The Foolishness of Unbelief

by Mike Ratliff

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? (1 Corinthians 1:20 ESV)

I moved my writing ministry to Possessing the Treasure in 2006. Not long after that Ken Silva asked me to come on board the Christian Research Network team. It was during that period that there were some monumental battles with a group of people dedicated to shutting us down. I can remember writing posts about the Ordo Salutis or the Five Solas of the Reformation using sources from Protestant Reformers then having to deal with vicious comments from those people attacking not only my own character, but also the very character and salvation of men such as John Owen, John Calvin, or Martin Luther. These comments were designed to do one thing, to get me and my friends backed into a corner so that we would believe we had to respond to these onslaughts through emotionally based, piece-meal replies. Once they got us to that point then we had left the realm of apologetics and entered into a no-mans land, slugging it out blow for blow with people who had no ethical basis for “playing nice.” It was through many of these ugly events that I came up with the rules for commenting on Possessing the Treasure which must be adhered to by all. I enforce these rules assiduously and since their implementation, those attacks have been few and far between. 

We must learn how to handle critical attacks that are leveled against the Christian faith other than through attempts at piece-meal replies and appeals to emotion. I remember trying that method at first back then and it didn’t even slow those fellows down. No, the only way to respond to the onslaught of the unbeliever (or one who thinks he is a Christian, but is obviously not) is by attacking his or her position at its foundations. We must challenge their presuppositions, asking whether knowledge is even possible, given the non-Christian’s assumptions and perspective. The Christian apologist cannot forever be defensively constructing atomistic answers to the endless variety of unbelieving criticisms; he or she must take the offensive and show the unbeliever that he has no intelligible place to stand, no consistent epistemology, no justification for meaningful discourse, predication, or argumentation. They must see that the pseudo-wisdom of the world, in which all their criticisms are based, is foolishness and those criticisms have zero force.

It does no good to simply address these people as “fools.” Yes, according to how the Word of God describes them, they are clearly fools, but what we must do is demonstrate that God has made the pseudo-wisdom of the world foolish, then we must first clearly understand the Biblical conception of the fool and his foolishness.

Never fall for the concept that a fool is automatically shallow-minded or an illiterate ignoramus. He or she may be very well educated and sophisticated as the world sees them. However, according to God’s Word, he or she is a fool because they have forsaken the source of true wisdom in God in order to rely on their own (allegedly), self-sufficient, intellectual powers. These people are unteachable (Proverbs 10:8) and despise instruction (Proverbs 15:5). The wise man heeds counsel given him, but “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15). The fool has utter self-confidence and imagines himself to be intellectually autonomous or superior. However, according to Proverbs 28:26 we learn that those who trust in their own hearts are fools. Also, in Proverbs 17:10 we see that a fool cannot think of himself as mistaken. He judges matters according to his own pre-established standards of truth and right, and thus his own thoughts always turn out in the long run to be correct. The fool is sure that he can rely on his own rational authority and intellectual scrutiny. “The fool bears himself insolently and is confident” (Proverbs 14:16), therefore, he utters his own mind (Proverbs 29:11).

This applies when dealing with non-Christians in debate or even professing Christians who are obviously apostate or are in some sort of cult. As I went through that list above, I saw very clearly these would apply to someone who seriously mishandles God’s Word in order to twist it to support their own form unbiblical doctrines. We see this more and more as men such as Rob Bell attempts to use out-of-context passages from the Word of God to support his unbiblical view of the Wrath of God and the Doctrine of Hell. We see this with Rick Warren attempting to use the Word of God to try to make the church all about things it was never meant to be, such as meeting everyone’s felt needs, et cetera.

The autonomous man is dull, stubborn, boorish, obstinate, and stupid. He professes himself to be wise, but from the opening of his mouth it is clear that he is “a fool.” According to Proverbs 17:28, his only wisdom would consist in keeping silent. “The heart of fools proclaims foolishness” (Proverbs 12:23), and the fool flaunts his folly (Proverbs 13:16). He eats up folly unrelentingly (Proverbs 15”14), pours it out (Proverbs 15:2), and returns to it like a dog to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11). He is so in love with his folly and so dedicated to it preservation that “It is better for a man to meet a bear robbed of her cubs, than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12). The fool does not really want to find the truth; he only wants to be self-justified in his own imaginations. While he may feign objectivity, “A fool hath no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself” (Proverbs 18:2). He is committed to his own presuppositions and wishes to guard his autonomy. Thus he will not depart from evil (Proverbs 13:19). He shall not endure the judgment of God (Psalm 5:5).

This is a serious heart condition. How does a man get to be such a self-deluded, allegedly autonomous, fool? A fool despises wisdom and instruction, refusing to begin his thinking with reverence toward the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).

I remember back in those early combative days there was one fellow in particular who was most obstinate against the Doctrines of Grace no matter how clearly I presented them to him straight from God’s Word. I questioned his obstinacy and suggested that he was in unbelief. He assured me that he most certainly was not. I assured him that he most assuredly was in unbelief about two vital things, the Lordship of Christ and the Sovereignty of God. I never heard from him again. You see, he was self-sufficient and his theology could not stand the weight of Jesus Christ as absolute Lord and God who is Sovereign. No, his theology had to have him in control.

He was a fool. The fool will not be governed by God’s Word; he is lawless, just as his thinking is lawless (i.e., sinful, 1 John 3:4). Rejecting God’s law or word, the fool respects his own word and law instead (that is, he is auto-nomous). Scripture describes people who do not know God, His ways, and His judgments as foolish (cf. Jeremiah 5:4). The fool lives in practical ignorance of God, for in his heart the fool says there is no God. He lives and reasons in an atheistic manner—as though he were his own lord. Rather than being Spiritually directed, the fool’s vision is earth-bound (Proverbs 17:24). He serves the creature (e.g., the authority of his own mind) rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Those who hear Christ’s words and yet builds their lives on a rejection of that revelation are fools (Matthew 7:26), and those who suppress God’s general revelation in the created realm are also described as fools (Romans 1:18). It is quite clear, then, that a fool is one who does not make God and His revelation the starting point (the presupposition) of his thinking. Fools despise the preaching of the cross, refuse to know God, and cannot receive God’s Word (1 Corinthians 1-2). Those who are self-proclaimed, autonomous people, or unbelievers, will not submit to the word of God or build their lives and thinking upon it. Disbelief and ignorance of God’s will, therefore, produce foolishness (1 Corinthians 15:36; Ephesians 5:17).

How do we answer these fools? We must aim to demonstrate that unbelief is, in the final analysis, destructive of all knowledge. The fool must be shown that his autonomy is hostile to knowledge—that God makes foolish the “wisdom” of the world.

Soli Deo Gloria!

8 thoughts on “The Foolishness of Unbelief

  1. Thank you SO much Mike and family for continuing to stand for the truth through your blog. This accelerated attack we are seeing across nations could have a great movie title … “The attack of the foolish, prideful worldly wisdom”!!
    We know Proverbs 1:7 says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction”.. I wonder if that is why in the NT Jesus says to come as little children – they are so much more teachable, and wanting to learn…

    Matthew 18: 2-4… “The Jesus called a little child to Him, and set him in the midst of them. And said, assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”…

  2. Hi Mike,

    1 Cor 1:19 starts out this section on wisdom by saying God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the cleverness of the clever. It goes on to say in verse 21 that it was God’s wisdom to not allow the world to come to know God through its own wisdom-but that God was pleased for the world to come to know Him through the foolishness of the message preached to those who would believe.

    It then describes through verse 31 how this is all played out and the reason for it: so man may not boast.

    I think those passages are so very clear, aren’t they. How and why would anyone who truly wanted to believe and know the Lord rely on man and not God’s word. It is clearly taught they will not find Him if they do so. Blessings, Mike.

  3. Robert, they were hacked through a Denial of Service of Attack three days ago. The ISP who hosts them is in the process of moving them to a more secure server and we hope to have them up by this evening. I cannot believe that anyone who would do such an attack could be of God, such is the fruit of an unregenerate, evil person in unbelief.

  4. Oh! So that’s what happened to Ken…Have been praying for the sites to be restored!
    Mike, am praying with tears for some very intelligent (in the eyes of the world) loved ones who “have forsaken the source of true wisdom in God”.
    But my trust is in “Him who has made foolish the wisdom of the world”!

  5. Celine, He is the only source, our bedrock! I learned through many disappointments that He is the only one who never lets me down. He may not do what “I want,” but what transpires is always what is best and God is glorified. I know some very close to me who have done that as well and I am praying the same prayer.

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