Post Truth And The Confusion It Creates


Recently I heard there has been an increase in the number of people who believe in a flat earth. I didn’t think it was true until I encountered some in a writer group who were arguing for the position. Really? I was a little floored. I mean we have pictures of the round earth, and many more facts, too numerous to mention here without getting sidetracked.

I didn’t realize until just today that this kind of “belief in the face of opposing evidence” is actually on the rise. Another example: apparently there are some people who believe that the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook never happened. I don’t know what they do with the shootings since then. But apparently, the thinking goes, the government put out this fake story with fake pictures so that they can implement gun control and undermine the Second Amendment.

There’s more. Some have held to the idea that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, or alternatively that the government knew about them and let them happen. As one article on these conspiracies says, “This theory was, of course, widely debunked but continues to live on” (“America’s 10 Most Popular Conspiracy Theories“).

Another ridiculous claim, but one held by a surprising number of people, is that the moon landing was faked. Worst of all, in my opinion, is that the Holocaust never happened.

The point here is that people continue to believe these things regardless of the evidence. It’s the old saying I first read back in 1967: My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts. Back then this was displayed on a card among other humorous quips. Today it more nearly reflects the thinking of a large portion of society

So in the last twelve months I’ve had discussions with people who claim Jesus never lived. This in the face of the evidence. From The Guardian: “The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings” (“What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?“).

Here’s the definitive statement that illustrates the grip post-truth has on western culture:

About 10 years ago, The Jesus Project was set up in the US; one of its main questions for discussion was that of whether or not Jesus existed. Some authors have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth was doubly non-existent, contending that both Jesus and Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written most against these hypersceptical arguments are atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach, branding it pseudo-scholarship. Nevertheless, a recent survey discovered that 40% of adults in England did not believe that Jesus was a real historical figure. (Ibid.; emphasis mine)

Postmodern thinking introduced the idea that truth is relative: you have your truth and I have mine. But post-truth basically says that truth is irrelevant. What counts is your perception, how you feel, want you want to believe.

The problem here is that truth does matter. Take the illustration I recently heard about a motorist who had discovered a “short cut.” Parallel to the road he was taking ran an unfinished highway. He crossed the narrow ditch between the two and made great time on the smooth road. But at one point he came upon big flashing lights that announced the road would end at the unfinished bridge ahead. Then followed a series of four signs commemorating motorists who had died THAT WEEK because they didn’t heed the warning.

They simply did not believe the experts because they didn’t want to believe. Maybe they thought the construction company was purposefully keeping the public away for greedy gain. Maybe they simply weren’t paying attention, though it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t see those huge, blinking signs. Whatever the reason, they didn’t believe the truth and it cost them their lives.

And here is Jesus, saying in His word, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” He’s the Truth. A living embodiment of what is True. Consequently, His witness about His Father is True. His statements about our spiritual condition are True.

But I have to wonder if our post-truth culture even cares. They would just as soon continue on the smooth, broad road that leads to destruction. Perhaps they love their sin too much to pay attention to Truth. But the chaos, the confusion that results from ignoring the Truth, is certain.

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Stability


The new year has kicked in, and for me personally, stability is on my mind more than anything else. Maybe I’ll make it my word for the year. The reason is simple, the lingering effect of my stroke is that I lack stability. Not as much as I did close to the event, for sure. But the fact is, I’m still less stable than I use to be.

I was trying to explain the sensation to a friend, and finally landed on this: I feel like I’m always walking on ice. That’s not quite right, but it’s close. You see, I can feel unstable even when I’m not walking. Until recently. I’ve had about a week now that I can stand without holding on to anything—the wall, furniture, my cane—and feel quite stable. That’s progress, let me assure you!

Because stability is on my mind so much, I can’t help but expand on the idea to our western society and the world at large. I have to conclude that we are all struggling with stability to some degree.

Of course wars and rumors of war, terrorism and riots, all contribute to this. So do natural disasters—hurricanes in the Caribbean and the southern US, earthquakes in Mexico, biting below-freezing temperatures in the northeast, wild fires in SoCal.

Then there are the ongoing problems of sex-trafficking, poverty, crime, famine, oppression, abuse—some here at home and some abroad.

The world is not a stable place right now.

All this and I haven’t mentioned US politics. I could carry on for quite a while on that subject, but I’m more interested in what’s behind our lack of stability, not the actually teetering from side to side that we’re experiencing.

As I see it, all these issues have the same cause: we have compromised truth. Sometimes we compromise truth in favor of power. We think a certain person or nation or party needs to be in control, so we look the other way when truth is in question. Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat? Well, never mind. We want him instead of someone else. Marco Rubio is not advocating for amnesty? Well, never mind, it’s convenient to say he is because we want someone else to be in power. You get the picture.

This careless handling of the truth extends from the obvious to the less obvious, but it has slipped into our culture so easily because the postmodern philosophy that we embrace believes truth is relative. Some of the time.

Actually, when it’s convenient, people stand up and clamor for the truth. At least the truth as they have constructed it. Consequently, we have “safe places” and “trigger alerts” to make sure that whatever I think might be an offense to me, doesn’t touch my ears. Because if I feel it’s an offense, then it IS an offense. In the same way that males who feel like they are women, actually can claim to be women.

We are on slippery ground, very unstable, because we’ve sold truth. Or traded it away. We certainly don’t cling to the rock solid, authoritative, veracity much any more.

In fact, one thing that sends people scurrying for their safe place is to say that YOU KNOW. I mean, what an audacious thing. No one can know anything. Don’t you know that?!

Ironic isn’t it. The only thing we know for certain is that we can’t know anything for certain.

Reminds me of the position of atheists. The universe is so vast we can’t possibly know all things, and that’s OK. But we know for certain there is no God.

Well, I know for certain there is a God. The Most High God, in fact. Creator of heaven and earth.

I know Christians who cringe at such a statement. What would it take, some say, for you to question your belief in God? Aren’t you being sort of pig-headed and dogmatic?

I try to explain: how can I un-know what I already know. I am in a relationship with the God of the universe. He’s my Father, my Friend, my Savior, my Lord. Am I supposed to pretend that something can be laid out for me to rip up that relationship?

The fact is, my knowledge of the Truth about God is not relative. It’s not based on how I feel or some kind of brain stimuli. God would exist whether I believed in Him or not. God existed before I came on the scene and He will exist long after I’m gone.

Knowledge of God brings stability. There’s an anchor that keeps other relationships and morality and purposes in place. Some things aren’t floating off in left field while others are defying gravity. On the contrary, just like the laws of physics that allow for us to do things like fly airplanes, the truth of God makes sense of life.

Was it CS Lewis who first said his belief in God is like his belief in the sun. Not because he can see it, but by it he can see everything else.

The truth of God applied brings the stability we need.

Trying to fix the world by any other means is a losing prospect. You can’t dig enough wells in Africa or bring down enough criminals or feed and clothe enough people in poverty. Not that we should sit on our hands. But the real life-changing action we can take is to speak the truth in love.

In love.

Otherwise, as 1 Corinthians says, we’ll be nothing but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

To be on balance we really need to be standing on the rock of truth and speaking from that place in love. Everything else is a slippery slope.

Published in: on January 2, 2018 at 5:45 pm  Comments (4)  
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What Postmodernism Gets Right


The Audacious Ride for Visions, painting by Leda Luss Luyken

When I first started examining postmodernism to know how precisely that way of looking at the world differed from what I was used to, my pastor at the time, Dale Burke, said that postmodernism is no more dangerous than modernism — neither one is a Biblical worldview but neither one is all wrong either.

He was right. And yet it seems so much easier to camp on the ways that postmodernism contradicts what I believe rather than affirming the things about this way of thinking that are helpful.

First, postmodernism is essentially a way of looking at the world that stands against the ideals of modernism — things like socially progressive trends; affirming the power of the human being to create, improve, and reshape the environment; and replacing the old with the new to facilitate the advance of science and technology.

One thing that seems true of postmodernism is that science and materialism is no longer the end of all knowledge. Instead, there’s a new awareness that there is spiritual knowledge — influences that can’t be scientifically defined or measured and a world beyond the material that can’t be quantified.

This is a good thing. In some ways it’s a replication of the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter being the Jewish sect that didn’t believe in supernatural intervention in the world such as angels or visions or presumably, the Holy Spirit, and certainly not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

It was the Pharisees that could say when Paul was arrested, Wait a minute; maybe he has seen an angel.

The point is, the refusal to see beyond the material world is a huge barrier to anyone coming to Christ. How do you explain God’s existence to someone who begins the discussion believing that the only viable proofs are material in nature? It’s like saying, Show me love.

Postmodernism reintroduces the spiritual into the conversation. Granted, another part of postmodernism wants to accept all and any spiritual experience as equally valid and true, so it’s still far from a Biblical position, but nevertheless, it seems to me more Pharisees were likely to believe Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road than Sadducees who thought communication with a supernatural being an impossibility.

Something else I think postmodernism has right is validating human experience. Today there’s much more emphasis put on a person’s story, and on story in general. Telling stories as opposed to delineating facts puts the heart back into history. How people feel and how they act as a result is a holistic approach to understanding others.

Of course, postmodernism misses again by thinking that no one can understand another person’s experiences because of the limitations of language and that all experiences, even those that clash, are equally true because they are true for each person in question.

The important thing for the Christian, I believe, is to pay attention to what our culture says and to measure it by the standard of God’s word. How others in society perceive the world matters a great deal.

In many respects, someone like Rob Bell (Love Wins) or Paul Young (The Shack) is doing nothing more than mirroring the thinking of the age. Christians can pooh-pooh those ideas and scorn those books, but we had better understand why so many people listened. Two of those reasons are things postmodernism gets right — stories touch our hearts and the spiritual is real.

Those things are consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it would be wise for us to admonish and teach and evangelize by capitalizing on exactly those things.

This post first appeared here in April 2012.

Truth Can’t Be Relative


with_his_disciples002Reportedly a recent Barna Research Group poll showed that 70 percent of American high school students believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. Certainly what we believe to be true has a great influence on our morality, and clearly there’s been a shift in the American culture—most likely in all of western culture—away from modern thought that relies on scientific, philosophic, or religious absolutes, to postmodern thought that evaluates truth subjectively.

Hence, one of the philosophical positions postmodern thought holds is that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Gotquestions.org explains the postmodern perception of truth this way:

postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth, especially in matters of religion and spirituality. When confronted with a truth claim regarding the reality of God and religious practice, postmodernism’s viewpoint is exemplified in the statement “that may be true for you, but not for me.”

In its thumbnail sketch of postmodernism PBS.org includes the following:

reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.

I think this latter is an important key to understand this way of thinking that has become fundamental to our culture. The idea is that reality (R) is not understood as R by any and all parties and therefore is not R.

There’s an old saying that winners write the history, which is another way of saying winners and losers don’t see the war in the same way.

Of course different people have different perspectives, but the postmodern thinker goes on to say that perception creates reality.

Sadly that idea is wrong.

The clearest way to disprove the idea that truth is relative is to consider what the Bible says about truth:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

Truth, then, is not a description of reality or an interpretation of it. Truth is a person. A person is either believed or disbelieved, followed or ignored, trusted or distrusted. There is no room for relativism in relating to a person.

A person is objective, outside our subjective interpretation. I can believe Jesus is Santa Claus, but my idea about Him doesn’t change Him. He stands before me as He is, apart from my ideas about Him. My view of Him does not affect Him. He is who He is, independent of my opinion or belief or indifference.

Since Jesus clearly states that He is truth, and a person clearly is not relative, then it’s easy to conclude that truth is not relative. It is absolute.

Published in: on October 4, 2016 at 7:46 pm  Comments (13)  
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Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

This post first appeared here in June 2014.

Reaching This Generation


Ravi ZachariasRavi Zacharias, the apologist who founded RZIM which sponsors teams of Christian apologists who travel throughout the world discussing the claims of the gospel, asked a key question in a recent radio broadcast:

How do you reach a generation that listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings? What’s more, how can you reach a generation that seems to have lost its sense of shame?

This is what has happened, Zacharias said, because of the secularization of western culture and its attempt to eliminate religion.

I’ve long believed that this generation, more than any other, is open to story. Yes, story has been important for decades, but certainly its power has only increased over the years. And yet, story can only take a person so far.

C. S. Lewis loved stories—in particular mythology—before he became a Christian. The heroes and battles and rescues he read about prepared him for “the true myth” he encountered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But today’s culture has so many more road bumps to navigate.

Pluralism is one. All religions are the same, many claim. They all advocate for love and kindness and faith. Except, of course, there are differences that contradict each other. Either Jesus is God or He is not. Either God is One or He is not. Either humankind is sinful or it is not.

Sin is another issue. This generation has been raised in a culture that declares, I’m OK and you’re OK. In fact, you deserve a break or a lower insurance premium or a better flight or just “it” whatever the it might be. The culture also tells us we can do whatever we want, whatever we put our minds to. The only thing holding us back, is apparently a poor imagination. There are hardly mistakes any more. People on reality TV shows (game shows, actually), when asked if they would do anything differently, inevitably say, no, they played the game the way they wanted to. They’re happy because they had fun.

So fun, and not what’s true or right, is the new standard by which we measure behavior. Which fits with the relativism of the day. Moral absolutes are taboo, and that statement is about the only absolute that’s considered acceptable. One reason Christianity is in the crosshairs of secular society is because of its truth claims.

Society instead prefers to bounce from one belief to another with no logic. English poet Steve Tuner captured the tenor of society in his poem “Creed,” which Zacharias read and which appears in his book Can Man live Without God? (pp 42-44)

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
.
We believe in sex before, during, and
after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
.
We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
.
We believe there’s something in horoscopes
UFO’s and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher though we think
His good morals were bad.
.
We believe that all religions are basically the same-
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn
.
We believe in Masters and Johnson
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.
.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
.
We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.
.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.

Zacharias next identifies privatization as a significant problem in our culture. This term refers to the pressure society brings to bear on the individual to keep his faith private. We can be religious; we just shouldn’t let it affect how we vote or the policies for which we advocate. This thinking severs the spiritual nerve so that what we do ends up having no meaning. And unfortunately, that’s where many in this generation are.

So how do we speak to the generations steeped in postmodern thought? The answer is, we must show rather than tell. Stories show, but so do lives lived in community and sacrifice. Jesus said it clearly: “They will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” And He demonstrated His love, while we were yet sinners, by dying for us.

At some point we Christians must live life unafraid of the consequences for our faith. We must speak up—not about social issues so much as about the cross of Jesus Christ. We must bear witness—we must tell people who Jesus is and we must tell them what He has done for them. And we must show them what sacrificial love looks like, what a transformed life looks like.

Majesty Replaced By Mystery


A few years ago, because I wanted to look up something about God’s character, I pulled out my copy of The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, then decided it was time to re-read that slim volume again. The preface alone was arresting.

In reference to the hearer, Tozer says the “message must be not only timeless but timely.” He then launches in on the rationale for his book—Christians have a low view of God. (If he thought this back in 1961 when he wrote the book, imagine what he would think today!)

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking…

The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is. (pp 6-7, emphases here and throughout are mine)

Because Tozer started with the remark about the timeliness of the message, I had to ask, is this a timely message for postmodern America? What I hear and read most often proclaims God’s mystery, not His majesty. In fact, a quick check using Google search revealed seven times more blog articles discussing God and mystery than God and majesty.

Of course, if those using the term “mystery” actually mean “transcendence,” then they’re on the right track. But too often the meaning is, “We cannot know”; God—the great Question Mark, about which we cannot know and should not claim to know—is hidden from us.

Except, all throughout Scripture, God declares who He is. Take Exodus 29:46 for example:

They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God.

Or how about Hosea 6:3:

So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.

Then there is Hebrews 8:11 quoting from Jeremiah:

AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.

Christ, the mediator between God and Man has made this possible.

For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9)

Then we have Jesus’s own statement:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)

A mystery, God is not, at least for those who know Jesus Christ.

This contradicts our postmodern culture. Our problem, then, seems to be that we no longer grasp the majesty of God because we no longer believe it is possible to do so. Who could grasp what is shrouded in mystery?

What a subversive lie Satan has introduced. (He’s good at that, being the father of lies). First the idea that God is unknowable undermines the authority of the Bible. If we can’t know because God is mystery, then whoever or whatever claims knowledge of God is suspect. No longer is the believer to give definitive answers, and the one who seeks and keeps seeking is considered wise.

Except this position contradicts Jesus Himself.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

Throughout the Bible, God promises Himself to those who seek Him:

  • But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)
  • the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (2 Chron. 15:2b)
  • You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)
  • Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8a)

A. W. Tozer took it upon himself to write The Knowledge of the Holy as his timely, timeless message—a way of calling Christians back to an elevated view of God.

It seems to me we have a different timely, timeless message to convey today before we can grasp Tozer’s—that is, God revealed Himself precisely because He wants to be known. Would Jesus have come in the form of man, lived on earth, and died otherwise? Would God have sent His Holy Spirit if He didn’t plan for us to have an intimate relationship with Him? Would He have given us Scripture if He didn’t want us to know about His person, plan, and work?

At every turn, God reveals Himself so that we can enter into relationship with Him.

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

This article with some changes is a reprint of one that first appeared here in March 2012.

Published in: on November 24, 2015 at 6:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Two Sides To Every Argument


football line of scrimmageArguments have two sides (possibly more), or they wouldn’t be arguments. The thing about two sides (unless you’re talking about two sides to a coin or something analogous) is that they can’t both be right.

We understand this in competition. Two football teams battle it out in the Super Bowl, and only one will be crowned champion at the end of the game. Two speed skaters compete in the Olympics, and they won’t both win the gold medal. (In that instance, with numerous competitors, not all who made the finals will even end up on the medal stand).

Why, then, with the love of sports so high, seemingly worldwide, is it so hard to grasp the concept that competing philosophies can’t both be right?

I look at my life, for example, and marvel at God’s goodness and grace that brought me to a place of belief in Jesus and His work at the cross that reconciled me to my Creator. An atheist undoubtedly would look at my life and say that cultural influences have convinced me of a theist myth, and I’m merely showing my ignorance to hold to it despite the void of scientific proof for God’s existence.

Two sides—God is good and gracious; or culture is determinative, and I am ignorant.

The two are mutually exclusive. Did God choose my cultural influences as part of His plan for me, or did my culture superstitiously manufacture God to explain the unknown, and I am refusing to graduate to the modern (or post-modern) era?

I see the truth and the atheist is blind, or the atheist sees the truth and I am in the dark.

I see the light and the atheist is a fool (the fool has said in his heart, there is no God); or the atheist is insightful, and I am unenlightened.

Who’s to say?

I submit there is only One who knows for sure. God, who transcends the universe, is the only one in position to reveal Himself to Mankind. So did He?

The Bible says so. He chose a people group to show the nations what He was like, sent prophets with messages about His purpose and plans, sent His Son to the earth in the form of a Man, gave His inspired written revelation, put His Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are reconciled to Him. Does any other religion present such an unrelenting God, willing to go to such extents to reveal Himself to Mankind?

Despite all God has done, however, people today still demand a sign. If God would only make it clearer, if He’d only show Himself.

I wonder why these people think they would believe a new sign if they haven’t believed the ones they already have.

But here’s the point. Western society has adopted a postmodern outlook that elevates tolerance and praises the absence of absolutes—except, of course, for the absolute that says, you must tolerate all and exclude none.

Consequently, Kim Davis, Rowan’s County Clerk, is viewed, not as a person who wants to exercise her religious freedom but as a person who hates. She doesn’t actually have a belief that is contrary to the belief of those who applaud same-sex marriage. Rather, she is intolerant because she wants to exclude a group of people. Such a desire to exclude can’t possibly come from any other reason than hate because in the narrative spun by postmodern philosophy, there are only two positions: tolerance and hate.

Yes, the tolerance-rules faction of society still views arguments as having two sides, though of course they frame the two sides according to their value system.

Some, of course, try to get around this logical conclusion: two opposing ideas can’t both be right.

A seminary professor at a nearby school of theology, who will not be receiving tenure and is therefore leaving, is disappointed that his statements about Jesus “as an idealized human figure” are not sufficient for the school which wants him to articulate that He is also divine.

This professor also came up against another fundamental contrasting position. It seems the school felt “One had to like the idea that we define Christianity by what we believe.”

The topic which brought the differences between the school and this professor to a head was none other than same-sex marriage. He goes on to say that the point of divide was the way he and the school defined integrity:

Integrity is crucial for both of us. I define integrity as being true to the historical critical scholarship and bringing that into theological dialogue with the church. They define integrity as being true to the “Grand Tradition of the Church” and allowing that to guide what we see in and say about history.

You might wonder where the Bible is in all this. The professor makes it clear that from the beginning of his time at the school, the idea of inerrancy was nothing but a shibboleth, a long-standing belief regarded as outmoded and no longer important.

So without an authoritative guide, he concludes, “These are different ways of measuring integrity. Neither is right or wrong. . . Most of all, I am disappointed that we cannot hold these differences in creative tension.”

A truly postmodern view—we should be able to disagree, one thinking same-sex marriage is not consistent with Christianity and the other thinking it is consistent with Christianity, but by holding our views in creative tension, we should continue teaching theology together.

It’s like saying, we’ll hold black and white in creative tension. We’ll hold life and death in creative tension. We’ll hold wet and dry in creative tension.

Because, horrors, we can’t actually say one position is right and the other wrong. To do so would be to express an intolerance, to frame truth as exclusive. I have to say, the man is consistent.

But he ignores the fact that God exists or does not exist, that the Bible is true or is not true, that Jesus Christ came in the flesh or did not come, that He saves sinners or does not save sinners. Diametrically opposed positions really don’t have any creative tension that can hold them together. Two contradictory positions can’t both be right.

God, The Bible, And Relativism


“Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.” (Emphasis mine). So says (Wikipedia), the Internet encyclopedia compiled by whoever. The Oxford English Dictionary (compiled by elite scholars) draws the same conclusion: “the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.” (Emphasis mine).

My guess is, some people think a discussion of concepts like relativism has no relevancy to a person’s daily life or even to his belief in God. We’re more concerned with the cultural upheaval of the recent US Supreme Court decisions. But in truth, relativism led to those decisions. Relativism led to the media embracing same-sex marriage and transgender identity.

In a departure from the naturalism of the Modern way of thinking, Postmodern society smudges out hard lines. Consequently, biology is no longer enough to determine gender. Rather, the nebulous who-he-is-inside takes precedence.

However, anyone who believes truth is relative is on thin ice when it comes to God. In fact, I’d venture to say, a relativist doesn’t really believe in God. Not a sovereign God, anyway. Not an authoritative God. Not a good God. Not a God who says what He means and means what He says.

Relativism requires each person to determine what’s right and wrong, good and bad, for his own circumstances, within his own worldview. Hence, God is Himself not an absolute standard. His ways aren’t necessarily the right ways, since any person might decide “right” is something altogether other than what God has said is right.

In that vein, God can’t be sovereign. He isn’t ruling over others; they are the master of their own view of right and wrong, their own judge, their own determiner and interpreter of their lives.

God also can’t be good because Person A might say God is responsible for war and violence and hatred down through the centuries, and this would be true for him. Person B might say God is an impersonal force, a prime mover, and nothing more, and this would be true for him. Person C might say God is the great whole, of which each person is a part, and this would be true for him. Consequently, God becomes the author of hate, an amoral force, and an impersonal other. But Good? Not if relativism is true. God could only be good for those whose truth is that God is good. For all the others in the world who believe something different, then God is not good.

Finally, God would not be a keeper of His promises. His Word would not be settled in heaven, as Scripture says, nor would His word endure forever.

For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25)

How, then, could we say God is love? He might not be love tomorrow. How could we say He forgives? Maybe five years from now, He’ll decide He wants to hold the forgiven accountable after all. How could we say He’s holy or unchanging or all powerful or merciful or true? None of those things are reliable unless God is Himself absolute, the unshakeable authority—the firm and fixed, unmoving standard.

In short, the postmoderns who claim to be Christians are either rejecting God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in the world He created, or they are denying their own relativistic beliefs when it comes to God. There can not be an absolute Sovereign and relative truth.

As it stands, relativism has only one absolute—that nothing is absolute. This line of thinking, of course, is a contradiction. In addition, the new absolute stating there are no absolutes supersedes what Scripture says about God and truth.

To be true to relativism, a person pretty much has to conclude, that we know nothing for certain. And that’s precisely where much of the world is headed. Consequently, each person determines what’s right in his own eyes. It’s a nihilism that allows for a hedonistic lifestyle and a clear conscience.

It doesn’t, however, remove actual guilt or final judgment because the relativist will one day face the absolute truth of his own death. And then, Scripture tells us, comes the judgment.

In that context, it’s clear relativism is worse than shaky ground—it’s thin ice, with a person’s eternal destiny at stake.

A portion of this article first appeared here under a different title in April 2012.

Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.