Monday, January 21, 2013

Froude's Conservatism

“It was not for me to solve the problems which surrounded religion and morality.  Like my own existence, they had their roots in mystery.  I had been born into the Church of England, and the Church of England was an institution of the realm.  It had grown into its peculiar form as the law and the constitution had grown, under historical conditions and influences.  It did not pretend to perfection.  Like the law, it had its local peculiarities.  But the interpretation which it offered of the mysteries of the universe, if perhaps mistaken in some points, was the growth of generations, the product of the thoughts of men as good and wise as had ever lived.  It was immeasurably more likely to be true than the speculations of a single individual, while, as a guide of life, it would be time to ask for fuller light when one had lived up, as one never could, to the rule it offered . . . The [Roman Catholic] Church must have strangely neglected her educational duties if she has allowed a generation to grow up in England, Scotland, Germany who had broken away from her in indignation.  The snakes which had stung her had been bred in her own bosom and nourished on her own breast.”

W. H. Dunn, James Anthony Froude, (Oxford:  at the Clarendon Press, 1961) pp. 169, 170

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Left, Lefter, and Leftest

BHO has repeatedly forced the federal government further and further into the economy, increased the national debt, and printed money recklessly.  In that light, read the following quotations:

(1) ". . . the role of the state in economy was made absolute, which eventually lead to the total non-competitiveness of the economy. That lesson cost us very dearly. I am sure nobody would want history to repeat itself."

(2) " . . . during the last months, we have been witnessing the washout of the entrepreneurship spirit. That includes the principle of the personal responsibility -- of a businessman, an investor or a share-holder - for his or her own decisions. There are no grounds to suggest that by putting the responsibility over to the state, one can achieve better results."

(3) "Unreasonable expansion of the budget deficit, accumulation of the national debt -- are as destructive as an adventurous stock market game."

(4) "It is of vital importance that the countries responsible for the world’s reserve currencies offer more transparency for their credit and monetary policies."

Those quotations did not come from Mitt Romney; they came from Valdimir Putin.

Now ask yourself, who's actually further to the economic left, Obama or Putin, the former Chicago community organizer and current President of the United States, or the former KGBer and current head of Russia?  Who learned from the Soviet debacle and who did not?

Voted for the wrong guy, did you? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Biblical Environmentalism: Introducing the Cornwall Alliance

"Dear Friend,

When’s the last time you told friends about the Cornwall Alliance or forwarded this newsletter to them? We thought we’d give you the perfect opportunity to do that with today’s issue. It will introduce your friends to who we are, what we do, and why we do it. Please forward this to as many friends as possible, along with your encouragement for them to subscribe!

Our Mission

The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation seeks to magnify the glory of God in creation, the wisdom of His truth in environmental stewardship, the kindness of His mercy in lifting the needy out of poverty, and the wonders of His grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our Identity

A coalition of theologians, pastors, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, policy experts, and committed laymen, the Cornwall Alliance is the world’s leading evangelical voice promoting environmental stewardship and economic development built on Biblical principles.

Our Biblical Foundation

Scripture addresses our stewardship of the Earth in many places, but the most fundamental is Genesis 1:26–28: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” These verses reveal
The essence of man: Man is a creature, the product of direct, intentional, divine action; he is the image of God; and he is male and female. From these truths flow all truths about man’s relationships with and duties toward God and other men.
The mission of man: to multiply and fill the Earth; and, filling it, to subdue and rule it—not abuse it, but rule it as God does, enhancing its fruitfulness, safety, and beauty, to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors, fulfilling the Two Great Commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor.
A Summary of Biblical Earth Stewardship

Biblical stewardship of God’s Earth happens when people, made in the image of God, reflecting God’s own creativity, work together to enhance the fruitfulness, beauty, and safety of the Earth, for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, thus fulfilling the two Great Commandments to love God and love our neighbor.

The Challenge We Face

We carry out our mission in a world permeated by an environmental movement
whose worldview, theology, and ethics are overwhelmingly anti-Christian,
whose science and economics are often badly flawed,
whose policies therefore often are of little real benefit to the natural world but of significant harm to the world’s poor, and
whose doctrines of God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation directly challenge the whole of the Christian faith, especially the gospel.
Environmentalism therefore—in distinction from Biblical stewardship of God’s Earth—threatens the people you care about both materially and spiritually.

The Current Situation

A hundred years ago, Darwinism robbed society of the blessings of Genesis 1:27. The result has been the tragic undermining of human dignity and the growing prevalence of all kinds of depravity. Today, the Christian church stands with regard to environmentalism where it stood a century ago with regard to Darwinism. At that time, some Christians strove valiantly, some were deceived, some were unaware, and some capitulated. We largely lost that battle, and the sad consequences are obvious all around us, with sexual confusion, abortion on demand, infanticide, and euthanasia, and general societal breakdown.

Our Response

Our response to environmentalism must be better than our forebears’ response to Darwinism. To restore the teaching and reclaim the blessings of Genesis 1:28, we must respond both critically and constructively:
Critically, we must exercise a wise, courageous, powerful, spiritual warfare, tearing down ideological strongholds, taking “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5). The Cornwall Alliance is leading the battle to recover the blessings of Genesis 1:28, and we need and want you to stand in the gap with us. We want to help you—whether you’re a pastor or a businessman, lead a non-profit ministry or serve in government, or are a parent trying to raise your sons and daughters to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord—to guard those under your care and preserve that great treasure of the Church, the gospel of Christ, which alone is the power of God to salvation for all who believe.
Constructively, we must teach people to exercise a wise, loving stewardship of God’s Earth and everything in it. The Bible begins in a garden, the Garden of Eden, and ends in a garden city, the New Jerusalem. Mankind starts with the mandate to multiply, fill the Earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it—to spread out from the Garden of Eden to transform wilderness into garden city. Man’s Fall into sin and God’s judgment of man and curse on the Earth make fulfilling that mandate more difficult, but they never negate it. Rather, the redeeming work of Christ, through His death, resurrection, and ascension, reaches to all of creation, and the Great Commission of Mathew 28:19–20, “Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” is the means of achieving it.

Are We Effective?

Our opponents say so. People for the American way says, “The Religious Right’s relatively new antipathy to environmentalism is largely the result of the hard work of … The Cornwall Alliance …. [which] has been extraordinarily successful in convincing the Religious Right that environmentalism presents a threat to Christianity ….”

As CBN News Anchor Lee Webb puts it, “When the Cornwall Alliance calls, we at CBN News pay attention. And, in fact, when it comes to sorting through the complicated issues regarding the environment, it’s this organization that I think of first. I want our viewers to have their perspective. I know that the experts the Alliance has put together will provide us with a biblical view of those issues and provide a reasoned, articulate response to some of the radical views advanced by secularists and the establishment media.”

Our History in Highlights

March, 2000: The Interfaith Council on Environmental Stewardship first published The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, which quickly gained endorsement by 1,500 religious leaders from around the world and many laymen.
August, 2005: We began as The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, adopting The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship as our founding document.
November, 2005: We published our first major study, An Examination of the Scientific, Ethical, and Theological Implications of Climate Change Policy.
May, 2006: We began publishing the Cornwall Newsletter.
July, 2006: We published our second major study, A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming.
May, 2007: We took on our present name to reflect better our founding document, The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship.
July, 2008: We published our third major study, The Cornwall Stewardship Agenda, the work of 13 theologians, scientists, and economists, which is intended to grow with added chapters over the years.
October, 2010: During a one-hour program on Fox News, we released our 13-part video lecture series Resisting the Green Dragon.
December, 2010: We published our fourth major study, A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming, the work of 29 theologians, scientists, and economists.
December, 2010: We published An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, quickly endorsed by over 450 evangelical theologians, pastors, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, and other scholars, followed by a continually growing number of laymen.
January, 2011: We published our first book, James Wanliss’s Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Net Death.
October, 2011: We published our fifth major study, The Cost of Good Intentions: The Ethics and Economics of the War on Conventional Energy, the work of 15 economists, scientists, and theologians.
July, 2012: We launched our most ambitious initiative to date, In His Image 2012, a multi-year effort to educate evangelicals about the integrally related threats, arising from the denial of the doctrines of Genesis 1:27–28, to the sanctity of human life; the dignity of human sexuality, marriage and the family; and the God-given mandate for human beings to exercise godly dominion over the Earth. Our goal is to help evangelicals fighting on many battlefronts to see the interconnections and begin laboring more strategically and, we pray, effectively to reshape how people think of human beings and our role on Earth—to reassert the sanctity of human life and sexuality, the beauty and centrality of marriage, the goodness of human multiplication, and the dignity of human work and godly dominion over the Earth.
Throughout this time, we have
published articles in newspapers, magazines, and online sites, and been frequent guests on radio and television talk shows across the United States and around the world;
provided helpful answers to individuals’ questions about the theology, ethics, science, and economics of environment and energy policy and economic development for the poor;
constantly done research to stay abreast of current developments.

Our Network of Scholars

The Cornwall Alliance has 22 Senior Fellows, Fellows, and Adjunct Scholars, 40 Contributing Writers, and 33 Advisors. See them listed at and

Subscribe to Our Newsletter, Follow Us on Facebook
Read Our Statement of Faith

Schedule a Speaker for Your Church or School

Dr. Beisner and many of Fellows, Adjuncts, and Contributing Writers are available to lecture on many subjects for churches, seminaries, universities and colleges, schools, and other groups. To schedule a speaker, call 703-569-4653.

Support the Cornwall Alliance

The Cornwall Alliance is a ministry of The James Partnership, a 501(c)3 non-profit religious, educational, and charitable foundation. All gifts are tax deductible.

The Cornwall Alliance
9302-C Old Keene Mill Rd.
Burke, VA 22015
Phone 703-569-4653 | Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Beisner to Speak TONIGHT on Reclaiming the Blessings of Genesis 1:28 in Hollywood, FL

Cornwall National Spokesman Dr. E. Calvin Beisner will speak on “Creation Care and Godly Dominion: Reclaiming the Blessings of Genesis 1:28 in the Search for a Genuinely Biblical Earth Stewardship” at Sheridan Hills Baptist Church, 3751 Sheridan St., Hollywood, FL, at 7 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, January 16, 2013, in the main sanctuary.

Cornwall National Spokesman Dr. E. Calvin Beisner will speak Friday, January 25, at the Educational Policy Conference in St. Louis, MO, on how national and state science curriculum standards undermine the Christian worldview and so challenge the faith of Christian students attending public schools. Sen. Rick Santorum, Fox News commentator Monica Crowley, Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly, Last Ounce of Courage star Marshall Teague, author and commentator Michelle Malkin, Summit Ministries President Jeff Myers, Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming author Christopher Horner, and more than a dozen other speakers will also address the conference. The conference theme is The Five Pillars of the First Amendment: Preserving our Freedoms from School to Society.” To register, go to and use Promo Code 24.

Information in this newsletter is for scholarly and educational use only and may not be copied or reproduced for any other purposes without prior permission of the copyright holders.

The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation seeks to magnify the glory of God in creation, the wisdom of His truth in environmental stewardship, the kindness of His mercy in lifting the needy out of poverty, and the wonders of His grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A coalition of theologians, pastors, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, policy experts, and committed laymen, the Cornwall Alliance is the world’s leading evangelical voice promoting environmental stewardship and economic development built on Biblical principles. The Cornwall Alliance is a non-profit religious, charitable, and educational organization. All gifts are tax deductible."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why Atheists Can Have No Moral Absolutes

"No God, No Good:  Atheism's Futile Quest for Morality, and the Unconscionable Practice of Stolen Concepts"

         One often hears atheists assert that the moral virtues are those virtues without which we humans beings cannot, and do not, flourish because they are rooted in human nature.  One also sometimes hears atheists assert that moral virtues are those virtues that enjoy a consensus that spans culture, country, and century, something like the Tao described at the end of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man.  That moral values described or derived in either of these two ways are not truly moral values, much less moral absolutes, is the burden of this brief essay.
         First, atheist values determined either by human flourishing or by human nature are not truly right or wrong, not properly moral absolutes; they are pragmatism or utilitarianism masquerading as good and coöpting the language of virtue and of “oughtness,” to which they have no philosophical or (especially) theological claim.
         As the following analysis will demonstrate, one must not contend that human nature and human flourishing yield moral absolutes, properly so-called, because such a theory fails to account for (1) the origin of human nature, (2) changes in human nature, and (3) the selection of “flourishing” as a category of moral discernment.  I shall leave aside the vexed philosophical question of whether or not human nature itself actually exists as an entity in its own right and has objectively knowable and universal characteristics, or if it is merely a philosopher’s fiction without any extra-mental reality.  I simply note in passing that the atheistic theory of morality here under review assumes an answer to this difficult philosophical question that, if mistaken, devastates the atheist theory of morality by erasing its metaphysical basis.
         (1) If, as atheists insist, human nature arose as the chance result of a mindless evolutionary process, a process behind which exists no divine mind and no divine plan, then moral absolutes disappear.  That is, if human nature is the result of evolutionary accident (time, plus matter, plus chance), and if right and wrong arise solely from human nature, then right and wrong are accidents, not moral absolutes.  Biological chance, evolutionary accident, cannot serve as the philosophically proper foundation for right and wrong; it is their undoing.  If human nature and human mind are the unintentional outcome of the chance collocation of atoms and of the mindless and unpredictable meanderings of natural selection (in other words, if the human mind is a mere epiphenomenon contorting and disporting itself for a short while upon the face of physical matter), then we have no convincing reason -- and no metaphysical justification -- for trusting them as indicators of moral goodness; nor have we any real or enduring right and wrong.      
         (2) Had the evolutionary process been different, or had the primordial soup been mixed from a different recipe, so to speak, or stirred at a different temperature, human nature, if it existed at all, might have been noticeably altered, along with the allegedly moral values atheist theory insists arise from it.  Evolution might well have yielded a quite different array of species than it has, and humans might not be the most intelligent species and they might flourish in ways radically different from those that now obtain.  That is, one can easily imagine a set of markedly different biological conditions, a set of conditions that demonstrated the physiological supremacy of a non-human species, one that flourished after the fashion, say, of an intelligent cockroach.  Cockroach-style flourishing would then become the measure of virtue, and not that means of flourishing that we humans sometimes now employ.  In other words, the moral absolutes yielded by the atheist system of thought (biological might makes moral right) are neither truly moral nor truly absolute.   They are simply that set of actions that the biological winners perceive to tend most effectively toward the pleasure and prosperity of their own species, which is, to put it bluntly, simply species bigotry parading as morality.
         To make the point in a different direction, precisely why the actions that conduce to the flourishing of the most intelligent and biologically innovative survivors of natural selection, whatever those survivors happened to be like, should be called morality is not clear and has not been (indeed cannot be) metaphysically justified or properly established.  In other words, what is here propounded by the atheists is not true morality.  It is an intellectual misfire that bases morality on the philosophically injudicious assumption that somehow biological might makes moral right, or that merely by succeeding biologically a species gets to use itself as the measure of good and evil.  This is not a system of moral absolutes; it is a system of biological relativism.  It is selfishness masquerading as the basis for right and wrong.  
         That those actions which conduce to the flourishing of the most biologically innovative survivors of natural selection should be called "moral" merely confuses with right and wrong those actions that seem to the atheists of that species to permit that species to flourish at one particular point in its evolution.  If in the atheistic worldview species evolve, then the species whose flourishing they appoint as the arbiter of morality was sufficiently different in its earlier stages of development from what it is now, and will be likely be sufficiently different in its later stages of development, that those means by which it now flourishes might be significantly different both from what they once were and might eventually become.  We simply do not know.  But whatever those unknown facts were in the past and will be in the future, the atheist must endorse them as moral, however grotesque and wicked they might actually be.  If so, what are now called right and wrong in the atheist view are not moral absolutes, but simply that set of actions perceived to be most efficient at the moment.  What set of actions will be so perceived in the distant future is still an open question, a question that might receive a starkly different answer then than either it now does or previously did, but which the atheist system of thought must nevertheless consider morally correct and universally binding if it is to employ the language of moral absolutes.  In short, to our previous charges of species bigotry and biological relativism we now must add time relativism and moral contradiction -- but not moral absolutes.  The new atheists cannot find metaphysical grounding for their claims to morality.  They cannot talk about how religion ruins everything because the word "ruins" implies a morality not metaphysically available in the atheist worldview.  They can say they do not like what religion does, and that they prefer something else.  But they can raise no truly moral objection.
         To take it a step further, not only does the doctrine of evolution entail the notion that the human species and human nature are essentially mutable, but this natural mutability is amplified by the very startling, and very real, prospect of the species itself orchestrating and accelerating its own evolution and alteration by means of its scientific experimentation and acumen.  Like the natural mutability that precedes it, this self-orchestrated mutability is the death knell of any and all moral absolutes supposedly rooted in human nature.  When we do acquire the power to modify the nature of the race -- and some speculate that our ability to do so is soon to be gotten -- will what we produce still be truly and fully human?  Will right and wrong then be rooted in human nature as it was or in human nature as it is in whatever it is we shall have made of it?  Assuming that the alteration in human nature is accomplished only one person at a time rather than in the entire race all at once, and assuming therefore that two (or more) sorts of persons with a defendable claim to human nature exist simultaneously, which version of human nature supersedes the other and is to be considered the fountain from which all right and wrong arise?  Will those who possess the older human nature be subject to a system of right and wrong that arises from a newer nature not entirely their own?  What if our experiments do not always succeed?  That is, what if the treatment does not always "take;" what if it yields occasionally idiosyncratic results that produce far more than merely two varieties of human nature?  Which variety is normative?  Shall we fall into the logical contradiction of having a number of competing sets of moral absolutes, each with different content?  The answer to these and other questions are still unknown to us.  In the wake of their ignorance, the atheists are flying by faith.  Though the answer to such puzzling questions might be difficult, or even impossible, to identify, and though the answers to such questions might raise insurmountable difficulties for those who advocate this inadequate atheistic system of moral absolutes, the answers given to those questions make no difference at all to my purpose because any answer given them exposes the metaphysical foundation of the atheistic ethical system as shifting sand, not moral bedrock.  Nothing transitory can yield moral absolutes. 
         Furthermore, if humans did not exist at all (and under the direction of a mindless evolutionary process they easily might not), and if right and wrong arise from human nature, then right and wrong would not exist (regardless of whether we considered right and wrong as either moral absolutes or as the biological relativism that emerges from biological success).  In other words, because the atheist theory of ethics ties morality to human nature, the fate of human nature is the fate of morality.  That fate, if the second law of thermodynamics is correct, is oblivion.  The material world is winding down to something like an amorphous, motionless mass of dead matter at a low temperature, incapable of sustaining life.  Along with the demise of the physical universe go all the atheist's alleged moral absolutes, the true name of which we now see is “nihilism.”  In this system, morality, like everything else, comes precisely to nothing.  When human beings cease to exist sometime in the future, as any worldview that leaves out God must assert, right and wrong cease to exist at that same moment.  In short, what is intended by the atheists to be the foundation of morality is really its death warrant.  
         (3) Why flourishing (and not something else) should be the measure of morality cannot be proven, cannot be metaphysically rooted or justified.  To select flourishing as the measure of moral discernment, or to define flourishing as one thing and not another, is merely to elevate both one's own personal preference for flourishing and one's own definition of flourishing (whatever it happened to be) to the level of a moral absolute, which they neither are nor ever could be.  One might just as easily have selected private pleasure at the expense of another's pain as the measure of moral conduct, as might someone like the Marquis de Sade.  One might even prefer death to life, as do virtually all suicides.  That happiness or prosperity, and not death, is the proper content of flourishing cannot be established upon a merely evolutionary basis, except that an atheist simply assert a preference (pragmatic or otherwise) for the one and not the other.  Again, whatever else such private preferences might be, they are not moral absolutes.
         The un-Godded worldview does not, and cannot, yield moral oughtness. It yields only competing sets of preferences to which some atheists unjustifiably try to attach the language of oughtness. Other more astute atheists refuse to make that mistake. On that point those more astute and consistent atheists deserve full credit because they understand that no atheistic explanation of morality has the metaphysical rootedness necessary for moral absolutes. Their worldview precludes it. They know that when other more inconsistent atheists want to hold onto atheism and to avail themselves of the language of oughtness, they fall afoul of what atheist Ayn Rand called the error of stolen concepts: They employ ideas and categories to which their system has no metaphysical access.  Atheists who invoke morality are idea thieves.
         Put differently, it makes all the difference in the world whether we say mind came from matter or matter came from mind. Because ideas have consequences, if you choose the former, you cut yourself off from the consequences that attach solely to the latter. One of those lost consequences is the metaphysical rootedness necessary for moral absolutes, that is, for a morality that rises above the level of mere preference.
         Finally, as much as I value the work of C. S. Lewis, in general, and his The Abolition of Man, in particular, I would be misusing his book were I to argue from it that, because there appears to be substantial agreement among the peoples of the world about the rules of right and wrong, therefore these rules of right and wrong are moral absolutes.  Consensus, regardless of how extensive or how enduring it might be, is no sure measure of morality.  All too often the majority has consented, either explicitly or implicitly, to colossal evil.  Atheist governments have made it happen time and again.  Morality is not determined by nose count (or by power).  "Majority" is no synonym for "morality."
         In a word, if there is no God, there is no good.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Theology of Invective

         I can see no other way.
         We must learn once more to confront nonsense in all its forms and to call things by their real names.  We must learn that euphemisms are lies and that patience and gentleness sometimes do no good.  Worse still, they often do injury.  Count on it, when you treat a fool with nothing but kindness, he remains a fool.  If you pat him on the back and stroke his ego, he does what any fool does:  he mistakenly concludes that everything is alright with him, rather than realizing that you are simply being kind to ignorance the way you are kind to all other forms of poverty.
         We must revive the ancient and honorable art of invective, which is to language what justice is to law -- a means of giving people what they deserve.  What some of them deserve is a good kick in the pants.  This article, therefore, is dedicated to telling the fools to bend over and grab their ankles.  The beatings will now commence.

The New Testament

         If, like me, you are a Christian, you often encounter brothers and sisters in the faith who are, to put it plainly, well-intentioned but mush-minded invertebrates.  They seem unwilling and unable to grasp with clarity or conviction that some things are wrong and some are wicked.  Even if they could grasp that fundamental truth about the world, they lack the courage to call evil and error by their real names.  They do not understand that, if you fail to call evil evil, then you are treating it no differently than you treat goodness, which you do not call evil either.  The only thing they seem able to oppose publicly is that small collection of Christians who speak forthrightly, Christians who are less afraid of giving offense to the offensive than they are of aiding and abetting wickedness and error with sloppy and unjustifiably lenient language.
         This will never do.
         We Christians rightly recognize Christ as the very embodiment of love.  But Christ was no bleeding heart, and He was no invertebrate.  The "gentle Jesus meek and mild" never existed.  He is a nineteenth and twentieth century fiction.   The historical Jesus was another matter altogether.  At various times, and when the situation demanded, the real Jesus publicly denounced sinners as snakes, dogs, foxes, hypocrites, fouled tombs and dirty dishes.  He actually referred publicly to one of his chief disciples as Satan.  So that his hearers would not miss his point, He sometimes referred to the objects of his most intense ridicule both by name and by position, and often face to face. 
         No doubt His doing so made the invertebrates around him begin to squirm because they realized how offensive this tactic would be to outsiders.  Nevertheless, Jesus persisted.  He did so because He knew better than his jellyfish camp followers that alluding to heinous acts, and to those who continue to practice them, in only the most innocuous and clinical language does no one, least of all the offenders themselves, any good.  I cannot say it forcefully enough:  Christ did not affirm sinners; He affirmed the repentant.  Others He often addressed with the most withering invective.  God incarnate did not avoid using words and tactics that his listeners found deeply offensive.  He well understood that sometimes it is wrong to be nice.  I deny that we can improve upon the rhetorical strategy of Him who was Himself the Word, and who spoke the world into existence.
         The objection raised by the invertebrates that Jesus spoke aggressively only to self-righteous Pharisees simply misses the point.  Any sinner who rejects repentance, or any sinner who holds repentance at bay because he somehow believes it is not for him, is self-righteous.
         Paul talked the same way. 
         Although his invertebrate comrades probably considered it offensive and indelicate of him to do so, Paul did not hesitate to suggest to several churches -- publicly, plainly, and in writing -- that his many detractors ought simply to emasculate themselves (Gal. 5: 12).  If you believe that circumcision makes you right with God, he argued, why not go the whole way and really get right with God?  If Lorena Bobbitt was reading the Bible on the night that made her famous, this was the verse she read.
         Furthermore, in the same letter, (in fact, in the space of but three verses) Paul twice refers to his Galatian readers, the very people he is trying to convince, as fools (Gal. 3: 1, 3).  Subsequent events indicate that his shocking words, though clearly offensive, were not ineffective.  The Galatians chose to follow Paul rather than the Judaizers, whose tactic was, in Paul's words, to "win the approval of men," the very tactic urged upon us so indefatigably by the invertebrates -- though never in gender specific language.
         In short, if the religion and practice of the New Testament offend them, the invertebrates need to argue with Jesus and Paul, not me.

Christian Literature
         Furthermore, like Christ and his chief apostle, the greatest Christian writers of the Western world also refused to subscribe to the principle that language deeply offensive to one's readers or listeners ought always to be shunned.  Neither the greatest writers of Western tradition (such as Dante, Erasmus, Milton, and Swift) nor the best of the present day permit their language to be censored or vetoed by the hyperactive sensitivities of the spineless.  Great writers select one word over all other words because that word, and that word only, most fully conveys their meaning, and because that word, and that word only, can best be expected to produce the author’s intended effect.  That meaning and that effect are occasionally, and sometimes intentionally, offensive.

The Rules 
         Verbal precision, not inoffensiveness, is the traditional hallmark of the West's best writing and the West’s best books, some of which were deeply and intentionally offensive to great numbers of those who first read them.  Dante's Inferno consigns a number of Catholic notables -- including popes -- to Hell.  Erasmus's Praise of Folly excoriates monks and theologians as a shameless and squalid mob.  His Julius Excluded locks Pope Julius out of Heaven because he was an adulterous, blood-thirsty, syphilis-ridden, mammon hound.  Some of Milton's political pamphlets and poetry are, among other things, timeless handbooks of insult and invective.  Great portions of the works of Jonathan Swift constitute a veritable scatologist's Bible.  These works and many like them would never have been written or published had the modern preoccupation with inoffensiveness been then the controlling consideration.  Because that preoccupation now prevails, these books and many like them are being harried out of the literary canon.  In other words, the guidelines according to which the invertebrates want us to write are guidelines that not only would have radically recast many of our culture’s great books had they been followed, but would have prevented some of them from ever being written at all.  Had modern guidelines been previously in effect, they would have banished many of our civilization’s most important and memorable texts far more effectively and extensively than has the politically correct curriculum at Stanford, Harvard or Oberlin.

Freedom and Virtue
         Invertebrates cannot comprehend that despicable conditions inevitably arise in a fallen world.  Those despicable conditions sometimes require us to employ the language of shock and of confrontation in our unflagging efforts to push back the frontiers of evil and error.  But the spineless do not like it when we do.  They want to police the way we speak.  They want, literally, to erase words from our language.  I have been told by one Christian professor, whom I like and whom I respect, that there was never a time when shock language was right.  Such language, I am asked to believe, ought to be eliminated.  But though others delete it, I shall not.  The fewer words you have at your disposal, the fewer thoughts you are able to think or to articulate with full precision, and the fewer points you are able to make with your desired effect.  When the range of words is small, the range of thought is small and the power of speech is diminished.  In that sense, word police are thought police.  The invertebrates want to put you under arrest. 
         Language, like liberty, is not normally lost all at once.  It slips through our hands a little at a time, almost imperceptibly.  Don't let it happen.
         Slang words and shock words have their legitimate use.  Sometimes the right word is a slang word or a shock word because no other word conveys your meaning as fully or as accurately, and because no other word elicits the response you desire.  Sometimes the right language is language that falls beyond the pale of polite discourse –- but not of virtue. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

John 1 and Greek Philosophy

“The World Knew Him Not” (John 1: 1-34)
The bird that sees a dainty bower
Made in the tree, where she was wont to sit,
Wonders and sings, but not His power
Who made the arbor: this exceeds her wit.
But Man doth know
The spring, whence all things flow:

And yet as though he knew it not,
His knowledge winks, and lets his humors reign:
They make his life a constant blot,
And all the blood of God to run in vain.
Ah wretch! what verse
Can thy strange ways rehearse?

               George Herbert, “The Temple”

Advocates of natural theology often invoke John’s use of the term “logos” in the prologue to his Gospel as evidence of a Biblical endorsement of natural theology and of philosophy.   It is not.
Given the enormous difference between John’s logos and that of the Stoics, and given the way John has so extensively corrected their rampant misconceptions, one could no more assert that John was endorsing natural theology here than one could assert that Friedrich Hayek was endorsing Karl Marx because they both use the word “capital.”  Wholesale correction is not the same as endorsement or implementation, even if a few of the terms used by both sides are the same.  Simply because Hayek and Marx both deal with the financial interactions of human beings, and simply because they employ some of the same language in so doing, it does not mean (1) that Hayek endorses Marx or Marxism, (2) that their views and methods are compatible, or (3) that Hayekian thought subsumes Marxist thought.  Hayek is no Marxist any more than John is a Stoic.  Hayek corrects Marx all along the Marxian path, a path Hayek knows to be “the road to serfdom.”  John corrects the Stoics in the same extensive way, as the analysis below will demonstrate.  John does to the Stoic logos something the Stoics would never do:  He identifies it with a particular Jewish man and then understands that man in light of Jewish history and Scripture, reaching back to Genesis and to the creative and powerful Divine Word, dabar.
John’s use of the phrase “in the beginning” (v. 1) refers back to the time before God had spoken, as does Genesis 1: 1.  In that beginning, the Word was pros ton theon (v.1) -- in front of God, so to speak, before Him, face to face.  That Word was with God and was God:  God and Word, God and God.  They are the same, yet they are distinct.  We arrive again where we began in Genesis 1:1, the Divine unity-in-plurality (a text at which we will look in more detail later).
Christ is called the Word because it is “He by whom God reveals Himself to man, and communicates His mind and will.  Christ Jesus is the Revealer of the Godhead . . . The term ‘Word’ would seem well adapted to express this.  A word is that by which we communicate our thoughts to others” (Jacobus, Notes on the Gospels, p. 20).
The Logos, therefore, is not some distant and abstract principle of making, not a simple uncaused cause of an eternal world.  The Logos is the Divine Person of revealing, not a mere principle of making.  God here is living, creative eloquence; He is Divine speech, utterance, and creative articulation -- Word.  By means of the Divine Word Who is God Himself, God Himself makes the world and thereby imparts Himself to it because the Word is God and God is the world-making Word.  By making the world with his Word, God reveals Himself to us.  From our perspective, in order to know God, that Word is a necessity.
For us to know God, He must reveal Himself to us.  If He remains silent, He remains both unknowable and unknown.  But silent He has not remained.  He has spoken.  To invoke the title of an important little book by Francis Schaeffer, "He is there and He is not silent."  According to John, but against anything to which a Stoic might affirm, God's utterance, God’s speech, God’s Logos, God’s Word, God’s Son, has become identified with a specific human creature in recent Jewish history, a man of flesh and blood, who lived, suffered, died, and rose again in the flesh.  That man is the Utterance or Eloquence of the Father to us, indeed to all creation, because by means of this Utterance, now incarnate, now made human -- by means of this very Logos -- the world itself was spoken into existence and God was revealed.
Notice carefully that the creative and revelatory flow in that Divine action is entirely from God to the world, from God to us, and not vice versa.  The Son is the creative, revelatory, articulation of Elohim; He is the loving and redemptive eloquence of a gracious Father to a fallen world.
Conversely, God conceived in Aristotle's way -- an unspeaking, unhistorical, impersonal cause, an unmoved mover, or a self-thought thought, standing behind an eternal world, something known or reached by our intellectual strivings up to it, and not by its articulations to us, is incompatible with the Biblical account of creation and redemption by a speaking God Who is known to us only by His doings, not ours, and especially by incarnation in a historical person.  Aristotle’s theory goes contrary to them and cannot be reconciled with them.
Only God could be in the very beginning with God, before anything that was made ever existed.  Whatever was not in the beginning with God was not God -- and because only God truly knows God, unless this God who was with God and who was God speaks to us about God, we cannot know Him.  He is too far above us, especially now in our fallenness.  He is the Light (v.4); we are the darkness (v. 5). Our darkness has not understood, or comprehended, the Light, nor can it (v. 5). The Greek word katalambano (v.5) can mean either mental comprehension or seizing by force.  Here, it seems, John means that “the light has been shining and is still shining, and never has the darkness been able to obliterate it” (Tasker, p. 45), though “obliterate it” the world has tried pointedly to do.  “Obliterate” is precisely right, for that is how the children of darkness respond to the Light that reveals their sin, their folly, and their rebellion.  They blot it out, obliterate it, if they can. They suppress it, exchange it for a lie, and they kill it. That is a Johannine notion with which Paul concurs in Romans 1: 18ff.
The world, indeed the whole world -- Greek philosophers included -- “knew Him not” (v. 10) because the world – Greek philosophers included -- “received Him not” (v. 11).  In order to “know” Him, you must “receive” Him.  Unless you know Him Who is the Word and Who is God, you do not, and cannot, know the Father.  Knowing the Father requires receiving the Son.  So far as we can tell, Aristotle did neither.  In that sad and rebellious condition, Aristotle was simply one with a world of human beings who did not receive or know their Maker.  By its own choice, “the world is closed to the Word and its light” (Barth, Witness to the Word, p. 69).
In order to know Him, to receive Him, and to become a child of God, requires a gracious and transcendent “power” (v. 12).  That power is a gift (v. 12), something given, and not something humanly achieved, like Aristotle’s deductions concerning an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, and self-thought thought.  To receive Him (v. 12), you must believe in his name (v. 12).  Without spiritual life, which comes through belief in his name, there is no Divinely given enlightenment.  Such enlightenment happens because of the will of God, and not the will of anyone else (v. 13).  “Can one fail to see that revelation is presented here as a self-enclosed circle into which one cannot leap from the outside?” (Barth, Witness to the Word, 75).  Revelation, regeneration, enlightenment -- in other words, knowledge and life -- they go inextricably together.  Within that circle, Aristotle is not included.
When the Word came into the world, He did so, contrary to Greek philosophy, by becoming flesh (v. 14).  Flesh is, so to speak, the historical medium of revelation.  To the Greeks, that particular medium was unthinkable and disgusting.  Merely to suggest it was to be scorned.  Therefore, by asserting that the Word dwelt among us in human flesh, that He “tabernacled” with us in that fleshly way, John’s reference and indebtedness is to the Old Testament shekinah glory, and not to Greek philosophy.  In His flesh, the Word was “full of grace and truth” (v.14).   Between “grace” and “truth” is an intimate and unbreakable connection.  Without grace, the truth about God is unknown.  From His fullness of grace and truth, we all have benefited. (v.16).   That benefit comes to us in the form of the Word’s “exegesis” of God, His declaration of the otherwise unseen and, to us sinners, unseeable Father (v. 18).
The contrast here between sinful human creatures, on the one hand, and the incarnate Word, on the other, is startling and humbling.  It silences our pretensions.  None of us, without exception, has -- or can -- see God.  By “see” here, John does not mean mere eyesight.  He means seeing as understanding, as knowing.  For that task, our fallen and merely natural powers of sense and reason are ridiculously inadequate.  By means of them, no one has seen God (v. 18).
But the Son has done what we could not.  He has understood the Divine Mysteries and declared to us what He has seen, much like his disciples have done, who saw Him and declared to us what they saw (1 John 1: 1-3).  They could declare God to others and to us only because the Word had declared God to them.  They could speak because they first were spoken to, and because their minds and hearts were given new life and new light by God.  The Hidden God came out of hiding, declared Himself in history and in the flesh, and renewed the souls of His chosen ones so that they might finally understand. 
The conjunction of “grace” and “truth” here requires further elaboration:  You cannot have truth about God unless you first have grace from God.  That is, knowing the truth about God depends upon the grace of God.  While the law came by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (v. 17), Who is the only One Who has ever seen the Father, without whose grace we could not have this divine truth.  The Word has brought us the truth about God.
Though He made us, we do not know Him (v. 10).  No one, indeed, has ever seen God -- except the only begotten Son.  Therefore, unless the Son, the Word, speaks, we cannot and do not know God.  He alone has made Him known (v.14).  Only God knows God.   We cannot know Him or speak of Him, as He Himself teaches (Matt 11: 27).
Put differently, the “light” and the “life” go together (v. 4).  Seeing the light depends upon having the life.  Without that life, we all are still in darkness, Aristotle included.  Without this life (zoe), we are dead, and we cannot see.  You cannot see the light (phos) if you do not have the life (zoe).  He is the Light and the Life.  Both life and light are wrapped up in Christ, Who is the Revealer and the Revealed, the Goal and the Means, the Light and the Life.  Without Him, you do not and cannot know God.  Life is indispensable to seeing the Light.  Death blots out the light, and only Christ can bring the life by which we see, the new life of regeneration, the regeneration exclusively by which we see the kingdom of God (John 3: 16ff.)  The natural man has no life and cannot see things that are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2: 14).  Aristotle, being spiritually dead, is blind and cannot see.  To follow him is for the blind to lead the blind or, even more absurdly with regard to Christian advocates of Aristotelian natural theology, is for the blind to lead the sighted.  In either case, the result is sadly predictable:  We remain in darkness.  That darkness is condemnable:  “This is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3: 19).  In other words, “It was the nature of the darkness -- this deep darkness of the soul -- this human ignorance, depravity and perverseness -- to resist the light -- not to entertain it nor retain it” (Jacobus, Notes on the Gospels, p. 25).  Aristotle and his metaphysical machinations are not exempt from the failings of human nature in this regard.  They are its classical embodiment.
The rejection of the Light by those without the life is universal.  On this point, unless you are born again by the will of God (v. 13) you have no hope.  For those without the life and the light, knowing God is impossible.  Whatever else they might have in this regard, it is not knowledge of God because knowledge of God depends upon divine speech.  The transcendent God can be known no other way -- precisely because He is transcendent.  We know him as imminent only if He speaks, only if He reveals Himself to us -- and only if we understand and do not distort that revelation.  But we distort, and we do not understand.  We are blind in the face of light, dead in the face of life.  We knew Him not and received Him not.
He came bearing gifts.  But they killed Him.  In that horrifying action, they are like us in all ways.  We dwell willingly, and therefore self-destructively, in the darkness that confronts and resists revelation.  We ourselves are that darkness.  He is the Light that scatters darkness and makes clear our path (John 8: 12; cp. 12: 35).
To scatter darkness and set it to flight is a matter of cosmic conflict and conquest, not calm persuasion.  He must destroy within us both Satan’s work and our own.  In response to the Divinely induced destruction that precedes our regeneration and enlightenment, we aim to kill Him.  Both sides, God’s and ours, succeed, but we only temporarily.  We killed Him, but He did not stay dead.  Our rejection and slaughter of Him shows that in us lives no good will toward the Light, no readiness to receive it, but open conflict instead:  opposition, antithesis, animosity, and murder.  The darkness in us can never make itself Light, nor does it want to do so.  It aims rather at making the Light darkness by snuffing it out, by replacing the Light of the world with the garish, self-glorifying, self-reflecting, artificial lights and tinsel trappings of human-made gods, which, like the fires of Hell in Milton’s Paradise Lost, give off not light, but “darkness visible” (Paradise Lost, Bk.1: 63).  Even though the Light enlightens every man, we snuff out the light within us and become endarkened, not enlightened, instead.
No one can see God at any time (v. 18) because for us a direct vision of God is impossible.  John’s words here “do not deny the possibility of a true knowledge of God, but of a natural knowledge of God such as can be described by “sight.” (Westcott, p. 15, emphasis added).  In this sense of seeing God, even the theophanies of the Old Testament fell short.  Any knowledge, any authentic recognition, we have of God, whether as sight or as insight, must be mediated.  That Mediator is Christ.  He mediates both our redemption by God and our knowledge of God.  From His unique position in the Father’s bosom, and as the Father’s only begotten Son, He alone can declare, or "exegete," the Father for us (v. 18).  The argument in vv. 17, 18 is that while Moses was highly esteemed by the Jews, by means of him no one could see God.  By contrast, Jesus Christ has revealed Him.  Aristotle, (1) without benefit of either the Mosaic revelation of earlier centuries, (2) or the Christic revelation of the future, and (3) subject to his own damnable evil and its inevitable suppression of Truth, knows God even less than those who killed Him, which is to say not at all.  There was no knowledge of God, even in the land of Israel (Hosea 4: 1, 2).  Therefore, do not expect to find it in pagan, morally debased, Greece.
Although the Logos made the world, the world did not know Him.  The story here in John’s prologue is not about knowing God from nature and reason; the story here in John 1 is about the breach between the world and its Creator, a breach bridged by Him.  It’s about the shameful fact of the world’s damnable and self-imposed ignorance.  This is a tale of judgment, not of natural theology’s alleged insights.  In other words, this prologue and chapter teach precisely what Paul teaches in Romans 1.  It’s a story of condemnation:  The Light has come into the world, but because of our wickedness and our preference for darkness, a darkness we hope serves to cover our sins, we hate the Light.  Whoever does evil -- Don’t we all? -- hates the light because by it our deeds are exposed for what they are (John 3: 19, 20).
Do you hate the light?  Take your time, and resolve to be absolutely honest, before you answer that question.  

Excursus I:  The Commentators
In order to underscore my contention that John’s use of the term “logos” is not an endorsement of, or even an implementation of, Greek philosophy, in particular, or of natural theology, in general, I cite here twenty passages from the commentary tradition, copied almost at random as I came to them in my study.  The number could easily have been doubled, even tripled.

(1.) “There can be little doubt that the roots of the ideas contained in this term [i.e., “logos”] are to be sought in the O. T.” (Ross, p. 135).

(2.) “[Philo’s] misty, vague philosophizing is worlds away from John’s concrete, historical outlook on the personal Logos, who from times eternal was with God and who became flesh in Jesus Christ.  The theory that John derived the term Logos from Philo is very wide of the mark; there is no real evidence that John had ever heard of Philo.  It is just as wide of the mark to regard John as having derived this term from Greek philosophy” (Ross, 136).

(3.) “But, though [John] would not have been unmindful of the associations aroused by the term, his essential thought does not derive from the Greek background.  His Gospel shows little trace of acquaintance with Greek philosophy and less dependence upon it.  And the really important thing is that John in his use of Logos is cutting clean across one of the fundamental Greek ideas.  The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches and joys and tears with serene divine lack of feeling.  John’s Logos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved.  The Logos speaks of God’s coming where we are, taking our nature upon Himself, entering the world’s struggle, and out of this agony winning men’s salvation”  (Morris, pp. 116-17).

(4.) “[T]he “Word” irresistibly turns our attention to the repeated “and God said” of the opening chapter of the Bible.  The Word is God’s creative Word (v. 3).  The atmosphere is unmistakably Hebraic”  (Morris, pp. 117-18).

(5.) “[W]e find that in other biblical authors, as well as in John, the word [i.e., “Logos”] is never used to signify the divine Reason or Mind; nor indeed those of any human creature”  (Alford, p. 677).

(6.) [Comparing Philo and John] “There is a wide and unmistakable difference between his logos and that of the Apostle” (Alford, p. 679).

(7.)“It would be difficult not to recognize in these first verses an allusion to the beginning of Genesis”  (Godet, John, 243).

(8.)“The term Word, no less than the term in the beginning, serves to recall the narrative in Genesis; it alludes to the expression:  and God said, repeated eight times . . . All these sayings of God John gathers into one single, living word” (Godet, John, 245).

(9.) Logos as reason “is foreign to the N.T.” (Godet, John, 246).
(10.) “The word logos in John, signifies as in the whole Biblical text, word.  In Philo, it signifies, as in the philosophical language of the Greeks, reason.  This simple fact reveals a wholly different starting-point in the use which they make of the term. . .
“In Philo, the existence of the Logos is a metaphysical theorem. .  .God being conceived of as the absolutely indeterminate and impersonal being, there is an impassible gulf between Him and the material, finite, varied world which we behold.  To fill this void, Philo needed an intermediate agent, a second God, brought nearer the finite; this is the Logos, the half-personalized divine reason.  The existence of the Logos in John is not the result of such a metaphysical necessity. God is in John, as in all the Scriptures, Creator, Master, Father.  He acts Himself in the world, He loves it, He gives His Son to it:  we shall even see that it is He who serves as intermediate agent between men and the Son (6: 37, 44) . . . in John everything in the relation of the Logos to God is a matter of liberty and of love, while with Philo everything is the result of a logical necessity. . .
“To the view of Philo, as to that of Plato, the principle of evil is matter; the Jewish philosopher nowhere dreams, therefore, of making the Logos descend to earth, and that in bodily form.  In John, on the contrary, the supreme fact of history is this:  The Logos was made flesh” (Godet, John, pp. 287, 288).

(11.) “It is not in Greek philosophical usage, however, that the background of John’s thought and language should be sought . . . The true background of John’s thought and language is found not in Greek philosophy but in Hebrew revelation.  The ‘word of God’ in the Old Testament denotes God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance” (Bruce, John, 29).

(12.) “John’s standpoint is that of the Old Testament and not that of the Stoics nor even of Philo”(Robertson, 3, 4).

(13.) “It constantly happens in the history of thought that the same terms and phrases are used by schools which have no direct affinity, in senses which are essentially distinct, while they have a superficial likeness . . . A new teacher necessarily uses the heritage which he has received from the past in order to make his message understood”(Westcott, John, p. xv).

(14.) “It is admitted on all hands that [John’s] central affirmation, ‘the Word became flesh,’ which underlies all he wrote, is absolutely unique.  A Greek, an Alexandrine, a Jewish doctor, would have equally refused to admit such a statement as a legitimate deduction from his principles, or as reconcilable with them” (Westcott, John, xv).

(15.) “Philo and St John, in short, found the same term current, and used it according to their respective apprehensions of the truth.  Philo, following the track of Greek philosophy, saw in the Logos the divine Intelligence in relation to the universe:  the Evangelist, trusting firmly in the ethical basis of Judaism, sets forth the Logos mainly as the revealer of God to man, through creation, through theophanies, through prophets, through the Incarnation. . . In short the teaching of St John is characteristically Hebraic and not Alexandrine” (Westcott, John, pp. xvi-xvii).

 (16.) “We must not overlook the fact that the Gospel of John begins with the same words as the first book of the Old Testament.  If we, like the first Christians of the Diaspora, were accustomed to reading the Old Testament in Greek, this would immediately catch our attention” (Cullmann, p. 250).

(17.) “[T]he Gospel of John did not derive from the widely spread Logos idea a doctrine of general, not exclusively Christian, revelation . . . on the contrary it completely subordinated the extra- and pre-Christian Logos to the one revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, and in this way, completely re-formed it”  (Cullmann, 254).

(18.) “If the author takes over many statements about the Logos from Hellenism as well as from the Old Testament, he does not mean to say thereby that the Greeks, for instance, because they spoke of the Logos, already possessed true knowledge.   That would be a modern way of thinking.  This is what the evangelist is saying:  The Greeks spoke of the Logos without knowing him” (Cullmann, 264).

(19.) “The word logos was a current term in Greek philosophy to denote the rational principle in man and, on a cosmic scale, the universal principle which imposed order on the raw material of which the world was made. . . But the background of John’s terminology is properly to be sought in the Old Testament, where the “word” of Yahweh is his will in action”  (Bruce, Message, p. 103).

(20.) “False philosophy was dealing out to the world all kinds of error in regard to God and the modes of the Divine existence.  What darkened reason was thus struggling after when ‘the world by wisdom knew not God,’ John was commissioned to set forth, as God’s own revelation of Himself.  The Evangelist borrowed none of his doctrines from those systems.  But he takes, in this case, a term that had become so universally familiar in the chief philosophies of the world before Christ’s coming, and this Logos that they had spoken of so blindly and ignorantly, he declares unto them” (Jacobus, Notes on the Gospels, p. 21).

In short, the Gospel of John emphasizes Jewish history and piety over philosophy.   It focuses on the story of God’s redemptive works in the world, concerning which we find ourselves somewhere in the middle, somewhere short of the end, when all will be made clear, not to unaided human reason and its metaphysical speculations, but to those regenerate persons whom God has chosen for sight, for hearing, and for belief.  John’s gospel does not assume that Biblical knowing and classical knowing are either the same or interchangeable.  That’s another way of saying that the medieval scholastic wrestling grounds and their Aristotelian rules are not the practice field upon which one discovers the mind of Christ or learns to reproduce it.  Bibliocentric thinking is learned and mastered elsewhere and in other ways.

Excursus II:  John the Baptist
I take it to be a widely accepted belief among Christians, including those who advocate natural theology in the Aristotelian vein, that from even before birth (Luke 1: 41), John the Baptist understood God in Christ (and therefore God Himself) better than did Aristotle.  If so, then the point to remember is that John the Baptist did not know Him.  We have John’s own word on it, twice.  The sinful human darkness into which we all are plunged is so deep and so all-engrossing that even John the Baptist himself did not know God when confronted by Him face-to-face (John 1: 31, 33).
We understate the case merely to say that John the Baptist was not the light (John 1: 8, 21).  It’s worse than that:  Even with his impressive devotion to God, even with his prophetic insight, even with his undaunted holy boldness, and even with his compelling articulation of the message of repentance -- all of which combined to make him famous -- John the Baptist himself did not know the Light (John 1: 31, 33) until it had been divinely pointed out to Him by a miraculous, historical revelation, whereby he actually saw with his own eyes the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ like a dove and (presumably) heard with his own ears the heavenly voice uttering its Divine attestation.  John himself twice admits (John 1: 31, 33) that, before witnessing that divine attestation, he did not know Him, and did not recognize the only One who has seen the Father and made Him known.  But because of that divine sign, that descending Dove and attesting Voice, which replaced John’s ignorance with knowledge, John finally knew and John finally testified (John 1: 34).  Without that miraculous sign, John the Baptist was no better off than the Pharisees, who did not know, and did not recognize, God Himself when He stood directly before them (John 1: 26).  They did not know Him Who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14: 6).  They were human creatures, and, on their own, they could not know Him.  Indeed, even with God Himself plainly and directly before their eyes, they did not know Him.  Apart from His saving grace, no one can and no one does.  In their depraved and debilitating solidarity, they were stuck on the wrong side of the canyon of impossibility.  They could not know God by their own devices (John 1: 18).  If, despite all their great revelational advantages, both John the Baptist and the Pharisees were blind and could not know God, how then, one wonders, without all those advantages, but with all their debilitations, could Aristotle, the pagan? 
Though he was not the light, John the Baptist was a witness to it.  But he was a witness to it only as a result of Divine intervention, only as a result of miracle.  Even then, his knowledge of God in Christ and his witness to it were partial and vacillating.  Even at the very end of his life, John still needed to ask Jesus if He were the One, or if he, John, ought to continue looking for someone else (Matt. 11: 2-6).  Jesus replied by saying that He was performing the miracles predicted by Isaiah.   Even at the end of his life, John the Baptist was hesitant and unsure.  Please notice that in order to move from his natural condition of ignorance to his position as witness to Christ, John the Baptist required the miraculous action of God.  He required even more miraculous action in order to keep that witness strong and well directed.  Without miracle(s) John did not know Him, and without miracle(s) John could not maintain his witness to Him.  Knowing God, and staying in that privileged position, required multiple divine actions, even for John the Baptist.  John had to witness the Holy Spirit descending in visible form upon the Son before he knew the very God Who confronted him there, and even after that John had to hear about all the miracles Jesus was performing in fulfillment of Divine prophecy.  Short of those miracles, even John the Baptist did not know, could not know, and could not maintain, what we all need to know, namely God, Who is revealed only in Christ (Matt. 11: 27).
Please remember for whom this impossibility loomed so large.  Please remember what sort of person was stranded on the island of humanly impenetrable ignorance of the Divine.  It was not simply some typological everyman; it was the best and highest of us all:  not just a prophet, but one whom Jesus said was “more than a prophet” (Matt. 11: 9).  We have it on the Highest Authority that John the Baptist was simply the greatest of us all (Matt. 11: 11).  Yet, even the greatest among us is less than the lowest member of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 11: 11).  The momentous God-caused shift from John the Baptist’s (and our) natural condition to knowledge of God indicates that only by means of God’s doing, not ours, do we desperate sinners get placed above even the highest and best of human creatures.  Only then do we get to know God.
If the greatest among us required such remarkable Divine doings both in the beginning and in the sustaining of his knowing God, then how much more does Aristotle need it, and how much greater is Aristotle’s darkness because he had neither of John the Baptist’s advantages?  Yet, despite that Aristotelian darkness, so many Christians turn to him for theological methods, rubric, support, insight, and apologetics.  Jesus was no theological Aristotelian.  Neither was Paul.  Nor should you be.    
From the highest to the lowest, each one of us finds himself or herself in the position of Jacob and his ignorance:  “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (Gen. 28: 16).  For this ignorance, Aristotle’s machinations are no cure; they are one more form of its many symptoms.

Excursus III:  “Heard,” “Seen,” “Handled” (I John 1: 1-3)
         In the opening verses of his first epistle, the apostle John further distances himself from the Stoic logos by asserting that his message is based upon what he himself, and others, have heard with their own ears, seen with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands  (vv. 1-3) -- things no Stoic would say about their logos and which Aristotle would not say about his uncaused cause, his unmoved mover, or his self-thought thought.
         The apostles' tangible and visible encounter with the divine was something to which they had given witness from the beginning:  “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,” they testified to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4: 20).  It was a way of thinking and learning they gathered from Jesus Himself when, frightened by his post-resurrection appearance to them He said:  “Handle me and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24: 39).  Handling the flesh-and-bones body of the Logos is hardly a Stoic notion, hardly an idea related to Greek natural theology, and is indeed thoroughly inimical to it.  Similarly, while Aristotle saw what he deemed were physical evidences, or consequences, of the uncaused caused and the unmoved mover, he would have ardently objected to any idea that that cause and that mover could themselves be physically and tangibly encountered, just their effects.  That the Stoic logos might become flesh, or that the uncaused caused and the unmoved mover could do so, was utterly unthinkable to those whose notions they were -- though not to some of today’s Christians, who have kidnapped those pagan ideas and made them serve a purpose for which they are ill-suited and were never intended.
         The tangible, audible, and visible manifestations to which the apostles had access were the sorts of epistemological advantages that Aristotle so highly valued.  He valued the human powers of perception and the deductions made logically from them.  With the world his uncaused cause or unmoved mover allegedly produced, Aristotle had plenty of direct contact.  Of that cause and mover behind the world, he had none, nor could have.  That notion he deemed impossible.  But precisely what was impossible in his system -- direct sensory contact with the divine (and not just with the world Aristotle’s "divine" allegedly made) -- that is what John here and elsewhere so boldly asserts:  Aristotelian and Stoic impossibilities are historical realities.  Christianity begins precisely where philosophical possibilities end.  No bridge can span the gap between a logically impossible human incarnation (Aristotelian and Stoic), on the one hand, and a demonstrably human and historical manifestation (Christian), on the other.  No synthesis between true and false, real and unreal, yes and no, is here possible.  You must pick one or the other.  The impossible is not possible; the true is not false; no is not yes.  They cannot both be made to serve the same affirmation without doing violence either to one concept , or the other, or both.  Nevertheless, what Aristotle himself (and the Stoics themselves) considered impossible has been simply overlooked or overruled by their later Christian adherents, who have removed those limits and ignored those implications whenever it suited them.  They want Aristotle, but they do not want Aristotle.
         According to A. E. Brooke, John’s announcement in these verses “is no new discovery.  The revelation began with creation.  It was continued in the history of the nations and the People, in the work of the Prophets, Psalmists, Legislators.  It culminated in the earthly life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth” (Brooke, p. 1), assertions that Aristotle himself, the very one who knew his own system best, considered impossible.  But what was impossible to Aristotle is affirmed by his later Christian devotees.  That affirmation undermines the integrity both of Aristotle’s teachings and the Bible’s.  Aristotle says that direct, sense-based, contact with the divine is impossible.  The Bible says we’ve had it for centuries.