Christian Annexation and Transformation of Pagan Learning: From Augustine and Boethius to John Calvin

I. Augustine: Putting Pagan* Learning to Right Use

CHAP. 40. Whatever has been rightly said by the heathen, we must appropriate to our uses

60. Moreover, if those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it. For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves were not making a good use of [Exod. 3:21, 22; 12:35, 36]; in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Continue reading “Christian Annexation and Transformation of Pagan Learning: From Augustine and Boethius to John Calvin”

Kairos Seminar on Greek Philosophy and Christian Thought (2022)

Lecturer: Dr. Ng Kam Weng

Seminar Description: Students (1) will be introduced to influential theories found in some key texts of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy that have been significant for Christian theology and apologetics, and (2) will critically analyze how seminal Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas integrated the philosophical insights from Greek philosophy to construct a Christian philosophical tradition which can assist Christian witness and practice today.

Module I (a). Plato (2 weeks)
Nature of Knowledge and Reality: Doctrine of Forms, Allegory of the Cave and the Sun (The Republic VI-VII), and Theaetetus
Immortality of the Soul (Republic, Phaedo & Phaedrus)
God and cosmology (Timaeus) Continue reading “Kairos Seminar on Greek Philosophy and Christian Thought (2022)”

The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Origins and Theological Significance

Alleged Pagan Origins
(1) A wonder birth or a supernatural birth is one of the commonest ideas in folk-tale and myth. In not all of these, however, is there what can strictly be called virgin birth. The latter certainly does not occur where ancient myths of the birth of heroes, great men, or kings are concerned. In spite of direct evidence of true human descent, myth told how a god was their real father…In these myths also the mother is already wedded, and the divine parent is father in a purely physical sense and has a material form, in that form taking the place of the husband…the woman is already married, and the birth is not, strictly speaking, a virgin birth…

Those who regard the Virgin Birth as mythical trace it to (a) Jewish, (b) pagan sources. (a) The Jewish source is found in Is 7:14. No Jew, however, ever applied this to the birth of the Messiah, though it was in accord with Matthew’s method to use it as pointing to an event otherwise known to him. Other critics have conclusively proved that the myth of virgin birth was unknown to Jewish thought. Continue reading “The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Origins and Theological Significance”

Philosophy and Theology Reading 3/3

Theology Uses Philosophy on its own Terms

[157] Though Christian dogma cannot be explained in terms of Greek philosophy, it also did not come into being apart from it. There is as yet no dogma and theology, strictly speaking, in Scripture. As long as revelation itself was still in progress, it could not become the object of scientific reflection. Inspiration had to be complete before reflection could begin…

Gradually a need arose to think through the ideas of revelation, to link it with other knowledge and to defend it against various forms of attack. For this purpose people needed philosophy. Scientific theology was born with its help. This did not, however, happen accidentally. The church was not the victim of deception. In the formation and development of the dogmas, the church fathers made generous use of philosophy. They did that, however, in the full awareness of and with clear insight into the dangers connected with that enterprise; they were conscious of the grounds on which they did it, and they did it with express recognition of the word of the apostles as the only rule of faith and conduct. For that reason also they did not utilize the whole of Greek philosophy but made a choice; they only utilized the philosophy that was most suited to help them think through and defend the truth of God. They went to work eclectically and did not take over any single philosophical system, be it either from Plato or from Aristotle, but with the aid of Greek philosophy produced a Christian philosophy of their own. Furthermore, they only used that philosophy as a means… Continue reading “Philosophy and Theology Reading 3/3”

William Craig’s Quest for the Historical Adam: A Response from John Oswalt

William Lane Craig’s new book, In Quest of the Historical Adam, has an extended discussion on the relationship between Genesis and the myths found in the mythic literature of the Ancient Near East. Based on what he identifies as myth-like elements found in Genesis, Craig concludes that Genesis should be classified as “mytho-history”.

Craig attempts a nuanced treatment of “myth” as he affirms that some elements in Genesis are historical, like the genealogies. He affirms that Adam and Eve  were real people who constitute the fount of all humanity. However, his proposal that Genesis should be regarded as “mytho-history” has drawn criticism from John Oswalt, a prominent Old Testament scholar who explains that “A myth is an oral or written narrative that functions to make actions of the gods, presumed to be constantly occurring in the invisible realm, effective in the world of time and space. In short “mytho-history” is an oxymoron. Myths are a-historical by nature.”

Excerpts from the interview, Craig’s Quest for the Historical Adam: A Response from John Oswalt (Part 2) Continue reading “William Craig’s Quest for the Historical Adam: A Response from John Oswalt”

Finding nuance in the inerrancy debate. A Response to Michael Bird

Michael Bird mounts a critique of classical evangelicals who defend inerrancy of Scripture in his recent article, “Finding nuance in the inerrancy debate.

I am a classical evangelical, that is, an evangelical who affirms inerrancy of Scripture. I confess being guilty of making a big issue of inerrancy of Scriptures, but I remain recalcitrant and unrepentant despite the sharp criticism levelled by such an enlightened mind like Michael Bird.

I disagree with Bird that a precise definition of inerrancy is a luxury for the global evangelical churches which are facing pressures from hostile authorities. To be sure, inerrancy needs not be the “number one issue that separates the good guys from the bad guys,” but based on my experience as a theologian living in the majority world, and as one who is committed to the Great Commission, I am concerned that a fuzzy commitment to the reliability and final authority of inerrant Scripture will undermine confidence and zeal for Christian witness in places where other world religions are predominant. For example, Christian witness to Muslims is likely to be abortive if Christians fail to defend the inerrancy of the Bible when Muslim polemists contend that the Bible is unreliable and contains errors. Continue reading “Finding nuance in the inerrancy debate. A Response to Michael Bird”

Three Questions Arising from Article on Paleo-Hebrew

Reply to Three Questions From a Reader Arising from the Paleo-Hebrew Article “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3 (Full Article)”
Answers by Dr. Leong Tien Fock*

Question 1. In terms of the historical progression of language development from Proto-Sinaitic to Paleo Hebrew to Aramaic square script, are you suggesting that when paleo Hebrew was used, the original pictographic meaning of the letters was lost to users? i.e. was the use of paleo Hebrew only phonetic, with no progressive overlap from the old (Proto-Sinaitic) to the new (Paleo script) in the understanding of users?

Answer: The original article “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 3 (Full Article)” is quite comprehensive in showing that all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet EVEN in the Proto-Sinaitic script were originally ONLY phonetic. Thus when this script was changed to the Paleo-Hebrew script, there was no change from pictographic meaning + phonetic meaning to phonetic meaning only. It has always been phonetic ONLY. Hence the question of “progressive overlap” or the “original pictographic meaning” being lost does not arise. Continue reading “Three Questions Arising from Article on Paleo-Hebrew”

Philosophy and Theology Reading 2/3

Theology Judges the Conclusions of Philosophy

As the superior science, theology judges philosophy in the same sense that philosophy judges the sciences. It therefore exercises in respect of the latter a function of guidance or government, though a negative government, which consists in rejecting as false any philosophic affirmation which contradicts a theological truth. In this sense theology controls and exercises jurisdiction over the conclusions maintained by philosophers.

The premisses of philosophy, however, are independent of theology, being those primary truths which are self-evident to the understanding, whereas the premisses of theology are the truths revealed by God…[philosophy] develops its principles autonomously within its own spheres, though subject to the external control and negative regulation of theology.

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Theology can turn the investigations of philosophy in one direction rather than in another, in which case it may be said to regulate philosophy positively by accident (per accidens). But absolutely speaking theology can regulate philosophy only negatively, as has been explained above. Positively it does not regulate it either directly, by furnishing its proofs (as faith for apologetics), or indirectly, by classifying its divisions (as philosophy itself classifies the sciences).
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Continue reading “Philosophy and Theology Reading 2/3”

Philosophy and Theology Reading 1/3

Philosophy and Religion– Seeking and Finding Truth

Religion is instituted by and continues to draw its life from the initial certainties arising from the experiences of its founders and heroes. Consequently, to proceed from the religious side means not so much the seeking after a truth yet undiscovered as the proclaiming of the meaning and importance of a truth already found. Philosophy, on the other hand, is born from wonder and from the quest of reason to find a pattern, a wisdom in things which is still to be disclosed. One side sets out from certainties; the other seeks to arrive at them. Viewed immediately, each side has its own distinctive and dominant character. This character, however, is not exhaustive; each side has within itself, as a kind of recessive element, the distinctive characteristic of the other, a similarity that becomes fully realized only when the two encounter each other; genuine encounter means that each enterprise is forced to a new level of self-consciousness. Religion discovers that its life is not exclusively a matter of certainties which exclude doubt and the rational quest; philosophy discovers that its life is not exclusively a search, because the rational quest itself must be carried out against a background of truths taken for granted and never fully justified in the course of any inquiry. Philosophy, moreover, comes to its own certainties when it comes to express its constructive results. Continue reading “Philosophy and Theology Reading 1/3”

Worldview Apologetics in a Multi-Religious Society

* To register please click on LINK

This course will help students formulate a rational basis for believing in Christian theism expressed as a coherent worldview, followed by a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of competing worldviews such as Naturalism, Islam and Buddhism.

Next, the course shall explore some of the crucial issues in the debate between Christians and non-Christians: the existence of God, the deity of Jesus Christ, evidence for the truth of the Bible in relation to history and science, the uniqueness of Christ and his salvation in the context of religious pluralism.

Course Outline: 3 hours each topic. Continue reading “Worldview Apologetics in a Multi-Religious Society”