Another great evangelical intellectual passes away

Another one of my evangelical Christian intellectual heroes passed away recently.  Arthur Holmes, long time professor of philosophy at Wheaton College and author of numerous books of Christian philosophy and apologetics, died on October 8 at age 87.  I only met him once (that I can recall) which was when I was editor of Christian Scholar’s Review.  He was, in many ways, the “guru” behind CSR.  Our approach to integrating faith and learning came largely from him.  One year he met with our editorial board which was when I met him and had a chance to interact with him.

Holmes was a catalyst for the whole “integration of faith and learning” movement among Christian colleges and universities during the 1960s and 1970s.  His motto, borrowed from Clement of Alexandria (and Kuyper and Dooyweerd) was “All truth is God’s truth–no matter where it is found.”  He expounded and applied that principle in books such as Contours of a Christian Worldview that I used as a basic text in my Christian Worldview course at a Christian liberal arts college for 15 years.

Another principle Holmes promoted was that nothing is of value for its own sake; everything gains value from glorifying God.  “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  (Yes, even as an Arminian I agree with that.  I would just add with Irenaeus that the glory of God is man fully alive.)

For Holmes this rightly meant that the often-quoted maxim “Art for art’s sake” cannot be believed or followed by a Christian.  Art is for God’s sake and for humanity’s sake.  In other words, from a Christian viewpoint, art that does not in some way glorify God is not valuable.  Nothing has value in and for itself.  If God is the creator of all and if there is no square inch of creation not under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then everything must be judged by how it glorifies God.  I take it (and I think Holmes would have agreed) that insofar as something genuinely helps humanity become fully alive it is valuable because God cares about human wholeness.  Some art does that; some does not.  The same can be said of theology and any other discipline.

Arthur Holmes was not one of those “evidence that demands a verdict,” overly simplistic or pugilistic (toward non-believers) evidentialist apologists.  His approach to apologetics was “worldviewish”–comparing worldviews and evaluating them by their ability to illumine life and our experience of the world.  In other words, his criterion was coherence.  For him (and I agree) the truth status of the Christian worldview in a pluralistic society lies in its ability better than any other one to answer life’s ultimate questions.  That’s not a knock-down-drag-out matter of “proof” as if someone who doesn’t believe in it is simply stupid (as many Christian apologists imply).  But Holmes was confident that the Christian philosophy of life, based on God’s special revelation, does a better job of answering life’s ultimate questions than competing worldviews and that that can be demonstrated if not proved.

I’m probably a little more Kierkegaardian that Holmes was, but insofar as I engage in Christian apologetics (not my area of speciality) I approach it his way.  I think it is more helpful for Christians (e.g., to bring reason to faith) than non-Christians because I’m more a perspectivalist than Holmes was (with Newbigin, for example).  But I found much help in Holmes’ writings when it came to convincing Christian students that the basic Christian worldview is reasonable.

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  • C. Ehrlich

    So for Holmes, the relief of pointless suffering is of value only if it glorifies God? I’d be curious about what led Holmes to such a counter-intuitive conclusion. (Does it “cohere” particularly well with life and our experience of the world?)

  • I wonder what Holmes would think about Christians in marketing and advertising. Probably something to do with pursuing and practicing it for the glory of God, and something to do with bringing those square inches of the creation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    More often when people talk about the revival of christian philosophizing in the 1960s and 1970s, the names mentioned are Al Plantinga, Nick Wolterstorff, Bill Hasker, and Bill Alston. But I wonder if you asked them, if they’d say “No, it was Art Holmes.” Holmes started (in the late 1960s I believe) a christian philosophy conference held on a weekend (in the Fall, I think) at Wheaton. It brought together philosophers to think christianly about a wide range of philosophical topics. It may have set the stage for the founding of the Society of Christian Philosophers.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger: I watched your interview with George P. Wood on a broad range of issues. You were great. So proud of you!

    • rogereolson


  • Craig Wright

    Roger: I just read in your book, Against Calvinism, that Edwards and Wesley were born in the same year. Among their differences, one significant difference is that Edwards owned an African woman as a slave, and Wesley wrote a letter to the colonies urging them to abolish slavery.

  • “In other words, from a Christian viewpoint, art that does not in some way glorify God is not valuable.” I think a case could be made that art, by being art (and thus an expression of human creativity, which is an expression–and reflection–of divine creativity), necessary glorifies God even if that is not the intended purpose of its individual creator. In other words: “art for art’s sake, and art’s sake for God’s sake.”

    • rogereolson

      But “Art for art’s sake” has been used to defend pornography and to fend off any and all criticism of art from non-artists.