Philosophy: The Love of Big Words (Part One)

by Cliff McManis

Good Old Fashioned School Daze
Philosophy has hijacked apologetics. The biblical and theological task of defending the faith has been co-opted and commandeered by the professional metaphysicists. The New Testament practice of all Christians aggressively and confidently defending their faith with Scripture on a personal level has been abdicated. It has been supplanted by the subtle takeover of elitist scholars with their knack for obfuscation and purported profundity with all things ontological and theoretical. The evidence is ubiquitous. I own countless books on Christian apologetics. Not one was authored by a non-philosopher. The understood pre-requisite for having a worthy say about anything related to apologetics in today’s Christian world is a PhD in philosophy.

The New Testament practice of all Christians aggressively and confidently defending their faith with Scripture on a personal level has been abdicated.

When I was a sophomore at Westmont College and a brand new, zealous, excited sponge-of-a baby Christian, I took a class called “Christian Theology.” It was an entry-level doctrine class. The teacher was William Lane Craig, the now famous world-class evangelical philosopher/apologist. I did not know who he was at the time but I enjoyed the class and learned much about Christianity. I had lots of remedial catching up to do as I was an unbeliever for the first nineteen years of my life and had never studied the Bible up to that point. Our textbook was the helpful little theology book by Bruce Milne called, Know the Truth.

Dr. Craig was an engaging instructor and he taught with enthusiasm and authority and he was delighted to be imparting basic Bible theology to all us naïve, idealistic collegiates with young skulls full of mush. I don’t remember any weird or esoteric stuff being taught. Craig even seemed to embrace inerrancy—which was in question by many professors at Westmont at the time. As the semester went on I came to realize that Dr. Craig was highly esteemed in the academic world for his advanced intellectual achievements at such a young age—thirty-six years young or so—and already had a doctorate in theology and philosophy at apparently quite prestigious institutions. My more seasoned and experienced fellow classmates assured me that this was a rare treat to have Dr. Craig as a professor and that I should be appreciative and impressed—so I was. Dr. Craig was at Westmont for one year as a visiting professor. I was in the right place at the right time…providential.

I enjoyed Christian Theology 101 so much I signed up for another class with Dr. Craig the next semester—“The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.” I was looking forward to digging deeper into God’s Word to study about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The first day of class arrived and proved to make an indelible impression on me for a few reasons. The first was that this class had way fewer students in it and I did not know anyone. None of my friends were in the class. This obviously was not a general education class—I was among the elites. Second, I noticed that they were all much older than me—like juniors and seniors—very intimidating upper classmen, who all shaved and used big words during class discussion. Something was wrong but I could not put my finger on it initially. Third and finally, there was the initial lecture. After an hour and a half of Craig waxing eloquent, I was stunned. He never used the Bible. “Why did I bring my Bible to class?” I asked myself later that day.

By the third week I began to see the real picture. Three entire class periods of talking about God’s knowledge, but no one was referring to the Bible—not even the professor. And the words—so many words and phrases were being used that I did not understand…it was making me dizzy: epistemology, cosmological, metaphysical, ontological, teleological, a priori, posteriori, rationalism, empiricism, transcendentalism, contingent, veridical, axiological, existential, predication, hylomorphism, dialectical, demiurges, acts of predication, the law of the excluded middle, innate ideas, eternal forms, noumenal causes, necessary postulates. “I already met my foreign language requirements when I took Spanish one,” I thought to myself.

In addition to the multi-syllabled, incomprehensible vernacular, there was the main topic of discussion. Dr. Craig spent a great portion of the time talking about God’s “middle knowledge.” That was baffling because even though I was a relatively new Christian I knew that the phrase “middle knowledge” was not in the Bible—as a matter of fact I had never heard anyone talk about that concept. To me, the novice believer, the notion that God had middle knowledge was weird…a canard. It turns out I had unwittingly enrolled in an upper division philosophy elective course, not a Bible class. It took me three weeks to figure it out. By that time I was lost in a sea of confusion and dropped the class. It was a memorable experience, even though I was disillusioned by the notion that the doctrine of God could be investigated and explored by Christians without using the Bible. At that point I was only interested in what the Bible had to say. What I did not realize then that I realize now is that at some point in Christian history philosophy had hijacked apologetics.

A few years later I enrolled in seminary. In my last year I took apologetics since it was a required course. Going in, I naively thought, “Cool! We are going to learn how to witness to Mormons, new-agers—do some street evangelism and study the doctrines of the faith.” That never happened. Once again I was confronted with those big, scary words and concepts: epistemology, metaphysics, ontology, cosmological and new ones—autopistic, transcendental presuppositionalism and the impossibility to the contrary. This time around I was not quite as disillusioned. I even found some of the metaphysical musings intriguing. Here I was introduced to the works of Cornelius Van Til, and twenty-five years later, with my two mammoth Christian apologetics encyclopedias at my side, I am finally beginning to understand what he was talking about.     

Fast-forward fifteen years and it was now my turn to be an apologetics professor at the seminary level. As I prepared the curriculum and my lectures, the reservoir of data and resources available in the Christian world on the topic of apologetics was heavy-laden with philosophy and logic. There did not seem to be a biblically-driven, comprehensive, practical, non-philosophy-major friendly approach to apologetics at the popular level suited for training seminary students to be pastors in the local church.

It seemed to me that philosophy had hijacked biblical apologetics. With that in mind, the goal of this two-part article will be to expose the philosophical approach to Christian apologetics as an anemic counterfeit, show from Scripture why it’s misguided and give practical, biblical alternatives.  

Historical Landmarks of Intrusion and Allusion
God spoke through the Apostle Paul when he warned the church of his day with these timeless words: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8; ESV). Watch out for Greek philosophy! That’s exactly what he was saying. His face-value meaning in this verse cannot be ignored and should not be historically revised.

Paul spoke Greek, he ministered in a Greek culture, and he interacted with the Greek philosophers of all the dominant schools (cf. Acts 17) in his day. When he sounded the alarm against “philosophy,” pagan Greek philosophy1 was in the forefront of his mind, not just some generic idea of philosophy or an inane undefined concept.

The new church in Colossae resided in the middle of the pagan Greek world,2 surrounded on every side by centuries-old Gnostic, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. Paul knew the church, and Christians, would be vulnerable to the influences of their immediate culture. The church needed to be discerning and take safeguards against such an imminent and dominant competing worldview.

But the inevitable happened—Greek philosophy penetrated and made inroads into the Christian church within decades of Paul’s warning, and its insipid influences have been plaguing the church for two millennia.

Philosophy’s usurpation of apologetics happened subtly, little by little, incrementally over the course of church history.

Philosophy’s usurpation of apologetics happened subtly, little by little, incrementally over the course of church history. No one period or person can be called out as the culprit, for there were many culpable contributors. But major landmarks can be identified that set the course steering apologetics away from being theologically, biblically and practically driven toward being philosophically, theoretically and formally oriented.

Justin Martyr (100-165)

“However, the religions of the nations are regarded as idolatrous throughout this [Old Testament] history. Ever since Justin Martyr, some Christians have claimed that the pagan philosophers prepared the way for Christ among the Gentiles as Moses and the prophets prepared the Jews. But this is to confuse general revelation with special revelation and the law with the gospel.”3

So says Michael Horton, who identifies Justin Martyr as a key historical flashpoint who spawned the ensuing Hellenistic philosophical juggernaut that would infect the Church for years to come.

Justin is considered by historians as one of the first “apologists,” but all believers are to do the work of apologia (1 Pet 3:15). It just so happens that some of his writings entitled First Apology and Second Apology, were preserved and found.4 There were probably plenty of other unknown Christians during his day who wrote tracts defending the faith, or who defended their faith orally day to day.

Little is known about his personal life. Greek in culture and education, he was born in Flavia Neapolis in Samaria and was drawn to Platonism, but finally found true philosophy in the wisdom of the prophets and embraced Christianity in 130. A full-blown Greek Stoic philosopher prior to salvation, Justin never abandoned the system upon becoming a Christian. Instead of purging pagan paradigms, he integrated them with his newfound biblicism. He “regarded Christianity as a philosophy, and continued to wear the philosopher’s gown.”5 Justin went so far as to say that Christ “is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably (meta logou) are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists.”6 The Apostle Paul called the Stoics to repentance (Acts 17:18, 30), whereas Justin welcomed and tried to commandeer their metaphysical underpinnings. Horton notes the following:

The ancient Greek school of Stoicism (founded by Zeno in the third century BC) taught that divinity permeates nature with its seminal reason (the logos spermatikos). The apologist Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) adapted this Stoic idea to Christianity by arguing that the divine spark or seed of rationality (the logos spermatikos) emanates from Christ throughout the world and can be found in the best philosophies of noble pagans. Just as Moses and the prophets prepared the Jews for Jesus Christ, Socrates, Plato and Stoicism prepared the Gentiles for the gospel. Here we discover the seeds of the later Roman Catholic tendency to treat general and special revelation as different in degree rather than in content. Medieval theology increasingly developed a dualistic approach in which what we might call secular knowledge was attributed to nature, and spiritual knowledge to grace. Even in spiritual matters, however, the natural mind (weakened but not depraved from the fall) could discover truth. Consequently, medieval theology affirmed not only natural revelation but natural theology, on whose foundations the supernatural theology based on special revelation was erected.7 

So Justin paved the way for intellectual accommodation and theological integration of pagan Greek philosophy with Christian thought and hermeneutics that many would later mimic.

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)
Titus Flavius Clemens, Greek theologian and writer, was one of the first key representatives of the Alexandrian theological tradition.8 Like Justin, historians in hindsight refer to him as one of the first official “apologists” of the church. Born of pagan parents in Athens, he went to Alexandria where he succeeded his teacher Pantaenus as head of the Catechetical School.Gonzalez summarizes his influence:

Clement was convinced that philosophy had been given to the Gentiles to lead them to Christ, just as the Law had been given to the Jews for the same purpose. Therefore, a great deal of his theology is in truth an interpretation of Christianity from the perspective of middle Platonism. This he did by means of allegorical interpretations of Scripture and on the basis of the doctrine of the Logos, which inspired both Scripture and philosophy, and which was incarnate in Jesus…he was influential in the later course of theology through his disciple Origen and may be said to be the first great teacher of the Alexandrian school.9 

Like Justin, Clement had an inflated view of the pagan Greek philosophers, and instead of eschewing their unredeemed humanistic thinking as Paul commanded in Colossians 2:8, Clement gave it credence and tried to assimilate their thinking with the Bible:

Clement affirmed that “before the advent of our Lord, philosophy was necessary to the Greeks for righteous-ness…Perchance, too, philosophy was given to the Greeks directly and primarily, till the Lord should call the Greeks. For this was their schoolmaster to bring ‘the Hellenic mind’ as the law, the Hebrews, ‘to Christ’” (Stromata 1.5). He also spoke of the inspiration of Greek poets (Exhortation to the Heathen 8), and went so far as to declare that ‘by reflection and direct vision, those among the Greeks who have philosophized accurately, saw God’ (Stromata 1.19)…From mastery of the prevailing philosophy, he defended the superiority of the Christian revelation. While non-Christian philosophers possessed some truth, it too came from God, either by general or special revelation.10

Horton observes that Clement’s compromise with Greek philosophy became a legacy for other Christians who in turn created an extreme dichotomy in treating the relationship between faith and reason, which amounted to a strict rationalism that attempted to base theological beliefs on universal principles of innate reason.11 Similarly, Weinrich observes:

Clement is important for his positive approach to philosophy which laid the foundations for Christian humanism and for the idea of philosophy as ‘handmaid’ to theology. The idea of the Logos dominates his thinking. The divine Logos, creator of all things, guides all good men and causes all right thought. Greek philosophy was therefore, a partial revelation and prepared the Greeks for Christ just as the law prepared the Hebrews. Christ is the Logos incarnate through whom man attains to perfection and true gnōsis…Through self-control and love man rids himself of passions, reaching finally the state of impassibility wherein he attains to the likeness of God. With this idea Clement profoundly influenced Greek Christian spirituality.12    

Notably, Greek philosophy also influenced Clement’s13 hermeneutics, even after he came to faith. Instead of reading Scripture in the grammatical-historical sense as the apostles and first Christians did, Clement utilized the Greek allegorical method of interpretation. Clement found five possible meanings to a passage in Scripture: historical, doctrinal, prophetic, philosophical, and mystical (a deeper moral, spiritual and religious truth symbolized by events or per-sons).14 History is riddled with those who followed suit with Clement, freely employing his fanciful Scriptural analysis.

Origen (AD 185-254)
Born of Christian parents and a keen mind, Origen is regarded as one of the great “apologists” of the early church. His father, Leonides, was beheaded in 202 during the persecution under Roman emperor Lucius Septimus Severus (A.D. 193-211) when Origen was about twelve.15 Fastidiously religious from a young age, he practiced a rigorous asceticism; possessed one coat and no shoes; rarely ate meat and refrained from wine; castrated himself based on a literal reading of Matthew 19:12; deprived himself of sleep in favor of late night prayer vigils and slept on the bare floor; memorized vast portions of Scripture; mastered Hebrew; traveled broadly and wrote voluminously.16 Considered by some to be the greatest theologian of the early Greek Church and a paragon of apologetical potency,17 he is considered by others as a rank heretic.18 Ordained in Palestine in 228, he was defrocked four years later for violation of various theological church laws.19 Despite his heretical propensities, he was nonetheless one of the most learned men and profound thinkers in the ancient Church and probably exerted more influence on the systematic doctrinal development of the Church than any other man.20 Nevertheless, his compromise with Greek philosophy virtually undermined all good intents he had as a professed convert to Christianity. Horton justly describes Origen as “the church father most enthralled by Greek philosophy.”21

Origen took integration of pagan Greek philosophy and biblical theology to extreme, unparalleled levels. As a result, he convoluted many of the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Origen promoted an inchoate version of purgatory that he inherited from Plato.22 “The influence of Platonism on the church Father Origen (AD 185-254) was so thorough that the early Greek theologian taught not only that the soul was the immortal part of human beings that preexisted eternally but also that this soul was often reincarnated in different bodies.”23 Practically, it was a reincarnation of sorts—all, including Satan, will be reunited with God. In other words, Origen believed, and even declared that “even the devil could be saved.”24 “Officially condemned in the sixth century, Origen’s theory of universal restoration (apokatastasis) held that all spirits (though not bodies), including Lucifer, would be reunited in heavenly bliss.”25 Horton further comments on this harbinger to Hinduism: “the pedagogical ascent of mind in Origen, where purgatory is regarded as a process of spiritual education and enlightenment through various reincarnations until finally every soul (including the devil) is united with God. Origen’s teachings were rejected by the church.”26 This pre-medieval view of spiritual purgatory Origen called apokotastasis: the concept of the universal restoration (universal salvation) for all of creation, humanity, and fallen angels alike. This teaching was condemned at the Fifth Council of Constantinople in 553.27  

As to sanctification, Origen went way afield. He held to the Platonic or Neoplatonic notion of ontological participation (methexis--the Platonic term for participation) or ontic union of the soul with the divinity or literally a fusion with the deity (where God’s essence is literally communicated to His creatures), on an ever-ascending ladder of being, instead of the biblical concept of covenantal union (koinōnia) with Christ. This violates the biblical reality whereby God always remains transcendent from His creation ontologically so our participation with Him is analogical. “Thus, union with God-in-Christ is not the goal to which the soul aspires in its striving ascent, but the freely-given communion that every believer enjoys from the very beginning. Believers live from this union, not toward it, and it is a forensic and relational reality: a communion of persons and their gifts rather than an exchange (much less fusion) of essences.”28 For Origen, the believer becomes more and more a part of God. But the Bible does not teach “a fusion of essences…but of a communion of persons.”29

Worst of all, Origen had a mangled Christology. He rejected the literal, bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ: “the ascension of Jesus Christ in the flesh most radically challenges the Platonist/Neoplatonist ontology. Origen said that this event was ‘more an ascension of mind than of body.’”30 Again, for such a view Origen is indebted to Plato: “Christ’s ascension was ‘more an ascent of mind than body,’ blazing the trail for contemplative disciples. Echoing Plato, much of ancient and medieval Christian spirituality was characterized by this contemplative ascent toward the ‘beatific vision’—the direct sight of the Good in itself.”31  

In addition, his view of the Atonement was distorted:

One view, called the ‘classical’ or ransom theory—formulated by Origen—regarded the atonement as a ransom paid to Satan. Assuming that the devil was the rightful owner of sinners, Origen taught that Christ was a trap: his humanity was the necessary bait for luring Satan into thinking that he had at least won out over Yahweh, and then he conquered the devil by his deity. Although attracted to aspects of the theory, Gregory of Nanzianzus challenged the idea of God conquering through deception, but the more basic question is whether it can be said in any sense that Satan was the rightful owner of human beings. Theologians throughout the centuries have pointed out the speculative character of this idea. Furthermore, it contradicts several lines of biblical teaching on this subject.32  

And he promulgated an indefensible, extreme ontological subordinationism of the Son from the influence of Philo.33 

Christian historian, C. C. Kroeger concluded that, “Origen must chiefly be remembered for the power and understanding with which he developed, propounded, and defended the major doctrines of the Bible.”34 We could not disagree more. We conclude that based on Origen’s wholesale compromise with pagan Greek philosophy through the process of integration, he taught that all people would eventually be saved (including Satan!), that we become part of God and that Jesus did not in fact physically rise from the dead.35 We echo with the Apostle Paul, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:13, 17). The bodily resurrection of Christ is at the heart of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4). Paul said, “believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, [and] you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). No resurrection, then no gospel; no gospel, then no salvation. Origen rejected the resurrection of Jesus. He should have rejected Greek philosophy instead, as Paul had commanded (Col 2:8).

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)
Living seventy-six years, the first thirty-three as an unbeliever, Augustine’s mark on the Church is unparalleled as his influence has boldly reverberated for fifteen hundred years. He is truly unique among the early Church fathers as the Catholic Church,36 Protestants of every ilk,37 and even the great modern philosophers38 have all claimed him as their own and are marked by his insights. Dulles correctly observes, “Thanks to his rare combination of speculative power, erudition, and literary eloquence, Aurelius Augustine (354-430) occupies a place of unique eminence in the story of patristic apologetics.”39 He is still considered to be the principal theologian of the Latin church, the father of all Western Christianity after him,40 as well as the greatest Western preacher of the early church.41 His shadow looms large down the corridors of Church history.

Despite his legacy of greatness and the overly idealistic, forgiving nature of the winds of time, Augustine was not flawless nor was he made of marble. He was a sinner saved by grace and his life was one of dynamic complexity—progress amidst struggles, evidenced by the walk of a pilgrim with feet of clay, longing ever onward toward heaven’s glory. As one of the most important fathers of the early Church, we know much about his personal life through a variety of especially full and useful sources. He was one of the most fertile writers of the early period. His Confessions (written between 397 and 400) tell us much about the formative events of his first thirty-three years leading up to his salvation.42     

Augustine was born at Thagaste (the present Algeria) North Africa, on November 13, 354. His father Patricius, was a lively, sensual, hot-tempered person, and unfriendly to Christianity until the close of his life. His mother, Monnica, was a believer and was influential in Augustine’s mid-life conversion. He received his first education at Thagaste, learning reading and writing, as well as the rudiments of Greek43 and Latin literature, from teachers who followed the old traditional pagan methods. In his youth his education was void of any systematic instruction in the Christian faith. At sixteen he moved to Carthage where he would study and then teach rhetoric. He relates that a personal turning point in his early career was when he took up philosophy with great zeal at age nineteen.44 From an early age, beginning in his teens, he acknowledges the widespread exposure he had to immorality and profligate living. That lifestyle would haunt and shame him all of his days. He also had an insatiable desire to learn and his first three decades were a relentless, futile, pursuit of wisdom, which he sought in classical education, Cicero, Manichaeism, Platonism and Neoplatonism. Eventually unfulfilled and disillusioned with much of the world’s philosophy, Augustine embraced the truth of Christianity in response to his mother’s prayers, the preaching of the Italian bishop, Ambrose of Milan, and through a direct confrontation with Scripture, the living Word of God. Evans relays his oft-repeated salvation testimony:

In late August 386, still in this period of spiritual turmoil, Augustine sat down one day in a garden with the book of Romans in his hands. He wept with frustration and pain, ‘in the bitterness of my heart’ as he describes it….‘I read in silence the first thing my eye fell on,’ he says. This was the passage in Romans 13.13-4, which he quotes. It calls on the reader to turn away from a life of sexual indulgence and to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. ‘I did not need to read further,’ he says. ‘As soon as I came to the end of that sentence it was as though the light of security flooded me and all my doubts fell away.’ His life was transformed. Everything fell into place; the strain and anxiety left him and from that time on he was a committed Christian.45  

After his dramatic conversion, Augustine went on to be ordained as a priest and found the first monastery in Africa in 391, became co-bishop of Hippo from 391-395, and in 395 became the permanent bishop until his death in 430.

During his thirty-five-plus ministry years as a churchman, he proved to be a prolific and indefatigable writer, teacher and preacher of theology. The breadth of material he issued is almost incomparable for someone of that time period. Summarizing his beliefs remains a challenge in light of the sheer amount as well as the vast span of time he actively wrote. Demarest says, “Augustine’s thought is rendered more difficult by the voluminous and unsystematic character of his writings.”46 When analyzing Augustine, one-dimensional, static, and anachronistic conclusions need to be avoided.

Viewing the whole corpus of his theological writings, Augustine clearly had biblical interests in mind. And there is clear evidence that he grew and matured as a biblical thinker and writer as the years progressed. This is most evident in his Retractions at the end of his life. The biblical and ecclesiastical coloring of his thoughts becomes more and more visible and even vivid. He affirmed a triune God, the depravity of man, the priority of faith, the authority of Scripture, the primacy of the Church and salvation by grace. He had a strong view of God’s sovereignty. There are indeed many jewels to be mined by any believer from the treasury of the writings and reflections of the great bishop.

Nevertheless, Augustine was plagued in his thinking his whole Christian life from the hangover of the man-made philosophies in which he was awash for the first three decades of his unredeemed life.

Nevertheless, Augustine was plagued in his thinking his whole Christian life from the hangover of the man-made philosophies in which he was awash for the first three decades of his unredeemed life. They seemed to reside residually in his very DNA and could never be leached from his life. Here’s where Augustine becomes the quintessential example of why Paul warned Christians not to be taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men…rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8). The dominant man-made philosophies that left an indelible impact on Augustine included Manichaeism, Platonism,47 and Neoplatonism.48

Manichaeism (also Manicheeism)
At age nineteen Augustine embraced Manichaeism and remained an avid devotee for the ensuing nine years. Mani (c. 216-276), born in southern Mesopotamia, was the leader of this heretical sect that spread to Asia Minor and the Roman Empire. Manichaeism was re-hashed Gnostic dualism. Dualism “is the belief that there are two coeternal principles in conflict with each other, such as matter and form (or spirit) or of good and evil. Platonism is an example of the former and Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism are examples of the latter. Dualists believe in creation ex materia, that is, out of preexisting matter or stuff.”49 A few things especially attracted young Augustine to Manichaeism: the liberty to criticize the OT; also, they held to an ascetic chastity and self-denial; and its dualistic view of the world provided a mechanism by which to explain evil in the world—two powers in the universe, two “first principles,” good and evil, eternally at war. He also welcomed the notion of a mistrust of the body and the whole material world: the evil god was regarded by Gnostics and Manichees as the creator of matter, the good god as the creator of spirit.50 A human being is an intellectual and spiritual being which finds itself thrust into the world of mater as a stranger, longing to return to the regions whence it came. Augustine strove later in life rather painfully for celibacy.51

Although Augustine would lose enthusiasm for Manichaeism after nine years, he never freed himself of its fundamental dualism. With its built-in dualities, it is an obvious source for his “two cities,’’ but the concept is also found in Platonism, Stoicism and in Philo, influences that also impressed him.52 Evans says about Manichaeism’s long hold on Augustine: “this system he found it impossible ever to quite shake off after he became a Christian.”53 After becoming a Christian he would integrate this pagan philosophy with his biblical theology. “It was dangerously easy for Christians to feel sympathy with Manichean talk of a war of good and evil, for Christians too had deep within their tradition the consciousness that they were inwardly at war (Galatians 5.16-24).”54

Platonism also held sway over Augustine. Long before there was The Matrix, there was Plato who believed in two worlds: this one—the physical, made of matter, deficient in reality, revealed by perception—and the real world, which was the invisible, eternal, divine realm of immutable, mind-independent Forms that are proper objects of knowledge.55 Plato championed “Forms” as the building blocks to reality. Forms were eternal, invisible templates of the thoughts of god in the spiritual realm that corresponded to and issued in lesser objects in the lower, physical realm. Forms included the good, truth, beauty, justice, courage, wisdom and other virtues. Instead of jettisoning Plato’s pagan worldview of “Forms” in obedience to Colossians 2:8 as Paul commanded, Augustine assimilated this notion, along with other Platonisms, into his Christian worldview after his salvation. The byproduct was a compromised hermeneutic and theological system. Horton notes, “Augustine certainly believed in ex nihilo creation over Platonism’s emanation of the world from the divine One. However, he still had trouble accepting that creation was spoken into existence rather than coming into being silently from the forms in the divine mind.”56 Even after becoming a bishop, Augustine maintained an inflated view of the pagan philosopher:

Because Plato so acutely perceived the necessity of rising above matter and the sense he was, according to Augustine, very close to Christ. If Plato were to return to life, Augustine assures us, he would be delighted to find the churches full of men seeking spiritual and intelligible goods, animated by hope of eternal blessedness. Augustine is confident that Socrates and Plato, if they lived today, would become Christians “as so many Platonists of recent times have done.”57   

Demarest diagnoses the same trend:

With his emphasis on the ascent of the soul to God, Augustine is the Christian Platonist par excellence… Augustine acknowledged in Greek philosophy the presence of considerable truth…of all the Gentile philosophers, Plato attained the highest level of truth. Said Augustine, “It is evident that none came nearer to us than the Platonists.” Moreover, “their gold and silver [were] dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad”… Through the pursuit of reason, the Platonists constructed a comprehensive natural theology. They believed that the invisible things of God are known through the things that are made. Plato and his school reasoned that God is the cause of all existence, the ultimate good, the ground of understanding and knowledge, the end to which life is to be regulated, and the bountiful bestower of blessedness.58 

Horton shows how Platonism even hampered Augustine’s Christology:

Based on its view of human beings as composed of three parts—body, soul, and spirit (trichotomy), Apollinarianism taught that Jesus’ human spirit was replaced with the divine Logos. Charles Hodge explains that Apollinarianism was motivated by “the doctrine then held by many at least of the Platonizing fathers, that reason in man is part of the divine Logos or universal reason.” In this way, the soul-body dualism was the conceptual corollary to Christ’s deity and humanity. Even some of the orthodox theologians such as Athanasius and Augustine could speak as if the Logos “wielded” a human body, almost the way one might drive a car. A marked discomfort with the idea of the genuine humiliation, suffering, temptation, and anguish of the incarnate Son was often expressed.59  

As a believer, Augustine was plagued by Neoplatonism as well. Neoplatonism was the revival and recasting of Platonism in the third century mainly through writers such as Plotinus and Porphyry, which influenced theologians such as Origen, Augustine, Boethius, and Bonaventure.60 At age thirty-one, two years before his conversion, Augustine became strongly attracted to Neoplatonism—the idealistic character of this philosophy awoke unbounded enthusiasm, and he was attracted to it also by its exposition of pure intellectual being and the origin of evil.61 Loofs says, “Full as the writings of this epoch are, however, of Biblical phrases and terms—grace and the law, pre-destination, vocation, justification, regeneration—a reader who is thoroughly acquainted with Neoplatonism will detect Augustine’s old love of it in a Christian dress in not a few places.”62 So once again, as with Manichaeism and Platonism, Augustine does not abandon pagan philosophy as a Christian, but tries to integrate it with the Bible. This theological alchemy left him with a quasi-Christian epistemology: “Neoplatonic philosophy, championed by Plotinus (d. 270) and Porphyry (d. 305), exercised considerable influence on Augustine’s religious thought, including an emphasis on self-transcending contemplation of truth, the primacy of cognitive intuition over sense perception, and the direct union of the soul with God.”63 Augustine relates in his Confessions that the books of the Neoplatonists that he read prior to his conversion to Christianity affirmed the existence of the infinite God and His Word, the creation of the world, and the inner presence of the divine light. “Their juster thoughts concerning the one God who made heaven and earth, have made them illustrious among philosophers.”64

Integrating Greek pagan philosophies with biblical theology was not considered a compromise in Augustine’s mind though—he saw it as baptizing or hallowing their rudimentary insights and raising them to a higher, truer level of spirituality:

In depicting the effort of the mind to reach upward beyond all material and changeable things to the eternal, invisible Godhead, Augustine relies heavily on his Neoplatonic philosophic heritage. But he finds numerous Scripture texts in his favor. He is fond of quoting from Paul: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor 4:18).”65

Augustine, like many Church fathers before him, opted for a synthesis or melding of biblical faith with classical culture, while correcting the errors of the pagans in the light of biblical revelation. They meet adversaries such as Galen and Celsus, Porphyry and Julian the Apostate on their own ground, accepting certain elements of the dominant forms of Platonism and rejecting others.66 Similarly, Gonzalez appraises:

Augustine’s theology is a combination of the earlier teachings of the church with Neoplatonism…From Neoplatonism Augustine derived his doctrine of God, whom he conceived in terms of the Neoplatonic “ineffable One,” as well as his theory of the incorporeity of the soul. This latter view, which later became commonplace among Christians, was at first rejected by many as an unbiblical innovation. Also from the Neoplatonists, he derived his view of evil as not a substance but rather a deprivation of good. Every creature is in itself good, for it is made by God. But the corruption of the goodness of a creature is what we call evil.67

In hindsight, integration hindered rather than heightened Augustine’s work as a biblical theologian and Christian teacher. Augustine was strong in all areas where he remained true to Scripture. He was aberrant at every point he attempted to assimilate and mix Greek philosophy with biblical truth. Cyanide and coffee don’t mix well.

Anselm of Canterbury (AD 1033-1109)
Seven centuries after Augustine, another prominent Christian thinker came on the world scene, leaving a vast and indelible legacy in the realm of metaphysics, philosophy, and theology. “The father of medieval scholasticism68 and one of the most eminent of English prelates,”69 Anselmus Candiae Genavae, or Anselm, was born in Aosta by the Italian Alps in Northern Italy in 1033. He was born to wealthy parents—a harsh father and a prudent mother. As a teenager he tried to enter the monastery but was rejected. That desire was later realized when he became a Benedictine monk at age twenty-seven (c. 1060). In 1063 he became prior; abbot in 1078; and the archbishop of Canterbury in 1093.70 He was later canonized in 1494 and proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.71 

He was a preeminent scholar and effective teacher, who was humble in disposition and worked well with people. Admired for his keen intellect, Anselm is best known for his development of the ontological argument72—God is the perfect being “than which greater nothing can be thought”—and a unique version of the satisfaction theory of the atonement.73 As a theologian he is called by many “the second Augustine.” Beckwith summarizes Anselm’s unique standing: “his writings display profundity, originality, and masterly grasp of intellect.”74  

Anselm was also known for being a philosopher. Two of his most noted works, Monologion and Proslogion, are more philosophical than theological or biblical. Both aim to prove the existence and nature of God from human reason apart from Scripture.75 “Philosophically, Anselm’s ideas were molded by Plato (428-348 B.C.) …Anselm was a child of his day, which was dominated by platonic philosophy.”76 Charlesworth says Anselm’s worldview was broadly that of Neoplatonism, which he inherited from his primary influence, Augustine, as well as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. He also inherited a rationalist way of thinking from Aristotle and Boethius.77 Anselm’s philosophical approach would impact others who followed including Rene Descartes, Benedict Spinoza, Georg Hegel, Charles Hartshorne, Norman Malcolm, along with most contemporary traditionalist Christian apologists including Alvin Plantinga, Clark Pinnock, Norm Geisler, William Craig, etc.78 “Anselm is a model of traditional or classical apologetics. He believed in offering proofs for the existence of God…Anselm is the antithesis of…presuppositional apologetics.”79

As a theologian, Anselm gave lip service to “faith that leads to reason”80 but practically, and at the end of the day, he sounded more like an Aristotelian rationalist. Dulles observes:

In the Monologion he agrees to write in such wise “that nothing from Scripture should be urged on the authority of Scripture itself, but that whatever the conclusion of independent investigation should declare to be true, should, in an unadorned style, with common proofs and with a simple argument, be briefly enforced by the cogency of reason, and plainly expounded in the light of truth.”81

Although he was not as dependent upon pagan Greek philosophy to the degree that Justin, Clement or Origen were, he nevertheless made considerable use of Platonism and Neoplatonism. And once again, we see that this practice of integration of secular Greek philosophy with biblical truth always leads to compromise, to whatever degree, with respect to the truth. For example, regarding evangelism and apologetics, “Anselm is concerned to speak in terms meaningful to the nonbeliever. The common ground between them and believers is not faith but reason. ‘For although they appeal to reason because they do not believe [and thus have no alternative], and we, on the other hand, because we do believe, nevertheless, the thing sought is one and the same.’”82 Herein, in seminal form, is the precursor of the 20th century notion of “pre-evangelism” and the common practice of most apologists today who say believers can’t approach unbelievers with biblical truth first, but rather we need to find common ground in reason and the laws of logic. The understood or unstated premise for such an approach is an utter disregard for the biblical teaching on the blinding effects of personal sin and Satanic deception.

Demarest highlights other theological shortfalls of Anselm relative to apologetics due to his integrationist model. Anselm subtly departed from Augustine by attempting a more extensive philosophical explication of theism than Augustine. He thus “represents a transitional link between the faith perspective of Augustine and the rationalism of the later Scholastic tradition championed by Aquinas.”83 With Augustine he postulated the primacy of faith for the saving knowledge of God, but unlike Augustine, Anselm argued that reasons unaided by revelation must be adduced in support of the Christian faith.84 He said, “The rational mind itself is most able to advance toward finding the Supreme Being.”85 In the case of the Christian, Anselm said rational demonstration [without special revelation] heightens faith’s understanding of the gospel. Anselm believed in the Fall, but not in total depravity: “the corrupting influence of sin is not such that it can prevent the natural man’s reason from assenting to the ‘necessities’ of the Christian faith once these have been presented to him.”86

Anselm would have done well to disown the influences of pagan Greek philosophy, as Paul warned in Colossians 2:8, rather than integrating them into his reservoir of faith. 

Demarest concludes that Anselm drew too heavily from Platonic idealism, arguing from the realm of rational thought, thus betraying his Augustinian and biblical commitments. In the end then, Anselm “demanded more of the innate God-idea and general revelation than they are capable of delivering.”87 Needless to say, Anselm’s apologetic was not scripturally-driven nor gospel-centered. He also paved the way for the onset of wholesale Scholasticism that would reach its zenith under Thomas Aquinas. Anselm would have done well to disown the influences of pagan Greek philosophy, as Paul warned in Colossians 2:8, rather than integrating them into his reservoir of faith. 

Thomas Aquinas (AD 1224-1274)88
We come now to the Prince of the Scholastics, the master of medieval Latin theology, the don of Rome’s sacerdotal system and the patron Saint of the traditional and classical apologists—Thomas Aquinas. Born in Italy near Naples, he was placed in the monastery of Montecassino when he was five. At fourteen, he went to the University of Naples where he first came in contact with the Aristotelian philosophy.89  In 1244 he joined the Dominican Order of Preachers. The Dominicans’ practice of living on alms was deplored by many, thus, fearing that Thomas would ruin his career, his family kidnapped him and kept him a prisoner for over a year. They wanted him to join the Benedictine order. During this time they tried to dissuade him from joining the Dominicans, even resorting to the most manipulative antics. He escaped, became a Dominican, and was sent to study at Cologne in 1244, where Albertus Magnus was teaching. From Magnus he learned the Aristotelian method which would become the permanent template for his Weltanschauung.90 Initially his genius was not apparent to his classmates, who called him “the dumb ox” because of his size and paucity of speech. On the personal side Thomas was refined, affable and lovable; he was content with the simple life.91 Eventually, Magnus and his peers recognized his inimitable abilities and his mentor directed him toward an academic career. In 1252 he went to Paris for more formal education, and began teaching in 1257. His memory was a steel trap. He proved to be an analytical and authoritative teacher. He spent most of his career at the University of Paris as a university professor of philosophy and wrote commentaries on Aristotle92 and theology. His magnum opus was the Summa Theologica which he composed for ten years at the end of his life.

The great challenge to theology in Thomas’ time was the philosophy of Aristotle, which was being brought into western Europe by means of new Latin translations. Many philosophers, particularly at the University of Paris, claimed that on the basis of the newly translated works, philosophy must come to a number of conclusions that contradicted generally accepted doctrine—conclusions such as matter has always existed, and that all souls are one. In reaction, many church leaders declared that the traditional Platonic and Augustinian philosophy was the only true one, and banned the study and discussion of certain elements of Aristotelian philosophy. Thomas took up the challenge, and set out to show that Christian faith is compatible with Aristotelian philosophy, as long as one understands the proper field and methodology of both theology and philosophy.93

Aquinas was considered innovative by many in his day, and not a few regarded his innovations dangerous. Thomism—the name given to his system—came under attack from both extreme Aristotelians and traditional theologians. There were repeated charges against his metaphysical novelties. In 1277, three years after the death of Thomas, the bishop of Paris issued a condemnation of 219 Aristotelian propositions, several of which had been held by Thomas. Similar steps were taken at Oxford. But slowly, with the staunch defense of many Dominicans, and the backing of the Roman Catholic Church, Thomism forever gained a foothold in Western Christianity. In 1323 John XXII canonized Thomas, and in 1567 Pius V declared him a “Universal Doctor of the Church.”94   

Aquinas is best known for integrating Aristotle with the Bible95—a clear violation of Colossians 2:8. Instead of watching out for pagan, humanistic philosophy, he co-opted it. “Next his decided Aristotelianism, not without an admixture of Neoplatonic elements, must be noted. He owed not only his philosophical thoughts and world-conception to Aristotle, but he also took from him the frame for his theological system; Aristotle’s metaphysics and ethics furnished the trend of his system.”96 Vos further explains:

Thomas Aquinas…embraced Aristotle’s thought whole-heartedly as a philosophy…For him this philosophy became the basic tool for his theology; in his famous phrase, philosophy is the handmaid of theology. In almost every discussion—God’s nature, the Trinity, the human soul, grace, faith, etc. –one finds Aquinas using distinct-ions developed by philosophers, especially Aristotle, to explain the meaning of faith.97

The practice of integrating human philosophy with God’s Word directly undermines the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible alone speaking to pertinent issues of the day was not adequate or sufficient for Thomas—Scripture needed to be bolstered with “other” truth to establish it as thorough and convincing. And Thomas did not stop at using just Aristotle in his theo-philosophical integrationism. Brown notes:

Aquinas would start with a problem. He then would quote his authority. This could be a text of Scripture, a passage from one of the early Christian writers or a quotation from ‘the philosopher.’ The latter was never named; he did not need to be. It was Aristotle, the Greek philosopher from the fourth century BC, whose writings had been rediscovered and translated into Latin in the twelfth century. From now on his ideas set the tone. The Islamic philosophies of Avicenna and Averroes, as well as con-temporary Jewish thinkers, were also taken into account. Only when he had taken note of all the relevant points both for and against would Aquinas give his own answer.98 

Although Aquinas was a believer, his compromise with pagan Greek philosophy wrought dramatic ramifications for the Church. His writings do not reflect biblical theology, but rather natural theology, rational theology and philosophical theology. This resulted from his integrationist approach and unbiblical view of exalted, unaided human reason. He says many good things in his theological writings, but it’s all smothered in philosophical trappings and sophistry.

This is most evident in his view of the sacraments, especially Communion. For Aquinas, transubstantiation was at the heart of Communion or the Lord’s Supper. His sophisticated and highly nuanced interpretation of transubstantiation issued from his Aristotelian worldview. Schaff notes, “Scholasticism gave the doctrine of transubstantiation the final form…the body and blood of Christ, and therefore their real presence under the accidents and elements, have their inception in the elements…The effect of the form upon the matter is to change it in the Aristotelian sense into the new, for which it possesses an inherent capability.”99 When the priest “consecrates” the wafer or host, a miracle supposedly takes places, whereby the bread in its very elements becomes Jesus’ literal body—although not visibly, but in substance. And at that moment a real “immolation” takes place, whereby Jesus is crucified anew, His sacrifice then atoning for a new allotment of accrued sins that were not covered by His original death 2,000 years ago at Calvary. At the “sacrifice of the Mass,” through the act of transubstantiation, Jesus is crucified time and time again. Aquinas taught that “the sacraments ‘cause grace’…the effect of the sacraments is to infuse justifying grace into men.”100

The backbone, the heart, and the very life-blood of true biblical Christianity centers on the reality of Christ’s death, as well as its meaning and application on a personal level. Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is the tangible picture given by Christ to His Church by which to understand and even participate in the benefits of His atoning death for sinners. To convolute, distort or tamper with its true, original meaning is the gravest violation. Aquinas was guilty here. And it was because of his compromised accommodation of pagan Greek philosophy in utter disregard to Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:8. Horton explains,

Aquinas spends eight articles in his Summa Theologica providing a series of philosophical arguments for ‘the way in which Christ is in the sacrament.’ Yet again, this is consistent with his treatment of grace as a metaphysical substance whose infusion is caused by baptism and subsequent sacraments. However…sacraments involve a giving of gifts from one person to another, not an exchange of substances. Its interest is not in what happens to the signs but in what happens between persons through them, not how Christ is present in the sacraments, but that he is present in saving action toward us…I am inclined to believe that such an account…could evolve only within the onto-theological discourse. Even when Thomas engages in proof texts from scripture, Aristotle is everywhere in the treatment of the sacraments the dominant voice.101 

There is great fall-out from Thomas’ paganized version of Jesus’ death and the ordinance of Communion that Christ bequeathed to His Church. With transubstantiation, it is supposed that the “priest,”102 a mere man, turns bread into Jesus’ literal body, although it looks unchanged, and that His real body is eaten, which amounts to cannibalism, and that with this act Jesus is crucified anew, time and time again, because His death 2,000 years ago was not sufficient for all sin, and that by merely partaking in the act of “the Eucharist” grace is merited by works through an act of infusion [versus imputation by faith].103 That is an all-out frontal assault on the heart of the saving gospel. When Jesus was crucified, just before He gave up His spirit, He declared to all, for all time: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). In Greek it was just one word, “tetelestai,” a verb used in the perfect tense. As a perfect tense indicative it means his death was a past completed action with ongoing, continuous results104—the blood of His one-time death is fully efficacious, and still flowing for all sin, in all sinners, for all time for those who come to Christ in faith and repentance. He died once—He does not need to be “immolated” again and again. Scripture is emphatic here: “For Christ also died for sins once for all” (1 Pet 3:18). Hebrews prophetically and preemptively spoke to this line of attack that would be waged against the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death and the simplicity of the gospel.

24For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the con-summation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself…28so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.

Heb 9:24-26, 28

Aquinas tried to mix the truth of Scripture (Communion) with the tradition or teaching of man (Aristotelian philosophy) and ended up with transubstantiation. Religionists in Jesus’ day tried the same thing—integrating Old Testament Scripture with human teaching. Jesus condemned the net result of their religious alchemy, saying, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition…thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:9, 13). Aquinas would have been better served had he rejected human philosophy as Paul warned (Col 2:8) and instead embraced the sufficiency of Scripture, knowing that the Word of God is “more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10).

  1. “The term philosophia, or ‘love of wisdom,’ as well as much of the substance behind that term is an invention…of Pythagoras (fl. c. 520) and his followers in southern Italy, around the end of the sixth century B.C. The significance of this neologism, in Pythagoras’s mind, was that he felt, in contrast to the early physicists and other contemporary experts (who would have called themselves sophoi) that wisdom (sophia) properly belonged to God alone, and that humans could only aspire to being seekers after wisdom (philosophos)”; J. M. Dillon, “Philosophy” in The IVP Dictionary of the NT, ed. Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 877.
  2. Modern scholars attempt to say that the philosophy Paul was condemning was strictly a Jewish heresy, confined to a narrow Hebrew cul-de-sac in upscale, kosher Colossae. But that is mere conjecture and historical revisionism totally unfounded based on the large Gentile population that existed in that city for centuries up until Paul’s day. “Colossae’s population consisted mainly of indigenous Phrygian and Greek settlers …the Colossae of Paul’s day seems to have been a cosmopolitan place in which differing cultural and religious elements mingled”; P. T. O’Brien, “Colossians, Letter to the” in The IVP Dictionary of The New Testament, 210. Further, Paul explicitly intended Colossians to be a cyclical letter which he commanded to be read in other churches in cities outside Colossae (cf. 4:16), so the intended audience of the epistle cannot be restricted to a mere sub-group within the isolated Jewish district of Colossae. The content of the book was written to a broader audience in a Gentile, Hellenized culture. Paul’s main point is that humanistic ‘love of wisdom’ is to be rejected, not accommodated and assimilated into the Christian worldview. Pagan Greek philosophy was Christ-less to the core and void of the gospel—it was not divine revelation, and as such it is to be assertively discarded as a human counterfeit to God’s true, spiritual, heavenly revealed wisdom that comes plenarily from the Scriptures and specifically from the gospel. Cf. Carson’s helpful summary here; Herbert M. Carson, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 61-62.
  3. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 982.
  4. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 395.
  5. Clyde Manschreck, “Justin Martyr” in The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, ed. William H. Gentz (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1986), 569.
  6. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 395. 
  7. Horton, The Christian Faith, 140. Calvin exposed the integration of the many church fathers who melded pagan philosophy with biblical truth. “Among ecclesiastical writers (i.e., Chrysostom, Jerome)…many of them made too near an approach to the philosophers. Some of the most ancient writers appear to me to have exalted human strengths from a fear that a distinct acknowledgment of its impotence might expose them to the jeers of the philosophers with whom they were disputing…Therefore, to avoid teaching anything which the majority of mankind might deem absurd, they made it their study, in some measure, to reconcile the doctrine of Scripture with the dogmas of philosophy…they have bestowed on man more than he possesses for the study of virtue…the Greek fathers, above others…have exceeded due bounds in extolling the powers of the human will, yet all ancient theologians, with the exception of Augustine, are so confused, vacillating, and contradictory on this subject, that no certainty can be obtained from their writings….Succeeding writers (every one courting applause for his acuteness in the defense of human nature) have uniformly, one after the other, gone more widely astray, until the common dogma came to be, that man was corrupted only in the sensual part of his nature, that reason remained entire, and will was scarcely impaired ….Persons professing to be the disciples of Christ have spoken too much like the philosophers on this subject”; Institutes, 159-160.
  8. “Alexandria at the beginning of the Christian era was the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Oriental and Occidental culture met and blended there as nowhere else. The Jewish-Alexandrian philosophy, as seen most fully developed in the writings of Philo, was one of the most noteworthy products of the eclecticism that there prevailed…The Alexandrian theologians with whom the scientific spirit had its birth, were Platonists (with a strong admixture of Pythagoreanism and Stoicism)…after they adopted Christianity…they remained Platonists, and sought to explain Christianity according to the Platonic categories, in somewhat the same way in which Philo had, two centuries earlier, attempted to explain Judaism…Heretofore, the allegorical interpretation had been applied to the Scriptures, whenever it suited a writer’s purpose. Allegorizing was now reduced to a system”; A. H. Newman, A Manual of Church History, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1912), I: 272.
  9. Justo Gonzalez, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 208.
  10. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 156-57
  11. Horton, The Christian Faith, 100.
  12. W. C. Weinrich, “Clement of Alexandria” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 253. Pearcy notes, “Many of the church fathers were deeply influenced by Platonism, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Jerome, and Augustine…most of them absorbed at least some of the Greeks’ negative attitude toward the material world”; Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 76-77.   
  13. “No survey will be attempted concerning early Jewish apologetical methodology (e.g. Philo; s.v. ISBE, “Philo, Judaeus,” by R. M. Wenley, 4:2380-83). However, it must be noted that both early Jewish and Christian apologetics were generally steeped in Greek humanistic philosophy. This was the assumed sphere of common ground wherein they fought their word-wars. Furthermore, this Alexandrian mindset has greatly affected not only ‘classical apologetics’ and polemics but also hermeneutics and theology ever since those early days”; George J. Zemek, “Christian Apologetical Methodology” unpublished syllabus (Sun Valley, CA: The Master’s Seminary, 1992), 1.
  14. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 31.
  15. Charles S. McCoy, “Origen” in The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 759. Septimus Severus was one in a string of ten brutal Roman emperors who inflicted horrendous persecution on early Christians over a 250-year period (A.D. 64-313). Marcus Aurelius was another of the ten murderous thugs, contrary to the distorted Hollywood portrayal of him as a sober-minded nice guy in the movie “Gladiator.” Persecuted Christians in the early Church did not resort to philosophy in their defense of the faith. Rather, they relied on God, His Word and practical tactics to defend themselves. Kienel delineates some of the basic apologetical priorities in the “martyrs’ school” that existed for persecuted believers in the second and third centuries during the Roman persecution: “Spense-Jones says the martyr’s school even had training manuals, which stressed the following: (1) How to answer judges when brought into a Roman court. (2) How to focus on heaven and the eternal reward of being a martyr for Christ. (3) How to rehearse the heroism of earlier martyrs. (4) How to prepare the body through physical exercise to endure public flogging, all forms of torture, long periods in prison and even death by hanging, crucifixion, sword, fire, and possibly by the fangs and claws of beasts in the Roman Colosseum before forty-five thousand spectators. (5) How to prepare heart and mind through memorization of such Scriptures as, ‘Therefore whosoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 10:32) and ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:10)”; Paul A. Kienel, A History of Christian School Education (Colorado Springs, CO: The Association of Christian Schools International, 1998), 38.
  16. Newman, Church History, I: 280.
  17. Catherine C. Kroeger, “Origen” in Evangelical Dictionary, 803.
  18. Geisler says, “Origen was at best a mixed blessing for Christian apologetics. He did defend the basic inspiration and historicity of the Bible. He stressed the use of reason in defending early Christianity against the attacks of paganism and other false teachings. He was a textual scholar. However, Origen’s negatives seem to far outweigh the positives. He denied the inerrancy of the Bible, at least in practice. He taught universalism contrary to both Scripture and orthodox creeds. He taught the preexistence of the soul in contrast to the orthodox teaching of creation. He engaged in highly allegorical interpretation of Scripture, undermining important literal truths. He held an aberrant view on the nature of Christ, which gave rise later to the Arian heresy. He denied the tangible, physical nature of the resurrection body”; Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 567.
  19. Newman, Church History, I: 281.
  20. Ibid., 281.
  21. Horton, The Christian Faith, 842.
  22. Ibid., 914.
  23. Ibid., 48.
  24. Ibid., 977.
  25. Ibid., 516.
  26. Ibid., 83.
  27. Ibid., 991. 
  28. Ibid., 603. 
  29. Ibid., 910.
  30. Ibid., 842.
  31. Ibid., 48-49.
  32. Ibid., 501.
  33. Ibid., 279.
  34. Kroeger, Evangelical Dictionary, 803.
  35. “Origen’s philosophical assumptions about the preexistence of souls, eternality of worlds, spiritual resurrection, universalism, and recurrence of the Fall caused extensive controversies that have not been resolved fully to this day. Origen’s ‘errors’ were declared heretical at Constantinople in 543 and 553”; McCoy, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 760.
  36. “Augustine is practically the father of all western Christianity after his time…there is scarcely a single Roman Catholic dogma which is histor-ically intelligible without reference to his writing”; F. Loofs, “Augustine” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Thought, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson and Charles Colebrook Sherman (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1908), I: 368.
  37. Bruce A. Demarest, General Revelation: Historical Views and Contemporary Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 25.
  38. “In the history of philosophy, too, he has been a force far beyond the Middle Ages; in both Descartes and Spinoza his voice may be distinctly heard”; Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, I: 369. 
  39. Avery Dulles, A History of Apologetics (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 73. Cf. Pearcey, Total Truth, 74-83.
  40. Loofs, Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, I: 368.
  41. Ibid., 371
  42. Ibid., 365.   
  43. Horton notes the shortcomings in Augustine’s non-mastery of the Greek New Testament. He was dependent on Latin, which handicapped his ability to be precise as a systematic theologian: “Augustine…[had] a lack of fluency in reading Greek”; Horton, The Christian Faith, 284-285.
  44. Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, I: 365. 
  45. G. R. Evans, “Introduction” in Saint Augustine City of God (London, England: Penguin Books, 2003), xxvii. 
  46. Demarest, General Revelation, 27. Calvin was a master of Augustine’s writings and theology as is evident from Calvin’s interactions with him in The Institutes. Calvin treats him fairly—often agreeing with him and sometimes showing where he drifts from Scripture. Calvin specifically notes that with time Augustine matured and “made greater progress in the knowledge of Scripture”; 620.
  47. “Plato/Platonism. Probably the most influential philosopher who has ever lived (428-348 B.C.)…His philosophical work survives in the form of about thirty dialogues, distinguished not only for their contributions to epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics, politics, and the philosophy of religion but also, in many cases, for their dramatic and literary power…Plato’s earlier dialogues are still strongly under the influence of Socrates, who appears as the principal spokesman…The Apology contains Socrates’ defense, made before the magistrates of Athens, concluding with the dramatic words: ‘The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways—I to die, and you to live. Which is better is known to God, and only to him.’ …the belief in the reality, importance, and immortality of the soul, together with the duty of tending and cultivating the soul, becomes a major tenet in the philosophy of Plato himself and in subsequent Platonism…the individual…[is]…tripartite. On the one hand, the human soul has three parts or levels. The highest of these is reason, the faculty by which we can know the eternal Ideas; below that is the ‘spirited’ part, characterized by courage and enterprise; below that again lies a multitude of passions and desires, clamoring for gratification. In the soul of the just person, these three parts are in harmony. The ideal life is that in which rational judgment prevails. It is therefore a life of intellectual contemplation, directed upon the Forms or Ideas, and especially on the Form of the Good, which stands at the apex of the hierarchy of Forms…Full reality belongs only to the eternal world of ideas, and the physical world is only a copy of it…He offers arguments for the existence of God and claims that God is wise and righteous. Here we seem to have reached a fully theistic position. Plato criticizes the unworthy and sometimes immoral myths that were told about the gods, it does not seem that he denied their existences…As early as the first and second centuries A.D., Platonism was combining with Jewish and Christian theology (Philo, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and many others). From the third century onwards, Platonism was being superseded by the related Neoplatonism, which strongly influenced Christian theology from Augustine until the Middle Ages”; John Macquarrie, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 822-823.
  48. “The philosophy originating in Alexandria, developed by Plotinus (205-270), and continued by such figures as Origen (about 182-251)…Drawing on Pythagorean, Aristotelian, and Stoic sources more than on Plato, Neoplatonism…continued as a major influence in Western thought mainly through its impact on Augustine (354-430) and through him to subsequent Christian theology and philosophy. In Neoplatonic thought, being emanates from the One or the Good. From the One comes the realms of Nous, of Soul, and then of Matter, which represents a falling away toward nonbeing or nothingness. Some souls remain unembodied and are not contaminated by incarnation; human souls exist as embodied and are called to turn away from Matter as evil and ascend toward knowledge of and ecstatic union with the One”; Clyde Manschreck, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 734.  
  49. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 206.
  50. Evans, City of God, xxiv.
  51. Ibid., xxv.
  52. Ibid., xlvii.
  53. Ibid., xxiii.
  54. Ibid., xxii. Philosophical dualism is alive and lurking in today’s church. Traditional apologist Carnell suffered from an infection of dualism as evidenced in his introduction to apologetics, where he pit the soul against the body: “The fact that man is both soul and body makes for happiness and misery. On the one hand there are pleasures. Those of the body come from proper emotions, while those of the mind come from reflection, memory, and anticipation. Plato rightly names the latter set as better…Qua body man is animal, while qua body spirit he is a celestial being. As a creature of time and space, man is limited by death, while as a creation of spirit, man is able to live eternally.” In other words, spirit good, body bad—invisible holy, matter evil; E. J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics: A Philosophical Defense of the Trinitarian-Theistic Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1956), 19-20.
  55. The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion, ed. Jonathan Z. Smith (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 848.
  56. Horton, The Christian Faith, 388.
  57. Dulles, A History, 75-76.
  58. Demarest, General Revelation, 25-26.
  59. Horton, The Christian Faith, 472.
  60. Ibid., 997.
  61. Loofs, Schaff-Herzog, 367.
  62. Ibid., 368.
  63. Demarest, General Revelation, 26.
  64. Ibid., 26.
  65. Dulles, A History, 75. Augustine’s practice of integration is actually dangerous and is practiced routinely by evangelicals today, usually resulting in dire consequences. We need to heed Barrick’s warning here: “Evangelicals too often attempt to baptize secular and humanistic theories in evangelical waters without realizing that those theories and their methodologies have never been converted. While there are valuable kernels of truth buried within contemporary critical and so-called ‘scientific’ studies, evangelicals must take great care to irradiate the material with the Word of God so as not to unknowingly and unintentionally introduce secularized thinking into the Church”; William D. Barrick, “Noah’s Flood and Its Geological Implications,” Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth, eds. Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 252.
  66. Dulles, A History, 88-89.
  67. Gonzalez, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 91.
  68. Scholasticism was the attempt to make faith and human reason compatible—to literally make Catholic dogma blend [integration] with the pagan philosophy of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. “The tool that Christian [Catholic] Scholasticism used to reestablish unity was of pagan origin, the philosophy of Aristotle. Understandably, in the beginning the Church protested against the rapidly increasing interest in the works of the heathen, newly translated from Greek and Arabic; and conservative churchmen condemned the doctrines of Thomas Aquinas with their Aristotelian logic so that Albertus Magnus had to go to Paris in his defense”; cited by Paul A. Kienel, A History of Christian School Education (Colorado Springs, CO: ACSI, 1998), 93. Kienel goes on to observe, “Scholasticism was ‘a kind of rationalization of the Gospel [that] placed Aristotle, called “the Teacher” or “the Philosopher” beside Jesus as the supreme authority.’ This, of course, is the essence of humanism, in which man is elevated to a level equal to, or above, Christ. In contrast, Ephesians 1:22 says (referring to Christ), ‘And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church’; and Colossians 1:18, ‘…that in all things He [Christ] may have the preeminence’ (NKJ).”
  69. C. A. Beckwith, Schaff-Herzog, I: 188.
  70. Ibid., 189.
  71. Ibid.
  72. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 25.
  73. Beckwith, Schaff-Herzog, I: 189.
  74. Ibid.
  75. Ibid.; cf. Demarest, General Revelation, 32.
  76. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 25-26.
  77. M. J. Charlesworth trans. and ed. St. Anselm’s Proslogion (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 23-24.
  78. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 26; cf. Beckwith, Schaff-Herzog, I: 189; Horton, The Christian Faith, 508.
  79. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 26.
  80. He prayed, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand”; Anselm, “Proslogion,” in St. Anselm, Proslogium and Monologium, trans. Sidney Norton Deane (Chicago: Open Court, 1935), 6. For Anselm, when he said, “I believe in order to understand,” he does not mean, “I believe in the Scripture in order to understand.” Anselm put traditional church dogma on the same par as Scripture and even considered it revelation. Beckwith says, “The dogmas of the Church are to him identical with revelation itself”; Schaff-Herzog, I: 189. So faith does not come from the divine revelation of Scripture alone (as Romans 10:17 says), but faith could result from “truth” whatever its source. This is the exact same position of modern day traditional apologists (Craig, Kelly James Clark, etc.) who believe faith can be created from other sources and experiences apart from Scripture.
  81. Dulles, A History, 101.
  82. Ibid., 102.
  83. Demarest, General Revelation, 31.
  84. Ibid., 31-32
  85. Anselm, Monologion, LXVI, in Anselm of Canterbury, ed. And trans. J. Hopkins and H. Richardson, 4 vols. (Toronto and New York: Edwin Mellen, 1975-76), vol. I, 76.
  86. Jasper Hopkins, A Companion to the Study of St. Anselm (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972), 52.
  87. Demarest, General Revelation, 33-34.
  88. The year of his birth is disputed; see Reinhold Seeberg, “Thomas Aquinas,” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Thought, XI: 422.
  89. Gonzalez, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 62-63.
  90. One of William Craig’s favorite terms he uses when speaking and writing which he acquired while studying theology in Germany under Wolfhart Pannenberg.
  91. Seeberg, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, XI: 423.
  92. “He judged that the errors of Aristotelianism could best be met by erecting a Christian Aritotelianism that incorporated the best insights of the Stagirite. To this end St. Thomas wrote a series of philosophical commentaries on Aristotle, seeking to interpret the master in a way more favorable to Christianity than his Arabic commentators had done. On certain points, he conceded, Christian revelation had corrected and completed what Aristotle had seen in a deficient manner”; Dulles, A History, 113.
  93. Gonzalez, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 62-63.
  94. Ibid.
  95. Like Augustine, he integrated Greek philosophy with the Bible. Distinct from Augustine he preferred Aristotle over Plato: “Where Augustine used Neoplatonism, Thomas has recourse to Aristotle. Where Augustine argued through the interpretation of history, Thomas depends primarily on metaphysics. Where Augustine uses the persuasion of rhetoric, Thomas uses careful and dispassionate reasoning”; Dulles, A History, 120.
  96. Seeberg, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, XI: 427.
  97. A. Vos, “Aristotelianism” in New Dictionary of Theology, eds. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, J. I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 44-45.  
  98. Colin Brown, “Scholasticism,” in Introduction to the History of Christianity, Tim Dowley, ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 286.
  99. D. S. Schaff, “Transubstantiation,” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Thought, 496.
  100. Seeberg, Schaff-Herzog, XI: 426.
  101. Horton, The Christian Faith, 784.
  102. The idea that some Christians are priests and others are not is another heretical distortion of clear New Testament teaching—all Christians are priests—having direct access to God by virtue of Christ’s atoning work (Hebrews 4:14-16; Revelation 1:6).  
  103. According to Aquinas a sacrament “makes people holy”…by causing grace to be infused into the recipient; Horton, The Christian Faith, 765.
  104. Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 224-25.

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