What’s the Difference Between Philosophy and Theology?
As I’ve been rereading sections of my favorite theology book, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, by John M. Frame, I ran across this gem and thought I should share it:
It is hard for me to draw any sharp distinction between a Christian theology and a Christian philosophy. Philosophy generally is understood as an attempt to understand the world in its most broad, general features. It includes metaphysics or ontology (the study of being, of what “is”), epistemology (the study of knowing) and theory of value (ethics, aesthetics, etc.) If one seeks to develop a Christian philosophy, then he will certainly be doing so under the authority of Scripture, and thus will be applying Scripture to philosophical questions. As such, he would be doing theology, according to our definition [Frame’s definition of Theology is “the application of God’s word by people to all areas of life.”]. Philosophy would be a subdivision of theology. Further, since philosophy is concerned with reality in a broad, comprehensive sense, it may well take it as its task to “apply the word of God to all areas of life.” That would make philosophy, not a subdivision of theology, but identical to theology.
If there are any differences, they would probably be (1) that the Christian philosopher spends more time studying natural revelation than the theologian, while the theologian spends more time study Scripture; (2) that the theologian seeks a formulation which is an application of Scripture and thus absolutely authoritative; his goal is a formulation before which he can utter “Thus saith the Lord.” A Christian philosopher, however, may have a more modest goal: a wise human judgment which accords with Scripture thought is not necessarily warranted by Scripture.
A Christian philosophy can be of great value in helping us articulate in detail the biblical world view. We must beware, however, of “philosophical imperialism.” The comprehensiveness of philosophy has often led philosophers to seek rule over all other disciplines, even over theology, over God’s word. Even philosophers processing Christianity have been guilty of this. Some have even insisted that Scripture itself cannot be properly understood unless it is read in a way prescribed by the philosopher. Certainly philosophy can help us in the business of Scripture interpretation; philosophers often have interesting insights about language, e.g. But the line must be drawn: where a philosophical scheme contradicts Scripture, or where it seeks to inhibit the freedom of exegesis without Scriptural warrant, it must be rejected. (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 85-86)
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