Reprinted from PhilosophyNews.com, August 31, 2004. This interview was conducted by David Sanders (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the Philosophy News Service. © 2004 Philosophy News Service
JESUS, PAUL MOSER, AND PHILOSOPHY
To paraphrase the philosopher Gary DeWeese, while God may be hidden, Paul
Moser's philosophical abilities most certainly are not. Indeed, Paul Moser has
for some time been considered one of the top philosophers in North America,
writing impressive work in the area of epistemology.
What many philosophers may not be aware of is the groundbreaking work professor Moser has been doing recently in Christian philosophy. For an idea of how unique Dr. Moser's writings are in this area (at least unique with regards to the current philosophical climate), we encourage you to visit his web site where several of Dr. Moser's papers are available online to read. His goal in these papers is to demonstrate that he "seeks to develop the Good News of Jesus in a way that bears on philosophy."
In an upcoming article "Jesus and Philosophy: On the Questions We Ask" (forthcoming in Faith and Philosophy), Moser asks the question, "What, if anything, has Jesus to do with philosophy?" Moser goes on to say that although this question has received little notice in the philosophy literature, "it calls for attention from anyone interested in philosophy, whether Christian or non-Christian."
Dr. Moser kindly took some time to talk to the Philosophy News Service about his ideas on Christian philosophy and his recent body of work.
Philosophy News Service: In looking at your curriculum vitae, we noticed that a great deal of your work has emphasized distinctively Christian philosophy of late. Can you comment on why you started, say in the later 1990's, to focus more in the area of Christian Theology and the Philosophy of Religion in your published work?
Professor Moser: Since the age of 16 years old, I have sought to do my work in philosophy for the sake of knowing and following Jesus. Much of my writing in college and graduate school was explicitly for the cause of knowing and following Jesus. One of my first publications was in the philosophy of religion, on the problem of evil. Later publications focused on knowing and following Jesus as I became able to offer a focus that was faithful to him. The focus includes epistemology sub specie crucis [in light of the cross], from the perspective of the cross of Jesus. Why? Because the cross of Jesus is at the heart of the Good News of God and Jesus (1 Cor. 1:18,23-24). It is also at the center of philosophy done right, because it is at the heart of God's wisdom as opposed to the wisdom of the world.
PNS: In your upcoming Faith and Philosophy article, "Jesus and Philosophy: On the Questions We Ask", you write: "this paper contends that Jesus's love (agape) commands have important implications for how philosophy is to be done, specifically, for what questions may be pursued. The paper, accordingly, distinguishes two relevant modes of being human: a discussion mode and an obedience mode. Philosophy done under the authority of Jesus's love commands must transcend a discussion mode to realize an obedience mode of human conduct." You then add that "as for philosophers who consistently manifest the obedience mode of philosophy in their writings, they are few and far between."
Is part of your
goal in your recent writings to help persuade more Christian philosophers
to, as you say, "manifest the obedience mode of philosophy in their
writings"? In your opinion, why is it that more philosophers do not manifest
obedience mode in their writings?
Moser: My goal is to persuade all of us, whether philosophers or nonphilosophers, to "obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:8). We all need constant encouragement in this direction. It's deeply disturbing that so little philosophy, even among avowedly Christian philosophers, is done sub specie crucis, in the bright, saving light of the Good News of what God has done in Jesus. Professional philosophy entices many of us to become caught up with what impresses secular philosophers, and thereby to neglect the irreplaceable Good News of God anchored in the cross of Jesus. It's all too easy to "receive glory from one another and not seek the glory that comes from the only God" (John 5:44). We all would do well to reflect carefully on 1 Corinthians 1-2 in this connection, where Paul offers his outline of philosophy sub specie crucis. These two chapters of 1 Corinthians emphasize that God's ways (rather than ours, even as philosophers) are supreme even in the areas of knowledge and wisdom, and that God's ways must be viewed sub specie crucis. As we resist this saving fact, as we often do, we fall prey to cognitive idolatry by adopting cognitive standards opposed to God's ways.
PNS: Would you anticipate any professional repercussions for a university professor who is truly doing work under the obedience mode?
Moser: For any of us who receives the Good News of Jesus via faithful obedience, the repercussions are constant, thoroughgoing, and life-giving. The cross of Jesus should change everything about us, and will do so as we yield in faithful obedience to the Good News (2 Cor. 5:17). The change is what Paul identifies as dying to the world, to my own standards, and even to the Old Testament Law, in order to "live to God." As he says, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by trust in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). This kind of transformation does not fit into the categories of the secular world, including the secular university. In fact, it is deemed "foolishness" by the world. Even so, the secular world is in no position to accuse the living God's wisdom of being foolishness. In rejecting the wisdom of God in Jesus, the secular world has only one thing to offer in the end: death. Followers of Jesus do well to remember this, particularly in a university setting.
PNS: In "Jesus and Philosophy" you state, "Why, in the competition for our time and energy, do we allow philosophical questions to win out over the wide range of alternatives? What explains this, and is our rationale viable? We'll ask if Jesus has anything to say about our tendencies toward philosophical questions, and we'll see that he does indeed. At a minimum, he shows us how to be free of philosophy as an obsession that interferes with life." Are you speaking directly to professional philosophers in these questions? If so, are you implying that Christian philosophers are spending too much time working on philosophy, above and beyond what it takes to do their work well, get published, attain tenure, etc.? Can you provide a brief profile of what an idea of a more balanced life might look like?
Moser: The essay, "Jesus and Philosophy," aims to speak to all of us who have been tempted to allow philosophy to intrude on the lordship of Jesus. If Jesus is our Lord, then he is Lord of our time. So, in using our time, we should comply with the commands of Jesus as Lord. It's all too easy to talk about doing philosophy to clarify and defend "Christianity" while we ignore Jesus as Lord. Followers of Jesus are called by God to obey Jesus faithfully as Lord. "Christianity" easily becomes an abstraction that takes us away from relating to Jesus as Lord sub specie crucis. My essay contends that philosophy done right takes Jesus as Lord utterly seriously. Regarding an exemplary life, I know of no better example than that of Jesus. We have heard a lot of talk of "what would Jesus do?" (WWJD). Even professional philosophers can benefit from attending to that question, as long as Jesus is acknowledged as Lord. Somehow the protestant tradition has lost proper emphasis on obeying Jesus in all areas of life. Perhaps a misunderstanding of the relation between faith and obedience has contributed to this. In any case, philosophy done sub specie crucis acknowledges Jesus as the Lord to be faithfully obeyed even in the area of philosophy. He is our best model for being a person of God's wisdom. There is no better model for philosophers.
PNS: You recently have written a great deal on the theme of divine hiding, or the hiddenness of God. In addition to many articles, you edited a book called "Divine Hiddenness" with Daniel Howard-Snyder. As a part of the philosophy of religion discipline, where do you see the discussion of divine hiddenness going? Did the process of editing and contributing to this book clarify many of the issues for you?
Moser: Diving hiding should not be any surprise to readers of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament. This important feature of God is neglected by many people working on natural theology and knowledge of God. My essay on cognitive idolatry in Divine Hiddenness identifies some of the divine motives for divine hiding, and contends that we often suffer from cognitive idolatry. We wield cognitive standards at odds with those of the living God, and thereby obscure the way God works in His creation. The needed corrective is to reorient epistemology sub specie crucis. The cross of Jesus has redemptive significance even in the area of knowing. We often overlook that the cross of Jesus is cognitively of supreme importance. If the discussion of divine hiddenness moves toward elucidating epistemology sub specie crucis, it will make an important contribution, because it will then hold us accountable as knowers under God's loving judgment. If, however, it moves toward the kind of abstractions characteristic of natural theology, it will fail to elucidate the Good News we all need.
PNS: Turning to philosophy and the church, you write that "we should think of philosophy in the obedience mode as, first and foremost, philosophy in the eager service of the church of Jesus. We must reorient philosophy to be used as a spiritual gift designed for ministry within the church of Jesus, which in turn ministers the Good News of Jesus to a needy world (as is commanded by Jesus in, for instance, the great discipleship commission of Matt. 28:18-20)." You indicate that you co-chair an adult education class at your own church and have taught, for example, some classes related to the idea of the hiddenness of God. Is it your hope that more Christian philosophers might begin doing the same sort of thing? Do you think the typically Christian church goer is ready for philosophy? What are the biggest challenges facing an effort like this?
Moser: Christian philosophers faithful to Jesus must "feed his sheep" (John 21:17). Otherwise, we are not loving and serving Jesus. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to show that gifts from God are to be used for the upbuilding of the church of Jesus. Our intellectual gifts are no exception here. Insofar as philosophy done right, sub specie crucis, contributes to the spread of the Good News of Jesus, people in the church will stand only to gain from such philosophy. The problem is that much of philosophy, even in the hands of Christians, has lost its focus in the Good News of Jesus. With a restored focus, philosophy can contribute to needed ministry in the church of Jesus. In that case, philosophers will not be driven by impressing other philosophers; they will rather look to Jesus as the one to please with faithful obedience. This does not fit with secular philosophy, but, given Jesus as Lord, we should not expect or want a fit here.
PNS: In a footnote to your paper on Jesus and Philosophy, you mention chairing the Adult Education ministry of a large church congregation, and that you have seen how philosophy takes on new and vital focuses. Can you talk about this a bit more? Generalizing a bit, philosophy seems absent from most church adult education programs. What might philosophy "taking on new and vital focuses" look like in a church?
Moser: Once again we should look to Jesus as our exemplar. He exemplified divine wisdom perfectly, and serves as our living example of true wisdom. We should think of wisdom and pursue wisdom in the ways he did. All things will then be related, in faithful obedience, to Jesus's Father and the Good News of what Jesus's Father did and does in Jesus. The life of the apostle Paul illustrates a clear move to philosophy sub specie crucis, and 1 Cor. 1-2 document this move. As for how this is to be lived out in the church, 1 Corinthians gives us an outline, culminating in the great agape chapter 13. Philosophers, in this case, will not hesitate to talk about Jesus as living Lord; they certainly will not settle for talk of "Christianity" instead of Jesus. There's a choice to be made here: do we want to impress secular philosophers or do we want to obey Jesus faithfully? This is a difficult choice for some philosophers.
PNS: Can you tell us some more about the content of your book in progress, Jesus and Philosophy: The Life of Truth (a book ms. in progress) and when you expect it to be published?
Moser: The book seeks to develop the Good News of Jesus in a way that bears on philosophy. It thus develops philosophy sub specie crucis. Before finishing that book, I plan to finish a collection of essays by 13 writers, called Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays. The latter book considers how Jesus contributes to philosophy in various ways. It's striking that no other book has taken up this topic in a comprehensive manner. It's time to fill this gap, for the sake of the Good News of Jesus.