Webster’s defines a lapdog as a, 1.) small dog that may be held in the lap, and 2.) a servile dependent or follower. As I think of the wayward pundits of postmodernism I can’t help but have the image of lapdogs in my mind. Anybody that has seen a lapdog knows they are usually fuzzy, yippy little things that always infect the air with an unpleasant odor. These dogs usually stand low to the ground and as a result generally wreak of their own urine. As the false teachers and vain philosophers of postmodernism seek to destroy the very notion of absolute truth they reveal whom their father is and on whose lap they sit. These vexatious teachers look harmless from a distance and perhaps even friendly and warm, but when one gets closer they feel the air become heavy with a putrid stench and their ears are bombarded by a belligerent bark.
These lapdogs have one goal in mind and that is to divert the glory that rightfully belongs to God and place it on autonomous man. At the heart of postmodernism is the rejection of modernity. There is the old dictum, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but regrettably this is not the case with postmodernity. It is true that modernism was no friend of Christianity. Modernism sought truth without God and took every opportunity to attack God and the Christian worldview. Postmodernity has seen all the devastation which modernity has caused through world wars, totalitarian regimes and state sponsored genocide. Thus, postmodernity has rejected the cancerous effects of modernity. “The irony is delicious,” writes D. A. Carson, “The modernity which has arrogantly insisted that human reason is the final arbiter of truth has spawned a stepchild that has risen to slay it.”
Although postmodernity rightly criticizes modernity we must never become confused and see these teachers as friends of Christianity. This also goes for the ones that come to us claiming to bear the divine name of Christ and look as harmless as lapdogs. Where modernity sought truth without God postmodernity seeks God without truth. In all honesty, both are damned because they equally hate God.
If any postmodern eyes happen to run across this paper I am sure they will point to me and say, that is exactly what we are talking about! This guy is everything that is wrong with orthodoxy! To which I kindly respond with a smile. In order to disagree with my assessment one must first believe that I am wrong. In order to do this they must think and then respond in propositional form. If my assessment of postmodernism is wrong then they must believe that I have misinterpreted what they are saying. But in order for them to do this they must, at the same time, admit that they did intend to communicate meaning through their writings or their speech and that I don’t have the right to misconstrue what they were trying so desperately to communicate. Thus, they continually try to communicate truth claims to their audience but they do so under the false guise of neutrality. Like a master magician using the art of misdirection these seemingly harmless lapdogs attempt to gain our trust by striking down the false straw men they have created all the while bringing in an anti-Christian doctrine in through the backdoor.
These heretics call doctrine as interesting as grass clippings while creating and communicating doctrines of their own. Their problem is not with doctrine per se, but rather with Christian doctrine. The fact that one would have to render obedience to a divine Creator is repulsive to them. Thus, they seek to create their own doctrines. For all of their false humility they are really in open rebellion against God.
Postmodernism claims to be enlightened, and fundamental to their doctrine is the disciple of ethics. What they are really preaching, however, is really just moralistic therapeutic deism. After denying that truth exists, and putting the Bible on par with a fairytale these fuzzy mutts have no standard on which to base their ethic. Their constant appeals fall on deaf ears. How do I know what I ought to do? They can’t appeal to the Bible because they have admitted that it has no authority, and is errant, fallible, not revealed by God, subjective, relative, and mythological.
If they can’t appeal to the Scriptures to whom will they appeal? They can’t appeal to God. They have already affirmed that there are no absolute truths, and that we can’t be sure of anything that claims to be revealed by God. So how do we know how we ought to act? Is it an inner light? Perhaps a burning in the bosom? But without the Holy Scriptures they are left without any foundation to interpret this inner light. Maybe its God, maybe it is Satan, or maybe it is just indigestion! The fact of the matter is that without the Scriptures fallen man is left in the middle of the ocean without a life raft.
Postmodern writers like McLaren often quote Scripture, but this then presents the obvious question, Why? If the Bible is simply a series of stories that are not factual or historic why appeal to them at all to convince others your doctrine is correct? This is like saying, “This car accident never took place and let me tell you whose fault it is.” Statements like these make no sense whatsoever and yet postmoderns make them all the time.
Psotmoderns tell us that we should live better lives, and awaken the giant within. Why? I don’t know – they haven’t really provided an answer. This is in direct opposition to the Bible which presents an eternal Triune ontological God who is there and has chosen to reveal Himself by power and glory. He has created all things to reveal His glory. Thus, all of man is derivative and dependent. Man’s being is dependent upon God’s being. Man’s knowing is dependent upon God’s knowing. Man’s will is dependent upon the Divine will.
Adam denied this and sought to be autonomous and turned to the devil, who is the father of all lies, as his source of truth. Thus, man is in spiritual darkness and ethical alienation from God. All truth must correspond to God, and through God’s divine common grace He keeps man from the logical conclusion of their worldviews and allows them to function within the world He created. It is through God’s divine saving grace that one is able to know true truth – and have a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and thus have their minds illumined through the Scriptures. Any attempt at moralism outside of the Scriptures is a cry on deaf ears. Therefore, all gospel preaching requires that we first call sinners in ethical alienation from God to repent and believe in the source of all truth, Jesus Christ.
Postmodern teachers are spiritual vagabonds vacillating from place to place. They paint Jesus as a wise sage that looks more like Oprah upon closer inspection. They have created a theology that looks like Frankenstein’s monster and they have done so by raping Christian terms of their meaning. Because they have a thin veneer of Christian gloss they seem somewhat fuzzy and warm from a distance, but let us never forget upon whose lap these filthy little mutts are sitting!
When Jesus prayed the beautiful high priestly prayer to His Father in heaven He asked his Father to sanctify His disciples in the truth. He then clarifies for us that the Word of God is truth (John 17:14-19). Not only did Jesus presuppose that there was absolute truth, but He also presupposed that the pages of Scripture were the source of truth. Not only can we know that the Word of God is truth but we can know the things attested to therein for certain (Luke 1:4). Cornelius Van Til writes:
Created man see clearly what is revealed clearly even if he cannot see exhaustively. Man does not need to know exhaustively in order to know truly and certainly. When on the created level of existence man thinks God’s thoughts after him, that is, when man thinks self-conscious submission to the voluntary revelation of the self-conscious submission to the voluntary revelation of the self-sufficient God, he has therewith the only ground of certainty for his knowledge. When man thinks thus he thinks as a covenant creature should wish to thinks as a covenant creature should wish to think. That is to say, man normally thinks in analogical fashion. He realizes that God’s thoughts are self-contained. He knows that his own interpretation of nature must therefore be a re-interpretation of what is already fully interpreted by God.
All truth starts with an absolute God. Thus, Christians believe in an absolute Bible because the Bible is breathed out by God. Thus, all true knowledge is derivative knowledge and in order for a thing to be true it must correspond to what God knows. What God knows has been revealed to man in nature, the incarnation, and in the holy Scriptures, but it is the holy Scriptures which reveals to us the proper understanding of God’s revelation in nature and through the incarnation. Van Til writes, “Christ tells us in his word that nature was never meant to function by itself apart from the direct word-revelation of God.” Thus, through the Scriptures God can be truly known. By the indwelt presence of the Holy Spirit illumining the Word of God man’s knowledge can correspond with God’s knowledge and man can know a thing truly though not exhaustively. Therefore, there can be no knowledge other than Christian knowledge because only that which can be true can come from God. Those who labor without the Word labor without hope.
Even as some accept, so also others reject the Word of God’s grace. To them the Word becomes a savour of death. Then they, with their culture, are lost. The work of their hands, their science, their art, their philosophy, their theology, in short their culture, will ultimately profit, not themselves, but those who have obeyed the word of grace in Christ. To be sure none of the cultural efforts of any man will be lost, for all things are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. But there are men who will lose their cultural efforts. They will lose the fruit of their labors because they have refused to labor unto Christ. They will reap the reward of Baal who sought to curse Israel and, most of all, Israel’s God. They will seek in vain, to die the death of the righteous.
It is true that the Word of God has always had its enemies, but opposing worldviews generally could agree that there was something that absolutely existed. The smiling nihilism of our day is a relatively new development. Francis Schaeffer writes, “Thirty or more years ago you could have said such things as ‘This is true’ or ‘This is right,’ and you would have been on everybody’s wavelength. People may or may not have thought out their beliefs consistently, but everyone would have been talking to each other as though the idea of antithesis was correct.” Schaeffer continues, “We must not forget that historic Christianity stands on a basis of antithesis. Without it, historic Christianity is meaningless. The basic antithesis is that God objectivity exists in contrast (in antithesis) to His not existing.”
Therefore, the basic starting point of all life is that a Triune, ontological God is there as opposed to not being there and that He has created. Outside of this most basic presupposition or starting point there is nothing. This philosophical question/problem has plagued man since the fall; something is there as opposed to not there. As Aristotle said, out of nothing, nothing comes. This is not a problem for the Christian because we serve an eternal, Triune, ontologically distinct God who has chosen to create and reveal Himself. God is above time, space, and matter for He created all that is. He is not dependent upon His creation for love because He has perfect love and fellowship within the three persons of the Godhead. Thus, all other religious constructs fail at this point because they have no way to explain personhood, or love without at the same time creating a god who is totally dependent upon man to demonstrate that love. God has created because He has chosen to reveal Himself, thus, something exists. Hence, all that exists glorifies God. Even Satan and all his minions, despite their best efforts to the contrary glorify God through their existence. This is not to say that God at any point condones sin or is glorified in the sin act, but rather, this is to say all that is glorifies God by its very being.
Because God has chosen to reveal Himself through creation we can know something truly, and we know something as true truth when it corresponds to what God knows about a thing. Schaeffer writes, “It is plain, therefore, that from the viewpoint of the Scriptures themselves there is a unity over the whole field of knowledge. God has spoken, in linguistic propositional form, truth concerning Himself and truth concerning man, history and the universe. Here is an adequate basis for the unity of knowledge. The unity encompasses both the upstairs and the downstairs. This is the answer to the discussion of the unity between nature and grace and modern man’s question of knowledge above and below the line of anthropology. The unity is there because God has spoken truth into all areas of our knowledge.”
Thus, we can truly know what God has revealed of Himself. This is true for the simplest of minds to the greatest of minds. For example, let us look at mathematics. In the first grade a young mind can learn addition and subtraction. They can learn that two plus two equals four, and they can know this truly. No one would say that a first grader has an exhaustive, comprehensive, or even basic knowledge of mathematics, and even with this being said we can easily say that they can know truly that two plus two equals four. Knowledge is not an either/or proposition, i.e., either you know something exhaustively or not at all. This approach is not only nonsense but it rules out any functionality for any finite being. Thus, we can have confidence and enjoy certainty in what we know even though our knowledge of that thing may be low indeed. D. A. Carson applies this example to the Holy Scriptures, “Even a child may believe and understand the truth of the proposition ‘God loves the world,’ even when the child’s knowledge of God, love, and the world is minimal, and her grasp of Johannine theology still less (John 3:16). With patient study and increased learning and rising experience, a believer may come to understand a great deal more about the proposition ‘God loves the world’ than does the child.”
Our God is altogether infinite, but He is also personal and thus, we may truly know what He has revealed of Himself. “The living God is the God who speaks for himself and shows himself,” writes Carl F. H. Henry. Thus, Jesus could tell His disciples, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31-32). This is not to say that all one needs to be right with God is to believe that the Bible contains propositional truth claims. Even the demons believe in the God of the Bible (James 2:19). Simply knowing that I am married to my wife does not make a marriage, and likewise, knowing as fact that the God of the Bible exists does not make one a Christian. Becoming a Christian cannot be reduced to propositional truth claims, but it definitely involves nothing less.
Postmodernisms blithesome attempt to destroy revelational truth is not only an attack on God but is an attack on man. Carl F. H. Henry brilliantly illustrates:
More is sacrificed by defecting from the truth of revelation than simply the truth about God and man and the world; loss of the truth and Word of God plunges into darkness the very truth of truth, the meaning of meaning, and even the significance of language. To sever the concerns of reason and life from the revelation of God as the final ground and source of truth and the good accommodates and accelerates the contemporary drift to nihilism. It is not merely Christianity that stands or falls with the reality of revelation. To avert a nihilistic loss of enduring truth and good, only the recovery of revelation will suffice. It should tell us something that amid American abundance four to eight million Americans suffer from mental depression, and that the wish for death plagues multitudes gripped by psychological poverty. Relativism begets pessimism, and pessimism begets nihilism. There is an abiding lesson in the scriptural sequence of the serpent’s “Yea, hath God said…?” and the Lord’s query to fallen man, “Adam,…where art thou?” (Gen. 3:1,9 KJV). The stench of moral death hovers over a generation that seals itself against enduring concerns of truth and conscience. A culture that welcomes its own glaring inconsistencies as inescapable will inevitably suffocate for lack of spiritual oxygen and find human existence devoid of worth and meaning. It is man who dies, not God, when the truth of truth and the meaning of meaning evaporate.
Every attempt to make man autonomous has disastrous effects for man. This is seen in the optimism of modernity where truth was sought without God, and now in postmodernity where God is sought without truth. Postmodernity asserts that absolute truth does not exist and they also have a bitter distain for propositions. First of all, if they are correct – they prove their own assertions wrong. Second, everything they assert is in complete opposition to what our Lord Jesus Christ taught. It is really not that complicated. We confuse ourselves by getting caught up in language games. The Bible tells us that the truth has come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), and those who receive His testimony certify that God is true (John 3:33). Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:6-7). Paul tells us that those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 18) exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather that the Creator (Rom. 25).
All of this leads John MacArthur to say, “Clearly, the existence of absolute truth and its inseparable relationship to the person of God is the most essential tenet of all truly biblical Christianity. Speaking plainly: if you are one of those who questions whether truth is really important, please don’t call your belief system ‘Christianity,’ because that is not what it is.” In opposition to the truth that is in Jesus Christ is the Devil who is the father of lies. Jesus told us plainly, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (John 8:44-47).
Postmodern teachers often come to us as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They pirate Christian terminology which gives the biblically illiterate a resemblance authority, but in actuality they are nothing more than heretics, and worse than that they smile while perverting the Word. Paul warned Timothy of such men, “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was” (2 Tim. 3:6-9). We also read in 2 Peter, “And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words [stories]; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber” (2 Pet. 2:2-3).
As Christians we have completely forgotten that we are at war. We are not fighting a war of flesh and blood. Rather, we are fighting a war of ideas, but a war nonetheless. Those who are in Christ fight for truth, and those who are sons of Satan seek to deconstruct truth. The words of Charles Spurgeon serve us well here:
The church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel. Yet nevertheless, the church on earth has, and until the second advent must be, the church militant, the church armed, the church warring, the church conquering. And how is this? It is in the very order of things that so it must be. Truth could not be truth in this world if it were not a warring thing, and we should at once suspect that it were not true if error were friends with it. The spotless purity of truth must always be at war with the blackness of heresy and lies.
The church of Jesus Christ has grown fat. But with all the material prosperity, the mega-churches and brilliant sound systems that we enjoy we cannot come to grips with the fact that death lies at our doorstep, and with it will come the judgment of a righteous God. We have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and with it we will do anything to maintain our peace and personal affluence. As postmodern pundits spew lies from their mouths with brazen bravado we not only sit back and smile, but we welcome them into the church. They tell us that the Word of God is not good enough for educated men and women today and that what we really need to save the day are stories. Stories will be our Savior. Thus, the gospel truth of Jesus Christ is put on the same plain as Alice in Wonderland. The apostle Paul would not tolerate such heresy in his day and neither should we. He writes, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9).
Let us not be fooled by the fake humility and smiling faces of postmodern preachers for at their core is wicked unbelief. MacArthur writes, “Postmodernism is simply the latest expression of worldly unbelief. Its core value – a dubious ambivalence toward truth – is merely skepticism distilled to its pure essence. There is nothing virtuous or genuinely humble about it. It is proud rebellion against divine revelation.”
Our Reformation forefathers would not tolerate such filth. Many gave their lives to protect the Word of God. They realized that if the truth of God’s Word is not defended on all fronts then we do not have the right to bear the divine name. Martin Luther writes, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
The battle lines are drawn. Every attempt to dialogue with the devil is an attempt to minimize the authority of Christ. Postmoderns like McLaren tell us that it is more important to know the way than the words of Jesus. Such statements are the epitome of stupidity. This is the equivalent to saying I want to know my wife, but could really care less about anything she has to say. How is it that one can know the way of Jesus if they don’t take seriously everything that He said? Ridiculous as it may be, this is the nature of postmodernism. Satan will use all the means at his disposal to pervert the truth and these parasites are the latest example of that.
As Christians we should not fear postmodernity, nor shy away from their attacks for although they are flaming arrows they cannot stand against the Word of God. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13). “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:13-17).
 Francis A. Schaeffer writes, “The Christian does have an adequate universal he needs in order to be able to discuss the meaning of love. Among the things we know about the Trinity is that the Trinity was before the creation of everything else and that love existed between the persona of the Trinity before the foundation of the world. This being so, the existence of love as we know it in our makeup does not have an origin in chance, but from that which has always been.” Ibid., (Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is There), 105.
 Ibid., (D. A. Carson), 122. Carson goes on in further detail, “The diligent student of John’s gospel soon learns the “world” in John in usually a term that describes the moral order : human beings in rebellion against God. God’s love is wonderful, in John 3:16, not because the world is so big, but because the world is so bad. Further study would show that God’s love for the world is declared in context that affirms his wrath upon the world (3:36), and this will lead to serious study of God, and of atonement passages in the Johannine corpus (e.g. 1 John 2:2). But would it not be incorrect to say that the child misunderstands the proposition? The proposition as John gave it, I would argue is true; as grasped by a child, it is truly understood, even if not exhaustively understood. The child may have (and probably has) adopted some false associations along with her understanding – associating love, perhaps, with a good cuddle, or with a kind parent. But the heart of the matter is nevertheless rightly said to be understood, even if there is further explanation (and demonstration!) of God’s love to come in the child’s experience.”
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once said, “One word of truth outweighs the entire world.” I think it is more fitting to say, the One who is truth outweighs the entire world. By restating this we can see that all truth has a source. Thus, any attempt to deconstruct the written word, and personalize truth is nothing more than an attack on Jesus Christ and the revelation of Scripture. So when faced with a statement like that given in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” the postmodern thinker says, “that’s great for you, but not for me.” There is absolutely no regard for the authoritative Word of God or the Christ which the Scriptures reveal.
It has not been addressed up to this point, but it would seem obvious that any holding to a postmodern ideal would not call themselves Christian, right? If the tenants of postmodernism are true and there is no worldview or meta-narrative (creation, fall, redemption, consummation), then there can be no purpose, no plan, no meaning to life whatsoever. If there is no such thing as universal truth, than logic, mathematics, and language would not be possible. The logical conclusion to postmodern thinking is suicide, but fortunately postmoderns don’t believe in logic. Given the absolute conflict between the truth claims of Christianity and the truth claims of postmodernism it is hard to believe that anyone could hold to be both postmodern and Christian.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. In recent years the church of Jesus Christ has been violently infected by the insidious filth of postmodernism. Far from the intellectual elite found in the ivory towers of academia, this brand of postmodernism is resonating with the person in the pew and seems to be procreating at rabbit speed. These false teachers include Grand Rapids very own Rob Bell, and the godfather of this rapidly growing rebellious cult, Brian D. McLaren.
In order to get an idea of what “postmodern Christianity” looks like I would like to take a look at some of Brian McLaren’s writings. McLaren is a prolific writer/speaker and much of what he says is widely accepted among those who call themselves Christians today. The reason I think it is important that we address McLaren is because he is specifically addressing the common man and thus, he has a much greater audience than does someone like a David Griffin. McLaren is also a perfect example for us to look at because, through him, we can see most of the basic tenants of postmodern thought already discussed.
Given that absolute truth is inherit in Christianity and the lack thereof is inherit in postmodernism how does this play out in the work of McLaren?
We must admit that our quest for ultimate and absolute truth is impossible, if not for the reasons postmodern philosophers raise, then for this reason: the ultimate truth is not an objective concept, not an objective principle, but rather a Person, the Subject of such splendor, dignity, wonder, winsomeness, and glory that to know him is to love him, worship him, enjoy him, and seek to please him with one’s very existence. When God comes to us, God doesn’t say, “Seek for absolute, objective, propositional truth,” but rather, “I am the way, the truth, the life.”
At first glance, many may think this sounds great because he disguises his foolishness in colorful and romantic language, but like any other wolf in sheep’s clothing when you get close enough you realize how incredibly hideous he really is. It is almost hard to imagine that someone so profoundly ignorant could sell so many books, but unfortunately this is the culture we live in.
First, McLaren claims that “the quest for ultimate and absolute truth is impossible.” Do you think he believes that to be absolute? He is using an absolute to affirm that absolutes do not exist! Next, he claims that ultimate truth is not an objective concept but a Person. Christians would not disagree that the source of truth is the person and work of Jesus Christ, but we believe this because God has revealed it in propositional form. So when McLaren goes on to say that, “God doesn’t say, ‘Seek for absolute, objective, propositional truth,’ but rather, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life’” he is to dense to realize that it is not necessary to say, seek for absolute, objective, propositional truth because everything He says is in propositional form, and He is saying it to creatures that have been designed to think propositionally. McLaren proves this very point when he says that God says, “I am the way, the truth, the life” – this is a proposition! The late great apologist, Francis Schaeffer illustrates the danger of abandoning propositional truth:
Christianity demands antithesis, not as some abstract concept of truth, but in the fact that God exists, and in personal justification. The biblical concept of justification is a total, personal antithesis. Before justification, we were dead in the kingdom of darkness. The Bible says that in the moment that we accept Christ we pass from death to life. This is total antithesis at the level of the individual man. Once we begin to slip over into other methodology – a failure to hold on to an absolute which can be known by the whole man, including what is logical and rational in him – historic Christianity is destroyed, even if it seems to keep going for a time. We may not know it, but when this occurs, the marks of death are upon it, and it will soon be one more museum piece. To the extent that anyone gives up the mentality of antithesis, he has moved over to the other side, even if he still tries to defend orthodoxy or evangelicalism.
Because Brian McLaren believes that there is no such thing as absolute truth he thinks that when presenting the gospel we should not simply present objective evidences that demand a verdict. Rather, we should offer a story that can’t be objectively proven, but which can subjectively ring true and make sense of our lives. Not only is this complete existentialism, but it presents the obvious question, “What authority does the Bible have?” McLaren, himself says, not even .01 percent of the Bible presents itself as objective information about God. If this is the case than why would anybody read the Bible if it’s just another book?
McLaren claims to have a very high view of the Bible but what does he mean when he says this?
Interestingly, when Scripture talks about itself, it doesn’t use the language we often use in our explanations of its value. For modern Western Christians, words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal are crucial. Many churches or denominations won’t allow people to become members unless they use these words in their descriptions of Scripture. Hardly anyone realizes why these words are important. Hardly anyone knows about the stories of Sir Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, the Enlightenment, David Hume, and Foundationalism – which provide the context in which these words are so important. Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extrabiblical words and concepts to justify one’s belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority.
Perhaps McLaren has a good point. Maybe we should also do away with the word Trinity as well! Given this, it should come as no surprise that McLaren writes elsewhere that postmodern minds like his think that doctrine is about as interesting as grass clippings, and that there are so many other things to do with the Bible other than study it. Really! What! Unfortunately, McLaren provides no real examples.
How does McLaren then interact with verses like 2 Tim. 3:16-17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If we should not use words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal to describe the Bible, and doctrine is about as interesting as grass clippings than would we be right to conclude that the Bible is not inspired and that the apostle Paul is a liar?
Amazingly, McLaren still has the audacity to use the word inspired when speaking of the Scriptures, but his definition is far from a biblical understanding. He writes, “The Bible is an inspired gift from God – a unique collection of literary artifacts that together support the telling of an amazing and essential story.” What does this mean? What McLaren means by inspired is that in this primal, sacred narrative the creative breath of God gives permission to whatever possibilities might become actual.
A Bible full of errors obviously leads to a Christ full of errors. However, McLaren feels the error is on the part of orthodoxy with their rigid view of sin and salvation. He feels the emphasis on grass clippings has led us to misinterpret the text. Of course, one has to ask how confident he is in that assessment given that there are no absolutes, there are errors in the text, and everybody’s interpretation is correct. This doesn’t seem to stop McLaren from putting the message of salvation into his own words. According to him, Jesus is really saying something like this:
Salvation doesn’t mean slitting Roman throats and getting power. Salvation means being liberated from the cycle of violence, liberated from the need for power. God wants to save you from your present life of hatred and fear, and instead reconnect you with God’s original plan for the descendents of Abraham. Even as an oppressed people, you can be a blessing. Instead of slitting a Roman soldier’s throat, carry his pack for him. Instead of cursing him, pray for him. I am here to save you from the whole system of insult and revenge – not by giving you political victory (as you wish I would), and not by telling you to give up on this life and instead focus on salvation from hell after this life (as some people are going to do in my name) – but by giving you permission to start your participation in God’s mission right now, right where you are, even as an oppressed people. The opportunity to start living in this new and better way is available to you right now: The kingdom of God is at hand!
It is clear in McLaren’s theology that Jesus is a liberator, but a liberator of what? What is Jesus liberating His people from? Bad feelings or attitudes? Fear or hatred? Discomfort, or sickness? In seeking to elevate man to god-like status as Adam did in the Garden, McLaren completely reduces the doctrine of original sin into bad-feelings. In his book with Tony Campolo titled (ironically enough), Adventures in Missing the Point, McLaren wrote a chapter on sin where he never once uses the word sin, guilt, imputation, damnation, wrath, hell, punishment, guilt, sorrow, redemption, salvation, Savior, Jesus Christ, atonement, the cross, and so on. Although, he does tell us an emotional story about his son who suffered from Leukemia.
In an age of global terrorism and rising religious conflict, it’s significant to note that all Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet, that many Hindus are willing to consider Jesus as a legitimate manifestation of the divine, that many Buddhists see Jesus as one of humanity’s most enlightened people, and that Jesus himself was a Jew … A shared reappraisal of Jesus’ message could provide a unique space or common ground for urgently needed religious dialogue – and it doesn’t seem an exaggeration to say that the future of our planet may depend on such dialogue. This reappraisal of Jesus’ message may be the only project capable of saving a number of religions, including Christianity, from a number of threats, from being co-opted by consumerism or nationalism to the rise of potentially violent fundamentalism in their own ranks.
It is no wonder that McLaren believes that one can be a follower of Jesus Christ and still remain a Buddhist, Hindu, or a Jew. And to think, all this time we have really been fighting over nothing! After all, what’s in a name? I wonder how Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists feel about being followers of Jesus? Let us never forget that Jesus was never accused of being sinful, or of not being a great teacher. Jesus was nailed to a cross for claiming to be God, and unless one confesses with their mouth that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God and repents of their sins the punishment they will experience in hell will be much worse than being nailed to a cross.
For all of McLaren’s adroit speech and emotional language he presents a vacuous doctrine that has no meaning at all. He dresses up in sheep’s clothing and vigorously appeals to the disposition of fallen man. He tells them that he has discovered a secret gospel. This is not the violent, militant, and authoritative orthodoxy, Oh no! This is nice gospel in which people are called to live better lives. However, for all of McLaren’s moralistic appeals he is really just a spiritual vagabond vacillating from place to place and pirating Christian terms.
He claims to be a Christian, but unfortunately, he looks a bit more like Frankenstein’s monster. Regrettably, for McLaren, this is not a story. No matter how many dead ideas and vain philosophies he tries to sow together he will not find a living breathing doctrine outside of the pages of God’s authoritative, inerrant, infallible, revelatory, objective, absolute, and literal text. Going out to the impoverished multitudes McLaren doesn’t share the gospel of Jesus Christ as given in the divine Word of God. Rather, he tells a story about a man who lived long long ago in a galaxy far far away. As those living a spiritually imperiled life hear this perverse doctrine they store their hope in jars of clay ignoring the inevitable damnation that awaits the unrepentant heart.
Brian McLaren’s moral appeals at building a better world like Jesus wanted to do but couldn’t are destined to fizzle like cotton candy in the mouth. It presents a spiritual high to the depressed heart but in the end there is no sustentative value. Without the norm and standard of Word and truth all of man’s endeavors only lead him deeper in debt. Like a man who tries to dig his way out of a hole – he doesn’t realize he is digging his own grave. Carl F. H. Henry points this out:
Why is it that the magnificent civilizations fashioned by human endeavor throughout history have tumbled and collapsed one after another with apocalyptic suddenness? Is it not because, ever since man’s original fall and onward to the present, sin has plummeted human existence into unbroken crisis of word and truth? A cosmic struggle between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, shadows the whole history of mankind. The Bible depicts it as a conflict between the authority of God and the claims of the Evil One. Measured by the yardstick of God’s holy purposes, all that man proudly designates as human culture is little but idolatry. God’s Word proffers no compliments whatever to man’s so-called historical progress; rather, it indicts man’s pseudoparadises as veritable towers of Babel that obscure and falsify God’s truth and Word.
In our day more than 70 percent of Americans don’t believe in any form of absolute truth. It is no wonder why false prophets who come to us postulating some new secret or vain philosophy that appeals to fallen man would find listening ears. But how are we to respond? Satan has been attacking the church ever since the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It is obvious that he attacks the church from without but he is most effective when he attacks the church from within. This is clearly seen with church split after church split, but who could have ever imagined a day when people who call themselves Christians would attack the very notion of truth. How is it then that a Christian should respond to this heresy in such a morally and intellectually impoverished time?
What is Postmodernism?
In order to determine what exactly postmodernism is there are a few preliminary statements that must be made before we can begin. First, by its nature postmodernism is a movement that is by no means uniform. In it’s intellectual formation there are four primary strands. In their book, Varieties of Postmodern Theology, Griffin, Beardslee and Holland evaluate these different strands quite thoroughly. Given the nature and objectives of this paper it will not be possible to cover any of these varieties in any detail. However, I do feel it is important to see the different directions this movement is taking in the academic realm.
Second, we must also note that many have made the distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity:
As we try and understand our contemporary world, it is necessary, I believe, to distinguish between postmodernism and postmodernity. The former is an intellectual formulation of postmodern ideas on the high end of culture. It is their expression in architecture, in literary theory, philosophy, and so on. Postmodernity, by contrast, I am taking as the popular, social expression of the same assumptions but in ways that may be unselfconscious and often not intellectual at all, making this a diffuse, unshaped kind of expression. If the one is found in books and art, if it is debated on campuses and in the academy, the other is found in rock music, in the malls, on television, and in the workplace.
I will not make such a distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity for purposes of this paper. I mention this distinction because scholarship is making this distinction and it is important to note. However, I only wish to look at some common tenants of postmodern thought. These basic tenants will show themselves in the academy and in pop culture whether or not the origin of thought can be traced back to one or the other. Trying to determine whether or not the academy influences pop culture or visa versa is a bit like trying to determine which came first, the chicken or the egg. Therefore, I will use the terms postmodernism and postmodernity interchangeably throughout.
Although postmodernism comes in all shapes and sizes there are some basic tenants which can be seen as a common thread throughout. Foundational to postmodern thought is that it rejects all tenants of modernity. Thus, postmodern pundits see modernism as dead and believe a new age of thought has been ushered in. Hence, the designation, post-modernism, or after-modernism. One can begin to understand the antagonism that runs throughout postmodernism if they see that it is really an anti-movement as opposed to any new revelation in thought or discovery. This distinction between modernism and postmodernism reveals itself in many forms.
Of the many distinctions that have been attempted between modernism and postmodernism, perhaps this is the most common: modernism still believed in the objectivity of knowledge. In its most optimistic form, modernism held that ultimately knowledge would revolutionize the world, squeeze God to the periphery or perhaps abandon him to his own devices, and build an edifice of glorious knowledge to the great God Science. But this stance has largely been abandoned in the postmodernism that characterizes most Western universities. Deconstructionists have been most vociferous in denouncing the modernist vision. They hold that language and meaning are socially constructed, which is tantamount to saying arbitrarily constructed. Its meaning is grounded neither in ‘reality’ nor in texts per se. Texts will invariably be interpreted against the backdrop of the interpreter’s social ‘home’ and the historical conditioning of the language itself.
Basic to modernism was that there was such a thing truth. Not only truth, but absolute truth, and not only did the modernist believe in absolute truth but they believed it could be discovered through scientific inquiry. Postmoderns vehemently deny any such thing as absolute truth. One may even say they hold to this claim absolutely! The desecration of absolutes has led to the abandonment of worldview, truth, and purpose.
One of the most popular American postmodern philosophers is the deconstructionist, Richard Rorty. Rorty is a weird combination of deconstructionist, and social pragmatist. As a deconstructionist he finds commonality with the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida’s understanding of words. Basically words have no meaning and are viciously self-limiting. In short, words only refer to other words. Rorty writes, “This is exactly what I take language to be like. It is indeed a seamless web, which can best be understood if we abandon the traditional distinctions. A conception of language as smooth and homogeneous is just the right one to have, and adopting it does indeed lead to quietism.”
One may think that Rorty, as well Derrida would deny that any meaning can be derived from the text. Surprisingly, both argue that meaning can be derived from the text. But this is not an objective meaning which the author intended to communicate using linguistic symbols. Rather, this is whatever meaning the interpreter assigns to the text. Since there are no absolutes there is no criteria by which to judge one interpretation superior to another and thus, all interpretations are equally valid. Rorty states, “For a quietist like me, there is no discourse, debate, theory, or vocabulary that is devoid of meaning. I try to avoid the expression devoid of meaning. Any linguistic expression, even an expression like ontological status, has a meaning if you give it one. To give meaning to an expression, all you have to do is use it in a more or less predicable manner – situate it within a network of predicable inferences.”
On the surface, it is not hard to see the absurdity inherit in the hermeneutical deconstruction of postmodernism. First, if there is no correct criteria by which to interpret text, and all interpretations are valid then they really have no basis on which to expound or defend their claims. If their view is correct how could they defend their own view? They should expect that all who read their work would not agree with them because all interpretations are independent and determined by the interpreter. If words only refer to other words then why bother writing books or giving speaking engagements to try and convince others that your approach to literary studies is the correct one. I highly doubt that these authors write with the intentions of people making up whatever they want them to say. In fact, the every act of responding to criticism and engaging in debates would point to the contrary.
Second, one also must question the sanity of a person who claims that words have no meaning while using words to communicate the ideas that one believes to be true. Carl F. H. Henry writes, “Those who resort to words to tell us that words distort reality and truth engage in a futile of self-refuting activity.” This is the equivalent to saying, “I don’t believe in speech or truth and let me tell you why!” Not only does this position make all communication impossible, but it simply does not chide with personal experience.
In the real world, for all the difficulties there are in communication from person to person and from culture to culture, we still expect people to say more or less what they mean, and we expect mature people to understand what others say, and represent it fairly. The understanding is doubtless never absolutely exhaustive and perfect, but that does not mean that only the alternative is to dissociate text from speaker, and then locate all meaning in the reader or hearer. True knowledge of the meaning of a text and even of the thoughts of the author who wrote it is possible, even if perfect and exhaustive knowledge is not. That is that way things are in the real world – and that in turn suggests that any theory that flies in the face of these realities needs to be examined again.
Another sign (or symptom), of postmodernism is the growing tolerance/acceptance of other religions. It is true that other religions have always been a part of our culture, but due to the cancerous concepts postulated by postmodernity, especially that there are no absolute truths, only personal truths, religious pluralism has found a great degree of acceptance among the popular culture.
This overarching theme of religious acceptance is a new development within Western culture. Harold Netland explains, “Until recently it was assumed that since incompatible truth-claims are being made not all of the claims made by the various religions can be true. At least some must be false. Thus, it has traditionally been held that the Muslim and the evangelical Christian cannot both be correct in their beliefs about the identity of Jesus.” With the loss of objective truth we are left with nothing more than extreme subjectivity. When this is played out in the marketplace of ideas it makes any religion that claims to be absolutely true seem intolerant, insensitive and even extreme. Thus, the enemy of the many is not one more, but rather the One!
Within postmodernism, any religion that claims to be exclusivist will necessarily be perceived as being evil or at least extremely bigoted. On the surface, one would initially think that this position would rule out all religions because at the heart of every religion is an exclusivist position. Every religion makes an absolute claim, even if that absolute claim is that they absolutely affirm to not make any absolute claims. This, however, is not a problem for postmoderns.
Postmoderns don’t see this as a problem because in order to bring harmony to the conflicting religious truth claims, they simply look for areas of mutual understanding, and disregard the differences. There are two major forms in which religious pluralism can be represented. The first is that of Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Smith thinks that it is completely arrogant and even ignorant to think that Christianity is any more true than Islam. He sees this as a result of Enlightenment thinking. Smith rejects prepositional truth claims in favor of “personalistic” truth claims. He writes, “It is a surprisingly modern aberration for anyone to think that Christianity is true or that Islam is – since the Enlightenment basically, when Europe began to postulate religions as intellectual systems, patterns of doctrines so that they could for the first time be labeled “Christianity” and “Buddhism,” and could be called true or false.” Smith’s position is a completely existential position which can be seen more clearly in statements like this, “Christianity, I would suggest, is not true absolutely, impersonally, statically; rather, it can become true, if and as you or I appropriate it to ourselves and interiorize it, insofar as we live it out from day to day.”
Another form of religious pluralism that has become popular is that of John Hick. Hick realizes the need for prepositional truth and thus does not reject it out right. Given this, he also realized that not every claim that all religions make can be true, but he rejects the notion that this makes some of the religions claims false. Netland writes, “Hick proposes a comprehensive theory that allegedly portrays the distinctive nature of each religious tradition, recognizes significant differences in claims being made by each religion, and yet does not necessitate our concluding that at least some of these claims must be false. His theory calls for nothing less than a revolution in the way in which we think about the relation between religions.” So for Hick, every religion is simply making a human response to the “Eternal One” and these human responses are conditioned by culture. So Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, Shiva, Brahman, and so on are just different manifestations of the “Eternal One.”
How do we respond to these differing pluralistic positions presented? First, the idea that there is no such thing as prepositional truth and only personal truth is ridiculous. All truth by definition is exclusive. If a given statement is true than a statement which contradicts the true statement must then be false. This is basic logic. If all A is A than A cannot be non A. Man cannot simply do away with prepositional truth simply because they don’t like the outcome. No matter how much fallen man would like to abandon prepositional truth it is simply impossible. In fact, to make the statement that all truth is personalistic truth is in itself a proposition. Also, it should be noted that one cannot accept a truth to be personal unless they have first accepted it as a proposition. Netland points this out as follows, “The belief that Allah is a righteous judge will only “become true” in a personalistic sense if the adherent of Islam first accepts the proposition expressed by “Allah is a righteous judge” to be true. Similarly, religions such as Islam or Buddhism can only “become true” in a personalistic sense if certain relevant beliefs are accepted by the respective adherents as true in a propositional sense.”
Second, the claim that all religions are really just different manifestations of the same “Eternal One” is not only wrong, but foolish. Although Hick desires to create a comprehensive philosophy, similar to Hegel’s attempts, he still is confronted with conflicting truth claims. For example, Christianity claims that God is ontologically distinct from all creation. He is eternal and everything else is created. Also, the Christian God is a Triune, self-contained, personal God who has revealed Himself. This means that God can be known truly though not exhaustively. There is no common ground between the Christian God and the nothingness of Buddhism, or the impersonal god of Islam. So when the Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known the Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:6-7), He was making an exclusive claim.
Jesus did not leave room for other interpretations of who He was. Either He was God incarnate or He was insane. He cannot be God and yet not God. Christ was not simply playing language games when He said that He was God. Therefore, any attempt to find common ground with other religions is nothing more than an attempt to alleviate the crushing burden of sin that one experiences at the foot of the cross. This is why in every pluralistic system Jesus is nothing more than a good guy – it takes away any form of moral culpability. But this means that one has to then believe in imputed moral guilt before a Holy God. Though, fallen man vehemently denies this all of their actions point to the contrary and their desire to suppress the truth leaves them guiltless before God.
As was mentioned above, this is by no means a comprehensive summary of postmodernism or postmodern thought. This movement is very splintered by its very nature. I do, however, feel that we now have enough of an idea of the main points that postmodernism is pontificating to respond, but before we do so let us take a look at what it means to be a postmodern Christian.
Constructive – this type of postmodern theology rejects all the characteristics of late modern theology. While it recognizes that Western culture is still overwhelmingly shaped by the modern worldview, it believes that this situation is rapidly changing. The change is coming about in part, it holds, because the objective (rational-empirical) approach to reality no longer supports the modern worldview, but is pointing instead toward a postmodern worldview. And it believes that theology must in our time become public in both senses: it must make its case in terms of the criteria of self-consistency and adequacy to generally accessible facts of experience, and it must be directly relevant to matters of public policy.
Deconstructive – This type pf postmodern philosophy believes that an objective approach to the facts of experience proves, paradoxically, that an objective approach is not possible, and that this realization undermines the modern worldview along with every other worldview. It believes that we are moving into a postmodern age in which this relativistic outlook will increasingly undermine the modern worldview. The two forms of theology based on this type of postmodern philosophy have quite different ways of going public in relation to it. Taylor [Mark C.] takes the deconstructive postmodern outlook as definitive of the context for theology, which must thereby become “a/theology.” No private revelation or alternative perspective can circumvent the negative conclusions of the deconstructive analysis. Although positive motives generally lie behind this postmodern a/theology, its direct relevance to public policy is primarily negative: it is content for the most part simply to undermine the social structures that have been based on modern assumptions. The theology of Cornel West, by contrast, provides positive support for movements for human liberation. It has done this, however, by apparently retaining one of the features of late modern (and premodern) theology : an appeal to a particular ( the Christian) community’s faith which is not evaluated in terms of criteria of self-consistency and adequacy to generally available facts and experience. Unlike constructive postmodern theologians, West does not point to a postmodern worldview; unlike Taylor, he does not limit the theologian’s affirmations to those consistent with deconstructive analysis. West’s position involves an interesting combination of liberationist faith and eliminative postmodern philosophy.
Liberationist – While Cornel West provides one version of liberationist postmodern theology, Harvey Cox provides a second. Unlike the other types of postmodern theologians, Cox does not raise the issue of whether an objective analysis of the facts of experience undermines the modern worldview. But he does argue that theologians should not be constrained by the cultural mind-set that has been shaped by this worldview. The primary concern of a postmodern theology, in Cox’s view, is to be liberationist, and for this purpose it can build most effectively, upon the premodern piety of the religious communities. While Cox’s theology is clearly postmodern in seeking to overcome the privatization of faith, it retains late modern theology’s rejection of the need for theology to be self-consistent and adequate to the various facts of experience.
Restorationist – Rutler’s [George William Rutler] restorationist postmodern contains much that resonates with the opinions of constructive postmodern theologians. Much of this agreement involves the features of modernity that are rejected. Rutler rejects modernism’s relativism, subjectivism, reductionism, scientism, and sensate empiricism, together with its assumption that it is the final standard of all truth and value. He wants to overcome modernity’s utilitarianism, consumerism, individualism, loneliness, alienation, dependence on independence, and loss of memory. Rutler rejects both the totalitarianism in socialist countries and the sensuality and moral indifference in capitalist countries to which these features of modernism and modernity lead. Some commonality is also found with regard to the kind of postmodern world vision. Much of this commonality is constituted by the obvious opposites of the rejected features of modernity just mentioned. Besides these features, Rutler looks forward to a new union of religion and politics, and of theology and science, and thereby to a transformation of the pluriversity back into a university.” David Ray Griffin, William A. Beardslee & Joe Holland, Varieties of Postmodern Theology, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989), 3-5.
 Although I haven’t taken this position in this paper I find the Schaefferian model of dissent useful. In this model each step represents a certain stage in time. The higher is later and the lower earlier. It was in this order that the shift in truth affected men’s lives. Schaeffer begins with philosophy first and then works his way through art – music – general – culture – and finally theology. Francis A. Schaefer, “The God Who is There,” in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaefer, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 8. As I said, I find this model useful, but I am not entirely convinced there is really anyway to prove that an idea was not already existent in art before philosophy and so forth.
Perspectives: Viewpoints From Trinity Journal, Douglas Moo, ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), 83.
 Francis A. Schaeffer writes, “Hegel’s thinking led to this: Let us no longer think in terms of antithesis. Let us think rather in terms of thesis – antithesis, with the answer always being synthesis. All things are relativized. In so doing, Hegel changed the world. A central reason Christians do not understand their children is because their children no longer think in the same framework in which their parents think. It is not merely that they come out with different answers. The methodology has changed – that is, the very method by which they arrive at, or try to arrive at truth has changed. It is not because rationalistic man wanted to make this change. It was made out of desperation, because for hundreds of years rationalistic thought had failed. A choice was made, and the choice consisted in holding on to rationalism at the expense of rationality. It is true that Hegel is usually classified as an idealist. He hoped for a synthesis which somehow would have some relationship to reasonableness and he used religious language in his struggle for this, but this ended only in religious words rather than in a solution. He opened the door to that which is characteristic of modern man: truth as truth is gone, and synthesis (the both – and), with its relativism, reigns. Francis A. Schaeffer, “He Is There and He Is Not Silent,” in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaefer, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 233.
Truth is a concept that has always plagued the mind of fallen man, and modern man is no exception. As the Lord God Almighty stood before the authorities of this world, Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king. Jesus responded by saying, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
Standing eyeball to eyeball with the Creator of all life, the Lord Jesus Christ, Pilate could not see that the standard of truth and righteousness was standing before him. As those redeemed in Christ we have the grand privilege of seeing the arrogance and blindness of the fallen mind. We often look at Pilate as being the epitome of such blindness, but Pilate is no different than any other son of Adam.
Today, we would like to think that we are much different. After all, we do have the fullness of revelation through the resurrected Christ and the sixty-six canonical books of the Bible. We also have over two thousand years worth of philosophy recorded and at our disposal. Unfortunately, all of the annals of time, the insights of man, and the breakthroughs discovered in science have not satisfactorily answered this question. Rather, all they have done is create further and further diverging lines of thought.
As a new millennia has dawned, the church of Jesus Christ finds herself being brutally attacked by the disparity and sarcasm in those asking the very same question Pilate asked our Lord. “What is truth?” is not an evil question in and of itself. Rather, when asked honestly this question can direct one to a fuller understanding of our Lord, which in turn allows us to further glorify Him through the proper use of our mental capacities. When asked under improper motives, this question becomes nothing more than an assault on the sovereignty of God because fallen man holds himself to be the final determinate of truth. Instead of acknowledging that all knowledge derives from God, man makes himself the final source of all knowledge.
By making himself the final source of all knowledge man cursed all of his progeny thereafter. Thus, at the heart of the fall was the concept of truth. Is truth derivative or does man make it up as he goes along? Up until recently, approximately the last forty years or so, there was a common belief among philosophers and theologians that there was such a thing as absolute truth and that it could be discovered, whether through the mind of natural man or through revelation. Today, it is of majority opinion that there is no such thing as absolute truth, while some still struggle to hold on to the idea of communal (small “t”) truths.
Many have called the cultural landscape that we find ourselves in, postmodernity, or after-modernity meaning the philosophical underpinnings that defined modernity are dead. What exactly is postmodernity? Is it a philosophical movement or simple a term given to describe the cultural times, or perhaps both? Is this something that is good or bad for Christianity? How are Christians to interact with this worldview that is so prevalent today? These are just a few questions that will be addressed throughout the course of this paper.
Postmodern philosopher, Pascal Engel asks the question, “Why, if we no longer believe in truth, is there such a longing for it?” It is the purpose of this paper to reflect and dissect the basic philosophical underpinnings of the postmodern movement and determine what exactly it means for the community of the redeemed. In order to do this we must first begin by asking the question, what is Postmodernism?
 Cornelius Van Til writes, “ In paradise, Eve went to as many as possible of those who were reputed to have knowledge. God and Satan both had a reputation for knowledge. Apparently God did not think well of Satan’s knowledge and Satan did not think well of God’s knowledge but each thought well of his own knowledge. So Eve had to weigh these reputations. It was for her a question as to, How do we know? The problem that Eve faced was a difficult one. God told her that she would surely die if she ate the forbidden tree. Numerically there was only one in favor of one and only one in favor of the opposite point of view. Thus she could not settle the matter of reputation by numbers. She herself had to decide this matter of reputation by motion and a vote. God claimed that he was Creator. He claimed that His being was ultimate while Satan’s being was created and therefore dependent upon God’s Being. He told her she would decide the question, How do we know? Without asking the question, What do we know? He said she should be neutral with respect to his interpretation and God’s interpretation of what would take place if she ate of the forbidden tree. Eve did ignore the question of being in answering the question of knowledge. She said she would gather the opinions of as many as she could find with a reputation for having knowledge and then give the various views presented a fair hearing. We should observe particularly that in doing what she did Eve did not really avoid the question of What do we know? She gave by implication a very definite answer to that question. She made a negation with respect to God’s Being. She denied God’s Being as ultimate being. She affirmed therewith in effect that all being is essentially on one level. At the same time she also gave a definite answer to the question How do we know? She said we know independently of God. She said that God’s authority was to be tested by herself. Thus she came to take the place of ultimate authority. She was no doubt going to test God’s authority by experience and reflection upon experience. Yet it would be she, herself, who should be the final authority.” Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1967), 33-34.
God is there and He is not silent. The very existence of man presupposes God, and there is no escape from, and there is no chance of man being autonomous. The recent trend of heretics is nothing new. Ever since the Fall of mankind in Paradise Satan has been attacking man the same way. He gets them to question the truth of God and thereby exchange it for a lie.
God is known because He first revealed himself and if we are to know anything we must know it in the context in which God has revealed Himself. The theological idea that there are multiple truths is completely absurd. To say such a thing is the equivalent of saying there are multiple gods. In like manner, it is equally absurd for postmoderns to redefine Christ in the attempt make Him cool in a contemporary culture thereby raping Him of His divine nature. To do such a thing is nothing more than trying to redefine truth. It is like saying all A is not A.
The Word of God is like fire to the unregenerate and they will do anything to alleviate the suffocating effect of the law which looms over their heads. Those that are blessed submit to God and confess their sins then use the law to as a crutch to walk with. Other’s become resentful, and set out to redefine the truth of God’s Word. By doing so they inevitably minimize the effects of the Fall, and thus, strip the atonement of its value.
Man was created as an antecedent being and all of his knowledge is derived from God. Man is completely and utterly dependant upon God in every facet of his being. Thus, when man fell from Paradise he perverted the image of God and the Holy Spirit no longer resides in him outside of the effects of regeneration. This means that man is no longer able to discern the will of God though he is still endowed with his created capacities. So although man is a being with mental, volitional, and emotional capacities his only desire is to use those capacities to glorify man, not God. Thus, natural man desires the things of which he can never have outside of God. Man was created for a purpose and that purpose is to glorify God through the right use of his capacities. Outside of the redeeming blood of Christ breaking fallen, wretched sinners there is no hope for man. He will forever be miserable.
The whole idea of the seeker sensitive church movement is completely ridiculous. The only thing that nature man seeks is to glorify himself. This has become evident in the trends in worship as of late. It is hard to tell the difference between most churches and the Mall of America. Sound systems have all but replaced sound worship. Today it would seem as though more are concerned with conquering up emotions and having religious experiences, whatever that may be.
Thus, our times should weigh heavy on the hearts of believers. We should take no comfort in knowing many are digging their graves deeper and deeper every Sunday morning. Every generation is defined by the way in which they confront the heresy of their day. This is no time to be lackadaisical. Christ’s return is certain. We should go to bed every night wondering whether or not we have planted enough seed. Christ is truth and when truth is attacked so to is Christ.
Therefore, as Christians we should not only defend the truth of God but we should attack the strong holds of Satan in this world. This means we must be diligent to preach and teach the overwhelming weight of sin and the overwhelming glory of Christ. It is Christ alone who is our way unto salvation. It is Christ alone who is the truth. It is Christ alone who can give life, and it is Christ alone who can attest to Himself. Let us not make hast then in proclaiming the revealed Word of God.
Application in Evangelism and Apologetics
Understanding the authority and self-revelatory character of God as well as understanding the effects of sin on man is absolutely critical with respect to the unregenerate. We know that God is there and He is not silent. Man is, because God first spoke. When man was sinless God the Son could speak directly to him and the indwelt presence of God the Holy Spirit could discern the Son’s revelation. Thus, we can see by this that God is and always has been self-revelatory, and self-discerning. Man cannot discern the things of God unless God enables him to.
When man fell into sin God the Holy Spirit left man thereby leaving man unto himself. Man can no longer discern the things of God because he no longer has a sinless character even though he is surrounded by God’s revelation in nature. God also no longer speaks directly to man, but speaks through the Holy Scriptures. Van Til writes, “Before the fall of Adam, man walked and talked with God in intimate fellowship. Then no Bible was required. Man was not alienated from God. No Christ was needed for man’s redemption. But shall we add that therefore no supernatural authoritative revelation was necessary for him? Shall we say that man could originally identify himself and the facts of the universe without supernatural thought communication on the part of his Creator? The answer must be in the negative.”
The fall of man necessitates the need for the Scriptures, and it is the Scriptures which reveal God’s other forms of revelation through nature and the incarnation. It is the incarnation which gives us the Christ. Christ’s birth, death, burial and resurrection atones for the sins of those whom God the Father has drawn unto Himself. Thus, God the Father sent the Christ to atone for the sins of His elect. The atonement is then a moral atonement. Then God the Son sends God the Holy Spirit to illumine the inspired written revelation of God so that the elect may know God in an experiential way. Thus, redeemed man may know God with certainty because it is God who is revealing Himself.
Man cannot know God apart from the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself. God’s revelation through nature and through the incarnation are revealed through the Scriptures. Thus, man is utterly dependent upon the Scriptures. The unregenerate are dead in their sins and trespasses and there is nothing they can do save themselves from their state of depravity. They need the perfect blood of Christ applied to their account in order to be made right before the judgment seat of God. The only way the atonement can be rightly understood is through God’s revelation which we have in the Scriptures. It is then the Holy Spirit which uses the Scriptures to illumine the heart and mind of the dead sinner to reveal to them the nature of God which cannot be understood apart for God. Therefore, God the Father’s calling, God the Son’s redeeming, and God the Holy Spirit revealing illumines the nature and character of God to the dead sinner giving him the desire to repent of their sins thereby restoring them to a proper knowledge of God. Thus, redeemed man can again will the will of God because man is no longer the final point of predication. Man has decreased and Christ has increased.
What does this then mean for evangelism and apologetics? Those who have had the blood of Christ applied to them, and the Holy Spirit remain in them are obligated to will the will of God by proclaiming His revelation through the incarnation (birth, death, burial, and resurrection) of the Christ. This can only be done through the Scriptures because only God can reveal and attest to Himself. Thus, it is God and God alone that can save lost sinners.
Why then share the Word at all? Because God works through means and redeemed man is the means whereby God has chosen to work thus re-instating man to his position as steward of creation. Because he has been enabled by God he is able to do God’s work. It is then the responsibility of the redeemed to share the Word with all men not knowing whom God has called and whom He hasn’t. It is regenerate man’s responsibility to plant the seed, but it is God the Holy Spirit who will germinate that seed. Thus, the work of creation and re-creation are entirely dependent upon the triune character of a self-sufficient God who is there and is not silent.
The Effects of Sin
When God created man he was created in a state of creaturely perfection. This does not mean that man had exhaustive knowledge. Man was created perfect in God’s good creation, but this does not imply an unchangeable creation. If man used his capacities properly he would grow in creaturely perfection by willing God’s will with joy and spontaneity. Thus, man had an ability to grow in his capacities the more he grew in knowledge of God. As long as man was without sin he would be able to grow throughout eternity because God is eternal and inexhaustible in His Being.
Unfortunately, our first parents did not remain sinless. Sin is an act of disobedience against God. Thus, we can say that the Fall of man was an ethical fall. But we can also say that the Fall was an epistemological fall. Van Til writes, “In paradise, Eve went to as many as possible of those who were reputed to have knowledge. God and Satan both had a reputation for knowledge. Apparently God did not think well of Satan’s knowledge and Satan did not think well of God’s knowledge but each thought well of his own knowledge. So Eve had to weigh these reputations. It was for her a question as to, How do we know?”
In deciding to commit the sin act Van Til points out that Eve answered two epistemological question: What do we know and How do we know:
We should observe particularly that in doing what she did Eve did not really avoid the question of What do we know? She gave by implication a very definite answer to that question. She made a negation with respect to God’s Being. She denied God’s Being as ultimate being. She affirmed therewith in effect that all being is essential on one level. At the same time she also gave a definite answer to the question How do we know? She said we know independently of God. She said that God’s authority was to be tested by herself. Thus she came to take the place of ultimate authority. She was no doubt going to test God’s authority by experience and reflection upon experience. Yet it would be she, herself, who should be the final authority.
We know that our Lord is Truth. We also know that sin is an open defiance to the Truth. Therefore it stands that sin is non-truth. It is perverted, distorted and twisted truth. Again, Van Til points out, “Sin will reveal itself in the field of knowledge in the fact that man makes himself the ultimate court of appeal in the matter of all interpretation. He will refuse to recognize God’s authority.”
Adam was appointed as the first representative of mankind. When he sinned he cursed the human race. All of his progeny are now born in a state of sin. Does this mean that man changed upon the first sin? Yes and no. Man did not change in the metaphysical sense. When he sinned he still had his being. Man did not go from man to non-man. So in the metaphysical sense man did not change.
The Fall did, however, change man’s disposition. Man was created to will the will of God. Adam made the choice to will his own will, or to make himself the final point of predication. Therefore, all of Adam’s progeny also seek to make themselves the final point of predication. Thus, man can be said to be dead in his sins because natural man has no desire to will the will of God. In fact, he hates God, and desires to be free from God. Natural man has been struggling to establish his autonomy ever sense the Fall suppressing the truth of God for a lie. Van Til writes of natural man:
His inability to see the facts as they are and to reason about them as he ought to reason about them is, at bottom, a matter of sin. He has the God-centered ability of reasoning within him. He is made in the image of God. God’s revelation is before him and within him. He is in his own constitution a manifestation of the revelation and therefore of the requirement of God. God made a covenant with him through Adam (Rom. 5:12). He is therefore now, in Adam, a covenant-breaker. He is also against God and therefore against the revelation of God (Rom. 8:6-8). This revelation of God constantly and inescapably reminds him of his creatural responsibility. As a sinner he has, in Adam, declared himself autonomous.
Fallen man now seeks to use his created capacities for himself. Hence, total depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he could be. It simply means that the effects of the Fall are comprehensive upon man, every aspect of man was affected. There is no capacity that was given to man that exists in a vacuum. His intellect as well as his will are directed towards self. Thus, man left unto himself does not have the desire or will to save himself because he does not believe he needs to be saved.
If this was the end of God’s interactions with man the end for man would be pretty bleak indeed. But, thankfully, our great King and Savior has not left us without hope, and it is this hope that drives the Christian onward. It is also this hope that is the foundation for evangelism and apologetics.
As Cornelius Van Til brilliantly pointed out all knowledge is derivative. Thus, in order for man to know anything it necessitates God. Without God man must have exhaustive knowledge within himself. Van Til goes on to write, “If one does not make human knowledge wholly dependant upon the original self-knowledge and consequent revelation of God to man, then man will have to seek knowledge within himself as the final reference point. Then he will have to seek an exhaustive understanding of reality. Then he will have to hold that if he cannot attain to such an exhaustive understanding of reality, he has no true knowledge of anything at all. Either man knows everything or he knows nothing.”
In order to truly understand what has been said thus far we must go back to the time of man’s creation. The very first words in the Book of Life are, “In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1), and the New Testament counterpart, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). “In the beginning God,” this means that God is self-determinative. “He has no non-being over against himself in terms of which he needs or can to any extent interpret himself. He is omniscient. He is omniscient because of what he is as a self-sufficient Being. On the other hand we must add that the nature of God’s being requires complete exhaustive self-consciousness. God’s Being is coterminous with his self-consciousness.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith 2:2 tells us, “God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto them: He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth.”
Though God in His triune perfection derives nothing from outside of Himself and finds all perfection within Himself it pleased Him to create by His eternal power and wisdom all things. On the sixth day of God’s creative acts He created man as a separate and distinct creature. The Westminster Confession of Faith (4:2) goes on to concisely say, “After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it: and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.”
Man being created in the image of God is an antecedent being. This means that God is man’s necessary antecedent. God not only created, but also sustains life for man. Thus, man has his existence because God exists, and because of this man is completely and utterly dependant upon God for his existence.
Man’s created functional purpose is to will the will of God over all of God’s creation with joy and spontaneity. Man was created as a steward, a vicegerent. Given this, man must know the will of his King in order to rule adequately and will His will. Thus, man was given several capacities upon his creation. These capacities include man’s mental, volitional, and emotional abilities. There are multiple aspects to man being created in the image of God which could be covered, but for purposes of this paper I will be brief.
Because man bears God’s image God is able to reveal Himself to man and man is in turn able to discern this revelation through his created capacities. The question then arises, how can man know God if God is incomprehensible? Even if man was given certain capacities to discern God’s revealing of Himself man is still finite. So, how is it possible for the finite to know the infinite? John Frame addresses this question as follows, “So God is knowable and known, and yet mysterious, wondrous, and incomprehensible. How can God be both knowable and incomprehensible? Like the problems discussed earlier – divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and the problem of evil – the biblical writers don’t treat this as a problem. Indeed, most believers have no trouble rejoicing in what God has revealed of himself, while worshipping in awe and wonder.” Frame goes on to conclude, “We should think of God’s incomprehensibility, then, not as a ‘wholly otherness,’ but as the result of transcendence in the biblical sense: God has control and authority over creaturely knowledge. So his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his mystery permeates our knowledge. This kind of incomprehensibility does not compromise God’s knowability. Rather, God’s incomprehensible nature becomes immanent in his revelation of himself.”
So, although God is incomprehensible man can still know God. This does not mean that man knows God comprehensibly, but it does mean that man knows God truly. Cornelius Van Til writes, “God alone knows himself and all things of the created universe exhaustively. He has revealed himself to man. But he did not reveal himself exhaustively to man. Neither the created universe nor the Bible exhaustively reveals God to man. Nor has man the capacity to receive such as exhaustive revelation. God reveals himself to man according to his ability to receive revelation. All revelation is anthropomorphic.”
Given man’s created capacities and the absence of sin God was able to speak to man directly. Thus, God’s act of speaking, creating, and blessing are all one and the same. As soon as man came into existence he was utterly dependant upon very word that came from his Father’s mouth. Man was not born with a tabula rosa. Never at any point in man’s existence has he been autonomous. There was never a point when man was to use his capacities to discern truth for himself. Rather, his capacities were given to discern God’s revelation of Himself (truth). Therefore, the only place man can find meaning and right use of his capacities is when he wills the wills of God, and he cannot will the will of God unless he knows what that will is. Francis A. Schaeffer writes, “All the way back to the Greeks, we have for 2,000 years the cleverest men who have ever lived trying to find a way to have meaning and certainty of knowledge; but man, beginning with himself with no other knowledge outside of himself, has totally failed.”
If man has been trying to find meaning and certainty of knowledge, but has never found it we should then ask the question, why? We know that God is perfect within Himself and is incomprehensible to man though man can truly know Him. Given that God must be perfect, and that man is to will God’s will after Him, we must then conclude that meaning and certainty of knowledge can only be found when man wills God’s will. Thus, when there is no meaning and uncertainty we must then conclude that we are not willing God’s will.
He is There and He is Not Silent: Self-Revelatory Character of God
Obviously, the title for this paper and for this section come from the late great Francis A. Schaeffer’s book bearing the same title. In this wonderful work Schaeffer came up with the title in response to the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work. Wittgenstein basically said, “you have propositions of natural science. This is all that can be said; it is all that you can put into language. This is the limit of language and the limit of logic. ‘Downstairs’ we can speak, but all that can be spoken is the mathematical propositions of natural science. Language is limited to the ‘downstairs’ of reason, and that ends up with mathematical formulations.”
Wittgenstein saw no meaning in life. He said that there is only silence. So although man desperately needs values, ethics, and meaning he can never understand nor obtain such things. All he is left with is nothing, only silence. This thought led Wittgenstein into linguistic analysis which in many ways he helped to popularize, but as Schaeffer aptly points out, “Although it [linguistic analysis] defines words using reason, finally language leads to neither value nor facts. Language leads to language, and that is all. It is not only the certainty or values that is gone, but the certainty of knowing.”
In order to combat the lostness and emptiness of the silence that natural man sees in God’s good creation Schaeffer declared that God is there and He is not silent. Schaeffer was a prophet, and a titan before his time, and his cry to fallen man is needed even more so today. Thus, my goal here is to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before me (though only briefly), and proclaim that God is here and He is not silent.
The fact that God is there and He is not silent is not only the reason for man’s existence, but it the reason man can find meaning in that existence. Francis Schaeffer explains:
Evangelicals often make a mistake today. Without knowing it, they slip over into a weak position. They thank God in their prayers for the revelation we have of God in Christ. This is good as far as it goes, and it is wonderful that we do have a factual revelation of God in Christ. But I hear very little thanks from the lips of evangelicals today for the propositional revelation in verbalized form which we have in the Scriptures. He must indeed not only be there, but He must have spoken. And He must have spoken in a way which is more than simply a quarry for emotional, upper-story experiences. We need prepositional facts. We need to know who He is, and what His character is, because His character is the law of the universe. He has told us what His character is, and this becomes our moral law, our moral standard. It is not arbitrary, for it is fixed in God Himself, in what has always been. It is the very opposite of what is revelativistic. It is either this, morals are not morals.
So we can see that ontology and ethics are inextricably linked, but so too are they both inextricably linked to epistemology. Herein lies the distinction between the Protestant doctrine and all others. The distinction lies in the fact that the Protestant concept of God necessarily stands over and above man. Cornelius Van Til writes:
The Protestant doctrine of God requires that it be made foundational to everything else as principle of explanation. If God is self-sufficient, he alone is self-explanatory. And if he alone is self-explanatory, then he must be the final reference point in all human predication. He is then like the sun from which all lights on earth derive their power of illumination. You do not use a candle in order to search for the sun. The idea of a candle is derived from the sun. So the very idea of any fact in the universe is that it is derivative. God has created it. It cannot have come into existence by itself, or by chance. God himself is the source of all possibility, and, therefore, of all space-time factuality.
In John 14:6 our Lord and Savor Jesus Christ responds to His beloved disciple, Thomas who asked the Lord, “how can we know the way?” Jesus responds by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Only the One that is God could make such a claim. Christ alone is the way unto salvation, Christ alone is the truth, Christ alone has life, and it is Christ alone that can attest to Himself. O’ how these words of our Lord need to be heard and experienced in this day and age.
We live in a time when questioning truth is commonplace. Not wanting to offend anyone, and with great desire to remain politically correct many have become the lapdogs of Satan. It has always been Satan’s desire to destroy the Church, and he has always been most successful when he strikes from within. Thus, the same holds to be true in our time. Hence today, heretics such as Brian McLaren find mainstream success in an evangelical community seeking to destroy doctrine and throw off the rigors of a time long past. Amongst God’s elect, there will also be the reprobate that spring up from within seeking to betray our Lord and His bride with a holy kiss.
The attack on truth is nothing new. As a matter of fact, it is as old as time. The attack on truth is nothing more than an attack on God Himself. We know very little about the angelic fall and it does us no good to romanticize, or indulge our fantasies. We do know, however, that Satan was a beautiful and magnificent creature who was full of wisdom and perfect in beauty (Ezek. 28:12). We also know that on account of his beauty he corrupted his wisdom (Ezek. 28:17).
Satan rebelled against God because he distorted the truth, and had a perverted view of reality. Unfortunately, sin is only comfortable with company and he not only cursed himself but also, many angels, and the race of man through his corruption. There is no truth in Satan, he is the father of lies, and when he lies he speaks his native tongue (John 8:44).
Though Satan is a roaring lion who desires to devour man made in the image of God, he rarely attacks man in such abrupt ways. He comes to man with a smile on his face and armed with one question he asks over and over again, “did God really say?” His objective is always the same, to get man to question the supreme authority of God. Did God really say, gives man the interpretive rights over God’s revelation, thus, perverting the Creator/creature distinction. Hence, man left unto himself changes the truth of God for a lie and worships and serves the creature rather than the Creator who is forever praised (Rom. 1:25).
How do I know, and how do I know that I know are key questions that Christians must be prepared to answer. My objective in this paper, then, will be epistemological in nature. Thus, it seems to be a logical starting point to begin where God began, that is, with Himself.
 In his book, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything, Brian D. McLaren writes, “Many people don’t realize that the Christian religion – in its Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Pentecostal forms – is the largest, richest, and most powerful religion in the world. If the Christian religion “misunderestimates” the message of Jesus – if it doesn’t know or believe the truth about Jesus and his message – the whole world will suffer from Christian ignorance, confusion, or delusion. But if it discovers, understands, believes, and lives Jesus’ message – if it becomes increasingly faithful to the reality of what Jesus taught in word and example – then everyone could benefit: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, everyone. In an age of global terrorism and rising religious conflict, it’s significant to note that all Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet, that many Hindus are willing to consider Jesus as a legitimate manifestation of the divine, that many Buddhists see Jesus as one of humanity’s most enlightened people, and that Jesus himself was a Jew, and without understanding his Jewishness, one doesn’t understand Jesus. A shared reappraisal of Jesus’ message could provide a unique space or common ground for urgently needed religious dialogue – and it doesn’t seem an exaggeration to say that the future of our planet may depend on such dialogue. This reappraisal of Jesus’ message may be the only project capable of saving a number of religions, including Christianity, from the number of threats, from being coopted by consumerism or nationalism to the rise of potentially violent fundamentalism in their own ranks.” Brian D. McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything, (Nashville: W. Publishing Group, 2006), 7-8. McLaren and many others do not openly deny the Christ, they just completely redefine who He is in a way that fits their needs and agenda thus masquerading a lie as the truth.
So, is man an autonomous creature who evolved over billions of years with no purpose, no plan, and no meaning? Though introductory anthropology students are force fed this horrible filth year after year it is becoming ever more clear that the cries of the Reformation are just as relevant today as they were in the past.
If man is to find any meaning in a fallen, postmodern world that seeks to sap the intellect out of all thought he must first begin and end with Christ. Thus, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria must ooze from the very marrow of our bones. It is God and God alone who will be glorified. Any system of thought which seeks to bolster in man abilities making God a celestial helper at best not only is a representation of the absurdity of the fallen mind, but is a worldview that has no place in the Kingdom of God.
The autonomy of man is at the very core of our noetic structure and unless the almighty hand of God changes that disposition in the heart of man by the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel man is doomed. Jesus told his disciples in Matt. 16:24-26, “If anyone desires to come after Me, Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Knowing that the souls of men are on the line and that they can only be saved through faith by grace and that that faith can only be obtained through the indwelt presence of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the Word it thus becomes an imperative to preach the Word of God. In a culture consumed with comfort and pleasure it needs to be made known that there is no comfort and pleasure to be obtained outside of the glorious riches of Jesus Christ. Any such attempt is just momentary pain alleviation.
Man was created for one purpose and one purpose alone and that is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. As a result of sin man is unable to do this and he now only seeks self-glorification. Thus man’s endless pursuit for autonomy only leads him deeper into a pit of despair. Thus fallen man doesn’t need a celestial helper, rather he needs a glorious Savior. It is only through Christ that we can have life, but we must first seek to lose ourselves. Any system which fails to heed this point is not only misguided it is damned.
May Christ be proclaimed. Soli Deo Gloria!
Man was created in a state of creaturely perfection. Man was not created with a tabula rosa. Man was created physically and ethically mature, with knowledge in his mind, righteousness in his will and holiness in his heart. Goodness, then consists of moral perfection in harmony with all of Gods laws (Lev. 19:2; Deut. 6:5; Matt. 5:48; 22:37; Eph. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). Though man was created perfect he was not created infinite. He was endowed with certain capacities to which he could use to will the will of God as vicegerent of earth. As man used these capacities in right relation to their created function (to glorify God) with joy and spontaneity he would grow in his understanding and knowledge of his perfect Creator.
Being appointed as vicegerent, Adam represented not only himself but the earth, his bride and all their progeny. When Adam sinned in the first act of disobedience against God he cursed all that was under his lordship. As a result, all of the earth now groans in pain (Rom. 8:21-22), and all of Adam’s offspring are born into a complete state of depravity before God (Rom. 3:9-20) so although they know the truth of God they suppress it for a lie (Rom. 1:21).
When Adam sinned the Holy Spirit left him. He was no longer perfect and was no longer able to commune with God. All of his progeny are now born without the Spirit upon them and as such they no longer bare the image of God in his moral excellency, namely in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Though man has lost his ability to attain moral excellency he still retains the image of God in his created capacities. This means that man is still a moral creature because he retained his volitional capacity, he is still a thinking creature because he retained his mental capacity, and he is still a loving creature because he retained his emotional capacity. So, although man lost his ability to obtain moral excellency he still retains his moral agency.
At first glance this may appears to be similar to the Roman Catholic view, but it could not be further removed from such an abomination. Though man retains his capacities he can no longer use those capacities as they were originally created to function. Function follows form, or as our Lord put it, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear healthy fruit,” (Matt. 7:15-20). When Adam sinned it changed his disposition and thereby changed the way he would use his created capacities. He no longer can use his capacities to glorify God unless the indwelt presence of the Holy Spirit allows him to do so by the grace of God. So moral agency remains, but it can never be used for God outside of God and as such natural mans only inclination is towards self.
No one can be sure what was going through Adam’s mind the moment he sinned. We do know, however, that in Adam’s decision to eat of the tree he was specifically told not to he was judging for himself was best for him and, in effect, what was essentially determining what was true. Every sin has since manifested itself in the same way as man’s original sin. Thus, every sin stems from the desire to be autonomous.
Webster’s defines autonomy as, 1: the quality or state of being self-governing; esp: the right of self-government 2: self-directing freedom and esp. moral independence 3: a self-governing state. Thus, to claim autonomy is to claim ultimacy. It is an absolute state. Therefore, man is either autonomous or he is not. Man cannot be autonomous and at the same time be conditioned by God, as if God was some grandfather in the sky wanting to reach down to man but could only stretch down from his walker so far. Thus, man needs to lift himself up to God through proper choices and actions as the heretics hold.
Even this position is entirely inconsistent with their concept of autonomy. In autonomy they must take the place of God. Cornelius VanTil writes, “On the non-Christian basis man is assumed to be the final reference point in predication. Man will therefore have to seek to make a system for himself that will relate all the facts of his environment to one another in such a way as will enable him to see exhaustively all the relations that obtain between them. In other words, the system that the non-Christian has to seek on his assumption is one in which he himself virtually occupies the place that God occupies in Christian theology.”
In the same respect God cannot be sovereign and be conditioned by man in any respect. God cannot be God and be reactionary. Therefore, in order for man to be autonomous God cannot exist. But if God does not exist than man cannot exist. Again, VanTil writes:
It was thus that man, in rejecting the covenantall requirement of God became at one and the same time both irrationalist and rationalist. These two are not, except formally, contradictory of one another. They rather imply one another. Man had to be both to be either. To be able to identify himself apart from God, man had to distinguish himself as an individual from all the relationships of the system of which he actually is a part. If he were not part of the God-ordained system of relationships, he would be an entity in a vacuum; he would not be distinquishable to himself from any one or anything else. In fact he would not be self-conscious at all.”
Therefore, any system which postulates the autonomy of man whether it claims to be Christian or not is in fact distinctively heretical and is a sign of God’s wrath. The fallen reason of man left unto itself is a never-ending spiral of self and thus, outside of God man has no meaning and no purpose. David Wells writes, “The autonomous self is autonomous because it has liberated itself from an outside world of meaning, of obligation, of rules, rites, customs, and practices. Or, to be more accurate, what has happened is that the outside world seems to have evaporated and all reality has contracted into self. It is in the self that the business of life is all settled.”
Any system that bolsters in man’s abilities either directly or indirectly minimizes the saving work of Christ. Wells writes, “It is about God reaching down in grace and doing for sinners what they cannot do for themselves. For if this is God’s Kingdom, his rule, the sphere of his sovereignty, then it is not for us to take or to establish. We receive, we do not take; we enter, but we do not seize; we come as subjects in his Kingdom, not as monarchs in our own.”
It is all about God in creation and in re-creation. God in His perfect Triune character restores man and breathes new life into his dead and decaying lunges. God the Father draws sinners to Himself, God the Son redeems those sinners through His perfect and spotless life and His propitiation on the cross, and God the Holy Spirit reveals to the sinners the perfection and completion of God’s mighty plan and their place within that plan. Man is, and always will be a dependant creature. The Christian revels in this fact and fallen man despises it.
Man As Image
As was mentioned above, the doctrine of man is critical to understanding the doctrine of God, and in fact they must complement each other. For example, one cannot hold to the autonomy of man and still have a sovereign God, but I am getting ahead of myself. So the doctrine of man is crucial to understanding God. Where then do we begin to develop a doctrine of man? Again, the starting point for discovering the nature of man will be in unison with the starting point for discovering the nature God, namely the Holy Word of God. Cornelius VanTil writes:
The doctrine of Scripture as self-attesting presupposes that whatsoever comes to pass in history materializes by virtue of the plan and counsel of the living God. If everything happens by virtue of the plan of God, then all created reality, every aspect of it, is inherently revelational of God and of his plan. All facts of history are what they are ultimately because of what God intends and makes them to be. Even that which is accomplished in human history through the instrumentality of men still happens by virtue of the plan of God. God tells the stars by their names. He identifies by complete description. He knows exhaustively. He knows exhaustively because he controls completely.
Thus, the only way to understand man is to understand him in relation to his place in the plan of God. For brevity sake, we will then begin with the presupposition that everything necessary for man to know about himself and God can be found in the revelation of God. Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that man was the hallmark of God’s creation. In the last act of creation, God being in perfect Triune counsel with Himself created man in His likeness and image. Historically, many have split hairs over the distinction between image and likeness First, we know that repetitions were common among the Hebrews, in which they express one thing twice; then in the things itself there is no ambiguity, simply man is called God’s image because he is like God. Accordingly, those who thus philosophize more subtly over these terms appear to be ridiculous.” but Calvin helps to shed on this matter when he writes, “there is no slight quarrel over ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ when interpreters seek a nonexistent difference between these two words, except that ‘likeness’ has been added by way of explanation.
The question we then need to ask ourselves is not what is the distinction between image and likeness, but rather what does it mean to be created in the image of God? In answering this question we in turn will be laying the foundation for developing our entire theology. As such, the answer to this question is the logical antecedent to every one which follows. I cannot over emphasize this point enough. Your doctrine of man will determine your doctrine of the Fall and sin, the current state of man, man’s abilities to use his capacities, and most importantly it will determine the way one sees the person and work of Christ and the weight placed on the atonement.
As with many theological issues the Bible doesn’t explicitly state all of the attributes of man which represent God’s image. As such, several differing opinions have emerged as to what the image of God in man is. Not surprisingly, it would appear that these would fall on denominational lines. Although it is important to understand the different positions it is more important to understand that there are really only two: Reformed and not Reformed. Cornelius VanTil helps to shed light on this mater when he writes, “We refer now to those Protestants who are usually spoken of as evangelicals as distinct from those who embrace the Reformed Faith. Under the term evangelicals we include all those who hold to the Remonstrant or Arminian view of man in his relation to God. We include also Lutherans. To be sure, Lutherans are not by any means to be identified as Arminian in every respect. But on the point at issue their view is basically the same as that of the Arminians. The point is that both Arminians and Lutherans maintain that man has a measure of ultimacy or autonomy. In this respect they resemble the Roman Catholics.”
The Reformed view of the image of God in man is separate and distinct from these other views in that it approaches the Bible holistically, and as such is able to reap a fuller picture of God’s divine revelation. Where the Lutherans would claim that image is completely lost and would point to such passages as 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:24, and Colossians 3:10 the Roman Catholics and Pelagians would point to passages such as Genesis 5:1, 9:6, Acts 17:28, 1 Corinthians 11:7, and James 3:9 indicating that image was retained. The Reformed however, sees both the image of God in man both retained and lost. Herman Bavinck writes:
As a rule, however, Reformed theologians continued to speak of the image of God in broader and narrower sense. In Holy Scripture they read that man, on the one hand, is still called the image of God after the fall and should be respected as such (Gen. 5:1; 9:6; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9); and that, on the other hand, he had nevertheless lost the primary content of the image of God (i.e., knowledge, righteousness, holiness) and only regains these qualities in Christ (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). By observing this distinction in Scripture and incorporating it in their theology, Reformed theologians have maintained the bond between the physical and ethical nature of man, and thereby also at this point (the relation between nature and grace) kept themselves from falling into various errors. Soon an additional distinction arose that was especially worked out in the doctrine of the covenant of works. This distinction answered the question what Adam had to become, not what Adam was. It is only in these three areas, the image of God in broad sense, the image of God in the narrow sense, and the development or distinction of the image of God – that is, in the doctrine of the covenant of works – that the locus of the image of God can be treated to the full extent.
Only in understanding the image of God in man in the broader and narrower sense through the working of the covenant of works can we properly understand the effects of the Fall and the nature of the atonement. In order to fully understand this point we must then turn our attention to Adam’s sin.
 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
 The early Church Fathers were quite agreed that the image of God in man consisted primarily in man’s rational and moral characteristics, and in his capacity for holiness; but some were inclined to include also bodily traits. Irenaeus and Tertullian drew a distinction between the image and the likeness of God, finding the former in bodily traits, and the latter in the spiritual nature of man. Clement of Alexandria and Origin, however, rejected the idea of any bodily analogy, and held the word “image” denoted the characteristics of man as man, and the word “likeness,” qualities which are not essential to man, but may be cultivated or lost. This view was also found in Athanasius, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, and John of Damascus. According to Pelagius and his followers the image consisted merely of this, that man was endowed with reason, so that he could know God; with free will, so that he was able to choose and do the good; and the necessary power to rule the lower creation. The distinction already made between image and likeness of God, was continued by the Scholastics, though it was not always expressed in the same way. Ibid., (Berhof), 202.
The Lutheran conception of the image of God differs materially from that of the Reformed. Luther himself sometimes spoke as if he had a broad conception of it, in reality he had a restricted view of it. While there were during the seventeenth century, and there are even now, some Lutheran theologians who have a broader conception of the image of God, the great majority of them restrict it to the spiritual qualities with which man was originally endowed, that is, what is called original righteousness. In doing this they do not sufficiently recognize the essential nature of man as distinct from that of the animals on the other hand. In the possession of this image men are like the angels, who also possess it; and in comparison with what the two have in common, their difference is of little importance. Man lost the image of God entirely through sin, and what now distinguishes him from the animals has very little religious or theological significance. The great difference between the two lay in the image of God, and this man has lost entirely. In view of this it is also natural that the Lutherans should adopt Traducianism, and thus teach that the soul of man originates like that of the animal, that is, by procreation. It also accounts for the fact that the Lutherans hardly recognize the moral unity of the human race, but emphasize strongly its physical unity and the exclusively physical propagation of sin. Ibid., (Berkhof), 208.
Roman Catholics hold that God at creation endowed man with certain natural gifts, such as the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of the will, and the immortality of the body. Spirituality, freedom, and immortality, are natural endowments, and as such constitute the natural image of God. Moreover, God “attempted” (adjusted) the natural powers of man to one another, placing the lower in due subordination to the higher. The harmony thus established is called justitia – natural righteousness. But even so there remained in man a natural tendency of the lower appetites and passions to rebel against the authority of the higher powers of reason and conscience. This tendency, called concupiscence, is not itself sin, but becomes sin when it is consented to by the will and passes into voluntary action. In order to enable man to hold his lower nature in check, God added to the dona naturalia certain dona supernaturalia. These included the donum superadditum of original righteousness (the supernatural likeness to God), which was added as a foreign gift to the original constitution of man, either immediately at the time of creation, or at some later point as a reward for the proper use of the natural powers. These supernatural gifts, including the donum superadditum of original righteousness, were lost by sin, but their loss did not disrupt the essential nature of man. Ibid., (Berkhof), 208.
The image of God, Pelagius taught, consists only in a neutral God-given possibility of perfection, which cannot be lost and is therefore still a part of every human being. God bestows the ability (posse), but the will (ville) is up to us. Later, this view found acceptance among the Socinians, who located the image of God solely in human dominion over nature; among the Anabaptists, who said that as a finite earthly creature man was not yet the image of God but could only realize that status by a rebirth; among the Remonstrants, the Rationalists, and the Supernaturalists, and numerous modern theologians, all of whom saw the state of integrity as a state of childlike innocence. As a rule these theologians still hold to the historical reality of such an original state. But in their view of the image of God in the first humans they materially agreee totally with those who, detaching the idea from the fact, deny the reality of integrity locate the image of God solely in man’s free personality, his rational or moral nature, in a religious-ethical bent, in man’s vocation to enter communion with God. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, ed. John Bolt. trans. John Vriend, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004, vol. 2), 534-35.
Every year the ivory halls of academia are bustling with new students. Bright and cheerful they are ready to establish their independence and find their place in the world. Some are looking to party, some to get a job, and then there are those who truly want to make a difference. In order to make a difference however, a gauntlet of professors is waiting to challenge and indoctrinate them. Over the next four years, and perhaps even more for some, many will be exposed to an introductory course in anthropology.
Anthropology is the study of man, and in such is inseparable for the study of God. In fact, John Calvin said, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.” And Louis Berkhof writes, “The doctrine of the image of God in man is of the greatest importance in theology, for that image is the expression of that which is most distinctive in man and in his relation to God. The fact that man is the image of God distinguishes him from the animals and from every other creature. As far as we can learn from Scripture even the angels do not share that honor with him.” If two such titans in the field of theology express such a concern in the study of man perhaps more Christians should be wise to what is being taught in secular universities.
In secular universities anthropology has been reduced to the study of what man does, not what man is. As a result of such a reduction, all morality is determined by watching mans actions. Therefore, what man ought to do is derived from mans doing. This may seem irrational, but fortunately it makes completes sense after being indoctrinated with Darwinian science and rationalistic and objectivistic philosophy. In such a philosophical and theoretical framework determining ought from ought seems logical when operating in a system of blind chance that is governed by the laws of logic and science.
Although it would give me great pleasure to do so the point of this paper is not to lambaste the secular universities and the worldviews which are taught therein. However, it is my intention to clearly show that there is a distinct difference between the Christian and the secular view of man.
Given the length and breadth of this paper, and the magnitude of the topic before me I simply wish to give a representation of the Reformed Christian view of man and thereby answer the question, what is man? From here, I will show the implications of conflicting views and there repercussions. With this, let us begin.
Andy Parker is a Th. M student at Puritan Reformed Seminary (PRTS) in Grand Rapids, Michigan who is looking to graduate in May of 2008. Andy has studied much in his early years of life already, getting his M.A.R. as well at PRTS, his M.B.A. from Cornerstone University, ChFC (chartered financial consultant) from American College, CLU (chartered life underwriter) from American College, and his B.A. in business administration from Ferris state University. His theological strengths and knowledge are mostly in Stewardship, Ethics, Apologetics and Worldview. He is married to Diane Parker, and has one son named Maxwel. They currently live where they were born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Andy’s future plans are to further his study and go on to get his Ph. D., work on getting some of his works published, teach and preach the word of God, growing and learning in the strength that the Lord provides, and as he continues to do as much damage as possible to the kingdom of hell while here on earth. In the next few blogs I plan to post some of Andy’s works and thoughts of a number of topics from dealing with man, the church and ethics. May you the reader enjoy reading about the gospel for our everyday lives.