Sunday, December 25, 2011

What Makes Christianity Different?

     It has been imagined by some that Christianity is no different from any other religion.  All one has to do is to switch the labels around and one comes up with the same result.  Since the world's different religions cannot all be true at the same time then at least some must be false.  And if one is false then all are false, since no one of them has a better claim to validity than the rest.  All religion is nonsense.
     If it were not for one thing: Christianity is radically different from the rest in two essential characteristics: 1) it's analysis of the human condition, and 2) its proposed solution to the problem.
     Christianity has a distinctive theology of sin and redemption.  It begins with an acute analysis of human nature.  It is not just simply that we occasionally make mistakes through human frailty.  Rather, evil is embedded in the human psyche.  Our hearts are filled with lust, envy, greed, malice and pride.  We may look respectable enough outwardly, but inwardly we are incurably self-centered.  We often do the right thing for the wrong reasons.  Our good actions conceal bad motives.  The ultimate source of evil in the world is ourselves.  Human nature is corrupt.  And if it is true that someday we must face a just and holy God then our situation is desperate indeed.
     But Christianity also proposes a startling remedy for the problem.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16; NKJV).  Most other religions base salvation on some form of human effort -- typically self-mastery or ritual observance.  But we are too far gone for that.  What we need is redemption through a Savior.  This God has provided in the Person Who was uniquely qualified to fill the role, the God-man Jesus.  His death on the cross was an atoning sacrifice for sin.
     Biblical scholar Merrill C. Tenney put it like this: "The Christian church was born into a world filled with competing religions which may have differed widely among themselves but all of which possessed a common characteristic -- the struggle to reach a god or gods who remained essentially inaccessible. . .The current ethical standards were superficial, despite the ideals and insights possessed by some philosophers, and when they discoursed on evil and on virtue, they had neither the remedy for the one nor the dynamic to produce the other. . ."
     "Paganism is a parody and a perversion of God's original revelation to man.  It retains many basic elements of truth but twists them into practical falsehood.  Divine sovereignty becomes fatalism; grace becomes indulgence; righteousness becomes conformity to arbitrary rules; worship becomes empty ritual; prayer becomes selfish begging; the supernatural degenerates into superstition" (New Testament Times, Eerdmans, 1965, pp. 107-108).
      But how can we know that the claims of Christianity are true?  On the first point, the human condition, it is a matter of simple observation: all we need to do is to look at ourselves honestly in the mirror.  On the second point, the proposed solution, we are dependent on revelation.  We can infer from nature that God exists; we cannot infer that He is forgiving, much less that He would sacrifice His own Son to secure that forgiveness.  Jesus said that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. How do we know that His claims are true?  He rose from the dead.
     On this special day Christianity offers the world something it desperately needs but cannot find elsewhere: salvation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How Science Committed Suicide

    In his book Why Evolution Is True, Professor Jerry A. Coyne begins by discussing a court case that involved the teaching of evolution in a public school. The school board of the Dover (PA) Area School District had adopted a simple statement to be read by high school biology teachers to their classes which said, in effect, that evolution is a theory and that Intelligent Design is an alternative explanation as to how life began. Some parents protested, and the matter eventually went to a federal court. The judge ruled that Intelligent Design was a religious belief and therefore could not be presented in a public school classroom.

    Professor Coyne's comment on the case is that the decision was "a splendid victory for American schoolchildren, for evolution, and, indeed, for science itself" (p. xiii). He then goes on to say that the battle for evolution "is a part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers society."

    But was the court's decision really a triumph for rationality? Frankly, it is hard to see how squelching debate and withholding information from students furthers the spirit of free inquiry. But beyond that, it can be shown that, ironically, the theory of evolution itself leads ultimately to irrationalism.

    To understand why, one must go back to the situation that existed before 1859, when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. It was widely believed then that the world was created by God and that therefore it had a rational structure and order. This viewpoint was ably stated by an English theologian and philosopher named William Paley, who argued that the marvelous adaptation of living things to their environment was evidence that they were designed by an Intelligent Being. Nature obviously has a Designer.

    According to Prof. Coyne, it was Darwin's great achievement to demolish Paley's argument by showing that the appearance of design in nature was really the result of natural selection. ". . .the concept of natural theology, accepted by most educated Westerners before 1859, was vanquished within only a few years by a single five-hundred page book. On the Origin of Species turned the mysteries of life's diversity from mythology into genuine science" (p. 3).

    To understand the impact that Darwinism has had on Western culture it must be noted that not only had Darwin gotten rid of the Designer, he had gotten rid of the design itself. But then what kind of world do we live in? Prof. Coyne tells us: "The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism. Darwinism tells us that, like all species, human beings arose from the working of blind, purposeless forces over eons of time" (p. 224).

    But if that is the literal truth of who we are and how we got here, doesn't that mean that our lives are essentially meaningless and purposeless? Prof. Coyne does not exactly deny this, but does make what is apparently intended to be a helpful suggestion: "And although evolution operates in a purposeless, materialistic way, that doesn't mean that our lives have no purpose. Whether through religious or secular thought, we make our own purposes, meaning, and morality" (p. 231).

    This last statement is worth weighing carefully, for it gives us the key to understanding the dramatic changes that have taken place in Western culture over the past century and a half. In Prof. Coyne's view, purpose, meaning, and morality have no basis in objective reality. Rather, they are artificial and man-made. To put it crudely, we make them up as we go along. And therein lies the whole problem. For if they are essentially artificial and man-made, then they carry no real weight or authority, and frankly, people are free to ignore them as they please. To a militant secularist like Prof. Coyne this may seem tremendously liberating. But it means that there are no absolute standards of right or wrong, and consequently no such thing as justice or human rights. All we are left with, in effect, is the law of the jungle, a world full of organisms competing for scarce resources, governed by the blind forces of nature, and locked in a struggle for survival.

    But what then becomes of science? If there is no such thing as Intelligent Design, if the only intelligence is human intelligence, then rationality exists only in the human mind. When the scientist seeks to interpret the facts and make generalizations, he is imposing structure and meaning on a reality that does not possess these qualities in itself. Even the very concept of a "species" becomes suspect in a world where everything is changing and in a state of transition. How then can any generalization, any theory, be valid? Prof. Coyne (and his master Charles Darwin) have left the door open for Post-Modernism's radical critique of science.

    Nor is this scenario the idle speculation of a desperate creationist. This has been the actual course of Western philosophy since the time of Darwin. Virtually the whole story of philosophy since that time has been the attempt to do exactly as Prof. Coyne has suggested: make our own purpose, meaning, and morality. Post-Modernism has simply taken his suggestion to its logical conclusion: all truth and rationality are artificial. The theory of evolution itself is just one more "metanarrative," and deserves no more respect than any other.

    In the final analysis there is no objective rationality apart from God. Science can function only because it works in a structured cosmos created by an Intelligent Being, and because scientists themselves were created in God's image and therefore have the ability to think and reason. To reject God is to commit intellectual suicide. Ironically, Darwin the scientist destroyed the basis for science.

    Christianity was the basis of a civilization. It held that there is a rational order to the cosmos, put there by an intelligent Supreme Being. Morality originates in the mind of God and is binding on all human beings. Justice and human rights are real qualities and are worth pursuing and protecting. Christianity motivated a multitude of social reformers to devote their lives to the pursuit of an ideal; making the world a better place in which to live. It inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature in human history – the music of Bach and Handel, the paintings of Rembrandt, the poetry of Milton. And what does atheism have to offer? A meaningless existence followed by the cold grave.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Faith and Reason: the Basis for Knowledge

In our last blog post we discussed the limitations of science and the empirical method. That raises the question, then, of how we can know reality. If science cannot give us all the answers we need, what can? We would suggest a simple, common sense solution to the problem. Our knowledge of God and the world is based upon the agreement of several independent lines of testimony.

    The first line of testimony is nature itself. It is our contention that we are surrounded on every hand by the evidence of Intelligent Design. The intricate complexity of nature, far exceeding anything that human engineering can produce, points to an intelligent Being behind it. Every mathematical equation, every Beethoven symphony bears testimony to a rational order in the cosmos. It somehow all fits together in a beautiful harmony and symmetry. Science itself is based on the premise that some kind of order exists in nature.

    The question is, where does this order come from? At this point our atheist friends will be quick to answer, from evolution. The gist of Darwin's theory is that natural selection can account for the appearance of design in nature. But this leads to a startling conclusion: there is no rational order in nature. Moreover, there are no fixed categories in nature: everything is in a constant state of flux. On this premise it is hard to see how one can speak of a "law" of nature. A "law" implies a fixed order to things. But in an evolutionary scenario, there is no fixed order. Two thousand years of Western thought have seemingly been overturned.

    Space prevents us from a detailed rebuttal here of evolution – readers are invited to see our previous blog post "Why Evolution Is False" (Oct. 5, 2011), a review of Prof. Jerry A. Coyne's book Why Evolution Is True. Suffice it to say here that there are several things about the evolutionary hypothesis that strike us as highly improbable. It would require us to believe that life evolved from non-life, that order evolved from chaos, and that intelligence evolved from non-intelligence. Somehow the normal laws of heredity and genetics are routinely overcome by a constant succession of successful gene mutations. In order for the whole process to begin there had to have been a hospitable environment already in place. The process itself would require the creation of new genetic material as evolution proceeded from lower forms of life to higher. Once we arrive at the point of sexual reproduction, there would not only have to be a viable specimen of the new species but also a compatible mate of the opposite sex at the same time and the same place. (The fact of the matter is that every time a couple engages in sex it is a testimony to the wisdom of the Creator – it is highly unlikely that the act would even be possible were it not for Intelligent Design.) No one has ever observed macroevolution take place in nature and no one has ever duplicated it in a laboratory. Which is easier to believe: that the world was created by an intelligent Being or that it somehow brought itself into existence through a completely impersonal process? The whole evolutionary scenario strains credulity. When one sees a garden one naturally assumes the existence of a gardener!

    The second line of testimony is direct revelation in the form of Scripture. The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New claimed a special kind of inspiration that enabled them to communicate messages from God Himself. They saw visions, they dreamed dreams, they heard voices, they were seized by the Spirit of God. God, it seemed, spoke to them and through them.

    The obvious objection to this, of course, is why the Bible alone? Why not the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or the Hindu Vedas? Do they not make similar claims to divine inspiration?

    There are many ways in which the Bible is a highly unusual, if not to say unique book. It was written by many authors over long periods of time in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), yet it maintains a remarkable consistency of message. Its monotheism, lofty ethics, and unflattering view of human nature (there are very few unblemished heroes in the Bible) all point to a supra-human authorship. Its simple, straightforward style bespeaks of honesty and integrity. Where clear evidence is available archaeology confirms its historical accuracy. Unless one dismisses out of hand the accounts of the miraculous there is no real reason to doubt the Bible's integrity and trustworthiness.

    The third line of testimony is the human conscience. It is a curious fact of human nature that we universally have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. We instinctively believe that there is something wrong with killing and stealing, and that belief is reflected in the civil laws of most civilized human societies.

    The obvious objection here is that an intuitive sense of something, let's say of God or of morality, does not mean that the thing itself actually exists. By itself an intuition does not prove anything about external reality. But it does raise an intriguing question: how did we acquire such an intuition in the first place? The Darwinian explanation is that as our brains evolved we acquired a social instinct that enabled us to function in groups, and that morality is a reflection of our desire to be accepted by the fellow members of our group. But there is a problem here. Sometimes our conscience bothers us when we somehow have the feeling that what the group is doing is wrong. If the Darwinian explanation were correct, we would have become slaves of public opinion. Evolution would have produced in us a kind of herd mentality. The rugged individualists and non-conformists, our heroes and martyrs, would eventually have been bred out of the species by a kind of natural selection. But history is filled with examples of courageous men and women who did what they thought was right in spite of public opinion, and sometimes suffered fearful consequences as a result. Is this some form of mental derangement, a fluke of evolution? Do conscientious objectors and political protestors belong in mental institutions? Or is it possible that the conscience is a part of our God-given humanity, part of what separates us from the animal kingdom, the "Law of God written on the human heart"?

    It is the concurrence of these three things, nature, Scripture and conscience, that gives us a basis for knowledge. Each one taken by itself if fatally weak; each by itself is insufficient to stand on its own. But taken together they act to confirm each other, and it is their combined testimony that is persuasive.

    St. Anselm summed it up like this: "credo ut intelligam" – I believe that I might understand. On the basis of the Christian revelation it is possible to make sense out of the world and of life. It has enabled untold multitudes of people to live happy, productive and fulfilled lives. It is not that we can answer every question – Christianity accepts the fact that there is more to reality than what the human mind can comprehend. But it gives us what we need. "For with You is the fountain of life;/In Your light we see light." (Psalm 36:9; NKJV).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Faith and Reason: the Limitations of Science

One of our fellow bloggers,Tildeb ( recently posted several comments on this blog challenging our belief in the existence of God. According to Tildeb, "The most sympathetic and intellectually honest mind-independent answer to the important question Does god exist? is "I don't know.' That is as good as it gets given the available evidence. . ." Tildeb then goes on to define "faith" as "belief that something is true without compelling evidence existing independent of mind . . . the motivation to believe that god exists and is real does not come from reality itself (where the evidence should be overwhelming) but from within the person who wishes to believe."

    We beg to differ. The evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming. We are surrounded by it.

    People have different reasons for embracing Christianity, some more rational than others. But down through the centuries there have been a significant number of intelligent, well-educated people who have given attention to the question, "does God exist?" and have concluded that there is a rational basis for faith -- from Justin Martyr in the Second Century to C.S. Lewis in the Twentieth. Lewis, in fact, gave up atheism to become a Christian.

    Part of the problem is Tildeb's definition of "faith": "belief that something is true without compelling evidence" – evidently a kind of "Sprung ins Dunkel," an existential leap of faith into the dark. But Christian apologetics has traditionally appealed to evidence. Faith is the trust one puts in Christ when one thinks that the evidence is convincing. You weigh the evidence, you become convinced that Jesus really was and is Who He said He is, and you trust in Him as your Savior. It is, for the thinking Christian, a completely rational decision.

    Probably most modern atheists base their skepticism on science, insisting that no evidence exists in nature to indicate the existence of God. The "God hypothesis," they say, is unnecessary. We need, however, to be aware of the limitations of science.

    First of all, science is based on the empirical method. But since science will never have all of the facts at its disposal, its conclusions will always be tentative. The possibility always exists that some new discovery tomorrow will invalidate the conclusions of today. Science can invalidate a truth claim, proving it false, but it can never entirely validate one.

    Secondly, since the empirical method is based solely on what comes through the senses, it generally cannot take cognizance of any possible spiritual or immaterial reality. This means that a philosophy based on science will naturally tend toward materialism, the view that matter and energy are the only reality. It is little wonder , then, that many scientists are skeptical about the existence of God. But that may only point to a defect in their method.

    Moreover, it is exceedingly difficult for science to deduce an "ought" from an "is." Science can give us a description of the way things are; it cannot tell us what they ought to be. Thus in a philosophy of naturalistic materialism the whole matter of morality and human rights becomes problematical. Genocide is an observable fact of life. That it is somehow morally "wrong" is a value judgment that science cannot make. If we are looking to science for answers as to what we should do, we are likely to come up empty.

    But science has an even more severe problem. As noted above, the empirical method is based on sense perceptions. But how do we know that our senses are giving us an accurate picture of reality? How do we know that we are not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses? This was the question raised by David Hume, and it has vexed philosophers ever since. Thus science itself, in the last analysis, is a prisoner of the mind, not sure if anything actually exists externally.

    As a naturalistic method, science is completely compatible with Christianity; science is simply the study of the natural phenomena created by an all-wise and all-powerful God. But when science becomes an all-encompassing worldview, an naturalistic ontology, it comes into direct conflict with religion. And it is as a worldview that science has severe limitations and drawbacks.


[More later]



Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Gender Neutral Bible?

In recent days there has been much controversy over "gender neutral" translations of the Bible. This year saw the publication of the most recent edition of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV). This latest revision has caused a storm of controversy because it incorporates many of the gender neutral readings of the ill-fated "Today's New International Version" of 2001. That version retained masculine pronouns to refer to God, but the word "brethren" used in traditional translations became "brothers and sisters" in the TNIV. It looked like an accommodation to Political Correctness.

    It has to be admitted that the English language has come peculiarities that make it difficult to render certain passages into English. Greek, like other languages, has one word (anthropos) to refer to a generic human being regardless of gender, and a different word (aner) to refer specifically to a male human being. English, however, does not. Traditionally the English "man" would be used to translate either Greek word, thus creating a certain ambiguity. But then again the English language is filled with ambiguities like that.

    The NIV relies on a principle of translation known as "dynamic equivalence," and critics have complained from the very beginning that this method tends to lead to excessive paraphrasing. It could be argued, however, from a translator's standpoint, that "brother and sister" is a legitimate dynamic equivalent of "brethren." When Paul used the underlying Greek word (adelphoi) he clearly meant to include all the members of a given local church, regardless of gender. The problem, if there is one, lies in the translation method itself.

    The real question, however, is this: do gender distinctions exist in the Bible itself? So-called "Biblical Feminists" insist that they do not. Appealing to Gal. 3:28 (". . .there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." – NKJV), they argue that gender distinctions have been obliterated by the gospel.

    But what about all those passages in which the apostle Paul tells women to be subject to men? The Feminists reply that Paul was mistaken, that these passages merely reflect his cultural background, or perhaps his own distorted personality. The genius of the gospel is gender equality; the other passages do not apply to us today.

    There are, however, serious objections to this interpretation. First of all, it was not just the apostle Paul who said those things. Peter also made similar statements (I Pet. 3:1-7). In fact, a comparison of I Pet. 2:18-3:9 with Eph. 5:15 – 6:9 and Col. 3:12-4:6 suggests that this was a standard form of teaching throughout the early church. And that it was not confined to any one personality or locale.

    Secondly, in making his argument, Paul frequently appeals to the basic facts of creation, as in I Cor. 11:8-12 and I Tim. 2:13,14. Male/female distinctions are rooted in nature itself and reflect God's creative will. The basic principle is this: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:27). Both men and women are created in the image of God – in that sense they are completely equal. But God did create them "male" and "female" – in that sense there is a difference.

    Thus gender relationships are contained in Scripture. God did make men and women different from each other, and understanding these differences is the key to maintaining harmonious relationships.

    But we have to be very careful here. Male headship does not give men the license to mistreat or abuse women. As we will see in a future blog post, husbands are to love their wives and that means to treat them in a gentle and understanding way.

    We must also be careful not to engage in stereotyping! Each person has a unique personality and background, which makes it difficult (and treacherous!) to make generalizations about the opposite sex. The Bible prescribes the general roles for women in the family and the church, but beyond that there is tremendous latitude for individual interests and talents.

    The point of it all is this: we live in a world that was created by God, a God Who is infinitely powerful, wise, good and just. He knows what is best for us. Both men and women are called upon to live their lives in humble submission to His will. Our happiness and sense of fulfillment come when we conform to His created order, and that order does, in fact, include gender differences.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The “F” Word

    When I was in the Army I probably heard the "f" word and the "s" word about as often you could count off the minutes on a clock (military time, of course!). In civilian life these words are used mostly for their shock value, but in the military their edge has been dulled and blunted through long overuse. But I still hated these words nonetheless.

    The problem is that once you become accustomed to hearing the words, you begin to realize that they almost always express feelings of anger or contempt. They invariably betray an attitude of hostility on the part of the speaker, and it is that underlying hostility that makes the words vulgar and obscene.

    Jesus once made what seems like an extreme comment: "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'you fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matt. 5:22; NKJV). The word "raca" is an Aramaic word meaning "empty one," and was used as a term of abuse.        

    Why would Jesus consign someone to hell for calling someone else names? It seems incongruous to us. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me," we tell our children. God, however, seems something entirely different. He sees what is going on in the heart.

    On another occasion Jesus put it like this: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matt. 15:11). Pressed for an explanation, Jesus elaborated: "Do you not understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man . . ." (vv. 17-20). In other words, the problem, strictly speaking, is not the mouth; it is the heart, and the mouth merely reflects what is in the heart.

    The real problem is that the intent of the heart is evil. In our hearts we harbor malice, lust, envy and greed. Because we do not express all of our feelings openly, the tongue is only a small measure of what is really inside of us. It is no wonder, then, that the Bible does not present a flattering view of the tongue: "Their heart is an open tomb:/ With their tongues they have practiced deceit." "The poison of asps is under their lips." "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." These verses, all taken from the Book of Psalms, were quoted by the Apostle Paul in his stinging indictment of human depravity in Romans 3:19-18 The filth that actually comes out of the mouth is only the half of it.

    Will God simply let all of this go by? By no means. On yet another occasion Jesus warned the Pharisees: "But I say to you that for every idle word that men may speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt.12:36,37). In God's sight it is the motive and the intent that count. If we feel intense anger and express that anger verbally, then we have the same evil desire as the reckless fool that actually goes out and actually commits homicide. The fact that we did not act on our desires through fear of punishment hardly makes us moral persons. We are simply cowardly would-be murderers.

    Thus the profanity and verbal abuse that we hurl at each other is a symptom of a deeper problem: a depraved heart that is essentially wicked and godless. Profanity is not just a harmless amusement; it is a symbol of all that is wrong with the human race. May God have mercy on us all!    

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Should Abortion be Legal?

Roe v. Wade (1973) will surely go down in history as one of the most infamous decisions ever made by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was marked by a strained, if not to say tortured exegesis of the Constitution, and led to a morally outrageous conclusion.

In Roe the court took up the question of the constitutionality of state anti-abortion laws. The case basically involved two separate questions: 1) Is the life of an unborn child protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and 2) Does the Constitution grant a woman the right of privacy which includes the right to have an abortion? On the surface one might have thought that the case would have been an easy one to decide. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments explicitly forbid the taking of anyone's "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." On the other hand there is no mention of abortion anywhere in the Constitution at all. If it can be demonstrated that an unborn child is a living human being, then surely its life must be protected by the law.                    

Surprisingly, the court arrived at the exact opposite conclusion. What made the decision so bizarre is that the court took two completely different approaches to answer the two questions. On the first question they took a very narrow, legalistic approach: an unborn child is not a legal "person," and therefore is not included in the Fourteenth Amendment protections. On the second question they took the exact opposite approach, interpreting the Constitution in a very broad, expansive manner: the right of privacy, which is not spelled out anywhere in the Constitution, supposedly includes the right to have an abortion. Mr. Justice Blackmun, writing for the majority, admitted that a generalized right of privacy was not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the document, but he thought it might be implied in any one of a number of different provisions. But whatever it was and wherever it was, he was sure that it included the right to have an abortion. One cannot help but wonder if the outcome was dogmatically contrived: the justices found in the Constitution what they wanted to find.    

    In a sense we do hope that the Constitution does at least imply a right to privacy, but the right to privacy does not include the right to commit a crime. You do not have the right to kill your mother-in-law, even if it is done in the privacy of your own home. The right of privacy merely protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures.

    Perhaps the most disturbing feature of Roe v. Wade is the tacit implication that there is no longer any sanctity to human life. Mr. Justice Blackmun asserted that "we need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins," and then went on to argue that the State of Texas may not, "by adopting one theory of life," override the rights of a pregnant woman. Thus he tacitly admitted the possibility that life might begin at conception, but argued that it does not matter if it does. The unborn child still does not have a right to life. The sanctity of human life perished on that cold, wintery day in January, 1973.

    Each year almost a million legal abortions are performed in the U.S.*

    What does God think about all of this? One clue is what He thought of the ancient Canaanites. One of the reasons He condemned them was because of a practice connected with the worship of a deity named Molech. The worship of Molech involved human sacrifice, specifically by making children pass through a fire. What God told Israel about this practice was instructive.

    First of all, the practice had the effect of polluting or defiling the land. When Cain slew Abel God said to him: "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand" (Gen. 4:10,11; NKJV). And so it was with regard to the Canaanites. "For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants" (Lev. 18:25).

    Secondly, this and other like practices are called "abominations" (vv. 26,27,29,30). An "abomination" is something that God considers loathsome or detestable. Nowadays we might say that it is something that "grosses you out." It is an offense that is particularly flagrant and serious.

    Child sacrifice was a barbaric and inhumane practice, something that runs counter to the natural sympathy that should exist between parent and child. God made it clear that Israel was to live by a different standard. Leviticus 19, which falls right in the middle of God's indictment of the Canaanites, contains exhortations to regard the poor, the deaf, the blind, the elderly and the foreigner. In a word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 18).

    The fate of the Canaanites raises some disturbing questions about the possible fate of America. If God regards abortion as a moral outrage, and if our destiny is ultimately in His hands, it bodes ill for the future. All around are signs of impending doom: mired in foreign wars, sinking beneath a mountain of debt, a crumbling family structure, even erratic weather patterns and appearance of invasive species, we show every sign of a civilization in decline. Could it be that God is telling us something?


*estimated annual average for years 2001-2006=985,685

Thursday, December 1, 2011

American Militarism

The United States is currently the world's greatest military power. In 2008 alone we spent a total of $693 billion on defense, more than the next 29 most heavily armed countries combined. Compared with our six most heavily armed NATO allies combined we have almost as many tanks, more submarines, more aircraft carriers, and more than twice as many warplanes. We have at least 1,000 troops each stationed in thirteen different countries around the world.

    The Founding Fathers would be appalled. While they did give the Federal Government the power to raise and maintain a professional military, they were well aware of the dangers of a standing army. Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist Paper #8, noted that standing armies "bear a malignant aspect to liberty and economy." War, he said, creates "a progressive direction to monarchy. It is the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority." How a modern president can create an "imperial presidency" and send American troops into combat without a declaration of war, and still call himself a "conservative," is utterly beyond us.

    It should be obvious that war is a gravely moral issue. The sanctity of human life is grounded in the fact that human beings are created in the image of God. After the Flood God told Noah: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:6; NKJV). It is noteworthy that this text forbids murder but enjoins capital punishment at the same time. The two, in fact, go hand in hand. The punishment is the measure of the gravity of the crime. It is also apparent from other legislation in the Torah that a just war is also permissible. But what exactly makes a war just?

    The basic premise behind the just war theory is that killing is justifiable only when absolutely necessary. That means that in order for a war to be just several conditions must be present:

  1. There must be a just cause. The adversary must be guilty of a crime worthy of death, i.e., the adversary must be guilty of armed aggression or of the gross violation of human rights. Moreover, war should be undertaken only as a last resort, after all diplomatic and political solutions have failed.
  2. The good must outweigh the bad. We must have a good intention, there must be a reasonable chance of success, and the good to be achieved must be greater than the destruction caused by the war itself.

Moreover, moral considerations are involved in the way the war is conducted well. It is manifestly not true that "all is fair in love and war." War crimes are never justified. Even in the actual course of war itself we have a moral obligation to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. In particular,

  1. We must avoid killing civilians and other non-combatants.
  2. Deadly force should be used only in proportion to the objective. For this reason weapons of mass destruction are almost always immoral by their very nature, because they involve the massive and indiscriminate destruction of human life.
  3. Ideally, military strategy should be aimed at disarming the enemy (i.e. destroying his capacity to wage war) and at maneuvering him into surrendering (i.e., cutting supply lines, routes of escape, etc.).

It should be apparent from all of this that foreign wars are especially hard to justify. If we have not been attacked here in our homeland, the war generally cannot be considered defensive. Trying to export democracy to a non-Western society is often an exercise in futility, and projecting military force to achieve some sort of geo-political balance or hegemony is positively immoral.

    Unfortunately, if we honestly evaluate each of the wars in which the United States has been involved, we would probably have to conclude that the majority of them were unjust. Our current position as the world's leading military power carries with it an awesome responsibility and a good deal of temptation. The blood of every person we needlessly kill will be required of us by the righteous Judge of all the earth. "The also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence." (Gen. 6:11).


Monday, November 28, 2011

The Profitable Employee

    Probably most Americans today are thieves. No, they do not go around holding up corner grocery stores or breaking into homes, but they steal nonetheless. They steal from their employers.

    Let's be honest and admit it. How much time do we spend each day at work not engaged in productive labor, "goofing off" – talking with others when we should be working? How many things have we taken home from the job for our personal use that belonged to the company? How many times have we used the company telephone or company e-mail for personal business, and on company time? How many times have we padded the paperwork to make it appear that we did more work than we actually did? The truth of the matter is that we have probably all done some of these things at one time or another.

    To most of us this seems pretty trivial, the pettiest of petty theft, but it is not. It involves an important moral principle: we owe it our employer to do what he is paying us to do. When we are derelict in our duty we are essentially stealing from him, and this, in turn, dishonors God.    

    Writing to Titus, Paul instructs him to "exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well-pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity . . ." (Tit. 2:9,10; NKJV). Here there are several things that are required of those who work for others. First, we owe obedience – we need to do as we are told! The job won't get done if we don't follow instructions, and everyone loses as a result.

    Second, we need to be respectful: ". . .be well-pleasing in all things, not answering back." We need to try to please the boss and not argue with him. We should always be courteous and respectful.

    Third, don't steal! ". . . not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity . . ." This is especially true if we are being paid by the hour. If we stop working in order to socialize on the job we are defrauding our employer. And, of course, it goes without saying that we should never take company property!    

    What is especially remarkable is that this passage, and others like it, are not addressed to employees who are free to leave their employer if they are dissatisfied with their working conditions. Rather, it is addressed to "bondservants" – it uses the common Greek word for "slave" (doulos) and the Greek word for slavemaster (despotes). Slaves had no choice about whom they served, and some of their masters could be cruel and tyrannical. Yet God wanted the slaves to serve their masters faithfully. How much more do we owe those for whom we work as a matter of free choice, who are paying us for our services!

    God is also concerned about the manner in which we perform our duties. For example in Col. 3:22-25 we are told to obey our masters, "not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God" (v. 22). "Eyeservice" means merely creating the appearance of work in order to impress the boss. When he's not looking, we slack off. Oftentimes today employees will cut corners, fluff up the numbers, or ignore problems in order to produce numbers. But this only produces a paper result, not a satisfied customer, and defeats the whole purpose of work. There is no pride in our workmanship. It is also fundamentally dishonest.

    Paul then goes on to say, echoing the language of Eccl. 9:10, that "whatever you do, do it heartily (lit. "work from the soul"), as to the Lord and not to men" (v. 23). In other words, we are to be conscientious about our work and always try to do our very best. We might think, with good reason, that our boss is an absolute moron and a jerk (and we speak from our own personal experience in this), but we should do our best anyway, for the Lord's sake if not for the boss's. God sees what kind of job we are doing, and in His time we will get our reward.

    A.W. Pink put it like this: "Let each reader of these pages who is an employee ask himself or herself, how far am I really making a genuine, prayerful and diligent endeavor to comply with God's requirements in the performance of my duties?" (Practical Christianity, Baker, 1974, p. 185).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Meditation - - Psalm 103

     In the 103rd Psalm David exhorts his soul to "bless the Lord."  In our modern secular age we might wonder "why?"  If, as is widely assumed these days, everything has a natural cause, then one might suppose that there is nothing for which to thank God.  Presumably He had nothing to do with it.
     David, however, saw things differently.  He recognized several important facts of life.    
     First of all, he recognized the sovereignty of God.  "The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all" (v. 19; NKJV).  The world did not bring itself into existence, and it does not continue to exist on its own.  Above it all is God, eternal and omnipotent, Creator of heaven and earth.
     Secondly, David recognized the transitory nature of human life.  "As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (vv. 15,16).  Some of us live into our 80's, a few into their 90's, and then we are gone.  To us a lifetime may seem like a long time, but in the cosmic scheme of things it is nothing.  Most of us probably cannot remember who are great-great-grandparents were, let alone our more remote ancestors.  We are alive today and forgotten tomorrow.
     Thirdly, David was conscious of the fact that at one particular point in history God revealed Himself to mankind: "He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel" (v.7).  Mount Sinai was a dramatic turning point in human history, when monotheism dawned upon the human consciousness.  God revealed directly to Moses what could not otherwise be known.  The Torah became the foundation of Western Civilization.
     That being said, what do we know about God?  First of all, that He is a God of justice: "The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed" (v. 6).  We experience a kind of rough-hewn justice here and now: economies collapse and tyrannies are overthrown.  Perfect justice, however, will come later, at the Last Judgment, when all will be made right.
     But what we also know about God is that He is compassionate, and much of the psalm is taken up with this theme.  When we sin, God anger does not last forever (v. 9).  He has not punished us fully as we deserve (v. 10).  He forgives sin (v. 12) and takes pity on our weakness (v. 14).  The psalmist can even compare the love of God to that of a human father for his helpless children (v. 13).
     It is in light of all of this that David was able to say "Bless the Lord, O my soul; all that is within me, bless His holy name!" (v. 1).  He was mindful of the fact that God had forgiven his sins, preserved his life, and blessed him with many good things (vv. 3-5).
     It is important to note one critical factor, however.  God does not shower His blessings upon all mankind indiscriminately, but rather His mercy is "on those who fear Him . . . to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them" (vv. 17,18).  To "fear" in this context means to hold Him in reverent awe and to fear to disobey Him.  In David's context the "covenant" was the covenant that God had made with Israel, which involved keeping God's commandments and abstaining from the wicked practices of the surrounding nations.  In order to know God and receive His blessing, we must seek Him in humble submission to His will.  Otherwise we can expect nothing from Him but His frown.
     On Thanksgiving Day let us "forget not all His benefits" (v. 2)!                    

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Obey?


    Obey! The very word makes us cringe. It represents the assertion of authority by one person over another. We object to it because it is a threat to our personal autonomy, a form of abject slavery.

    We would like to think that we are free to do as we please and that we are accountable to no one for our actions. We live in a free country. It is even a part of our national creed to believe that "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." Presumably we obey the government only because we created it and elected its officials. They are no so much our masters as our servants.

    The statement in the Declaration of Independence, however, is patently false. Governments do not derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; they derive them from God.

    The sanctity of all legitimate human authority rests on the Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." So serious was this social obligation that the death penalty was prescribed for those who broke it. The parents of an incorrigible son were to bring him before the elders of the city and denounce him in open court. The juvenile delinquent was then to be stoned to death. ". . . so will you put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear" (Dt. 21:18-21; NKJV).

    It is clear from the teachings of Scripture elsewhere that this principle of respect for one's parents extends to human authority in general, in particular to the civil magistrates. In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul enjoins Christians to "be subject to the governing authorities." In particular we are to obey the law, pay our taxes and give those in authority our personal respect. "Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (v. 7).

    What is remarkable about this passage is that it was written when the Roman Empire controlled the Mediterranean world, and most of its subject peoples were not Romans. The Jews in particular chafed under Roman rule. The Roman Empire was not a democracy and most of its officials could hardly be called "Christian." Yet Paul could say that the civil magistrate "is God's minister to you for good"(v.4).

    How could he say such a thing? The reason is given in verse 1: "For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." In other words, civil government per se has been ordained by God in order to maintain order in society, and God rules over political developments through His providence. Therefore we are to obey the government, not just from a fear of punishment, "but also for conscience' sake" (v. 5). Submission to the government is our moral duty, and it should be discharged conscientiously.

    If we are always looking for ways to skirt the law, to cheat when we think no one is looking, then we make the government official's job that much more difficult. Moreover, this is not a duty we owe just to individual officials; we owe it to society as a whole. Anarchy adversely affects everyone, and it is in the interest of us all to maintain the rule of law. General lawlessness in society eventually leads to increasingly harsh and repressive measures by the government. Civil liberty cannot exist in the midst of a depraved population.

    This does not mean, however, that the power of the government is unlimited. If human authority is established by God it is also limited by God. Rulers are expected to rule justly. The government cannot usurp the place of God Himself – that is tantamount to idolatry. When the apostles were ordered to stop preaching, their answer was "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29; cf. 4:19,20). The will of God is always supreme; human government is always a subordinate authority.

    Regrettably those of us who grew up in the '60's scarcely have any concept of authority at all. We have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind. First the children rebelled against their parents, and then the wives rebelled against their husbands. The divorce rate soared, the family structure collapsed, and now the specter of social chaos is staring us in the face. Even common courtesy and respect have largely gone by the wayside.

    "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come; For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (II Tim. 3:1-4)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Capitalism and the Sabbath


    Perhaps nowhere is the clash between Capitalism and Christianity seen more clearly than on the issue of the Sabbath.

    Adam Smith famously maintained that in a free market economy an individual is "led by an invisible hand to promote an end which has no part of his attention." ". . .the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily, leads him to prefer that employment [of resources] which is most advantageous to the society" (Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II).

    Frankly, we think that this is a morally dubious proposition. Human nature is self-oriented, and self interest leads naturally to . . . the exploitation of others. Absent government regulation, an active labor movement, or some sort of moral restraint, the profit motive will lead the strong to take advantage of the weak, and frankly, leave them impoverished.

    We have been distressed to see businesses apparently acting without conscience. Convenience stores sell beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets and pornography. The "entertainment" industry regularly exploits sex and violence. The food industry pushes oversized portions larded with salt, sugar and fat, creating an obesity pandemic. And most incredibly of all, we find pharmacies selling tobacco products in complete disregard for their own professional standards! It seems that all too often the public welfare is sacrificed on the altar of corporate profits.

    In the current economic crisis conditions in the labor market are especially heart-wrenching. Employers are reluctant to hire, and when they do it is often for part-time or temporary positions at entry level wages on the second shift with no benefits. We were especially appalled to find some local employers (non-union manufacturing jobs) with horrendous mandatory overtime policies. Employees are required to work up to seven days a week and from ten to twelve hours a day. One employer had its employees work 21 days straight. Overtime for the day shift can begin at 4:00 a.m. Under these conditions almost anything in the employee's personal life that requires attention can cost him his job. Apparently it is all legal here in Pennsylvania. Workers with families and obligations outside the job need not apply!

    Some of us are old enough to remember a time when there were "blue laws." Only a very few businesses providing essential public services were permitted to be open on Sundays. These laws have largely gone by the wayside, another casualty of modern "progress" and secular thinking, but in light of current conditions it might be time to bring them back.

    The Sabbath was ancient Israel's labor law. It placed certain restrictions on what an employer could demand from his employees. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you" (Deut. 5:13,14; NKJV).

    Jesus once told the Pharisees, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27). The Sabbath essentially serves a humanitarian purpose, and it is not hard to see why.

    First of all, we need periodic rest. What our Creator knows is that physically, mentally and emotionally we need regular intervals between periods of work in which we can relax and refresh ourselves. We are not machines that can run continuously forever without maintenance! We work better on the other six days of the week when we have had time to rest on the seventh.

    Secondly, we need to spend time with our families. Marriages are collapsing and children are growing up without adequate parenting. We need to gather around the dinner table and reconnect. Where will America's future workers learn the values of honesty and hard work if not from their parents and churches?

    Thirdly, we need the Sabbath to keep life in its proper perspective. If all we ever do is work, and if all we ever think about is money, then frankly we will become crassly materialistic and subhuman. We will sacrifice family, friends and faith on the altars of Mammon. Six days have been allotted for work, and on the seventh day we need to turn our attention to the higher concerns of life. We need to be in a house of worship thinking about God and how everything fits into the cosmic scheme of things. That, in turn, will give a sense of meaning and purpose to what we do on the other six days.

    Self-interest may be what drives the marketplace, but it is not moral. What God requires of us is a decent regard for the welfare of our fellow human beings. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! . . .Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:1,4).



Friday, November 11, 2011

Letter to a Unitarian Minister

The following is an extract from a letter we once sent to a Unitarian minister, whose sermon "Where Is Our Holy Text?" we happened to hear one Sunday morning. The minister was emphatic in denying that the Bible is a divinely inspired text, and cited a canon of several feminist authors as her own "holy text."


    "I appreciate the candor and frankness with which you expressed your opinions, but I do feel that they call for some sort of response. I was fortunate to have attended an evangelical seminary (Westminster, in Philadelphia), and to have been exposed to a body of conservative biblical scholarship that has examined liberal critical objections to the Bible and nevertheless found the Scriptures to be trustworthy. I was especially privileged to have taken courses under Leon Morris and Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, both of whom have written a number of very fine commentaries on various books of the New Testament. Personally, at the end of the day, I can see no reason to question the veracity and authority of the Bible.

    "I might also point out that the 'Sunday school faith' you described in your sermon was the faith of Athanasius and Augustine, of Thomas Aquinas and the Protestant Reformers, of Jonathan Edwards and the great Princeton theologians of the 19th century. It is the historic faith of the Christian Church. It deserves to be treated with more respect than you gave it in your sermon.

    "I think that you probably approached the crux of the issue when you quoted a statement from the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 to the effect that 'All reality is self-creating.' If this statement were actually true, then you would be perfectly justified in your attempt to marginalize God. The statement, however, is palpable nonsense. If something does not yet exist, then by the very nature of the case it lacks the power to do anything. It can cause no effect, and it certainly cannot bring itself into existence. Or, to rephrase the question in more concrete biological terms, we might ask 'How did life begin'? Under a strict evolutionary scenario that excludes the possibility of 'Intelligent Design,' at some point what amounts to spontaneous generation must have occurred, which, as we know from scientific experiment, is impossible. This, then, brings us right back to the inescapable question of God. If, in fact, we have been created by a Supreme Being, then the Westminster Shorter Catechism is absolutely correct when it says that 'The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.'

    "I know that the Unitarian Universalist Association is proud of the freedom of thought that it seeks to foster within its fellowship. But at some point we as human beings have to deal with questions of ultimate truth. Is there a God? Does life have meaning and purpose? Is there really a difference between good and evil? Is there life after death? At death these issues will be inescapable, no matter how hard we tried to avoid them in life. And apart from some form of divine revelation we have no means of answering these questions, and we are left in profound ignorance of the matters most important to us. Given the attitude of Unitarians toward Scripture it is hard for me to see what can save you from the kind of abject nihilism typified by Friedrich Nietzsche. You profess to believe in a very idealistic set of social principles, but they are suspended in metaphysical thin air. The ever looming danger is that someday your ethics will catch up to your intellectual skepticism, and then you will have nothing left at all to offer society. That kind of moral skepticism is, in fact, the general trend in society today. . .

    "I will probably decline any further opportunities to participate in Unitarian church services. I have no desire to give human beings the place of honor that rightfully belongs to God alone. I noticed that your responsive reading last Sunday came from the writings of William Ellery Channing. William Ellery Channing did not give me life and health, the air I breathe or the bread I eat; much less did he die for my sins. I owe Channing nothing; I owe Christ everything. I shall worship Him Who deserves my praise and no one else. 'Therefore God has also highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father'(Phil. 2:9-11; NKJV)."



Robert W. Wheeler



Monday, November 7, 2011

The Problem with Liberal Theology

    One of the strangest things to emerge from the muddled human brain is the notion that we can make up the truth. The statement is an oxymoron, of course. If you "made it up" it would not be "truth" -- it would be fiction. Yet when it comes to religion it is absolutely amazing to see how many people think that you can make up your own ideas about God!

    Astonishingly, this is what passes for serious theology in many of our leading seminaries. It is generally known as Liberal Theology, and it is very widely accepted today.

    How can that possibly be? The problem started over two hundred years ago. During the so-called "Enlightenment" critics attacked the credibility and trustworthiness of the Bible. Intelligent, educated people were made to feel that they could no longer believe in the Sacred Scriptures. Yet many did not want to give up their faith. It finally fell to a German theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) to come up with what appeared to be a solution. Our faith, according to him, does not rest on the findings of science or reason, but rather on an inner sense of religious truth – an inward feeling or personal experience. We know God intuitively, and therefore it does not matter whether or not the Bible is literally true.

    But there is a problem here – a very serious one. If religion is a matter of our inward, subjective feelings, then what shapes the content of theology? What makes a theological statement true or false? For the next two hundred years German theologians devoted their attention to the problem, and came up with a bewildering array of answers. Yet the sheer diversity of opinion underscored the underlying problem: in the final analysis it was all made up. Most of it had little connection with anything that the historical Jesus actually said or taught.

    The problem of unorthodox theology is nothing new – it was existed since the very beginning of the Christian Church. And the Church was warned against this from the very beginning as well.

    The anatomy of heterodoxy is described for us vividly in II Peter 2:1-3. Here we are told that "there will be false teachers among you" (v. 1; NKJV). Ironically they will deny "the Lord who bought them" – they will claim to be Christians but will deny Christ. One might wonder, why? If one has no use for Christ (or, one thinks that the historical Jesus cannot be known) why bother with Christianity at all? Why not simply identify oneself with something else? According to the text the apparent reason is that the false teachers have ulterior motives. What drives them is "covetousness." They are in it for personal gain. In some cases it might be simply money. In other cases it might be the prestige and security of a tenured faculty position.

    How, then, do these teachers operate? The text says that they use "deceptive words," or "made-up sayings," as it might be more literally translate (the NIV has "stories they have made up"). The message is tailored for the effect.

    Whatever the motive, the results are devastating. False teaching causes "destructive heresies" (v. 1), and as a result "the way of the truth will be blasphemed" (v. 2). Christianity ends up being discredited because of something that really isn't Christianity.

    And where does it all lead in the end?: ". . . their judgment . . . is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep" (v. 3, NASV).

    Today error takes many different forms. Besides the liberal theologians in their ivory towers there are various cults and even fringe movements within the Evangelical community. Even everyday, ordinary people are guilty of making up their own theology. They pick and choose what they want to believe, and justify it all by saying "This is what I think." But whatever form the error takes, the end result is the same: the true gospel is not preached, people are led astray, and the church is discredited.

    In effect false theology is a form of idolatry. Instead of worshipping the one true and living God, we worship the various gods of our own imaginations.

    The message of Christianity, however, is not malleable, something that can be reshaped and molded at will. The objective facts stand as they are, and as they have been revealed to us. To try to invent something else is merely an exercise in self-delusion, and it dishonors God. Creativity in theology is a vice and not a virtue.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


    Is God still relevant? The general trend in Western thought for the past couple of centuries has been in the direction of growing secularism. The underlying assumption is that human reason alone is sufficient to arrive at truth, and that consequently any type of religious revelation is unnecessary. Thus we have attempted to exclude God from our thinking. We pretty much think and act as if God did not exist.

    In more recent times there has been an attempt to move away form the rationalism of modern scientific thinking, but this, unfortunately, has not resulted in a revival of religion. On the contrary, we seem to have become even more atheistic than ever, denying the existence of universal truths altogether. To this "Post-Modern" way of thinking there are no such things as moral absolutes.

    But what if God really exists? What becomes of our secular thinking then?

    The New Testament raises this question in a very pointed way in Romans chapter 1. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . ." (v. 18; NKJV). God is angry with us. Why? Because of our "ungodliness" and "unrighteousness." The Greek word translated "ungodliness" basically means "impiety," a lack of reverence or devotion to God. Or, to use a more modern term, it is frankly what goes by the name today of "secularism." "Unrighteousness" is the failure to live in accordance with God's law, especially as that failure involves the mistreatment of others. Thus we stand accused of crimes against both God and our fellow human beings. This is the reason that God is angry with us.

    "Ah," but the modern secularist replies, "there is no evidence that God exists! There is no reason to believe in His existence."

    The inspired apostle, however, continues his indictment. God is angry with men because they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." He goes on to explain what he means. ". . . because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (vv. 19,20). We are surrounded by the evidence of God's goodness, wisdom and power. The sheer complexity of nature points to an intelligent Designer. (An evolutionist, of course, would deny this, but we have already dealt with the question of evolution in a previous blog post – cf. "Why Evolution Is False," Oct. 5, 2011).

    But what has our response been to all of this evidence? ". . . because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . " (vv. 21,22). Here we see traced out for us the whole course of modern philosophy, talking itself into absurdities, and never arriving at a firm conclusion.

    And what is the judgment of God upon all of this? "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen" (vv. 24,25). In other words, the moral disintegration of Western society is the direct result of our refusal to acknowledge God. Secularism has been our undoing.

    Sad to say, many Americans today choose to live as though God does not exist. They never visit a house of worship, engage in private prayer, or read the Bible. They never thank Him for His blessings towards them, and they never consider what His will might be when they make personal decisions. For all practical purposes we have become a godless society. How tragically mistaken we are! We are headed for the abyss, and yet we will not turn back and change our ways. What can become of us?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What God Thinks of Us

    What does God think of us? We might be tempted to answer, without giving much thought to the question, that, of course, He loves us, He understands that we are only human, and He forgives us. In a sense that answer would be correct, but it also overlooks a great deal. The fact of the matter is that there is a grave crisis in our relationship with our Creator, that this crisis was occasioned by our disobedience and rebellion, and that we are on a course that leads to eventual destruction.

    You say, how can that be? Part of the problem is that we do not see ourselves as God sees us. We think that we are basically alright – decent, law-abiding citizens, minding our own business and causing no offense. If we can manage to forgive each other then why cannot God forgive us?

    What God sees, however, is very different.

"The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,

To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.

They have all turned aside,

They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,

No, not one.

                    (Psalm 14:2,3; NKJV)

    Why the difference in perception? The answer is that God measures by a different standard than we measure ourselves.

    We tend to have a sociological morality: we judge ourselves by the standards of society. We look at each other, and if everyone else seems to be doing something then we feel comfortable doing it ourselves. And how does everyone else know what is right and what is wrong? It is usually something we absorb from our culture: we learn it from our parents, our teachers, the government and the mass media. Thus as long as we are trying to get along with others, we have little trouble convincing ourselves that we are decent, moral people.

    Unfortunately we forget one little thing in our neat rationalization, and that is God. He is our Creator, and He is our Judge. So the real question is, what does He want?

"He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God."

                    (Micah 6:8)

Here it will be seen that God expects something from us. We are ultimately accountable to Him for our actions. He is the One who determines what is "good." And what does He say is good? The text mentions three things.

    First of all, we are to "do justly," or to "do justice" (NASV) as it might more literally be translated. We are to respect the rights of others, bound by the principles of equity. We are not to harm or mistreat others in any way, but are always to give them their due.

    Secondly, we are "to love mercy." The word translated "mercy" is the Hebrew word "chesed," and it basically means kindness shown to others. We are to have a heart-felt regard for the well-being of our fellow human beings and be ready to help them whenever possible. It is nothing less than criminal to look upon the suffering of others with calloused indifference. Rather, we should readily respond to their need. And we should "love" to do this. It should be our joy and delight to help others.

    Finally, we are to "walk humbly" with our God. To "walk" is a biblical metaphor for the way we conduct our affairs as we go through life. Here we are to "walk . . . with God," that is, we are to maintain communion with God and strive to live lives that are pleasing to Him. And we are to do this "humbly" – in the full recognition that He is the Creator and we are the creatures, that we are entirely dependent on Him and must live our lives in submission to His will.

    God did not create us so that we would be lone rangers in the wild west of life – tough, self-sufficient, always looking out for "number one." He created us to have a relationship with Him and with our fellow human beings. That, in turn, requires a certain attitude on our part, an attitude of humility, justice, and compassion. And that is what God requires of us all.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Legacy of the Counterculture

   The summer of 2009 marked the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, the legendary rock concert that became one of the defining moments of the 1960's. On August 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of young people descended on a farm near Bethel, NY for three days of music that featured some of the leading rock musicians of the day. The huge crowds overwhelmed the organizers, and then a rain storm turned the site into a sea of mud. Conventional law and order broke down, and the participants formed a temporary community of their own. For three days the counterculture of the '60's was in full bloom.

    But what exactly was the counterculture? And what is its significance for today? One of the most interesting and provocative descriptions from the time was the best selling book The Greening of America, written by a then forty-two year old Yale law professor named Charles A. Reich. The book came out in 1970. In it Reich described a cultural revolution that, he predicted, would transform American society.

    Reich called the counterculture "Consciousness III," Consciousness I being the culture of 19th Century America and Consciousness II representing the corporate mentality of the 1950's and early '60's. Consciousness III, by way of contrast, was pure Utopianism. To hear Reich tell it, Consciousness III promised "a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual" (p. 2, 1971 Bantam ed.).

    For the most part what Reich offers us is a distinctly secular vision for the future. It is full of human potential but practically devoid of God. It is not hard to see the influence of Neo-Marxism, Existentialism, and American Pragmatism on Reich's thought, and beyond that we could trace the influences back even further to Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But this secular Utopianism was the main problem with the counterculture, and the main reason for its ultimate failure.

    Reich, in common with many Western secular thinkers for a century or more before him, rejects the idea of universal truths and absolute moral values. What is real is the here-and-now - - man in his concrete existence. Standards and norms are man-made and artificial. Reich puts it like this: "Of all the many ways of life known to history, Consciousness III seems the closest to valuing life for its own sake. Almost always, men have lived subject to rigid custom, to religion, to an economic theory or political ideology. Consciousness III seeks freedom from all of these. It declares that life is prior to all of them. . . It values the present, not the past, the future, or some abstract doctrine of mythical heaven." (p. 426)

As a result, Reich says, ". . . the individual does not accept the goals or standards set by society" (p. 247). And, "because there are no governing standards, no one is rejected. Everyone is entitled to pride in himself, and no one should act in a way that is servile, or feel inferior, or allow himself to be treated as if he were inferior" (p. 243).

    In retrospect there was something absurd about the central premise of the counterculture. One cannot get to idealism, spirituality and human potential through a secular philosophy that denies the transcendent and eternal. A life-style of sex and drugs and rock-n-roll hardly amounts to a renunciation of materialism. In the final analysis, the only escape from materialism is God.

Far from ushering in a social Utopia, the legacy of the '60's was catastrophic.  In the last four decades we have reaped the bitter fruit of the revolt against standards and norms: a soaring divorce rate, the disintegration of the family, widespread substance abuse, and rampant crime.  Satan has paid us royally for our folly.  And yet the underlying philosophy of the counterculture lives on in the academic community in the form of Post-Modernism and Political Correctness.

    "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshl desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." --  II Pet. 2:18, 19 (NASV)


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Case for Moral Absolutes

The famous American philosopher John Dewey once said that "moral judgment and moral responsibility are the work wrought in us by the social environment . . . All morality is social" ("Morality Is Social," from Human Nature and Conduct). Nearly all secular philosophers would be more or less inclined to agree. And, indeed, for most people morality is basically social: it is the result of social conditioning. They are trained by their parents to behave a certain way, and as they grow older they become aware of certain demands imposed by society. But according to Dewey, this is all there is to morality. Morality is basically sociological.

But is this really all there is to it? Or is there something else – some eternal, unchanging standard of right and wrong that transcends the changing patterns of human culture? Dewey, and many other secular thinkers, would emphatically say "No"! But what they routinely overlook is the obvious, viz., God. If God exists, then doesn't His will count for something?

If God exists the whole secular philosophy of accepting life as it is, without making any value judgments, collapses. For if God exists, a Supreme Being Who is both infinite and personal, then everything He created has purpose and meaning, and everything that exists ought to conform to His will. Thus there is an "ought" as well as an "is."

And God obviously exists. We are surrounded by evidence of intelligent design. We live in a rationally ordered cosmos, and the rational structure of reality must ultimately have come from an intelligent being. We know through common sense and everyday experience the difference between intelligent design and random selection. If someone were to dump a boxful of bolts on a table they would land in no particular order – there is no discernable pattern. That is what is meant by "random." But if we count out the bolts in groups of ten, and then arrange the groups in ranks and files, that is intelligent design, and the design is readily evident. A human mind has obviously imposed order on the original chaos. The presence of rational order is the evidence of intelligent design.

Such rational order abounds in nature. Why does the human body have perfectly formed and functioning organs, connected in complex systems? Why is there so much symmetry in the body? How did we acquire intelligence? None of these things arise spontaneously from unformed and impersonal matter. Natural selection can explain how the unfit become extinct, but it cannot explain how the favored species came into existence. Nature is simply too complex to be the result of an impersonal biological process. The existence of a Creator is thus undeniable.

But how can we learn the content of morality? How can we know what the will of God is? The first part of the answer is that every human being is born with a conscience that gives him an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong. We instinctively recoil at atrocious crimes such as rape and murder. Soldiers are often traumatized when they are called upon to take human life in combat. Philosophers and psychologists have puzzled over this phenomenon. Dewey, as we have seen, tried to argue that it is purely the result of social conditioning. Others have maintained that it is a social instinct bred into the race. But the Bible says that even the pagans "show the work of the law written in their hearts" (Rom. 2:15 NKJV). The evidence is plain and simple: they accuse each other of wrongdoing and defend themselves in return. But why? It is because they have an innate sense of right and wrong.

Even the most skeptical philosophers themselves cannot entirely escape from this. If morality is essentially sociological and there is no transcendent standard of right and wrong, then how is it possible for anyone to pass judgment on an entire society? For it is society that determines the standard. If there was a social consensus in Nazi Germany that genocide was a desirable policy, then who is in a position to say that it was wrong? There is no room for individualism or non-conformity. Yet philosophers pass judgment on society all the time. Try as they might, even they cannot escape universal moral norms.

But conscience is not our only source of knowledge concerning morality. There is also direct revelation from God Himself. In Heb. 1:1,2 we are told, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son . . ." In the distant past God communicated to men through inspired prophets – their writing are contained in the Old Testament (cf. II Tim. 3:16; I Pet. 1:10-12). The climax of divine revelation came, however, when God sent His own Son into the world. Jesus Christ was the prophet "par excellence," and His teachings, in particular the Sermon on the Mount, are the definitive statement of Christian morality.

Seen in this light morality is not a complicated philosophical problem; it is a simple matter of doing what God said. As human beings we are accountable to our Creator. In the end He will be our Judge. We do, in fact, live in a moral universe. Justice and human rights are grounded in God's eternal, immutable will. Any sane and rational person would not wish to have it any other way.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Did the Founding Fathers Create a Christian Nation?

Was it the conscious intention of the Founding Fathers to create a Christian nation? David Barton of the organization WallBuilders certainly thinks so. With the zealous spirit of a crusader he has devoted his life to telling a side to American history that often gets overlooked in the public school classroom. Yet as often happens to crusaders, Mr. Barton is sometimes prone to overstating his case.
In his DVD series American Heritage Mr. Barton argues that the Founding Fathers set out to create a uniquely Christian nation. If what Mr. Barton means by this is that the founders took it for granted that America already was a Christian country and that they had no intention of changing that, then he is certainly right. But, if he meant that they were engaged in a bold new experiment to create a government that was uniquely based on biblical principles, then I think he goes too far. The record simply does not support his contention.
The main problem here lies with the Constitutional Convention. Significantly, they did not even open their sessions with prayer. (At one point Benjamin Franklin, of all people, suggested that they do so, but his motion was never adopted). The final document, in contrast with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, does not mention God at all, except for a single pro forma reference to "the year of our lord" at the very end. God is not even mentioned in the constitutional formula for the presidential oath for office. In Madison's Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention there are no references to biblical passages that I can see, nor are there any in The Federalist Papers.
But was the Constitution based on biblical principles? Barton points to several examples that correspond to such principles, but neglect to mention several other instances in which the Constitution actually contradicted Scripture. For example, in the original document:
Article I Section IX provided for the importation of slaves for a period of twenty years, in violation of Ex. 21:16 and Dt. 24:7. The debate on this provision was particularly revealing. Luther Martin of Maryland argued that "it was inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature in the Constitution." To which John Rutledge of South Carolina replied, "Religion and humanity had nothing to do with the question. Interest alone is the governing principle of nations." The final provision was a compromise, not a solution based on biblical principle, and it was a dark omen of what lay ahead.
Furthermore Article IV, Section II provided for the return of runaway slaves to their masters, in violation of Dt. 23:15,16. This latter provision was not overturned until 1865, at the very end of the Civil War. We also note that Article VI, section 3 states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States." In other words, nothing in the Constitution would prevent an atheist from serving as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in clear violation of Ex. 18:21.
The Framers of the Constitution were a diverse body of men representing competing interests and constituencies. They were trying to find a practical way to set up a workable federal government. Some of the delegates were personally religious, others were not, and it would be a mistake to overestimate their piety. It should also be borne in mind that a large number of the delegates, especially from the middle and southern states, were members of the Episcopal Church, and did not see the need for a scriptural justification for the practices of their own church, let along the federal government. Barton seems to be trying to make them all out to be Presbyterians!
Barton stated that our country has been blessed with uninterrupted peace and stability as a result of our Constitution. But this assertion overlooks the ugly fact of the Civil War, which arose largely over constitutional issues, including the fugitive slave provision mentioned above.
The basic flaw in Barton's argument is that of taking the opinions of some and making them representative of all. America, however, has always been a diverse country. Heavily influenced throughout its history by Christian values and ideals, nevertheless it has often fallen short of those ideals. And thus the struggle for justice never ends.
Apparently Mr. Barton's underlying concern in all of this is the way that the U. S. Supreme Court handles precedents in deciding cases, and thus the original intent of the Founding Fathers is of crucial importance (or at least it should be, in my opinion). What we know about the Founding Fathers is this: most Americans at the time were Protestants, and most Protestant denominations then were fairly orthodox in their theology. The Founding Fathers were conscious of being the heirs of 1700 years of Christian civilization. They also knew that the colonists brought over with them the English Common Law, and beyond that the Fathers relied on the concept of Natural law as the ultimate basis for government. They believed in divine providence, and most of them believed that religion and morality were necessary for the functioning of a republic. They spelled out their conception of government in the Declaration of Independence, which forms a kind of national creed. And ever since then reformers have appealed to these principles in their efforts to create a more just and humane society. It was never the intention of the Founding Fathers to repudiate Christianity or to detach the law from morality.
But we must be careful to state the facts accurately. If we misrepresent the truth, and are eventually found out, our whole cause will be completely discredited. I also think that there is a danger to the Christian community in making America out to be more Christian than it really is. Most of our fellow citizens are lost sinners and on their way to everlasting destruction. If anything, America today is "one nation" - under God's judgment. By asserting that America is a Christian country, we obscure the fact that much of what America does is not Christian. The country is, in fact, a mission field and we run the risk of our salt losing its savor, at the very time that the country needs the savor most!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Is Christian Fundamentalism Intolerant?

     We have tried so far to demonstrate that Islam is, indeed, a violent and intolerant religion, and that these tendencies in Islam stem from the fact that its program is essentially theocratic.  There is no separation of church and state; the power of the state is enlisted to support the cause of Islam.  Physical force is used to enforce a regime that consists mainly in external rules of conduct.
     But what about Christianity?  Does it not also have a long history of persecution and violence?
     As we have tried to show in our last post, there is no basis in the New Testament for the use of force to defend the faith.  The persecutions, Crusades and pogroms that marred much of later church history were aberrations.  Jesus Himself never countenanced any such thing.
     What is especially interesting, however, is how the Protestant Reformation and the later Evangelical revivals served to promote a rebirth of religious freedom.
     The dramatic turning point in Western attitudes towards religious freedom came on April 18, 1521.  Martin Luther had been asked to recant his writings.  Appearing before the Holy Roman Emperor and the assembled princes of the Empire, Luther defended his writings, and then concluded his remarks with this famous declaration:
         "Since then your all-gracious majesty and princely grace desires a simple answer, I want to give you one, simple and straightforward, namely this: unless I have been convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by rational argument, then I remain convinced by the authors I have quoted, and my conscience remains bound by God's Word.  For I believe neither the Pope nor the councils alone, since it is well-known that they often err and have contradicted themselves.  I can and want to retract nothing, since it is neither safe nor advisable to do something against one's conscience.  God help me.  Amen."
(It is debatable as to whether or not Luther actually uttered the words, so often attributed to him, "I cannot do otherwise, here I stand . . .")
     What Luther did, in effect, was to assert the right of private conscience over against public authority.  When there is a clash between God's will and human authority, God's will must always take precedence."We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29; cf. 4:19,20, NKJV).  God's Word limits human authority.
     Unfortunately, it took a while for the implications of this truth to be fully realized in Western thought.  Both Luther and Calvin presided over state churches.  The Lutherans and Reformed persecuted each other and they both persecuted the Anabaptists.  With the onset of spiritual awakenings in the 17th and 18th centuries, however, the implications of human accountability to the divine will began to appear.  Sincere believers, whose hearts had been touched by divine grace, often found themselves in the minority in most countries.  There were inevitable clashes with the civil authorities over matters of religious policy.  In the English speaking world Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers agonized over where their duty lay, and eventually the latent principle  emerged: the individual conscience must be free to obey God, and the civil authorities may not intrude.  The colonies of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were founded on the principles of religious liberty, the British Act of Toleration was passed in 1689, and the First Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1790.
      True evangelical religion can never countenance religious persecution.  To the unawakened sinner human society is all that there is.  He is all too willing to conform to prevailing standards.  But in a religious awakening people develop a heightened awareness of God, and they begin to realize that the edicts of the state cannot be confused with the will of the Deity.  It is manifestly not true that "vox populi" is "vox Dei."  Political leaders are often venal and corrupt, their decisions often unjust and unwise.  The true believer becomes all too painfully aware of an irreconcilable conflict between what God wants and what the government wants, but he knows that his undivided loyalty belongs to God alone.  To allow any other authority to interpose itself between the individual conscience and God is tantamount to idolatry.
     A spiritually awakened Christian is also aware that a genuine religious conversion can only be the result of an operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the individual sinner.  Spiritual life can only be imparted by God Himself.  The state is completely powerless to effect spiritual change.  Thus a rebirth of genuine piety leads inevitably to a restriction of the government's power.  The only workable modus operandi is a separation of church and state.
     The state is charged with the responsibility of maintaining civil order, and we owe it obedience in matters of external behavior.  But in matters of faith the conscience must be free -- free to obey God as He speaks to the individual soul.  Where there is no freedom of conscience there is the worst form of tyranny.  Freedom of religion is one of our most priceless treasures.
     The "New Atheists" sometimes claim that religious Fundamentalists are a threat to political freedom.  As far as Christian believers go, nothing could be farther from the truth.