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Reading: Advice for Christian Philosophers by Alvin Plantinga

From a theistic point of view, the natural conclusion is that sets owe their existence to God's
thinking things together. The natural explanation of those three features is just that sets are
indeed collections-collections collected by God; they are or result from God's thinking things
together. This idea may not be popular at contemporary centers of set theoretical activity; but
that is neither here nor there. Christians, theists, ought to understand sets from a Christian and
theistic point of view. What they believe as theists affords a resource for understanding sets
not available to the non-theist; and why shouldn't they employ it? Perhaps here we could
proceed without appealing to what we believe as theists; but why should we, if these beliefs
are useful and explanatory? I could probably get home this evening by hopping on one leg; and
conceivably I could climb Devil's Tower with my feet tied together. But why should I want to?
The Christian or theistic philosopher, therefore, has his own way of working at his craft. In
some cases there are items on his agenda- pressing items-not to be found on the agenda of
the non-theistic philosophical community. In others, items that are currently fashionable appear
of relatively minor interest from a Christian perspective. In still others, the theist will reject
common assumptions and views about how to start, how to proceed, and what constitutes a
good or satisfying answer. In still others the Christian will take for granted and will start from
assumptions and premises rejected by the philosophical community at large. Of course I don't
mean for a moment to suggest that Christian philosophers have nothing to learn from their non-
Christian and non-theist colleagues: that would be a piece of foolish arrogance, utterly belied
by the facts of the matter. Nor do I mean to suggest that Christian philosophers should retreat
into their own isolated enclave, having as little as possible to do with non-theistic philosophers.
Of course not! Christians have much to learn and much of enormous importance to learn by
way of dialogue and discussion with their non-theistic colleagues. Christian philosophers must
be intimately involved in the professional life of the philosophical community at large, both
because of what they can learn and because of what they can contribute.
Furthermore, while Christian philosophers need not and ought not to see themselves as
involved, for example, in a common effort to determine whether there is such a person as God,
we are all, theist and non-theist alike, engaged in the common human project of understanding
ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves. If the Christian philosophical community is
doing its job properly, it will be engaged in a complicated, many-sided dialectical discussion,
making its own contribution to that common human project. It must pay careful attention to
other contributions; it must gain a deep understanding of them; it must learn what it can from
them and it must take unbelief with profound seriousness.
All of this is true and all of this important; but none of it runs counter to what I have been
saying. Philosophy is many things. I said earlier that it is a matter of systematizing, developing
and deepening one's pre-philosophical opinions. It is that; but it is also an arena for the
articulation and interplay of commitments and allegiances fundamentally religious in nature; it
is an expression of deep and fundamental perspectives, ways of viewing ourselves and the
world and God. Among its most important and pressing projects are systematizing, deepening,
exploring, articulating this perspective, and exploring its bearing on the rest of what we think
and do. But then the Christian philosophical community has its own agenda; it need not and
should not automatically take its projects from the list of those currently in favor at the leading
contemporary centers of philosophy.
Furthermore, Christian philosophers must be wary about assimilating or accepting presently
popular philosophical ideas and procedures; for many of these have roots that are deeply anti-
Christian. And finally the Christian philosophical community has a right to its perspectives; it is
under no obligation first to show that this perspective is plausible with respect to what is taken
for granted by all philosophers, or most philosophers, or the leading philosophers of our day.
In sum, we who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being
philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian
philosophers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and
Christian boldness.[4]
Reprinted from Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers vol. 1:3,
(253-271), permanently copyrighted October 1984. Used by permission of the Editor. New
preface by author. Journal web site:
This article is the sole property of Faith and Philosophy. It may not be altered or edited in any
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This data file may not be used without the permission of Faith and Philosophy for resale or the
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Reading: What is the study of Ethics?

A short introduction to a controversial topic: ethics

The following discussion of ethics is retrieved from

The field of ethics (or moral philosophy) involves systematizing, defending, and recommending
concepts of right and wrong behavior. Philosophers today usually divide ethical theories into
three general subject areas: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied
ethics. Metaethics investigates where our ethical principles come from, and what they mean.
Are they merely social inventions? Do they involve more than expressions of our individual
emotions? Metaethical answers to these questions focus on the issues of universal truths, the
will of God, the role of reason in ethical judgments, and the meaning of ethical terms
themselves. Normative ethics takes on a more practical task, which is to arrive at moral
standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. This may involve articulating the good habits
that we should acquire, the duties that we should follow, or the consequences of our behavior
on others. Finally, applied ethics involves examining specific controversial issues, such
as abortion, infanticide, animal rights, environmental concerns, homosexuality, capital
punishment, or nuclear war.

a. Metaphysical Issues: Objectivism and Relativism

Metaphysics is the study of the kinds of things that exist in the universe. Some things in the
universe are made of physical stuff, such as rocks; and perhaps other things are nonphysical in
nature, such as thoughts, spirits, and gods. The metaphysical component of metaethics
involves discovering specifically whether moral values are eternal truths that exist in a spirit-like
realm, or simply human conventions. There are two general directions that discussions of this
topic take, one other-worldly and one this-worldly.
Proponents of the other-worldly view typically hold that moral values are objective in the sense
that they exist in a spirit-like realm beyond subjective human conventions. They also hold that
they are absolute, or eternal, in that they never change, and also that they are universal insofar
as they apply to all rational creatures around the world and throughout time. The most dramatic
example of this view is Plato, who was inspired by the field of mathematics. When we look at
numbers and mathematical relations, such as 1+1=2, they seem to be timeless concepts that
never change, and apply everywhere in the universe. Humans do not invent numbers, and
humans cannot alter them. Plato explained the eternal character of mathematics by stating that
they are abstract entities that exist in a spirit-like realm. He noted that moral values also are
absolute truths and thus are also abstract, spirit-like entities. In this sense, for Plato, moral
values are spiritual objects. Medieval philosophers commonly grouped all moral principles
together under the heading of "eternal law" which were also frequently seen as spirit-like
objects. 17th century British philosopher Samuel Clarke described them as spirit-
like relationships rather than spirit-like objects. In either case, though, they exist in a spirit-like
realm. A different other-worldly approach to the metaphysical status of morality is divine
commands issuing from God's will. Sometimes called voluntarism (or divine command theory),
this view was inspired by the notion of an all-powerful God who is in control of everything. God
simply wills things, and they become reality. He wills the physical world into existence, he wills
human life into existence and, similarly, he wills all moral values into existence. Proponents of
this view, such as medieval philosopher William of Ockham, believe that God wills moral
principles, such as "murder is wrong," and these exist in God's mind as commands. God
informs humans of these commands by implanting us with moral intuitions or revealing these
commands in scripture.
The second and more this-worldly approach to the metaphysical status of morality follows in
the skeptical philosophical tradition, such as that articulated by Greek philosopher Sextus
Empiricus, and denies the objective status of moral values. Technically, skeptics did not reject
moral values themselves, but only denied that values exist as spirit-like objects, or as divine
commands in the mind of God. Moral values, they argued, are strictly human inventions, a
position that has since been called moral relativism. There are two distinct forms of moral
relativism. The first is individual relativism, which holds that individual people create their own
moral standards. Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, argued that the superhuman creates his or
her morality distinct from and in reaction to the slave-like value system of the masses. The
second is cultural relativism which maintains that morality is grounded in the approval of one's
society - and not simply in the preferences of individual people. This view was advocated by
Sextus, and in more recent centuries by Michel Montaigne and William Graham Sumner. In
addition to espousing skepticism and relativism, this-worldly approaches to the metaphysical
status of morality deny the absolute and universal nature of morality and hold instead that
moral values in fact change from society to society throughout time and throughout the world.
They frequently attempt to defend their position by citing examples of values that differ
dramatically from one culture to another, such as attitudes about polygamy, homosexuality and
human sacrifice.

Reading: A Brief Reflection

What Does God Want of Us?
Micah 6:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
and to walk humbly with your God?
What God Wants of You
Have you ever seriously asked God, “Lord, what do you want of me?” This is a fundamental
issue every believer must address in order to grow spiritually. C.S. Lewis was no exception and
here is his answer to the question: is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even
all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves. For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He
must increase and I decrease.” He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no
promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to
give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and
makes room for Him in our souls. Let us make up our minds to it; there will be nothing “of our
own” left over to live on, no “ordinary” life. I do not mean that each of us will necessarily be
called to be a martyr or even an ascetic. That’s as may be. For some (nobody knows which)
the Christian life will include much leisure, many occupations we naturally like. But these will be
received from God’s hands. In a perfect Christian they would be as much part of his “religion,”
his “service,” as his hardest duties, and his feasts would be as Christian as his fasts. What
cannot be admitted—what must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy—is the
idea of something that is “our own,” some area in which we are to be “out of school,” on which
God has no claim.
For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us.
When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death.
Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.1
There are remnants of the old self within each of us that we cling to and do not want to part
with—areas of sin and selfishness. Some we recognize, others we don’t. Because God loves
us, he brings them to our attention, one by one over time. Whenever he does, we have a
decision to make: resistance or surrender. If we resist, we consign ourselves to spiritual
stagnation and decline. If we surrender, he prunes it away, allowing the fruit of his Spirit to
blossom more fully and bringing greater Christlikeness and intimacy with him. ...put off your old
self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, renewed in the spirit of your minds... EPHESIANS 4:22-23 (ESV)
1 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Touchstone, 1996), pp 140-41.

Reading: What does this say to us?

What Does God Want of Us
Perhaps we should take a good look at the Scriptures to ask if this philosophical issue is
directly addressed? I happen to think that it is. But, then I also believe the God exists and is
intimately involved in how the world works. His will is what will make for a good life. Are we
willing to follow his will? What exactly is it? The following excerpt from Isaiah gives me much to
think about. How about you? -RZ

Isaiah 58
6“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressedb go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

Having read that, what sort of thoughts do you have regarding the ethical life of a disciple of

Reading: Nicholas Wolterstorff Ponders the Issue

A contemporary Christian philosopher named Nicolas Wolterstorff has written extensively on
the issues facing us in modern ethics. The following is an introduction to his thoughts. -RZ

These are excerpts from an article in the Christian Century entitled “An Interview with Nicolas
Wolterstorff”. Retrieved from

You have argued that Christians (along with other believers) have every right to make
religious arguments in the public sphere--that they don’t need to turn to some neutral,
universally rational language before they engage in political debate. Can you explain?
I think it is appropriate in our liberal democracy for Christians, along with adherents of other
religions, to make decisions about political issues on the basis of whatever considerations they
find true and relevant. I also think it appropriate for them to cite those reasons in public
discussions and debates about those political issues. Sometimes, though not always, these
reasons will be distinctly religious reasons--Christian, Jewish, whatever. Of course, if you want
to persuade your fellow citizens who don’t accept your religious reasons to adopt some policy
that you favor, you will have to try to find some reasons that they find compelling.
I don’t agree, then, with the view of many political theorists that when making up our minds
about political issues or debating them in public, we have to appeal to some body of principles
that we all accept, or would all accept if we did things right. I don’t believe that there is any
such body of principles. It’s not that we Americans disagree about everything. But we don’t
agree about enough things to settle our basic political issues by reference to a body of agreed-
on principles.

How did a Reformed philosopher become passionate about justice?

I became passionate about justice because of two episodes in my life. First, in September
1976 I attended a conference in South Africa at which not only were white Afrikaners present
but also black and "colored" (mixed-race) scholars from South Africa. The latter two groups
spoke in moving language about the indignities daily heaped upon them and pleaded for
justice. I felt that I had been called by God--in the classic Protestant sense of "call"--to speak
up in my own way for these wronged people.
Second, in May 1978 I attended a conference on Palestinian rights on the west side of
Chicago. About 150 Palestinians were present, most of them Christian. They too poured out
their hearts about the indignities heaped upon them and pleaded for justice. Again, I felt that I
had been called by God to speak up for these wronged people.
In short, it was hearing the voices and seeing the faces of the wronged that evoked in me a
passion for justice. A good deal of my writing since these two episodes has been about justice.
I see all of it as my attempt to speak up for the wronged of the world.
The effect of these two episodes has gone beyond my writing, however. I became friends with
a rather large number of "coloreds" and blacks from South Africa and of whites in the
resistance movement. I have often spoken about South Africa and have returned there a
number of times. One of those times was as a character witness in a trial of Allan Boesak.
Boesak, along with Bishop Desmond Tutu, was one of the two most important religious leaders
of the resistance. He has been a dear friend for 25 years.
I also did a great deal of speaking on the plight of the Palestinians, and I became head of an
organization called the Palestine Human Rights Campaign. When the Oslo Agreement was
signed, I thought that the day of outsiders making a contribution to peace with justice in the
Middle East was over, that it was now in the hands of the Palestinians and the Israelis. That
proved to have been a naive conclusion!
Justice is a word we hear invoked in countless situations. Yet deciding what it means to
act justly in particular situations (whether it’s a case of affirmative action or the huge
global inequalities in living standards) is highly controversial. How can we begin to get
clear about what justice is?
As I see it, justice is grounded in rights. A society is just insofar as its members are enjoying
those goods to which they have a right--or to put it from the other side, insofar as no one is
being wronged. In turn, I understand rights as grounded in worth. You have a right to my
treating you a certain way if my failure to do so would be to treat you as having less worth than
you do have.
A good number of moral systems do not take the worth of persons into account; they take into
account only how well or poorly people’s lives are going. Utilitarianism is an example. The
utilitarian says that we should aim at bringing about as much well-being as possible--that is, as
much good as possible in people’s lives. Nothing is said about the worth of the persons whose
lives those are. The reason I think that the recognition of rights is to be found in the Hebrew
and Christian scriptures is that there one finds the worth of human beings affirmed.
So how does one decide what justice requires? How do I decide whether justice requires that I
treat a student of mine in a certain way? I ask whether my not treating her that way would
amount to treating her as if she had less worth than she does have. If she has written a top-
notch paper but I nonetheless give her a mediocre grade, I have wronged her. Of course, it’s
not always easy to discern what respect for worth requires. But it’s also not always easy to
discern what obligation requires. And so on for all other moral concepts.
Justice is not everything, however. Love never falls short of justice, but often it goes beyond
justice. Likewise, to return to politics, the common good goes beyond what justice requires.
I think that the overarching category that Christians should use for thinking about social and
political relations is that of shalom. There is no shalom without justice, but shalom goes beyond

Video: Ravi Zacharias on how to measure your choices

Born in India in 1946, Dr. Zacharias immigrated to Canada with his family twenty years later.
He pursued a career in business management before speaking and writing. Dr. Zacharias has
been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, where he studied moralist philosophers and
literature of the Romantic era, and has been honored with the conferring of six doctoral
degrees, including a Doctor of Laws and a Doctor of Sacred Theology. He is presently Senior
Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University in Oxford, England.
Dr. Zacharias has authored or edited well over twenty books including the Gold Medallion
winner Can Man Live Without God (Word, 1994), Walking from East to West (Zondervan,
2006), The Grand Weaver(Zondervan, 2007), Has Christianity Failed You? (Zondervan,
2010), Why Jesus, (FaithWords, 2012), andBeyond Opinion (Thomas Nelson, 2007), which
includes contributions from RZIM's global team. His latest books are a graphic novel version
of The Lamb and the Fuhrer (Kingstone Media: June 2014) and Why Suffering?, coauthored
with Vince Vitale and released by FaithWords in October 2014. Several of his books have been
translated into Russian, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, and other languages.
Dr. Zacharias is recognized as a distinguished lecturer with the Staley Foundation and has
appeared on CNN, Fox, and other international broadcasts. His weekly radio program, "Let My
People Think,” airs on 2152 outlets worldwide, his weekday program, "Just Thinking,” on 721,
and his one-minute "Just a Thought,” on 488. Various broadcasts are also translated into
Romanian and Turkish, and "Let My People Think” airs as the Spanish-language program
"Pensemos” on over 250 outlets in sixteen countries.
Additionally, his television program, "Let My People Think,” is broadcast internationally in
several countries including Indonesia. RZIM is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with
Canada, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Romania,
Turkey, Austria, Spain, and South Africa. Dr. Zacharias and his wife, Margie, have three grown
children. They reside in Atlanta.
Retrieved from
So with that as an introduction to Ravi Zacharias, I invite you to listen and watch the YouTube
presentation by Dr. Zacharias on the issue of Christian ethics. -RZ Please note: if the video
will not load for you, try copying and pasting this site