I wrote about the new “word of the year” last month, and Ravi Zacharias has posted a wonderful article on this same topic.
…modernity is the era where the determinant of what is good is no longer an authority or a doctrine, but the individual himself.1
…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.2
In my last post I discussed the latest term to win the moniker “word of the year”. When emotions and personal belief can displace objective fact as our cultural standard, we have reached the point where man has decided he knows best, but with an ignorance that belies his or her arrogance.
We live in era of great technological improvement, and overwhelming modern comfort. What we dream can, in many cases, be created or achieved. Great strides forward have taken place in every imaginable area of life. And yet, modern man rises in the morning, looks in his or her mirror, and says, “Who am I, and why am I here?”
There is a vacuousness to the modern life attempting to live in a world undefined by its creator. To acknowledge that God exists is to admit weakness and defeat of our own ability to create our life on our terms. Alfred Borgmann believes
Contemporary culture is extremely conscious of itself…And yet it seems to me that contemporary culture is essentially blind to itself. It is ignorant of its essential character.3
That essential character of which man is ignorant is the inherent Imago Dei. God creates, man runs and denies, and runs some more. Seeking to distance himself from the one objective truth that would deny him self-sufficiency and self-existence.
In The Modern Self, Charles Taylor adds to this thought,
To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad…what has meaning and importance for you and what is meaningful and secondary. But in fact our identity is deeper and more many-sided than any of our possible articulations of it.4(Emphasis mine)
Taylor is right, our identity is deeper. And it is deeper because the “orientation of our moral space” is God Himself, and we are Imago Dei, made in his image. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? In his Reformed Dogmatics, theologian Geerhardus Vos writes
It means above all that he is disposed for communion with God, that all the capacities of his soul can act in a way that corresponds to their destiny only if they rest in God.
We were created for communion with God. We were created to commune with Him, and to obediently follow his law. But sin entered and the Fall separated us from Him. And yet, those who are His children are still his image bearers, and in our heart we know it.
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.(Romans 2:14-15)
The emptiness I mentioned earlier demonstrates His Presence in our lives. There is a deep yearning that modern man seeks to replace with anything or anyone else other than his own Creator.
We were given a gift by the Creator of everything to commune for eternity with him. And yet, modern man reacts with nothing but ingratitude,
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.(Romans 1:21)
How did we get to this place today, in a post truth, post modern era where God is denied, and man knows what is best? In the next post we will look at modern philosophy and liberal theology as the foundation for much of the ills of modern man.
Contemporary man postulates not the emptiness of truth, but the danger of truth (Chantal Delsol)
Unless we are defending the faith at the point where it is being attacked in our generation, we are not defending the faith (Martin Luther)
The title of this essay is the new “word of the year” as chosen by The Oxford Dictionary. It is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. This is a perfect representation of where our society has traveled in its post modern maturity. The generation known as The Nones are known for their lack of belief in any objective truth, much less biblical truth. They see danger in anyone who believes they hold truth or truths that devalue, or are intolerant of, or invalidate all beliefs. (We will discuss the contrasting views of the new versus the old definitions of tolerance in a later essay). How or what you feel become the measurement of truth.
Joseph Buttom, in First Things Magazine writes,
The pre-moderns said that without God, there would be no knowledge, and the post-moderns say we have no God and have no knowledge.
Are we to understand that we have “progressed” from post-modernity to post-truth? Have the philosophies of Wittgenstein, Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault finally taken hold of our entire culture and vocabulary and the way we define who we are? Hardly, but they do add to the need for a biblically orthodox apologetic that has and can answer the biblically antithetical viewpoint being argued.
Gresham Machen, in his seminal work of the early 1900’s, Christianity and Liberalism, argues
To bring back truth, on a practical level, the church must encourage Christians to be not merely consumers of culture but makers of culture.
In other words, arguing for the biblical view in our culture is the primary commitment we need to make as believers.
This battle is not new, nor is it a threat to a biblical point of view. The Enlightenment was seen as a threat, the Scientific Revolution was seen as a threat, and even the Industrial Revolution was seen as a threat. When we began the Twentieth Century relativism, modern philosophies, and atheism were not the only threats to orthodox christianity. Liberal theology and theologians were also complicit of the “threat” to biblical orthodoxy. Barth and those of similar ilk, along with the modern philosophers, sought to remove the supernatural from the Bible.
More recently, we have seen the focus shift to attacks on objective truth. Foundations have been destroyed through a philosophical deconstruction of truth and knowledge. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, in his book, Intimations of Postmodernity, states,
The postmodern mind seems to condemn everything, propose nothing. Demolition is the only job the postmodern mind seems to be good at. Deconstruction is the only construction it recognizes.
By deconstructing the idea of objective truth, what we feel and believe become more important than foundational truths of any kind, much less biblical truth.
The proponents of “post truth” do not want objective truth to be an option for society, but they propose “nothing” by arguing feelings and emotions are more important.
In the Bible, the primary word for truth conveys that one can actually know truth. It is not something just to rely on or trust. Modern man, in seeking to devalue truth as a concept, also argues against holding real knowledge. Gone is the idea proposed by Descartes, I think therefore I am. Without a foundation of knowledge man cannot comprehend his own reality.
In postmodernism you either assume there is no truth, or that you cannot know it. For the proponent of post truth, not only is there no truth, and therefore no absolute(s), we also have no real ability to know. How then do we reach out to a culture that revels in relativism and obstinance? As Carl Trueman writes,
The church is a culture and the West is now an anti-culture…to engage a culture there must first be a culture to engage.
Here, over a century later Truman says the culture Machen speaks of no longer exists. And yet, our task remains the same.
The church must apply its understanding of biblical orthodoxy to its apologetic. Christians need an understanding of modernity, postmodernity, culture, and philosophical and theological ideas within the evangelical church that have weakened our biblical foundations.
The term for today is Pantheism. Pantheism is the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.
Hinduism, Celtic spirituality, and Native American beliefs are three of many religions that hold pantheistic beliefs. In the last thirty years “New Age” beliefs have also held pantheistic beliefs.
The belief itself is rather fragmented in what is believed, and how it is practiced. Traditional theism believes and teaches the omnipresence of God. A view that states that God, as Creator, is everywhere, and oversees all things. Antithetically, pantheism states that God is everywhere in everything. As the Creator, there is no necessity for God to be in His creation.
Pantheists view the universe as infinite, but do not allow for an infinite deity as its creator. Well known figures who have espoused pantheism are Spinoza, Walt Whitman, D.H. Lawrence, and Einstein.
Nihilism is the belief that traditional morals, ideas, beliefs, etc., have no worth or value. It also believes that a society’s political and social institutions are so bad that they should be destroyed. In the 20th century, nihilism encompassed a variety of philosophical and aesthetic stances that, in one sense or another, denied the existence of genuine moral truths or values, rejected the possibility of knowledge or communication, and asserted the ultimate meaninglessness or purposelessness of life or of the universe.
Friedrich Nietzsche argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. “Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” (Will to Power). In the twentieth century, it’s the atheistic existentialist movement, popularized in France in the 1940s and 50s, that is responsible for the currency of existential nihilism in the popular consciousness. Sartre, Camus, and Jean-Francois Lyotard combined their existentialism and post-modernism with nihilism to bring meaninglessness as a philosophy into our day.
Our word for this week is existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.
Most attribute the philosophy with Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher from the early nineteenth century. Friedrich Nietzsche is also considered a proponent of the philosophy, although he connected more with Nihilism.
In the twentieth century Jean Paul Sartre, is considered to be the philosopher who provided a foundation for the philosophy in all areas of life. Karl Jaspers, Martin Buber, and Martin Heidegger were also part of an existential cultural movement in Europe during and after World War II.
Liberal theologians, most notably Karl Barth, sought to make Christianity compatible with existentialism. However, there is no real Biblical connection that could exist between the two. There is a wide variety of philosophical, religious, and political ideologies that make up existentialism so there is no universal agreement in a set list of ideals and beliefs.
Here are a few differences between existentialism and Christianity:
Existentialism states that the world is absurd, and there is no hope. Christianity states that the world is absurd, and it is a wonder there is hope.
Existentialism is opposed to rationalism and traditional Christianity is not.
Existentialism asserts that man is free from imposed moral values. Traditional Christianity believes in God’s transcendent universal moral values.
Existentialism asserts that each person is their own authority concerning truth. Traditional Christianity insists that God is the absolute final authority over His creation and all things.
Existentialism believes that existence precedes essence. Traditional Christianity believes that a person’s essence is predestined from God and precedes existence.
It is essential for believers to know and understand many of the historical and cultural worldviews for us to be able to correctly and effectively defend the Biblical worldview. Continue to follow this series on Fridays, and our Theology Tuesday every week also. Please leave comments or ask questions below.
There is a really interesting and relevant post by Bob McKelvey at Meet the Puritans. He picks up on an editorial(linked in the post) by Carl Trueman about a friend of his who lost his position on a school board. McKelvey then makes an analogy to John Bunyan’s arrest in the sixteen hundreds. It is a wonderful post, and one you should read and consider.
Silence has always seemed lonely to me. Paul Simon sang,
hello darkness my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again….
The sounds of silence
If you have ever been left on your own when you really didn’t want to be, or even need to be, you understand these words more than most. Too many in this modern world are too connected all the time, and being disconnected with no technology to hold onto is terrifying.
Silence. No phones, no texts, no social media, no internet. Silence. It is in the silence they discover that they do not and cannot live in silence. And then, there are those who are truly alone. Real silence. No connections with people, and no desire for a connection. People who feel alone because of hurts, failures; just life itself.
It is the sounds, of quiet, madness, failure, discontent, anger, and distrust of anything or anyone. And the sounds are deafening. You and I, as followers of Christ, live in this same world. We experience hurts and failures, and all of the emotions mentioned a moment ago, but we are to look to our Savior in those times and know we are His.
We are much more likely to focus on Him in those times when we realize that instead of fearing the silence, we must instead spend time in silence and solitude.
Solitude is to be seen as a “means of grace”, or way of receiving grace from God. It has been practiced by believers for centuries, but lost in the modern world. We are in desperate need of recovering it, and practicing it in our lives. Solitude is meant to focus our hearts in “Godly silence”.
We are called, as believers, to community. We are meant to fellowship, worship, and live with other believers. And yet, there are times we crave time away from all of this. Our souls need refreshing and rest.
Historically, in the practice of spiritual disciplines, when someone is called to silence, they spend time away from people, and refrain from speaking for a specific time. And in this time, they are meant to meditate on scripture, read, keep a journal, etc.
The practice of solitude on the other hand is meant to be used in a variety of ways, with no real time frame. We hear of people needing solitude, but rarely needing silence. Except in classrooms, libraries, and the homes of frantic and tired moms.
The bigger the city, the faster the pace, the harder it is to find time for, and even to find, silence and solitude. We were created for communion with our Creator. We were created to worship Him, to fellowship with Him, to talk with Him. The Psalmist said it better in Psalm 62:1,
My soul waits in silence for God only
When was the last time you were quiet enough in your soul to hear God’s voice? And when have you had the time recently to “wait in silence” for God only? We are created souls who constantly need our Creator’s guidance in our lives. Isaiah 30:15 is an instructive verse for us
Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and
rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’
We need to return to Him, and rest in Him. He is our salvation. He strengthens us when we are quiet, and trust in His voice and His leading in our lives. Many times it is in silence and solitude that we find our strength in Him, when in the noise of life, we may miss it.
In his book, The Listening Life[^1], Adam McHugh reminds us,
Even though we do not feel God’s listening presence upon us, God is
listening and silently working through our doubts and struggles. God
may not be directly answering our prayers, but he is silently walking
through our lives, beckoning us closer, working new things into us.
God is “silently walking through our lives”. When we are unable to experience biblical silence and solitude in our own lives, God Himself draws us closer to Himself, calling for us. So many of us are desperate for times of refreshing in our walk with God. We have experienced highs and lows, and many too close together. Our lives are hectic, and we need the refreshment offered in God’s solitude. Spend time in short times or prayer, bible reading, journal writing, individual worship, or meditation of scripture. We need this time to draw close to Him, because we need Him. And He is calling.
 The Listening Life, Adam S. McHugh, p.52
John Piper has written an interesting article. Read his thoughts about One Point Calvinism and Casual Churchianity.