We live in a culture that is saturated with Christian sentiment. Even secularism attempts to use the name of Jesus to get what it wants. This is clearly seen when a political figure who has no fear of God quotes scripture or uses a biblical illustration.
We see it in many of the popular manifestations cultural “Christianity” It is a thin veneer without any substance. It has rejected the word of God as its authority, and it has put self on the throne. This is greatest problem with commonplace religion.
For the man or woman rooted in scripture, it does not take much to see behind the façade. This type of religiosity is covered in references to self. Personal experience, feelings, self-esteem, and self-referential misuses of the words “love” and “justice”, litter its linguistic canon.
They want a utopia, and they think they can can usher it in through political power. What they are looking for is happiness, and the they think they can find it in earthly pleasure. They are looking for glory and they think they can find it in riches and popularity. The problem is that satisfaction will never be theirs because they are looking for it in themselves and in the things of this world.
When Jesus said, take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me, he was not inviting us to a life of misery. He was calling us out of ourselves to the greatest campaign in which mankind can ever be involved: knowing God. There is no greater glory and there is no greater joy, but we must root our life in his truth. If we aim at anything less than God himself, we have settled for lesser things because there is nothing greater than God.
The problem is that the way to find this glory and joy in God is to do the exact opposite of what you think you should do. It is like being submerged under a waterfall struggling for air. The most natural thing to do is to try to swim to the surface, but you will never get there because the crashing water will keep pushing you under. The right thing to do in that moment is swim down. It is only by swimming down that the water will spit you out down stream. This counter-intuitive nature is the same in the Christian life. If you are looking for true joy, he must increase, and we must decrease.
All the world, including commonplace religion, is swimming up. It is trying to make itself righteous and find its glory in itself, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The only hope for us is Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. We must stop trying to justify ourselves. We need to admit our depravity instead of trying to hide it, and come to Him in faith. Only when we bring our sins to him, instead of our good works, will his sacrifice on the cross satisfy the wrath of God for our sins, and will his righteousness be counted as ours. This is the first counter-intuitive, but there are many more that fill the Christian life.
It is in our weakness that he becomes strong. In Jesus, the last will become first. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. Love your enemies. It is more blessed to give than receive. Blessed are those who mourn. Lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth. The meek will inherit the earth. Life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. Blessed are those who suffer for Christ’s sake. Walk by faith, not by sight.
In the words of Adoniram Judson, “I beg you, not to rest contented with the commonplace religion that is now so prevalent.” It will lead you to fear those who can kill the body and take away your earthly pleasures, and it will tell you to neglect him who can destroy body and soul in hell. Take heed to the words of Jesus, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).
Social media is brain poison. That is what runs through my mind every time I see one of the those nicotine commercials. Yes, I see the irony in that there is a good chance you found this post on social media. I am not saying that every aspect social media is negative. There are good things that social media can do for us, but my time on social media usually cost me more than it gives me. What I am getting at is that most people are not aware of how this relatively new tool is effecting them.
T. David Gordon, in an episode on the White Horse Inn called “Distracting Ourselves to Death,” pointed out that you cannot use a tool without that tool shaping you and the culture in which you live. For example, imagine a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture being introduced to good land and a shovel and a plow. If this group of people begin to use these tools repeatedly it will change them. The muscles used working these tools will develop. Their backs could grow stronger and their hands could end up with new callouses, and they would begin to spend more time in one place instead of moving around.
If the use of these tools is effective enough, it could even change the values of the culture. Once, the lean quick hunter was the most valuable body structure because it could provide food. Housing and supplies that could be quickly packed up and moved would also have been more valuable than those that are permanent. Now that these new tools have been introduced, and the people are settling into a specific place, the easily moved supplies are no longer as important. Along with that, the stocky strong body becomes better able to provide than the lean quick body. All of this change happens because of the introduction of new tools.
Social media is a new tool, and we must be aware of how it is changing us. Christians especially. Changes brought on by new tools which are positive or neutral are fine, but if you see changes taking place that move you away from what Christ has called you to be, it is time to either change the way you are using the tool, or abandon it altogether.
There have been enough studies conducted on the use of social media that the negative effects are unquestionable. Long use can cause anxiety, depression, unhealthy sleep patterns, negative body image, and unrealistic expectations. One of the most counter-intuitive effects is loneliness.
Social media is also addictive. Have you ever posted something and repeatedly gone back to check to see how many likes and comments it is getting. This is not something that has happened accidentally. It was designed to get you to do that. Posting is like inserting a quarter to a slot machine hoping you hit the jackpot. You sit and watch the wheels spin to see what is going to happen. One more quarter, one more post, yet the viral jackpot rarely ever arrives, but there are enough little wins to keep you coming back. It is addictive, but did you know it can also diminish your ability to concentrate?
When was the last time you spent 20 minutes on social media and had sustained concentrated thought on one subject? That is not how it was designed. It was designed to have your mind flit from one unimportant piece of information or entertainment to the next, rarely spending more than 30 second on each new thing. What this does is it trains your alert attention to be at full strength; constantly looking for the next shiny object presenting itself for your consideration. All this happens without a single deliberate thought. If you do this for hours and hours, your alert attention grows stronger, but your executive attention grows weaker.
Your executive attention is your ability to stay focused on one topic or task at a time. Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, points out that long hours on social media, and even our constant alerts and notifications on our smart phones, programs our brains to be more focused on alerts, while at the same time diminishing our ability to concentrate. If you find it more difficult to maintain deep thought on something for a sustained period of time, social media may be one of the reasons. The good news is that this can be reversed by changing your habits. Knowing this, it is easy to see how social media effects productivity in more ways than one.
I could go on and on with example after example of the negative effects of social media, but let me end with just a few more points. Social media was supposed to help give a voice to the people, which is does to some effect, but have your noticed that we seem to have made it more of a megaphone for the fool?
Social media has become a bullhorn for ignorance, and it is our fault. This is how it works. Some person, way off their kilter, says something ridiculous, and they hold an opposing political view to our own. In order to show how stupid the other side can be, and to lump our opponents all into a nice stereotype, we share this person’s stupidity with all our friends and followers just to point out how bad the other side is. Our followers, in-turn, share it, and before long, this unknown person who has no grasp on reality has gone viral, and not everyone will think their idea is ill-advised. And we gave it a voice.
The fact that social media can be a megaphone for ignorance is one thing, but it leads to a greater problem because, as mentioned earlier, people are always hoping their next post will hit the viral jackpot. As they look around, they begin to notice that sane and normal thinking does not gain much traction in the likes and comments department. If you want your posts to rise above the noise, you will have to stoop to the level of social media, which usually involves half-truths, outrage, offense, and quick demeaning comebacks for the other stupid people on social media. It seems not even our president is immune.
Finally, have you ever noticed that cowards are courageous on social media? That is what trolls are. That is because social media gives a false sense of authority without vulnerability, and functioning this way will always fail to satisfy. As Christians, we are called to function with authority and vulnerability. The anonymity of the internet often causes us to act in ways we would never act in person. Social media, even with the good things it can bring, is mired in a cesspool of powerless tyrants. Then again, maybe they do have some social media authority because we continue to use social media like it is a tool we cannot live without, and they have figured out how to get their voice heard. Get enough of them together and you have an social media mob. This leaves us with a few options, either stoop to what works for them, or begin to devalue the importance of social media by changing the way we use it, or by abandoning it altogether.
Lets also not forget that these platforms are collecting all of your activity into a persona so they can market to you. They exist because you are a commodity. That is how they make money. They offer you their tool at a price, and that price is information about yourself harvested and sold. These platforms are also becoming more authoritative in the types of speech, or should I says views, they will allow to be communicated. Christian beliefs often fail to meet their standards of conduct. Even if you do have a multitude of followers and influence, if you continue to communicate the truths of scripture, it could all be taken away in a moment.
I have personally given too much of my life to social media. I have since made significant changes to how I use it. I only check my accounts once a week, and I spend no more than 15 minutes doing it. I still post continually throughout the week, but that is done through a scheduling tool which allows me to schedule posts without directly interacting with anything else on these platforms. I know you may actually be using these platforms for the sake of the gospel, or some other worthy endeavor, but that can continue without spending long periods of time scrolling through infinite feeds. Since I have made the change, it has been wonderful. I have been freed up to focus on things of greater importance. What about FOMO (the fear of missing out)? Well, I don’t fear missing out on brain poison.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8
John Cooper, of the band Skillet, recently addressed the rash of recent prominent Christians leaving the faith. People such as Josh Harris and Marty Sampson. His words are strong and worthy of your time. You can read his entire Facebook post here.
One of his points shines a spotlight directly upon a blind spot of those leaving the faith. It is worthy of reiterating here because it exposes the hubris behind such statements and their desired continued influence over the lives of others. Cooper says the following:
“I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?’ – John Cooper
My heart breaks for those who leave the faith. My heart breaks even more for those they have injured. In the end, my prayer is that they will return to the only Savior who can save their souls, but let us not mince words, they are clouds without water puffed up with their own self-importance, blinded to their own folly.
Perhaps we rely on entertainment in the church to keep things interesting because we do not rely enough on God to keep our gatherings compelling. Entertainment is easy compared to waiting on God because waiting on God requires that we come to church with hearts prepared, undistracted by the world, and with a desire to commune with God corporately.
Though it is true that God can and does move in places where entertainment happens, have we begun to rely on artificial hype to fill the void when He is missing? Has entertainment become a cover for our spiritual emptiness?
The thing about amusement is that it is easy to manufacture. Think of all the amazing secular productions that have grabbed your attention and not let you go. They were produced without long hours in prayer seeking the Lord, and the creators created them without hearts aflame with the holiness of God. Do not get me wrong. It was hard work, but it took no spiritual effort. It may be an amazing testament to the natural man made in the image of God, but that is not what the church is to represent. The world and the people of God can find that anywhere.
If the lights, recording quality praise bands, drama teams, and preachers with magnetic personalities were all gone, would we be close enough to God to see him move? Would we still gather?
I do not have the answers to all these questions because I do not know the context of your church. Your church may not have any of these trappings and still be far from God. Nor am I saying that God will not use anything that looks like entertainment. I pray your church leaders have amazing musical skill and that the Lord has gifted pastor with oratory ability, but I also pray, when you gather together what truly impresses your heart is much more than those things. If not, we might as well go to a movie or a theater performance.
Maybe if we rely a little less on these things in our services, we will rely a little more on God. If we do that and our gatherings become dull, maybe we should examine our hearts, get down on our knees, and ask the Lord to move and sanctify us. Though it may not be appealing to the world, that would be a corporate gathering worth attending.
We live in a time when the enlightenment ideas that brought about modernism are being contested. The “we can do it” attitude is coming to an end. In the words of David F. Wells in the book, Above All Earthly Powers, he tells us that there are three fundamental beliefs of the enlightenment “The disappearance of God, the disappearance of human nature, and omnicompetence of the human being (33).” He goes on to tell us that the disappearance of God, was driven by the enlightenment thinkers “opposition to what they saw as superstition (33).” God was no longer needed and we could figure things out on our own was the attitude of the day. The disappearance of human nature was the result of the idea that we have no inherent nature, instead “we must make oneself what one can (52).” As far as the omnicompetence of the human being, Wells tells us “It is rather ironic that these first two themes—the disappearance of God and of human nature—should accompany the third, which is the bloated sense of human capacity (52).” But this is exactly what happened. We came to believe that we could do it all. We could usher in a better world, through the use of science, and know how (read philosophy).
But after a couple world wars, epidemics like AIDS, and many other problems we have been unable to solve, we have begun to loose our nerve. All of these things have begun to chip away at our hopes that modernism could usher in a utopia. So where do we go from here? Where do you go when you start to lose hope? Welcome to the new world, the postmodern world. It’s a world where we cannot figure out everything. In fact, we realize now that we cannot figure out anything. People don’t want to hear about the one true truth. They have been let down by modernism which promised that truth can be known. Now we just need to know what works.
How does this shift effect the church? Should the church embrace these new ideas and trends, or should it continue in its same old ways. There are many who argue that if the church does not break free from the grip of modernism, it is destined to fail. This was the view of the emergent church, a movement within church which desired to reach this postmodern culture. A movement that believes the church has bought into the modernist views and needs to correct itself. Leonard Sweet, a proponent of the emergent church, claims that his book Postmodern Pilgrims “aims to demodernize the Christian consciousness and reshape its way of life according to a more biblical vision of life that is dawning with the coming of the postmodern era (Sweet, XVII).” But is this what the Church needs to survive and be more “Biblical?”
Though the emergent church has all but vanished from the horizon, their postmodern views still hold many churches and Christian universities captive. The remainder of this article will focus on explaining the Emergent views on such topics as foundationalism, language theory, and other basic doctrines. It will then look at its destructive effects on Christian doctrine, theology, and evangelism. Finally, it will conclude by offering a proper view regarding these topics and offer some final thoughts.
Explaining Emergent Views
One of the main views expressed by postmoderns of the secular and theistic type, is that there is no such thing as universal objective truth. Objective truth is truth that is true for all people in all places at all times. The reason they deny this is because they do not think it is possible to know any true thought since all thoughts are language-based and all language is contingent. This will be addressed further, but the first attempt they make at discounting truth is by discounting foundationalism.
Foundationalism is the belief that there are two different types of beliefs, basic and non-basic. In the words of Ronald Nash, non-basic or “derivative beliefs are those that are grounded on or dependent in some way on more basic beliefs. Basic beliefs are those not derived from or dependent on other beliefs (Nash, 81).” Foundationalism is the idea that a person’s noetic structure is built from the bottom up. The basic beliefs are those that need no other support in order for a person to be rational and hold them. The non-basic beliefs cannot be held rationally unless something more basic supports them. An example of a basic belief would be that you exist. In order for you to believe that you exist, you do not need evidential proof. Nor do you need to attempt to prove it to someone else. This is a basic belief. A non-basic belief would be something like; God saves those who believe in His Son. This belief is supported by other more basic beliefs like, people exist and God exists.
There are two types of foundationalism. Narrow and broad foundationalism as described by Nash, or Cartesian and modest as described by J.P. Moreland in the book Reclaiming the Center. Narrow or Cartesian foundationalism is the belief that in order for a belief to be basic it must have 100% certainty. Nash explains that in order for a belief to be basic according to narrow foundationalism it must meet three criteria. Basic beliefs are “beliefs that are evident to the senses, self-evident, or incorrigible may be properly basic (Nash 81).” This simply means that no belief can be properly basic that is not experienced with the senses of human experience, self evident in the sense that they are seen as true or false simply by understanding them (82), and cannot be proven false. But as Nash quotes Alvin Plantinga when he says, “Many propositions fail the narrow foundationalist’s tests are properly basic for me. I believe, for example, that I had lunch this noon. I do not believe this proposition on the basis of other propositions; I take it as basic’ it is in the foundations of my noetic structure. Furthermore, I am entirely rational in so taking it, even though this proposition is neither self-evident nor evident to the senses nor incorrigible (86).” Broad or modest foundationalism makes room for these kinds of basic beliefs saying that 100% certainty is not needed in order to be a rational basic belief.
Postmodern epistemology rejects this type of thinking. They see no difference between basic and non-basic beliefs. First, they do not believe that there is any way possible to have 100% certainty on any belief, and if you cannot have certainty, then it cannot be a true foundation. Second they believe that if a belief is not certain, then it cannot be basic because it must be supported by some other beliefs. Nancy Murphy, a proponent of the postmodern view, says that with modest foundationalism we have “foundations hanging from a balcony (Erickson, 109).” What she means by this is that our theory and presuppositions will end up holding our foundations instead of our foundation holding up our theories. This means that our basic beliefs are contingent upon our theories which are non-basic, making our basic beliefs non-basic also. The postmodern goes on to explain that since we cannot have any true basic beliefs, foundationalism must be a false system of epistemology.
Correspondence theory of truth
In all of this, they argue that if we cannot have any certain foundation upon which to build our noetic structure then we do not really have any access to the outside world to say that our belief system actually corresponds to reality. This is why they reject the correspondence theory of truth. This is the theory that the truths we hold actually correspond to the world as it really is. If someone was to say that the sun is hot, it is usually understood that what the person means is that in the world as it really is, the sun is hot. The postmodern’s second attack upon foundationalism comes in at this point. Besides simply arguing that there is no such thing as a basic belief, they go on to say that, all truth is linguistically constructed and all language is contingent upon many different factors such as community, experience, et. al. Because of this, our language cannot correspond to the world as it really is because our language is “in” the world. R. Scott Smith explains the views of Stanley Grenz and John Franke in this way, “What is it that stands between the ‘real’ world and us? It is language, such that, as Grenz and Franke say, “We do not inhabit the ‘world-in–itself’; instead, we live in a linguistic world of our own making (Erickson, 110).”
Richard Rorty, a major non-Christian postmodern philosopher puts it this way, “To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human language, and that human languages are human creations (Rorty, 5).” This is obviously stating that truth is a human creation. We do not have access to objective truth; instead we create our truth with our language. Again truth does not correspond to reality. Rorty goes on to say, “Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there (5).” In other words, since there are no true sentences out there in order for our sentences to correspond with, then our sentences cannot correspond to the real world.
Coherence Theory of Truth
So where does this leave us? If foundationalism is false and the correspondence theory of truth is false, how should we look at truth? The postmodern view is known as the Coherence theory of truth and it is also called Holism by those in the postmodern church. Since there is no foundation that our “truth” can be tied to, the only way it can be supported is by itself. In other words, the most important aspect of “truth” is that our system as a whole is consistent and non-contradictory. The postmodern view leans heavily upon W.V.O. Quine’s “web of belief”. Tony Jones in the book Postmodern Youth Ministry explains it this way, “The fabric, or “web of Belief,” is fashioned by human beings—there is no divinely inspired web (Jones, 138).” He later goes on to say, “Instead of being based upon on indubitable truth-doctrine, the web has truths-doctrine distributed throughout. Therefore, if one truth-doctrine gets adjusted or overthrown by a new discovery, the web repairs itself by adjusting or tweaking other doctrines (138).”
The argument can basically be boiled down to this, that a truth system, or “web” is not founded upon any foundation, instead it is an integrated system that supports itself. But this does not give us any answers as to what is actually true; it only tells us if our beliefs are coherent with each other. On top of this, if no truth statement can actually correspond to reality, where do we get our stability? How do we know our web is the right one?
In order to maintain some objectivity they appeal to eschatological realism. This is the view that we are working toward a community that will eventually understand correctly. “This vantage point provides the world with its main sense of objectivity (Erickson, 119).” But the question may still arise as to how these truthful eschatological communities are created if we cannot know anything with our fallible tradition invading them? The answer is that they are created by the working of the Holy Spirit. Smith goes on to explain the views of Grenz and Franke. “Even though each community will have its own nuances, they will all have something in common. The Spirit will speak through the Biblical texts, and it will guide them to be a community of Christ (119).”
What is the point of all this? According to postmoderns, the Church should stop focusing on trying to prove all these independent truth claims as true and let the “web” of Christianity support the claims. Our focus should be to live out our beliefs in our Christian communities and let the Holy Spirit move us toward the eschatological community where we will be able to see what is really true. In doing this we will be boldly witnessing our faith by our lives. We will have a strong body of Christ because we will be less divided by independent doctrines, and we will grow as individuals as we are in this community of Christ and become more like Christ.
The Dangerous fallout of These Views
The relief from always having to try and prove your Christian faith sounds like a welcome idea, and the desire to grow into the likeness of Christ in a community that is modeled after him sure seems to be a wonderful aspiration. So, should we really be concerned with these postmodern views? Should we not join them, and do what Leonard Sweet told us at the beginning of this post? Should we shake free from these modern entrapments such as foundationalism and the correspondence theory of truth and get back to a more “Biblical” Christianity? After taking a closer look at the effects of these theories it will be evident that we should not join them.
The heart of their view is that we cannot have access to the real world. Everything we believe is true is really something we have created because of our theories, which are contingent upon our communities, which themselves are contingent. Here is the rub, if no proposition we believe actually corresponds to reality, than nothing we believe is actually true. Then what does this say about all of their theories? What becomes then of all their reasoning for replacing foundationalism with holism? Doesn’t this just make their own theories constructs that they have linguistically created to make their truth? Are not their theories also contingent upon their presuppositions that they have no rational basis for holding? Their entire system then becomes self refuting. Why should we shift our created beliefs over to their created beliefs? This is the major flaw upon which the entire postmodern theory stands.
This forces postmoderns to look to pragmatic results of language instead of whether or not it is true. Pragmatism is the theory that we should do what works. If we cannot know if something is really true, then the best way to judge it is by whether it works or not. The Christian language, according to the emergent church, is the best possible language. Not because it is the one that most corresponds to reality but because it holds together tightly and it works. It works in producing good and not evil.
What then does this do to orthodox Christianity and its doctrines? To answer this I will follow the lead of R. Scott Smith and apply their views to a few core Christian Doctrines.
The Doctrine of Divine Revelation
Christians believe that God exists and that He can communicates truth about Himself to us. He does this, as Luis Berkhof explains, through two different revelations, general and special. “The general revelation of God is prior to His special revelation in point in time. It does not come to man in the form of verbal communications, but in the facts, the forces, and the laws of nature, in the constitution and operation of the human mind, and in the facts and experience and history (Berkhof, 13).” “In addition to the revelation of God in nature, we have His special revelation which is now embodied in Scripture (14).” But if the postmodern view is correct, then God cannot truthfully communicate to us because we cannot escape language. Any truth He tries to communicate to us either through general or special revelation, we end up creating ourselves with our specific language. Ultimately, we cannot know anything objectively true about God. If we do not inhabit the world as it really is, instead we inhabit a linguistic world of our own making, then this leads to a major incoherence in the Christian “web” of belief, because idolatry is prohibited. Smith makes this revealing comment, “Therefore, no matter how God tries to reveal himself and objective truth, we cannot know such revelation in itself. Accordingly, we make the revelation what it is for us by how we talk about it. The same goes for God himself. We cannot know God as he is in himself, so we must make God by how we use our language. But that result is plainly idolatrous on the terms of conservative Christians’ own grammar, the Bible. If I am right, then that result alone ought to make us pause and give up these post-conservative views. (Erickson, 127).” In the book Truth and The New Kind of Christian he says it like this “Quite simply, Christians cannot know God as He is if we are on the “inside” of the pervasive influences of language, as these Christian postmodernist believe. Just like any other aspect of our “reality,” Christians construct God by how they talk. We make God into what He is—for us. This conclusion, however, results in the absurd condition that Christians must be idolaters (Smith, 145).”
Now the objection to these quotes might be raised that postmoderns do believe that God can actually reveal Himself and is doing so. After all they believe that the Holy Spirit, through the narrative of the Scripture is leading them on to the true eschatological community. But the question still remains as to what the Holy Spirit is. Is He something that actually exists in the real world or is it simply the linguistic construct that Christians have created? Also, what is the eschatological community of Christ that we are working toward? Is this not the same, a created linguistic truth? Or is it something that actually corresponds to reality. Either way they answer this question leads them into trouble. If they say it is a created linguistic truth then it cannot be objectively true, and if they say it actually corresponds to reality then they have refuted their own system. Also, if this is the one truth that corresponds to reality then why can’t this be the foundation upon which we can build our doctrine?
We also have the problem of which eschatological community is the correct one. Rorty, the non-Christian, also believes we are moving toward a “liberal society” (Rorty, 60).” But the community he is moving toward is not the Christian one. So which future community is the right one, and how do they know this?
The Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Atonement
What do these theories do to the Doctrine of the crucifixion, resurrection, and the atonement? Christians believe that Christ was crucified and rose for our justification, but these too would be constructions of our language. But do the truths we hold regarding these events actually correspond to reality? To say no is quite damaging to these doctrines because the truth then is not found in the actual propositions but what they produce in you. So the question must then be asked, does this make all savior stories valid because they move us toward this eschatological community? And which theory of the atonement is really true, the moral influence, substitutionary limited atonement, or universal atonement to name three? Does it really matter what theory we hold as long as it makes us good community participants, and who decides what a good community participants is?
Luther said that the doctrine of Justification is the article upon which the Church stands or falls. But what does the postmodern view of truth do to the doctrine of Justification? Christian’s believe that we are sinful and deserve the wrath of God, and it is only by faith that we can be justified. But if the postmodern view is correct, then justification becomes a truth that we create in our linguistic community, and we cannot know whether or not justification has actually taken place in the real world, or if we are really even sinners.
One of the main problem with the emergent view on this doctrine is that since we cannot say it is an objective reality, we must look at its pragmatic results. But if we turn the doctrine of justification into something that works, then we must ask, works to do what? It seems that the emergent answer is whether or not it works to make us better people in the community we find ourselves. This is why we see a strong bent toward the Roman doctrine that justification and sanctification are two sides of the same coin. Jones makes this statement, “We must end the false dichotomy between justification and sanctification (133).” Jones had been speaking about salvation and how justification is not a one time thing and how it is a process. The implication of this view is that the way you get justified is by becoming just (not imputed righteousness). The way you are to do this according to the emergent view, is by getting involved in a Christian community and learning the Christian language. As you do this you become more and more sanctified which is the same as becoming more justified. This leads to problems because it then makes justification based upon something we do, which clearly does not cohere in the Christian “web” as laid out in scripture.
What effects do theses views of language and truth have upon Christian Theology? Besides the main problem that it makes knowledge of God and the study of Him ultimately impossible, because we cannot really know anything objectively true about God, it shifts the focus of theology away from God and places it upon the study of language theory. Much like most liberal schools, they end up talking more about the method of theology than actually doing it.
Finally what does this do to the main focus of evangelism through the Christian community which the emergent church so strongly endorses? After all this is one of the attractive aspects of the movement; the idea that we should stop trying to prove that what we believe is true and just live it. But this involves a major problem because it assumes that the actions of the Christian community can be understood outside of the Christian community which is self-refuting to their own claims (Erickson, 130). It is self-refuting because they believe that people outside of their community cannot understand their language unless they participate in it. Ultimately, true witnessing of Jesus becomes impossible in their view.
A Proper Understanding
So how should we look at all of this? Has foundationalism been destroyed? Should we look to Quine’s “web of belief” to understand truth? To look at this let us start by critiquing the coherence theory of truth.
Critique of the Coherence Theory of Truth It must be stated that the coherence theory of truth, much like many of the ideas of postmoderns, has some truth in it. Our noetic structure is an integrated “web” with many connections. The reason we believe some things is because of the logical connections to other beliefs. A good example of this is the doctrine of verbal inspiration of Scripture. The verbal inspiration of Scripture is the truth that the Bible is exactly word-for-word what God wanted to say. But to understand and believe this doctrine you must believe and understand other things about God. Gordon H. Clark makes this quote, “Verbal inspiration therefore must be understood in connection with the complete system of Christian doctrine. It may not be detached there from, and a fortiori it may not be framed in an alien view of God. Verbal inspiration is integral with the doctrines of providence and predestination. When the liberals surreptitiously deny predestination in picturing God as dictating to stenographers, they so misrepresent verbal inspiration that their objections do not apply to the God of the Bible (Clark, 44).”
So where is the problem with the coherence theory of truth? The problem lies in the fact that it is not grounded to anything other than pragmatism, and the ideas of what works are also ideas in their web that are not grounded to anything. To put it another way, there are many free floating webs of belief out there and none of them are tethered to any foundation. So what do we do with all these competing webs of truth? Is there anyway to get to any kind of neutral standpoint from which to judge? The resounding answer from the postmoderns is no. There is no way to see if one web is better than another, which ultimately leads to relativism. Even if they argue that the truest one is the one that is most coherent in itself, the only way to find out how coherent it is is to become part of every community, learn their language and see which is the most coherent. Since this can never be done, you can never know if your web is the most coherent.
Foundationalism Misrepresented One of the main problems with the postmodern rejection of foundationalism is that it focuses only on a specific kind of foundationalism. The attacks that come upon foundationalism always focus on Cartesian foundationalism, which is the idea that you must have 100% certainty to be a basic belief. On top of this, most philosophers who promote this type of foundationalism are empiricists. The problem with this is that this is not the type of foundationalism that is held by many theologians or lay people in the church. What is held today is more of a modest foundationalism. 100% empiric certainty is not needed in order to have a real foundational belief. Not to mention the criteria for certainty is rarely discussed. It is simply assumed to be scientific proof (read empiric).
The Biblical View
If the Bible is true then there are things we know, and we know them certainly. For example Romans chapter 1 tells us that all men know that God exists, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” The problem is not with foundational knowledge, it is with our sinful nature which does everything it can to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Scripture tells us on many occasions that we “may know” that the son of man has the power to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6; Mar. 2:10; Luke 5:24). The scriptural language seems to say that we can actually know this, and do not create it in our linguistic world.
What about Rorty’s claim that if truth is propositional and there are no propositions “out there” for our propositions to line up with, then they can’t really be true? How does the Christian worldview answer this? Scripture clearly tells us that God can communicate truth, and God does it propositionally in Scripture. This tells us something about the mind of God. It contains truth. This simply means that the propositions are out there for our propositions to line up to. Every time we think of a proposition that lines up with a proposition in the mind of God, it is a true proposition. In Nash’s book, The Word of God and the Mind of Man, he makes this point quite clearly when he says, “Few Christians have any difficulty affirming the following three propositions: (a) 1 plus 1 equals 2; (b) God knows that 1 plus 1 equals 2; and (c) when a human being knows that 1 plus 1 equals 2, his or her knowledge is identical with God’s knowledge of the same proposition (Nash, 100).”
The Wrong Solution
It seems by reading many of the postmodern’s books, that much of what is driving them into postmodernism is the lack of humility that comes from some pulpits, legalism, and extreme fundamentalism. These are problems that should be addressed, but postmodernism is the wrong solution. There are many church leaders who hold to the correspondence theory of truth who are not arrogant with the truth, legalistic, or extreme in their fundamentalism. Foundationalism is not the cause of these attitudes; in fact these attitudes appear in the emergent church also. There are those who think they understand the way things should be, and if you are not postmodern you are given a smug look and a roll of the eyes. Abandoning the idea of truth is not the answer to these problems. The emergent church with all of its motives that seem to be in line with Godly living, has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. For if truth is gone, then what is Godly living and all these motives and attitudes they promote, but constructs in their linguistic world. To put it into one of H. Richard Niebuhr’s categories, all we have is the “Christ of Culture (Neibuhr, 83).” The Christ each culture creates, and this is not the Christ of Scripture.
Berkhof, Louis, Summary of Christian Doctrine, (Eerdmans, 1938)
Clark, Gordon H., God’s Hammer, The Bible and Its Critics, (Trinity, 1982)
Erickson, Millard J., Reclaiming the Center, (Crossway, 2004)
You may easily be sure that most quarrels online tends to the ruin of the Church, and the hindrance of the gospel, and the injury of the common interest of Christianity. You know ungodly divisions are greatly condemned in the scriptures, and that they are usually the result of pride, uncharitableness, and temper, and that the Devil is best pleased with it because he gains the most by it.
If arguments cause any divisions, be sure to look first to the interest of common truth and good, and to the exercise of love: and do not become passionate contenders for any party in the division, or censure those to do not enter the fight, but join rather with the moderate and the peacemakers than with the contenders and dividers.
I understand that those who want to draw you into a combative fervor will tell you that their cause is the cause of God, and that you will betray him if you are not zealous in it. They will tell you that it is your sinfulness that makes you selfishly desire moderation and peace. They will also condemn you by saying you are hypocrites, that you are lukewarm, and that you agree with error. And they are right, if it is indeed the cause of God, but upon great experience, I must tell you, that of the zealous contenders online that claim the cause of God and truth, there are very few that know what they are talking about.
Some of them claim the cause of God, when their cause is the spoiled spawn of a proud and ignorant mind. Some of them are impassioned before they have even had time to give it any serious thought. Others are lead astray by some person or tribe that fascinates their minds. Many are blinded by their carnal interests, and many of them, in mere pride, think highly of an opinion because they believe they know more than ordinary men do. Finally, many of them are simply looking for likes and retweets.
As far as my judgment has been able to reach, the people that have stood for restraint have been the most sensible, and have had the best understanding of the controversies that are under debate among good Christians. Those that castigate them as lukewarm or corrupted have been people that have had the least judgement, and are usually full of proud and foul mistakes in the points in question.
In all this, I do not deny that every truth of God is to be highly valued and that those that plead for neutrality, whenthe essential doctrines of the faith are being disputed, are false-hearted hypocrites. However, some truths must be silenced for a time, (though not denied) when contending for them is untimely and tends to the injury of the Church. Take heed what you do online when God’s honor, and men’s souls, and the Church’s peace are are at stake.
-Richard Baxter (edited and updated for today’s reader)
Earthly glory always fades. I have been reminded of this over the past few weeks by the death of a couple of celebrities. No matter how beautiful the bloom, the flower will start to fade. These were people who had the world by the tail, but it is all gone now. For those who have placed their hope and confidence in the kingdom of this world, this evaporation of earthly splendor is troubling because eternity has been written on their hearts, yet they acknowledge no higher aim.
It has been said, the greatest tragedies are not those who pursued greatness and failed to reach it. The biggest tragedies are those who achieved it and realized that it could not give them the fulfillment for which they longed. We were made to pursue glory by a glorious God. The problem is we have a natural propensity to exchange the glory of the everlasting God for created things, but the things of earth can never give us what we are seeking. No matter how fast we run, how high we climb, or how many accolades the world gives us, it is ultimately not enough. Even then we will continue the pursuit to see if we can find something else in this world that can lift our heads, and we always seem to find something: temporarily.
There is only One who can give us what we are seeking, and that is the Lord of Glory Himself. Our glory is found in Him, and until our pursuit turns from the things of the world to the eternal God, we have nothing to expect in the end except disillusionment. In Christ, however, it all comes together. Our sins have been forgiven, which causes even death to lose its sting, and no matter how insignificant the world thinks we are, when Christ, who is our life, appears, then we also will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). He is our honor and triumph.
Influence, affluence, legacy; none of these are wrong in themselves. They can even be used to bring glory to God, but when we put them in the place of God, they will all fail to deliver. Instead, they will destroy us. We must not seek from the world what only God can give. There may be times when the things of this world will cause you to hold your head up high, but it will be brief for it is all passing away. Your glory is not found in your attractiveness, your talents, your bank book, your health, or even your legacy. Your glory is found in Christ, and so is your rest. He is our glory and the lifter of our heads.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. – Isaiah 40:8
Whoever utters slander is a fool. – Proverbs 10:12
If you want to see every one of God’s standards for communication violated, spend a few minutes on Twitter. All you have to do is read what people are posting about the trending topics. Sometimes the topics themselves are violations of God’s word.
The verse above is devastating to the way many people use social media, and this includes many professing Christians. Left and right, users fill social media with posts that try to damage another’s reputation, and I am not including all the times where the truth is properly spoken about a public figure, even if it is negative.
Think about it, every meme we share that is directed at a person, even if it contains 80% truth and 20% misleading characterization is an example of slander. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the temptation. I have had to delete tweets I have regretted, and there still may be some in my feed that shouldn’t be there.
It is so easy to succumb to the temptation. There is so much noise on social media that the only way to be heard is to be bombastic by spouting half-truths that raise controversy. We sometimes justify it by saying we are simply trying to get the conversation started, but, according to Proverbs, we are acting like fools.
Attempts at humor can also fall into the category of slander. It usually happens like this. Someone we have never heard of before literally says something ridiculous, and the funniest comeback comes to mind. You know it will make people laugh and probably get shares and likes. The only problem is that it communicates something derogatory about the person which may or may not be true. If we even stop to think about it long enough, it is here that the justifications start to kick in. “Everyone is already doing it,” or “they will know I am being funny,” but these do not exempt us from the guilt of damaging someone’s reputation, even if they have already begun to damage it themselves.
When we are not the ones to post the misrepresentation, we participate when we share it and like it. It shows up in the feeds of our followers because we have given it a thumbs up, after all, it made us laugh and pointed out just how stupid someone is, and the world needs to know.
Someone might say, “the opposition is always making up stories and smearing people who hold godly views; it is no big deal if we respond in like manner, this is how our culture communicates. It is a propaganda war and we need to participate in order to have a voice.” The biblical response to that is, if we have to make alliances with evil to promote the kingdom of God, we have already lost.
Why do I bring this up? It is simply to remind us that we need to guard our hearts in what we communicate. The scripture was not joking when it said: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Proverbs 10:19).
We should take this to heart because we have all fallen short. We should carefully consider our words. However, it should not always cause us to remain silent, after all, this is an article full of words which were posted on social media, but it would not hurt us to be more mindful in what we post online. It may just help keep us from imitating the company of fools.
And when we miss the mark, the good news is that, in Jesus, there is forgiveness even for fools like me.
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody has hit the theaters to chronicle the life of Freddie Mercury and his untimely death to aids. To reflect on such a life as a believer is sobering. To reflect on the life and death of anyone would do the same, but there seems to be something more significant when we think about the death of someone like Freddie Mercury. To imagine that rock royalty, Queen, will one day stand before the King of kings, should cause us all to pause and reflect on our lives for a moment.
Scripture tells us that it is appointed once for a man to die, then the judgment (Heb. 9:27). All men, even those who seemed to have the world by the tail for a time, are subjected to it. What is more troubling for the Christian who considers such an event, is to see how many people are still clamoring to have what Freddie had at the height of his fame, knowing that they fail to see how quickly these kingdoms will come crashing down.
There is no doubt that the pursuit of fame has engulfed many to the point that it seems to have consumed them. Knowing this, it should not surprise us when we read in scripture that “the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest” (Isa 57:20). Even if we end up with all that we dreamed of in this world, unless Christ is our treasure, we will be unable to find the rest that seems to be eluding us (Matt. 16:26). In fact, we often impale ourselves with many troubles as we continue the pursuit (1 Tim 6:10).
There is a restlessness in the human heart as Augustine pointed out when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” This restlessness comes from the fact that there is a knowledge of God written on our hearts, and in our sinfulness, we want nothing to do with it (Rom. 1:18-20). It is from this point that our pursuits for peace take us everywhere except the one place we would be able to find it.
In our sinfulness we reject God, knowing that we have violated his ways (Rom 1:32), and to cover up that knowledge, we tend to work even harder to find things that can distract us from that truth. In it, we tend to go further and further down a path of vanity, for all is vanity apart from Christ (Ecc. 1:2).
From here we create our own standards of what we think a virtuous person ought to be, but even by our own standards, we fail to measure up. Only by deceiving ourselves are we able maintain any level of self-approval. Often during these pursuits, we find ourselves engaging in all kinds of aberrant behavior merely trying to measure up to our own standards and fill our emptiness. In it, we cling to our own righteousness to appease the God we know is there and to assuage the guilt we know is ours. We, even in our suppression of the truth, will create a God to our own liking and will try to appease it (Rom 1:23), and these little gods are tyrants without mercy. On top of that, the God of scripture tells us that all our righteousness is as filthy rags, and he wants nothing to do with it (Isa. 64:6). But, praise God, He then goes on to tell us of the remedy that he has offered in Christ Jesus, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Rom. 3:23). God the Father sent his son to die upon the cross to bear the punishment for all who will believe in Him (John 3:16) to bring us into a right relationship with Him and give us the peace we are seeking.
As was mentioned before, it is appointed once for a man to die then the judgment. The only way anyone will be able to stand in the judgment is if they are in Christ because he is the only one who has lived a truly righteous life and paid the penalty for our sins (Acts 4:12), and if we are not in Christ, we will have to pay our own penalty for sins. This truth applies to all men and women, whether rich or poor, famous or unknown, loved by the world or not.
To paraphrase John Donne, when we hear that someone has died and we wonder for whom the bell tolls, there is a sense in which it will always be tolling for us. It is a constant reminder of our own frailty, telling us to be cognizant of our own end, and to ponder what awaits us afterward, and whether or not we are living life the way it should be lived; to the glory of God (Psalm 39:4). In it, you will find the fulfillment, rest, and, most importantly, the forgiveness of sins, you so desperately need. It was for this reason Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).