The above link is to a video of John Piper describing how knowing God on the PhD level in theology can be harmful to our faith in Him. I found the video to be incredibly humbling and informative. Is there something that a student of philosophy like myself is missing if I only know God on the academic level?
This has been a genuine struggle for me. I have a difficult time separating my personal relationship with God from my studies about Him and who He is. It is something that I am constantly working on in my personal life. But I feel as though I’m not alone in this boat. Don’t get me wrong, I love studying philosophy, religion, and biblical hermeneutics. In fact, I plan to devote my career to it someday. But the importance of discovering who God is on a relational level has to trump my knowledge of who God is on an academic level. There are a few steps that I, and many others, have to continually work at in order to properly distinguish my relational faith in God from my academic knowledge of who he is.
Apologetics Can Be Harmful
I am NOT saying Christian apologetics is a bad field of study. Again, I am devoting my life to studying a part of this. The problem is that anybody who studies apologetics, philosophy, religion, etc. can easily fall into the trap of devoting every bit their identity in God to strict academic knowledge. Our faith in God was meant to be much more than that. As Piper said, “who cares about knowing God the way the Devil does?” Anybody can study up and gain information about someone they’ve never met. But knowing someone in this way does not give you any relational status with that person. There is much more beauty and comfort that you have with an actual relationship with another person than if you just know details about them.
Apologetics can also be harmful when we claim to know indefinitely who God is. This often occurs through philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Philosophical arguments can be useful, but they are in no way the defining factor of who God is. Placing your absolute faith in arguments that are constructed by human thinking can make God out to be something that He is not, and it can give you a false assumption that you know all about God. The real danger in this is that it can be easy to make God out to be a high probability as opposed to the personal Savior of your soul. The most humble thing that students of philosophy and theology can do is to recognize that the defining features of God are unknowable, and that mysterious side is the beauty that we ought to be chasing.
Coming to Faith
Most Christians do not come to faith in Christ because of a philosophical argument. I know I certainly didn’t. I accepted Christ at the age of six without having any knowledge of systematic theology or philosophical inquiry whatsoever. Let’s face it, we all believe in certain things without having sufficient reason to do so; or we at least accept things without having enough knowledge to establish that belief. An atheist may say that they find enough comfort in not knowing all of the mysteries of the universe without invoking a god. I, on the other hand, find more comfort in invoking God in my worldview and not knowing all of the mysteries about Him. Philosophical knowledge is useful, but it does not produce spiritual growth or relational comfort with God.
Allowance For Christ’s Intervention
Regardless of whether you are doing a devotional, studying theology, or just living out your everyday life, Jesus Christ must be a part of it. Do not confine Christ to ten minutes of your morning, or just what you are studying in your Bible class. Allowing Christ to be the center of everything you do throughout your day is key to being at peace with who God is. Finding comfort in the fact that God wants to be a part of everything that is going on in your life is what allows you to pursue the mysterious aspects of God and come to terms with the plans that He has for your life.