Being that our natural state is such that we are blind to the declarations and beauty of the Gospel and that we in our sin are as walking dead, if salvation is to come to us, its revelation must come to us as light burst through the darkness at the Creation, and we must be summoned forth by the Spirit of Christ as Lazarus was summoned from the tomb.1 Faith in Jesus Christ unto salvation is therefore by necessity a supernatural work of the Spirit of God by the will of the Father.2 It is, as the prophet painted it, the greatest, supernatural surgery: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”3 It is with this fleshly heart that we gaze upon Jesus Christ with adoration and praise—a heart of flesh that is granted to us so that we might not boast in anything save the Divine Surgeon and his handiwork.4
It is in this context that we examine the use of philosophy in the preaching of the Gospel. While it is quite clear that Paul, when appealing to the Areopagus (i.e. the Academia of his day), did in fact know of their philosophers and did quote one of their poets, his use of philosophy was not the means to salvation but it was the means to the preaching of the Gospel.5 In other words, Paul used philosophy, not to demonstrate the validity and reason of the Gospel, but as a springboard into the Gospel. For the apostle’s appeal to their unknown god is followed directly by his proclamation of the one true God6 and his appeal to their poet is followed directly by his condemnation of their idolatry and by his “foolish” declaration of Christ rising from the dead.7 Therefore, Paul’s appeal to the Areopagus was not an intellectual debate, but it was an avenue for what he had been doing all along—preaching the Gospel.
Paul’s direct appeal to the Gospel even to the intellectuals of his day should not come as a great surprise to us, for though it is and was declared to be foolishness by most of the intellectual elitists, Paul believed that the Gospel and the Gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation, and thus he preached it unabashedly.8
In a passage that deals directly with the philosophy of men and the Gospel of God, Paul, speaking of his calling by Christ, says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”9 Notice that this eloquent wisdom of which the apostle speaks is not said to rob God of his glory or that it causes confusion (though it does have the potential to do these things), but that it empties the cross of its power. There is power in the proclamation of the Gospel that is reserved for the proclamation of the Gospel. For the apostle writes, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”10 It is only through the Gospel that God saves men and grants to them a measure of faith, not through the apologies of philosophy or the slick peddling of the God’s Word.11
Why are men saved by God in this way? The apostle writes, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'”12 In like manner, Christ declares, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”13 Christ continues, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”14And then Christ says one of the most comforting and perhaps oft misunderstood statements that he made:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.15
Though these verses have been quoted in a myriad of different ways, the way that is faithful to the context is concerning those who labor to know God and who are burdened by the weight of their inadequacy. Christ says to those, “I know that you strive for God; I know that you work; I know that your burden is too much for you to bear. Take my yoke. See? It’s light and easy. I’ll bear your burdens. I’ve already done the work. Believe on me, and you’ll find rest for your soul, and I’ll teach you about the Father.”
You see what happens when you take on the yoke of Christ and give him your burdens? He gets the glory, and you get rest for your soul. Philosophy by itself is simply another way to work one’s way to God, but instead of deeds of righteousness, one does deeds of intellect. God will not allow any one to work their way to him either by deeds or by mental exercises, because he will not share his glory with another.16 Therefore, do not flee to the wisdom of man for your salvation, for, if you do, you find yourself like those who try to work their way to God with their deeds—bending your back forever.17