The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, Part One

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Over a Flo's Filet, a loaded baked potato and a Newcastle at dinner tonite I read through Cornelius Van Til's book The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel. I thought I'd begin posting this year on some of the salient features of this book, most of which come from the Introduction, oddly enough. What you will read will be Van Til with a comment or two as follow-up as I feel necessary. What you find in Van Til is a very heavy sense of his commitment to sola scriptura. He is without a doubt, in my mind, one of the premier theologians in church history, who happened to live in the 20th century, who declares so forthrightly, plainly, and explicitly the doctrine of the Word of God while proving that it is only from there that we know about God and His gospel, as well as the only source for the obedient life which our God and His gospel demands. I highly recommend his writings. Here's today's snippet from the above titled book which should help refresh and renew our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ over against the subtle yet powerful influences of worldly wisdom and rationalism. Scripture passages quoted show the substituted ESV for the KJV from which Van Til quoted.
"While the Apostle Paul was at Corinth the Lord spoke to him in the night by a vision: 'And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people”' (Acts 18:9,10). Had Paul been afraid to bring the simple gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the city of Corinth with its Jews and with its Greeks? If so, he was afraid no longer after the vision had been given to him. 'Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe' (1 Cor. 1:20-21).

If the Corinthians would but look at the facts as they are, and particularly as they have shown themselves to be in the course of history, they would be compelled to acknowledge the bankruptcy of the wisdom of man. What answer had Socrates, Plato and Aristotle been able to give to the deepest problems of life? Shall we say that they gave no answer? No, indeed; for they could not escape giving an answer. But the answers they had given were wrong. Their wisdom had been made foolishness with God. In the light of the narrative which Paul brought, the wisdom of the Greeks was not merely inadequate; it was sinful.

Man had originally been made perfect. He had then in Adam broken the covenant that God had made with him (Rom. 5:12). He was now a covenant-breaker and, as such, subject to the wrath of God. Having such a view of the nature of man Paul did not merely plead for a 'complete system,' for the recognition of the 'spiritual dimension' as well as the material. He did not want merely to add the idea of the personal confrontation with Jesus Christ to that of the impersonal study of the laws of nature.

In short, he did not ask for the privilege of erecting an altar to the living God, Creator of heaven and earth, next to the altars to gods that have been born in the human minds. He pleaded for, and in the name of his Lord required of men, a complete reversal of their point of view in every dimension of life. The entire house of their interpretation of life had to be broken down. Many of the building blocks that they had gathered could no doubt be used, but only if the totally new architectural plan that Paul proposed were followed."


This last paragraph is the most outstanding of today's snippet. Paul did not enter Corinth and build his gospel message right alongside the orations of human wisdom taught for several centuries by the world's then and today most popular philosphers. They could not be compared or even discussed in the same way. The message of the gospel is altogether completely and entirely, utterly, and thoroughly different from any other message offered today in schools, colleges, universities, and marketplaces. It always has been and it always will be.

The rest of Van Til's book is about how the uniqueness of the gospel message, plain and simple as it stands in the message of the cross, is to be thought of and preached about. Because it is altogether completely, entirely, utterly, and thoroughly different from any other message out there, we must communicate it as such with the authoritativeness befitting such a message. This good news is from God and God alone, unadulterated and unpolluted with anything about sinful man. Keeping it this way keeps its authority in tact. Adding to it, removing anything from it, watering it down, or compromising it in anyway negates its authority.

Therefore, on the basis of the uniqueness of this message - it's source and consequent authority - we who have been captured and enraptured by it ought to shamelessly proclaim it and present God's demand, not ours, that people acknowledge what they already know to be true in their hearts, repent of their covenant-breaking, acknowledge God's justice in pouring out His wrath on them, and then believe in the promise of God about mercy and forgiveness for those who will come to Him. We don't wait for people's permission to proclaim this, for privilege lies in the listening and not in the telling. It's a privilege to hear it which means we're not asking for the privilege of telling. We're fufilling God's demand of us that those who have the gospel should spread it.

Then, after believing in God's promises inherent in the gospel, we help them day by day to tear down the man-centered, worldly-wise, rationalistic worldview they hold by simply and clearly explaining the Kingship of Jesus in every area of their intellect and lifestyle. We keep those building blocks which conform to the Bible, and we teach them to toss the others. And we emphasize to them that as a covenant-keeper now by God's grace every area of our life, small and great, is to reorganized under the authority of the loving, wise, good King Jesus.

May Van Til's words today embolden us to speak with authority without fear of consequences. But let us do so in a humility that reflects the Savior of whom we speak. But let us also speak in an authority that backed by the God who sent our Savior.

Go To Part 2

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