The Beginning of Knowledge

“Without faith, there is no proper understanding by which a man can judge.”

— Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended

In The Apology, the great philosopher, Socrates, made the following claim: “Wonder is the beginning of philosophy.” For the most part, classical philosophy followed that same train of thought. Platonic philosophy itself was based on the idea that people should seek to discover the unknown and unseen, as many fellow readers probably know from the famous ‘Allegory of the Cave’ in Plato’s Republic. According to great (dare I say even admirable) Greek thinkers, wonder precedes knowledge, wisdom, and discipline; without wonder, good thought or reasoning can’t be.

Other schools of philosophy have very little deviation, even when it doesn’t seem so. Classical Greek philosophy is very humanistic and self-centered, as can be seen from reading even a paragraph from one of Aristotle’s teachings; all philosophies followed thereafter. Is there really that big a difference between Stoicism, Nihilism, Buddhism, and Pragmatism? Aren’t they all really just centered around the idea of what is good for the self and how to reach human potential?

Does not every philosophy have a subjective view of virtue?

Does not every philosophy disregard what is considered unimportant according to a teacher or group, even life itself at times?

Does not every philosophy want to reach some transcendental experience or some kind of idea of truth?

Does not every philosophy try to find only what works and what seems to be good on a subjective level?

Let’s face it, all human philosophical thought has the same problem: it’s not sufficient, and can only work if it borrows from another worldview. This is when people ask one of these two questions: 1) “Which worldview?” or 2) “Why only one?” Because if one were to see the trend in all human thought, it is clear that they are inconsistent and unable to coexist, except for themes that all stem from one particular worldview. Guess which one it is? Christianity. That’s right.

A humanistic worldview can’t work on its own, as it has too many inconsistencies. Think of Post-Modernism. This thought is responsible for claims like “There is no absolute truth!” Which begs the response from all Christian trolls alike: “How do you know that statement is true?” As you can see, in order for them to even make a statement like that, there has to be a borrowing from a worldview that believes in absolute, eternal and objective truth. There’s only one worldview that can consistently bring that to the table: Christianity.

St. Augustine of Hippo was famous during his time for philosophy, theology, and all kinds of sciences. He was one of the first academics to state that there is a big difference between common sense and knowledge. At the time, it was considered absurd to hear an idea like that; many philosophers thought that Augustine’s theology was influencing his philosophy. Augustine believed that any man could observe sciences and be the most brilliant philosopher and still know nothing. He believed only God could grant true knowledge, that which is not evident through common sense.

Fast-forward all the way to the 20th century, and it is at this time in history we find a man by the name of Cornelius Van Til, a man who was (at least in my opinion) the most intelligent, brilliant, and incredible Reformed thinker who ever lived. He brought back the fundamentals of Christian philosophy to its historic roots with an idea called presuppositionalism, the view that Christianity is the one and only consistent worldview and the only foundation for true knowledge. These words were from his work entitled Reformed Epistomology, “Only on the basis of a genuine Theism is God the ultimate interpreter of that reality, of which He is Himself the basis, thus assuring validity. And this demand of making God the starting point becomes the more urgent because of the influence of sin. Sin has broken all validity. It has shattered existence and broken universality. Only God can reassure us of a new validity made objectively possible.”

Van Til is not alone in his view of gaining knowledge. Even if theologians and philosophers throughout history didn’t believe that Christianity was the basis of all rational thought, the Bible clearly teaches that God is the beginning of knowledge and that no one can understand the meaning of truth, love or anything else unless it was granted to him or her by God.

Many people wonder how it’s possible for one person to understand the things of God and yet the other can’t, but Paul was very clear about it in 1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV) which says, “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.” It is natural for a sinner to think that God’s word is foolishness.

“Then,” one might ask, “how can anyone become saved?” Jesus said very plainly in John 14:6 (ESV), “I am the way, and the truth, the life.” Just to hammer home the point, Solomon wrote in Proverbs 1:7 (ESV), “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Again Solomon wrote in Proverbs 9:10 (ESV), “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” It is through God we can have any objectivity in the world because God never changes; God is eternal and God is never found to be false or wrong on anything.

Without Christ, man is left to his own thoughts which are clouded by wickedness and a bias towards darkness. There is no way a person can think with an objective mind unless that person is freed from darkness. Science, philosophy, and even theology can easily be found through textbooks and through observations, but, as St. Augustine once pointed out, only God can give a man knowledge. The Lord will judge those without knowledge, just as He judged them in the Book of Nahum in Scripture. However, there is hope.

God gives sinners a chance to repent and to trust in Him for redemption and justification. God calls us to believe in Him and to have faith, through which we are justified before God and called His own. There is no greater knowledge than that which waits beyond the door of salvation. If you have never walked through that door, I urge you to walk through it. If you have, lead others to the door, the door which is Christ. May the world see what life was really supposed to be about, and may the world come to Christ, the beginning of knowledge.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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