Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Theology Below the Line of Despair!


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Over the last few weeks, I have been summarizing Francis Schaeffer’s Christian Worldview series. We have seen that Western Civilization has fallen below the line of despair, and it happened in this order: 1) philosophy, 2) art, 3) music, 4) general culture, and 5) theology. Today, I will explain how theology eventually fell below the line.

If we looked at all of the non-orthodox and errant schools of theology individually, we would find a great deal of diversity in terms of thought and belief. Therefore, Schaeffer realized it makes more sense to focus on the single factor that unifies the errant theologies that live below the line. In so doing, he noticed something similar to the other disciplines. Within theology, there previously existed an optimistic attitude toward humanism and rational thought. This optimism was undoubtedly birthed by the Enlightenment Era. And this optimism was later followed by a thinker who served as the doorway to the line of despair. And afterward, those who followed entered the doorway and traveled below the line of despair.

Remember, the line of despair refers to the belief by most people that there are no real absolutes, especially with regard to truth. In fact, truth as a concept is divided between rationalism and faith. Rationalism and science are seen as objective, but abstract concepts like truth, justice, right, wrong, etc., are taken off a leap of faith because there is no real or absolute meaning to anything. Those who think like this are thinking below the line of despair.

So how could theologians descend below this line? How could there be a doorway from within our camp to this? How could we end up with liberal theology and Neo-Orthodoxy (this will be explained shortly)? And how could have the field of theology descended to the awful point that we see today where “Christian” theologians hold to an embarrassing amount of variety on key theological issues? Today on the subjects of
gay marriage, abortion, the theory of evolution, original sin, human nature, salvation, the person of Christ, etc., there is far too much disagreement within the umbrella of Christianity and the historic denominations. This diversity demonstrates that far too many Christians view truth exactly as the world does; as a matter of synthesis. Apparently, truth is a melting pot of whatever we want to throw together. This is not right. Truth exists, and it exists absolutely. In fact, the truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

So how did it come to this? Well, let’s first look at the doorway. But before we do that, first let me say that those who traveled below the line were never part of orthodox Christianity in the first place. They were people who accepted the Enlightenment rejection of biblical truth. They believed the Bible had errors and was scientifically inaccurate. They believed science and reason were where truth and progress were to be found. They accepted the “closed-universe” model, which teaches that the universe is a closed system that operates off of unchanging predictable laws. In a closed universe, miracles are not possible. If there is a God, He would have no power to alter, change, or break these laws of nature. From this assumption, the theologians moved toward liberalism. When they said the Bible was filled with errors, what they meant was that since it contained miraculous events in it, it must not be true. This was not the result of investigation, but instead it was the natural conclusion to the ASSUMPTION of a closed-universe.

The Bible holds to the open-universe model, which means since God is the creator of the universe, He is sovereign over it. As such, He can alter, change, or break the laws of nature whenever He sees fit. He can raise people from the dead. He can split Red Sea. He can send ten plagues onto Egypt. He can do any of the things mentioned in Scripture. This is quite logical. If by mere words He spoke the universe into existence, then it would be far easier for Him to do miracles within that world He created. Unfortunately, these theologians rejected this, and instead followed the lead of the Enlightenment philosophers. Their goal was to find out what really happened in the biblical narratives. They searched for the historical Jesus. After a century and a half of failing at this, they were ready to give up their optimism just as the other disciplines did. They were ready to enter the doorway that was previously opened by philosophy.

However, it is fair to note as I did with the philosophers, that a choice was before them. When their Naturalistic theology failed, there were two possibilities for them to choose from. They could either throw away their Naturalistic assumptions of a closed-universe and surrender to the biblical theology of the Reformation, or they could embrace the nihilistic assumptions of no absolutes. I am sure you can guess which choice they made. Just the like philosophers should have abandoned their atheistic assumptions rather than absolutes, the liberal theologians should have abandoned their naturalistic views rather than biblical theology. Well, what the theologians did is they attempted to create a third way, very similar to the philosophers. They agreed with Kierkegaard that a leap of faith is necessary. They agreed that truth is separated into rational and non-rational categories. They believed solid fact belonged in the rational category (the sciences) and that anything else is in the non-rational category and simply amounts to whatever a person wants to believe. This is the leap of faith. There is no true objective meaning, but we can define our own meaning and it will be “real” to us. Theologians bought into this, and thus traveled below the line of despair.

Kierkegaard was the doorway by dividing truth into rational and non-rational categories. Kierkegaard himself was religious and thus from him existential religion was born. However, the theologians were decades behind in terms of accepting his view. They still clung to the Naturalistic optimism of the Enlightenment. The philosophers, however, jumped on this idea quickly and created their atheistic existential ideas that influenced art, music, and the general culture. Afterwards, liberal theologians would jump on the bandwagon. The door had been opened for sometime, and as the secular existentialism savaged the old romanticism in all of the secular disciplines, liberal theologians were getting weaker and weaker in their optimistic commitments. All it took was for one theologian at the right time to push theology below the line of despair.

That theologian was Karl Barth (1886-1968), the founder of Neo-Orthodoxy (though he did not like this label). Barth sought to defend many of the orthodox
doctrines of Christianity, but he did so in a way that cost us much. He rejected the old liberalism and argued in favor of many of the Reformed doctrines. This was great. It was necessary that the old liberalism be destroyed in the seminaries. However, Barth’s understanding of the nature of truth caused him to reject the inerrancy of Scripture. He believed the Bible did have errors, both scientifically and historically. To Barth, the Word of God is Jesus Christ alone. It is true that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, but true orthodoxy also believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Barth’s rejection of this was quite costly. He was forced to separate religious faith from the rational fields of study. Secularists were fine with this since it would keep Christian doctrine out of their universities. In a sense, this way of thinking reinforced the idea that theology itself is a non-rational and unnecessary subject. It has no place with the sciences or social sciences. It allowed for Christians to happily believe the doctrines of the Bible and live in our own bubble where we define our own meaning for ourselves based on the Bible. This is how the unbelieving elites see us.

Barth’s intentions may have been good, but his commitment to synthesis and his agreement with Kierkegaard pushed theology below the line of despair. Many men, far less orthodox, came after him. Furthermore, the New Liberalism movement emerged in the 1930s, and those below the line were ripe to fall into it. We who are orthodox have been dealing with this ever since. This is the consequence of professing Christians denying that the God of the Bible is the grand unifying theory. Those who do this separate theology from science, and see no unity between the two. Politically and socially the consequences are obvious.

The unbelieving world definitely agrees with this development in theology. They want us to keep our faith out of politics and education. I remembered watching Ray Comfort debate the hosts of the Atheist Experience TV show, and he asked them why they cared if he believed what the Bible teaches. One of the hosts answered that he cares when Christians bring their faith into the public sphere and use their beliefs to prohibit certain groups from marrying. It was clear he was referencing gay marriage. This host awarded himself the position to declare what beliefs are acceptable for public life and which ones are not. On the one hand I wanted to call into the show and demonstrate to him his hypocrisy. But on the other hand, I also realized that Christians brought this on themselves. By agreeing to Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and then allowing for decades of secularization of public life without putting up a fight, we are left in a situation where unbelievers uncritically accept the idea that religious people are to keep their beliefs private.

Had orthodox theologians pushed the antithesis from the beginning and demonstrated the total irrationality of atheism and existential thinking, this could have been avoided. Had Christians lived Christ-centered lives where the Christian worldview informs all parts of their lives, then we would have resisted the move below the line of despair. Instead, most Christians have bought into it. Most Christians compartmentalize Christ and simply add Him to the other parts of their lives. This is wrong. He is the center of our life, the single unifying factor that ties all aspects of us together.

So what are we to do? Christians, place Christ at the center, stand up for antithesis rather than synthesis, and let’s push back against the world. They are hopeless, meaningless, and contradictory in their thinking. We have the truth. We have the gospel. May we go forth in a thunderous march and proclaim God’s truth to this hopeless and broken world! 


  1. Rubbish.

    Amazingly, this is so relevant to my deconversion. After having been a Christian for 25 years, and having made a slow transition away from faith in an honest search for the truth, I resigned myself to the notion that I would be forever in misery since that is what I had been told so long.

    Incredibly, after I decided to go back to school, I attended a philosophy conference, and when the chance arose, I asked "So, why are so many philosophers deeply despondent?" The entire room of philosophers turned to look at me with bewilderment.

    It was only a few months later, after I had actually bothered to speak to actual philosophers that I began to realize that, their "purposeless" existences were inexplicably happy and content! I had been lied to!

    It was merely a few months later that the euphoria of rational thinking hit me also! Life is so much more beautiful once you commit to honestly following the evidence. Pieces of life fall into place, and the burden of dogmatism can be shrugged off as you no longer have any fear of reevaluating your assumptions at any time.

    If you are being told philosophers are depressed and in misery, you have been lied to. Join me on Facebook if you doubt this.

    Life without faith is amazing! The beauty of committing yourself to simply following the evidence rather than conjuring up faith is far superior.

    Cheers, Phil Stilwell

  2. Phil,

    I am glad that you took enough interest to read this blog. However, there are many problems with what you wrote.

    First, I have not lied to anyone. I did not say that all atheistic philosophers are depressed. By living below the line of despair, I simply mean that those who live blow this line reject the existence of absolute truth. This has caused some to be depressed (Van Gogh, Hemmingway, etc.) thus leading to suicide, but to others it has not had this effect. So please do not put words into my mouth.

    Second, you were not a Christian for 25 years. You may have professed to be one, as many do, but a person who has been truly born again cannot make himself unborn. 1 John 2:19 says that those who fall away were never truly saved in the first place. So your experience as a “Christian” and your eventual drifting away are actually meaningless in this conversation. I do not mean to disrespect your experience, and such is not my intent, but the Bible gets to define who is really a Christian and who is not. It is the authoritative book for Christianity, and thus it is dubious when a person claims he was part of this community of faith, when his very claim contradicts the doctrines of that faith.

    You speak of philosophy as though it is a unified field in which everyone agrees. It is not. Furthermore, I wonder just how much experience you have with epistemology. A good epistemologist can tear holes into some of the things you said.

  3. Third, you speak of following the evidence. What evidence? What are your rules for interpreting evidence? Do you not know that all evidence is first filtered through a person’s presuppositions? Do you not know that evidence does not speak for itself? To say that it does is the fallacy of reification. Any student of basic epistemology knows this stuff. If you assume that the universe is a random, meaningless accident, then you will interpret all evidence in light of that and find ways to ignore the evidence that contradicts it. So no, you do not simply follow the evidence. You chose a worldview that you feel more comfortable with, and then you started interpreting evidence in accordance with that worldview’s presuppositions. If you only studied basic transcendental logic, you would know that your worldview is actually impossible.

    Did you ever stop to ask yourself how a chance-based universe allows for predication? Predication (or inductive inference) is a necessary precondition of science. How can predication be possible in a random universe? Did you ever stop to ask how philosophers can use logic in a material universe? Is logic made of matter? You show me what atoms make up deductive inference. I am curious. Plato would runs circles around your materialism, and he lived 2,500 years ago! Do you really believe there is no absolute truth? Wait until someone starts to treat you unjustly. Then we will see that what you say with your mouth you actually deny with your actions.

    So before you jump onto a Christian blog and try to refute the author, you need to make sure you know your stuff. I do not have time to enter a debate with you. If you really care about evidence, then go read it on both sides. Even more importantly than that, evaluate your presuppositions to see if they even make sense of reality in the first place. But to come on this blog and tell me that you follow the evidence demonstrates a great lack of philosophical sophistication.

    So I respectfully say to your post, as you said to mine, rubbish.

    Cheers, Stephen Feinstein

    P.S. I find it funny and sad that you go to a Christian blog and then advertise that people become followers of you on Facebook. Apparently, you believe it is your right and prerogative to try to convert people away from Christianity. I hope you are fair enough then to believe it is the right of the Christian to spread his faith in public forums as well. Otherwise, someone is being quite the hypocrite. Then again, only on a Christian worldview can we actually say hypocrisy is a bad thing anyway. In a purposeless universe, how could you actually say anything is wrong? Even hypocrisy. Good day.

  4. Stephen, perhaps I misunderstood your blog.
    What percentage of philosophers are you claiming are miserable?

  5. Hi Phil,

    I doubt I could ever know a percentage. I think the majority probably are not miserable, but I believe it is because deep down in their heart of hearts they know there is truth, meaning, and purpose. So they are not hopeless because they have not really embraced the chaos that they claim to believe in. The details of their lives show they have not embraced it. They love their families, they see meaning in what they do for a living, and follow some sort of ethical code. These things would be nonsense if reality was truly chaos. Van Gogh did embrace the chaos as did a handful of others. And when they did, it destroyed them.

    So I am not saying Christians are happy people and atheists are depressed people. Many of the greatest Christians have struggled with depression (due to the nonstop nature of spiritual warfare), and there have probably been many atheists very content with their view.

    Does that clear it up? Thanks for writing.


    1. Hi Stephen,

      You mentioned a few things about epistemology. I'm not very good at epistemology, so perhaps you can offer some guidance in this respect.

      Just a few questions.

      1. Is rational belief inherently binary (either you believe or you don't) or inherently on a gradient when inductively assessing the world around us?

      2. Is absolute belief warranted for subjective beings, and how is the method for assessing the reliability of the mechanisms that convey absolute truth?

      3. If you awoke to reality for the first time fully grown in a room with only your untested brain, an pendulum and a watch, could rational belief be warranted about the degree of reliability of your brain, the pendulum and the watch after a few days of interaction among the three without presuppositions?

      Your insight is highly valued here.

      Thanks, Phil

  6. How could we design a test to determine whether your claim is actually true?

  7. Phil,

    I have been a little busy lately. Your questions are actually ones that are enjoyable to me. I would love to give detailed answers, but time does not permit. So, if you are okay with it, I will give fast answers, and then other Christians, if they are so inclined, can also take a stab at them too. If you would like more thorough answers, I will need to wait until a less hectic week.

    So, can we design a test for my claim? Yes and no. First, if God is real, then finite humans could not create a test in a science lab that would be able to interact with Him. This is especially so if He is infinite. So what kind of test can we use? Well, for starters, let me point out that there are many things you take for granted that are not tested. Many materialists claim that true knowledge can only be learned through empirical observation. The problem is, can they actually observe this itself? They would have to be everywhere at once to be able to observe that ALL knowledge is gained through empirical observation. Therefore, they make a claim that cannot be truly tested since finite humans cannot be at all places in the universe simultaneously to observe how all true knowledge is acquired. Does that make sense? I bring this up because all of our tests and lenses by which we interpret things are grounded in presuppositions. But none of those presuppositions can ever best tested in the way that you are thinking. So what do we do? Are we at an impasse?

    No. The way we test these is with transcendental logic. We simply must ask the question as follows: Based on everything that we observe and know, what transcendental preconditions must be true in order for reality to be as it is? You then answer this question by comparing the various worldview presuppositions to what we see in the real world to see if they can actually account for reality and intelligibility. When this test is completed, all forms of naturalism and materialism fail (for their presuppositions actually contradict what we see in the real world and what we experience as humans). All non-Christian religious expressions fail as well, since they are arbitrary and inconsistent. Yet, the Christian Biblical Worldview passes the test every time. The Biblical worldview is the necessary precondition of all intelligibility. I explained this with much more detail in my second through fifth responses to Russell Glasser in my debate. So I will not write pages upon pages here. In fact, I have now set things up for the Christian followers of the blog to engage in this. They can give examples and arguments as to how and why the Christian worldview passes the test of transcendental logic. Hopefully they will embrace this opportunity.

    Thanks for the question Phil.

  8. Phil, your three questions on epistemology can each warrant a book to be written. They are great questions. So once again, I will give fast answers and let some of the Christian followers of the blog offer some input too.

    On the first question, if I understand it correctly, I do think it is binary. I strongly believe in antithesis. If one position is true, its opposite is false. I believe A and Non A will always be in contradiction. There is some level of our rational belief growing on a gradient as we empirically discover things and inductively build bodies of knowledge. However, I think it can easily be argued that 90% (or more) of what we think we know comes via deduction rather than induction. Our finite minds require this, for we simply do not have the time to inductively study all particulars in a class or category. So we make deductive inferences about classes and categories and then apply such inferences to the particulars. How we are able to acquire so much knowledge by using immaterial logic if we are merely material beings is a problem that atheism has not given a good answer to. They have given answers, but not good ones. Christians have a great answer, but that can be for another time, or for someone else to post in this discussion.

    Now to your second question. Absolute truth is warranted for finite subjective beings if we are made in the image of the one God who Himself is an Absolute Being. Reality is what it is because He made it as such, and therefore it is objective. If we are in His image, then we have been hardwired to learn things and have certitude so that we could survive in the universe that He made. If there is no God, and all things are random, then we could never have certainty on anything that we think we know. Our finite minds could never justify certainty. And yet, as a species we have certainty on all sorts of things -- language, symbols, laws of science, etc. The very transcendental precondition of certainty is an absolute person (God). Certainty exists. Therefore, God exists. This is a very simple explanation of this. I wish I had time to write more. I am simply showing that on the Christian worldview, the certainty that we have makes sense. Humans everywhere live as though many things are certain. Our experience proves that certitude is real. The atheist worldview allows for no certainty. Yet, certainty exists. This is a problem for atheists. Some have plunged to nihilism as a result, but when you examine their lives, they still act like certitude exists. A great example was Jean-Paul Sarte signing the Algerian Manifesto. That very act contradicted everything that he said he believed. In so doing, the secular existentialists saw him as a traitor to their system. Yet, their very indignation with him showed their hypocrisy. They too showed that they hold to certitude, otherwise, they should have not cared about what Sarte did. So, they could say all is random and subjective with their mouths, but their actions betray their view. All humans live as though certainty exists. Why? Because we are hardwired this way and are made in the image of God. It is irrational to think that an impersonal and uncertain nature would hardwire us to believe in certainty when nature's true reality is that there is no certainty. Does this make sense?

  9. In answer to your third question, I would say yes, especially if you were Adam. He was made from the dust of ground as a fully conscious being, and His maker interacted with him immediately to help him develop a dependent epistemology. Adam could not have an independent epistemology because he could not exhaustively know anything due to his finitude, but he could know things for certain when they were confirmed by the infinite God who knows all things exhaustively. God hardwired him to be able to have certainty, even if he could never justify it on his (Adam's) own. The rest of us come into existence through conception, birth, and growth. So it is hard to imagine any of us popping up as a grown person. We all get to where we are at through our experience and life journey. But if God wanted, He could have created all of us simultaneously in a full grown state, with the necessary knowledge and ontological reasoning to rationally meet the demands of your third question. Adam was created in that way. We grow into it. I hope this answers your question.

    Once again, the Christians who read this are encouraged to offer insight as well.

    Thanks for the questions Phil.