Friday, March 14, 2014

The Dilemma of Man

By Pastor Stephen Feinstein

In the last two posts, some important ideas were presented. First, we dealt with personality. Human beings are persons, and there are mighty implications that come from this. In the second post, the topic of knowledge was discussed. How do we know things with any kind of certainty? Is there anything that can unite knowledge? The answer was a resounding yes. Both personality and knowledge can only be explained by the reality of the Christian worldview. Fallen humanity will do whatever it can to suppress this truth, but they cannot live in any other way than to behave with their actions as though Christianity is true. If you want a review of these ideas, read the last two posts.

Well, as I continue to summarize chapters of Francis Schaeffer’s work, The God Who is There, we get to focus on another crucial topic. We have the task of discussing the dilemma of man. Truly, the goal is to ask the question, “What is wrong with man?” Some may object that this question presupposes that something is wrong with man, but any honest and bright soul can obviously tell that something is wrong with us. We can rise to great heights, and we can sink to miserable acts of cruelty such as the Holocaust. We can physically exercise until the point of being an Olympic athlete, and we can die of cancer soon after. We can demand and expect that respect be given to us, and on the same day we can gossip about other people. So then, what is the problem?

Well, there are two possible explanations. Man either has a metaphysical problem or he has a moral problem instead. All systems of unbiblical thought in some form or another hold to the metaphysical answer. They believe that man’s problem is his finitude. He is too small to wrestle with the many problems of the big world and bigger universe. Thus, man has always been this way. Death, natural disasters, pestilence, etc., have always existed as long as life has existed, and thus man has always been fallen in the biblical sense. This dilemma is part of what being man is.

The liberal theologians tend to buy into this explanation. Yet, they fail to realize the implications of this. If God originally made the world messed up and if He originally made man as a cursed race, then God is actually the devil. God is responsible for sin, death, and the curse. French art historian and poet Baudelaire reasoned as such and concluded, “If there is a God, he is the devil.” And yet, the new theology, or new liberal theologians, will still declare that God is good, but they can only do so with a leap of blind faith. This is totally inconsistent because if their presupposition is true, namely that man’s problem is metaphysical and normal, then all evidence would point to the opposite conclusion leading one to conclude that God is the devil. So there is no hope or adequate answer to the dilemma of man if one believes the problem is metaphysical.

The second option is the biblical option. This option reveals to us that man’s dilemma is a moral one rather than a metaphysical one. Adam and Eve were created by God as non-determined beings. In other words, they had a free will and were morally good. They were in communion with God. The world and the universe also were made as good. There was no curse, and there was no death. Thus, Schaeffer writes, “Man as created in God’s image is therefore a significant man in a significant history, who can choose to obey the commandment of God and love Him, or revolt against Him.” Adam was the only man in this position. His choice to revolt had consequences for the entire race that came from him. Many modern theorists believe man to be determined by chemical factors in the brain, and thus free will is declared to be an illusion. They would reject the idea of Adam having a free will on these grounds, but their position is erroneous and they do not even live their own lives according to their presuppositions. More can be said on that at another time. It is true that in our current fallen condition our will has been affected by sin and the sin nature. As such, we lack a free will to do what is good since we are now cursed sinners by nature. That is what explains the horrible things that humanity does to itself. Yet, we still have a semblance of the image of God within us, which is what accounts for us rising to great heights.

So then the moral problem of man stems from the fact that the infinite-personal God called on personal man to act by choice. Choice is something that was intrinsic to Adam’s status of being made in God’s image. When people ask why did God not just remove the choice and avoid all of this, it is because removing the choice would reduce Adam to less than a perfect human. It would make him closer to being a machine.

At this point, it is important to quickly address a misnomer about Calvinism or Reformed Theology. People of the non-Reformed camp often accuse Calvinists of being determinists. In other words, they argue that we believe God made us like robots with no choice. This is simply not true. The biblical position is called compatiblism. The idea is that God is totally sovereign over all things that come to pass, but humans make real choices in real time with real consequences, and therefore they have real responsibility. How it all works together is difficult for the finite human mind to grasp, but it is the clear teaching of Scripture and it makes the most sense out of what we know of God and yet see in man. The Bible speaks of God predestining and decreeing history, and yet this somehow happens in a manner consistent with human choice. This is the Calvinist position.

However, let me be clear that humans do not have a free will, at least not anymore. We do have a will, but it is tainted by sin. The sin nature dictates what our will chooses. For example, a lion is by nature a carnivore. If you put a bowl of cabbage and a bowl of raw meat in front of the lion, you are giving it a real choice, but it will always choose the meat since by nature it is a carnivore. The only way to change the choice is to change the nature. Thus, when the truth of God is presented before fallen, unregenerate sinners, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-21) and reject God since it is their nature to choose to do so. Only Adam had a will free from sin, but once he revolted, he too was changed by the sin and became a fallen creature. His fall condemned the entire earth since it was under his stewardship. Now the world is cursed, the animals are violent, the earth produces toil for man, and natural disasters are the norm. Within this fallen world is a fallen man choosing to reject God and to blind himself to the truth. Thus, he declares that our problem is metaphysical. He declares that we have always been this way. He declares that we need not to be saved for there is no curse. These errant beliefs are all part of the sin nature. Only an act of grace from God can change a man’s nature, and when that nature is changed through regeneration, man can then believe God of his own choice. He can start living in obedience to God.

So Schaeffer’s biblical conclusion in this chapter is that man as he is now is completely abnormal. He is separated from his Creator, which separates him from his reference point. Man’s problem is one of moral guilt before his Maker. Now only the Maker can fix the problem. Genesis 1-3 offers a comprehensive explanation concerning the problem of man as it explains perfectly all things that we see in this world. Parts of Genesis 3 and the rest of the Bible offer the solution to the problem, but that will be covered in the next post. God bless.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Does God Communicate With Man?

By Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Hello everyone. I do apologize in not writing last week, but I was swamped with many obligations. Well, I now I get to continue with an important subject. Last time I wrote about the existence of personality, and how the fact that we are persons truly creates a problem for all non-Christian worldviews. Well, Francis Schaeffer, in the The God Who is There, builds upon this by also arguing that Christianity provides a unifying theory of knowledge. Unbelievers cannot find the grand unifying theory since they have separated knowledge into two categories. If you have no idea of what I am talking about, just read a few of the previous posts and you will pick it up quickly. In this posting, the focus will be on God’s communication with mankind.

Because God is personal, and because He made us to be personal, then it stands to reason that God can communicate in a meaningful way to His creatures made in His image. The mysticism viewpoint (regardless of its variant) declares God to be unknowable, but this is because they believe God to be impersonal. But my last post showed how this is nonsense. Derivative persons (humans) are real, and thus an original person (God) must exist. And given that God and man are both personal, it stands to reason that God can communicate as one person to others.

Human beings have the unique gift of language, by which communication is possible. Communication can occur three ways: between God and man, between man and man, and between man and himself. Words have meaning, and therefore they can communicate real and true things that could be understood. If this were not the case, then all fields of knowledge are really nonsense and we should not trust that we know anything. Of course, hardly anyone will ever say this unless they are able to apply this rule only to theology. Besides the fact that such thinking is the fallacy of special pleading, common sense tells us that if God wanted to talk to us in words of human language, then we can understand those words. This is precisely what God has done through the Bible. And by communicating with humanity by this means, we do have a unification of knowledge.

It is impossible to separate knowledge into the two categories mentioned in previous posts. You cannot separate science and history from metaphysical truth. You cannot separate our senses from the fact that absolutes really do exist. God did not reveal His Word to us as fables or fortune cookie statements of wisdom. Instead, He revealed His word in history. The Bible contains books that record history. There are historical settings, circumstances, and people within these books, and God decided to reveal religious truth in this context. So if the Bible is what it claims to be (God’s Word) then what the Bible says about history must be true.

The same can be said about science. The Bible speaks of the creation of universe, and man was placed within that universe. Therefore, what the Bible says about the universe must be true and is relevant to science. Now of course, this does not mean that the Bible is a history or science book. It is not. It is God’s Word given to His people in the context of history and the universe. Therefore, the presuppositions that it grants to us do help us to rightly perform and interpret science and to write and interpret history. This truth refutes the New Theology, whether it be Neo-Orthodoxy or New Liberalism, because they argue that the Bible has historical and scientific errors. What sense would there be for an omnipotent God to reveal truth in the course of history, but to then make historical errors in doing so? What sense would there be for an omniscient God to reveal truth to man that He placed within the universe, but then to make errors about the nature of the universe? It would make no sense at all.

Thus, from the Christian perspective, the Scriptures provide the unity over all knowledge since God has spoken truth in linguistic propositional form concerning Himself, man, history, and the universe. There is unity in knowledge because God has spoken truth into all areas of knowledge. Some might falsely say that if God has spoken truth into the field of science, then why do science at all? It would be wasted energy. This simply is not true. Just because God communicates truly does not mean that God communicates exhaustively. In other words, what God has communicated is 100% true in what it says, but it is not 100% exhaustive. He tells us true things, but He does not tell us everything.

Finite beings could not meet the requirement of being able to learn exhaustively anyway. Think of it this way. No man on earth can have exhaustive knowledge of even a square inch of the earth. To have such knowledge would require that a man could possibly know every subatomic particle of that square inch not just now, but for the past, present, and future. He would have to know all of the weather conditions for all of history and the future and be able to show how this changed or altered the square inch. He would have to know every human foot that stepped over that inch along with every animal. I think you get the point. Exhaustive knowledge is impossible, but true knowledge is possible. God has revealed true knowledge to us, and He has given us the ability to discover countless amazing things about the universe that He created. These discoveries count as true knowledge. He has created a uniform universe with predictable laws of nature so that experiments have lasting meaning. He created humans with the capacity to use logic so that we can compare classes and categories to make correct deductions. These facts alone demonstrate that God wants finite man to learn of the truth He has built into the external world. Christians should be the most ambitious of scientists since every discovery shows one more truth about the world, and demonstrates in yet another way just how awesome God really is.

Theological liberals believe we have an inescapable tension with our beliefs about God communicating with man. If God is infinite, and man is finite, then how can God communicate truth about Himself in a meaningful way to finite creatures? After all, by nature we cannot understand infinite. Therefore, they would say that it is impossible for God to communicate to us in a meaningful way. So to them, the Bible cannot be what it says it is. Francis Schaeffer shuts this down rather easily. God does not relate to us through infinity, but through personality. In other words, God is totally unique in His attribute of infinite. We are no closer to God in this regard than a single rock in my backyard. We are not less finite than a fish, dog, tree, etc. There is an inseparable gap between infinite and finite. However, in terms of personality, we are far closer to God than anything else. Dogs, cats, fish, trees, etc., are not persons. They do not have the attribute of personality as we do.

Schaeffer illustrates this with two diagrams. The first diagram is titled “infinite” and is set up as follows: 1) God is listed at the top; 2) A line representing a chasm is placed beneath God; 3) Man, animals, plants, and machines are placed together below that line. Man, animals, plants, and machines are all equally distant from God in terms of infinite. As I said, we are no less finite than those other things listed. However, the second diagram is titled “personality” and is set up as follows: 1) God is listed at the top; 2) Man is listed right under Him; 3) The chasm line is below man; 4) Animals, plants, and machines are placed below the line.  Since man is above the chasm here, it means we share the attribute of personality with God, and therefore through that means God can communicate with us.

The theological liberals simply assume that God is not personal, and thus they erase the second diagram. If only the first diagram existed, then it is true that God could not communicate in a meaningful way with us, since He would be infinite and impersonal. However, God is personal, and He created us as persons, and therefore the second diagram does exist and it accounts for meaningful divine communication. Remember what I said earlier. The fact that derivative persons exist (us), an original person must be the source (God). No human has ever observed the personal come from the impersonal, but we have all observed the impersonal come from the personal. We have seen personal humans create impersonal machines. We have never seen an impersonal machine create a personal human. So the very experience of reality proves that God must be personal since we are persons. This then not only makes divine communication  possible and understandable, but it makes it necessary. This attribute shared between us and God necessitates a relationship, and this relationship necessitates communication.

An important implication comes from this. Abstract absolutes such as love, justice, good, evil, etc., are real things that we understand precisely because God defines them as such. We, being made in His image, are hardwired to understand these absolutes and live according to them. This is why no human can escape them as I demonstrated in previous posts. Everyone who claims to live without absolutes simply lies to themselves. Well, if there are no absolutes, and all that exists is an impersonal reality, then something as important as love does not really exist. It cannot be reduced to matter in motion, otherwise it would be meaningless. It cannot exist if no objective abstract absolutes exist, since love is an abstract absolute. Yet, all humans talk about love, fall in love, and claim to support love. However, apart from the God of the Bible, love cannot and would not exist as a meaningful reality. It would be a nonsense word. Love exists because God exists, and God is love. The members of the Trinity exercised perfect and pure love toward one another for all eternity. Love is a property of persons, not things, and thus the three persons of the Trinity exercised this personal attribute of love to an infinite degree for all time. We as persons, made in the image of God, also are able to exercise this attribute of love as though it is a real thing because it is a real thing. Unbelievers have no reason to treat love as though it is real, but they do.

They even get political about it and support notions like gay marriage. They do this all in the name of love. They treat love like it is real, but then deny the only foundation that love could ever be based upon – God. And that very foundation (God) has defined and declared what love is like. He has authority over love since it is His attribute. And yet with gay marriage, fallen man rebels against what God has revealed about love. It is quite strange. They appeal to love even though it would be meaningless on the grounds of their worldview, they demand us to agree with them, and all the while they thoughtlessly reject the foundation of love. So even in the manner that the world loves, they rebel against God. It is absolutely astonishing.

Due to the fact that we are persons, and God is a person, communication is possible. This divine communication to humans also grounds the abstract absolutes in an unchangeable reality. It explains why they exist and why we live by them. And it objectively defines such attributes setting the standard for them. Truly then, divine communicate is the basis for humans having a grand unifying theory. Not surprisingly, fallen man blinds himself to all of this and perverts the absolutes that God has given us. They then hypocritically claim all is relative, but then attempt to force all people to accept their definitions of these things. Only one word can them – irrational. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Where Do Persons Come From?

Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Continuing on with our study of the Christian Worldview from the works of Francis Schaeffer, we will now move on to subjects that I find to be absolutely fascinating. They are also of the utmost importance. Thus far, we have merely tracked the historical progression of human thinking below the line of despair. Mankind rejects absolutes and therefore they reject truth. They reject God. They reject everything that is right in order to accept blindly the things that are wrong. When they cannot live with the consequences of their thinking, they have three options – 1) they kill themselves; 2) they arbitrarily create absolutes; or 3) they hold to some kind of arbitrary mysticism. Of course, this is all futile.

Well, with that discussion now complete, Schaeffer brings our attention to the truth. The biblical Christian worldview is the truth. It answers the questions that philosophy struggles with. It provides the meaning and absolutes that we all know exist. In fact, it sufficiently accounts for and explains everything we see in the real world, and it makes sense out of our experience as humans. All of the other worldviews cannot do this. Our very experience cries against these worldviews. So why then does fallen man cling to these lies and reject the truth? It comes back down to Romans 1:18-25. Paul tells us they already know that the biblical God exists, but they choose to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Their minds are darkened, and they have exchanged the truth for a lie. They then create various kinds of idols to justify the wicked living that their fallen hearts desire. Submitting to the truth would cause them to give up their idols and debased passions. They do not want to give up these things. Thus, they blind themselves to the truth, and yet their lives are contradictory. They live by absolutes even though they reject the idea of them. They live as though the world is the way the Christian worldview says it is.

And so now we can move to these issues. Schaeffer begins by pointing out that Biblical Christianity is able to have systematic theology. No other worldview can adequately do the same. Systematic theology shows that Christianity is not a series of isolated theological statements, but instead it is a story that has a beginning and flows smoothly to the end. Each part of biblical systematic theology is related to and depends upon every other part of the theology. The doctrines are all interrelated to each other and build upon each other. They tie everything together perfectly, and in so doing they answer all of the questions posed by mankind. As humans we are doomed to uncertainty. There are many things we cannot know on our own, such as where did we come from, what is wrong with the world, are we alone, is there life after death, etc. The Bible answers these in a cohesive manner that does not contradict itself. Every other worldview has disjointed answers that contradict each other. The reason the Bible successfully answers these questions is because it is the divinely inspired Word from the God who created us.

In the chapter that I am summarizing here, Schaeffer hones in on one vital question that our worldview answers that all other worldviews fail to answer. The subject is that of personality. More specifically, individual personality. Where do persons come from? Where does personality come from? What is the ultimate ground of personality? Unbelievers cannot adequately answer these questions. The Christian answer is pretty simple and straightforward. We are persons because our personhood is grounded upon the ultimate and absolute person, God. The Bible teaches that the one God exists as a Trinity. The three members of the Trinity are all persons that bear the attribute of personhood. All three were in a perfect relationship of love in eternity past and continue in such a relationship today, and will remain in such a relationship for all eternity. The one God is a person, and as such He is the original person. No one made Him a person. He always was a person. He is the only true absolute in existence, and all other absolutes are grounded in Him as the true absolute.

The Bible declares that we were made in the image of God. Since God is the absolute person, we are derivative persons. Our personhood exists because we were made in the image of God. Therefore, in a finite manner, we reflect what God is. God is a person, and thus we are too. This then makes sense of all of the absolute aspects that are attached to personhood: love, relationships, sacrifice, friendship, justice, etc. None of these have any meaning apart from personhood. Rocks and trees do not understand justice, right and wrong, good and evil, love, relationships, sacrifice, etc. Some animals may form packs and take care of their own, but this is a far cry from love, relationships, and sacrifice as understood and practiced by humans. So if they are personal, it is not anywhere near the extent of human personhood. The bottom line is this. These things that are normal and needed aspects of the human experience only exist if we are persons. The biblical worldview explains why we are persons and why we hold a special place in creation.

What about unbelieving Christian worldviews? When I ask this, I refer to any and all that were mentioned in the previous posts. What about nihilism? What about dichotomy? What about mysticism? What about Eastern religion? How do any of these options account for personality? Ultimately, we can lump all of these into one option. They all hold that the ultimate reality is impersonal. So we have the right to ask them, “How can such a reality create persons?” There are many ways to describe this impersonal reality: Hindu pantheism, Tillich’s panentheistic “Ground of Being,” Heidegger’s view on language, and atheists’ ultimate belief in impersonal matter and chance. All are in the same situation. All of these people need to account for the existence of personality when the ultimate reality is supposedly impersonal.

The truth of the matter is that everyone who believes in an impersonal absolute denies the only explanation that can fit the facts of their own experience. To date, no one has presented a feasible idea or theory as to how an impersonal beginning plus time and chance can give personality. Schaeffer points out that unbelievers will attempt to distract people from this dilemma by using fancy words, but these truly do nothing to escape the problem. Calling reality the “Ground of Being” in no way explains how this impersonal force created personal beings. Hindu pantheism in no way explains how the impersonal Brahman led to the existence of personal beings. They might claim personality is an illusion, but then they live day to day as though personality is real. Why? Because it is real! Our experience cannot escape this. Thus, no one in the history of humanistic and rationalistic thought has found a solution. Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975), one of the more prominent atheists of the previous generation, recognized this problem. Therefore, even though he did not believe in God, he believed that mankind would function better if we acted as though there was a God. In other words, Huxley asked people to declare that God is dead, but then to act and live like He is real. This is no solution. It is nothing more than saying that man can only function as man (a personal being) if they believe a lie.

The Christian worldview completely solves this dilemma. We exist as personal beings because God is personal. It is that simple. Furthermore, our human experience only demonstrates that the personal must be grounded in the personal. What I mean by this is we see persons make two kinds of things, impersonal and personal. Yet, the impersonal only makes impersonal things. We have seen farmers produce a farm, but we have never seen a farm produce a farmer. We have seen factor workers produce tractors, but we have never seen a tractor produce a factory worker. We have never observed in physics or chemistry impersonal matter producing personal beings. We have never even observed non-living matter produce living matter, even after many experiments. So we have all seen persons produce impersonal things, but we have never seen an impersonal thing produce a person. We have also seen persons produce other persons. Each person reading this blog, whether believer or unbeliever, was born as a result of the union of a man with a woman. So persons come from other persons. It only happens this way. Yet, against all experience and all observation, humanity below the line of despair wants you to believe that we all ultimately come from an impersonal ultimate.

If the universe is one big accident, and it really is reduced down to only molecules in motion, then there is no meaning, nor purpose, nor direction to anything. Living creatures are one freak accident that defied the odds, and living creatures that are also persons are simply unexplainable. Truly, if this worldview is correct, we are just a bunch of random atoms chemically operating in a certain way. Ontologically speaking, that would make us no different than any other bunch atoms operating in certain ways. The rock and the human are the same – impersonal atoms interacting in an impersonal way. The fact that our atoms seem to make us think we are persons is ultimately just an illusion. If the universe is what the atheists say it is, then we are not real persons. This is not too far off from Eastern pantheism. Yet, all of us are persons. We cannot escape it. This is why Huxley had to say we needed to pretend God is real, because there is no other explanation to suffice.

I dare say there is an explanation. The personal God of the universe created both the impersonal universe and personal human beings. He causes, determines, and sustains both the impersonal universe and personal humans. We are persons because He is a person. We are moral because He is moral. We are creative because He is creative. We are alive because He is the foundation of life as He has life in Himself. We use logic because the laws of logic are a byproduct of God’s mind, and as His creatures made in His image, we imitate Him, but only to a finite degree. All of these things – persons, morals, absolutes, creativity, life, and logic – are real things that exist in the real world, and every single human being that has ever lived has operated off their existence every single day. And yet it is these very things that atheism, pantheism, mysticism, dichotomy, and nihilism deny.

At the end of the day, all forms of non-Christian thought are irrational leaps of blindness. They function according to the things the Christian worldview accounts for, but then they come up with asinine theories to claim these things aren’t real even though we cannot live without them. Personality is merely one of these things. More examples of this type of thing will be offered in the posts to come. At the least, let this be a call to the world to abandon their hopeless irrationality and turn to the God of the Bible. He is the ground of all reality, and the only ground that makes sense out of our daily experience. Turn away from vain and hopeless theories, and embrace the absolute truth. Until next time, God bless.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The New Theology

By Pastor Stephen Feinstein

In my last post, I took a short break from summarizing the works of Francis Schaeffer to comment on the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate. If you have not read that post, I definitely recommend it. Today, I am ready to resume our current topic. In the last few chapters, Schaeffer has explained how the various disciplines (philosophy, art, music, and literature) turned to a form of mysticism in order to try to cling to absolutes. They were forced to do this because on the one hand they deny that absolutes truly exist, but on the other hand it is impossible for humans to live without them. Rather than accepting the truth that absolutes do in fact exist, they instead left it up to mere relativism. Each individual could choose for themselves what absolutes to follow. The obvious irrationality of this approach caused some to turn to mysticism. Mysticism is the idea that there exists some ultimate reality that is impersonal and unknowable, but it is out there. Since it is unknowable, mystics believe that all of our individual attempts to describe “absolutes” are all equally valid ways to describe this great mystical reality. It still allows for relativism, but at the same time it supposedly explains why we appeal to absolutes in the first place. The truth be told, this approach is just as irrational as the prior. It demonstrates the utter futility of mankind attempting reason with himself as the center, rather than reasoning from the perfect revelation that comes from the one true God, Yahweh.

Well, just like the field of theology adopted the previous irrational leap, it will also do so with mysticism. Francis Schaeffer calls it the New Theology. The New Theology had two variants. The first variant was Christian atheism. Yes, I know. That title makes absolutely no sense. The main idea within this variant is that all unity is to be found on the lower level of the dichotomy. Remember, ever since Kierkegaard, western thinkers divided knowledge into two separate levels, or a dichotomy. The lower level is what deals with the observable real world, such as science and rationality. At this level it was assumed everything is meaningless since people envisioned a universe without God. However, by an irrational leap of faith, man can create an upper level where we think about abstract concepts outside of observation. Concepts such as God, truth, right, wrong, etc., all belong to this upper level, and they are whatever we want them to be. Mystic thought belongs on this upper level. Well, some theologians rejected the upper level altogether, and pretty much held to a theology summed up by Frederick Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead. These theologians claim that God never existed, and thus they only seek to deal in theology on the lower level. The biblical texts are real texts, and so they will study them as just that, ancient religious texts. They did not believe what the texts taught about upper level concepts. Since they studied theological texts, they were still considered theologians.

Well, most theologians were not too comfortable with this. Thus, in various forms they will embrace mysticism, which will fuel what Schaeffer refers to as the New Liberalism. Karl Barth put the nail in the coffin of the Old Liberalism in theology with his Neo-Orthodoxy, but a new form of liberalism that we still deal with today would emerge shortly after. The New Liberalism agreed with the previous assumption that the Bible has nothing to do with the lower level and is only an upper level book. Thus, they denied the historical reliability and the scientific accuracy of the Bible. Any historical detail in it could be reduced down to myth meant to teach upper level truths. So New Liberalism, like the Old Liberalism before it, rejected the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

The New Theology is all over the theological map when it comes to describing God. Some of the theologians are pantheists. They believe that God is the universe, or some aspect of it. They see God as being only immanent. Immanence is the notion that God is everywhere and in everything. Such theologians, for the most part, reject the idea of God being transcendent. Transcendence refers to the notion that God is not anywhere in the universe, but instead He is entirely separate from it. He is not part of the universe, but is fully outside of it and beyond it. The Bible actually teaches that God is both transcendent and immanent. He is completely beyond the universe. He cannot be contained by it or in it. Yet, He is also immanent as He is omnipresent. There is no place in all of creation where God is not present. The fact that God is both is precisely what makes it possible for Him to be the creator, and yet for us to be able to have real knowledge about Him. Through immanence He communicates to His people through His Word, and the Holy Spirit dwells within all believers. Yet, through transcendence, He is beyond our ability to truly grasp. We can only know as much as He lets us know. What He lets us know is certainly true and accurately describes Him, and thus it is true knowledge. Furthermore, a transcendent and immanent God meets and provides the preconditions of intelligibility. I spoke of such preconditions in my last post about the Ham vs. Nye debate.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was one such new liberal, and though I would declare his view to be pantheistic, Tillich himself referred to it as panentheism. There are slight differences. Tillich rejected that God is a person, but instead God is in all persons. He claimed God does not exist, but is instead in all existence. God is not everything, but God is in everything. God is not life, but is in life. I think you get the point. At the end of the day, this is still a total commitment to the immanence of God to such a degree that the transcendence of God is denied. Obviously, the clear Scriptural teachings about God had no respect in the mind of Tillich, but instead he gave his full devotion to his arbitrary opinions about God. There really is not a great deal of difference between Tillich’s view and Hinduism. Prior to his death, he claimed that he was not a man that prayed, but instead he was a man that meditated. Prayer only makes sense if it is directed to a personal being that is outside of the universe and can affect what happens within the universe. Tillich rejected a personal God with power, but instead held to an impersonal “it” that is in everything. Thus, to him meditation made more sense. Clearly, Tillich and his followers held to theological mysticism. This all goes to show the natural consequence of denying the veracity of Scripture. Tillich is part of the new liberalism.

Did any new liberals hold to transcendence? Yes. Some believed that God is only transcendent, and thus He is so outside of the universe that we who are trapped in the universe cannot know anything about Him. The end result is that Scripture cannot be what it says it is (a personal word from this God), and thus it carries no authority. Instead, whatever relativistic opinion a person holds is an equally valid attempt to explain the unexplainable. This really is no different than the other forms of mysticism that were spoken of in previous posts. One theologian was so contradictory that his view of transcendence actually would make God immanent. British theologian Bishop Robinson claimed that God is transcendent, but that humanity is transcendent too. We are not transcendent, but instead we exist as part of the universe. Therefore, his definition of transcendence actually meant immanence.

These liberals were obviously very confused. This is what happens when people reject the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Their rejection of the Word is what causes them to follow the world and the general culture in terms of opinion. Their conceptions about God, morality, and a host of other issues agree with that of the world simply because these people reject Scripture. The end result is that we who hold to the truth look like extremists. In the Ham and Nye debate, Bill Nye the Science Guy kept insisting to Ken Ham that there are billions of Christians that accept evolution. He would have probably added that they are also for abortion, gay marriage, and a host of other issues that liberals hold dear. It is sad that since these Christian liberals use Christian vocabulary and meet in buildings called churches, it gives the surrounding culture the impression that they are Christians and that it is possible that Christians can hold to their “progressive” agenda. Yet, for those of us who are the real Christians, we are seen as intolerant fundamentalists who resist the growing New Morality of the Left. Christian liberalism, the New Theology, has truly created a host of problems.

In a world that is moving rapidly toward mass secularization, the New Theology will survive. The reason is quite simple. Society cannot function without form or motivation. The old forms, the old views of right and wrong, and the old views of man have been swept away. Something had to replace it. Yet, the cold meaninglessness of atheistic existentialism will not be palatable for the masses, and it would be disastrous for society. Humanist Sir Julian Huxley realized that religion has a place in modern society for precisely the aforementioned reasons. But to him, it needed to be an evolving religion that is under the control of society. , as society changes its moral values, philosophical opinions, and scientific consensus, religion must follow suit, otherwise it is not serving its pragmatic purpose. Its purpose is to give a religious flavor to the forms and motivations that society now pushes. Huxley’s demand that religion conform to society is something that people like Bill Nye, Bill Maher, Hollywood liberals, and the cultural elites have been pushing for a long time. Since the Western cultural tradition is Christian, the New Theology has a historic vocabulary that can be applied to the new societal forms. This is moral palatable than bare existentialism. Thus, the New Theology will survive.

This makes it possible for the vast majority of people to say they are Christians, and yet reject historic Christianity and Jesus Christ. This will make it possible for nations all over the West to criminalize and potentially massacre real Christians as extremists. All the while, they will be able to say they are not against Christianity as they can point to millions who so label themselves. These are dangerous times, and perhaps this is the backdrop to the Great Apostasy that precedes the return of our Lord.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him: we ask you, brothers,  2)  not to be easily upset in mind or troubled, either by a spirit or by a message or by a letter as if from us, alleging that the Day of the Lord has come.  3)  Don't let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. (2Thessalonians 2:1-3)

If there is any relationship between the New Theology and the apostasy, then it means this all stemmed from a century-long process that began on the day Europe plunged below the line of despair. It moved slowly and it went unnoticed until today. Today, it is a post Christian, postmodern society clinging to the new morality created by the Left, and many Christian denominations are capitulating (as they have been for some time now). Evangelicalism is under major attack and it looks like the criminalization of it is right around the corner. At times like this, real Christians need to stay committed to the truth more than ever. They also need to be on their knees in prayer. Until next time, God bless.