Research, Reason or Revelation

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” – I Corinthians 2:9–10

We’ve got problems! So they tell us. The church is confronted by a variety of serious, almost insurmountable obstacles. Who makes this assertion? Oh, the leaders of the ecumenical movement, a variety of seminary professors, ecclesiastical “experts” and others. One alleged problem is that of communication. The church, they say, neither speaks the language nor employs the concepts of the modern mind. The church and -for that matter—the Bible are outdated. We must cease to use the traditional language and thought forms of the Christian Faith. We must develop a new vocabulary and new categories of thought, if we are to reach the modern mind.

Is Language our problem?

Consider first the matter of language. The King James Version of the Bible is commonly conceded to be the most masterful work ever reproduced in the English language. Admittedly, however, the language is archaic. In 1901 the American Revised Version was published. Some earlier manuscripts were employed, some that had not been uncovered when the King James was produced three hundred years earlier. Though the differences are inconsequential, the American Revised is generally conceded to be somewhat more accurate than the King James. Still, differences of language usage have developed even since 1901. Therefore, beginning at about the time of World War II, a rash of new translations appeared. Smith-Goodspeed, Moffatt and Weymouth were among the earlier ones. The Revised Standard Version was something more than a new translation, and it has become the best known in spite of serious defects. The Williams, Wuest and Berkeley Bibles appeared along the way, among many others. The New English Bible is one of the more radical new translations.

For most, if not all. the idea was to produce a translation in language that is in common use today. Do the new translations serve a useful purpose? Of course they do, especially if they are used with the older translations, the King James and the American Revised, so that the one may be used to clarify the other. We must be clear about one fact, however. Their usefulness is limited to the Christian; that is, to regenerated man. We shall soon discover from the writings of Paul that the problem of the unbeliever is not simply one of language. Given the most lucid, up-to-date language, the unbeliever will never accept the truth of Scripture apart from a work of grace in his heart.

If we should assume, as some apparently do, that the unbeliever’s problem is one of language. we shall have made a tragically faulty diagnosis. What is the unbeliever’s problem? An unregenerate heart. He is alienated from God. He is prone to hate God and his neighbor. All the imaginations of his heart are evil continually. He rebels against God and the law of God. “…the carnal mind {that is, the mind of unregenerate man] is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7). This is unregenerate man’s basic problem: not that he cannot understand the words, but that he rebels against God.

Even the theological liberal confesses that language is by no means the sole problem. He tells us that the concepts, the thought forms, which underlie the language of the historic Christian Faith are outmoded. So James Pike, Episcopal bishop of San Francisco, declares that the idea of the Trinity may have been understandable to men in another age, but we should no longer speak of a God who is one in essence but three in persons. The mind of modern man, according to Bishop Pike, is not prepared to grasp the idea of a Triune God. Therefore, we should discard the concept of the Trinitarian Godhead.

In his book, Honest to God, Bishop Robinson of the Anglican Church takes a similar though even more radical approach. He tells us that we must revise our ideas of the very being and nature of God. Why? Because, Bishop Robinson insists, our ideas of God must conform to the latest scientific advances. He would join with those who stress the idea that the latter half of the twentieth century is the “scientific age” or the “atomic age” or the “space age.” Bishop Robinson is particularly troubled by space satellites. He tells us that we can no longer believe in a God “out there,” as he puts it, or in a “three-storied universe.”

What shall we preach?

Basically, the question resolves itself into this: What shall we preach in the twentieth century? Shall the church accommodate itself to such questions as may be raised by the scientist. the economist and the politician? Or shall we continue to preach the gospel, as from time immemorial: the sin of man. his need of a Savior and the life of gratitude?

Fortunately, we are not left without answer in Scripture. Paul was confronted with essentially the same problem two thousand years ago. In the ancient world Corinth was regarded as a sophisticated metropolis. Corinth was as far removed from Galilee, for example, by education and culture, as it was in terms of geography. How, then, should Paul preach to these people? The situation was undoubtedly complicated by the fact of Paul’s native ability, plus his advanced education. No man in the first century church was more capable than Paul of taking whatever approach might appear advisable. Without question, Paul was the great mind in the apostolic church. In addition, he was one of the most educated men of his day. He was thoroughly familiar with the Greek mentality, with their thought and thought-forms. Paul could have approached the people of Corinth on their own terms.

What did Paul do? His decision constitutes one of the more familiar texts of Scripture, “For I determined to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). Notice that Paul says. “For I determined…” This was a conscious decision on the part of Paul. He had weighed the possibilities. He might have displayed his mastery of logic and philosophy. Paul was undoubtedly acquainted with the teachings of Plato and Aristotle and the eclectic sophists. He was not unaware of the oratory of Demosthenes. What, then, should he do? Should he seek to overpower them with his oratory? Should he confound them with syllogisms? No, he would preach Christ crucified and nothing else.

What led Paul to this decision? First, natural man will never arrive at the truth concerning God, himself or the world by means of reason or research. This is why Bishops Pike and Robinson and all who follow in their train are wrong from the beginning. They seek to find the truth concerning God and man by means of reason and research. but this is clearly impossible for man to do apart from the grace of God.

Hear Paul’s argument: “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man. the things which God hath prepared for them who love him” (2:9). How frequently we quote this verse in connection with the eternal future! Not uncommonly this verse is quoted in funeral services. But this is to take the verse out of its immediate context. Paul is not speaking about the future life or the future world. He is speaking of the here and now, for in the next verse Paul writes, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit, for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (2:10).

We would not want to be misunderstood concerning this text. Can it be used in connection with the life of the world to come? Of course it can! Surely it is true that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for us in the life of the world to come.Nonetheless, this is not the point Paul is making at this time. His reference is to the present, to the here and now. Paul declares that God has revealed to his children here and now what the eye cannot see, what the ear cannot hear, and what the mind of man cannot conceive.

Notice how this contradicts the scientific approach to learning. The scientific approach begins with observation, with the use of the eye. With his eye and with the instruments that he has devised, the scientist observes the world around him. He may observe that which is far removed with a telescope or that which is near at hand with a microscope. In either case. he begins with observation. He also listens. He may employ a stethoscope in listening to the heartbeat of a patient. He looks. He listens. He measures. This is his method of accumulating facts.

The limits of the scientific method Is this wrong? Not at all. It is the best method that man has yet devised to investigate the natural world around him. Where, then, do we come into conflict? When the scientist attempts to rule out what he cannot see with his eye, nor hear with his ear, nor understand with his mind. This is precisely Paul’s point. The spiritual realm cannot be investigated in this way. Spiritual things cannot be seen by the eye of natural man. Spiritual things cannot be heard by the ear of unregenerate man. Spiritual things cannot be understood by the heart of man—unless God has first given him a new heart.

The next succeeding steps in the scientific approach might be called “ordering” and “analysis.” After the scientist has observed and gained his facts, he seeks to perceive some meaningful order among them. Still later. he will seek for an explanation. He devises a theory, a hypothesis. Now a theory is a tentative explanation. Finally, therefore, he must test the theory he has devised. By testing, he may find that his theory does not fit all the facts. Then he must modify his theory or devise a new one.

The theory of evolution provides a well-known example. We come into conflict with some scientists in this area, because many refuse to follow their own rules. In all the generations since Darwin, the theory of evolution has not been proved. It has been modified repeatedly, but it remains undemonstrated. To the present hour, no one has been able to demonstrate that it is fact, that it fits all the facts, or that it is the only possible explanation of the facts. Nonetheless, many insist that we ought to accept it as though it were fact. The textbooks that our children use present it as though it were fact. Our purpose is not to discuss evolution. We simply use it as an illustration of the scientific method not only, but of the unwillingness of many scientists, so caned, to play the game by their own rules.

Again, note Paul’s argument. The scientific method is based upon observation and reason. Paul has already declared that the eye cannot see spiritual things, but this is not all. Paul wrote further, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (2:14). The natural man cannot know spiritual things, because they are spiritually discerned. Consider the word discerned. Discernment is a matter of reason, intelligence, intellect. It is more than that, but discernment is, first of all, a matter of intellect. The mind of the natural man cannot grasp spiritual things. He lacks the spiritual capacity to discern them. And they are “foolishness unto him” (2:14), precisely because he cannot understand them.

Perhaps this is the point at which to speak a word to young people. Both in high school and in college, you will encounter people who will disparage your faith. Not all people, understand. Some truly great scientists and scholars, for example, are humble men of God. When you encounter scoffers, however, do not be disturbed by them. Above all, do not permit yourself to be influenced by them. Do you know what you should feel toward them? Pity. They are to be pitied. They have an eye that does not see. They have an ear that does not hear. They have hearts and minds that are spiritually insensitive and incapacitated, because they are spiritually dead. They cannot discern the things of God.

Nor should you be awed by the fact of their learning. Their learning, such as it may be, lies in another field. Many people, young and old, make the mistake of assuming that, because a man has proved himself successful in one field, he is competent to make judgments in another. Patently, this is not true. A successful business man, for example, sometimes regards himself as an authority on virtually any subject. Patently, this is untrue. He may well be an expert in the area of his own business or of business principles in general but far from an expert in any other area. A nuclear physicist may know nothing about music or economics. A symphony conductor may know nothing about metallurgy. And Paul’s point is that the natural man knows nothing about spiritual things. A man may be a truly great biophysicist or an expert in the field of thermo-dynamics, but he will be a spiritual dunce, unless and until he is born again of the Spirit of God.

Permit me to make this point as strongly as possible. If you were to come upon a hobo in the train-yards or wherever they gather, and he were to say to you, “I do not believe in God,” you would pay him no heed. Your faith would not be shaken. Perhaps you would say. to yourself, “What more could one expect from this kind of man?” Again, if you were to come upon a derelict in a doorway on North Clark Street or West Madison in Chicago, and he were to say to you, “I do not believe in God,” you would not be surprised or confused or troubled. Ah, but when a college professor tells you that he does not believe in God, you are awed by his learning. Paul’s point is simply this: Unless the Spirit of God speaks to the college professor’s heart, he knows no more about God than does the drunk or the derelict.

The problem in church-related colleges

The problem is compounded by the fact that many colleges in America are church-related. When you send your son off to a state university, you can say to him, and you ought to say to him, “Son, you are now going out into the world. You will meet some fellow Christians, but most of the people you meet, both in the student body and in the faculty, will be unbelievers. Some may be antagonistic. Some will seek to subvert your faith. Now, therefore, you must stand up like a man and be counted for the things you believe.”

Ah, but what do you say when you send your son off to a church-related school? Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Chicago—to mention only a few of the better known universities of our country were all founded by Bible-believing Christians. So were hundreds of smaller colleges throughout the nation. You know what Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Chicago and many more have become. They have become centers of unbelief. They make no pretense of teaching the faith of the men of God who gave them birth. What makes you think it has not happened elsewhere, in your denominational college for example?

The pity is that the stamp of the church is upon the church-related college. Young people expect that the church-related college will teach them the same basic faith they hear from the pulpit of the local church. Further, both the students and their parents assume that they can put their faith and trust in the men who comprise the faculty. Frequently, this is an illusion. Many colleges undermine the faith of the people who support them. This is doubly insidious. The college is committed, on paper at least, to teaching one thing when it is actually teaching another.

Perhaps someone will ask, “But why is it that so many church-related colleges have departed the Faith?” You see, scholarship is frequently an impediment to spiritual understanding. Why? Because pride often accompanies attainment in secular fields of study. The college professor feels that he has arrived. By the title he bears, “professor,” he professes to know. How difficult it is for such a man to humble himself and say, “I must become as a little child, if I would learn about spiritual things.” His first problem is not his knowledge. His problem lies in his pride. He cannot humble himself before the face of God in order that he might learn.

Positively, how does man attain to a knowledge of spiritual things? This is Paul’s answer, “…God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit, for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (2:10). Man does not arrive at spiritual knowledge through his own efforts and attainments. Spiritual truth must he revealed to him by the Spirit of God. Listen as Paul describes the knowledge of which he speaks: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (2:7–8).

Paul explains further, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of God that we might know the things that are freely given us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (2:12–13).

Now do you know why it is folly to change the vocabulary of the Christian Faith with the idea of enticing the natural man? “Not in the words of man’s wisdom.” Now do you know why it is absurd to change, alter or denude the concepts of the Christian Faith in order to make it understandable to the natural man? Language is not his problem. Thought-forms and concepts are not his problem. What is his problem? Spiritual things arc spiritually discerned. Because he lacks the Spirit of God, he has an eye that cannot see spiritual things. He has an ear that cannot hear spiritual things. He has a mind that cannot conceive of spiritual things.

Changing the language of our Faith will not help him. Changing the doctrines and concepts of our Faith will be of no value to him. One thing may happen however. A disaster may occur. One may dehydrate, eviscerate and disembowel the Christian Faith to the point at which it becomes acceptable to the natural man. This has already been done in many places. Man’s sin and his need of a Savior is never preached from many pulpits. Thus a congregation is gathered together on the basis of a naturalistic appeal, in much the same way that a club or a lodge is formed. And thus the Christian Faith is prostituted and denied.

How, then, shall we approach men? Hear Paul’s answer: “And my speech and my preaching was, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:4–5). When the Spirit of God speaks to a man’s heart, he will understand the meaning of the word sin. He will know what it means to be a sinner, for the Holy Spirit will work the conviction in his heart. When the Spirit speaks to his heart, he will know the meaning of Savior and salvation, and he will humble himself at the foot of the cross.

This is our prayer for you, both now and always, that the Spirit of God will speak through his Word to your heart. Then you will see. Then you will hear. Then you will understand. Then the peace of God which passeth all understanding will settle upon your heart.