Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:8).
As Christians we do well to emphasize the importance of hearing the message of the Gospel and salvation through God in Christ and accepting that message on its own terms without corruption (Romans 10:17). Yet we should not be deceived or ignorant regarding the role our governing philosophy plays in how we understand the Gospel message.
Philosophy can refer to various systems of thought (e.g. Platonic philosophy), investigation in matters of liberal arts or some sciences, or the pursuit of wisdom. The ancient Greeks were famous for their philosophical investigations and have strongly influenced Western thought ever since. Yet philosophy can also refer to the collection of the most fundamental thoughts and assumptions held by an individual or a group: such is what we describe as one’s “governing philosophy.” Everyone has such a governing philosophy whether they recognize it or not, for each person has built a mental framework through which they understand the world around them and seek to make sense of it.
We humans tend to inherit our governing philosophy from our immediate environment; we tend to look at the world as we have been trained by our parents and other family members, by our educational system, and by our culture through the consumption of various forms of media. For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century the rational/modernist school of philosophy proved very influential, confident in human abilities of reason and discernment, accepting aspects of absolute truth yet skeptical of any supernatural aspect to reality. Since the middle of the twentieth century the postmodernist school of philosophy is gaining traction, less confident in human ability and discernment, skeptical of absolute truth yet open to the possibility that there is more to reality than what we can perceive. Many maintain a very materialist philosophy, believing only in that which can be perceived by the senses, highly skeptical of anything spiritual or transcendent. Nationalism/patriotism, Judeo-Christian morality and ethics, earlier philosophical schools, and other factors also influence the governing philosophies of those living in the Western world.
Our governing philosophy influences the way we hear and accept the Gospel message, since it influences and shapes how we understand our reality. We do need a governing philosophy so that we can make sense of our world, accept and incorporate what is good, and reject what is wrong or inaccurate. Nevertheless, before we come to Christ, we are in sin, and corrupted not only in deed but also in thought and in understanding (Romans 3:10-23, Ephesians 2:1-11, Titus 3:3-8). These forms of philosophy may have some aspects of truth to them, but they are also heavily influenced by worldly thinking, following after the tradition of the men according to the rudiments of this world, as Paul warns in Colossians 2:8.
Therefore we must subject all of our thought processes, including our basic governing philosophy, to the Gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is a difficult and uncomfortable process since it involves some of the deepest and most profound assumptions we maintain regarding who we are and the reality in which we live, yet it is a necessary process so that we may be fully built upon the foundation of Christ and not the world (Matthew 7:24-26).
Our governing philosophy informs our understanding of the Gospel of Christ; not a few false doctrines and errors began to be propagated because people subjected their understanding of the Gospel to their previously held philosophical assumptions as opposed to subjecting their previously held philosophical assumptions to the Gospel of Christ (Colossians 2:6-8). Let us not fall into the same trap, but prove willing to be fully rooted in Christ, allowing our most basic assumptions about our reality to be shaped and directed by God in Christ through Scripture, and subject all thought processes to Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry