In their song, Carry on My Wayward Son, Kansas sings the line, “And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know.”
If this idea is not merely a personal confession of the singer (and I take it not to be), then it expresses a postmodern skepticism and is anti-objective. Now, it is true, if a fool claims to be wise, he doesn’t express what he knows, but what he hates (more on that below). But Kansas isn’t talking about a fool’s false claim; they are singing about any claim to a man knowing if he be wise (as I take the sense of it).
Against this, I say a wise man knows if he is one. Now, this does not mean he never betrays wisdom; it means he knows the end of a thing from its beginning. He is a metaphysicist (the non-mystical kind), and he knows it–even if that’s not his word for it.
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride” -Ecclesiastics 7:8.
The Christological meaning of a thing is the the end of it. The end here is the telos or goal–that which informs upon its beginning. The reason for a thing is its end, and its reason is the objective end for which the thing exists. That means it is an object, and not its own subject. Things with beginnings are objects serving a subject (the Uncreated Subject for which they exist).
The Subject of all things is better than the sum of all things which accumulate under. For this reason, we are right to say that the end of a matter is better than its beginning. Jesus is the end (the telos) of all things, and all thing are summed up in him (Eph 1:10-11). At the inception and creation of any object, the end of it is in mind (Jesus is its explanation for being created).
If a man is wise, and he knows it, this does not make him wise in his own eyes. It makes him able to ponder the end of Christ in any particular thing–even if he never exhausts the matter. This is true because even if a wise man does not ponder Christ exhaustively, that does not mean he has pondered him unwisely or falsely.
It is true that there are two ways a man may conclude he is wise: one falsely, the other validly. There is the false self-assessment from a man who sees all things by his own affections (wise in his own eyes), and then the truly Christological man who sees the world rightly by a love for Christ. The saint is the man who looks upon creation through the Cross and her Crucified King. That is, a sincerely wise man’s sight is a royal grant, and is not merely the self-assessment of vain glory, but a renovation of his affections that explains how he desires to process all that he lays his eyes upon.
The fool has the same ability as the wise man, but he refuses the logical conclusions. This is not from eyes that are inoperative, or cognition that is incapable, but from a heart that is stubborn: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart”, (Prov 22:15).
I have replied to Kansas specifically, and now if I may reply to Van Tillian theologians generally: The difference between a wise man and a foolish one is not epistemological. Their ability to think is the same. The difference is not empirical either. Their ability to see is the same. The difference lies elsewhere, down in the heart and affections (cf. Prov 22:15). This has been shown more authoritatively than what I have shown here (Rom 1:18), and it too is wisdom. Kansas and Van Tillian theologians stumble into similar ditches.
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. -1 Cor 3:18