Friday, March 04, 2005

Knowing and Story - 1 Cor 1-2 - Part 1

Tod Bolsinger is blogging on the "one thing needful" and how this passage relates to "sitting under" the teaching and presence of Jesus. A disciple of Jesus understands that we are transformed by maintaining a learning posture with respect to the person of Jesus. I would like to "go philosophical" for a moment and expand upon this idea by proposing that the source of true ultimate knowledge is found only in a posture of personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

note: What follows owes a great deal to Leslie Newbigin and his book Proper Confidence. For a more in-depth study of the philosophy of science and personal knowledge read Newbigin or Polanyi.

1 Cor 1-2 - A Philosopher's Text
I have never heard a sermon that approaches Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 1-2 as a lesson in philosophy, but the text teaches the reader a new approach to the relationship between knowing God and the limited methods of knowing prescribed by science and philosophy (namely Plato and Descarte).

Starting at chapter 1 verse 22, Paul says "since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom"
and continuing at verse 1 of chapter 2, "1When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power. "
Paul here is contrasting three ways that knowledge is discovered: by the Jewish method, by the Greek method, or by God’s chosen method.

The Jews Seek for a Sign
Paul was very conversant with his countrymen. In conversation with Paul the Jews would say, "Prove it. Show me proof that this Jesus is Lord of all. I want irrefutable proof."

The Jews were approaching faith in Jesus as the Christ from an empiricist perspective. A "sign" is irrefutable "evidence". Empiricism is the philosophical belief that knowledge stats with the object or from outside the mind.

Science is based on finding our proof in the real world. I have always considered myself an empiricist. I read western history as a journey from rationalism of the ancients (especially Plato) to the empiricism of science, but knowledge of a person and especially knowledge of the purpose of life cannot be found through these methods. This is why Paul says "in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him". God made His world in such a way that His person cannot be clearly known through such a manipulative and controlled method. Subject to subject knowledge just doesn’t work that way. If you desire to know me, it is contingent on whether I want to be known. Some people are almost impossible to get to know. That is their personal choice, and I honor their personal sovereignty. Well, guess what. The sovereign God of All can only be know as He sees fit and according to His personal sovereignty. This dependence on personal disclosure is how knowledge of persons works.

The Greek seek Wisdom
The Greek method, or at least the Greek method that Paul is referring to, is not the same as the Hebrew method. The Greeks and those like them (modern rationalists) use not so much evidence as the source of knowledge but instead rely on reason and logic. This method is called rationalism. These Greeks would say, “OK let's start from scratch. Give me an immutable truth like 2+2=4, and let's work our way logically to your claim of Jesus as Lord”. This is the method of rationalism.
Can one come to faith in the Gospel through the rational method? Let's look at an analogy:

A Test of the Usefulness of Rationalism
Using the rational method tell me the truth oh wise people out in blogville. Tell me, who will win the World Series this year? And here is the test. Tell me the answer with absolute certainty because you must bet your life on it. If your method is so wise, you must bet 100% of your savings and all your 2006-2010 income on the 2005 World Series.

You see the rational method is fine for mathematics, but it really doesn’t work too good at predicting the outcome of story. It can predict the outcome of dropping a rock from the leaning tower of Pisa, but it doesn’t work too good in predicting the behaviors of persons, especially persons who have a penchant for being very creative and unpredictable, like God.

Rationalism and Story
The gospel story is the most unpredictable story of all. "Who would believe our report, He was born of the root of Jesse…and gave his life for the transgression of many" (Isaiah 53). The Gospel is foolishness. It is counter intuitive. It is not what our reasoning would expect of a sovereign God. Who could have known or predicted that God would reveal Himself as a Hebrew baby, the least of the least. Who could have predicted that God would show Himself and reveal the theme of history by having Himself crucified as a common criminal. Having heard the story and having believed the story, we come to knowledge and understanding of the theme or purpose of history but such knowledge does not come through the rational method. Instead, the knowledge comes through hearing and believing.

So how does one come to the knowledge of a person especially a person so wonderful and complex as God? How does one learn the theme and purpose of spomething so complex as history and so subtle and beautiful as our own personal story?

For that, you must read part 2.

God Bless,

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