The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, Part TwoTuesday, January 09, 2007
"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."
...I'll pick up where I left off from Cornelius Van Til's The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel.
"But how could Paul expect that covenant-breakers should become covenant-keepers? How could those who had worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator be expected to turn from their evil way? Would they turn as soon as it was shown to them intellectually that the wisdom of this world has been made foolishness with God? Indeed not. Their minds being darkened, they would appear to others to see while yet they did not see. 'The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned' (1 Cor. 2:14). Or could they be expected to desire and will to believe that which might seem intellectually paradoxical to them? No, St. Paul did not expect that, 'For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot' (Rom. 8:7).
Yet the Apostle did not despair. He did not lower the requirements of the gospel in order to get men to accept it. Being truly all things to all men, sacrificing himself without limit for the sake of Jew and Gentile alike, he yet continued to insist always on the complete rejection of the 'wisdom' of man and on the substitution for it of the 'foolishness' of God. For this he had good reason."
I can't help myself. I've got to stop here. This last paragraph is pure theological gold. Notice what Van Til has done here.
First, he has accurately defined what would seem natural enough to the human heart in light of the truth.
Second, this means that he has accurately defined the truth of the gospel. This is something rarely done today in evangelicalism's churches.
Third, the truth of the gospel presented humanly insurmountable odds. No...wait... That's a terrible way to describe it. There are no odds at all. The truth of the gospel presents impossibility. It is impossible that a covenant-breaker can turn himself back into a covenant-keeper. It is impossible that he who loves his sin can suddenly turn himself to hate his sin and love the Savior. It is impossible that a sinner can do anything to make himself right with God. And this impossiblity becomes exponential when we consider the obligations God puts upon sinners despite their helpless situation. He requires them to repent...to stop sinning...to do that very thing which they, in and of themselves, have no ability whatsoever to do!
This is the force of the gospel's truths. So it would seem very natural then, wouldn't it, for a person in such a situation to despair. What can he do? But it is not a situation for the Apostle Paul, nor for an other Christian, to despair. For he believes that what is impossible with man is possible with God. God saves sinners. He welcomes them to come to Him. But since they will not come to Him He reaches out and saves them anyway so that they will want to come to Him.
That is also the force of the gospel's truth. The fact that God saves sinners despite sinners' rejection of Him cannot and should not ever, ever make us lower the requirements of the gospel in order to get people to accept it. The fact that it is too hard...no, too impossible!...is what keeps it the gospel. The gospel is about what God does for people who cannot do anything for themselves. The gospel is not about what man can do or must do for God. And when we hear sermons or conversations, or read books, or become exposed to anything which labels itself "gospel" yet somehow makes it possible for man to please God apart from Jesus.....Anathema. It's no gospel at all.
Such a pursuit is in fact the very "wisdom" which Paul derided in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. The wisdom of the world would say to us that if the gospel is too hard, and in fact impossible, then we must be misunderstanding it. God would never require people to do something they had no ability to do, like repent...or believe...or have faith...or love one another...etc. But He does! And that is precisely what makes it foolishness to the world.
With Van Til we too must continue to completely reject the 'wisdom' of man, and insist on the complete substitution of it with the 'foolishness' of God. In the next post we'll point out that there is very good reason for this.