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What does Christianity have to say to philosophy?

What role does philosophy have in theology?

In short, how should Christianity and philosophy relate?

Alvin Plantinga (b. 1932) is one of the most influential analytical philosophers of the twentieth century. He sees the proper way to do Christian philosophy today as broadly Augustinian—that is, it grows out of Augustinian roots. “What is at issue,” he says, “is not just a way of thinking about Christianity and philosophy, but about Christianity and scholarship more generally.”

He first explored these ideas in print nearly 25 years ago, in a paper entitled “Augustinian Christian Philosophy,” The Monist 75 (1992): 291-320.

More recently, he presented a version of the paper orally at the Society of Christian Philosophers (Midwest Region) and Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology joint conference at Trinity Christian College (Palos Heights, IL).

You can watch it below:

Plantinga identifies four elements in an Augustinian Christian philosophy:

  1. philosophical theology
  2. apologetics
  3. Christian philosophical criticism
  4. positive Christian philosophy

The first two are widely recognized and relatively uncontroversial, so his comments about them are brief. Philosophical theology is “a matter of thinking about the central doctrines of the Christian faith from a philosophical perspective and employing the resources of philosophy.” Apologetics comes in two varieties: negative apologetics defends Christianity against its detractors; positive apologetics provides positive arguments for the existence of God.

The second two require Plantinga to give more explanation, illustration, and defense.

Here Plantinga argues that there are “three main competitors vying for spiritual supremacy in the West: three fundamental perspectives or ways of thinking about what the world is like, what we ourselves are like, what is most important about the world, what our place in it is, and what we must do to live the good life.” They are (1) Christian theism, (2) perennial naturalism, and (3) creative antirealism—with its progeny of (a) relativism and (b) anti-commitment. In Plantinga’s view, “The spiritual and intellectual health of the Christian community depends upon our knowing how to think about these ideas and claims; and to know how to think about them, we need the sort of cultural criticism—both inside and outside of philosophy—of which I speak.”

Finally, Plantinga looks at positive Christian philosophy, arguing that “Christian philosophers should address these questions and topics starting from the Christian faith, using all that they know, including Christian teachings.”

If you are interested in philosophy, and especially the relationship between Christianity and philosophy, this is an opportunity to hear from one of the great philosophers of our day.

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One thought on “Alvin Plantinga’s Introduction to “Augustinian Christian Philosophy””

  1. Thanks for this!

    By the way, when you write:

    They are (1) Christian theism, (2) perennial naturalism, and (3) creative antirealism—with its progeny of (a) relativism and (2) anti-commitment.

    Do you mean “(b) anti-commitment”?

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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