For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
Let me start with a somewhat thick quote: ‘Opposition to dogma is not a general objection to dogma as such but a rejection of specific dogmas judged unacceptable by some. Thus, theology after Kant (1724-1804) denies dogmas rooted in a science of God because of the modern dogma that God is unknowable. Dogmas rooted in morality or religious experience are then substituted in their place.’
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Prolegomena
We are at an interesting place historically. The German critics of the 1700’s and following have had their full effect and have wreaked havoc in the church. Charles Spurgeon in the late 1800’s felt as though much of these weren’t much more than passing fads. Unfortunately, they weren’t passing fads and have actually outlasted many other philosophies. Every generation since has ended up having to deal with opposition to the gospel proclamation rooted in such criticism.
Now you may be thinking, ‘I don’t care much about -isms and dead German Scholars.’ This is fine and well, you don’t need to know much about them, but we must always be testing our own ‘personal’ philosophies and correcting them in accordance with the Scriptures. So although you might not know Immanuel Kant, the philosophy or dogma of the world that Bavinck mentions is quite in play today. The philosophy and dogma of our culture is heavily rooted in morality and religious experience. It isn’t that everyone agree with the morals of the church. They have different morals, and they oppress others who don’t align with their morals. Their philosophy and dogma reject a personal knowledge of God and the essential nature of this personal knowledge. You could explain the difference by asking where to start. Do we begin with knowing God or do we begin with what is right and wrong? Knowing God is first, and from this knowledge we come to know ourselves, and we come to know the world that God created rightly by knowing what is good and true and by knowing what is evil and false.
This is really what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians, along with the whole testimony of scripture through the apostles and prophets: we decided to know nothing among you except Christ crucified. And this is a sturdy truth which does heavy lifting. It is in my participation with Christ and him crucified that I am able to see the world as God made it. Knowing Christ crucified actually matters in our day to day lives, but we are more tempted to begin with morality or our religious experience. It’s easier to define and live out. There is nothing wrong with doing good, but the aim of maturity is to do good in light of the gospel of Christ. We have been redeemed, and we respond by living lives holy and pleasing to him. Our goodness and the effective power to do such goodness is a grace and gift of the Holy Spirit of Christ.
The point is simple but profound. We must have the right start. Our foundation must be built properly or it will not withstand the winds of change. If our understanding of the religious life is first about my actions, my morality, my feelings, my emotions, we will not reach the maturity that God desires of his children. We will be grounded in something that is shifting like the waves of the ocean, and our faith will not stand the test of time. Instead we must first be grounded in the knowledge of God himself, the creator and sustainer of the world. We must first be grounded in the truth that Jesus Christ came to die for sinners like me and you. We must first be grounded in and find our greatest joy in God our savior. May this be true of us.