Advice from the Apostle Paul

point of contact

Advice from the Apostle Paul




Advice from the Apostle Paul: How NOT To Be a Damned Fool


David B. Garner

We tend to think that knowing something and doing what’s right or wrong are two different things: two countries with an ocean in between. But what if I told you they aren’t? What if a claim to know anything is simultaneously a step in either a right or wrong direction? What if knowledge and ethics are markers in the same DNA strand? And what if their ultimate carrier is God himself.

       He is. Knowledge and morality are inseparably joined together because both come from God; they live in his character. This means that knowledge is ethical. The claim to know anything is a claim of morality. Cornelius Van Til was adamant about this, as K. Scott Oliphint states in a recent interview with Jonny Gibson. Have a look at this Afterword episode from Westminster Bookstore, showcasing the brilliance of Van Til’s biblical thought in the newly published A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (You can read some of the most incisive quotes from the book HERE.)

       The idea that knowledge is ethical seems strange to us, but it wasn’t strange to the Apostle Paul. In Romans 1:21, he introduces us to, pardon the expression, damned fools. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Do you see the relationship between knowledge and ethics, between thinking rightly and living well? For Paul, resisting God’s revelation distorts my ability to think clearly and seals my condemnation. Anyone who rejects God will literally become a damned fool.

       Why? Because God has made the world a certain way, and he’s made us in a certain way as his image bearers. We do all things in relationship with him. Understanding and wisdom derive from trust in him, not from self-asserted independence. Clear thinking comes from creaturely submission; steady sanity is a product of humble sanctity. The opposite is unavoidable. Reject God, and you won’t know things on your own; you’ll simply succumb to blindness. We fail to think rightly if we don’t believe rightly. Corruption corrupts cognition. (For more on this, see “Have We Lost Our Minds?” at Place for Truth.)

       That sheds some light on us that our broader culture doesn’t want. But as J. Gresham Machen said in Christianity and Liberalism, “Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.” Our world needs the light, and the light is the Word of God (John 1:1–4).

       If knowledge and ethics are bound together in the same divine DNA strand, we have access to both through the Son, the wisdom and righteousness of God (1 Cor. 1:30). Apart from the person of truth (John 14:6), we’re all fools. Knowing him is ethical, and that means knowing anything else is ethical, too.

       A quick scan of social media or news outlets shows our culture’s blindness has reached its maturity. We are lost. And being found isn’t a matter of self-expression; it’s a matter of self-submission. In that submission is knowledge both true and right.


Yours in the Faith,

David B. Garner

Chief Academic Officer

Vice President of Global Ministries

Charles Krahe Professor of Systematic Theology

Westminster Theological Seminary