Lecture 1


These are notes taken form a set of tapes recorded at Calvin College of Runner’s lectures. The lectures took place in the early 1980s. The notes are very much that: notes – they are not a transcript of the tapes. In all there are more than 30 tapes.

Getting the wording down accurately and completely is important. A set of notes that are clear are invaluable.


Philosophy is a different kind of subject from economics, political science etc.


Part of a permanent assignment for this course is that you re-write your notes almost every week – keep them up to date.


It doesn’t pay to give a philosophical text to those who arn’t prepared to read them philosophically.


What is philosophy?
Many professors give a definition of philosophy t this point and expect their students to learn it. I don’t. do that – there is no definition of philosophy that is acceptable to everyone. There are as many different definitions of philosophy as there are schools of philosophy.


The philosophical enterprise – involves not only the result but also the philosophical activity which leads to that result.


Plato wrote a lot of dialogues, these were the results of his philosophising.


Results arise from human activity. Behind the result is the activity.


Definition’s depend on man’s [sic] position.

Is man mind or reason – or is there something more?

How does scripture speak of man?

What does it mean when the scriptures speak of a renewal of the mind?


To give a definition of philosophy – which is impossible – would take the interest out of the course. The main question is:


How ought we think of this philosophical enterprise?



You don’t come to a discussion of this question from scratch. Do you know why? Tradition. We are not contra John Locke begin from a blank mind. No-one escapes the power of tradition. Why not? Because even the philosophical tradition becomes part of, to use Whitehead’s words, ‘a climate of opinion’.


Even traditions in philosophy – things are technical to begin with, an attitude sinks down and becomes part of a cultural context into which we are born. We are inclined by the climate of opinion that is dominant within society.


Professor [Edward] Shils (University of Chicago Press, 1981) a couple of years ago wrote a book on tradition, called Tradition. Until then there had been books on traditions (eg Gnostic tradition, Marxist tradition, Jewish tradition etc.) but not one on tradition.


Calvin College is a denominational college – Reformed Calvinistic – most students here have undergone Reformed catechising.


When Jesus was asked the question ‘teacher is it lawful to pay a to Caesar or not?’ (Mk 12:13-17) in an attempt to trick him.


He replied ‘Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’


When I asked the students what it means the majority respond: ‘The State has its authority and the Church has its authority.’ And that is exactly what the passage is not saying! What is God’s? Everything – including the State! The State is a servant of God – its authority is derived form God. Give to Caesar where he is properly a servant of God, but only where he is a servant; if there is conflict then obey God rather than man.


From all reformed students a Roman Catholic medieval answer! They didn’t even know that there was a difference between this answer and the Reformation answer – because of tradition.


An apostolic injunction: ‘hold the pattern of sound words’. The pattern of words hold in them a worldview – that’s how they are conveyed.


From the middle of the sixteenth century, the church has been accommodating biblical theology to the patterns of Greek philosophy.


What we call philosophy – it doesn’t exist in the East, unless it has been borrowed from the West – came from the Greeks. (Philosophy is a Greek word: sophia wisdom and philo love)


From 600 BC became something that has existed in no other part of the world.


There is a difference between worldview and philosophy. We all have a worldview; philosophy is more scientific.


[side 2]


Greeks had a split world: physical, material / mind, spirit, soul


By ‘soul’ the Greeks meant a rational soul, reason. The OT and NT don’t mean reasoning by ‘soul’ at all. For the Greeks man is a rational animal – rationality (logic) make shim different. man = animal + an extra faculty. It is appalling how Christians have accepted it.


Critically attend to conflict between worldview grounded in biblical revelation and worldview grounded in Greek society and experience.

Explore posts in the same categories: By Runner, Lectures

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