“Christians today often speak less about saving the lost than about conquering the world” by J.V. Fesko

“In the church’s efforts to defend the faith, Christians must always take a humble stance toward the world. Like the sons of Zebedee, whom Jesus nicknamed “the Sons of Thunder,” we can be all too eager to call down fire on unbelievers (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54).

Add in the misguided claim that the Bible provides a comprehensive view of life and the world that encompasses all knowledge, and this can easily turn into Christian imperialism.

Christians today often speak less about saving the lost than about conquering the world.

Especially in the secularized West, the problem with such rhetoric is that it does not align with the more modest claims of the Bible.

The church is a pilgrim people: this world is not our home. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were princes among the people of God and were heirs of the covenant promises, yet they dwelled in tents.

As the book of Hebrews tells us,

“By faith [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9-10).

Too often, Christians thunder about transforming and conquering the world, but such rhetoric is far from Christ’s conduct. Rather than seeking to conquer the world, Christians in defending the gospel must be willing to roll up our sleeves, drop to our knees, and wash the feet of unbelievers.

Even Christ washed the feet of Judas, one who would eventually betray him.

To claim, as Van Til does, that no true learning occurs outside of Christian education, casts an unintended but nevertheless real shadow of contempt on God’s natural gifts, which He has abundantly given to the world, even to the apostate line of Cain.

Christians have much to learn from the unbelieving world about many things: science, mathematics, engineering, literature, art, music, and even ethics. Acknowledging that Christians have something to learn from unbelievers does not require that we embrace in toto what unbelivers claim.

Rather, to learn from the unbelieving world ultimately means to submit to God’s natural revelation in the world and the general wisdom He has so liberally bestowed on His good but nevertheless fallen creation.

We dig amid the muddy soil of this sin-marred world in search of pearls and gems of God’s wisdom.

We must always interrogate and compare any claim against the canon of Scripture to determine whether truth-claims are accurate. In our use of the book of nature, we must never set aside the book of Scripture.

Scripture must always regulate our understanding of the book of nature, lest we abandon the truth and imbibe the world’s erroneous and sinful interpretations of the book of nature.

But we must not forget that all truth is God’s truth, regardless of its human point of origin.

It is true that those who hold the truth in unrighteousness resist the very source of the order, pattern, purpose, freedom, and beauty in nature. They ineluctably presuppose the theism that they willfully distort and resist.

Nevertheless, nowhere in the New Testament do we find language touting the superiority of Christian knowledge, claiming that Christians understand math or science better than unbelievers.

Instead, we encounter the humility and love of Christ for sinners, the same characteristics that should mark the church. Hence, Peter counsels Christians to adopt a humble posture in the face of persecution as they testify and give a defense for the hope that is in us. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

We do not conquer through cultural domination and making claims about the world’s ignorance.

Rather, if love is one of the goals of epistemology, and epistemology is ultimately the submission to God’s authoritative revelation, then we are not cultural conquerors but beggars showing other beggars where they can find a meal.

We conquer the world by laying down our lives in testimony for and defense of the gospel, not in making claims of cultural conquest or epistemological superiority.

As a pride of ferocious lambs, Christians testify to and defend the truth of the gospel with the books of nature and Scripture always in hand.

Christians need not shun the book of nature. We can rejoice because Christ looks out on the creation and all truth and rightfully claims “Mine!” Every square inch belongs to Christ, and therefore every square inch belongs to Christians.

But just because it all belongs to Christ does not mean that Christians are somehow automatically intellectually or culturally superior to their unbelieving counterparts.

Christians know the right motivational foundation and teleological goal of all knowledge, though they frequently forget them, and never succeed this side of glory in living in full conformity to them.

Nevertheless, with this proper understanding of epistemology, we can fruitfully interact with unbelievers, because we share the image of God.

We can defend the gospel, knowing that apologetics can clear away intellectual obstacles to the gospel, clarify our own understanding of the truth, protect the church from false teaching, and encourage our own hearts as we further immerse ourselves in the truth.”

–J.V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 215, 217, 218-219.

“Theology should humble us” by David Wells

“The effects of theological knowledge should be humility and a deepened desire to serve and honor God in all of our commerce with created reality.

The truly profound thinkers in life are often brought to humility, too, but perhaps for different reasons.

They are humbled out of a sense of their own smallness; theology should humble us through a sense of the greatness and wonder of God.

It is what we know, not what we do not know, that subdues our pride and causes us to render to God the worship that is His due.”

–David F. Wells, “The Theologian’s Craft” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, John Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey, Eds. (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 1994), 174.

“God is not a quantity that can be mastered” by David Wells

“There are few lines quite so poignantly applicable to the theologian’s craft as those of the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote of ‘The life so short, the craft so long to learn. The attempt so hard, the victory so keen.’

It is, in fact, surprising that the thought should ever cross our minds that the theological undertaking could be otherwise, for understanding– understanding of God, of ourselves, of the world– comes so slowly, so painfully slowly, that ‘life’s’ summer passes and the winter arrives long before this fruit is ripe to be picked.

Or so it seems. And that, perhaps, is why we are so fiercely tempted to turn theology into a technique that we can use to produce a more efficiently gained and bountiful knowledge of God!

God, however, is not like the periodic table.

He is not a quantity that can be ‘mastered’ even though He can be known; and though He has revealed Himself with clarity, the depth of our understanding of Him is measured, not by the speed with which theological knowledge is processed, but by the quality of our determination to own His ownership of us through Christ in thought, word, and deed.

Theology is the sustained effort to know the character, will, and acts of the triune God as He has disclosed and interpreted these for His people in Scripture, to formulate these in a systematic way in order that we might know Him, learn to think our thoughts after Him, live our lives in His world on His terms, and by thought and action projection His truth into our own time and culture.

It is therefore a synthetic activity whose center is the understanding of God, whose horizon is as wide as life itself, and whose mission echoes the mission of God Himself, which is to gather together in Christ a progeny as numerous as the stars above (Gen. 15:1-6; Gal. 3:6-16).”

–David F. Wells, “The Theologian’s Craft” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, John Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey, Eds. (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 1994), 171, 172.

“I desire to be brought to this loss every day” by John Owen

“Herein, then, I say, we may by faith behold the glory of Christ, as we shall do it by sight hereafter.

If we see no glory in it, if we discern not that which is matter of eternal admiration, we walk in darkness.

It is the most ineffable effect of divine wisdom and grace.

Where are our hearts and minds, if we can see no glory in it?

I know in the contemplation of it, it will quickly overwhelm our reason, and bring our understanding into a loss.

But unto this loss do I desire to be brought every day; for when faith can no more act itself in comprehension, when it finds the object it is fixed on too great and glorious to be brought into our minds and capacities, it will issue in holy admiration, humble adoration, and joyful thanksgiving.

In and by its actings in them doth it fill the soul with ‘joy unspeakable, and full of glory.’ (1 Peter 1:8)”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 333.

“A holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend” by John Owen

“This is a short general view of this incomprehensible condescension of the Son of God, as it is described by the apostle in Phil. 2:5–8.

And this is that wherein in an especial manner we are to behold the glory of Christ by faith whilst we are in this world.

But had we the tongue of men and angels, we were not able in any just measure to express the glory of this condescension; for it is the most ineffable effect of the divine wisdom of the Father and of the love of the Son,—the highest evidence of the care of God towards mankind.

What can be equal unto it? What can be like it? It is the glory of Christian religion, and the animating soul of all evangelical truth.

This carrieth the mystery of the wisdom of God above the reason or understanding of men and angels, to be the object of faith and admiration only.

A mystery it is that becomes the greatness of God, with His infinite distance from the whole creation,—which renders it unbecoming Him that all His ways and works should be comprehensible by any of His creatures, (Job 11:7–9; Rom. 11:33–36).

He who was eternally in the form of God,—that is, was essentially so, God by nature, equally participant of the same divine nature with God the Father; ‘God over all, blessed forever;’ who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth,–He takes on Him the nature of man, takes it to be His own, whereby He was no less truly a man in time than He was truly God from eternity.

And to increase the wonder of this mystery, because it was necessary unto the end He designed, He so humbled Himself in this assumption of our nature, as to make Himself of no reputation in this world;–yea, unto that degree, that He said of Himself that He was a worm, and no man, in comparison of them who were of any esteem.

We speak of these things in a poor, low, broken manner,– we teach them as they are revealed in the Scripture,– we labour by faith to adhere unto them as revealed.

But when we come into a steady, direct view and consideration of the thing itself, our minds fail, our hearts tremble, and we can find no rest but in a holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend.

Here we are at a loss, and know that we shall be so whilst we are in this world; but all the ineffable fruits and benefits of this truth are communicated unto them that do believe.

It is with reference hereunto that that great promise concerning Him is given unto the church, (Isa. 8:14), ‘He shall be for a sanctuary’ (namely, unto all that believe, as it is expounded, 1 Peter 2:7-8); ‘but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence,’—’even to them that stumble at the word, being disobedient; where-unto also they were appointed.’

He is herein a sanctuary, an assured refuge unto all that betake themselves unto Him.

What is it that any man in distress, who flies thereunto, may look for in a sanctuary?

A supply of all his wants, a deliverance from all his fears, a defence against all his dangers, is proposed unto him therein.

Such is the Lord Christ herein unto sin-distressed souls; He is a refuge unto us in all spiritual distresses and disconsolations, (Heb. 6:18).

See the exposition of the place.

Are we, or any of us, burdened with a sense of sin?

Are we perplexed with temptations?

Are we bowed down under the oppression of any spiritual adversary?

Do we, on any of these accounts, ‘walk in darkness and have no light?’

One view of the glory of Christ herein is able to support us and relieve us.

Unto whom we betake ourselves for relief in any case, we have regard to nothing but their will and their power. If they have both, we are sure of relief.

And what shall we fear in the will of Christ as unto this end? What will he not do for us?

He who thus emptied and humbled Himself, who so infinitely condescended from the prerogative of His glory in His being and self-sufficiency, in the susception of our nature for the discharge of the office of a mediator on our behalf,– will He not relieve us in all our distresses?

Will He not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved?

Will He not be a sanctuary unto us?

Nor have we hereon any ground to fear His power; for, by this infinite condescension to be a suffering man, He lost nothing of His power as God omnipotent,– nothing of His infinite wisdom or glorious grace.

He could still do all that He could do as God from eternity.

If there be any thing, therefore, in a coalescency of infinite power with infinite condescension, to constitute a sanctuary for distressed sinners, it is all in Christ Jesus.

And if we see Him not glorious herein, it is because there is no light of faith in us.

This, then, is the rest wherewith we may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshment.

Herein is He ‘a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.’ (Isa. 32:2)

Herein He says, “I have satiated the weary soul, and have refreshed every sorrowful soul.” (Jer. 31:25)

Under this consideration it is that, in all evangelical promises and invitations for coming to Him, He is proposed unto distressed sinners as their only sanctuary.”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 330-331.

“The Rock on which the church is built” by John Owen

“It may, then, be said, ‘What did the Lord Christ, in this condescension, with respect unto His divine nature?’

The apostle tells us that He ‘humbled Himself, and made Himself of no reputation,’ (Phil. 2:7-8). He veiled the glory of His divine nature in ours, and what He did therein, so as that there was no outward appearance or manifestation of it.

The world hereon was so far from looking on Him as the true God, that it believed Him not to be a good man. Hence they could never bear the least intimation of His divine nature, supposing themselves secured from any such thing, because they looked on Him with their eyes to be a man,—as He was, indeed, no less truly and really than any one of themselves.

Wherefore, on that testimony given of Himself, ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ (John 8:58)—which asserts a pre-existence from eternity in another nature than what they saw,—they were filled with rage, and ‘took up stones to cast at Him,’ (John 8:58-59).

And they gave a reason of their madness, (John 10:33),—namely, that ‘He, being a man, should make Himself to be God.’

This was such a thing, they thought, as could never enter into the heart of a wise and sober man,—namely, that being so, owning Himself to be such, He should yet say of Himself that He was God.

This is that which no reason can comprehend, which nothing in nature can parallel or illustrate, that one and the same person should He both God and man. And this is the principal plea of the Socinians at this day, who, through the Mohammedans, succeed unto the Jews in an opposition unto the divine nature of Christ.

But all this difficulty is solved by the glory of Christ in this condescension; for although in Himself, or His own divine person, He was ‘over all, God blessed forever,’ (Rom. 9:5) yet He humbled Himself for the salvation of the church, unto the eternal glory of God, to take our nature upon Him, and to be made man: and those who cannot see a divine glory in His so doing, do neither know Him, nor love Him, nor believe in Him, nor do any way belong unto Him.

So is it with the men of these abominations. Because they cannot behold the glory hereof, they deny the foundation of our religion,—namely, the divine person of Christ.

Seeing He would be made man, He shall be esteemed by them no more than a man.

So do they reject that glory of God, His infinite wisdom, goodness, and grace, wherein He is more concerned than in the whole creation. And they dig up the root of all evangelical truths, which are nothing but branches from it.

It is true, and must be confessed, that herein it is that our Lord Jesus Christ is ‘a stumbling-stone and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8) unto the world.

If we should confess Him only as a prophet, a man sent by God, there would not be much contest about Him, nor opposition unto Him.

The Mohammedans do all acknowledge it, and the Jews would not long deny it; for their hatred against Him was, and is, solely because He professed Himself to be God, and as such was believed on in the world.

And at this day, partly through the insinuation of the Socinians, and partly from the efficacy of their own blindness and unbelief, multitudes are willing to grant Him to be a prophet sent of God, who do not, who will not, who cannot, believe the mystery of this condescension in the susception of our nature, nor see the glory of it.

But take this away, and all our religion is taken away with it.

Farewell Christianity, as to the mystery, the glory, the truth, the efficacy of it;—let a refined heathenism be established in its room.

But this is the rock on which the church is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 327-328.

“There is order in the Divine Persons, but no inequality in the Divine Being” by John Owen

“That we may the better behold the glory of Christ herein, we may briefly consider the especial nature of this condescension, and wherein it doth consist.

But whereas not only the denial, but misapprehensions hereof, have pestered the church of God in all ages, we must, in the first place, reject them, and then declare the truth.

This condescension of the Son of God did not consist in a laying aside, or parting with, or separation from, the divine nature, so as that He should cease to be God by being man.

The foundation of it lay in this, that he was ‘in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God,’ (Phil 2:6);—that is, being really and essentially God in His divine nature, He professed Himself therein to be equal with God, or the person of the Father.

He was in the form of God,—that is, He was God, participant of the divine nature, for God hath no form but that of His essence and being; and hence He was equal with God, in authority, dignity, and power.

Because He was in the form of God, He must be equal with God; for there is order in the Divine Persons, but no inequality in the Divine Being.

So the Jews understood Him, that when He said, ‘God was His Father, He made Himself equal with God.’

For in His so saying, He ascribed unto Himself equal power with the Father, as unto all divine operations. ‘My Father,’ saith He, ‘worketh hitherto, and I work,’ (John 5:17-18).

And they by whom his divine nature is denied do cast this condescension of Christ quite out of our religion, as that which hath no reality or substance in it. But we shall speak of them afterward.

Being in this state, it is said that he took on Him the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man, (Phil. 2:7). This is His condescension.

It is not said that He ceased to be in the form of God; but continuing so to be, He ‘took upon Him the form of a servant’ in our nature: He became what He was not, but He ceased not to be what He was.

So He testifieth of Himself, (John 3:13), ‘No man hath ascended up to heaven, but be that came down from heaven, the Son of man which is in heaven.’

Although He was then on earth as the Son of man, yet He ceased not to be God thereby;—in His divine nature He was then also in heaven.

He who is God, can no more be not God, than He who is not God can be God; and our difference with the Socinians herein is,—we believe that Christ being God, was made man for our sakes; they say, that being only a man, he was made a god for His own sake.

This, then, is the foundation of the glory of Christ in this condescension, the life and soul of all heavenly truth and mysteries,—namely, that the Son of God becoming in time to be what He was not, the Son of man, ceased not thereby to be what He was, even the eternal Son of God.”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 325–326.