New Article: When is "Human Wisdom" Suspect?

Our very own @Christy wrote this piece for us about “human wisdom” and how it’s related to the study of science. A look into Paul’s musings for Christ followers in his age.

READ: https://biologos.org/articles/when-is-human-wisdom-suspect

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Thanks for this article, Christy.

Just in doing a simple word search for the word ‘reason’ (and all its longer forms) in the New Testament, it strikes me that probably well over half (I didn’t actually count) are speaking of it in a positive sense … as in Paul reasoning with people or about the positive place that “sober judgment” (NRSV - Romans 12:3) - which is called ‘reasoning’ in some earlier English translations seems to have an assigned and expected role among believers. Indeed if thought and reason are generally dismissed, then much of Paul’s writings are reduced to nonsense as he leans heavily on all sorts of reasoning to persuade his recalcitrant audiences.

I’m about to give a talk on ‘strength’, and this “inversion” of the world’s wisdom I think runs closely parallel to what I hope to say about strength. In some of my circles, we’re big on “upside down kingdom” talk. I think it could be fairly suggested that the world we are enculturated to is really the ‘upside down’ place, and that God’s Kingdom is where we finally get to experience a tasted of “rightedness”. Reading your article is helping me think and prepare for what I want to say. So again … thank you!

-Merv

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Thanks! I like upside down kingdom talk. But yes, good to recognize that the Kingdom is the “righting” of our upside down values. I think upside down is a relative not an absolute directional concept. It all depends on your original frame of reference.

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Thank so much for writing this article @Christy! It’s was a great read. Particularly, loved your conclusion:

So, how do we apply passages like 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 to our modern Christian lives? We honor its truth by recognizing that the structures our society uses to assign worth to people, and the criteria it uses to judge success, may not be in line with the great inversion of expectations that we see in the gospel. We honor its truth when we remember that people considered uneducated or weak by worldly standards may have deep insights into spiritual truth and be powerful examples of faithfulness to the gospel. But, the “human wisdom” we are warned not to rely on doesn’t have anything to do with science. We do not have to devalue education or dismiss the discoveries and insights afforded by centuries of careful study and academic discipline. All truth is God’s truth, and we should pursue it, both through academic study and through spiritual discipline. And just as God did for the Corinthians, he is able to use our knowledge and intellectual development to enrich our church.

Thanks for all your hard work.

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Thanks for the kind words, Liam. The articles you believe with your whole heart are the easiest to write. I’ll take every chance I can to talk about the gospel’s power to create a reality that thwarts our expectations. That has to be one of the most exciting aspects of the Christian message.

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Amen! I’ve been trying to get a chance to comment on your article since it appeared, but time hasn’t been on my side lately. Loved the piece! Couldn’t agree more! I especially wanted to highlight and comment on this paragraph:

Throughout the Gospel accounts, who is praised for understanding the message of the Kingdom? The poor, the socially marginalized, and the disenfranchised. Who is chided for missing the point? The rich, the pedigreed, and the powerful. This was a stunning reversal for everyone whose expectations were based on conventional “human wisdom.”

Exactly! The conventional wisdom of the time said that God blessed the righteous with health, wealth and long life, and sinners he punished with sickness, poverty, and an early grave. Witness how the disciples are astonished when Jesus says it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom. Why? They took riches as a sign of God’s favor. What do the disciples ask about the man born blind? Who sinned – this man or his parents, that he should be born this way? And what does the Sanhedrin say when they throw him out? “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

I could go on and on. Jesus violated every prejudice and preconception of his culture. Given the society and culture in which he lived, it is hard to comprehend why Jesus attracted an audience at all. He might as well have been preaching racial equality in Alabama during the 1920s, or religious reform and love for Westerners to 21st-century jihadists. His execution should come as no surprise. Humanly speaking, it is even harder to imagine why Jesus so confidently assumed the worldwide spread of his message, particularly when he violated virtually all of society’s norms and did not conform to any of his audience’s expectations or desires. One could hardly characterize that as a strategy for success.

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Yes! Great examples of human wisdom. One of the sad effects of the term being co-opted to mean “evolution and old earth science” is that those of us who disagree with that characterization sometimes stop at saying, “that’s wrong,” and then get sidetracked defending the value of good science. And then we don’t ever get back to asking what human wisdom we are supposed to be rejecting in light of Jesus’ message, and we miss out on the chance to be punched in the spiritual gut by how revolutionary the gospel really is.

Yes, I have a whole book on the subject that I’m keeping in my back pocket for now. My thesis is that contemporary Christians have little real understanding of Christ because they have absorbed him by cultural osmosis. Jesus spent his entire ministry challenging the expectations, traditions, and prejudices of his first audience. If we read his story without questioning our own preconceived notions, we will misunderstand his meaning as badly as his contemporaries who could not question theirs.

The Pharisees, for example, failed to recognize Jesus as the Christ because he didn’t fit their literal interpretation of the prophets – a king who would sit on the throne of David, crush Israel’s enemies in battle and rule the world from Jerusalem. And look how often Jesus upbraided the disciples for taking him literally and missing his greater meaning. (“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?”)

How many of our contemporaries fail to understand Jesus because they can’t get past their literal and cultural interpretations?

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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