“Straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and while revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher. Moreover, I would wish that all, making a resolution similar to my own, do not keep themselves away from the words of the Savior” – Justin Martyr
Plato’s Cave is an allegory presented by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work Republic (514a–520a) to compare “the effect of education (παιδεία) and the lack of it on our nature”. It is written as a dialogue between Plato’s brother Glaucon and his mentor Socrates, narrated by the latter. In the story, Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality, but are not accurate representations of the real world. The shadows represent the fragment of reality that we can normally perceive through our senses, while the objects under the sun represent the true forms of objects that we can only perceive through reason. Three higher levels exist: the natural sciences; mathematics, geometry, and deductive logic; and the theory of forms.
Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are actually not the direct source of the images seen. A philosopher aims to understand and perceive the higher levels of reality. However, the other inmates of the cave do not even desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life….. Does this sounds familiar?
The “un-Enlightened” Modernist Cave
There’s a great absence of soul in the Western culture; we no longer see God’s grace in the everyday parts of our lives, both in our society and in the Church. We practically embrace materialism no matter what we profess. The result is a relativizing the humanities and inflating the sciences. Modernity has dispelled the notion of the fallen and sin-filled nature of humanity as nothing more than myth- a story to teach and enact social morals. The great transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty have been disassociated from reality or discarded completely. The great virtues of faith, hope, and love are no longer relevant. All this has come about because thinking about reality has been unhinged with the bipartite path of secular Enlightenment philosophy.
The first path of secular modernity includes all the ideas bound up in Empiricism, Rationalism, and Naturalism- that all that we can know is scientific or mental constructs, and all that we are is meat machine; so we might as well follow the programming- there is no room for wonder and imagination because that isn’t real. The universe is closed, man is merely evolving.
The second path is the Romantic reaction to Enlightenment reductionism. It is the notion that human beings are a purpose unto themselves; humans who create a life by celebrating those things that bring health, wealth, and happiness which in actuality is distorted purpose, pleasure, and passion. Ultimate purpose here is to live one’s own personal truth. Man and the universe are one.
In the end, these philosophies result in despair. They offer no hope, because they do not start with a personal God, but man. They offer only the darkness of nihilism or an unintelligible pantheistic union… that is, an ultimate nothing; and beyond that, even the darker false hope of existential narcissism, which offers the transformation of the human being into his own creator-god.
Modern man is stuck in Plato’s cave where the materialistic worldview is portrayed as reality, but it is nothing more than a puppet show and shadows.
This is not a mere theological or apologetic issue; it is an issue of living life in reality. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
What Plato had wrong is the answer to the cave. The answer isn’t in knowledge for its own sake.
Further, the answer isn’t in religious practice alone. Neither is it in human wisdom or education. . Nor is it in action or emotion. The answer is in person. That is, A Person. That is, The Person.
At the center of all knowledge, wisdom, action, and emotion is Jesus Christ, Light of the world, the Way for Life, and Truth Incarnate. The Incarnation is the very center of history, and through it, we can apprehend the proper telos for all thinking, acting, feeling, and living of life. He Alone is the fulfillment of our purpose and function. He Alone is the fulfillment of all religion. He Alone is the fulfillment of all knowledge. And the way out of the cave begins when we understand that by joining Himself to human nature, He has made a way for man to come into relationship with his Creator. In Him we move and have our being. This is the way that we become fully and truly human.
“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” ―C. S. Lewis
The Christian narrative is so simple, yet uniquely complex to endure; even more so in a cultural milieu where up is down and left is right, where the only truth that is acceptable is that there are scientific/mathematical truths and everything else is just opinion, and where the dominant virtue is tolerance instead of love, that is, love as defined by God.
It is the Truth that we must confess and rest our hope on:
Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:4-7)
That is the good life revealed! It is a life properly aligned with the Son of God! It is a life where we worship the Existent One, who is wholly transcendent, but immanent in relationship with mankind through Christ.
Looking back through the annals of time we can observe the men and women who stood up for the Truth and the Way and impacted the culture through their great writings of philosophy, theology, poetry, and narrative. Consider the Classical works of Aristotle, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. Or the Works of the Poets, the Story-Tellers, and the Artists.
These understood that all truth is God’s Truth. Today, we need to recapture the wisdom that lies in the works of its greatest thinkers, appreciating how God has used the sharpest minds and noblest ideas of the past 2,500 years to point to timeless gospel truth. Here, I seek to join that great conversation with a desire to observe those who wrote in this classical tradition, seeking their God-given wisdom to impact the culture of today, ultimately for the cause of Christ.
We need not abandon truth to that which can only be seen, felt, smelt, heard or mathematically deduced. But we can invoke our God-given reason, senses, and imagination to apprehend the reality that He has created. And we can apprehend the revelation He has provided to us in the Scriptures.
We can seek the God-given wisdom found in the great tradition to impact the culture of today, create disciples of Jesus Christ, and with great wonder, pursue the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel message! This gospel pulls us out of the darkened world of despair and shadows of the truth and into the light of Christ.
Jamie is a follower of the King, Jesus Christ; a husband, a father, a seminary student, and discipleship pastor at TBA Church in Lakeland, FL. He and his wife met in high school and celebrated their 20th year of marriage in 2020. They have two teenage children, a son, Jamison, and a daughter, Kelsie.
Jamie’s desire is to equip the church with a firm foundation of knowing what they believe and why they believe it, how to define, defend, and think about it, and how to live life in response to it. That is, to have Faith Seeking Understanding. This includes engaging others with reason and imagination- the organ of meaning according to C. S. Lewis. The telos, of course, is to become hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ in response to the Great Commission and the Great Commandments: to help the Church live fully and gratefully as Kingdom participants living according to this calling. Jamie’s goal is to teach and lead others to follow the way as disciples of Jesus Christ: theologically, existentially, religously, and relationally. Finally, his ultimate and chief end is to glorify God and to make the name of Jesus famous!
“Fides Quaerens Intellectum”— St. Anselm
Faith Seeking Understanding
The purpose of this phrase it to highlight Christ’s supremacy in all theological pursuits- faith in Christ is the telos for all philosophy. Faith for Anselm is volitional (a response) rather than the common pejorative trope of the atheist who states that Christians operate on “blind faith,” that is, that Christians see faith epistemically. Rather, faith is built on a love for God and a desire to act as God wills. So “faith seeking understanding” means loving God, trusting God, and seeking a deeper knowledge of God in all ways. The chief end of all mankind is union with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Light of the World and Wisdom Incarnate, therefore, this is the correct end for all philosophy. It is our trust and love of him that opens our eyes. Anselm understood that All truth is God’s Truth, and likewise, we can do the same.
“Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height, for my understanding is in no way equal to that, but I do desire to understand a little of your truth which my heart already believes and loves. I do not seek to understand so that I can believe, but I believe so that I may understand; and what is more, I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.”- St. Anselm