Saturday, May 26, 2007

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Prov. 9:10

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice it have a good understanding. Ps. 111:10

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Prov 1:7

I read an interview with Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, that reminded me of some things I had been meaning to post about for some time. Here is a relevant excerpt:

What signs of potential doctrinal drift and danger do you need to keep an eye out for in ministerial students?
I am increasingly convinced that pride is the root of problems among students. I was convicted recently by a minister friend quoting to me 1 Tim. 1:5-7 (ESV):
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
My friend made two observations about this passage. First, the drift into dubious theological discussion is here described as moral in origin: these characters have swerved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; that is why their theology is so dreadful. Second, their desire is not to teach but to be teachers. There is an important difference here: their focus is on their own status, not on the words they proclaim. At most, the latter are merely instrumental to getting them status and boosting their careers.

A while back I was involved in a discussion with some people I knew from Texas A & M concerning the rightness of the Roman Catholic church and the doctrines She holds. My friends were attempting to persuade me of the correctness thereof while I was attempting to dissuade. The article on which everything turned for my now-Roman and/or "Anglo-Catholic", formerly reformed, acquaintances was the relationship of tradition to Scripture.
I noted that the reformed Sola Scriptura argument was circular as is the Roman Catholic argument. The basic Reformational argument was simply that God's Word has precedence simply because it is the God-breathed Word. The Roman argument was more complex and had a greater number of proofs, but was still circular. Circularity does not necessarily imply error (as I believe the basic Reformational argument is accurate and well-founded in its circularity). Both arguments were also consistent, as far as I could prove. So as far as philosophy could take us, I felt as if we were at an impasse.

This may seem like a long rabbit-trail, but the the important thing is that the Reformed argument had at its root the fear of the Lord. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One insight." Now there is a number of ways this scripture can be applied, a number of which rebuke even to those whose faith is orthodox. Several are applicable here, to the question of those who are unorthodox. Here are 3 of them.
  • First of all, despite the prior possession of right doctrine, these acquaintances did not hold onto it because they did not value it. Fear of the Lord creates an internal measuring system that rightly weights truth. Conversely, fools despise wisdom and instruction. They do not think to themselves, "True wisdom is worthless." The problem is that when they are confronted with true wisdom, they think it is foolishness. Our minds have motives, and when those motives are impure, even the truth currency we already hold suffers self-imposed inflation.
  • Secondly, the fear of the Lord is the root of the tree of truth. Do we fear the Lord? Do we hate to offend a holy and good God? Not only is this good wisdom, it is for us the root which sinks deep into the ground of God's natural and Scriptural revelation, giving to us the sap of life and wisdom. Mere longing for knowledge is not sufficient as a root. In fact, Scripture is pessimistic about this kind of beginning, as "knowledge puffs up." However, the knowledge gained humbly and in trembling will be rightly understood and will be transformed to wisdom.
  • Thirdly, true doctrine always has at its heart the fear of the Lord. To clarify, the truth of a statement can be judged by whether the statement in question is directed to the glory of God. Psalm 111:10 not only says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that all who practice it have good understanding, it finishes by saying, "His praise endures forever." Scripture over and over shows that one of the errors of sinful man is not recognizing the foolishness of setting one's mind against God's. God is good, and he has created this world for his own glory, and to not expect that all truths point to God's glory is a foolish presupposition. Certainly the psalmist expects that all truth to be discovered will point to God's glory and never to the glory of man. The rich young ruler asks, "'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'" (Mark 10:18) All the man was asking for was truth, yet Jesus pointed him to his inadequate epistemology by a moral question.


Carol said...

Thanks for posting this Rich, as it talks about something that I have recently been learning about... Our fear of the Lord is rightly founded and should never leave us as believers. Instead it should lead us to worship Him with reverence and rejoice with trembling, and to seek out wisdom so that we might glorify Him better.

rich said...

I'm glad that you've appreciated it. After our confession of sin each Sunday, the Red Mountain liturgy says, "God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble." Fear of the Lord is one of the most central dispositional postures for the believer. And it's a gift from God that we can ask for. God is holy and gracious.