Matt Sokoloski asks, “Isn’t Philosophy Anti-Christian?”

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

If I were to ask this question to my freshman class, I am sure I would get many blank stares. However, this topic needs to be addressed in our college classrooms – even if it is not asked in exactly the same way. I was reminded of this recently from a brief exchange with a student in one of my freshman level courses. I teach an upper division philosophy course each day just prior to a lower division general humanities course. In the philosophy class we had been discussing the Ring of Gyges from Plato’s Republic and the nature of justice, and I had left expansive notes all over the board. As I began my next general humanities class, I tried to sell my freshman class on the idea of taking philosophy with me if they had the chance. They looked up at the maze of words on the board, and I could see their polite smiles which seemed to say thanks but no thanks! I erased the board and moved on with starting class.

It was after class that an inquisitive student came up and asked me – “Isn’t philosophy anti-Christian?” This was a stark reminder to me of how little the average student is aware of what philosophy actualyl tries to pursue. I briefly talked about the meaning of philosophy and that while there are many secular thinkers who pursue philosophy, there are in fact many Christian philosophers. I made a joke referencing Colossians 2:8 while pointing out that in the proper context a study of philosophy honors God – in fact, it can be an expression of our being made in God’s image.

In my classes I try to find opportunities in which I can point out the differences between secular and spiritual approaches to knowledge, learning, and ideas. All too often we compartmentalize the secular and the sacred in our own lives. I’m not sure why we do this – Is it easier? Are we lazy? One reason I think we compartmentalize our learning is that we can focus on the topic at hand so as to be more successful in the mastery of the subject. Too often we can be like the student who is only concerned for the practical impact of knowledge, or even worse, only concerned about whether it will be on the test or not. It is hard work to take every thought captive for Christ. But if we can instill in our students the desire to see how faith and learning go together in their own studies, perhaps we can promote further integration in a broader context. Instead of compartmentalizing our lives into work, play, and worship on Sunday, perhaps we would be more thoughtful of how our whole lives can bring glory to God. I would argue that with the consumer mindset of students in higher education it is challenging for them to truly appreciate and value a liberal arts education. It may even be more challenging for the average student to see the value of pursuing a liberal arts education Christianly. But that is why we as professors must continue to encourage this broader vision of education. If we are not practicing it in our own disciplines and teaching methods, then we are not practicing what we preach.

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“In Defense of Poetry” – Josh Fullman

In 1579 Sir Philip Sydney composed a response to Renaissance criticisms that English drama was a hotbed of wickedness in his apology, The Defence of Posey. Though no one during the Renaissance had ever witnessed an episode of Game of Thrones, these claims against the stage were understandable for an age that, only a few steps removed from medievalism, mistrusted any representation divorced from the control of the church.
The first of these objections Sydney addresses is that there are supposedly more important things to learn and spend our time on than poetry. Aquinas seems to agree when he asserts in the Summa that poetry is the lowest of sciences, but he redeems poetry from this irrelevance when he asserts that God has used the lowest science to communicate the highest science of theology. After all, it is true that not everyone can read the complex reasoning of the Summa, but everyone can read Narnia. Thus, if God has used literature to communicate eternal truths, it cannot wholly be a waste of time.

The second objection is that fiction is simply a lie. This is Plato’s problem with the Homeric gods, and why he is mistakenly thought to issue a wholesale condemnation of poetry. But Plato’s objection is rooted in the Grecian misunderstanding of Homeric’s verse as truth; but this does not mean he is against literature—especially since he uses literature as a vehicle for his philosophy. We should not confuse the vehicle with its passenger. As Sydney confirms, “shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious?” Is erotic love wrong in marriage simply because others wrongly use it outside of marriage? Is social media an evil because more people use it for evil than for good? Wisdom is necessary to discern between right use and wrong.

The final objection, still toted by the fundamentalist inheritors of Puritanism today, is that poetry urges us to think on evil. Through book and screen we witness injustice and corruption, we watch people murdered, we voyeuristically participate in lovers’ passions. There is some argument to be made here, but we must distinguish between the erotic and the pornographic. The erotic displays beauty, which should point us toward the God who created beauty; the pornographic turns inward, twisting the erotic toward base impulses that only reflect and gratify the self. Sir Guyon of The Fairie Queen, for instance, sees the bathing beauties in the Bower of Blisse and longs to go to them. Jane Eyre wants desperately to marry the already-married Rochester. Both Spenser and Bronte know their readers will be seduced by the imaginative possibilities presented in their narrative and want us rooting for our heroes to give into their bestial natures. But herein lies the point. Poetry can deceive us into accepting its premises and to promote immorality. Few authors are as skilled as Spenser and Bronte to then pull the rug out from under us and reaffirm the Christian truth that we had forgotten in our unreflective consumption of literature. Poetry, therefore, is not morally bankrupt but is itself a form of moral currency to be deposited in our minds.

Perhaps the final objection demands the most attention. Yet the problem seems not to be that we don’t trust stories, as might have been the case in Sydney’s day. After all, how many people do you know who refuse to go to the movies or watch television at all out of some purist sense of principle? Most people, believers and pagans alike, raptly follow the compelling serials, blockbusters, and trilogies. What is needed then in our day is not a defense of poetry but a defense for good poetry. Anyone with moving brainwaves can watch film, but it takes effort to watch film well. All can consume, but we must urge reflection as and after we consume.

The first obstacle to properly encountering art is, unfortunately, ourselves. We myopically value only that which we already like. Alexander Pope warns in An Essay on Criticism: “Fondly we think we honour Merit then, / When we but praise Our selves in Other Men.” Everyone thinks they have good taste, just as everyone assumes that God must see the world the way they themselves do. But taste must be cultivated, like intelligence, the muscles, or any other faculty. The more cheeseburgers we chow down, the less we will be able to distinguish between a filet and a porterhouse. The more Modern Family or even Facing the Giants we watch, the less likely we will be able to read, understand, and discern the Christian powers at work in Spenser or Bronte. We become what we eat, and this is no more true for our stomach than for our minds and souls.

For the reader still unconvinced of the premises in this treatise, little may be done to compel him to pick up Keats. But for the man who searches eagerly for truth, he may yet find it in the eloquence of poetry. May we then surround ourselves with beauty and contemplate the higher things.

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2016 Conference Announced

Come join us at Faulkner University for the 2016 IFA Conference. Our theme this year is “Pursuing Justice: Following the Letter and the Spirit.” The plenary speaker will be Tim Perrin, President of Lubbock Christian University, who will be speaking on the virtue of justice from his perspective as an attorney, a law professor, and as a university president.

If you are interested in presenting a paper on this topic or on related topics, please submit a 250-word abstract to All participants are asked to register on our registration page in advance of the conference, February 5, 2016.

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Spring 2015 Journal Published!

The Spring 2015 Journal of Faith and the Academy has been published. In this edition, we have collected a great number of papers from our annual conference, including from the plenary speaker, John Mark Reynolds, on the topic of wisdom in the contemporary academy.

If you are not yet a subscriber, please contact our subscriptions manager, Julie King, at We are also seeking academic book reviews, which can be submitted to Jason Jewell at Finally, if you are interested in publishing a paper in a future edition of the Journal, please contact Josh Fullman at

News on our upcoming 2016 conference will be posted shortly. Stay tuned!

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Registration for the 2015 Conference

Registration for the 2015 Conference, “Ancient Words and Modern Voices,” is now available. Participants and presenters may pay the $25 registration fee here or at the door. We look forward to seeing you there.

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Faith and the Academy 2015 Conference

Please make plans to attend the Institute of Faith and the Academy 2015 Conference on February 6, 2015. Dr. John Mark Reynolds will be speaking on the conference theme, “Ancient Words and Modern Voices: Practical Wisdom in Times of Change.”

Provost, Houston Baptist University

Provost, Houston Baptist University

John Mark Reynolds has his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester, and is the provost of Houston Baptist University. He is also the founder of the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program, at Biola University.  Dr. Reynolds is a founder and board member of Wheatstone Ministries. Dr. Reynolds lectures frequently on ancient philosophy, philosophy of science, home schooling and cultural trends. He regularly appears on radio talk shows, such as the Hugh Hewitt Show, and actively blogs on cultural issues at The City Online, and the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column. His books include When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought (IVP), What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism (with Phillip E. Johnson, IVP), and he is the editor of the Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Bethany House). His most recent book is a fantasy novel Chasing Shadows with Unlocking Press.

If you are interested in submitting an abstract for presenting at the conference, please direct all inquiries to the

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Faith and the Academy Conference 2014

The seventh annual Faith and the Academy Conference with the theme “What makes Christian education Christian,” will be held February 7, 2014, on the campus of Faulkner University in Montgomery, AL.

Dr. Gary Selby
, Director of the Center for the Faith and Learning, Pepperdine University will be the plenary speaker.

For more information, please check the Annual Conference page.

There is still time to submit a paper proposal for this conference, but don’t delay.  December 15, 2013.

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