UNDERSTANDING THE CHRIST-CENTERED METAPHYSICS OF COLOSSIANS
What is real? Nothing? Perceptions? Material things? The eternal? The question of ultimate reality is generally referred to as the question of metaphysics. This is often discussed as the problem of the one and the many. While discussions in metaphysics often debate whether reality is about the one or the many, the universal or the particular, Christian theists argue that unity and diversity can exist together.1 K. Scott Oliphint, in his helpful little booklet, says that the answer to the question about the nature of ultimate reality is, “the Triune God.”2 This response can also be discerned in Colossians.
What Paul Says
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul acknowledged the reality of God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth (Col. 1:2, 3). He described God as the God of knowledge (Col. 1:10); the invisible God (Col. 1:15); the One who reveals (Col. 1:27); the One seated as Lord (Col. 3:1); the God in control of providence (Col. 4:3); and the God who is head of His kingdom (Col. 4:11).
Paul also acknowledged the reality of Christ as the Son of God the Father (Col. 1:3). Christ is the object of faith (Col. 1:4); the Ruler of God’s kingdom (Col. 1:13); the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15); the Creator (Col. 1:16); the One in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), etc. In Paul’s own words—“Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).
While not in focus in the letter to the Colossians, the Holy Spirit is also included: the Colossians had “love in the Spirit” (Col. 1:8). Undoubtedly, the energy that powerfully worked in Paul (Col. 1:29) was through the Holy Spirit.
Stating that the nature of ultimate reality is the triune God does not deny the reality of evil in the world. Paul himself describes sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, and idolatry (Col. 3:5). Deception and darkness are very real (Col. 1:13). There is a deceptive human tradition; similarly there are deceptive spirits in this world (Col. 2:9). It is possible for people to be deceived, being puffed up with selfish knowledge apart from Christ (Col. 2:16–23). Evil and sin are not only categories but personal responses to God.
However, redemption and restoration to God are also very real to Paul (Col. 1:21–22). People who were spiritually dead can and have been raised to spiritual life (Col. 2:13; 3:1). God the Father has delivered the saints from the domain of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of His Son (Col. 1:13), qualifying them to share in the inheritance with the saints (Col. 1:12).
What Paul is Responding To
Even in the area of metaphysics, Paul is responding to any and all attempts at syncretism. Because of the creation of the world by Christ and for Christ, there is no place for vain imaginations that distorts one’s understanding of reality.3
Further, Paul clearly points out that this world is not all there is. God is real and alive. He is not remote and detached. He is involved in creation, He reveals Himself, He calls people to repentance and faith, He continues to offer salvation through Christ to sinners. “In light of this view of matter it is interesting that Paul regards Jesus not only as God’s instrument in creation, but as having preceded the physical universe: ‘he is before all things’” (Col. 1:17).4 In reply to the Colossians’ attempts to teach Christ as a rationalized emanation of God, the apostle argues that Christ is all and in all.5
The Implication for Christian Philosophy
What implications does this have for a Christocentric philosophy? Christians must maintain that the ultimate reality is the supernatural, divine, triune God who is immaterial, sovereign, immanent, and transcendent. Reality not only includes the supernatural but stems from the supernatural divine person of Jesus Christ—“all things were created by him, and for him” (Col. 1:16). Therefore, people can only have a sense of the real when they know Christ, and God through Christ. This was already Paul’s appeal in Athens (Acts 17:24–29).
But a Christocentric understanding of reality also changes the way people see and understand all things. It reminds us that even things that contemporary society says are illusory are real; and that things society says are real are truly ephemeral (2 Cor. 4:18).6 The invisible God is real, as is Christ as the image of God (Col. 1:15). Both the visible and invisible aspects of creation are real (Col. 1:16). Both faith and hope are also settled and grounded (Col. 1:23).
It is only when we hold to a Christocentric model of reality that we fully understand what Paul meant when he wrote that Christ came, “to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20).
Norman Geisler, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 176. ↩
2. Oliphint, Role of Philosophy, 14. ↩
3. E.M. Yamauchi, “Gnosticism,” in Evans and Porter, Dictionary of New Testament, 414. ↩
4. T. Paige, “Philosophy,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press,1993), 716. ↩
5. Holmes, Christianity and Philosophy, 27. ↩
6. Clark, Colossians, 40. ↩
This article was originally published in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, September/October 2016. Posted here with permission.