A Christian Introduction to Philosophy

Should Christians study philosophy? There are two principles to consider in answering this question. One is that Christians should certainly be familiar with the important and influential thinkers of history, regardless of what they believed. Second is that we must exercise caution so as to avoid adopting non-Christian thinking.

So yes, Christians should study philosophy. But the important issue is how we study it. I believe that we must study philosophy as Christians. This means we get our philosophy/worldview/theology from the Word of God, not from unbelieving thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. These men were influential thinkers and had many great things to say. They therefore ought to be studied—but we must always evaluate their philosophy against the Scriptures. (This is true of any field, but it is particularly dangerous with philosophy.)

Unfortunately, unbelieving philosophers have had far too much influence on Christian theology throughout history. Much of the field of philosophy is an attempt to answer important questions of life apart from God and His Word, and this endeavor has led many, including Christians, into dangerous places. Just look at the use of Platonic and Aristotelian thought in the early and medieval church.

The Best Introduction to Philosophy

This is why it is important to have a Christian theologian guide us through the study of philosophy and not a Christian “philosopher.” In this case, it’s hard to do better than R.C. Sproul and his book The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts That Shaped Our World.

R.C. Sproul is known as a pastor and theologian, but he is also well versed in the field of philosophy. In The Consequences of Ideas, Sproul guides his readers through the most important thinkers of history. Some of them are Christians (Augustine, Aquinas, Kierkegaard), but many of them are not (Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin). Though only 200 pages and easy to read, Sproul successfully surveys 2,500 years of philosophy.

It is beneficial for students to also read primary sources, such as Plato’s dialogues and Augustine’s masterpieces. Unfortunately, many philosophers can be difficult to read, and their concepts can be hard to understand. Yet Dr. Sproul explains the main ideas of the philosophers and makes them easily understandable. Students therefore ought to read this introductory book first, and then they can select some of the works mentioned for further study. 

Ligonier.com also offers a video series by Dr. Sproul on philosophy, which is great for students to use alongside the book. You can watch the first video for free. There is also an accompanying study guide

When should philosophy be studied? It should be introduced sometime in high school, following the study of logic. The best grade for an introductory course is probably 10th or 11th grade. But there are no hard and fast rules here. 

Other Philosophy Books

Another good Christian treatment of philosophy is Colin Brown’s Christianity & Western Thought (Volume 1), which covers up through the Enlightenment. This book is a step up in difficulty from Sproul’s book, but it is a helpful survey.

Another great resource on philosophy is Revolutions in Worldview, edited by Andrew Hoffecker. This is a collection of essays that surveys philosophy throughout history, all by top-notch Christian theologians. The book includes chapters by John Frame on Greek philosophy, John Currid on the Hebrew worldview, Peter Leithart on medieval theology, and Carl Trueman on the Renaissance, as well as other theologians covering the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and 19th and 20th century philosophy. This book is designed for the college level, but it is well-written and accessible. It is unique in that it shows how Christian theology has driven Western history. Hence the subtitle, Understanding the Flow of Western Thought.  

John Frame's new book A History of Western Philosophy and Theology looks promising, but it is probably too long and too in-depth for an introduction. This will be a good resource for those wanting further study.