When Philosophy Hates Wisdom


Colossians 2:8 NRSV

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.


There’s a real irony when philosophy hates wisdom. After all, you know what the word means. Philo means love, and sophy means wisdom.

I have spent about half of my life inside the cavernous confines of academia. I do not eschew scholarship but highly value it; however, I find much that poses as scholarship to be an endless exercise in the deceptive vanity of competitive speculation. Most of our universities have long since abandoned the quest for godly wisdom, as have, sadly, so many of our seminaries. Twenty-five years ago, I found one of the good ones and never left it.

All of this to say, I think I get what Paul is getting at here.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (v. 8 NRSV)

Paul has already appealed to the word, “wisdom” three times and will do so twice more before the letter is signed (1:9; 1:28; 2:3; 3:16). The wisdom of the world can be very seductive, inviting the mind on a noble quest that turns out to be a hall of mirrors. I have witnessed too many people get caught up in it, turn away from God, shipwreck their faith, and in its place develop an impenetrable cynicism of resistance. It parades itself in age-old mantras like, “Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.”

I remember as a young university student being baited toward the alluring abyss of atheism. I providentially came across Francis Bacon’s piercing quote in his essay, “Of Atheists”: “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. I love how Paul put it to the Corinthians:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:20–21 NRSV)

We need not become anti-academic, and we certainly need not despise learning and the quest for knowledge. So often Christians can be bullied with the attack of being narrow-minded as though open-mindedness were somehow a more virtuous option. What we must have is sound-mindedness. This way is found in Jesus, who is our wisdom and who would lead us into a wisdom worthy of our highest love and most noble aspirations—indeed, the very mind of Christ, the living way of the holy cross.

Giving Paul the last word:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” . . .

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor. 1:18–19, 25 NRSV)

Domino #2/8 tends to show up in that freshman philosophy class, which unfortunately poses as continuing education all along the way. Watch out for it. It can be another reverse tipper. 


Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is our wisdom. Grant me the gift of the mind of Christ that I might be able to discern wisdom and to know what is true and best in all situations. Lead me in the way not of higher learning but of the highest learning. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


  1. Have you ever been caught up in or taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy?
  2. What does it mean to you that Jesus is your wisdom?
  3. How do you understand the difference between narrow-mindedness, open-mindedness, and sound-mindedness?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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Comments and Discussion

4 Responses

  1. JD, I believe that this particular post explains why today, as in the past, more true followers of Christ seem to come from the social strata that the educated elites would consider ignorant or backwards. Just as the folks of the Sanhedrin considered Peter and John “ordinary unschooled individuals “, just as Paul reminded the church in Corinth, that not many of them were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that we are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.
    #1) No, I’m one of those ordinary unschooled individuals.
    #2) Jesus is my wisdom in that he is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by Him.
    #3) Sound mindedness is having the mindset of Christ Jesus. It is the gracious gift of God; we can’t earn it.

  2. Sound-mindedness guards and shields itself from the inner arrows of errors and falsehood that continually fly through consciousness. It rejects and knocks down the fiery darts of deceptiveness and wickedness, like a hockey goalie guards the goal net.

    A human mind works best when it is discerning–open to goodness and truth while closed to badness and falsity. A narrow mental focus on what is right is a key to mental health. Opening the mind to freely embrace the wrongful thoughts that flow through it is the broad way of mental torment and self-destruction.

    Although human philosophy is hollow and resounds with the echos of emptiness and eternal hopelessness, it’s often a source of misguided pride. Hallowed wisdom that leads to humility comes from inner revelation–a supernatural aha of the heart. Hope-filled, eternal insight is beyond the analysis of the brain.

    True sound-mindedness is Christ-mindedness. I’ve discovered that Christ-mindedness is pragmatic. My life works best when I surrender my mind to be led by the inner light of the living Jesus instead of following my own opinions, analysis, and rationalizations.

  3. Great, reassuring message today- I AM on the right track!
    Question- what are “elemental spirits of the universe”? I understand the adversary to be the prince of this world, not the universe. Or is Paul just talking about the tendencies of those who do not follow the wisdom of God? So full of questions, so tired of getting half-truths in response-
    – your friend, the in her 3rd yr of ministry local pastor with all of 6 classes under her belt, mia.

  4. Could Ephesians 6:12 (powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens) and Colossians 2:8 (elemental spirits of the universe) be the same, expressed differently? The truth behind humanity’s constant turmoil is not flesh and blood, other people. It is our birth into an existing spiritual war. Humanity is the chess piece of a spiritual chess game. Only we choose (free will) where we move. We begin the game as a dark piece (Ephesians 5:8), Satan’s side. But, we can freely decide to switch sides, becoming a white piece, Jesus’ side. Then we are victorious, safe, and secure in Him!
    The result of this spiritual chess game is not to capture a king but who we allow to capture our souls for eternity.
    Knowing this, it is wise to let the King of Kings capture us.
    People who use the “feel good” philosophy are ignorant ( Ephesians 4:18) of being a pawn of the evil one. Pray they switch sides.

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