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