Have you ever heard of the Reformed rejection of philosophy? The idea is that philosophy or natural theology is not necessary because it is not salvific, or because it is less clear than scripture so we may as well just go to scripture, or because it leads to apostasy as in evolution and Marxism. In one way, the Reformed are right because the word “philosophy” can just mean what Plato and Aristotle did. Or it could mean Christians who have compromised with Platonic and Aristotelian idolatry.
What philosophy refers to a method, the use of reason to critically examine our assumptions and to study both general and special revelation. We see Paul in Athens being the exemplar philosopher. He doesn’t compromise with the Stoics or Epicureans, but he does find common ground. Common ground is that they affirm there is the unknown God. Athens, the city of wisdom, didn’t know what it should know about God. Sometimes Christians look up to the Stoics for their virtue, but their virtue is relative to their belief in the eternal cycle. Their virtue kept them in unbelief. All is one and all is cyclical. The Epicureans believe there is no God and there is no soul, there is only atoms and the void. These two groups argued about what is the best life but didn’t question their assumptions. Therefore, they did not do philosophy.
Paul points out that the Athenians admit there is an unknown God, and among all the gods of their popular religion, what was left out was the God of creation and providence. God not only made the world but also mankind and rules over their history. God determines the boundaries of the nations. They were left in their idolatry for all of history up until that point but now God is calling them to repent of their culpable ignorance. All the world will be judged by God including the Athenians who claim to be so wise. And the proof that he will judge the world by the man he has appointed is that he raised him from the dead. The man that he has appointed-not a demigod that the Greeks were used to. One who could represent us and pay the penalty for mankind. And the proof of all this is that God raised him from the dead. Not resuscitated to die again later. Raised to never die again.
We should have expected this. We should have known the Messiah must first suffer and then enter his glory. How will they stand before God at this judgement? They can’t even agree with each other about what is a good life. How will they do before the omnipotent omniscient God of all creation and history? Their culpable ignorance and false philosophy will be exposed and they will have no one to cover them.
This is how Paul does philosophy. Although this account is in Holy Scripture it is an example of Paul’s work in general revelation and then bringing that work to bear on interpreting special revelation. This is how Christians should do philosophy. Not by trying to keep up with the latest fads of academic trend setters. But by calling these same academics to repent for being ignorant of what is clear to philosophy from general revelation. The philosophers will stand before God to be judged.