For more on this wider context of LACE and engaging with other thought, see 'See Also' at the end.
In response to the first version of this page, David Booth of the Christian Academic Network suggested that enriching could also proceed in the other direction: the world's thought could enrich Christian thought. This possibility is discussed at the end.
Because we are called to be like Christ in both behaviour and attitude, who came to serve rather than dominate (Philippians 2).
Because we are called to be winsome and attractive for Christ (Verse needed).
Because we are called to "Do good to all people ..." (Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 2:10, II Timothy 3:16-17).
Because humanity is called to 'rule' Creation in such as way that it images God and God's character to the rest of Creation - which includes opening up its potential for the good of all, not just for our own good. (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:19-20) (I take Gen 2:19-20 as affirming the scientific enterprise as well as other things.)
Because Creation is eagerly awaiting the 'revealing' of the mature 'sons' of God, who will treat it aright and bring blessing to it (Romans 8:19)
Because Jesus asked that here on earth as in heaven, the Father's Name would be honoured, Kingdom and rule come, and will be done (Matthew 6:9-10).
Because, even while we are being persecuted we are still called to bless and not curse the others, to forgive and pray for our persecutors, and to bring good (I Peter 3:8-16; Matthew 5:43-48). Apparently the early Christians did so. Persecution is no excuse not to.
Why should we not be governed by attitudes of opposing, ignoring or acquiescing to non-Christian thought? I hold that each might be appropriate in very specific circumstances but not as a general approach.
Opposing: Because we are called to bless and be a blessing to the rest of Creation, including all the world - and thus enrich. However when people oppose us we can be ready to argue against them. But that should be the exception not the rule.
Ignoring: Jesus advises "Do not cast your pearls before swine nor what is holy to dogs", suggesting a disengagement. However, that seems not to be a primary command but a secondary qualification of the more primary rule "do not judge" (Matthew 7:1-6). Though occasionally it might prove to be a waste of time trying to enrich other thought, in most situations it is very fruitful to offer enrichment.
Acquiescing: We are always to maintain criticality towards all thought: Romans 12:1-2. Once, Jesus acquiesced, when he advised Peter to pay the tax - but I take that to be an exception in that particular circumstance.
1. Offer enrichment, rather than force it on others. Think carefully how to offer it. (Those of us with Asperger Syndrome need to be particularly careful since we are less naturally aware of what others think or expect.)
2. One enrichment is to expose foundational assumptions or presuppositions. (Briefly, an assumption is about what is true, what is so; a presupposition is about what is meaningful. e.g. "I assume it might rain tomorrow." "But that is meaningless because we are in a desert!") Let us look at each in turn.
3. Assumptions about what is true, what is so. Most theoretical thinking in the various sciences (mathematical, natural, social, societal, humanities) provides theories about what is true of their particular sphere. Enriching can take the form of incremental 'normal science' (as Kuhn calls it). It can also take the form of certain kinds of paradigm shift (scientific revolutions), for example from Newtonian to Ensteinian physics. This kind of enrichment goes on all the time, to improve humanity's bodies of knowledge, and seldom will such an enrichment be visibly 'Christian'. This is the level at which the battle between evolutionism and creationism occurs, each being a different theory of what is true. Sadly, it is difficult for each to enrich the other these days, so personally I would not bother trying. All I might do is to listen, affirm and critique.
4. Often, a better (more helpful, more powerful) enrichment is when we expose presuppositions - when we show the prevailing discourses that what they have taken to be meaningful is limited, and we suggest other spheres of meaningfulness that they might wish to consider. A good example is the bringing in or a sense of responsibility into what were purely descriptive theories. Another example is feminist thought (in its later, less aggressive forms) in that it suggests aspects that had been overlooked (aspects of body, beauty, care, love, to augment aspects of reason, achievement, economy or rules).
5. But, I find, an even better, easier and more natural way of enriching is to directly open people's eyes to aspects of the diversity of Creation. In a way, this fulfils the enrichment that exposes presuppositions, but it is more direct, intuitive and can even be friendly. As in architecture, an "aspect" is a way of seeing things that cannot be explained in terms of other aspects (the north aspect of a building cannot be predicted from its east or south aspects). An aspect is a way of seeing reality - a way in which reality can be meaningful. Our full reality as we encounter it exhibits a diversity of aspects.
By asking others in what ways the xxx aspect be relevant to their theory or discourse (xxx being one of which we are aware but the discourse of their community of thought overlooks) we can, in effect, open up their presuppositions. To be able to let people know which aspects they are overlooking requires a clear idea of which aspects are possible in general - what spheres of meaningfulness are exhibited by/in the whole of reality.
6. While most philosophy has bypassed the diversity of meaningfulness, often trying to reduce things to one aspect (e.g. materialism, psychologism, social constructionism), the Dutch philosopher, Dooyeweerd (who may justifiably be called a Christian philosopher), took the diversity of meaningfulness seriously and offers us a suite of aspects. (Suites are also offered e.g. by Wilenius, Maslow, etc. but Dooyeweerd's suite is more comprehensive and has a firmer philosophical foundation.) They are:
I have found this suite of aspects very helpful in enriching extant ideas. For example, the enriching of descriptive theories by some sense of responsibility may be seen as bringing in some of the juridical aspect. See Aspects of Reality for more.
See also a dozen other examples of engaging with secular thought in a talk I gave.
Can enrichment proceed in the opposite direction, with the world's thought enriching Christian thought? Augustine thought so, but his approach led to major problems. There might be a way, however.
Augustine of Hippo believed that the 'treasures' of non-Christian thought could be used to enrich Christian thought, and he likened it to the Childrren of Israel "plundering the Egyptians" when the Egyptian people gave them gold, clothes, etc. when they left. He explains:
"If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it . . . all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them... These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel." [my emphasis]
Notice several things here. (a) Augustine believes that the truths and "excellent precepts" that he sees the "heathen" holding are held "unlawfully" by them and can be put into "proper use" by Christians. (b) The "proper use" mainly concerns morality and worship, rather than what we might today call "secular" aspects of life. (c) Christians are to "claim" them. (d) This is about those things that are "true and in harmony with our faith".
Augustine especially picks out the Platonists for favour. In fact, however, it has been mainly Aristotle's thought that has been adopted in European (Roman Catholic) Christian thought. For example, the credal statement that God is "three persons" but "one substance" presupposes Aristotle's idea of substance as that which defines the type of an entity. Over the centuries, a lot more of Aristotle's thinking was brought to bear to understand Christian things, especially after its rediscovery via Islamic thought. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church began to treat belief in Aristotle's views as almost as sacrosanct as belief in the Bible, and some were martyred for questioning Aristotle [Holland 2019:].
Aristotle's views led European Christianity into very un-Christlike avenues of cruelty and oppression, which we find horrendous these days and which enemies of Christianity still use as a whip to beat Christianity with. One root of the problem was that Aristotle believed in hierarchies in humanity, with some human beings of much less worth than others. This contrasted with Jesus Christ's valuing of those not valued - and also with what was revealed of the character of God as a whole in the prophets and the Torah. (c.f. Holland 2019: )
So, the attempts to enrich Christian thought by means of what was seen as the best of the world's thought proved to be a disaster.
See also a longer discussion of On Plundering the Egyptians.
However, we might ask: (a) Why did this happen? (b) Might there be a way that is not disastrous?
The philosopher Dooyeweerd argued that this happened because the Mediaeval church adopted the Greek presuppositions about the nature of reality (self-dependent entities) and did not notice that these presuppositions were fundamentally at odds with the Biblical idea of Creation, in which all entities depend on the Creator and their Being is never self-dependent. (Roy Clouser's Myth or Religious Neutraity offers an excellent explanation of that.) In ways that we won't try to explain here, this also led to the idea that some human beings are worth more than others.
I believe that Augustine's approach to the world's thought enriching Christian thought is fundamentally problematic, especially in the areas (b) and (d). Augustine sees Christian thought as mainly concerned with morality and worship, and perhaps such things as understanding theoretically the nature of God. This implies that there is no Christian thought on the 'secular' areas of life like economics or technology. (Right-wingers claim that free-market economics is "Christian" but we can ignore that for now, because we are concerned here about whether there can be Christian thought on economics etc. as such, rather than which side Christians might take in the war between what is currently seen as left and right. I have argued above that Christian ideas can enrich secular thought, and right-winger claims do not enrich but narrow down.)
The other problem is Augustine's fourth presupposition, of "true and in harmony with our faith". But what is true and what is in harmony with our faith, given that we interpret Scripture? It is not always so easy to tell.
I believe there might be a way in which secular thought or thought from other religions might enrich Christian thought, but in a different way. I do not believe that it is possible to get good Christian thought on all things that is completely independent of non-Christian thought as though it does not need it. Even if possible, I do not believe it would be desirable.
The different way is not to adopt the speculations of non-Christian philosophers like Aristotle, but to make use of some of the findings of the sciences. The reason I believe it is valid and useful is because those working in the various sciences like linguistics, sociology, psychology, physics, etc. are discovering something of the way the various aspects of Creation work. Much is distorted, but also much is valid and faithfully expresses the way Creation works.
I believe, for example, that a mature understanding of linguistics and the nature of language can benefit our interpretation of the Bible. (This is not the same as the rationalistic understanding of linguistics that was applied by those who wanted to undermine the authority of the Bible a hundred years ago.)
One challenge is to know which is which, of that which distorts and that which expresses something of the way Creation works. Indeed, I do not believe we can ever be 100% certain about that, so humility is needed. Another challenge is: what are our own heart attitudes and motivations, deep inside?
Basden, A. (2008) Engaging with and enriching humanist thought: the case of information systems. Philosophia Reformata, 73(2), 132-53.
This page, URL= 'http://abxn.org/nv/enriching.html',
is part of the on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology and practice that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome by emailing
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Created: 16 September 2020, for the UK Christian Academic Network. Last updated: 24 September 2020 added other thought enriching Christian thought; added Conclusion.