Summary: In this sermon, the so-called "Kantian wall" is acknowledged as a support rather than a threat to Christianity. There is no human way to know God except through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has a very special role to play.
Among the great events of the 18th Century is, of course, the American Revolution. But ask historians and they will tell you that there is still another 18th Century revolution with greater and even more far-reaching impact than the American Revolution. As unlikely as that may seem, those who study such things assure me that it is true. The so-called “Kantian Revolution” begun by an obscure philosophy professor in Germany, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), has changed the world in far more significant ways than our American revolution.
Kant maintained that human beings cannot know God through observation involving any of our five senses, and that moreover, we cannot know God through reasoning. God may be a practical sort of idea, but we can never be really sure that we are not imagining Him. Others before Kant had maintained this position, but no one prior to Kant had explicated this position with such force, such precision, and, such thoroughness.
It is said that Kant built a wall so high, you can’t go over it, so wide you can’t go around it, so deep you can’t go under is, and so thick you can’t go through it. Today this assumption is nearly universally accepted.
It’s hard for us today to understand just how transformative the impact of this philosopher’s work was on the world. Suffice it to say that every major philosophical movement of the 19th and 20th Centuries descended from this one man’s work. Marxism, Communism, Relativism, Nihilism, Nazism, as well as all the more respectable philosophical movements, all were born of this man’s work.
Theologians today, at least those who haven’t simply given up on biblical theology, tell us that the most important task for Christian theologians today is to try to break through this epistemological wall that separates man from God. Many church leaders simply smile at this task as if only someone very naive would even attempt it, or maybe they give a little wink.
What so many have failed to recognize and failed to appreciate is that someone has already broken down this wall. Jesus has provided a door through which we might enter a genuine and personal relationship with God.
A lot of people discount Christianity because they think, as Kant convincingly argued, that there is no human way to know God. They assume that Christianity is but one more myth, a figment of human imagination. But what these critics of Christianity fail to understand is that Christ himself is in full agreement with Kant. There is no “human” way to know God, at least not directly, and the Lord was the first to assert this truth. Kant hasn’t done Christianity a disservice. Let me connect the dots so as to explain this seeming contradiction.
Let’s take a look at what Jesus has to say in John Chapter 14. Jesus had been asked by His disciples to show them God. How could this request be honored? If Jesus were merely human, there would be no way for Him to show the disciples something that He Himself, as a human being, could not see. The dilemma is solved when Jesus reveals to His disciples that He Himself is the direct revelation of God’s incarnate essence. He and the Creator are one. Jesus is the way, the only way, to bridge the Kantian Wall. He is the sole and perfect metaphor pointing to and showing us God the Father thus transcending the epistemological limitations of the Kantian Wall. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18, Berean Study Bible).
But… and this is a very important “but”. The words of the Lord in themselves are not enough to result in convincing faith. The Holy Spirit is an essential part of the equation. In 1 Corinthians 12:3 we read, “… no one can say Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.”
And here we are. We have arrived at our topic for today. Today is Pentecost Sunday. On this day each year we remember the events which occurred on Pentecost so many centuries ago. On that day the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit came upon the Christian community. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Christ’s disciples bringing the strength of convincing faith. The Apostle Peter began to preach with great conviction on Pentecost because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that day. That same strength of conviction is still afforded Christians today, for as we read in Romans 8:14-16, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God, for ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”