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.