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Good and bad wisdom

When was darkness allowed into the light?

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

For Christians, faith is all important, because, if you don’t believe in God, your wisdom is going to come from other places. James calls this wisdom “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil” (James 3:15), known to us more familiarly as the World, the flesh and the devil. But if you do believe in God, then watch out, there are blessings in store.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

So there are two kinds of wisdom. James first talks about the signs of the wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil”:

But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

Then there’s the wisdom that God gives to those who believe in Him:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

If we look at the heart of these passages in James 3, we can perhaps see a theme developing. The good wisdom is that displayed by Jesus, the Son of God, on his short stay on earth. The other wisdom, characterised by envy, selfish ambition, boastfulness and which leads to disorder and every evil practice, is that displayed by unregenerate, natural man. The good wisdom is that which is natural to God, the bad wisdom is that which is natural to man. Seeking after good wisdom is putting God at the very centre of our lives, otherwise we are putting ourselves at the centre.

So, returning to Justin, our Christian philosopher and even to our modern day Christian scientists, whom we met earlier, we must examine the wisdom that they exhibit in order to ascertain what truly motivates them. Is God at the centre, or is He on the fringes? As Justin continued to wear his philosopher’s cloak after his conversion, that tells me that God was probably not always dead centre and that a little of the other wisdom had gained some degree of a hold over him.

Why is this important? It is very important because Justin, along with many other Church Fathers, saw no problem in promoting and teaching a Christianity that combined the pure faith of the Jewish apostles of Jesus Christ with the philosophy of Plato in the Gentile Greek-speaking World. His motive was a sincere attempt at evangelism but his method was deeply flawed and, ultimately, disastrous for the Church.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial ? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

The light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing in common with the darkness of the philosophy of Plato, despite Justin and others believing they had points in common. It is true that both emphasise a spiritual viewpoint, in contrast to the materialism in the culture that surrounded them, but, where it is most important, at the very core of their belief systems, is where the differences are clear. Plato’s idea of “God” was unmistakably very different to the Christian one. For that reason alone, Justin and others should have stayed well clear of the Greek philosophy of their day.

But they didn’t and neither did the Church Fathers who followed them, or those further down the line, including hugely influential Christian teachers such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and even Martin Luther. And this was despite the very clear warnings of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

Darkness was allowed into the light and dimmed it. It produced Christians who, although they may have burned with the light of the Gospel, still had a measure of darkness mixed in with their belief systems. One dominant idea taken in was the dualism taught by Plato, which emphasised the spiritual over the physical, giving rise to division and subsequent conflict in the Church by creating artificial separations between the clergy and laity, the spiritual and the physical, the holy and the profane, heaven and earth and so on. For a full treatment of the development of these ideas and the harm they did to the Church may I direct you to my book, How the Church Lost the Way.

For the previous article in this series, click here.

For the next article in this series, click here.

To find out what is my favourite book of the Bible, click here.

You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.

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