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Charles Hodge and the Limits of Philosophy

In another surprising find, Charles Hodge cautions against the over-extension of philosophy in systematic theology. The context is the debate between creationism and traducianism, both of which have representatives within Orthodox Protestantism. Still, Dr. Hodge’s warnings here are beneficial for the wider practice of theology, and they might just contradict several caricatures of the great doctor that still persist in our day:

It is obviously most unreasonable and presumptuous, as well as dangerous, to make a theory as to the origin of the soul the ground of a doctrine so fundamental to the Christian system as that of original sin. Yet we see theologians, ancient and modern, boldly asserting that if their doctrine of derivation, and the consequent numerical sameness of substance in all men, be not admitted, then original sin is impossible. That is, that nothing can be true, no matter how plainly taught in the word of God, which they cannot explain. This is done even by those who protest against introducing philosophy into theology, utterly unconscious, as it would seem, that they themselves occupy, quoad hoc, the same ground with the rationalists. They will not believe in hereditary depravity unless they can explain the mode of its transmission. There can be no such thing, they say, as hereditary depravity unless the soul of the child is the same numerical substance as the soul of the parent. That is, the plain assertions of the Scriptures cannot be true unless the most obscure, unintelligible, and self-contradictory, and the least generally received philosophical theory as to the constitution of man and the propagation of the race be adopted. No man has a right to hang the millstone of his philosophy around the neck of the truth of God.

Systematic Theology Vol. 2, 3.4 (Eerdmans, 1975) 73

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.