Westminster Divines on Philosophy and Logic

“He shall be examined touching his skill in the original tongues, and his trial to be made by reading the Hebrew and Greek Testaments, and rendering some portion of some into Latin; and if he be defective in them, enquiry shall be made more strictly after his other learning, and whether he hath skill in logick and philosophy.”

– Westminster divines in discussing ordination of elders.

The Westminster Assembly

It is interesting that when a candidate for ministry was found wanting in the Greek or Hebrew, an examination concerning his understanding of logic and philosophy was is brought up. Why would they do this?

I think a few brief answers can be given.

1. Concerning philosophy: Logic is important to understand because philosophies are logical outworking of a theology and ideas have consequences. Since it is the duty of ministers to defend the faith against error one of the best places to start is to study philosophy either secular or Christian. This way the minister will be better equipped to teach his congregation the Word of God and how it deals with error.

2. The Christian faith is a philosophy. Epistemology: Scripture alone. Ethics: The law of God.  Metaphysics: God’s Providence. Logic: The wisdom of God. Since these things are basic to all Scriptural teaching, to become familiar with philosophy is just an extension of understanding the Bible properly.

3. The Scripture is generally perspicuous (that is, it is clear), but as the Westminster Confession of Faith states following the Apostle Peter (2Peter 3:16), “All things in Scripture is not plain and clear: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”(1:7) What does this have to do with philosophy? At the base of philosophy is the idea of system. God’s Word is systematic in that it is internally consistent.

This leaves the theologian with interpreting Scripture in a manner that harmonizes with the rest of Scripture. This means that he must be very knowledgeable in the Scriptures in order that he might expound Scripture properly, interpreting less clear passages by the clearer passages. The theologian who starts with the notion that his thinking is correct because he “read it in the Bible” or has some obscure verse to “back” his idea is not being biblically faithful. Further, if he proceeds to set one Scripture at odds with another, this is the surest sign that he is unlearned in the Scripture or has a wicked heart.

In our time philosophy has become obscure. Few pastors talk about it. Few pastors have any acquaintance in it. Instead the emphasis has been on feelings or religious experience. The more pious (or not so pious) won’t talk about doctrines, dogmas or confessions. No, indeed! “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion” so they say. All the while intellectual Christianity is scorned or even given the title of “pharisaism” or “dead orthodoxy. We’re just to love people, not cram religion down their throat. No rules, no regulations. Nothing at all the discomforts us into having to exercise our mental faculties or to obey laws! But this is not Christianity (and orthodoxy is so rare now that one almost gets excited at the notion of any orthodoxy, even if its dead).

While the above speaks more of antinomianism  and existentialism, professing Christians who speak of God’s Word are often speaking “God word is true and the only source of knowledge” out of one mouth while they view knowledge and understanding with the mind as “sinful”. This is certainly queer. Quite unlike this, Christ calls us to wisdom and knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 1:23-31:

“Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”

Can one even read Job, the Psalms and Proverbs and deny that Christianity is deeply concerned with understanding and knowledge? The mind of man is corrupt, yes. It is desperately wicked. This is the very reason we are to go to the Scripture for knowledge and understanding. But far from being a denial of man to understand things, it is that he can but rejects it. We are to understand, and understand aright. We do so by God’s gracious providence. We do so by God stirring our spirits to be in His Word. But all is intellectual. It is a strange and godless age that rejects the God of truth and kicks against that fact.

– Jesse Murch

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