Think of Zacchaeus, a rich man who gave away half his wealth, but not all of it, and was praised by Jesus (Luke 19.8-9). Paul gave the following instructions for those who are wealthy:
As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed (I Timothy 6.17-19).
This admonition applies to almost all of us in the Western world, and I think our materialism is to our shame. We should be giving away a large percentage of our income to the Lord’s work and charitable causes, not just a measly 10% (which raises the question for each of us: what percentage of my income do I give away?).
You ask, “Why do you believe God has called you to do missionary work through philosophy rather than travel around everywhere?” Perhaps you’re not aware, Reagan, that I do travel around the world sharing the Gospel on university campuses. The secular university campus is a mission field, a spiritual desert with few oases of life-giving water. It has been my privilege through public debates and lectures on university campuses around the world to be involved in the defense and proclamation of the Gospel to this unreached people group. Due to my academic credentials, venues have been opened to me, not only in the West, but also in Communist and Muslim countries, which would be closed to your average missionary or Christian worker. What a thrill it has been to stand boldly for Christ in such environments!
Paul said that he became all things to all men that he might by all means save some (I Corinthians 9.22). So I have become an intellectual to those who are intellectuals that I might win the intellectuals. “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (II Corinthians 10.5).
This Q&A and other resources are available on William Lane Craig's website.