Tag Archives: Christian Philosophy

ETS/EPS 2017

I’m heading to Providence, Rhode Island for my first ETS/EPS Annual Meeting.


I will be presenting a paper titled: “Peter Martyr Vermigli’s Account of Petitionary Prayer: A Reformation Alternative to Contemporary Two-Way Contingency Accounts.” Basically I present a view of petitionary prayer which bucks contemporary trends and is faithful to classical theism and Reformed theology. You can see me present it on Thursday, 11am at the Omni as a part of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

On another note here are a few sessions I’m looking forward to:

  1. Jonathan Rutledge -Wesleyan Sanctification and Purgatory: Solutions from the Philosophy of Time
  2. Joshua Farris – This is My Beloved Son Whom I Hate, A Critique of Penal Substitution
  3. William Lane Craig – Eleonore Stump’s of Reformation Penal Substitution Atonement Theories
  4. C. Stephen Evans – Why Reformation Christians Should Be catholic Christians
  5. Trinitarian Theology Panel – Sanders, McCall, Stamps,
  6. Engaging Diverse Views of the Church’s Mission – Sexton, Leithart, Leeman, Wright, Frank
  7. Analytic Theology: Prayer – Wessling, McCall, McMartin, Inman

If you are there and want to connect at some point, contact me through Twitter: @CWoznicki



Philosophy and the Christian (PFCW)

“To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” – C.S. Lewis in “Learning in Wartime”

When I told my high school math teacher that I was changing my college major to philosophy he wrote a letter to me and signed off with Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than Christ.” This teacher was certainly not the first person to react this way when I would tell them that I was getting my B.A. in Philosophy, from a secular university nonetheless!

Nowadays, however, there is a greater appreciation for philosophy among Christians. For many, however, it still echoes C.S. Lewis’ position quoted above – philosophy is a tool for defending the faith. In a sense that is true, often Apologetics is profoundly philosophical. However philosophy is so much more than that!

In their recent book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview 2nd Edition, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland put forth a convincing argument for why Philosophy, not just apologetics, is a good thing for Christians. They begin by appealing to philosophy_dictionarya lecture given by the former UN General Secretary, Charles Malik, at Wheaton. Malik said that evangelism was about “saving the soul and saving the mind.” By this Malik meant that there is an intellectual struggle going on in today’s universities and scholarly journals, which are inherently anti-Christian. Malik emphatically states, “For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ, as well as for their own sakes, evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence!” (Malik, The Two Tasks)

Part of recentering ourselves into a position of responsible intellectual existence, is the recovery of philosophy as a Christian task. Why? There are at least 3 reasons. First, philosophy is the foundation of The University. As the University goes, so goes culture. Second, pastors deal with peoples’ question about moral values, suffering, evil, religious skepticism, etc. Philosophy addresses all these issues. As Craig and Moreland say, “We do not know how one could minister effectively in a public way on our university campuses without training in philosophy.” (PFCW, 6) Third, not being “passive, sensate, busy and hurried, incapable of developing an interior life” is part of Christian discipleship. (PFCW, 6)  Philosophical thinking promotes the life of the mind, which in turn, affects our spirituality.

If those reasons don’t convince you that Christians should engage with philosophy, at least in some way, then perhaps the fact that theology necessarily interacts with philosophy will. What do I mean by that? I mean that all of our theological concepts have philosophical implications and that our philosophical assumptions have theological implications. Think for example about the concept of Justice. Theories of justice are common discussions among philosophers. These discussions trickle their way down into popular culture. The result is that you probably have adopted one of these theories of justice, and probably aren’t even aware of it. Your theory of justice, which you probably aren’t aware of, affects how you read biblical passages about justice and it affects how you think about God’s justice.  Or take another example, this time related to the philosophical concept of free will: “A psychologist reads the literature regarding identical twins who are reared in separate environments. He notes that they usually exhibit similar adult behavior. He then wonders if there is really any such thing as freedom of the will, and if not, he ponders what to make of moral responsibility and punishment.” (PFCW, 22) Whatever this psychologist decides on regarding his understanding of freedom will have profound theological impact. Is theological determinism compatible with moral responsibility? Can we be morally responsible if we are bound to sin according to the doctrine of Original Sin? After all, original sin, implies that it is inevitable we will sin. And what about God? Is God free to choose between genuine alternate possibilities? If not, is he really free? If so, does that mean that God must be able to choose between evil and good in order to be free? All of these are philosophical issues that make their way into theology. Or what about our doctrine of atonement? Most evangelicals believe in a doctrine of penal substitution. But is penal substitution just? Who dictates what is just and what is not? Is retributive punishment the best form of punishment? How can Christ take our punishment on our behalf? What makes it the case that we are united with Christ on the cross?  Again, all of these are philosophical questions with profound theological implications.


All of this is just to say, philosophy is important. Philosophy is a worthwhile task for Christians. Christians should not ignore philosophy. If you agree with any of these statements, or are open to exploring whether or not you agree with these statements I recommend the following books:

  1. God and the Philosophers edited by Tom Morris
  2. Philosophers Who Believe edited by Kelly Clark
  3. An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology by Tom McCall
  4. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland

My Paper on EFS is Now up on the Evangelical Philosophical Society Website

An Examination of Recent Philosophical Responses to Thomas McCall’s Argument Against Eternal Functional Subordination

by Christopher G. Woznicki

Since Thomas McCall first published Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of the Trinity in 2010 numerous papers have been written responding to his philosophical arguments against eternal functional subordination.

Among recent philosophical responses to McCall’s position a paper co-written by Philip Gons and Andrew Naselli and another by Bruce Ware stand out as the most significant. Gons and Naselli argue that McCall’s argument conflates the term “essentially” with “belonging to the essence.” Ware puts forth a reductio ad absurdum argument against McCall and shows McCall’s logic entails a denial of homoousios.

This paper enters into this debate by examining Gons and Naselli’s argument. It engages with recent philosophical literature dealing with the meaning of the term “essence” in order to show that their argument against McCall is unfounded.

The paper then turns to Ware’s argument to show that he has made a category mistake in comparing the property of being eternally begotten and the property of being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds. Having critically examined these recent philosophical responses to McCall we see that McCall’s argument still holds up against its objectors.

The full-text of this paper is available for FREE by clicking here.

Just What Exactly Is Analytic Theology?

All the time I’m asked, “just what is analytic theology?” And “what makes it different from philosophy of religion?” Or even better, “What makes it different from philosophical theology?” Well in a sense it is a form of philosophical theology but only more theological in nature…. My quick answer to the question “what is analytic theology?” Is that analytic theology is theology performed in an analytic key – that is it takes the form and virtues of analytic philosophy to do theology. Sometimes its hard to tell what is analytic theology and what isn’t but the reality is that analytic theology just “feels” analytic. You just know it when you see it. I realize that is not a very helpful definition and that really doesn’t get to the root of the problem. So to help bring a little more clarity, I want to refer you to a paper titled “Analytic Theology as a Way of Life” by William Wood.

In this paper he helps us distinguish between philosophy of religion, philosophical theology, and analytic theology. I find his remarks to be super helpful.

It is helpful to distinguish analytic theology from other related forms of philosophical and theological inquiry. Consider first analytic philosophy of religion. On my understanding, the specific task of analytic philosophy of religion is to use the tools of philosophy to investigate arguments for and against the existence of God, as well as to investigate the properties or attributes that the major monotheistic traditions would ascribe to God: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, and so forth. Philosophy of religion, in short, concerns what might be called (non-pejoratively, at least here) “bare theism.” In distinction from philosophy of religion, we next have philosophical theology. Philosophical theology, as I understand it, uses the tools of philosophy to investigate the theological claims made by a specific religious tradition. Thus, Christian philosophical theology investigates the meaning, coherence, and truth of specifically Christian doctrines like the trinity or the incarnation.

Where does this leave analytic theology? One might worry that analytic theology is just another name for analytic philosophical theology and not anything new or distinctive. In my view, however, this worry is spurious. It is true that there is no sharp distinction between analytic theology and analytic philosophical theology. Nevertheless, the label “analytic theology” functions as a quick and easy way of letting one know the nature of this particular kind of inquiry: it features certain presuppositions and assumptions but not others; it features a certain kind of writing; it appeals to some intellectual influences and interlocutors but not others; it features a certain kind of writing; it appeals to some intellectual influences and interlocutors but not others; it similarly presupposes a certain set of intellectual villains, and so on. The label “analytic theology” is better than the more venerable label of “philosophical theology” as a shorthand description for this kind of inquiry. It is better because it is more specific. There are many different kinds of intellectual work that can justifiably be called philosophical theology—Kant uses the term, Schleiermacher uses the term, and there are many forms of philosophical theology that have nothing to do with analytic philosophy. The label “analytic theology” describes those forms that do.

Two Concepts of Freedom in Galatians

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. – Paul in his Letter to the Galatians

At Soma (the college group I lead) we are currently in a series on Relationships – Where’s Your Heart. It’s a relationship series based upon the conviction that where your treasure is there your heart will also be. This series has led us to examine the purity of our hearts and the motives of our hearts in relationships. This weekend we turn to Paul’s thoughts on freedom.

The passage above is pretty straightforward – we have been called to be free. We are not under the law – we really are free! But what does that mean? What is freedom? I won’t get into this in this upcoming weekend’s sermon, however having some philosophical background for the concept of freedom really helps us understand this passage.

Two Concepts of Freedom

In 1958, Isaiah Berlin, delivered what is now considered a classic paper on the philosophy of freedom. The paper, titled: “Two Concepts of Freedom” lays out (quite obviously) two different concepts of freedom. The first is what he calls “negative freedom.” This type of freedom is concerned with the question “What is the area within which the subject- a person or group of persons – is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?” The second, which he calls positive freedom is concerned with the question “Who or who is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do or be this rather than that.” He says that these two versions of freedom are clearly different, yet at times they certainly overlap. Berlin is absolutely right – at times it is hard to determine which sort of freedom we are talking about.

So there you have it – at the most basic level there are two types of freedom: Negative and Positive. Just to reiterate – Negative freedom has to do with freedom from coercion – it could be considered “freedom from.” Positive freedom has to with powers and abilities – it could be considered “freedom too.” As an analytic political philosopher Berlin is actually concerned with issues revolving around citizens freedom in regards to governmental structures. He wants to know whether when we talk about citizens being free and the government encouraging freedom whether we are talking about negative or positive freedom. Should the government merely not interfere with citizens (negative freedom) or should the government enable citizens to express and live out their desires (positive freedom). I have thoughts about that – but this isn’t the place or time to address those issues – I want to turn my attention to Paul and his view on freedom in this Galatians passage.

Freedom in Galatians

Paul says

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

It seems to me that Paul has two versions of freedom that he is working with – yet its sort of tricky because he moves with ease between these two versions of freedom even within one verse! Paul certainly has negative freedom in mind when he talks about Christians being called to be free – we are free from the coercive powers of sin, death, and the law. But he also seems to imply that freedom is more than just being free from these things – freedom is being free to do other things as well: freedom to serve, freedom to love, freedom not to indulge in the flesh. In this other sense freedom is not simply the lack of coercion, its the power or ability to do what one actually wants. Freedom is a positive power – which is to be used in service and love. I believe that this is the primary mode of freedom within Paul’s thought. Paul (almost) always talks about freedom in a positive sense. Freedom in Christ isn’t primarily a freedom from other sorts of things which bind us (though it is that at times) – Freedom in Christ is the power to be what Christ has created us to be. It is a positive freedom which says that our new natures given to us by Christ actually determine our actions. This version of freedom takes seriously the fact of new creation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Or to put things more simply and in the type of language Paul is using here:

As a believer you aren’t simply free from the obligations of law – you are free to actually carry the law to its fulfillment.

On Philosophers and Dieticians

I have been doing a quite of bit of thinking about the relationship between theology and philosophy lately. That was partially spurred on by thoughts of going back to school next fall but also because I have been doing some reading in religious epistemology – I have been making my way through T.F. Torrance’s Reality & Evangelical Theology.

As I have been thinking about this topic I happened to have stumbled across an old copy of Faith and Philosophy, in it there was an article by William Eisenhower titled “Creative Interchange Between Philosophy and Theology: A Call to Dialogue.”

In this article Eisenhower argues that theology and philosophy have been in dialogue for the last 2000 years, however the last 50 or so years have been a period where these two disciplines have been divided. As we enter into this third millennium, philosophers have become interested in religious questions, this should be welcomed by theologians. He believes that both disciplines have much to gain from one another. In one sense he is preaching to the choir, I already believe this (after all I studied philosophy and theology). However, one part of this paper, which I found very interesting was how he defined both of these disciplines.

When we talk about philosophy and theology we tend to assume that we know what we are talking about. To a certain extent we do: philosophy is what philosophers at universities do and theology is what pastors and theologians do at seminary. However Eisenhower seeks to go deeper than these trivial definitions – in doing so he applies an analogy used by Henry Nelson Wieman:

If religion is like eating, then reality which interests the religious person is analogous to food. In that case the theologian is the one who puts this food into such a form that it is palatable and can most readily be eaten. The theologian is a good cook. But the philosophers is a dietician. He does not present God in a form that is digestible to the ordinary religious person. That is not his business… the theologian talks about beefsteak and lettuce. The philosopher talks about starches and calories.

To take this analogy further, theologians eat the meals they prepare. In other words, they are committed to their own work, there is a certain loyalty or faith that is associated with “their” theology – they are committed to the Church and to the Faith. However, like the dietician, the philosopher is not preparing anything for consumption. The philosopher is not required to stand into a personal relationship or a relationship of faith and trust towards her work. A philosopher who analyzes faith does not need to have any sort of commitment to the Church or to faith.

So according to Eisenhower the difference between the Christian theologian and a philosopher is personal commitment to the object of study. But does this really work? What about the Christian philosopher, does the philosopher of religion automatically become a theologian the second she puts her faith in Christ? The Christian philosopher of religion is certainly using philosophical methods (probably analytic philosophy) so does she automatically become an analytic theologian? It seems to me that these sort of questions point out the fact that this “definition” or “analogy” falls apart. At first glance this analogy is attractive, but at the end of the day we cannot delineate between theology and philosophy based upon the criteria of personal commitment to the object of study, or else there would be no such thing as Christian philosophers.

How Can Philosophy be Used in the Church?

Timothy Pawl (University of St. Thomas) is a brilliant brilliant man. I first heard him at the Los Angeles Theology Conference two years ago, some of his replies to the other speakers blew my mind and forced me to ask myself – who is this guy??!!?!

Well I recently stumbled across a video in which he explains why some Christians ought to do philosophy and how those Christians can put philosophy to use for the service of the Church.