Monday, December 19, 2011

“Reason” and the Word of the Cross, cont.

As I stated previously, God, in His own reasoning, chose not to bring the world to Himself through the world’s reason. Rather, God chose to use that which the world finds to be foolish, divine reasoning to save the lost. God reasoned to save the lost through means that the lost would find most unreasonable. Nowhere in Scripture are we ever commanded to believe because it makes good sense to us. Conversely, nowhere are we let off the hook because we found a thing unreasonable or offensive to our senses. Francis Turretin writes, “Faith is not referred ultimately to reason, so that I ought to believe because I so understand and comprehend; but to the word because God so speaks in the Scriptures.” [Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. 25]

Paul says, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (I Cor. 1:21) It seems rather clear that the ones who came to believe did not do so from human reason. The Greek construction clearly demarcates the message preached against human reason. The world did not come to know God διὰ τῆς σοφίας. Conversely, God saves the believing ones διὰ τῆς μωρίας. The world does not come to know God through her wisdom. On the other hand, God saves through the foolishness. Again, who thinks that the preached message of the good news is foolishness and nonsense? Men like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris think so. Yet God confounds the wise, the scribe, and the rhetorician with His simple, but powerful, life changing, earth-shattering gospel. The world considers the gospel a preposterous scandal.

Paul says the Jew seeks a sign and the Greek for wisdom. It would seem to me that if we used the logic presented to us today by a good many theologians, apologists, and Christian philosophers, that God should have come up with a way to reach these people by meeting them where they were. For Jews, He should give them just the right signs. And for the Greeks, if He could just help them get to the ultimate reality behind the forms by use of reason, perhaps He could win them. However, God has not taken up utilitarianism, contrary to Rick Warren and other seeker-sensitive, felt needs gurus. What does God offer the Jew and the Greek?

Paul says God brings them a message: Christ crucified! However, to the Jews, this is a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness. The Greek word scandalon was literally a device for catching a live animal. It was also an action that caused one to violate a deeply held set of beliefs. A stumbling block was something that caused offense or revulsion and resulted in opposition, disapproval, or hostility. In other words, the Jews found the preaching of the cross repugnant, and revolting in every way imaginable. It was as unattractive as any message could be. How could any Jew embrace and believe such a message, held in such contempt even to certain death in some cases? One could offer up many answers, but claiming that it was because the Jew found it so aligned with their basic beliefs about God that it was rationally compelling would not be one of them. The same can be said of the Greek. To the Greek, the gospel had to sound like the most foolish message they had ever heard. Greek dualism held to a view that the material world was evil, corrupt, and contaminating. How is it that this Christian God, the Savior of us all, this completely and perfectly holy God could or would ever become human flesh. The thought of such a thing is absolutely foolish. Yet, this is precisely the message God gives to the Greek. The apostles do not look for a way to make the word of the Cross more palatable or rational or less seemingly absurd to their audience. They make no modifications whatsoever to the message of the cross. They are just silly enough to proclaim it. They don’t get lost in the myriad of competing deities or the potential distractions of Greco-Roman rhetoric. They engaged the culture, not with rational faith, but with baptized “reason.” They engaged the culture with reformed reason in the service of faith in the Christian gospel. The apostles accepted and embraced the idea that their message was going to offend the Jew and appear foolish to the Greek. Their faith did not rest in the will of man. Their faith did not rest in their ability to construct sophisticated complex apologetic arguments to persuade men to believe. If ever such was needed at any time in any culture, it was at that time and in that culture. The faith of the apostles was in God Himself. They were convinced that God’s plan would not be, no, could not be thwarted by any one at any time in any place. God’s plan was entirely dependent on God, not the libertarian freedom of the creature. Perhaps, if we can shift our faith from the creature back to the Creator, we too can return to a biblical apologetic that rests on the revelation of Scripture rather than autonomous human reason. If reason is the gift from the enlightenment, perhaps it is time to re-gift.

Reason serves as an instrument of faith, not as a foundation of it. This is the problem introduced long ago with natural theology, going back to the Platonists of Cambridge when confusion about the role of reason and the supposed illumination of natural theology slipped through the cracks by one Benjamin Whichcote. I am a huge proponent of reason. I wholeheartedly believe in a rational defense of the Christian worldview. However, I insist that any reason used in the service of faith be reformed by the faith it seeks to serve.

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