“We Have Lost the Vertical.”

“When you think of it, really there are four fundamental questions of life. You’ve asked them, I’ve asked them, every thinking person asks them. They boil down to this: origin, meaning, morality and destiny. ‘How did I come into being? What brings life meaning? How do I know right from wrong? Where am I headed after I die?'”—Ravi Zacharias.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I AGREE WITH RAVI ZACHARIAS: There has been a drastic impact from man’s decision to look within for meaning, purpose, and morality. We have lost our vertical orientation toward God. The battle between theism and atheism is the oldest philosophical  debate known to man. The greatest battles over the course of history have been over control of the heart of mankind, which is the basic currency of politics and culture. Zacharias believes, “Right from the start the question was not the origin of species but the autonomy of the species” (1). We say No one is going to tell me what to believe! Our inner turmoil is rooted in the fact that we are a worshiping people, with an innate desire, an instinct and impulse hardwired into us, to seek and understand God. Yet we debate whether the concepts of origin, purpose, morality, and destiny should rest with us (relative to culture, history, circumstance) or with God based upon ontological truth.

“What has happened? The answer is clear. The discussion in the public square is now reduced to right or left, forgetting there is an up and a down.”—Ravi Zacharias

The remarkable harmony Adam and Eve enjoyed with God and the whole of creation, the peaceful dominion they were given over it, was broken the moment they decided to look within for meaning and purpose; for the definition of right and wrong. Chandler writes, “While the earth was once wonderfully subdued, it now yields grudgingly. Where it was once only fruitful and abundant, it now offers the challenge of thorns and thistles” (2). God’s very first commandment issued in the Garden—Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—does not mean God wants to subdue us and is unwilling to share His “knowledge” with us. To the contrary, He is aware of the insurmountable task of systematically evaluating right and wrong, good and evil, true and false, from a human perspective. We lack the ability to perceive and handle the thousands of nuances involved in determining ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. It’s so easy to become embroiled in arguments relative to these issues. Some of the most infamous broken relationships in history have been over arguments gone wrong.

Most biblical scholars  agree that God gave us free will. What they cannot agree on is how to best define the concept of free willexactly how it operates in our lives. Sadly, our desire to know and control things cost us dearly. Adam and Eve enjoyed a glorious relationship with God: walking with Him in the cool of the day. God provided our First Parents with the freedom to choose. I believe He wants us to choose Him rather than be forced to believe and obey. Accordingly, God said to Adam, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:16-17, NRSV) (emphasis mine).

Essentially, our First Parents staged a mutiny. A tug-of-war began between man and God at the very beginning. Chandler believes this cosmic argument with God has left a “shalom-shaped hole in our hearts, and no matter how much we throw in there, and no matter how long we try filling it, nothing will satisfy but shalom itself” (3)Zacharias believes the moment Adam and Eve chose to look within for purpose, meaning, and knowledge, mankind headed down the slippery slope of secularism, humanism, and moral relativism. Secular and humanistic worldviews say, “We don’t need God!” Moral relativism says, “That might be true for you, but it’s not true for me!” 

“Faith gives the understanding access to these things, unbelief closes the door upon them… A right faith is the beginning of a good life, and to this also eternal life is due. Now it is faith to believe that which you do not yet see; and the reward of this faith is to see that which you believe.”—Augustine of Hippo

The Enlightenment

Skepticism and doubt reign supreme in Western civilization today. When the Enlightenment emerged in Europe in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, emphasis was put on reason and individualism rather than doctrine and tradition. Leaders during this era ( Descartes, Locke, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau) taught that reason was the power by which humans can understand the universe and improve their own condition. Enlightenment involved the use and celebration of reason, the power by which mankind attempts to understand the universe and improve the condition of man here on earth. Immanuel Kant sought truth through “pure reason.”

Enlightenment stressed both reason and independence, and elicited a pronounced distrust of authority. For the Enlightenment thinkers, the most important human attribute was rationality. This sounds like a fairly innocuous term: the quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic. The difference between man’s logic and God’s is this: Christian rationalism attempts to strengthen not only the physical body, but the spirit as well; enlightening human beings by means of the spirituality it defends. It focuses on spiritual evolution, without prejudices or dogmas. Specifically, the Christian rationalist believes Scripture is the foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the only reliable foundation for all logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. The Word of God is intended to be the mind’s bedrock, its compass. This is an a priori argument: relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience. This is akin to saying we cannot trust what we see.

Brad Inwood said, “The Enlightenment devalues prejudices and customs, which owe their development to historical peculiarities rather than to the exercise of reason. What matters to the Enlightenment is not whether one is French or German, but that one is an individual man, united in brotherhood with all other men by the rationality one shares with them” (4). We can see in this statement that the authority of the church and of Scripture began to be questioned. A period of objective inquiry concerning the world and mankind ensued as a result of this philosophy. Of course, reading between the lines reveals an attitude that subjective inquiry (no matter the subject matter it pursues) is “illogical.” Inwood added, “Beliefs are to be accepted only on the basis of reason, not on the authority of priests, sacred texts, or tradition.” Alas, this was the Age of Reason.

To its credit, Enlightenment believes in some immutable Truth waiting to be discovered by experience, unbiased reason, or the methods of science. The downside of this worldview is its tendency to define such ontological truth through human reason, or on empirical evidence alone. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality. It is part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. Skeptics of this school of thought believe that “truth” is always relative to cultural, group, or personal perspectives. This is essentially known as moral relativism. Further to this is the concept that we interpret our experienced reality through a pair of conceptual glasses—situation, personal goals, past experiences, values, the body of knowledge we possess, the nature of language, the zeitgeist, and so forth.

Theological determinism is a form of predestination which states that all events that happen are preordained or predestined to happen, typically by a divine will. Some call this “destiny.” Friedrich Nietzsche was against determinism. He said, “Every man is a unique miracle; we are responsible to ourselves for our own existence. Freedom makes us responsible for our characters just as artists are responsible for their creations.” Nietzsche and other Enlightenment thinkers believed if man lives according to the morals or the will of a divine being, then he is a slave. They believed everyone who wishes to be free must become free through his or her own endeavor. In other words, freedom does not fall into anyone’s lap as a miraculous gift.

The Most Important Question

Rationalism, empiricism, agnosticism, idealism, positivism, existentialism, and phenomenology are all part of the discipline of epistemology: the study of how we know. It is certainly helpful to ask “how,” but it is the why that contains the basis for existence. Why are we here in the first place? While science is equipped to answer the how of life, it is not qualified to answer the why. Zacharias believes the points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic; they are foundational. For example, for the atheist, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, while for the follower of Jesus, joy is central and sorrow peripheral. There is an intellectual side to life, but there is also a side where deep needs are experienced. Sorrow often occurs when we fail to understand why things are happening to us.

More consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question.—Mortimer Adler

I am most impressed by how succinctly Ravi Zacharias expresses the four fundamental questions of life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? These questions fall into four basic categories: origin, meaning, morality, destiny. Regardless of our worldview, each of us longs to answer these fundamental queries. Moreover, how we answer them has a direct impact on our actions! For instance, relativism says, “That might be true for you, but not for me.” Whatever is of significance is reduced to value according to the preferences and biases of this or that person, culture, or point in history. This is actually an offshoot of naturalism. If nature is all there is, then there can be no transcendent or absolute source of moral truth, and we are left to construct our own morality. By definition, morality would be contingent upon the person, situation, or moment in time. Obviously, this makes for a rather murky and ambiguous existence!

According to Thomas Hobbes’s concept of empiricism, “mind” is nothing more than the sum total of a person’s thinking activities. Chemical signals received in the dendrites from the axons that contact them are transformed into electrical signals, which add to or subtract from electrical signals from all the other synapses, thus making a decision about whether to pass on the signal elsewhere. Electrical potentials then travel down axons to synapses on the dendrites of the next neuron and the process repeats. Based on this basic neuroscience, Hobbes denied the existence of a “non-material” mind. Accordingly, he concluded there are no objective moral properties or concepts. Instead, there is only what seems good and pleasing for the individual.

Thinking “Christianly”

Nancy Pearcey introduces the concept of thinking Christianly in her book Total Truth. She addresses this idea under the heading “Divided Minds,” indicating that many Christians today are dual-minded, caught up in the fact/value, public/private dichotomy, restricting their faith to the so-called “religious sphere” while adopting whatever secular views they’re exposed to in their daily lives. Harry Blamires, in his seminal book The Christian Mind, makes a very troubling and profound statement: 

There is no longer a Christian mind!

What does that mean? Blamires believes Christians often lack a proper biblical worldview. Certainly, as spiritual beings most Christians continue to follow a biblical ethic of prayer and worship, studying Scripture, and sharing the gospel with others. But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has fallen prey to secularism. I realize that sounds strange, but it is no less true. Unfortunately, many believers tend to hold a secular point of view in everyday matters. They get sucked into conversations laden with secular or scientific principals and participate mentally as if they are not Christians, espousing concepts and categories typically held by non-believers. Ravi Zacharias says, “Christianity is a belief grounded in freedom. It is also, and here is where it contrasts most sharply with humanism, a belief in an absolute” (3). Secularism and humanism are tied to a relativist viewpoint regarding truth and morality—all value is reduced to value according to the preferences, biases, and circumstances of a particular person, culture, or age.

According to Pearcey, “Thinking Christianly means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject matter.” Augustine of Hippo said, “Moral character is assessed not by what a man knows but by what he loves.” This puts a new perspective on these words spoken by Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, NRSV). Paul said, “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17). Christians like to focus on the latter part of verse 17—the promise of glory. Spiritual growth demands that we do not jump ahead. Growth requires baby steps; increments of progress. Just like academic programs in college, there are prerequisites for each level.

Our sanctification as Christians begins by suffering and dying with Christ. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). There is a specific order to our sanctification: we must first die to this world in order to live with Christ in His resurrection. It is only through dying to self that we can live through Christ. This is how we are able to live our theology and not just learn it. Martin Luther said, “It is through living, indeed through dying, and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.” Pearcey believes it is nearly impossible for non-believers to  accept Christianity solely in the abstract. As believers, we know what the gospel looks like when lived out in practice. Hart says theology, far from being esoteric and inaccessible, must be rooted in basic elements of human existence (4).

True theology must be a lived theology or it is merely a collection of information. Close study of the Pauline epistles reveals a subtle movement from the indicative to the imperative; from theological theories to practical applications. This is at the core of Paul’s remark, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is only through Scripture that we learn how sin corrupts our very interpretation of reality. John Henry Newman draws a very smart conclusion in this regard: “Christianity is dogmatical, devotional, practical all at once; it is esoteric and exoteric; it is indulgent and strict; it is light and dark; it is love, and it is fear.” Kevin Vanhoozer believes as Christians we must learn doctrine in order to participate more deeply, passionately, and truthfully in the drama of redemption. Intellectual apprehension alone, without the appropriation of heart and hand, leads only to hypocrisy.

Concluding Remarks

I think one of the most profound statements contained in Scripture is “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (MSG). There are fewer powerful hindrances to spiritual growth than pride and self-sufficiency. The hardest lesson I learned during four decades of active addiction was thinking I was unique; smarter than the average bear. Every time I tried to manage my addiction, it kicked me to the gutter. Not only did I end up getting drunk or high, I betrayed the very tenet of Christianity: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV).

It is pride that led to disobedience in the Garden. Adam and Eve decided to look to themselves for meaning, purpose, and morality rather than to God. This is when man lost his vertical orientation and chose to define good and evil from a secular or humanist perspective. The result has been constant posturing and arguing over ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. To the secularist, morality is contingent upon circumstance. However, Scripture is the only reliable foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the basis for logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. Scripture is intended to be the bedrock of existence; mankind’s compass. Christianity provides the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject and every situation. We can only become grounded in truth by thinking with the mind of Christ. This is what Nancy Pearcey means by thinking Christianly.

Footnotes

(1) Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods (New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2017), 15.

(2) Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 112.

(3) Zacharias, 162.

(4) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995), 79.

 

 

Scientism: Is it a “Religion” or is it Science?

Our children are growing up in a post-Christian culture in which the public often views people of faith as irrelevant or even, in some cases, extremist. In his book Scientism and Secularism, J.P. Moreland articulates a way of friendly engagement with the prevailing worldview of Scientism.

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IN HIS BLOG POST Be Careful, Your Love of Science Looks a Lot Like Religion, Jamie Holmes writes, “Science is usually equated by proponents of this view with empiricism or, in many fields, with a method of inquiry that employs controls, blinding, and randomization. Now, a small group of contemporary psychologists have published a series of provocative experiments showing that faith in science can serve the same mentally-stabilizing function as religious beliefs.” What is this thing called “Scientism?” It is said to be an excessive or exclusive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. It names science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.

Okay. But what does that mean? The claim that scientific judgement is akin to value judgement is often accompanied by the normative claim that scientific judgment should be guided by so-called epistemic or cognitive values. Epistemology refers to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. We can immediately recognize the “religious” language in the above definition: e.g., justified belief. The problem with such a viewpoint is this: Justified by whom and against what ultimate truth?

Much of this worldview, which is actually a secularization of nature and existence, is rooted in the Enlightenment, during which time philosophers decided that reason and individualism should prevail rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by seventeenth-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent promoters include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith. We must remember that worldview means a set of presuppositions (assumptions that may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of the world. Scientism is, accordingly, a worldview. Admittedly, Christianity is also a worldview.

A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance of the evidence. Generally, a presupposition is a core belief—a belief that one holds as “self-evident” and not requiring proof for its validity. A presupposition is something that is assumed to be true and is taken for granted. Of course, there is a pejorative quality to this term. Synonyms include prejudice, forejudgment, preconceived opinion, fixed conclusion, based upon a priori knowledge. To be fair to this concept, a priori knowledge simply means knowledge possessed independent of experience—that knowledge which we cannot help but bring to our experience in order to make sense of the world. Some philosophers, such as Locke, believe all our knowledge is a posteriori—that the mind begins as a “blank slate.” In order to level the playing field, we must all come to realize that every worldview, whether secular or Christian, contains a degree of presupposition. Christianity, however, has been coming up true and accurate more and more as science and archaeology uncovers empirical proof of the accuracy of the Bible.

Charles Colson, in his book How Now Shall We Live, writes, “We must show the world that Christianity is more than a private belief, more than personal salvation. We must show that it is a comprehensive life system that answers all of humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaning and purpose?” (Colson and Pearcy, 1999, xi) [italics mine]. The Christian worldview breaks these huge questions down to three distinct categories:

  • Creation. Where did we come from, and who are we?
  • Fall. What has gone wrong with the world?
  • Redemption. What can we do to fix it?

Christianity is a Worldview

Colson believes the way we see the world can change the world. As believers, in every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create a hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world (part of the problem) or participating with God, through his Son and us, to transform the world to reflect His righteousness and grace (part of the solution). This requires us to see reality through the lens of divine revelation. Arguably, the term worldview may sound abstract or “philosophical” (indeed, it may even sound like a “head in the clouds” perspective); a topic that must be relegated to college professors and students in the halls of academia. Keep in mind, however, that understanding and acknowledging one’s worldview is tremendously productive.

Christianity cannot sit back and consider itself a mere belief system, reduced to little more than a private feeling or “experience,” completely devoid of objective facts or physical evidence. In their book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell consider evidence for matters such as the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the historical (actual) resurrection of Jesus from the dead, revealing strong historical evidence that confirms the Christian worldview. If we have the authentic words of Jesus claiming to be God, evidence that He genuinely performed miracles, and confirmation that Jesus rose from the grave, then Christianity is undeniably true.

Naturalism, the other side of the coin, permeates Western culture, claiming that only physical things exist and that all phenomena can ultimately be explained by the combination of chance and natural laws. This worldview underlies much rejection of metaphysical causes or origins. The New Atheists take particular aim at intelligent design and the deity of Christ. Interestingly, naturalism has absolutely no explanation for the origin of matter or life, the existence of consciousness, the nature of free will, or objective morality. This quest is  true regardless of geopolitical position. All of mankind asks these basic questions. In any event, Anthony Flew (in Licona, 2010, p. 115), a former atheist, said “The occurrence of the resurrection [has] become enormously more likely.”

Scientism as Religion

In 2013, a study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology​ found that when subjects were stressed, they were more likely to agree to statements typifying science such as, “the scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge.” When people felt anxious, they esteemed science more highly than calmer subjects did, just as previous experiments have shown to be the case with religious ideals. Therefore, beliefs about science are often defended emotionally, even when they’re wrong, as long as they provide a reassuring sense of order. That is to say, beliefs about science may be defended thoughtlessly—even unscientifically. Scientism, accordingly, seems to both religious and scientific outlooks as a soothing balm to our existential anxieties. What we believe, the parallel implies, can sometimes be less important than h​ow ​we believe it. This would indicate that a deep faith in science as the only means for explanation of the origin of matter and life, and the meaning existence, is a form of irrational extremism.

Does this view merely negate scientism, or does it also indict Christianity? This is not meant to be a cop-out, but the answer depends on individual worldviews. In other words, if a believer in Christ refuses to consider science at all, stating it has no explanation for the natural world, he or she is viewing the world with eyes closed, misunderstanding all they see. Moreover, such an individual is ignoring the numerous scientific discoveries proposed by Christians and theists over the centuries; please note the wide range of scientific fields represented below (philosophy of science; botany; astronomy; physics; mathematics; chemistry; electricity and electromagnetism; biology, microbiology, and neurobiology; subatomic theory; psychiatry; neuropsychiatry; genetics; information theory):

  • Robert Grosseteste, patron saint of scientists, Oxford, founder of scientific thought, wrote texts on optics, astronomy, and geometry.
  • William Turner, father of English botany.
  • Francis Bacon, established inductive “scientific method.”
  • Galileo Galilei, revolutionary astronomer, physicist, philosopher, mathematician.
  • Blaise Pascal, known for Pascal’s Law (physics), Pascal’s Theorem (math), and Pascal’s Wager (theology).
  • Robert Boyle, scientist, theologian, Christian apologist, who said science can improve glorification of God.
  • Isaac Newton, discovered the properties of gravity.
  • Johannes Kepler, astronomer, discovered planetary motion.
  • Joseph Priestly, clergyman and scientist, discovered oxygen.
  • Michael Faraday, established electromagnetic theory and electrolysis.
  • Charles Babbage, information theorist, mathematician, pioneer in computer programming.
  • Louis Pasteur, biologist, microbiologist and chemist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization.
  • Lord Kelvin, mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics. 
  • J.J. Thompson, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron and discovery of the first subatomic particle.
  • Johannes Reinke, phycologist and naturalist who strongly opposed Darwin.
  • George Washington Carver, American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor who believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life.  
  • Max Born, German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. 
  • Michael Polanyi, appointed to a Chemistry chair in Berlin, but in 1933 when Hitler came to power he accepted a Chemistry chair (and then in 1948 a Social Sciences chair) at the University of Manchester. Wrote Science, Faith, and Society.
  • Rod Davies, professor of radio astronomy at the University of Manchester, known for his research on the cosmic microwave background in the universe.
  • Peter Dodson, American paleontologist who has published many papers and written and collaborated on books about dinosaurs.
  • Charles Foster, science writer on natural history, evolutionary biology, and theology.
  • John Gurdon, British developmental biologist, discovered that mature cells can be converted to stem cells. 
  • Paul R. McHugh, American psychiatrist whose research has focused on the neuroscientific foundations of motivated behaviors, psychiatric genetics, epidemiology, and neuropsychiatry. 
  • Kenneth R. Miller, molecular biologist, wrote Finding Darwin’s God.
  • John D. Barrow, English cosmologist based at the University of Cambridge who did notable writing on the implications of the Anthropic principle.

J.P. Moreland

In his book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, Moreland (2018, p. 16) writes, “As the ideas that constitute scientism have become more pervasive in our culture, the Western world has turned increasingly secular and the centers of culture (the universities, the media and entertainment industry, the Supreme Court) have come increasingly to regard religion as a private superstition. It is no surprise, then, that when our children go to college, more and more of them are just giving up on Christianity.” Scientism claims that only the “hard” sciences can discover and explain reality. It also believes everything else is based on private emotions, blind faith, or cultural upbringing. Moreover, scientism believes reliance on religious explanation for the origin of matter and life has yielded no reality at all. Simply put, theology and philosophy offer no truth whatsoever and, accordingly, are of no repute.

I find it fascinating that Christian theology does not make the same stinging conclusion about science. As we saw above, many great scientists, inventors, and discoverers throughout history (including many contemporary pioneers in science) were or are Christians or theists. Each of them believe God’s general revelation (that is, the natural order of things and the origin of matter and life) speak loudly of God as our intelligent designer. I, too, hold this view. Nanoscientist James Tour said, “Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.” This is the basis for the Teleological Argument that (i) every design has a designer, (ii) the universe has a highly complex design, therefore (iii) the universe had a designer.

Atheism Requires More Faith Than Not Believing!

Postmodern culture has made every attempt to destroy truth. It teaches that the idea of truth and morality are “relative” to the circumstance, person, or era; that there is no such thing as absolute truth. This zeitgeist is prevalent in academia today in our public schools and most (if not all) secular universities. The postmodernist thinks not believing in ultimate truth or metaphysical explanations regarding the universe means one is “enlightened” and, therefore, not reliant on “dogmatic thought.” Interestingly, despite the postmodern belief that there is no absolute truth or morality, society seems to behave as though it exists. Yet these supposedly bright and enlightened ones insist that “truth” is merely a social contract defined and maintained by the powerful to remain “in power.” Admittedly, truth has fallen victim to modern culture. The modern ideas of tolerance and pluralism are a direct result of taking God out of the equation.

The term “university” is actually a composite of the words “unity” and “diversity.” Our universities should allow for the pursuit of knowledge and truth through such unity.

I find it curious that liberal secularists insist on tolerance, yet they have absolutely no tolerance for non-secular worldviews. This is non-tolerance! Perhaps they see “tolerance” differently than the rest of us; they seem to think it does not simply mean treating those with different ideas respectfully and civilly. If you think they are not using disrespect and intolerance to defend their “religion” of naturalism and scientism, then log on to YouTube and find a couple of debates to watch between believers (such as Dinesh D’Souza, Ravi Zacharias, Ken Ham) and the so-called New (or “militant”) Atheists (which includes Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins). In nearly every instance, and despite some atheists with a background in science, they attack Christ, Christianity, and, more typically, the believer rather than providing a convincing argument against intelligent design.

It is rather easy for the postmodern secularist to avoid confronting or defending the notion of intelligent design and creation science because he or she rejects the idea of absolute truth and the Law of Non-contradiction at the start. Rather than engaging in an intelligent point/counterpoint debate, the postmodernist goes about town moralizing to everyone about the importance of tolerance without having to explain the inherent contradiction presented by his or her closed mind regarding all things spiritual or metaphysical. This smacks of intellectual fraud. They simply do not practice what they preach—especially toward Christians. Why is this? One thought is because Christianity is truth, and Jesus knew the world would reject his followers in the same manner they rejected Him. Truth, on one hand, sets us free. But it also confounds and convicts those who reject it and peddle a counterfeit reality.

There is a degree of “political correctness” in this attitude. Even many churches have been corrupted and misguided by the unsustainable notion that pluralism allows for tolerance. Many have allowed their theology to be watered down and have permitted the authority of Scripture to be undermined in favor of society’s “evolved” or “advanced” ideas on morality. Unfortunately, many Christians and their church leaders have become an accomplice to the denigration of truth. This is a conscious and deliberate disobedience of the Great Commission presented to the body of believers by Christ before his ascension (see Matt. 28:16-20).

A Dangerous Division

Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, though a prominent critic of intelligent design, has claimed he is not atheistic. Science and religion cannot conflict, he believes, because they deal with different subject matter: science is about empirical facts, whereas religion is about meaning and morality. Unfortunately, many of today’s Christians are falling for this rather dangerous division of science and theology. As a result, they are ill-prepared to give an answer for the faith they have in the gospel. A negative side-effect of this lack of preparedness is the tendency to either shy away from defending the gospel or doing so from a militant or insulting position. Neither of these reactions are within the scope of 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV).

We cannot allow the surgical division of science and Christianity to persist. As noted above, many Christians have made groundbreaking scientific discoveries over the centuries. In fact, the list I provided is incomplete. Space does not allow the listing of all scientists who were Christians or theists. It is also important to note that because all truth is God’s truth, the Bible and science are not diametrically opposed. The means by which the New Atheists make this claim is unfair. It is literally a comparison of apples to oranges. To say that science can explain every aspect of creation is to misuse applied or experimental science when the proper tool is “historical” science. We cannot test the past to see if certain empirical theories are possible. We do not have a time machine.

Further, no one has been able to “create” the building blocks of life (the necessary enzymes, proteins, and genetic code) in a laboratory. No one has an explanation for the origin of biological information needed to establish Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Modern science knows full-well that, ultimately, life is a molecular phenomenon. All organisms are made of molecules that act as the very building blocks required for origin and operation. Living cells require a constant supply of energy to generate and maintain the biological order that keeps them alive. This energy is derived from the chemical bond energy in food molecules. The proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides that make up most of the food we eat must be broken down into smaller molecules before our cells can use them—either as a source of energy or as building blocks for other molecules. The breakdown processes must act on food taken in from outside, but not on the macromolecules inside our own cells. It’s as if we have tiny nuts and bolts, gears and pulleys, of biological “equipment” inside us. How brilliant is that? We are like the pocket watch found on the ground in the woods by a hiker; we’re fearfully and wonderfully made, with highly intricate biochemical and physical operations, that can come only from a “watchmaker.”

Although it contains one, Christianity is not merely a worldview. Nor is it simply “a religion.” If it were, then it might deserve the reputation of being a narrowly pious view of the world. Thankfully, Christianity is an objective perspective on all reality, a complete worldview, that consistently stands up to the test of practical living. Additionally, it is about our relationship with the Creator. We become one with Christ when we choose to make Him Lord and Savior. This is a great litmus test for deciding whether a particular “branch” or “sect” of Christianity is genuine. Accordingly, we can admit that “false prophets” have arisen. I’m reminded of Jim Jones and David Koresh. Today’s atheists love to talk about all the people murdered over the centuries in the name of Christ. They don’t respond well to the rebuttal that millions were murdered by people who were not followers of Christ, typically in the interest of genocide: Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Josef Stalin, Ho Chi Mihn, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar, Leonid Brezhnev, Kim Il-Sung, Augusto Pinochet, and (drum roll please) the worst, Mao Ze Dung.

References

Colson, Charles, and Pearcy, N. How Now Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House), 1999.

Licona, Michael, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2010.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S., Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2017.

Moreland, J.P., Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2018.

It’s a Thing Most Wonderful

Jesus Crucifixion

Newsweek Special Issues recently published “100 People Who Shaped Our World,” featuring individuals who changed our world, for better or worse, through their actions, inventions, and (at times) their mistakes. With insight from historians in the fields of science, religion and pop culture, the 100-page issue explores the impact of the world’s most iconic leaders—from Jesus Christ to Mark Zuckerberg, Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln to Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the article did not show Jesus Christ in a good light. Interestingly, we are expected to be respectful in what we say about any other religion or revered religious leader—except Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, people feel free to malign, disfigure, and re-imagine Him as they choose.

The impact of Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant preacher whose teachings became the basis of one of the world’s most practiced religions, is irrefutable. Today there are approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world—this is nearly 31% of the total population. The nature of Christ has been debated time and time again as we view Him through the lenses of scholars. From a Christian perspective, the central contention set forth is that the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith. The Christian faith goes beyond simply declaring God exists—it claims that God became man in Christ Jesus, lived among us, and ultimately sacrificed His life in order to atone for our sins. Three days after His death, He would rise again, proving that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and the Savior of the world.

jesus preaching sermon

Christianity is the only religion that places the entire weight of its credibility on a singular event, the resurrection. If Christ had not been raised, then Christianity would be completely discredited and unworthy of even a moment’s consideration. As the apostle Paul stated, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV). Conviction about the reality of the resurrection is the only foundation that can withstand the onslaught of skepticism and unbelief. It is this fact that points to other critical truths, such as the authority of Scripture and the unique role of Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

No one’s life or death in the history of the world has been studied, analyzed, debated, and heralded to the world as much as Jesus. It’s definitely a daunting task to respond to all the theories and claims made by critics. During my research and writing, I felt a great sense of drama and significance regarding what’s at stake when studying whether the story of Jesus is true—or, as skeptics assert, merely a collection of tales attempting to propagate the Christian faith.

Answering the Great Question

The collective task of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ has been called the Great Commission, a term coined by Christian theologians to describe the charge that Jesus gave His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). In addition, the Great Commandment describes the premier commandment Jesus gave us to love one another (John 13:35). Jesus asked His disciples the Great Question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)—without a doubt, history’s greatest question, the answer to which affects everything. If we focus so heavily on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, shouldn’t we be giving equal attention to the Great Question?

defending the faith

Preparing believers to give the reasons for their faith—this is the very essence of apologetics—should be the highest priority of all the efforts of those engaged in Christian ministry (1 Peter 3:15). If the truth of the message is in doubt, the whole doctrine of Christianity is in jeopardy. Of all the human rights we should be fighting for, foremost should be the right of every living person to hear the Gospel and have the opportunity to know Jesus. While there is amazing work being done around the world by people of faith to help the needy and heal the hurting, we are falling dramatically short in preparing people to have faith that thrives in the media-saturated, anti-faith twenty-first century. People are flooded with messages suggesting faith in God is at best irrelevant.

The end result is a large number of Christians being dazed and confused about how crazy the world has become, and how their values and beliefs are not just out of touch with mainstream society but to some are framed as bigoted and ignorant. This helps explain why only 3 percent of churches in America are growing through evangelism.

Faith or History?

When it comes to Jesus Christ, there has definitely been a higher standard, unreasonably high at times, for establishing the facts surrounding His life, works, and words. The specific criteria used by many of today’s leading scholars to verify the authenticity of Jesus have been so demanding that if applied to ancient history most of what is currently accepted would dissolve into oblivion. Imagine asserting, as skeptics do for the biblical records, that we could only know about ancient Rome from what we learn from non-Roman sources. In contrast, scholars who use trusted approaches fairly and consistently recognize that Christian beliefs about Jesus are solidly grounded in historical fact.

Historians use reliable criteria to establish the probability that an event happened in the past. For instance, claims are more likely true if they are reported by multiple, independent sources. By this standard, our knowledge about Jesus is superior to that of virtually every other ancient historical figure. Scholars have discovered more literary sources for the historical Jesus within the first hundred years after His life than all of the primary literary sources for Socrates, which, incidentally, are in far less agreement with each other than the Gospels.

When the historical process is arbitrary and inconsistent, the past becomes something people with a hidden agenda or bias can manipulate. This type of mindset leads to disregarding the miraculous accounts given by Jesus’ followers in the Gospels. Those accounts are replaced with historical profiles of what someone living at the time of Jesus would have probably been like. Others go so far as claiming that the followers of Jesus merely borrowed from the mythology of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. As for the miracles? Scoffers simply say they didn’t happen because everyone knows there’s no such thing as miracles.

The roots of this culture of skepticism can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This period—known as the “Enlightenment”—could better be described as the age of skepticism. The mindset of this era is best summed up by René Descartes. He said, “In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.” For Descartes, the foundation of reality is our own thoughts (albeit doubts) about the fact of our existence. The seeds that Descartes planted grew over the next century into the Enlightenment era, which promoted the concept that “reason replaced revelation” in terms of the source of the culture’s epistemology.

The Resurrection Changes Everything

The claim that Jesus was resurrected three days after His death is not just an article of faith, but a statement that can be examined historically. Of course, if Jesus was not really raised from the dead, then the resurrection of Jesus has no meaning. Christianity is based on this central claim and is thus open to critical historical inquiry. In the same way that Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection sought to establish the past history of living things through what he called inference to the best explanation, we can look at this event using the same process. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote that if Christ was not raised from the dead then the Christian faith would be false (1 Corinthians 15:14). Critics have long maintained that religious claims are simply statements of faith that have no basis in fact. Claims of science, they say, are more credible because they can be proven false. Yet this is exactly what Christianity declares. No other religion bases the entire weight of its credibility on a single event or miracle.

It was the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead that prompted the dedication and sacrifice of His followers. At the top of the list was Jesus’ command to love our enemies. It is highly unlikely that His followers would have remained faithful had Jesus’ life ended permanently at the cross with no resurrection. In fact, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out that none of the many self-proclaimed messiahs of the ancient world continued to have a following or influence once they died. It begs the question, What happened to make Jesus’ followers, from the very start, articulate such a claim and work out its implications? For us today, the desperate need is to recover the same conviction of the truth of the resurrection that the early disciples possessed.

Concluding Remarks

When it comes to the central issues of the Christian faith, the biggest dispute is not with the facts of history but with the presuppositions and worldviews of those who interpret those facts. As you hear and weigh the evidence, you will be able to know with confidence that He is the Son of God. There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus was truly a man of history, who was crucified, died, and was buried, and then rose from the dead. The Gospels are reliable historical accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching.

Up until the last few years, the verdict of historians has been virtually unanimous that Jesus was a person of history. The rise of atheism in the last decade has seen the upsurge of prominent skeptics who simply assert their “doubts” that Jesus really existed without providing any credible evidence. For example, Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist and author of The God Delusion, is noted for saying, “Jesus, if He even existed…” It’s important to note that these men are not historians and simply assert this contention in apparent hopes that no one will challenge them because they are scientists. Dawkins, for example, is an evolutionary biologist. Incidentally, Dawkins has recanted and admits Jesus existed.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives authenticity to the Christian faith. Jesus remains the only figure in history who died and rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a revolutionary event in human history. It is what sets humanity free from sin; it is what gives humanity daily victory over Satan to live above struggles of life and achieve their destinies and goals; it is what will finally usher humanity into heaven to live forever with Jesus in that glorious kingdom awaiting those who believe, despite “critics” of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, ye are yet in your sins. If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” 1 Cor. 15:13-19.