For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” (I Cor. 1:19)
What exactly was Paul getting at in his letter to the Corinthians? The more I interact with believers, and the more I read evangelical authors, the more convinced I am that evangelicalism has drifted into an open sea, ranging from Pelagianism to Arminianism on its doctrine of man. As a result, men are constantly tweaking doctrines and practices that require the use of this doctrine in order to fit the overarching scheme of a view of anthropology that is more and more unbiblical with each passing day and each new book that reaches publication. The impact of this abhorrent view of fallen man is nowhere more prominent than in the area of apologetics and the modern presentation of the gospel, so-called.
With all due respect to much of the work that William Lane Craig is doing, his views do not reflect the biblical revelation on the nature of man and sin, not to mention God. His middle knowledge and rejection of the sensus divinitatis place him at odds with the orthodox understanding of God’s nature, man’s nature, the devastating consequences of sin, and even the creation account of Genesis 1-3. With this attitude, Craig builds an apologetic empire that has a questionable foundation because it abandons Scripture on several occasions and it is satisfied merely to show that Christian theism is probably true. The disturbing trend is that more and more conservative scholars are satisfied with this approach. This too indicates a great downgrading in our understanding of the nature of man and sin.
Not only is Christian apologetics severely impacted by these false views of man and sin, but as one might imagine, the gospel has been sorely impacted by them. I was once a member of an independent Baptist church that grew from 300 to 1100 in less than 3 years approximately. The pastor had adopted the seeker sensitive model. His idea was to bring the people in through a variety of means in order to give them the good news. Once the church grew to a certain size, the pastor, without admitting it realized he had created a problem. He failed to recognize that what brought them there is what will keep them. In other words, you can’t change the game once the church is full. Otherwise, these selfish, unregenerate, Jesus hedonists will just find somewhere else to go. Secondly, people that were loyal to Scripture and to a right understanding of man and sin left the church. The mature based deteriorated. Without a mature base, it is difficult to help 1100 people grow spiritually. In time, the trend chasers demanded the church adopt and integrate other new trends that were emerging. When the pastor set some limitations, those who wanted more simply moved on.
These things happen when we fail to take into account the fundamental difference between unregenerate human reason and biblical faith. God has set the gospel over against the rational thought process of the unbeliever, in effect destroying their wisdom. The true gospel of Christ is not attractive to unregenerate man. The unbeliever thinks the gospel, the real gospel is scandalous and foolish. This upsets modern Christians. We don’t like to be made fun of or stigmatized as fools and idiots. No one likes that. However, that is exactly what we look like to an unregenerate world.
The apostle Paul, writing to one of the most philosophical cultures to ever exist, ancient Corinth, quotes Isaiah the prophet when he sets out to describe what the gospel actually looks like and what it does to unbelieving minds. First, Paul says that God destroys the wisdom of the wise! The Greek word translated destroy is apollymii. Its root means to ruin, perish, or destroy. It is translated lose, destroy, lost, ruined, perish, and even kill in the NASB. It appears some 90 times in the NT. The idea is that it is brought to nothing. What is God said to destroy by the gospel? The ability of man to understand so that they may act prudently. In other words, human wisdom. The gospel is antithetical to human, earthly, fleshly wisdom. Since man reasons from his nature, which is where the intellect resides, how do we get him to reason against his nature? In order to get man to make sense of the gospel, we have to penetrate his intellect and get him to think differently! And that is the problem of the gospel. So long as man has the nature that he has, he will continue to reason the way he reasons. The gospel is the power of God that explodes this reasoning by regenerating man’s heart, hence giving him a new nature by which his entire faculties are changed. Unless God works on man’s nature, man will continue to reason against God and hold the gospel in extreme contempt.
Secondly, Paul says that God rejects unregenerate man’s faculty to comprehend and understand things. God rejects the intelligence of the intelligent because it is untrustworthy. Unregenerate man desires to take credit, not only for his own salvation, but for plotting how the kingdom may grow. The seeker sensitive pastor deludes himself into thinking that God’s kingdom expands, in part, because of his genius strategy and eloquent messages. We see this everywhere. The emergent church is producing young pastors who are subject to no one for anything and they are taking their crass style and using it to attract young Christians, so-called. They are building empires of 10,000 member, multi-site churches where people gather together, enjoy loud rock music and hear sermons about how awesome they are and how the power of their God is going to help them rule the world and control their own destinies. Doctrine is vilified, orthodoxy mocked, and the true gospel is absent. Nevertheless, this fits in well with the idea that human reason is somehow able to grasp God on its own. It fits in well with the Roman scheme that man is not totally depraved after all, but rather just sick and can still find his way to God through a natural theology.
Paul could not disagree more in 1 Corinthians 1-3. He contends that unregenerate human reason is antithetical to Christ, to the gospel, to Christian theism on every level. That unregenerate men need is the foolishness of the preaching of the cross. What they do not need is some rock concert with Jesus’ name tossed about here and there in the auspices of a code orange, Holy Ghost revival. Entertaining? Perhaps to the unregenerate and the rebellious. Biblical? Not even on paper is it biblical, let alone in practice.
Pastors and elders are responsible for the spiritual growth of their churches. They are responsible for establishing indoctrination programs and preaching and teaching the Word in such a way that God becomes, in the heart of the members, their all in all. When Christians who have been saved 10 years and longer, are unable to articulate the gospel, can’t tell you who God really is and what He is like, and they have little or no grasp on doctrine, the pastors and elders are obviously failing to carry out their responsibility before God. For this, they will certainly give an account. This is not to remove individual responsibility, but we can talk about that after we get churches to at least care enough about their people to at least have a serious discipleship program in place. It is mind-boggling to me how many churches simply don’t bother with it. I have been in several churches that have no discipleship program, no small group program, and very little accountability. People divorce with NO consequences unless someone really pushes the envelope. There is little to no intimacy in these communities. In fact, in some of them, people are filled with hatred and freely engage in malicious gossip and slander while the pastors and elders sit on the sideline and almost nothing to correct the community. It is a pernicious evil for pastors and elders to permit such individuals to deceive themselves into thinking they actually love God, all because they are good tithers, piano players, and deacons. Their hearts rage with vain and ungodly speculations about others with the full knowledge and consent of their spiritual leaders. Still, these pastors and elders talk about how much they love God and care for His word and His church. I guess they don’t love God and His Church enough to implement real programs that are designed to make a real difference in the spiritual growth of the covenant members under their care. Every pastor and elder on this planet will have to answer to God for why this is the case, if in fact it is the case with them. If you are a pastor or elder reading this blog, perhaps my words don’t set well with you. Then open Scripture and refute them in your mind. See if you can find God’s revelation justifying your actions or lack thereof. If you cannot, then maybe you should direct your irritation toward the mirror rather than the author of this blog. Can you really expect others to take you seriously when it is clear you don’t even take your high office of elder seriously? If you are spending more energy over the temporal aspects of your covenant community, then your energy is misplaced. Get to those things once you have addressed the more important ones.
To the apologist who wants to boast about how intellectually powerful and clever his argument is I say it is for nothing. The most powerful intellectual argument in the world will not convert one man to Christ. But there is a darker aspect here. Yes, it may be true that God converts men despite the shallowness of our attempts to be the “best” apologist on the planet. And that is the problem. How many more could we give the simple gospel to if we were not wasting our time attempting to address every ungodly objection against the cross? God saves men by the power of the message of the gospel. It is not in eloquence of speech, nor in intellectual strategy, nor in wise and clever arguments that men are led to Christ. If He uses them, He uses them in spite of their folly. How many men have been truly converted by a less than perfect presentation of the gospel? Yet because the imperfect presentation has within it a grain or seed or truth, it is enough for God work His miracle. This truth, by no means serves as an excuse for men to engage in the sloth of poor presentations in preaching or in apologetics. Rather, it illustrates just how powerful the truth of the gospel is, even when it is mostly hid by foolish strategies. When we defend and preach, the question is not personal effectiveness in making converts. Rather it is in personal effectiveness in accurately handling God’s word God’s way. We preach God’s word, God’s way. We defend God’s word, God’s way. If we do that, we are successful even if God never converts the first person in our ministry. Conversion is God’s business. Preaching and defending He gave to us. Let us be faithful in how we carry them out.