The Philosophical Pulpit
Three principles to help you preach with a Christian worldview
Today’s culture promotes myriad worldviews that contradict the truths of Scripture. Tragically, some Christians have responded by embracing relativism, the denial of all things certain.
As pastors and leaders in the Church, we should ask: Is relativism permissible for Christians? How can we help disciples develop and maintain a Christian worldview?
By putting on the mind of Christ, Christians can begin forming a worldview that is honoring to God. In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns us not to be captives of mere human tradition or the spirit of the age. Pastors should be equipped to tackle philosophies of “hollow and deceptive philosophy” from the pulpit.
C. S. Lewis famously said, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
This rings true today, and the pulpit is the perfect place for helping disciples identify the bankrupt philosophies infiltrating our culture. Here are three principles to help your congregation bring clarity to its Christian worldview.
1. Do not be held captive to mere human tradition.
Colossians 2:8 warns believers of the dangers of empty, deceptive, humanistic philosophies that can hold people captive. It is important to understand Paul’s argument here, since the discipline of philosophy and the institution of human tradition could be at stake. The key to understanding this passage is the word “captive.” Christians are to give allegiance first to Christ by allowing His teachings and character to dominate all other allegiances. Therefore, to be captive of something that would contradict Christ is to be at odds with Christ.
Not all human traditions are bad or unbiblical, of course. Yet Christians must keep even seemingly positive cultural pressures, such as patriotism, in proper scriptural perspective. For Christians, a relationship with Christ supersedes all else. Your preaching can help your congregation see the proper relationship between allegiance to God and allegiance to country. After all, ultimate allegiance to Christ actually makes us better, more loving neighbors and citizens. But when there is a conflict between obeying Scripture and obeying a human leader or philosophy, God’s authority transcends all others.
When there is a conflict between obeying Scripture and obeying a human leader or philosophy, God’s authority transcends all others.
2. Do not be held captive by the spirit of the age.
Every culture is vulnerable to ideas that have power over people — for the simple reason that they are easy to believe, not because they are true. Paul addressed the “elemental spiritual forces of this world” with the Colossians concerning early Gnosticism and Judaism. Both were easy to believe, either because their neighbors believed in them or because their teachings appealed to some felt need.
Wise pastors should be able to confront the spiritual forces of the world in every form. Spiritual lies infiltrate communities, workplaces and schools, and more Christians than we would like to believe subscribe to these wrong ideas. A philosophically careful pastor exposes the falsehood of ideas that are popular but unbiblical, while clearly communicating the sometimes-difficult truths of the gospel. Pastors are often prophets, speaking truth to people who are tempted to believe what is easy.
For decades, the Church has wrestled with what we often call the prosperity gospel. It is a struggle for the Church because many of its most vocal proponents are outwardly successful — with big facilities, big ministries and big budgets. The promise of worldly success tempts many Christians into the notion that there must be something true about it. But it is a spirit of the age.
The idea that God wants to make every Christian rich appeals to our felt needs. But the truth is that Christ and His disciples lived in simplicity and even poverty. God’s prophets rarely had crowds of followers, and worldly powers hated them. Yet they were always the heroes of the story. The prosperity gospel fails the biblical test of truth, and the philosophically careful pastor learns to say so.
3. Be held captive by a Christ-honoring philosophy.
The test of any philosophy is how it handles the person of Christ. Paul does not jettison philosophy, but he does encourage us to reject ideas that do not honor Christ. And whether they are trained this way, pastors act as philosophers behind the pulpit when they confront falsehood and communicate the truth. Let us learn to do it well.
As a young pastor, my sermons were full of jargon. I was excited about what those terms communicated, and I thought others would be as well. With age comes wisdom. I am learning now to communicate big, important ideas in ways that are easier to absorb. Worldview analysis from the pulpit is necessary, but it need not be complicated.
One of the keys to Daniel’s faithfulness is his confidence in divine sovereignty. Babylon was a complex and pagan culture, but Daniel remained faithful to an omnipotent God. Likewise, pastors should absorb cultural realities and filter them through biblical truth, so that what comes out in the message is relatable.
If you do some work clarifying a Christian philosophy for yourself, it will be easier to identify what is wrong with false philosophies as you communicate God’s truths about Christ.
This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Influence. For more print content, subscribe here.