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"Plundering the Egyptians"

The idea of 'plundering the Egyptians' has gained some traction among Christian thinkers as a way of engaging with mainstream thought. I do not like this metaphor. This page explains why.



When the people of Israel came out of ancient Egypt, it is said that they 'plundered the Egyptians' by carrying away much gold and wealth.

"And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbour, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewellery, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians." Exodus 3:20-22

Augustine has used the metaphor of 'plundering the Egyptians' to argue how Christians can engage with non-Christian thought. A number of recent Christian commentators have taken up his idea.

"If those, however, who are called philosophers, have said things with are indeed true and are well accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared, rather, what they have said should be taken from them as from unjust possessors and converted to our use. Just as the Egyptians had not only idols and grave burdens which the people of Israel detested and avoided, so also they had vases and ornaments of gold and silver and clothing which the Israelites took with them secretly when they fled, as if to put them to a better use ... In the same way, all the teachings of the pagans contain not only simulated and superstitious imaginings and grave burdens of unnecessary labour, which each one of us leaving the society of pagans under the leadership of Christ ought to abominate and avoid, but also liberal disciplines more suited to the uses of truth, and some of the most useful precepts concerning morals. Even some truths concerning the worship of one God are discovered among them." Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 2.40.60.

What Augustine was saying was that the world's thought, and especially philosophical thought, can be appropriated by Christians to improve Christian philosophy, thought and even perhaps practice. In particular, thought concerning morals and worship.

This idea has been used by Christian thinkers recently to inform Christians how to engage with the world's thought, as an antidote to the tendency over the past hundred years for Christians to avoid and reject and ignore the world's thought.

I strongly agree that Christians
should engage with the world's thought,
but I do not like the metaphor of
'plundering the Egyptians'.

Some Reasons Why I Do Not Like The Metaphor 'Plundering the Egyptians'

There are several reasons why I do not like this metaphor. I will give some minor and medium reasons first, and end up with what, to me, is the most important one in the next section. Others might prioritise them differently.

The Proper Direction of our Engagement with Non-Christian Thought

The Most Important Reservation to me is that the Augustinian metaphor speaks of the wrong direction. I want to bless the world rather than rely on the world blessing me.

What Augustine was talking about was taking the world's ideas into church or Christian life. Appropriating the world's philosophy in order to build up Christian thought. That is not what we are supposed to be doing! Instead, I believe that Christ's people are meant to help fulfil the Abrahamic Covenant, of

"Through you, all nations will be blessed."

Is not Christ, who came via Abraham, the ultimate fulfilment of that? Did God say "will be saved" or "will be blessed"? Did Christ came only to save, or also to bless? Should not Christ's followers be part of that blessing process?

So I believe Christian thinkers who truly follow Christ should aim, not to appropriate the world's ideas to build up Christian morals, worship or thought, but should aim to bring blessing to the world's thought.

After all, do not non-Christian thinkers operate within the creational framework which God established? So is it not true (as also Augustine acknowledges) that some of their thought is valid, even if some is not?

So, can we not bring blessing to that thought? If humanity has bodies of knowledge in each sphere of science or each discipline, should we not aim to bring blessing to those bodies of knowledge?

Should we not act as salt and light in relation to them?

If so, how can we do this?

Affirm, Critique, Enrich: ACE

I do not believe an essay entitles 'Plundering the Egyptians' would be useful as an argument for engaging with secular thought. I think there is a better way, which I call 'Affirm, Critique, Enrich (ACE)'. It is explained more fully in

I find that doing this makes Christian thought more acceptable, in the way Jesus was 'acceptable' in his early ministry of healing. In this way I find I can be salt and light. Often what is good in non-Christian thought is their critique of previous thought, because in that critique they have identified some aspect of creation which previous thought had ignored, while what is flawed is their attempts to postivize that aspect. In more detail:

Personally, I find the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd helpful in doing this, but there may be other ways, for example, the Relational Approach. Three examples of how I use Dooyeweerd may be found in Basden 2008.

A danger with ACE: arrogance or triumphalism, thinking we have all true-knowledge. We don't; we share the creation with all, and work together in humanity's mandate to open up its potential. We have Christ, and some have allowed their mindsets to be transformed (Romans 12). But we don't know how far that process has gone, and most Christian thought today might still be far too worldly.

The important thing is that we should not arrogantly try to foist our dogma onto non-Christian thought. Instead, work with humility and gentleness, the fruit of the Spirit, to bring Abrahamic blessing to the world.

References and Other Reading

Basden, A. (2008) Engaging with and enriching humanist thought: the case of information systems. Philosophia Reformata, 73(2), 132-53.

Shaping Our Disciplines for Christ. The UK Christian Academic Network has a workshop on Shaping Our Disciplines for Christ. Instead of ACE, it poses five questions to help Christian find a way of engaging with mainstream thought.

This page is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Part of his pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 18 March 2016. Last updated: 27 March 2016 added another problem with appropriation and danger of ACE.