Sunday, August 19, 2007

Educational "business" trip

Last week my supervisor at my work for the DTS library, Chris Woodall, and I drove to Houston to bring books for a new research lab for the Houston extension campus of Dallas Theological Seminary (adjacent to the College of Biblical Studies). While in Houston, we stayed at the home of Chris' long time friend Paul R. Shockley. Paul is an assistant professor of theology at CBS and is completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Texas A & M University. His family was a delight and the hospitality of him and his wife were unparalleled. It was the conversations we had, however, that had the most lasting impression. I was the recipient of the wisdom he had developed through not only his Th.M. training at DTS, but also his philosophy education at Texas A & M.

It seemed that there was seldom an assertion I could make about God, humankind or reality without Paul pointing out that my position was based on a series of assumptions that I was not aware I was laden with, nor was able to defend. He was gracious and patient, never scolding for lacking his philosophical prowess. Instead, he labored on through our conversation well into the night (both Wednesday and Thursday), defining terms, summarizing theories and offering context to key figures. Ethics, aesthetics and social theory were stimuli into meaningful banter. Correspondence theory helped shape the framework for a Christian epistemology whereby we know the truth of God at all. I can seldom claim to have been challenged in my thinking to that extent. It was refreshing.

The most profound impact from the trip was to inspire me toward greater philosophical study, exploring the constructs with which we organize our categories of truth and knowledge. Paul recommended several books to seek out to better understand the concepts of "natural law" and the manner in which God has written on the human heart instincts to recognize his order. I have some reading ahead of me.

It is unfortunate how often Christians consider that faith must be somehow antithetical to reason. It is argued hotly among theologians whether reason can lead someone to faith, but all agree that faith must not equal the suspension of reason. Just as my great love for my wife fuels my drive to understand her with cognitive wisdom, so also a Christian's love for God should excite their thirst for his revelation and the world he has made. The example of Ravi Zacharias is a positive one to follow.

I am one who holds that one cannot be brought to faith by reason; for what arguments for faith can work on one who is "dead" in transgression and sin (Eph 2:1)? However, in the mystery of sharing the gospel the Spirit illumines the spiritually blind, makes animate the inanimate, and causes the unperceptive to behold the beauty of the risen Christ. For this reason and with this understanding, philosophy appears a very useful category of sharing the gospel to an unbelieving world who often have constructed their main objections to faith on philosophical foundations.

For the sake of the gospel, and so that Christians would be strengthened in knowing the "assumptions" of their faith, I am alarmingly grateful for my time spent with Paul Shockley over two days. In the future, I hope to be much better prepared to talk with Christian brothers, or even those yet to enter the faith, about the reasons for my faith and hope in Jesus Christ. The trip to Houston may have been for the sake of DTS library business, but for me the real work began whenever Paul and I sat down over coffee to open up another topic.

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