Overlapping Magisterium: Engaging Culture from a Philosophical-Theological Viewpoint

We live in an age in which it has become fashionable to talk about the rising tide of agnosticism and atheism.  But the truth of the matter is that we live in a society flush with faith.  You have to have faith when you live in uncertain times. You go looking for answers. As long as human beings have been walking planet earth, they have consulted spiritual authorities — priests and prophets, artists and magicians, philosophers and theologians.  These key intellectuals and leaders often set the course which a culture will take. And people follow. Worldviews are born.
In our time, Western societies stand on the brink of a great turning point in history. For nearly two millennia, our mores and systems of government have been influenced by three ancient civilizations: Jewish, Greek, and Roman. But it was largely Christian thought, shaped by biblical revelation, that brought the pieces together into a coherent framework. The idea of one true God gave inspiration to the foundational notion of modern science — that the natural world can be understood because a rational Creator put it together in the first place. No one doubts that the Bible has inspired more works of art, music, and literature than any other single text.
By way of contrast, the past two centuries have called into question the truth claims of the Scriptures.  Certain crucial thinkers since the eighteenth century have sought to distance the conclusions of philosophy or science from the results of theology.  The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould suggested that science and logic could be decoupled from faith — they are “non-overlapping magisteria,” as he memorably put it. Once considered complementary, the two disciplines have been decoupled. They often regard one another with suspicious minds.
But it was not always this way.  Pick up any standard text from an introduction to philosophy and you will find great works of philosophy written by . . . great theologians. Anselm, the twelfth century Archbishop of Canterbury, devised the ontological argument, one of the most famous arguments for the existence of God.  But he did so in the context of a supplication. “Lord, it is Your face I seek,” he prayed. “I believe in order to understand.”
Anselm was not alone. A long line of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known — men like Thomas Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards — saw an uninterrupted line between the truths that could be acquired by the rational mind and those revealed to us in God’s Word. They saw no contradiction. What’s more, they saw theology systematically, and believed that the Lord Jesus Christ gets glory when biblical truth is organized in such a way that believers can simultaneously think rightly and live rightly.  For it is a dubious proposition indeed to suggest that people can act better than what they know.
It is unwise to abandon anything simply because it is old or tried or reliable.  For the Scriptures themselves are ancient. Rather, we begin this blog with a prayer ourselves — that a Christ-centered knowledge of the Bible would lead to the loftiest — and yet most practical — intersections between philosophy and theology.
Greg Thornbury (Union University) for BibleMesh