In this final third of the twentieth century, man faces chaos in knowledge. Acquisition of information has accelerated at such a rate over the past two decades that man has not yet caught up with and assimilated all he has discovered. Even computers have not enabled him to break the log-jam. Perhaps he will eventually “catch up with himself,” but even if he does, he will still be unable to integrate his thinking unless his whole outlook changes radically.

Modern man’s real trouble is that his thought lacks an over-arching unifying principle. His scientific studies point to a coherent universe governed by laws and principles that apply not only to this planet but also to the moon, Mars, Venus, and the farthest galaxies. Nevertheless he generally views this universe, indeed all reality, as the product of completely random forces. He therefore has no philosophy that gives both an adequate, or even possible, explanation of the universe and a means of unifying knowledge. Neither chance nor mystery provides a principle of integration.

Early in the sixteenth century man was on the way to reaching much the same position, and for the same reasons. Technical knowledge was increasing rapidly, and philosophical skepticism, the result of medieval attempts to synthesize a “sacramentalized” Christianity with pagan Greek thought, tended to destroy the idea of a unified structure of thought. At that point the Reformation exercised a powerful restraint upon the centrifugal tendency. Both Luther and Melancthon had an important influence, but Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, with its stress on the sovereignty of God and the redeeming kingship of Christ, probably did even more to stem the upsurge of irrationalism in European thought.

Today, more than four centuries later, man has come full circle, and Christians again must assert their belief that only in Christ can men find unity of knowledge.

When they do this, they simply echo Christ’s own words. More than once he insisted that he is the Truth, which in the deepest sense means that the true meaning of anything is vitally related to him. When the Apostle Paul declared that all the riches of wisdom and learning are bound up with Christ, he meant that man sees the universe—including himself and his fellow men—truly and in a unified manner only when he sees it in Christ’s light. This was also the view of the New Testament Church, and it was forcefully expressed by Augustine of Hippo, particularly in his City of God.

Most evangelicals today agree that in Christ alone one may find a true understanding of the universe and therefore true unity of knowledge, and that in Christ alone scientific pursuits and accomplishments are possible. Yet often they fail to show how Christ is the key to full human understanding. One reason may be the fear that acknowledging Christ’s lordship will endanger their independence or “freedom.” As one Christian professor put it, “we cannot so exalt God that man becomes a cipher; man has to have some freedom.”

Article continues below

Other Christians, though they accept Christ’s absolute lordship over all spheres of human endeavor, simply have not bothered to think deeply about the unity of truth in Christ. As a result, the concept remains vague for them, and they cannot explain it to anyone else. It is important, then, to consider some of the principal aspects of Christ’s unifying function.

A proper perspective on this subject must stem from Christianity’s basic monotheism and its two corollaries. The first corollary is that there is one God, and he is absolutely sovereign (Isa. 45:5 ff.; Deut. 4:35, 39; Eph. 1:11). This doctrine runs through the whole of biblical teaching. Behind all that is or happens is the coherence and unity of the one personal God. Although man cannot grasp the complexity or completeness of this unity, still the unity exists. Thus for Christianity the unity of all things derives not from a “general principle” of philosophy, mathematics, or some other discipline but from the eternal uniqueness of the sovereign God.

The second corollary is that within the godhead are three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Of these three, the Son, the “Word,” is specifically the revealer of God. There is no other means by which man can know the one God (Matt. 11:27; Col. 1:15) and the unity in that sovereign God of all things, including knowledge. The Christian believes Christ has expressed this unity both in the very nature of reality and by direct statement to man.

Christ has brought all things into existence out of nothing (John 1:3; Col. 1:16, 17). He has created both the “object” and the “subject” of knowledge, both the knower and the known. In his creative wisdom and power he has formed all the structures of the universe along with their complex interrelations, and thus has manifested the divine glory and wisdom spoken of in Psalm 19. This revelation by creation provides the unity man requires in his artistic and scientific pursuits; without it he would have no assurance that any one fact, including himself, was related to any other fact. The sovereign divine plan and purpose behind creation integrates the whole of temporal reality. Whether man studies the distant stars, the sub-atomic structure of matter, or the actions of man or beast, a basic oneness underlies all phenomena because they are all the product of divine wisdom, purpose, and action.

Article continues below

Creation, however, has not ended the divine self-revelation, for the Son is also the sustainer and upholder of all things. As Calvin pointed out, God sustains and governs all things by the secret operation of his Spirit (Institutes I,6,1; cf. also his comments on Ps. 19:1; Isa. 40:22; Acts 17:18). All things—from the smallest particle of energy to the mightiest heavenly galaxy—continue to exist and act according to the laws of their particular structures because God so wills, sustains, and governs them (Ps. 104; 107; Matt. 6:26–34; Col. 1:17). Everything depends on him. There is a basic unity to the universe, for it reveals the one God who not only originally created all things but also keeps them in existence and motion, from moment to moment.

This brings us to an important question, one on which Christians disagree. Some, seeking to protect man’s “freedom,” say that man has the unique ability to break that divine unity in the universe. At least in the intellectual sphere, they say, man must be truly independent of God in order to be truly man. But Scripture does not support this idea, for it constantly asserts God’s sovereignty over all human actions (Isa. 45; Rom. 9 and 10; Eph. 1:11). True, it never attempts to explain the relation between God’s sovereign rule and man’s responsibility; it simply insists that God is sovereign and man is responsible (cf. Acts 2:23). These two teachings the Christian must accept on faith.

The real trouble with man is that he has lost this biblical view of God’s sovereignty and so of the unity of all creation. Originally he recognized God as his lord and thus realized the unity of all knowledge in him, though he did not understand the actual relation of the various parts. The essence of man’s fall was his denial that God was sovereign, and particularly that all knowledge centered in God. Man came to believe he could obtain valid knowledge and give a correct interpretation of the universe without reference to God. Scripture describes what happened: “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,” the tempter promised (Gen. 3:5), and “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). When man turned his back upon God, he lost all capacity to obtain any unity of knowledge and came to view reality as the product of disparate forces, whether of demons, of impersonal nature, or of chance. He still seeks a logical and coherent explanation for the chaos. To find the answer, however, he invariably frames some immanent, man-made “law” or “principle” of intellectual unity that ultimately disintegrates before the facts of the universe.

Article continues below

This human search for unity in itself seems to indicate that an ultimate unity does exist. If the universe were merely the product of an absolute chance, it would be hard to understand why man seeks unity of knowledge. To the Christian, even unbelieving man’s desire for ultimate coherence is the work of the Son, who restrains man’s sinful tendency to irrationalism. Man, despite his denials, still has a God-given sense of the unity of all things and is therefore able to gain some insight into created reality, through the concepts of law, of gravity, and of relativity, to name a few.

But when man does acquire such knowledge, he always misuses it for selfish ends. He cannot see any relation between his scientific knowledge and his ethical action, for to see this he needs more than a general impression of the unity of the physical universe; he must have a special divine revelation to give him a true understanding of the unity of all things in Christ.

Therefore God did not leave man with only an indirect knowledge of himself. Not only does he speak indirectly (Acts 17:24ff.) through creation and providence; he also speaks directly through his inspired prophets. In the Scriptures the Son constantly reveals to Israel and to all men that God remains lord despite their disobedience, that they can be delivered from sin only by returning to him in repentance and faith (Ps. 19; Isa. 45:20 ff.), and that, returning, they can find true understanding—that is, true unity of knowledge. This became crystal clear when the Son of God, the Word himself coming to man as Redeemer, enabled man once again to know the sovereign God as his Lord, and therefore as the focal point of all his knowledge of reality. For in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Those who know the Son know God, the source of all there is to know.

This means that Christ becomes to the Christian the integrating principle of all knowledge because he created, sustains, and redeems both the knower and the object of his knowledge (Rom. 8:23 ff.). The redeemed man now sees light in Christ’s light. True, he does not claim to know how all things are related to one another and to the divine central point. But he does believe that all knowledge is so bound together that it is part of one great system, founded, not upon some abstract logical or mathematical principle, but upon the person of the living, risen Lord, who by his Spirit leads his people into all truth.

Article continues below

Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.