Christian Philosophy

What is Christian Philosophy?

WHAT IS CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY? - AN INTERVIEW WITH RALPH VAAGS

What is ChristianPhilosophy?
-It is not easy to clarify precisely what Christian Philosophy is. To clarify the meaning of philosophy in itself is already a philosophical problem, but some attempts can be done. If we already have an idea of what philosophy is or should be, we could then say that Christian philosophy is a philosophy that is developed in harmony with a Christian interpretation of life or a Christian worldview. How a Christian interprets life is very much conditioned by the person who does the interpretation. However, certain things are central beliefs within the Christian faith, as for example that God exists, that God is a Trinity, that Jesus raised from the dead and that we are saved through our faith in Jesus Christ. Variations related to this type of beliefs are relatively small.

But isn’t this to mix philosophy and religion – more specifically Christianity? How can one combine a Christian faith with philosophy? I thought that philosophy is about reason, not about faith...
- There are some who see a problem here. There is skepticism among my philosophy colleagues. Several significant philosophers, however, see it differently. There are of course challenges, as it is for any philosophy or interpretation of life, but this is not something special for a Christian philosophy. To believe is something we all do, and philosophers are no exception. The word “believe” is for me a neutral expression and does not need to have anything to do with religion. I believe that the chair I am sitting on is not going to break in 5 seconds, that my wife loves me, etc. It is when we specify what we believe that disagreement can appear. At least there is no problem or something special that we believe something. 

OK. It seems reasonable so far, but what we talk about here is a religious belief, namely the Christian faith. A religious belief is a bit different then, and it is this what seems worrisome - that you are trying to combine Christian faith and philosophy. How is this possible?
- If we accept the proposition that Christian faith implies the act of regarding something as true, then what be hold as true could be an object of philosophical reflection. I'm not saying that religious belief is just a matter of holding something as true. There is much more in the picture when someone says that they believe in God, etc. However, to hold something as true is an important part of it, and it also seems to be a presumption for believing in a more comprehensive and religious sense. To develop a Christian philosophy is the project of creating or contributing to a thought-out overall view of life, where the central beliefs within the Christian faith have a natural place.  We use philosophical reflection – that includes argumentation – to reach this goal. We use, therefore, the same method as any other philosophers, and our results must meet the same stringent requirements that should be set to any good philosophy. Thereare a variety of views and perspectives within philosophy and controversy is great. This variation and the differences can still be within the limits of what we call "good philosophy”. Our project is to develop a Christian philosophy that is also good philosophy.

It sounds like a very demanding project. How can this be combined -important things within the Christian faith on one hand and philosophy on the other?
-No one comes to philosophy with blank sheets of paper. We've created for ourselves a variety of beliefs before we begin to reflect in a philosophical sense  Something, however, comes in motion when one reflects on the belief one carries with oneself - at least if one is rational. Philosophy led me to a Christian faith - and has since made me more confident and conscious in relation to my own belief. Of course there are philosophers who describe reality different from myself - a reality where, for example God has no place. There are rational atheists, and I have no problemwith respecting their philosophy. We at the Institute for Christian Philosophy, however, have a different starting point, and our research is about trying to develop or contribute to a rational Christian interpretation of life. 

But isn’t this to give up the idea of a free and independent philosophy?
- When naturalistic philosophers claim that they do not want religious beliefs, they are in no way more free and independent than the Christian philosophers. There is not a neutral starting point or a neutral reflection process. We have made a philosophical choice of looking into the possibility of a Christian philosophy. It is about a philosophical project. The naturalist tries to do philosophy on other assumptions. For example, naturalists assume that we should not describe or explain something by referring to something above or beyond nature. It is a project that is OK. We are, however, not committed to such a project, and it is of course nothing new in choosing different one. History of Philosophy can show us many significant philosophers who presume, or come to the conclusion, that God exists. There is no reason to believe that naturalistic or atheistic philosophy in principle should result in a greater philosophy than a Christian philosophy. Whether or not it is a matter of good philosophy, it must be judged relative to what is produced. Contemporary philosophers show a number of examples of good philosophy that is also a Christian philosophy - for example, the philosophy we find in the works of Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, Michel Henry and William Alston.

Why this focus onChristian philosophy?
- Our contemporary philosophy is deeply influenced by naturalism. I myself am trained within this philosophical paradigm, and have no trouble understanding the basic assumptions that are included in this. At the same time, I see that some philosophers use this as aplatform for criticism of religion – particularly of Christianity. The naturalistic perspective could, for a beginner in philosophy, easily be seen as the only one or clearly the best perspective. One can easily be left with only "one eye", to put it that way. For these students this will emerge as "what philosophy really is about." I believe, therefore, that it is important that we have a plurality and openness here  so that students and other interested can see that philosophy does not imply atheism or rejection of religion. There is a Christian philosophy as well, and it should be visible.
 

Sounds reasonable. But Christianity can be wrong – be false...?
- Absolutely. No religion is necessarily true. The same can be said of naturalism or atheism. I think one important basic attitude of a good philosopher is the humility to the truth. We do not own the truth, we seek it. It means to be open to the possibility of having been wrong. So far, however, no one has produced any decisive objection to a Christian philosophy or Christianity. On the contrary, we see that a number of prominent philosophers have produced a series of arguments that support a Christian interpretation of life. Today, the Christian philosophy is developing strongly in the world. Several of the foremost philosophers of our time have stood up and announced that they are Christians and they publish significant contributions to Christian philosophy.

Who does the Institute for Christian Philosophy address - atheists and naturalists?
-We are not so specific.We have no expectations of convincing reflective atheists or naturalists. However, there are a number of people who are searching. We want to be visible to these people. There are also a number of people who already have a Christian faith, but who want a thoughtful or reflective Christian faith. In this way, the Institute for Christian Philosophy has a guiding and supportive role.

What can the Institute for Christian Philosophy do for those who desire support in their intellectual development?
- The Institute for Christian Philosophy offers several online courses and in-person summer courses in France where themes related to the Christian faith are approached. I do not have the full overview in my mind. However, we are not an educational institution in the sense that one gets a university degree. We do not want to compete with colleges and universities. It is all about building personal competence.

I presume there are good students who might be interested in what you offer - as an interesting addition to that provided by the university and college.
- Yes, our offer will be a supplement to those who have started an education at a university or college. The internet is available around the clock, so you can combine a course with other activities.

You are the founder of the Institute for Christian Philosophy, but you do not work at the Institute daily. What is your role at the institute?
- I am the founder, but there are others who take care of the operation and further development of the institute today. I am employed as a philosopher at the University of Agder. What I do now at the Institute for Christian Philosophy is on a voluntary basis. That suits me fine right now, since I enjoy very much at the University of Agder.