Doing Theology as a Servant of Jesus (11): Some Thoughts on Theology, Philosophy, and Science

Many of the most formative moments of my life occurred during college (waaaayyy back in the mid 90s). I had just recently truly embraced Christ and had begun to realize the moralism and self-righteousness that had blurred my spiritual and theological vision. During those years, I began to realize that, if the gospel is true, then it is relevant to absolutely every realm of thought. More to the point, I began to realize that it is relevant to disciplines such as philosophy and science, which have often been held up as the rational ideals and cultural authorities for any civilized person. In the first centuries of the church’s existence, philosophy held the position of “cultural authority” (for many people), while in the past several centuries, science has held that position (for many people). In fact, when Christians do theology publicly, the elephant in the room usually is “the sciences.” Perhaps no subject has been so sharply divisive over the past centuries. One thinks of Galileo’s persecution at the hands of the Catholic and Protestant churches, of the divisive nature of the Scopes monkey trials, and of the acrimony that sometimes exists today between theologians and scientists.

In light of the robust presence of philosophy and science in our cultural spaces, and in light of the contributions that have been made by philosophers and scientists, this installment (together with the next two installments) argues that theologians benefit from dialogue with philosophers, scientists, and those who work in other fields of learning. In such encounters, how should theologians view the fruits of philosophy, science, or some other discipline, especially if the practitioners with whom they interact are not believers and do not take into account the teaching of Christian Scripture?

Levels of Reflection:

Before tackling the notions of philosophy and science separately (in the next two blog installments), first we must provide a conceptual map relating those disciplines to Scripture, biblical theology, worldview, and systematic theology. Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen provide such a map.[1] In their view, Scripture is the inspired Word of God. Biblical theology is the study of Scripture which conceives of and articulates Scripture as a unified and coherent narrative which is the true story of the whole world. Worldview consists of the basic beliefs drawn from the biblical narrative, in interaction with a particular culture’s basic beliefs.[2] Systematic theology and Christian philosophy both arise from Scripture, biblical theology, and worldview. They, like worldview, are abstractions from the biblical story. Other disciplines (e.g. the arts, the sciences, business, economics) arise from Christian philosophy and systematic theology, drawing upon them as they study the particulars of their own creational reality.

The larger model, therefore, has five tiers:

Scripture (God’s Word written)

Biblical Theology (the story of the Bible)

Christian Worldview

Christian Philosophy & Systematic Theology

Other Disciplines

They further explain this model by means of an analogy, comparing knowledge with a tree.[3] In this analogy, the roots of the tree are “faith,” or the direction of the heart. All humans practice faith, either in God or in idols. The base of the trunk is biblical theology, providing the foundation and trajectory for the growth of the tree. The main body of the trunk is a Christian worldview, which in turn has two main branches, namely, systematic theology and Christian philosophy. Growing from those two main branches are further branches, which represent the special sciences, the various disciplines which each have their own creational integrity. In this view of things, Christian theology and Christian philosophy stand side-by-side in the search for truth. Neither discipline seeks to build its knowledge independent of God’s revelation. Both disciplines arise from the biblical narrative and its attendant Christian worldview, and therefore find themselves in a healthy and fruitful dialogue and partnership with one another.


[1] Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads: An Invitation to Christian Worldview (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 26-28.

[2] Goheen and Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads, 27.

[3] Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, Liberating Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, forthcoming 2012), chs. 1-2.