How Plato & Aristotle Influenced Church History & How Post-modernism Influences Church Life Today


Article #369

by Bill Nugent


Imagine it’s the year 1516, the year before the Protestant Reformation. You’re in the heart of Europe, surrounded by nations to which the gospel has been proclaimed. You’re in the heart of Christendom. The governments of the European nations are absolute monarchies. Kings and emperors rule as dictators.


There’s no religious freedom. Subjects of the king are expected to adhere to the same religion as the king. That religion is the religion of the Pope in Rome. No dissent is allowed.  There’s no right to free speech or of the press. The Bible is in Latin and is chained to pulpits. The economy is feudalism and serfdom. There’s no economic freedom. There’s little scientific research being conducted. Science is suppressed. How did Christendom come to this lamentable estate?


To explain let me give you a brief thumbnail sketch of church history up until 1516:


The Church Was Influenced by the Pagan Philosophy of Plato


“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

Colossians 2:8


There was a decline in church faithfulness  in the third and fourth centuries . Church leaders embraced the philosophy of Plato. Historians call it neoplatonism. Neoplatonism consists of the philosophy of Plato (427-347 BC) plus the addition of other Greek philosophical systems.


Augustine (AD 354-430), considered by historians the greatest Christian theologian of the early medieval church, embraced neoplatonism. Augustine was a great theologian who wrote and taught about the fundamentals of the Christian faith. However, Augustine and his followers studied the scriptures and looked at the scriptures through the lens of neoplatonic pagan philosophy. The generations that followed were even more heavily influenced by Plato. This continued for centuries.


Aristotle Influenced Christianity for 600 Years


In the 11th century, during the Crusades, the western church made contact with Muslim scholars in the middle east. The Muslims had preserved the writings of Aristotle. The crusaders brought the writings of Aristotle back with them. The church leaders and scholars eagerly embraced Aristotle. This began 600 years of looking at the scriptures through the lens of Aristotle. The philosophical system was called scholasticism and it was predicated on Aristotle’s 10 categories. The teachers of this doctrine were called schoolmen.


Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who is considered to be the greatest theologian of the late medieval period was heavily influenced by Aristotle. In his writings, Aquinas refers to Aristotle simply as “the philosopher.” Theologians of the late medieval period studied the Bible but also intensely studied the writings of Aristotle.


As for the people, they were overwhelmingly illiterate. They could not read or write in their own language, much less in Latin, the language in which theological works were written. The few that could read or write were cardinals, bishops, priests and monks. The Bible was available only in Latin.


The people had very little biblical teaching. They listened to sermons during mass in which Bible verses were quoted. The sermons were heavily influenced by pagan philosophy as described above.


The centuries of suppression of the Bible and the exaltation of Plato and Aristotle are rightly called The Dark Ages.


Science was Held back by Plato and Aristotle


Scientific progress was virtually nil. Plato had a very low view of the material world. In Plato’s philosophy, the body was considered to be the prison house of the soul. In ancient Greek pagan philosophy nature was considered to be chaotic and unpredictable. Rigorous scientific experimentation was not done by people with a mindset that regarded nature as chaotic.


Aristotle (384-322 BC) differed from Plato because Aristotle was the son of a physician and he had much more of an interest in nature. Nevertheless, even Aristotle did not provide the philosophical worldview in which inductive science could be conducted. The view that nature was chaotic permeated Christian Europe even though the church had the holy scriptures of the old and new testaments.


Science of the time was deductive. This means that science was taught using Aristotle as the main scholarly authority. Scientific understanding was deduced or subtracted from Aristotle’s book “Physics” without much reliance on direct study of nature.


The Reformers Moved Away From Plato and Aristotle


Luther, Calvin and the other reformers threw off the yoke of pagan philosophy. However, Aristotle’s writings still dominated the universities for another 200 years. This Aristotle was a pretty influential guy, wouldn’t you say?


The reformers translated the scriptures into the languages of the people and encouraged people to learn to read so they could read the Bible. They approached the scriptures with a minimum of philosophical presuppositions. The sacred scriptures of the Christian faith were available in the languages of the people and were widely published throughout Europe for the first time in history


John Calvin (1509-1564) began to write against absolute monarchy as a form of government. Calvin wrote that too much power cannot be entrusted to just one man, as a king or emperor. This is  because every man has the sin nature, because of original sin (Romans 5:12-21). The authorities persecuted Calvin and banned Bibles that contained side notes that criticized the absolute power of kings.


The Rise of Modern Science


Science, which at the time was called natural philosophy, took a new place of importance in the 1600s. In the Christian worldview nature is not chaotic. Nature is created by God and reveals God. God is separate from nature. He is transcendent above nature. God is a God of Law and of order. God created moral laws and He created laws by which material substances in nature operate.


The Bible gives us the regularity principle which is the belief that laws of motion and laws of physics and chemistry are consistent and predictable throughout all the universe. The regularity principle means that mathematics can be applied to nature in a rational way. The regularity principle, also called the inductive principle, is the very foundation of modern experimental science.


Scientists turned away from Aristotle’s Physics and experimented on nature and added (induced) the results to form hypotheses, theories and laws of nature.


In the 1600s, the century after the Protestant Reformation, the major breakthroughs in modern science occurred. Chemistry went from alchemy to modern chemistry under the devout Christian, Robert Boyle who founded modern chemistry. Robert Boyle was so devoted to Christ that he left provisions in his will for a series of lectures called “Defending the Faith” be conducted. (Sounds kinda familiar doesn’t it?)


The Rise of Personal Freedom


In the 1700s came the Enlightenment. There were actually two Enlightenments, a Christian Enlightenment and a secular Enlightenment. The secular Enlightenment under Hume, Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau was a time of rebellion against God and embrace of atheism in some quarters.


The Christian Enlightenment under Locke, Montesquieu and Burke, embraced scriptural principles and proclaimed that all men are equal, all men are sinners, all men need redemption and no one man should be entrusted with too much power because of the corruption of the sin nature.


The Christian worldview maintains that all people have rights to freely exercise their faith in God, speak and write freely, to work and keep the fruits of their labor and to defend themselves. This was the beginning of personal freedom and democratic government. All these principles of freedom came ultimately from the holy scriptures.


The Church is Beguiled by Worldly Philosophy Today


Why do I give this brief rundown of church history? Why do I point out that the church was heavily influenced by the pagan philosophy of Plato and Aristotle for more than a thousand years? It’s because in our own day, in the 21st century, people are looking at the Bible through current philosophy, a philosophy of the world that’s in rebellion against God.


Today is church looks at the scriptures through the lens of postmodern philosophy. Postmodern philosophy is moral relativism. Moral relativism rejects the concept of sin. Many Christian leaders have internalized postmodern concepts which minimize or completely ignore the concept of sin. Decades ago it was very common for preachers to preach against sin.


I’ve been walking with Jesus for over 40 years and I’ve seldom heard a sermon preached against fornication. We need Bible based sermons condemning sex before marriage.The Bible is very clear that sex should be within the context of marriage, with your spouse and no one else. Postmodernists have no qualms about fornication, neither do some preachers.


Fornication does severe damage to people and it’s not just by the many sexually transmitted diseases. Fornication often results in unwanted pregnancies and the temptation to commit the sin of murder by abortion. Children born out of wedlock are very often neglected or outright rejected by their biological fathers. Fornication has contributed to the decline of fatherhood.


Church leaders also look at the scriptures through the lens of feminism. There are books written today about Christian family life that would be approved by worldly feminists. I remember a time when the divine order in the home that’s revealed in the scriptures was boldly proclaimed from pulpits. Now egalitarianism and even matriarchy seems to rule the day. It’s time for Bible teachers to step back and repent of their worldly ways and return to a plain reading of the Bible’s eternal truths that truly liberate people from sin.


Jesus Died For Our Sins


Jesus came in fulfillment of over 300 Old Testament prophecies. No other figure in all of world history can make this claim. Jesus worked miracles and His followers work miracles of healing today. Jesus took the penalty of our sins upon Himself when he suffered and died for us.  Isaiah the prophet predicted this hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).


Jesus rose from the dead to offer salvation and forgiveness of sins to all who call upon Him in repentance. I invite you to turn to Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins.

Steps to salvation:

Jesus said “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).

  • 1) Believe that God created you and loves you and sent the Messiah (Messiah is Hebrew for Christ) to redeem you.
  • 2) Believe that Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of over 300 Bible prophecies to die for you, to take upon Himself the penalty of your sins (Isaiah 53:5-6, John 6:29, Romans 4:5, First Peter 3:18).
  • 3) Turn from sin and call on the name of Jesus to receive forgiveness of sins (Romans 10:13).
  • 4) Receive Jesus as Savior and experience the new birth (John 1:12, Acts 2:38).
  • 5) Follow Jesus Christ as Lord (John 14:21).

Prayer to receive salvation:

“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

To receive the salvation that Jesus purchased for us at the terrible cost of His suffering and death on our behalf I invite you to pray this simple prayer:

“Dear heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus, the promised Messiah, to die for my sins. I admit that I am a sinner. I repent of my sins and I ask for your forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit to empower me to serve you under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

If you prayed this prayer in the humble sincerity of your heart then you have received everlasting life, which includes power to live right in this life and entrance into heaven in the afterlife!

(C) 2016 William P. Nugent, permission granted to email or republish for Christian outreach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *