Faith Science and Reason

Laying My Philosophical Cards On The Table

Philip Melanchthon once said, “Those who disparage philosophy not only wage war against human nature, but they also severely injure the glory of the Gospel.” Bold words considering Martin Luther, a rather important figure to 1517, called reason the devil’s whore and Colossians 2:8 declares, “see to it that nobody takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (NASB). This tension brings to mind the iconic phrase of Ricky Ricardo, “Lucy, you got some splainin’ to do!” And some splainin’ is what I intend to do. Let me begin by bearing my philosophical conscience. This is a good way to begin any extended discussion, regardless of the mode of communication.

First, I am a philosopher by trade, with a particular interest in the relationship between science and religion. Philosophically, this means that my posts will generally fall under the categories of faith, science and reason. Psychologically, this means that my mind has been twisted in ways that I would not wish upon friend or foe.

Second, my interest in philosophy was kindled through the study of apologetics. This means that a little voice in the back of my mind is always asking about the practical import of my philosophical rumination to my neighbor.

Lastly, I am a confessional Lutheran teaching at a Lutheran liberal arts college. Thus, my discussions are influenced from a certain theological persuasion. The philosophy, apologetics, and confessional theology mean that my interests lie at the intersection of faith, reason, and society. If this interests you as well, then welcome to the conversation.

I conclude with an observation regarding the contemporary Lutheran intellectual landscape, in hopes of purveying the ethos of this series. We, confessional Lutherans, have engaged the faith, reason, society dialogue poorly. Our standard operating procedure is to pillage the intellectual work of others, reinterpret the impurities, and seek a stamp of approval from doctrinal review. Perhaps this “minds all of our theoretical p’s and q’s,” but, practically, it binds us to the mindset of the tradition we are borrowing. In consequence, our voice is not offering anything unique to the conversation, but is bound to promote a “standard christian worldview.” The difficult task of thinking through troubling issues is removed in favor of cookie cutter responses, particularly when conversing in the secular public square.

Perhaps an analogy is helpful. The first decade of the 21st century saw an explosion of microbrew beer. Craft beer is the new norm, with domestics and imports occupying fewer tap handles at the local watering hole. The effect of this fermented revolution is that Joe Sixpack is rarely satisfied with the standard domestics and imports. He desires more depth to his beverage. Likewise, if we desire to stand apart in the tap line, we must be willing to offer more than standard, domestic responses to pressing issues of faith, reason, and society. Otherwise we risk being neglected as people search for a draught with more character.

Bondage to other traditions is not our heritage. In 1517 Martin Luther broke from rulebound tradition such that the sweet purity of the Gospel could be heard by many, often for the first time. Bringing clarity to the Gospel message is rightly Luther’s crowning achievement. However, the theological freedom dependent upon Christ’s blood has ramifications beyond the spiritual. The result of Luther’s reform extends into the intellectual. I am free to pursue intellectual pursuits as I see fit and as they provide service to my neighbor. This is my mindset. I believe the starting place for a Lutheran perspective regarding faith, reason, and society is an openness or humbleness of the intellect, coupled with an intellectual courage to engage society on the terms it dictates with honesty and wisdom (1 Cor. 9:22; Col. 4:5-6).

Honestly engaging with the thoughts of secular society may sometimes appear to transgress standard christian piety. The old Adam within is begging to make a few choice comments about piety, however, I’ll simply conclude with a disclaimer. This series will ride a fine line between the praises of Melanchthon and the admonitions of Luther. If it turns out my philosophical forays lead the mind into the arms of Luther’s whore, then I’ll have some splainin’ to do; but, we’ll have learned something. However, I take the converse of Melanchthon’s quote to imply that the value off this conversation is too great to ignore, even if it means conversing with a whore.