Pieter Brueghel the Elder – The Hunters in the Snow 1565
The purpose of this blog is to think through what it would mean to have a uniquely “Christian” philosophy. In this, I am following the impetus and philosophical challenge of Dirk T.H. Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd, who argued that a Christian philosophy ought to be unique, not simply a mapping of Christian ideas/worldviews on to pre-existing philosophical structures. To that end, this is a a tentative outline/map of what a such a philosophy might look like. Any feedback is welcome, as I believe that any philosophy which calls itself “Christian” ought to be a group project.
The most foundational component, or the “ontological engine” of such a philosophy is the revelatory and sustaining grace of God. Revelatory grace is that way in which God reveals God’s self to humanity, which is most basically through Scripture and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. For this philosophy to operate both sides of Revelatory grace, the Scriptural and the Christological, must be in play. One cannot simply “utilize” Scripture to achieve some philosophical end; that would be utilizing raw knowledge or data, and probably manipulating it in the process. This shuts down the possibility of revelation through Scripture. Even Christians can do this when their horizons of interpretation become static and dogmatic. Scriptural revelation, inasmuch as it reveals God in Christ, is a dynamic revelation, always opening up new horizons rather than shutting horizons down.
The revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God is the key second component of revelatory grace. The revelation of “God in flesh” opens up the possibility of right perception of/engagement with Creation, and thus the very possibility of the sciences and of philosophy. The revelation of Christ is not simply the words of Christ as recorded in the Gospels but the fact that God became human and now dwells within each and every Christian. Jesus Christ is fully God as well as fully human, therefore the fullness of God’s wisdom dwells within and is revealed by Jesus. Inasmuch as, when one accepts Christ as Saviour, God comes to dwell within her, the fullness of God’s wisdom (and revelatory grace) comes to dwell within her as well. Thus, the revelatory grace of God is one to which all Christians have access. This means that philosophy is no longer an enterprise which is solely open to an “intellectual elite” but rather, as a way of finding and doing wisdom, something in which all people can and should participate. As we saw Murphy argue above via von Rad, even in the Old Testament, the Wisdom tradition was not something only entered into by the elite, but was rather a way of life in which all Israel participated. As Christ came to open up the horizons of life for all Creation, so a grace-centered and grace-filled philosophy opens up the possibility of wise teaching and wise learning to and for all.
Wisdom itself is the second component of this philosophy. All Creation has wisdom, it is what we use to “find our way” through and in the world. Cooking is a kind of wisdom – one might know academically all the chemical components of the food being prepared and one may be able to follow the recipe, but there is a gap which exists between merely “knowing” how to make pizza, and being able to make pizza deliciously. What stands in that gap is wisdom. It is not something which is necessarily innate, and it is in many ways the product of knowledge. Most philosophers would say this is so – that wisdom is a product of knowledge. However, pizza (and wisdom) which is simply the product of knowledge is no different than the frozen stuff one finds at the local market, which tastes bland and often quite like the cardboard packaging it comes in. It might satisfy your hunger, but it doesn’t satisfy you as a person. There’s a contentment which occurs after consuming good food, which simply doesn’t happen after eating frozen pizza.
Wisdom in the philosophical perspective proposed in this essay however, is not born from knowledge alone. It is also and perhaps more importantly the product of grace and love. Grace and love animate and guide wisdom, which is informed by knowledge. Thus, this sort of wisdom is always in the business of the emancipation and positive growth of humans and Creation. This means that wisdom, although it ultimately is finding the right way through a difficulty, does not exist or operate for itself alone, but for the good of all. This will require a great deal of creativity on the part of the philosopher (the lover of wisdom), but, because such a pursuit is ultimately animated and guided by God, this creativity is wise. Thus, one might say that “wisdom is the constant and creative pursuit of the Good life for all Creation.” One might say that this is the definition of philosophy in the parameters proposed as well.
Love also radiates out of grace and is absolutely essential for the kind of philosophy put forward in this essay to get off the ground. Like grace, love (in the forms of philos and agape) animates and guides wisdom and knowledge. Love animates wisdom and knowledge by instilling within the desire for wisdom and knowledge a thirst for justice and goodness. Justice, because without true freedom, covenant relationships cannot be formed and true philosophy cannot happen, and truth because without a desire for the Good – meaning the right way for the Good life to be provided for all people. Thus, love instills in wisdom and knowledge and ethical bent or focus, which makes it always “wisdom for” and “knowledge for.” Love makes sure that knowledge and wisdom are always directed outwards, towards the Other and for the Other. In this way, love makes a demand on wisdom and knowledge, that they model Christ.
Recognizing love in the forms of both philos and agape are important in this schema. Philos in the Greek means “sibling-like love.” Having this kind of love for others means that one respects the Other and treats them as one close to them, like a sibling. This would mean for philosophy that debates be focused on the argument at hand, not ad hominem criticisms of the other. It provides a regulating force for discourse, a litmus test for what is “in” or “out” not based on rules of logic alone (though they are important) but for what constitutes true and productive discourse.
While philos – love acts as a regulating force on philosophical discourse, agape – love acts as a guiding force for philosophical inquiry. Agape in Greek means “unconditional love” and is the kind of love which God is described as having for humans. Having such love for humans and Creation is, it could be argued, something to which all Christians are called to aspire, inasmuch as they are called to mirror Christ in their thoughts, words, and deeds. For philosophy, agape – love provides the animating principle, as stated above; it is what drives philosophical inquiry. Having this love means that one has the desire to improve life for all and therefore it guides philosophical inquiry away from semantic debates and jargon-riddled discourse towards topics which affect humans and Creation on the ground. Thus, agape – love makes all philosophical inquiry investigations with profound ethical importance, which engages and emancipates humanity and Creation from those unhelpful activities which cause damage and prevent the possibility of covenantal relationships. With both kinds of love as animating and guiding parameters, philosophy ceases to be a discipline followed only by those in “ivory towers” concerned with problems which have no bearing on live lived “on the ground.” Love keeps philosophy focused on promoting the Good and keeping a truly collegial atmosphere as it goes about its business.
So far, the type of philosophy proposed in this essay is centrally founded in grace, requires wisdom, and is animated by love. While we have been rather “down” on knowledge thus far, this is because so much of philosophical discourse since the Enlightenment has privileged epistemology over all other forms of philosophy. Thus, one’s “theory of knowledge” becomes the most important aspect of one’s overall philosophy. I would argue that one’s “theory of knowledge” ought to be of secondary consideration.
At bottom, for a way of philosophy such as been proposed in this essay to really work ultimately, one must reject the Cartesian dictum, cogito, ergo sum, in favor of pertineo, ergo sum. Moving from “I think therefore I am” to “I relate, therefore I am” moves one away from the possibility of an autonomous philosophy, in which the individual perceiver is given paramount importance. It also moves away from a profoundly other-oriented philosophy in which the position of the thinker is ignored in order to bring out “the thing itself.” To believe truly that pertineo, ergo sum is to believe that one is always relating, to one’s physical body, to Creation, to the possibility of the Divine or Infinite. Immediately when a human comes into the world, they are relating. One only needs to be present at the birth of a human to realize that this is fundamentally true! Thus, if we take grace to be the ontological engine of the philosophical enterprise proposed in this essay, relation provides the primary strata, the philosophical “starting point” of all inquiry.
All of this, however, is not to reject the importance of knowledge to philosophy. Without “knowing something” one cannot have wisdom. Learning is by necessity the acquisition of knowledge which, combined with grace and love, ought to give birth to wisdom, helping one to “find one’s way.” The caveat which has been trumpeted throughout this essay however is that the acquisition of knowledge is not an end in itself; it must be for something. Knowledge alone is not enough to see one’s way through a difficulty. Wisdom is required as well.
It is important to note here that, for the hard sciences, one might give more primacy to knowledge than we have here. For the hard sciences, techne (technique, skill) is vitally important in using the complex machines and performing the complex mathematical calculations that is required for these fields of inquiry. Wisdom, as we have so described it here, may, for these fields have the position that knowledge does in ours – it is necessary, but, as defined, less important that technique for the most point. However, to neglect the importance of wisdom or that wisdom even exists as such would be a grave mistake for the hard sciences or for any field of inquiry.
 Engaging with the thought of Karl Barth has been extremely helpful in thinking through the importance of grace, and especially the necessity of a robust and perhaps central Christology.
 The notion of “Jesus as wisdom” is strongly developed by St. Bonaventure in his The Journey of the Mind to God, often read as a mystical text but which is actually more akin to a “university sermon.” The text describes the trifold relation between spiritual piety, right action in the world (justice) and the vitality/importance of intellectual training and pursuits. In many ways, the philosophy proposed in this essay attempts to hold this trifold relation together as important for human flourishing.
 Thus we can affirm with Lambert Zuidervaart the important place artistic endeavors have in pursuing truth, but also in exposing and liberating Creation from the shackles of bondage.
 The parameters for the possibility of covenant relationships are above all what is most to be protected during discourse. This is not, however, to sacrifice the possibility that one or both parties involved in the discourse may be truly wrong. Rather, philos – love demands that one see to “the plank in my eye” before vociferously and obnoxiously noting the speck one perceives in the eye of the Other.
 This is exactly the argument of Dirk T.H. Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd, the founders of the Reformational philosophical tradition. They (and I) privilege ontology over epistemology. The main difference between us is the necessity of an explicit “ethical turn” in all philosophical undertakings. This is perhaps something Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd would agree with, but were not so forthcoming about in their own work.
 Pertineo is chosen because it is a verb which means “to relate” but also carries the connotations of belonging, extending, pertaining to, and concern.
 Thus, it rejects any philosophy or science which claims total objectivity.