A Light in Darkness: A Christian Response to Moral Relativism

Which Way America

AMERICA IS IN A DARK season. The news is chock full of stories about murders, mass shootings, racial unrest, sexual immorality, genocide, terrorist threats, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. This is the backdrop against which biblical principles are being challenged and pushed aside in a modern culture of pluralism and so-called open-mindedness. Atheists today have taken on a militant posture. No longer content with merely not believing in God as a personal choice, they have taken to calling Christians delusional, stupid, crazy, elitist, bigoted, gullible, narrow-minded. Richard Dawkins—author of The God Delusion—says, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Christopher Hitchens said parents “forcing” their Christian faith on their children is nothing short of child abuse. He compares belief in an all-powerful deity to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”

Gallup on American Opinions on Moral Acceptability

News stories on the networks and in newspapers show a growing moral and social crisis in America today. Our nation has been taking a position against God in landmark cases for the last five decades: teacher-led prayer was forbidden in public schools (1962); Roe v. Wade sanctioned abortion on demand all throughout America (1973); display of the Ten Commandments was forbidden on publicly-owned property (2005); Obergefell v. Hodges sanctioned same-sex marriage (2015), and today the debate over gender identity issues are in full swing. Ask Americans about their personal views on moral issues, and they are more likely than ever to hold a liberal position. Ask them specifically about morality in America, and you will see they are becoming more pessimistic with each passing year. A recent Gallup poll found a widening embrace for numerous moral issues, including record-high acceptance for gay relationships, divorce, pornography, polygamy, and physician-assisted suicide.

CHRISTIAN MORALITY

Christian morality used to be something people were afraid to violate. In May 2017, Gallup and LifeWay Research released polls indicating 4 out of 5 Americans are worried about the moral state of our country. One poll shows 77 percent believe the country’s values are getting worse—the highest level since Gallup started tracking this topic in 2002. Historically, social conservatives, including evangelicals and other people of faith, have been the most negative about American morality; raising concerns about the liberal shift on issues involving family, sexuality, and sanctity of life. Democrats and Republicans look at the issue of morality differently—liberals and moderates are concerned over declining moral values, but, their focus is on the growing lack of respect or tolerance for others. They are also worried about the lack of proper parenting, which many believe to be at the root of this moral downturn.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Some believers, me included, feel the reason morality is failing is because far too many laws regulating moral behavior have been repealed. A great deal of Christian pastors, apologists, evangelists, and writers have taken heed to the falling numbers, but decades of pitting “Christian worldview” against “moral relativism” has caused the forming of habits that are rather hard to break. For example, many Christians assume the reason for rampant immorality in our culture is due to people rejecting the idea of absolute right and wrong. Many believers think discussions over morals are likely to end with, “Well, you have your truth, and I have mine. Let’s just agree to disagree.” I believe disputes over morality in America are stronger today than they’ve ever been. But if we view these disputes through the lens of “moral relativism,” our understanding of today’s culture will suffer—our Christian witness will be severely blunted.

DO BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES SHAPE YOUR VALUES?

The apostle Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). Certainly, this is not an easy task. Moreover, it is not necessarily helpful to “preach” down to those we disagree with given the heavy-handed presence of moral relativism in America. How can we apply a Christian worldview to social and political issues? In addition, how can we communicate biblical morality effectively in a secular society?

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First, it is important that we interpret Scripture correctly. Too often, Christians have expressed their sociological preferences on issues like homosexuality and abortion without proper biblical exegesis. The result is often a priori conclusions built upon the foundation of improper proof-texting. We should take a lesson from the apostle Paul’s direction that the first priority of Christians is to preach the Gospel. He refused to allow individual distinctions to hamper his effectiveness. In fact, he said, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV). As believers, we must stand firm for biblical truth; however, we must recognize the spiritual needs of those with whom we vehemently disagree regarding lifestyle or moral convictions.

Second, Christians should carefully develop biblical principles which can be applied to contemporary social and medical issues. Too often Christians jump immediately from Scripture to political and social programs. Unfortunately, they sometimes neglect the important intermediate step of applying biblical principles germaine to a particular social or cultural situation. Foundational biblical precepts that undergird the law of God in the Old Testament are essentially values or social norms steeped in Jewish law and tradition. The Torah contains 613 commandments or precepts, which include “positive” and “negative” commands. Christians in the 21st century are not obligated to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses. This is the central message of Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians. In fact, Colossians 2:14-15 tells us that on the cross, Jesus took away the requirements of law-keeping. Of course, there are laws in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that Christians are bound to, but this is not because they are in the Mosaic Law. Rather, as Christians we are bound to obey the command and example of Jesus. We are to tread gently, motivated by love, not hatred.

Love should characterize Christians, especially when the days are dark and filled with hate.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

We must look to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to determine the “rules” of Christianity. I am not saying that the laws of the Old Testament are meaningless. Not at all. Examples of what the Hebrews did and how God responded—blessings versus curses—are great lessons for us today. Paul writes, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11, NIV).

For the Christian, the current social crises are indeed troubling. But Jesus called us “the salt of the earth and the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13). In these dark days we need to respond as salt (i.e., godly preservative in a rapidly declining culture) and light (i.e., evangelists who shine brightly in a dark society). We need to cultivate a biblical perspective on the current social crises. And we need to respond as God’s people, with God’s perspective, regarding the events of these days.

Will we let our light shine in the midst of this dark season of uncertainty? Will we keep our focus and trust on Him as our sovereign King? Will we point others to Him as we allow our light to shine for Him? Or will we live in a manner that serves to detract others from Christ? We cannot forget that it is our joy and privilege to shine as lights in the darkness.

Equipping the Next Generation

The Holy Bible

We are in danger of not passing on biblical principles. What might this mean for the future of the Christian church? Current research indicates we are realistically in danger of not passing the Christian doctrine to the next generation. Both an overexposure to worldly philosophy and an over-dependence on church programs has caused us to fail in our task to hand off a vibrant, kingdom-focused faith.

What Do We Want From and For Our Children?

First, we need a clear definition of what we’re looking for in our children. Do we want nice kids who don’t get in trouble, or passionate followers of Christ? Second, we must adopt a multi-generational perspective, providing opportunities for those older and more mature in the faith to impart a spiritual legacy to the next generation—essentially to be mentors. Third, following the example in Deuteronomy 6, parents must fully grasp and live their faith in order to possess and pass it on to their children. This includes making the most of teachable moments in everyday life. Fourth, fathers must take the lead, recognizing that they are the spiritual thermostat of the home—the head of the household, even as Christ is the head of the church—and are obligated to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.

It’s All in How We Raise Them

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (NIV). Both the home and the church must educate in sound doctrine, equip in apologetics, and explain moral principles. Raising confident teens with a desire to serve God does not happen by accident. Nor can our children learn it by osmosis! Instead, it requires parents to recognize teachable moments, and to use those moments to pass on their faith. This is truly a matter of apologetics.

Train Up a Child

As parents, we want our children to grow up in a world where belief in God is said to be reasonable and desirable. Unfortunately, there are many who shout loudly from the rooftops—especially militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—who think belief in God is on the same level as belief in Santa Claus, fairies, leprechauns, and the like. Faith in God, however, is a reasonable faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (NKJV). We want our kids to see that Christianity is true to the way things are—that it corresponds to reality. We also want them to see Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, Who can satisfy all their needs in a way that nothing else can.

Tough But Important Questions

As our children grow older, the dialog about God becomes more complex. Suddenly, they’re coming home from science class asking how Darwinian survival of the fittest fits into the story of creation. Their teacher told them nature, not God, painted the stripes on a zebra. We ask them to consider that although evolution might account for the zebra’s stripes (and the variety of stripes among zebras), it can’t account for the evolution of one species into another, or the origin and existence of zebras, or other living organisms. In other words, where did life come from? Darwin did not postulate a theory as to the origin of life or the universe. Of course, the title of his seminal work is about the origin of species, not life. Are we being hoodwinked into believing Darwin meant to explain how the whole of existence came into being?

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When Darwinism is paired with materialism, as it often is, a more complicated picture emerges concerning the intelligibility of what J.P. Moreland calls “the Grand Story” of materialistic evolution. This issue was astutely explained by C.S. Lewis in Miracles. Lewis wrote, “Thus, a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true… and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.'” Lewis notes a deep conflict between the Grand Story of materialism and the reliability of our cognitive faculties.

The Point

We must begin where our children are and nudge them toward a deeper understanding as they learn about God, themselves, and the world in which they live. It is important to poke and prod our kids to see the world in its proper light: Everything is sacred. It’s all from God, for God. A great tactic for engaging children on questions about God is to point out the transcendence of things like the scent of vanilla reminding us of home, or tasting boardwalk fries at the county fair and being transported to the beach. Remarkably, such ruminations can lead to contemplating the first cause of the universe (the cosmological argument). Further to this, we can open a discussion with our children about how the beneficial order in the world points to a Designer (the teleological argument). And how does the reality of moral obligations and values point to a moral Lawgiver (the moral argument).

Answering Their Questions

When my son Christopher was in 4th grade, he lost one of his classmates to a tragic and freakish accident. Several of them were playing flashlight tag in the dark. Christopher’s friend was running away, looking for a place to hide, when he crashed through a huge piece of plate glass. Sadly, the friend bled out as a result of his injuries and did not survive. As parents, my wife and I were faced with explaining why bad things happen, especially to children. Why would God kill a young boy? As my son grappled with the evil that befell that young lad, I was struck by the realization that my response to his struggle would lay the foundation for how he would process the concept of suffering.

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Peter Kreeft argues in his book Making Sense of Suffering, God’s answer to the problem of evil is Christ on the cross. When our kids experience times of pain and suffering, we want to recognize these moments as opportunities. They allow us to explore God’s loving care and help us to learn to trust his goodness. We first need to listen to our children’s pain and allow them to express any feelings of disappointment before we try to correct their ideas about God. After our kids feel heard and their emotions and doubts validated, we can remind them—and ourselves—that God alone offers hope.

As Frederick Buechner explains, “It is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name.” Perseverance is a little easier when we’re reminded of the ending. That’s the promise of the cross—one day all tears will be wiped away by our Savior. The experience of angst is a classroom to teach kids how to turn to Christ and point others to Him as the only hope in the face of evil.

Cultivate the Imagination of Our Children

We must encourage our children to love stories. This can be accomplished by reading to them from an early age. Tim Keller, in his book King’s Cross, quotes theologian Robert W. Jensen, who argued that our culture is in crisis because the modern world has lost its story. How often do you hear about families camping together, sharing stories around the fire, or recounting family history? How many children do you know that choose to read instead of play endless hours of video games or watch TV shows and movies? Of course, the Gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment. And because it’s a true story—take that Sam Harris—it gives us hope. When our children fall in love with story, their hearts are prepared to recognize the best and truest story of all, which is the Gospel.

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C.S. Lewis said this: “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.” Through stories, our kids expand their horizons, imagining what it’s like to walk on the moon, or visit a Mayan ruin, or climb Mt. Everest. The same is true about the many stories of faith and triumph, failure and regret, obedience and rebellion told in Scripture.

We are called upon to give personal testimony to the difference God has made in our lives. This includes telling our children. Typically, parents tend to keep their struggles a secret from their kids. Certainly, a great deal of what parents deal with on a daily basis is not necessarily suited for sharing with their kids. However, it is important that we look for teaching moments we can share with our children—situations where God brought us out of bondage and into freedom. We wrongly assume that if we simply instruct our children in Christian doctrine, shelter them from immoral behavior, and involve them in church and religious organizations then we’ve done all we can.

We must be consistent in our behavior, wise about reality, and genuinely personal about our faith. Today, most Christians rely on institutions and formal instruction to pass on the faith. It is painfully obvious that the influence of parents in teaching the faith is waning. Cultural forces—especially relativism and pluralism—are overwhelming the good intentions of mothers and fathers and challenging the efforts of our church leaders to build faith among believers. Sadly, we’re loosing ground. It is critical that we don’t panic or become disillusioned. Rather, we need to take a long-range view. We need to live our lives sharing God with our children and others.

Concluding Remarks

Taking an active role in sharing and passing on our faith is about a lot more than just “doing church” together as a family. While it is clearly important to do that—worship, pray, serve, learn, and fellowship together—what we do outside of formal worship services and Sunday school class time is where the real opportunities happen. I squandered the chance to lead by example. Embroiled in active addiction for nearly forty years, I pulled every scam, told every lie, forgot every birthday, missed important events, lost jobs, failed at budgeting, broke hearts, disappointed friends and family, and lived a truly hypocritical life. This is clearly not an appropriate legacy for a father to leave behind.

Passing on our faith to the next generation isn’t just about making sure our children can name all the books in the Bible. Instead, it involves living a life that exudes the love and character of Jesus in such a way that those watching will imitate us. Every Christian has a baton, a spiritual inheritance in Christ, which is worth passing on. Our baton is the sum of all the lessons, insights, wisdom, counsel, character, and spiritual anointing we have gained. Our baton is the spiritual legacy God wants us to impart to others. Indeed, to the next generation.

Our children are watching.