Christians are sometimes afraid of claims of knowledge that come from sources outside of the Bible, especially if those claims are being made by non-Christians. It’s sometimes tempting to think that if a statement can’t be backed up by a Scriptural reference, or if the speaker or writer hasn’t been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, then whatever they say is suspect at best. Yet, there are vast areas of knowledge that Scripture doesn’t address and that other human beings–believer and non-believer alike–have expertise in, and from whom we can learn.
In their preface to the Christian Worldview Integration Series, J. P. Moreland and Francis Beckwith address this common but misguided attitude, and show its shortcomings from Christian history and Scripture. They begin by alluding to an address John Wesley gave to a group of clergy in 1756.*
“Time and again throughout the address Wesley unpacked this remark [that clergy should possess the ability to think logically] by admonishing ministers to know what would sound truly odd and almost pagan to the average congregant of today: logic, metaphysics, natural theology, geometry and the ideas of important figures in the history of philosophy. For Wesley, study in these areas (especially philosophy and geometry) helped train the mind to think precisely, a habit of incredible value, he asserted, when it comes to thinking as a Christian about theological themes or scriptural texts. . . . As he put it elsewhere, ‘To imagine none can teach you but those who are themselves saved from sin is a very great and dangerous mistake. Give not place to it for a moment.’**
“Wesley’s remarks were not unusual in his time. A century earlier the great Reformed pastor Richard Baxter was faced with lukewarmness in the church and unbelief outside the church. In 1667 he wrote a book to meet this need, and in it he used philosophy, logic and general items of knowledge outside Scripture to argue for the existence of the soul and the life to come. . . ”
“In valuing extrabiblical knowledge, our brothers and sisters in church history were merely following common sense and Scripture itself. Repeatedly, Scripture acknowledges the wisdom of cultures outside Israel; for example, Egypt (Acts 7:22; cf. Ex 7:11), the Edomites (Jer 49:7), the Phoenicians (Zech 9:2), and many others. The remarkable achievements produced by human wisdom are acknowledged in Job 28:1-11. The wisdom of Solomon is compared to the wisdom of the “people of the east” and Egypt in order to show that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed that of people with a longstanding, well-deserved reputation for wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34). Paul approvingly quotes pagan philosophers (Acts 17:28), and Jude does the same thing with the noncanonical book The Assumption of Moses (Jude 9). The book of Proverbs is filled with examples in which knowledge, even moral and spiritual knowledge, can be gained from studying things in the natural world (ants, for example). Jesus taught that we should know we are to love our enemies, not on the basis of an Old Testament text but from careful reflection on how the sun and rain behave (Mt 5:44-45).
“In valuing extrabiblical knowledge, our brothers and sisters in church history were also living out scriptural teaching about the value of general revelation. We must never forget that God is the God of creation and general revelation just as he is the God of Scripture and special revelation.” (Quoted from Series Preface of Doing Philosophy as a Christian by Garrett J. DeWeese [IVP Academic, 2011]).
Rather than fear extrabiblical knowledge and wisdom, we should gain all that we can, and use it for God’s glory.
*John Wesley, “An address to the Clergy,” in The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), p. 481.
**John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (London: Epworth Press, 1952), p. 87.
The Tolle Lege (“Take up and read”) series will focus on excerpts from notable books in philosophy, apologetics, ethics, and related areas.