What We Believe

Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Toward a Union of Spirit, Wisdom, and Word

James D. Baird


The Evangelical Philosophical Society has held an online colloquium for the past three years called the “Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project.”[1]

This project has centered on constructive engagements with Paul K. Moser’s model of Christian philosophy, which construes Christian philosophy as a distinctively Christ-shaped discipline. Moser has articulated his model with the utmost care and precision, engendering responses from a plethora of Christian philosophers representing a broad range of perspectives. Some of these Christian philosophers have provided a more friendly response to Moser than others, but nearly all of them have focused in one way or another on whether his model of Christian philosophy qualifies as legitimate philosophy.

It seems clear to me that Moser’s work on Christ-shaped philosophy is courageous, incisive, and timely. Moser has called for Christian philosophers to adopt a process of wisdom acquisition that is characterized by obedience to the redemptive authority of God in Christ. He has largely used the letters of Paul as the departure point for his model of Christian philosophy which is a refreshing breath of spiritual air in a discipline that is dominated by stagnate, religiously neutral professionalism. Nevertheless, while many of Moser’s peers have asked the question whether his model should be considered a model of philosophy proper, too little has been said about whether Moser’s model should be considered Pauline. In this brief paper, I will first outline Moser’s model of Christ-shaped philosophy. Second, I will argue that because Moser’s model purports to be Pauline, it should require Christian philosophizing to submit to Christ’s inward agent-power and to the Word of God.[2]

Moser’s Christ-Shaped Philosophy

Moser intends his model of Christ-shaped philosophy to be decisively Pauline.[3] He devotes much of his exegetical work to Paul’s writings, especially his epistle to the Colossians, and has thence concluded that the discipline of philosophy must be brought under the Lordship of Jesus. More specifically, Moser understands the correct mode of Christian philosophy in terms of the characteristics that exuded from Jesus throughout his earthly ministry: willing submission to the power of God’s Spiritual love. This divine, Spiritual love floods the Christian’s experience via what Moser calls Gethsemane union with Christ; that is, “the inward agent-power of Christ working, directly at the level of psychological and motivational attitudes, toward a cooperative person’s renewal in God’s image as God’s beloved child.”[4] So, Moser argues, the Christian philosopher must embrace and enrich his Gethsemane union with Christ by placing his most devout attention on transformation after the image of Christ’s life of self-giving love. Moser eschews definitions of philosophy that do not move beyond the systematic application of reason to include the transformative project of God’s Spirit in Christian philosophers.

Perhaps Moser’s Christ-shaped philosophy model could be best construed as a call for Christian philosophers to see Jesus as their Rabbi—as their teacher—rather than, say, Socrates. And in calling Christian philosophers to see Jesus as their teacher, Moser has (self-consistently) elicited the teaching of Jesus himself: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). As Christian philosophers, Moser has reminded us that we are first and foremost disciples of Jesus. Our primary philosophical aim, therefore, should be a wisdom that forms us into Christ’s image.

Uniting Spirit, Wisdom, and Word

So far as I have exposited it, Moser’s model is in line with the teaching of Paul (see 2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 2:8, 3:1–17). The divergence between Moser’s model of Christian philosophy and Paul’s model appears most clearly in how Moser and Paul conceive of the Spirit’s role in forming Christian philosophers after Christ’s image. From what I can tell, Moser’s reading of Paul assigns the Spirit of God with the responsibility to work in the Christian with redemptive authority, calling her to cooperate with divine love, molding her after the image of Christ, quite apart from the Word of God.[5] Paul does not, however, bifurcate the Spirit of God and the Word of God in the way Moser’s model suggests. From passages like Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 1:18 and 15:1–2; Ephesians 1:13 and 5:25–26; Philippians 2:14–16; Colossians 1:28 and 3:16; as well as 2 Timothy 3:16–17, it is clear that Paul sees the Word of God as having a vital role in the Spirit’s internal work, especially when that Word is proclaimed and preached. Paul’s thinking in this respect is most succinctly summed up in Galatians 6:17: “the sword of the Spirit ... is the word of God.”

From Paul’s perspective, the Spirit works by and with the Word of God to shape Christians in the image of Christ. For example, Paul teaches that the Spirit shines “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6) through enlightening “the open statement of the truth” of God’s Word, the “gospel,” and the proclamation of “Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor. 4:2–5; cf. John 15:26, 16:13–14). For Paul, the Spirit’s redemptive and authoritative informing of the Christian is tethered to the Word of God.[6] The two divine realities of the Spirit and Word[7] function together in a harmonious union toward the same end: the cognitive and affective renovation of God’s children. It seems to me, then, that a model of philosophy that wishes to be Pauline (like Moser’s) must characterize the Christian philosopher’s redemptive authority in terms of the Word of God as enlightened and enlivened by the Spirit.[8]

A more systematic account of Paul’s teaching might categorize the Word of God as the objective principle and the Spirit of God as the subjective principle of Christian philosophical reflection, but we need not enter into that detailed discussion here.[9] However the Spirit and Word might be precisely defined and related, according to Paul they are both the Christian’s redemptive authority—that much is abundantly clear from Paul’s letters—and as the Christian’s redemptive authority, they are regulative of the mode and content of Christian philosophy. For Paul, the Spirit and Word are determinative for how Christian philosophers should go about deriving conclusions and taking stances on particular theoretical issues (for example), and determinative for what conclusions they derive and stances they take (Gal. 5:22–23; 2 Cor. 10:5–6; Col. 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:15–4:5). The Spirit and Word do not grant outright solutions to every philosophical problem, but they do say plenty of pertinent things about philosophical issues, and these pertinent things should be taken most seriously by the Christian philosopher.[10]

But what is the Word of God? The passages listed above show that for Paul it is at least the Hebrew Bible and the gospel message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), although good arguments exist for Paul’s having granted authority to the apostolic witness as a whole.[11] It is doubtful, however, that Paul believed the 66 books of the Bible were the Word of God when he was alive, since some New Testament books were written after his death. This being so, it is not necessary for Paul to have assented to the 66 books of the Bible as the Word of God in order to argue (as I would like to) that Christian philosophers desiring to be Pauline (like Moser) must grant to the whole Bible the same high divine status and spiritual use that Paul attributed to the Word of God. Christians know directly by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God.[12] It follows, therefore, that Christian philosophers must treat the Bible as Paul treated the Word of God if they are to follow Paul’s example. To insist otherwise would be to follow the letter of Paul’s teaching while neglecting the Spirit.


If we are to be Pauline, uniting wisdom and Spirit is not enough, contra Moser. Distinctively Pauline philosophy must set up a disciplinary model that unites Spirit, wisdom, and Word. Such a fully Pauline conception of Christ-shaped philosophy should call Christian philosophers to submit themselves and their quest for wisdom to authoritative inquiry by Christ’s Spirit speaking in and through the Word of God.[13] Christ must be preeminent in all things, even in philosophy (Col. 1:18)—and if Christ is to be preeminent, his Word must be preeminent as well (Col. 1:23; cf. John 15:26; 16:12–15; 17:3, 8, 12, 17–19). Rather than undermining the better thrust of Moser’s labors, supplementing his model in the way I am proposing should enhance his vision for a Christian philosophy that is cast principally as messianic discipleship. After all, it was the Messiah himself who saw most clearly the causal link between obeying his divine words and acquiring wisdom: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man” (Matt. 7:24).[14]


[1] All of the papers from this colloquium cited in the present paper are available at http://bit.ly/ChristShapedPhilosophyProject.

a name="note2">[2] By the “Word of God,” I mean what theologians call special verbal revelation; that is, God’s interpretation of his divine being and action expressed to human creatures via oral or written communication that is accommodated to fit their creaturely cognitive capacities. For a helpful outline of the nature of revelation in its various forms, see Richard B. Gaffin Jr. “The Redemptive-Historical View,” in Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 91–93.

[3] Moser’s model is intended to be Pauline, but not solely Pauline. As I allude to below, Moser also designed his model after what he takes to be the example of Jesus. See Paul K. Moser, “A Reply to William Hasker’s Objection to ‘Christ-Shaped Philosophy’,” Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project (2012), 2–3 and 6.

[4] Paul K. Moser, “Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United,” Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project (2012), 4.

[5] For example, see Ibid., 2–5.

[6] Hence Paul’s strong words to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:1–2). The “word” that Paul commands Timothy to preach here alludes to “all of Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16. These passages taken in conjunction, therefore, give strong credence to the idea that the authoritative role Paul assigns to the word (of God) cannot be filled by Paul’s gospel alone, but rather necessitates a canon of “ which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). In other words, on my reading of Paul, his teachings demand philosophy to take on a good news orientation that is bolstered by the Word of God as a body of authoritative texts, not merely by a kerygma as Moser argues (see Moser’s “Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United,” Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project (2012), 2–3 and The Elusive God [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008], esp. chapter 3 and chapter 4).

[7] Of course, the former divine reality is God himself, while the latter is merely God’s special verbal revelation. Nevertheless, granting this important distinction, Herman Bavinck insightfully insisted on a close link between the Godhead and the Word of God: “It is not the authenticity, nor the canonicity, nor even the inspiration, but the divinity of Scripture, its divine authority, which is the true object of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. He causes believers to submit to Scripture and binds them to it in the same measure and intensity as to the person of Christ himself. He assures them that in life and death and all the crises of life, they can bank on the Word of God and even fearlessly appear with it before the Judge of heaven and earth.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 1:596. Emphasis in original.

[8] Throughout this paper, I am arguing for a refinement of Moser’s model of Pauline philosophy, not his practice of Pauline philosophy. In many ways, Moser’s use of the Bible is exemplary; the problem is that on his model, as I understand it, his use of the Bible is unnecessary for his philosophy to qualify as Pauline.

[9] Preliminarily, I submit that the fact that the Spirit and Word are (organically) related in Paul’s thinking as objective and subjective philosophical principles follows from the aim of Pauline philosophy: wisdom “not of this age” (1 Cor. 2:6). See Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001), 9–10 and 116–118.

[10] See Joseph N. Partain’s “Christian Philosophy and Philosophy’s Perennial Problems,” Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project (2013).

[11] See Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 240–241 and 483. See also Ridderbos’s Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1988) and Meredith G. Kline’s The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972).

[12] See Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Systematic Theology and Hermeneutics,” in Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary, ed. Peter A. Lillback (Philadelphia: Westminster Seminary Press, 2016), 40–41: “The conviction expressed (or that ought to be expressed) in saying, ‘The Bible is God’s Word,’ arises immediately from being exposed directly to Scripture—not only, perhaps not even primarily, to its explicit self-witness in passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20–21, but also to Scripture throughout. This conviction, produced by the Holy Spirit, may not be called into question.” The great Reformed confessions take the position outlined here by Gaffin. The Belgic Confession article 5 reads: “We receive all these books [of the Bible] and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith. And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them—not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God. For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.” See also the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.4 and 1.5. Building on the work of John Calvin (cf. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960], 1.7.2), these Reformed Christian confessions describe a cognitive process of acquiring knowledge about the divine origin and authority of the Bible similar, but different in important respects, to Alvin Plantinga’s extended A/C model. See his Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[13] Here, I am in agreement with Partain: “This ‘redemptive inquiry by God in Christ’ (that which calls for Moser’s ‘obedience mode’ in a Spirit-empowered, ‘Gethsemane union with Christ’) is itself—at every point—informed and guided by biblical content” (Joseph N. Partain, “Christian Philosophy and Philosophy’s Perennial Problems,” 7).

[14] I would like to thank William D. Dennison, Joel Carini, Paul K. Moser, and Tedla G. Woldeyohannes for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

James D. Baird is a member of Grace Presbyterian Church of Lookout Mountain (PCA) in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Ordained Servant: May 2016

Fishers of Men

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