Louis Markos is the beloved and brilliant Professor of English at Houston Baptist University. He is a prolific author, leading expert on C.S. Lewis, and has a keen interest in ancient Greece and Rome. All of these and more come with a love for equipping believers to know why they believe what they believe.
I have interviewed Lou before. That previous interview revolved around his fascinating book, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the Victorian Age.
This interview centers on his much talked about book, From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith. From Plato to Christ: How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith: Markos, Louis: 9780830853045: Books (amazon.com)
Moore: You have written many books. What, perhaps who (!), propelled you to write this book at this time?
Markos: Several years back, I published a book, also with InterVarsity Press, called From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics. In that book, I looked closely at the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Greek tragedies, and the Aeneid. In the preface to the book, I confessed that I also should have covered Plato, but that Plato really deserved his own book. After over a decade, I finally had the chance to write From Plato to Christ and explore how Plato could be analyzed both in terms of his own thought and in the many ways that his thought points forward to the greater revelation of Christ and the New Testament.
Moore: How big an impact did Socrates have on Plato in helping the latter develop his own understanding of reality?
Markos: Socrates prepared the way for Plato in three ways. First, he invented true philosophy by joining together metaphysics and ethics. Second, he did the hard work of exposing and erasing false definitions of things like goodness, truth, beauty, courage, and justice. Third, he moved in the direction of establishing universal, absolute definitions for these things that would be true for all times and places. However, he only laid the groundwork for the third; it was left to Plato to finish what his teacher had started.
Moore: I believe the first thing I read of Plato’s was the Symposium. What would you suggest as the best starting point for those with little familiarity of Plato’s body of work?
Markos: I would begin with the Apology. In that great “court transcript,” Socrates defends his life and his philosophical mission before the radical democracy of Athens. In it, he lays out his method of seeking truth through question and answer and maintaining humility in that search. After that, I would read Symposium, Phaedrus, Gorgias, and Phaedo. By then, readers will be ready for Republic.
Moore: I’m sure you have heard the following objection many times: Why are you spending so much time trumpeting the importance of some pagan thinker?
Markos: All Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law and prophets. I would argue that he also fulfilled the highest yearnings and greatest desires of the pagans. By studying Plato, I get a glimpse into the way God prepared the pagan world for the coming of Christ by working through thinkers like Plato who did not even know they were being used! Paul confirms this element of preparation when, in his speech before the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17), he quotes two verses of poetry from two ancient Greek pagan poets.
Moore: In light of the previous question, I will say that Plato’s view of sexuality has made me struggle a bit with how much to listen to him. I very much appreciate that we are to “plunder the Egyptians” or remember that “all truth is God’s truth.” That said, how do you encourage fellow Christians to not dismiss Plato due to the perversity of some of his views?
Markos: Although Plato did not advocate homosexual behavior (“Platonic love,” as we still call it today, was non-sexual), he did allow for homoerotic connections between an older man and a younger man that he was molding and guiding. Still, we must remember that the pagans, lacking Genesis, lacked an incarnational view of man (that we are not souls trapped in bodies but enfleshed souls) and of marriage and sexuality (the two shall be one flesh). The lack of special revelation left Plato and the other pagans ignorant of vital things, but Plato did make full use of the general revelation he received through creation, conscience, and reason.
Moore: Most of us like to make our arguments very quickly. We tend to move from A to Z at a brisk pace rather than making our points incrementally.
You mention that in seeking to correct Thrasymachus, Plato does not do so “with a full refutation…” What can we learn from this kind of patient approach to argumentation?
Markos: I am so glad that Christian apologists speak today of worldview and how it affects all of our beliefs and behaviors. We need that slow and patient approach that Plato took if we are to uncover the assumptions and presuppositions that drive people’s philosophies and actions. We need to ask big, foundational questions about the nature of God, man, and the universe before we can tackle the specific problems that we face every day. Our age is particularly deficient in logic, the foundations of which were laid down by Plato’s greatest pupil, Aristotle. Do I need to write a book someday called From Aristotle to Christ??
Moore: What are two or three things you hope your readers gain by reading this book?
Markos: First, I want readers to see that although God only spoke directly to the Jews before the coming of Christ, he did not simply ignore the rest of humanity. The reason and desire that God gave us can take us quite far, though it certainly cannot save us from our sins. Second, I want people to see the joy of asking the big questions in life and wrestling with those questions. Third, I want people living today in a relativistic and radically egalitarian society to understand that absolute goodness, truth, beauty, and justice exist, and that distinction and hierarchy are good, God-created things. We were not made to all be the same!
David George Moore is the author of the recently released Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians: David George Moore, Carl Trueman: 9781684264605: Amazon.com: Books