We all have a tendency to minimize our sinfulness. We look at the wrongs we have done, and we do everything we can to try and justify our actions. Doing this, however, fails to take full ownership of our sins. Many times, as Christians, we admit that we need forgiveness, but we still don’t like to admit the fact that our sins are utterly deplorable. We like to talk about sin and forgiveness, but we do not like to admit that we are truly sinners. Deep down we think, “surely we are not like many other people who are real sinners.” Thinking like this, however, makes us like the Pharisee, who scoffed at the tax collector–utterly in denial of the reality of his own sin.
Martin Luther once wrote a letter to Melanchthon entitled, Let Your Sins Be Strong where he addresses several different topics, including the tendency to downplay our sins. Luther says, “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”
We must stop trying to diminish the sin we have committed in order to maintain dignity. We must let them be strong, and look at them in all their wretchedness. We must see our sins as they mock God and refuse to obey Him in all His Holiness. Taking ownership of our sins is the only way we can bring what is ours to Him and say, “I need you to bear my punishment for these. There is nothing anyone can do to atone for these sins. Jesus, you are the only one.” His response to this request is, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Thanks to the cross, there is no sin that is able to separate us from His love, for His sacrifice is fully sufficient.
Today, let us consider the words of Martin Luther: “Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.” Let us not try to justify our sins, for self-justification warrants nothing but death, but against Christ’s justifying blood, no sin can prevail.
My sins are mine I know them well They mock at God and damn to hell But by His blood, I am set free, He paid my debt at Calvary.
Eternally freed from sin, as one with Jesus; what a liberty! What a freedom! It is so, and so forever—it cannot be undone. “Wonder, O heavens! be astonished, O earth.” I myself do wonder, with great admiration, at the glorious blast of the jubilee trumpet, which has just reached my ear, and touched my heart. It was the voice of my Beloved, which said, “You are absolutely beautiful, my darling, with no imperfection in you.” Free from sin, being dead with Christ to it, “In that He died, He died unto sin once” (Rom. 6:10), and we died to it in Him—free from sin, in being risen with Him, to live unto God forever.
Paul knew this freedom (Rom. 6:7). Rom. 8:1, 2: “There is therefore no condemnation [then there can be no sin, for where sin is, condemnation is] to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh—but after the Spirit.” John knew it (1 John 4:17) “As He is, so are we in this world”—that is, must be perfect, and without sin; not in our nature-self—but in Christ, and in that which is born of God and sins not (3:9).
Why, then, do I so often feel myself a transgressor? Because I build again, by my legality, what I had destroyed by faith, namely, justification by my own doings; and thus make myself a transgressor (Gal. 2:18). This is not walking after the Spirit—but after the flesh, and it tends to bondage. The Spirit points to Christ–the flesh leans to self. In Christ we have perfection, without spot, in which we can lift up our head with joy; in self we have spots and no perfection, which must needs make us ashamed!
It is always interesting to track down the origin of certain rituals that are practiced under the name “Christian” which do not have their foundation in scripture. One specific ritual worth considering is the Roman Catholic practice of last rites.
To find out why this practice began, we have to go back to Tertillian who was a theologian who lived during the second and third century A.D. Tertillian was a materialist. He was not the kind of materialist we think of today, but the kind of materialist who believes that even spirit is material. This includes God Himself; though spirit was clearly a higher more refined type of material.
This played heavily into his views on baptism. Tertillian believed that the more refined spirit matter could bond quite well with the lower types of matter such as water. When a person was baptized, the Holy Spirit would bond with the water and somehow wash the person who was being baptized clean of sin. Thus making baptism part of regeneration.
Tertillian also believed that children should not be baptized. This is why many Baptists like to point to him to support credo-baptism, but the reason he thought children should not be baptized had nothing to do with Baptist beliefs as they are held today. Tertillian believed that once you were baptized, you would no longer be given grace if you sinned. If you did sin willingly, you would loose your salvation. At that point, you would have no further chance of redemption. Thus, you should not baptize children because they are certainly going to sin as they grow up. Tertillian, therefore, suggested that a person wait until they were about 30 years old before being baptized.
During this time, many people in the church were influenced by Tertillian’s beliefs, but they also realized that people would still sin after the age of 30. To protect people from sinning and losing their salvation, many church leaders began performing deathbed baptisms. This is why Constantine was not baptized until the end of his life.
Needless to say, those who held this view eventually began reject some of these ideas in order to return to a more Biblical understanding of baptism. However, the Latin Church never let go of the desire to perform a ritual at the deathbed to absolve someone from their sins. This is where the practice of last rites was born. It all stems from Tertillian’s aberrant theology regarding baptism, and, like Tertillian’s view of baptism, the last rites are still performed with the belief that they can offer a final purification of sin.
To give credit where credit is due, much of this information was gleaned from a Church history lecture by Dr. Gerald Bray from Beeson Seminary.
If you want to grow in godliness you need to slow down. What is it about being forced to slow down that makes us want to run faster than we were before? I think it is because, when sickness or some other obstacle hits us, we want to have the will to power through. Whatever it is, slowing down is something we resist, and when we are forced to do it, it is often uncomfortable.
When we have no choice but to slow down, however, we realize we had been taking our time and abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was pressured because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. My mom doesn’t even do that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.
These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without hurting anyone. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, “if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart,” but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.
We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.
The process is painfully pleasant. A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with important things.
I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because most of my posts deal with this in one way or another, but if we fail to seek Him first, even slowing down cannot help us.
Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I also began to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.
Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day at work, instead of checking it constantly. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done?
I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. My brain’s habitual response needed to be retrained and it did not like it. The result of this was that I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if I had new messages and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.
Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.
I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to tell you about more of these little changes, such as how the boredom created by the absence of so much entertainment and social media actually sparked creativity, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.
Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.
“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”
Much of what I have written about to this points is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and these jars of clay will eventually fade. If we do not slow down, we will soon be forced to. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.
It seems our Christian culture has come to believe that overworking and godliness are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not redeeming the time. Sometimes, the best path to being spiritually renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. In doing this, we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before.
It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This is why we often prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using our frantic pace as a form of procrastination in regard to the things that matter, that type of busyness is actually a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.
A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground because it has only one direction to go. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of little or no importance.
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth;unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11
Their snarls penetrated my ears with every evading stride. Every breath I took was weighted by the awareness that they were close behind me. I had entered at the narrow gate, but somehow they had managed to follow me onto the path. I could hear their taunts. Every one of their footsteps was like the sound of a war drum. There are days when they are out of sight. During those times, I feel the warm breeze of the Celestial City beckoning me homeward, but even then I know they are lying in wait. Their pursuit often leaves me anxious and exhausted.
I didn’t think they would be able to follow me onto the narrow path, but somehow they made their way onto the road. When I entered the narrow way, under the shadow of the cross, my sins were forgiven. He had delivered me from the slavery of sin that held me captive. Since He had open the way and called me in, I thought at that point I would be out of the reach of my enemies, yet they pursue me daily.
Every time I fall, the enemy shouts from behind, “You do not belong on this path! You belong to us, and we will catch and destroy you! I have learned the names of some, but others I am still trying to figure out. There are two who give chase called Shame and Regret. They often disguise themselves as messengers of the king. They tell me that, since my heart is prone to wander, the King prefers that I stay out of sight. That is Shame’s greatest strategy. He convinces us that we need to hide. He does this to keep us from finding the assistance that is available in the congregation of the saints, and he works closely with regret to keep us from approaching the Throne of Grace.
Many other enemies desire to sink their teeth into me as well, like sickness and sorrow, sin and sadness, and the final enemy death who boasts of his many conquests. In those moments when I am running scared, I have learned that there is a song being sung. It is a song of the past as well as a song of the future, and I must tune my heart into its melody.
The first time I heard it was at a time when I thought all was lost. The enemy had convinced me that I was a trespasser on the narrow road, and their presence was the proof. They told me that Lord had allowed them access to remove me from His sacred passage. I heard them chanting as they chased, “Our desire will have its fill. Our sword is in our hand. We will destroy (Exodus 15:9).”
Their tune, however, was soon drowned out by the song of the saints. The great cloud of witnesses sang, “The Lord is a man of war. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy (Exodus 15:3,6).” This refrain gave me immediate comfort. Then another line stood out and gave me the perspective I needed. It recounted, “Pharoah’s chariots and his host He cast into the sea.” It continued, “The floods covered them: they went down into the depths like a stone (Exodus 14:4-5).”
The song I was hearing was the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18). At that point, it all fell into place. God had set the people free from their slavery in Egypt, and He had made a way of salvation by parting the Red Sea. He then allowed their enemies to pursue them into the way of escape for the very purpose of destroying them.
You and I have entered into the narrow path. At the entrance of that gate, we found salvation where there is no accusation or separation, but there is a path we must walk between the door of salvation and the gates of the Celestial City. Do not be dismayed by the fact that there are enemies still pursuing you on this path. Regret and shame, fear and anxiety, the troubles of a fallen world, and even death itself, will never make it to the other side, but you will.
One day shame and regret will be no more. Even now they have lost their power. To believe that a life of self-punishment and shame is needed for us to be right with God is to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. That is a lie of the enemy. There is complete freedom in Jesus. The reason they are unable to hurt us now is because He has disarmed them and put them to open shame (Colossians 2:15). Our sin is what gave them their power, but He has canceled our debt (Colossians 2:14). Even death has lost its sting in His resurrection.
Though these enemies may get the best of us from time to time, they will all fail because our Lord is triumphant. Their pursuit of us into the King’s domain will be their destruction. As I mentioned earlier, this is a song of the past as well as a song of the future. This song will be sung again when the Lord returns to set all things right (Revelation 15:3). Listen to the song and keep marching heavenward. The Lord will lead us with His steadfast love, the people whom He has redeemed. He will guide us by His strength into His holy abode (Exodus 15: 13).
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. – Exodus 15:21
Jesus is the great teacher of ‘humility of heart’. We need daily to learn of Him. See the Master taking a towel and washing His disciples feet! Follower of Christ–will you not humble yourself? See Him as the Servant of servants–and surely you cannot be proud!
Is not this sentence the compendium of His biography: “He humbled Himself.” Was He not on earth, always stripping off first one robe of honor and then another–until, naked, He was fastened to the cross. There He not emptied out His inmost self, pouring out His life-blood, giving up for all of us, until they laid Him penniless in a borrowed grave.
How low was our dear Redeemer brought! How then can we be proud?
Stand at the foot of the cross and count the scarlet drops by which you have been cleansed. See the thorny crown and His scourged shoulders still gushing with the crimson flow of blood. See His hands and feet given up to the rough iron, and His whole self mocked and scorned. See the bitterness, the pangs, and the throes of inward grief show themselves in His outward frame. Hear the chilling shriek, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me!”
If you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross–you have never seen it! If you are not humbled in the presence of the sin-atoning Savior–you do not know Him. You were so lost that nothing could save you, but the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son. Think of that, and as Jesus stooped for you–bow yourself in humility at His feet.
A realization of Christ’s amazing sacrificial love has a greater tendency to humble us than even a consciousness of our own guilt. May the Lord bring us in contemplation, to Calvary. Then our position will no longer be that of pompous pride–but we shall take the humble place of one who loves much, because much has been forgiven him.
Pride cannot live beneath the cross!
Let us sit there and learn our lesson.
Then let us rise and carry it into practice.
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)
“No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
How happy are tried Christians, afterwards. There is no calm more deep than that which follows a storm. Who has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for well-exercised soldiers.
After killing the lion–we eat the honey;
after climbing the Hill Difficulty–we sit down in the arbor to rest;
after traversing the Valley of Humiliation, after fighting with Apollyon, the shining one appears, with the healing branch from the tree of life.
Our sorrows, like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy light behind them “afterwards.” It is peace, sweet, deep peace–which follows the horrible turmoil which once reigned in our tormented, guilty souls.
See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are “afterwards” good things–harsh ploughings–yielding joyful harvests. Even now . . .
he grows rich by his losses,
he rises by his falls,
he lives by dying, and
he becomes full by being emptied.
If, then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life–what shall be the full vintage of joy “afterwards” in Heaven? If his dark nights are as bright as the world’s days–what shall his days be? If even his starlight is more splendid than the sun–what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a dungeon–how sweetly will he sing in Heaven! If he can praise the Lord in the fires–how will he extol Him before the eternal throne! If evil is good to him now–what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then?
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)
One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, `My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself. On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, “I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.” By God’s grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge….You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds.