The Socratic Dialectic: A Model Worth Following … To An Extent

Book referred to: Samuel E. Stumpf, “Socrates to Sartre and Beyond” in Philosophy: History and Problems, S. E. Stumph and J. Fieser. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003. pp. 39-42.  All quotes are to be found in pages 39-42.

Socrates is one of the most famous classical philosophers for his lasting contributions to Western thought and modern philosophy.  What Socrates is probably most well-known for today is his method teaching and of arriving at truth, which he called dialectic.  This rather simplistic method is “the practice of disciplined conversation.” The parties involved in the dialogue would begin by discussing any problem and throughout the course of the dialogue, they would be forced to clarify their ideas until they arrived at a clear statement of the truth of that problem.  One key aspect of Socrates’ dialectic  was the use of questions to force another to either clarify his proposition or to force him to reconsider his position.  (An example of Socrates’ dialectic Plato’s Euthypro which you can read here.  It’s not long.)  Socrates poked and prodded at his audience’s ideas with his questions, working under the assumption “that by progressively correcting incomplete or inaccurate notions, [he] could coax the truth out of” him and expose any contradiction in their ideas so that they would abandon what they at first believed.  Socrates’ method invites the audience to be active participants in the search for truth.

The Socratic dialogue is an excellent model for Christians to use in not only education but in evangelization and apologetics as well (hereafter, both evangelization and apologetics are both referred to as evangelization).  only to a certain extent.  When speaking with unbelievers, we must be careful to avoid Socrates’ assumption that truth can be coaxed out of the subject. When it comes to the truth of the gospel – that a person is a sinner and, apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, he is separated from God. The truth of one’s stance before God is not something that can be “coaxed” out of the unbeliever through a series of probing and clarifying questions. A sinner does not recognize that he is a sinner unless it is revealed to him by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.

What role, then, can questions play in evangelization if one cannot draw out from the unbeliever the truth of the Gospel?  We learn from Socrates that questions place the onus on the audience to “see” Socrates’ logic in order to lead them to his conclusion. Socrates’ hope is that the audience is persuaded, through their participation in the dialogue, to at the very least see the error of their own view, and at best to accept Socrates’ conclusion. The dialogues, as Plato presents them, poses a problem for the believer, however. It seems that Socrates often leaves the dialogue open-ended (that is, with no explicitly-stated solution to the question originally posed), or he leaves the audience to infer the conclusion he sought to argue. When it comes to proclaiming the truth of the gospel, leaving a conversation open-ended or the unbeliever to infer what the gospel says of their place before God can pose problems. For instance, the unbeliever may infer an incorrect conclusion that leads them further away from the truth of the gospel. Leaving a conversation open-ended allows for multiple interpretations, potentially leaving the unbeliever to accept what makes sense to them as opposed to what the gospel truly teaches. As such, the Socratic dialogue is a helpful evangelistic too, but only to an extent.

In light of this, then, let us follow the example of Jesus Christ, who Himself utilized dialogue when teaching his disciples and small groups, when evangelizing, and when confronting the Pharisees.  Unlike Socrates, who used questions to coax the truth out of another, Jesus used questions to lead others to the truth.  Jesus, the Word of God in flesh, the Truth, then proclaimed the truth of God to an unbelieving people, blinded by sin, incapable of knowing the truth of the gospel in and of themselves.  Jesus always led his audience to an explicit answer so that they may hear the truth, not merely infer it. Even the parables were such that the audience would be able to link the parable to teachings found in the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament). In short, Jesus’ questions were purposeful; he led his audience to his intended conclusion. May we be as Jesus when we proclaim the gospel.  We as Christians can follow Socrates’ dialectic when evangelizing, but only to an extent.

Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project – Evangelical Philosophical Society

I am a little behind in discovering this, but EPS has begun what they’ve titled as the “Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project,” which took shape after Paul Moser’s paper titled “Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United.” among other works of his.  One great aspect about this project is that all papers submitted under this project is free to every one, so if you are not a member of EPS, you can still access and download the papers under this project.  You can access the homepage for the Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project here, at which you can access all of the papers submitted thus far in response to Moser and others.

This is indeed, in my opinion, a much needed project, especially among evangelicals, as confusion over the role of philosophy in theology reigns in evangelical circles.  And, as Christians who are interested in philosophy and seek to serve our Lord through philosophy, this project can help to further define and clarify what Christian philosophy is and how a believer can confidently serve the church through philosophy.

Take a gander at this great resource.  I’ve already download Moser’s first article and look forward to reading subsequent articles.

Descartes and Augustine’s “City of God” XI.26

Descartes is most well known for his “I think, therefore I am.”  Bent on finding certainty upon which to build his beliefs and non-basic knowledge, Descartes wielded his method of doubt like a machete, undercutting all of his beliefs, allowing them to fall into uncertainty.  Like the skeptics, Descartes was perhaps reacting against the various competing truth claims of his day, and resorts to doubt as his answer to the problem.  Unlike the skeptics, though, Descartes doesn’t use the method of doubt to undercut certainty and knowledge; rather, doubt serves as his route to certainty.  Hence, his “I think, therefore I am” grounds certainty in the very fact that he is doubting, and because he knows that he doubts, he can know certainly that he exists.  From this vein of though, Descartes is able to develop his version of the Ontological Argument for God’s existence and to distinguish between foundational and non-foundational beliefs (I realize that this discussion is broad in nature and misses out on the nuances of Descartes’ method; my purpose, though, is to provide a basic picture of his method. To do otherwise would bog down this post).

Roughly 1100 years prior to Descartes, Augustine arrives at the certainty of his existence in a similar manner as that of Descartes.  In City of God, Book XI.26, Augustine discusses how the image of the Trinity is recognized in humanity to an extent.  The image of the Trinity in mankind is not “adequate,” but is a “very distant parallel” (City of God XI.26, trans. Bettenson).  He further states: “We resemble the divine Trinity in that we exist; we know that we exist, and we are glad  of this existence and this knowledge” (XI.26; emphasis mine).  That one can have “the certainty that I exist…is independent of any imaginary and deceptive fantasies.”

This certainty of one’s existence is contra the philosophy of the Academics who question whether one can be mistaken or deceived about his own existence. Bettenson, in footnote 48 (p. 460) notes that Augustine here refers to the “philosophers of the ‘Second Academy’ who followed Arcesilaus of Pitane…in adopting the scepticism (sic) of Pyrrhon of Ellis.”  In response to the skepticism of the Academics regarding one’s existence, Augustine states:

In respect of these truths, I am not at all afraid of the arguments of the Academicians, who say, What if you are deceived? For if I am deceived, I [exist]. For he who [does not exist], cannot be deceived; and if I [exist] deceived, by this same token I [exist]. And since I [exist] if I am deceived, how am I deceived in believing that I [exist]? For it is certain that I [exist] if I am deceived. Since, therefore, I, the person deceived, should [exist], even if I were deceived, certainly I am not deceived in this knowledge that I [exist]. And, consequently, neither am I deceived in knowing that I know. For, as I know that I [exist], so I know this also, that I know. And when I love these two
things, I add to them a certain third thing, namely, my love, which is of equal moment. For neither am I deceived in this, that I love, since in those things which I love I am not deceived; though even
if these were false, it would still be true that I loved false things. For how could I justly be blamed and prohibited from loving false things, if it were false that I loved them? But, since they are true
and real, who doubts that when they are loved, the love of them is itself true and real? Further, as there is no one who does not wish to be happy, so there is no one who does not wish to be. For
how can he be happy, if he is nothing? (trans. Marcus Dods, ec. Philip Schaff,

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Final Thoughts – Philosophy, Just Do It

This post concludes my interview with Dr. Mark Coppenger (SBTS) in 2007 on the role of philosophy for the believer.  Here I offered my thoughts on my interview with Dr. Coppenger; I post my thoughts from 2007 unchanged for my sentiments remain the same.  I hope to write another post soon tying together my interviews with Drs. Cabal and Coppenger.


Many people view, study and even teach philosophy as if it were just a collection of thoughts and ideas from the past with no real bearing on our lives today.  Dr. Coppenger likens this to the insect trapped in amber – it’s something interesting to look at, but it’s dead and useless.  Philosophy, however, is not a passive discipline. Continuing with Dr. Coppenger’s illustration, we should “crack open the amber, fire up that insect, and fly it around the room.”  In other words, we should interact freely with philosophy, for the issues dealt with in the past are practically the same issues we deal with today.  Rather than just merely studying philosophy, we should do philosophy as we study the thoughts and ideas of the past and seek to answer today’s questions.

I’ve had the opportunity to sit in three of Dr. Coppenger’s philosophy courses in the past two years – Apologetics, Worldviews, and Ethics – and he teaches philosophy the way he learned it, by getting right into the issues and getting your hands dirty.  Every night in class, we cracked open more amber-trapped insects and flew them around them room.  Though this form of learning is quite different from that which I’m used to (straight lecture), Dr. Coppenger taught me how to look at issues and what questions to ask – he taught me how to do philosophy.  More importantly, though, I realized how lazy a thinker I’d been and how I took for granted my beliefs.  So, I encourage you, if you have the opportunity to study under Dr. Coppenger, do it.  You will be challenged and stretched, but will learn much in the end.

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Part II

This is the second part of a three part series of an interview I did with Dr. Mark Coppenger (SBTS) in 2007 on the role of philosophy for the believer.

Danny:  I would venture to say that a small majority of Christians are called to study philosophy.  What would you say those Christians who are not called to study philosophy?  What are some things that you feel they can do to at least to be familiar with philosophy?

Dr. Coppenger:  I will first say this, that there are very few philosophers who write clearly.  You don’t have to be obscure to be a philosopher.  But, there are people who explain philosophy [clearly].  For example, the book Philosophy for Dummies by Tom Morris.  He has a Southern Baptist background and has taught at Notre Dame.   Just as I right now am listening to a book tape about basic economics during the Great Depression, and I am doing more particular studies of American painters from the Hudson Valley School, I broaden myself to see what’s out there.  People should become familiar with what’s out there and know the tools.

I think a simple course in logic is not a bad thing.  You have what’s called formal logic, which is like mathematics or geometry where you have symbols.  [And you have]  informal logic, where you go over the fallacies, where you can recognize what an ad hominem argument is, where you attack the person instead of his ideas. Where you can recognize an over-worked appeal to pity where you get the audience crying and off the issue.  A little review of those fallacies [would be beneficial].  To commit a fallacy doesn’t mean that your point is false, it just means that you got there in a cheesy way.  So, a little bit of that is good.

Socrates over said it when he said an unexamined life is not worth living.  I think a lot of unexamined things are worth living.  That doesn’t mean we commit suicide if we haven’t examined our lives.  But, I think that if you are raising your kids with a very firm conviction – this is what patriotism is, this is what kind of art should be on our wall, this is what zoning laws ought to be, this is how we should treat Shariah law if it crops up in our neighborhood – if you are teaching those things, I think there should always be a desire to walk around the issue, to be reflective.

As John Milton, I believe, said, “It is good to be promiscuous readers.”  By promiscuous, he didn’t mean reading tawdry books, but to be well read.  It turns out that a lot of philosophy in journals of opinion.  If you read New Republic, Weekly Standard, or Books and Culture, they are doing philosophical sorts of things.  If want to stand back and look at where something leads, be a reader; just be a reader.  You’ll discover as you read broadly that you’ve been breathing in philosophy and speaking philosophy.  It’s really rational, thoughtful reflection on the bigger questions of life.  It used to be that philosophers were cosmologists and they were dealing with things such as: What is the universe?  Is it earth, air, fire and water?  But, Plato really set the table.  Alfred North Whitehead said that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato.  What Plato did is, dialogue by dialogue, he put out a human concern so that, in one dialogue you talked about justice.  In other dialogues: friendship, courage, love, knowledge, art and beauty.  We’ve been wrestling with those questions ever since.  What is a just state supposed to be like?  What is it to be virtuous?  If I go into a 7-11, there’s beer in the back of the store and I know that I shouldn’t drink beer, is it more virtuous for me to struggle?  So I walk past the beer section several times and fight the urge and then get in the car?  Is that more virtuous, to fight the good fight every day?  Or, is it more virtuous to have a habit of not even going near the beer and it’s nothing to you?  Well, Aristotle would suggest that virtue is a habit.  What is praiseworthy?  What is to be sought – to be constantly fighting, or to have a more automatically thoughtful life?  Virtue, that’s an issue.  Courage, is it courage to get up and charge a machine gun [in war], or is it courageous to wait until dark and sneak around the flank?  What is courage?  So, just understand that the conversation has been going on for a millennia and it’s great to get in on it because it has to do with how you live your life.

One of the great fun things of philosophy is that its subject is everything.  If I am in organic chemistry, I’m going to be really focusing on amino acids and things like that, but in philosophy, one does everything from analyzing a presidential speech, to fighting off Richard Dawkins on atheism, to dealing at a block party whether or not [theneighborhood association] should have a green friendly lawn care service.  You do ethics, you do arts, etc.  Anything is out there.  There is philosophy of sports, philosophy of arts, etc.  It’s just great fun to have the worldview picture.

Danny:  So, it’s not something we should be afraid of.  Granted, there have been many weird philosophers out there, and in general, that’s probably what most people see and are afraid of letting their kids or themselves be exposed to.  But, being ground in God’s Word, Christians should not be afraid to go out there and get our hands dirty.

Dr. Coppenger:  It’s kind of the same as theology.  There’s a lot of scary theology and a lot of people have been messed up by theology, but there is a lot of wonderful theology in doing theology once you see how it covers and connects all kinds of stuff.  That’s a joy too.

Danny:  Is there anything else that you would like to add to those interested in studying more philosophy?

Dr. Coppenger:  It seems to me, and this is good for preaching as well, that if you are a promiscuous reader, in the good sense, then your vocabulary grows, you see things that you’ve not seen before and then you walk with people around an issue.  It’s when we become so insulated that we don’t get to test our ideas against anything else, so our mettle isn’t tested and tried in the fire.  Then we are always sort of frightened or vulnerable.  Now, we do understand that the Bible is true, we don’t have to re-establish that, so we’re not afraid that the Bible will be disproved or that we’ll lose our salvation.  But, you really want to be in there pitching thoughtfully when the ideas are flying around the room.  The more you read, the more you have illustrations, the more you see connections.  With writing, writing is re-writing.  You put an idea down and you walk away from it, then you look back and keep refining it.  Again, it’s an uncommonly stubborn attempt to think clearly, and you can watch people do it and you can join in on it.  C. S. Lewis models this beautifully.  Read how he wrestles with ideas in the book God and the Dock, where deals with the humanitarian theory of punishment.  He lines out four theories of punishment and walks around each theory, pressing and pressing each one to determine which is actually more humanitarian.  Again, a beautiful model of philosophy.

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012

Machen on False Ideas

Here’s a quote from J. Gresham Machen shared by Dr. James Parker today:

“False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.” J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” Princeton Theological Review 11 (1913): 7.

If we are uneducated in the history of philosophy – the history of ideas – then how can we be aware of these false ideas that we are to “destroy…at its root”?  As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the son,” and this goes with philosophies and theories floating around today.  The ideas of today are grounded in ideas of the past (recent and the distant past); to destroy the false ideas of today, we need to be familiar with the history of philosophy and its current developments.

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Part I cont’d

This is a continuation of Dr. Coppenger’s background in philosophy and the misconceptions he’s seen others have of philosophy.  

Danny: Having that background and with your experience in philosophy, what are some misconceptions that Christians have and how would you answer them?

Dr. Coppenger:  First, let me mention one misconception that I had [of philosophy].  I did not receive this misconception from my dad or my teachers in college, but I thought you would learn what everybody said, and the more you did philosophy, the more you learned what everybody said.  Then you would recite what philosophers said, lining each of them up together and comparing their views.  Basically, I thought philosophy was a matter of assimilation, mastery and the like.

Early on, however, in grad school at Vanderbilt, I discovered that philosophy was something that you did, not just something that you absorbed or memorized.  Our class would have a two-hour discussion about one paragraph in a book by Alvin Plantinga, or Norman Malcum, or someone like this.  We would bring papers and just have at each other, discussing and critiquing each other’s view.  It was the oddest thing, but I came to realize that they were training me to be one who did philosophy, not just one who knew a lot about philosophy.  So, that’s flowed over into my understanding of philosophy.  Basically, you are not just filling notebooks, but you are trying to prompt people to be discursive, profitable, imaginative, critical thinkers.  When you are in the teacher’s lounge or on radio on an interview, you can’t say “I got to run back to my house to get my notebooks from seventeen years ago.”  You’re just doing it.  They will throw you curves.  So, you’re really developing the capacity to sort things out in conversation – to do reduction to absurdity, or spot a fallacy, or explore implications, that sort of thing.

Danny: And that’s exactly how you taught us in your classes, to get down, get your hands dirty and just do it.

Dr. Coppenger:  That’s just all I learned to do in graduate school.  I had one or two courses where we just filled our notebooks, but for the most part … I mean, I remember my first Plato course, the very first class I had in graduate school, and I thought that we were going to learn everything that Plato said and that was the whole thing.  Then we could learn to talk like learned Plato people.  But, the instructor was actually taking Plato seriously.  We’d read a page, and he’d ask, “Is Plato wrong here, or did he leave something out?”  Some would say, “Of course he’s wrong, he’s old!  That’s obviously something trapped in amber and we can just study it as something interesting.”  Not him, he cracked the amber open, we fired that insect up and flew around the room.  That’s what I learned.

I think, rightfully and understandably, people in the churches think of philosophy as something dangerous.  The only use of the word ‘philosophy’ in the Bible is in Colossians where we are warned not to let anybody spoil us through philosophy.  Paul is mixing it up with Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17 on Mars Hill and they’re not on boards as evangelicals so to speak.  What’s happened today in a lot of cases in the state universities and colleges , you’ll have a burned out preacher or someone who didn’t believe much the Bible who end up getting into philosophy and their job seems to be to undermine the faith of the students.  So, the church sends somebody off to some state university and they’ll come home and don’t even believe what they learned in Sunday School.   These professors are talking about deconstructionism, they’re doing Derrida this and Foucault that, and it’s just lunacy.  Many people have seen their children and friends ruined by philosophy.

What most Christians don’t understand is that, in the history of philosophy, many great philosophers have been very serious Christians.  We just happen to be in a kind of a trough right now.  Now, I will have to say that there is a rebirth of Christian philosophy.  There are a lot of prominent philosophers that are believers.  So that’s changing.  But, philosophers have done a lot of damage, a lot of them think they’re smarter than the Bible, and they will take God out of the equation.  As Herschel Hobbs said, they’re like the paper airplanes with the rubber band engine – you twist the propeller, let it go, and you don’t know where it’s going to land.  These guys are flying all over the place.  In one of my classes this semester, Environmental Ethics, we learned about Peter Singer, who states that all cynthian (sic) beings are essentially alike, so if you think that man is more valuable than animals, then you are guilty of speciesism.  That’s just a wacky thing to say.  But if you take God out of the equation and you’re reasoning by yourself, there’s no telling where land.

So, I think that philosophy is something that people can be wary of; however, once they realize that there are some pretty strong Christian philosophers in history and today, then they can understand it’s [value].  I think it was William James who said that philosophy is an uncommonly stubbornly attempt at thinking clearly.  I like that definition.  It’s like the why question that kids ask where they keep asking the reason for something; philosophers are just that annoying.  They’re essentially pressing, pressing, pressing.  Most people work at a pretty superficial level.  They throw their slogan out, the other guy throws his slogan out.  You do your superficial shot, he does his superficial shot, and you just kind of huff and puff and go on, either saying “It’s all relative” or “I can’t talk to that guy.”  Whereas, the philosopher tries to say “Let’s examine this; let’s walk around this a little bit.  Why don’t you distill your position into a proposition?  Let’s put that out onto the table.”  If that’s true, you start to dig into the implications.  That is not what people normally do.  They’re not so careful in their thinking.  They’re more like launching bombs at each other.

So, I think that Christians can appreciate the role of a philosopher.  God gave us reason.  If you are like a couch potato and all you do is eat pork rinds and watch Home Shopping Network, then you are going to turn into Jobba the Hut on the couch; you are not being a steward of your body.  God gave you that body.  What I’m saying is that if all you do is listen mindlessly to music and work with slogans, never really pursuing an issue, then your mind is going to be a couch potato.  Philosophers are inclined, along with other academicians, to force us to do some calisthenics.  It’s not just the exercise, though; it’s the genuine pursuit of clarity of truth.  The Bible doesn’t speak explicitly about a number of things.  It doesn’t say whether numbers are actually eternal or whether they are logical constructions of humans.  It doesn’t say what cloning ought to be like or whether Rembrant is a better painter than Monet.  It doesn’t say whether democracy is better than oligarchy.  There are many things we deal with as humans that the Bible does not address explicitly, so then we turn to our reason.  Now, when theorizing gets so precise that you could mathematize something – for example, the early philosophers would talk about the cosmos, but after a while, physicists got to work and they got very precise and were able to formulate things of the cosmos – it becomes science.  There are many things that scientists can do.  But, there are things that cannot be settled by Scripture or by science.  For instance, what is the nature of science?  Science does not settle this.  Or, what is good art?  Or, what form of government is most prudent?  What about the separation of Church and State?  There is so much that people want to talk about and deal with that philosophers step in and they wrestle with these things.

G. K. Cherston says that if you don’t have a well thought out philosophy, then philosophy will have you.  You’ve got to be somewhere.  When George Bush says that we’ve got to bring democracy to the world, then we need to ask: “Alright, is that true, or is it that some people can’t handle democracy? ” Some would probably need a strongman in charge rather than a legislature.  Well, I can’t turn to Zechariah 3:12 or Matthew 4:5, so you do political philosophy.  If I’m trying to say: “Chicago shouldn’t spend $4 million to buy this piece of sculpture for Grant Park,” I can’t turn to Genesis 4:2 and say that this thing is shaped like a jelly bean, so it ought not be there.  Instead you do aesthetics.  So, that’s the sort of thing we’re talking about.

The next part in this interview deals with how Christians can become familiar with philosophy.

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2013

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Part I

This post, and the subsequent posts, originally appeared in my now defunct blog “Musings of a Wannabemuser.”  I want to repost this interview with Dr. Mark Coppenger of SBTS as it fits within the purpose of my blog and he offers some key insight into the role of philosophy for the believer.  I have left what I wrote in 2007 intact.

I had an opportunity to interview with Dr. Mark Coppenger, Professor of Christian Apologetics, of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on October  9, 2007. This interview is the second part of an indefinite number of interviews designed to show the value of philosophy to the Christian faith.  What I intend to do in this interview is not to raise philosophy to a high standard such that it replaced the Gospel; rather, I want to make an awareness of its importance in the life of the believer and of the Church. 

Two primary areas are dealt with in this interview: general misconceptions of philosophy held by Christians and the professor’s answers to these misconceptions, and what Christians can do to familiarize themselves with philosophy.  As with my interview with Dr. Cabal, I first begin with Dr. Coppenger’s own ‘testimony’  in regards to philosophy.In editing the interview transcript, I try to keep it as close as possible to the actual interview.  By allowing this transcript to read conversationally as it appears on the recorded version, I intend for the professor’s thoughts to remain intact while avoiding the mistake of my editing misconstruing his intention.  I did clean up some obvious grammatical errors (mostly on my part!), make some clarifications, and leave out some redundant statements.  Overall, this transcript closely matches the recorded interview which I hope to post soon (as soon as I figure out how to post a file in .wav format).

Danny:  What is your history with philosophy – how did you come to know that you have a joy for it?  Did you ever have misconceptions about philosophy, and how do you answer those misconceptions?

Dr. Coppenger: My dad had a Doctorate in Church History and he taught at Baptist schools – Carson Newman, Belmont and Ouachita.  There weren’t a lot of trained Southern Baptist Philosophers back then, so they would draft some of the religion teachers and bible teachers, and he was drafted to teach philosophy.  So, I grew up on family trips hearing him talk in passing about philosophical things.  He would have names out there like Plato, or dialectical materialism, or metaphysics, and I just thought that was about the grandest thing on earth.  I would ask him questions about this and that, and in my junior high years, I remember thinking that [philosophy] was interesting.  Every now and then I would pick up one of his textbooks – he was teaching Church History, Greek, Theology and other things, but he also had this going – and so, I became interested in it.  Philosophy wasn’t, then, sort of scary or other-worldly, it was just something my dad did.

It was the 60s when I was in college (I started college in ’66 and graduated in ’70).  There was a lot of upheaval – cultural and intellectual upheaval: old verities were being questioned, there was innumerality, they were burning flags, anarchy was exotic, and people were smoking dope and having sex and all that kind of stuff.  Also floating around the campuses were some pretty strong anti-Christian thoughts (not my campus – Ouachita).  You had logical positivism – all religious talk is meaningless (Bertrand Russell, A. J. Ayer).  Then you had existentialists, people who were following John Paul Sartre; it was all just a sort of subjectivity, dread, cynicism and meaninglessness.  So, I got a missionary sense, like, “Wouldn’t it be great to be a Christian in the midst of all of this, to be a voice representing the truths of the Bible, yet philosophically competent?”  And so, I felt called.  My dad’s formula back then for God’s call was to follow your bent – your inclinations.  Look for the gleam as you take steps – is there a sense of rightness and wholeness?  Then, watch for open doors.  Well, the door opened, and I got a full scholarship to Vanderbilt.  One thing led to another, and I had my Ph. D.  So, it was basically hanging around my dad – picking up the language and being intrigued by it, pursuing it and then seeing it as a mission field.

Danny:  So you didn’t really grow up with some misconceptions about philosophy because you saw it practiced?

Dr. Coppenger:  Right.  My dad was a supply preacher and he taught at the college.  I would go with him as he preached at churches across Arkansas.  He was very sound.  My mother was a WMU leader.  So, we weren’t on the fringes of anything.  He just made it very normal that you would do [philosophy].

to be continued in another post…

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012

Philosophy and Patristics

I want to point you to another blog that basically has the same purpose as my blog: Philosophy and Patristics.  While the blog’s “About” page does not contain any information, the subheading speaks volumes about the purpose of the blog: “Explorations in the Convergence between Christianity and Philosophy in Late Antiquity.”

Because Philosophy and Patristics has been around longer than this blog, much has been written that I had planned on writing about.  So, instead of re-inventing the wheel, I will point you to some posts that I find useful.  Today, I want to point you to a post titled “Principles for Patristics” in which the author provides a list of links to various posts within the blog that provide a guide on how to read the patristic fathers.  To pique your interest, here is the list of topics “Principles for Patristics” covers:

  1. Primary Sources
  2. Original Languages
  3. Lost in Translation
  4. Lather, Rinse, and Repeat
  5. Asking the Right Question
  6. Confirmation Bias
  7. Guilt by Association
  8. Rhetoric and the Difficulty of Interpretation


The Church Fathers on the Web: “Read the Fathers” blog:

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on this site!  Such is the life of a seminary student.  Nevertheless, I would like to share a great blog that I stumbled upon: “Read the Fathers“, a blog devoted to the reading and discussion of the church fathers.

Church history is, in my opinion, a vital study for every believer to understand the history of our faith – the struggles over the development of doctrine and against heresy, the testimony of believers in the face of persecution, and the narrative of God’s redemption of His creation unto Himself.  In today’s rather pragmatic culture, the discipline of history has been relegated to the ivory tower or personal interests, and this is no less true for the church in America.  While I agree that not everyone has a bent to the study of history, history – specifically church history – is something that no Christian should relegate to seminarians.  Believers in the 21st century stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before us.

While all of church history is of value to study, I have recently found the early church fathers a fascinating study, for their work laid the foundation for generations to come.  The professor who has had the biggest impact on my love for church history – particularly the early church fathers – is Dr. Michael Haykin, whose stress  on reading the original sources over secondary sources helps to bring alive Christian church in its infancy.  (You can read Dr. Haykin’s blog here:

With all this said, take a look at and follow their blog, their reading plan, and even their recommended reading.


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