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February 24, 2015


The citation of 1 Cor. 2:4-5 is being drawn out of its historical context. There Paul recalls his missionary work in the city of Corinth. He did not resort to the Grecian forms of philosophy and rhetoric to achieve his purpose, the advancement of the Gospel. His approach to explaining the impact of Christ crucified (the foolishness of God) didn't depend on the schools of Grecian thought (the wisdom of men).

The purpose of apologetics is not for the advancement of the Gospel, other than that such an advancement is beneficial. Paul's work in Corinth was to convert, while apologetics defends the idea that converting is a desirable option. In the end, only the Holy Spirit accomplishes anything along the lines of conversion, and all the persuasion in the world, even with its brilliance and acuity, has squat-nana power to change hearts and minds.

For a fine comparison of Paul's approach to advancing the Gospel, note Paul's message in Acts 13:16ff (where he addresses a group of prominently Jewish listeners with a handful of Gentile followers) with Acts 17:18ff (where Paul assumes a more apologetic method when bringing the Gospel to the Athenians).

In apologetics, the apologete is not "preaching to the choir." He is starting with preliminary work prior to the basics, clearing up misconceptions, and maybe, once in a great while, wins a fellow over to Christ. A reeeeeallly great while. This puts it on a par with the miraculous.

Well, the Holy Spirit did do the deed, after all.

It begs the question that apologetics are in the "wisdom of men". Since apologetics are explicitly commended by the apostles as something we should do, that can't be what Paul means here.

That should settle it, but it seems like this person has an observation that needs to be addressed. Christian apologetics are commanded by the apostles and enabled by the Spirit. However, human beings are not perfect and apologetical endeavors are often imperfect. That's why we have to be fervent in our reliance on God and diligent in study as we seek to carry out this task.

Also, and I don't know that this is a factor here, but there are many in the Church who are anti-intellectual. Such people typically view with great suspicion those who have been gifted with intellectual acumen or who have sought education in spiritual matters. Perhaps this suspicion is due to insecurity or pride, with feelings of fear or intimidation, or simply a misreading of scripture. Nevertheless, we have a reasonable God who invites us to investigate his revelation to us and share that revelation with others. Since we approach these activities in a fallen world as fallen creatures, it necessarily takes hard work to do. The intellectual results should not be dismissed on that basis but humbly considered to see if they fit with Scripture.

I agree.

We should use demonstrations of the Spirit and Power of God.

Not persuasion. Certainly not persuasive words of wisdom.

A demonstration is a proof. That means either the marshalling of a variety of empirical evidence to build a strong case for something (in this case, the Spirit and Power of God), or the marshalling of a priori arguments for something (in this case, the Spirit and Power of God), or some combination of the two.

In other words, what Paul is recommending here is apologetics. The field that marshals strong empirical cases and a priori proofs...the field that marshals demonstrations...for the truth of the claims of Christianity.

Paul distinguishes this from persuasive words of wisdom.

Strong's says of "peitho" (the word that the NASB translates as "persuasion") that it involves inducing one to believe something, or that it involves making friends with someone, gaining their good will, or that it involves tranquilizing them. One way the greek term could be understood is that you might persuade someone to do something. But what we are talking about now is persuading people to to agree with you.

What seems not to be required here is that anything actually be proven to anyone. Oh, if a proof will induce someone to agree with you, that's dandy. But if a fallacy works just as well, then it's just as well.

So demonstration, or proof, is a part, and by no means the largest or most widely used part, of the overall activity of persuasion.

Persuasion is causing someone to agree with you. You can use appeals to tradition, or appeals to emotion, or (good or fallacious) appeals to reason, or some witch's brew of the three. So long as you get your target to agree with you, it's all good.

It was not for nothing, I think, that the KJV translated this term as "enticing" rather than "persuasive". It is also worth noting that in the Byzantine edition of the greek (as opposed to the Nestle-Aland), the total phrase is "enticing words of man's wisdom". KJV, which uses a predecessor of the Byzantine (the Textus Receptus) thus translates the total phrase that way.

Bottom-line is that persuasion is not the same as apologetics. With the exception of the part of persuasion that we call demonstration, efforts to persuade are just what the KJV labels them: enticements. And we should eschew all such efforts at enticement.

Persuasive words of (man's) wisdom -- words that persuade because they sound wise -- are about the worst method of evangelizing. Though guys like Rob Bell are masters of this sort of evangelism. In modern parlance, use of persuasive words of wisdom is called sloganeering. Better a heartfelt, tear-jerking testimony than that. At least the person giving the testimony has a chance of actually feeling the emotions they attempt to communicate. Sloganeering is the most cynical form of persuasion.

In the end, this passage is actually a recommendation of apologetics over what usually passes for evangelism these days.

A reverse approach:

We may be able to say of the Corinthians that they were (perhaps) quite intellectual - perhaps too much to that side. They were into everything - all the fruits, all the power, all the knowledge, all the prophecy, all the......

How far? So far that Paul had to tell them of a more excellent way than that of power and knowledge and knowing all mysteries - there in the now famous love chapter. As WL alluded to, the heart-felt side of things may have been called upon by Paul in such a setting.

Brute fact at our most human level: "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care".

And what is the demonstration of God's Power that Paul (perhaps) showed to them? The Cross - God in self-sacrifice - as in - Paul's own version of that peculiar love chapter. Paul - wise amid the Greek, the Jew, and the Gentile, (perhaps) humbles all of that and (perhaps) speaks of another form of apologetics to coach that particular church (they were into EVERY-thing) out of their carnal thirst for mystery-breaking-knowledge and gifts and so on, and so point them over towards the heart of God.

That said, we are told to be able to give a reasoned defense of our world-view. Paul - fluent in the age's wisdom - of course excelled there and was no novice in that arena. J. Pemberton captured it perfectly. So we have to take all verses - not just one or two - and derive our approach to life. But, the context of the verse in Corinthians may be (perhaps) brought to light by examining the sort of Church he was speaking to, a Church which apparently valued mighty-mystery-breaking-knowledge and power and prophecy and so on. And so, being a bit too heavy on one side, Paul seeks to add in another sort of weight to their collection and tells them of another - more excellent - kind of power.

If you are persuaded by words of can be unpersuaded. What the Apostle wanted these early churchmen and us afar off to know, is that their and our salvation rests in the power of God and not on any ability we would be inclined to claim. This is just another way of pointing out that the foundation they/we rest on is nothing short of The Rock and that they/we should consider that it is the power of God alone that redeemed them in th first place and that the Rock cannot be shaken.

When one trusts in their own faith to persevere and promise to cling to and stay faithful to Him, that person can be shaken. When one believes that the Lord is the Faithful One...that He will never lose even one of His own, then the clinging to and resting in faith cannot be shaken.

I think the scripture is being misapplied in this challenge.

I would first ask the person presenting the challenge what their understanding of "pervasive words of wisdom" and "wisdom of men" is in the context, what they mean by apologetics, and how the three might equate.

To get the context of this passage one must read the entire first four chapters. We see throughout that there are distinctions constantly made between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. I would make the case that Christian apologetics falls into the wisdom of God category. It is not part of the wisdom of men and therefore not wrong, and seen in this light apologetics is actually part of preaching Christ crucified- see chapter 1:20-25.

One might also take from this passage that we should not use eloquent or lofty speech and wisdom of men in order to avoid boasting or focus on the self. We must share the gospel in the most humble Christ-centered manner through the power of the Spirit, all glory going to God. But this far from prohibits the use of apologetics.

Two issues with the challenge. One, the greater context of First Corinthians. Just before coming to Corinth, Paul had delivered his famous Mars Hill address in Athens where he did engage in a lot of philosophical debate and "persuasive words of wisdom". Corinth was a town that reveled in it's anti-Athens anti-intellectualism. In this we see Paul's strategy of becoming "all things to all people, that I might save some". It is, however interesting to note that Paul's impact in Corinth was much greater than his impact in Athens.

Point two, if you're going to cite verses in Corinthians to argue that we shouldn't use apologetics, what do you do with 1st Peter 3:15 "Always be ready to give an answer (Greek = apologia) for the hope that you have"?

Human beings are body, mind, and spirit. The Gospel appeals to all three aspects of the Human Being. Neglecting the spiritual in evangelism leaves one with an intellectual understanding of faith that reduces a relationship with God to a set of doctrinal positions that one simply agrees to, that often do little to change the behavior. Neglecting the mind in evangelism often leads to a shallow, emotional faith that, like the seed in rocky soil, withers in the sun for lack of real roots. It's as bad as evangelism that neglects ministry to the sick, hungry, and oppressed. Throughout Paul's ministry we see him reaching out in the power of the Spirit, reasoning from the scriptures, and helping people.

While we may be confident that, whatever the text is saying, it is not saying that it is wrong to present reasons for Christianity it is still a good reminder that we should be careful that we do not rely too much upon our own rhetorical abilities and presentation methods to save souls.

To take a modern example, suppose someone becomes an atheist because his only experience with Christianity has been his Grandma and her know-nothing old-lady friends and one day he hears Christopher Hitchens rail against religion with all his British eloquence. The boy thinks "Now THAT is intelligence! I'm following that guy and what he believes!" and so he becomes a Christopher Hitchens fanboy. But one day he hears Hitchens debate William Lane Craig and Craig trounces Hitchens. The boy now thinks "Whoa! This guy is even smarter than Hitchens! I'm definitely following that guy and what he believes!" and so he becomes a William Lane Craig fanboy.

It seems this is what is going on in Corinthians. This is why some say "I'm of Paul" or "I'm of Apollos". It's basically fanboyism. And the interest of such fanboys is in the person as a celebrity and not in the message.

And isn't that a great warning for lay apologists today? Let's face it, sometimes lay apologists are guilty of making a celebrity out of their favorite apologist and there have been a number of other professional apologists who have pointed out the unfortunate Craig Clone phenomena.

I don't have time to formulate a response at the moment, but I cannot fathom how any follower of Christ could say something so ridiculous, and then on top of it use this passage to justify it!

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