Affirming Ignorance, Certainty and Intellectual Death

Carlton Wynne

In Col 3:10, the apostle Paul describes one of the most stunning aspects of the Spirit's re-creative work in uniting us by faith to the risen Christ. In that verse, we read that the natural man is, by that Spirit, suddenly and irrevocably "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him." 

This raises a key question: what does it mean to be "renewed in knowledge"?  Hodge answers admirably by clarifying the significance of the Greek preposition: "This renovation is said to be εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν, not in knowledge, much less by knowledge, but unto knowledge, so that he knows. Knowledge is the effect of the renovation spoken of" (Systematic Theology, 2:99). This is a renewal that issues in knowledge, a newfound knowledge that that is altogether true because it reflects the mind of God ("after the image of Him who created him").  In short, it is a God-given knowledge that self-consciously relates all created things to the God who gives this world its meaning and purpose.  

Prior to our fellowship with Christ, we knew things (and for some of us, many things) only so well, and in spite of our sinful impulse to deny the beauty and coherence of this dazzling theater of divine glory. But now in Christ we are enabled to see the world for what it really is and seek to live accordingly.  As Hodge goes on to say, "The knowledge here is not mere cognition. It is full, accurate, living, or practical knowledge" (ibid., 100). It is the kind of Spirit-fueled knowledge that qualifies the Christian to judge all things rightly (1 Cor 2:15), especially the goodness and majesty of God in Christ (John 17:3). As Francis Schaeffer might say, it is a true knowledge of true truth.

Lest the postmoderns pounce, we must be clear that such saving epistemic renewal in no way derives from an autonomous appropriation of self-evident principles, nor does it transform Christians into paragons of genius. But neither does it lead to wimpish shoulder-shrugging as we blissfully affirm one other's ignorance! Rather, by this epistemic recreation in the Christian the Spirit infallibly and progressively opens to him the infinite implications of Christ's triumph as far as the curse is found (John 16:13), resulting in deepening praise and increasing humility in the hearts of those who bow before the One who is Truth itself (John 14:6). Contrary to the shifting winds of our hyper-hermeneutical age, we can indeed have certainty concerning the things taught by the Spirit (Luke 1:4; cf. Acts 2:36). 

With such truth in mind (!), I heartily recommend listening to a chapel message by Dr. James Anderson of RTS-Charlotte--wonderfully titled, "The  Atheist's Guide to Intellectual Suicide." In this crisp, 30-minute message, Dr. Anderson very helpfully unpacks the biblical teaching that the atheist's denial of God's self-revelation is, as Dr. Anderson provocatively puts it, "the philosophical equivalent of lopping your head off." In fact, to the extent an atheist still speaks, he shows himself not only to be intellectually moribund, but self-contradictory as well. Don't believe it? Have a listen for yourself! While I might quibble with Dr. Anderson's language of common sense (preferring instead the language of common grace) your time will be well spent.

*This post originally appeared at Reformation21 in September of 2012.