The Role of Philosophy for the Seminarian: Part III of my Interview with Dr. Cabal
Editing note: As I have re-read these posts, it seemed to me that the first paragraph of Part III did not quite fit with the question it falls under, so I’ve taken the last question from Part II and combined it with what was the first paragraph of Part III.
So, in essence, it seems like as Christians we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to philosophy?
Dr. Cabal: I think so. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.
That is certainly correct, and it’s one reason, even though I’m embarrassed and ashamed of my early views of how I ridiculed philosophy, I am not ashamed nor unhappy that my earliest years in the faith were spent immersed in Scripture. And, in one sense, I’m grateful that most of my early years were spent memorizing and studying the Bible text and learning bible languages, more than they were spent doing anything else, and for that I’m grateful. So, I would argue that the seminary student should make sure they never fall in love with philosophy more than the Bible. If you feel that happening, you got a problem. [This paragraph was initially under the following question but has been moved for a better reading.]
What role should philosophy play for the seminarian: the seminarian called to study philosophy (for one does not want to hold the study of philosophy above the study of God’s Word) and the seminarian not called to study philosophy?
Dr. Cabal: There’s a difference between knowing you’re called to study philosophy and you love what you’re doing. I’m not called to be a bible scholar; one time I thought I was and spend years studying biblical languages. But that doesn’t mean that just because I’m not called to do biblical theology today as my primary vocation, that I don’t still regard it as the highest form of knowledge, higher than simply the servant or instrument – philosophy. Nonetheless, I do love philosophy, I love what I do, I love getting to study it. But, I don’t place it higher in my affections than I do God’s Word. So I hope that seminary students, and perhaps some will find this funny because they’ll go, “How will anyone fall in love with philosophy? That’s only for strange people.” There are some of us who actually do love to study philosophy and want to keep it in its rightful place.
I would say for the average student that maybe doesn’t love philosophy so much, but maybe sees the value of it - I would recommend, even though this isn’t normally the way seminary curricula are designed, I actually believe that history of philosophy is better as a way to acquaint oneself with philosophy and to discover its usefulness for a Christian, than it is to take an intro course. Intro to Philosophy or Intro to Philosophy of Religion is by no means unhelpful – I teach it and am glad I do so. But, often times, students find it difficult jumping from subject to subject and keeping it all connected. I do think, in hearing lots of names of philosophers, and systems and big words, those can easily be more of the focus than the big picture.
I find that the study of the history of philosophy introduces us to the very same concepts, but in the way in which those ideas develop in a giant conversation, or what we can say is more than two millennia old conversation in the human race that over time became intricately involved with the church, and its best thinkers took up the conversation and its brought us to where we are today; thus, I wish all seminary students were required to at least have one semester of the history of philosophy where they immerse themselves in an introduction to the history of ideas to see how virtually everything, including science, theology, and culture in general, have become what they are primarily due to the interaction of great philosophers thinking along the way. So, my suggestion for the seminary student is – you may be called or required to study intro courses, but, if possible, try to get some grounding in the history of philosophy, even if it comes about through your own reading of, say, one or two one-volume histories of philosophy.