Blaise Pascal and Apologetics

Blaise Pascal presented a challenge against a rational defense of the faith based on 1 Corinthians 1-2. He argued that the gospel should be and will be deemed foolish to unbelievers and any attempts to make it reasonable are misguided. In view of Pascal’s challenge, a examination of Paul teaching to the Corinthians is needed.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church explaining that when he visited them, he did not use secular rhetorical techniques or think in secular ways or impart secular wisdom (1 Cor 1-2), but rather he imparted words “taught by the spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13 ESV). He explains that Christians have the mind of Christ, and so they can understand spiritual and theological themes; whereas, the secular person is left to their own natural cognitive devices, and so can not understand the things of God. Paul refutes the “godless intellectualism”[1] that was being promoted in Corinth. The people of Corinth were overly fixated on human wisdom and the wisdom of the world, and they became culturally arrogant and addicted to power, wealth, style and sophistication. Thus, when Paul preached to them the message of Christ crucified, some considered it folly because the truth of the cross can not be grasped by the best of human thinking or rhetorical strength, but it is received as a gift  by faith and trust.[2] Paul did not compromise the gospel message by changing it to the whims and tastes of the secular Corinthians because that would be to follow the expectations of fallen and sinful humanity.[3]

In view of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, Christians should not attempt a rational defence of the faith by primarily following the tenets of secular thought processing. Christians should not rely on their own human epistemological ecumen. Christians run the risk of presenting a “different gospel” than that which they “received” (Gal 1:6-9) if they set out to give an apologetic in their own strength and according to the wisdom of the world. Martin Luther said many provocative statements during his lifetime, but one that particularly stands out is his comment when referring to the magisterial use of reason as “Aristotle’s whore.”[4] He railed against the magisterial use of reason because it presides over the gospel like a magistrate judging on whether its claims are true or false. Luther endorsed the ministerial use of reason which submits to and serves the gospel and is guided by the Holy Spirit.[5]

This is the crux of Paul’s argument—the wisdom of God must be pursued by the Spirit of God. Thus, he endorses a Christ-centered and Holy Spirit led apologetic. Christians must defend the faith with a Christlike heart posture that “labors to communicate the truth in love and with wisdom”… “so that others may hear it, believe it, and live it.”[6] As the Holy Spirit moves Christians in their Christ-centered apologetic, unbelievers will be drawn to the knowledge of God and their sinful resistance and faulty arguments will be removed.[7]  


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians. NIVAC (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 56. [2] John Polhill, “The Wisdom of God and Factionalism: 1 Corinthians 1-4,” RevExp 80 (1983): 330 cited in Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 57. [3] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 1 Corinthians (Wilmington, NC: Glazier, 1979), 14 cited in Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 56. [4] William Lane Craig, “The Classical Method” in Five Views on Apologetics. ed. Steven B. Cowan (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000), 36. [5] ibid., 36-37. [6] Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics : A Comprehensive Case for Biblical (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 29. [7] Craig, “The Classical,” 54.