God, who is revealed to us in the Bible, is not diminished when we deny his existence; we are. Think for a bit about this very moment of your life. Right now, your mind, without a sound, is receiving communication from my mind, and I made this communication silently as well. Of course, the same thing could have occurred if I projected a series of sounds through the air that rattled against your eardrums.
You are a being of body and spirit. You have an intricate muscular and skeletal system keeping you from collapsing. A respiratory and digestive system is supplying a circulatory system that is nourishing your muscles and bones, and your nervous system is controlling all of it. Some of the acts you are doing at this moment, like reading, are voluntary, but thousands of acts are involuntary. You continue to do them without even thinking about it.
With all of this going on, your mind is processing hundreds of little shapes into words that have meaning. You then continue to process the specific sense in which I intended those words by analyzing how I have linked those words together in sentences. All of this happens in mere seconds. Your ability for communication and knowledge is miraculous.
There is even more to it than that. Your non-material conscious mind is analyzing and judging what I have written to determine if it is trustworthy. To do that, you are relying upon a universal, transcendent, unchanging reality known as the laws of logic. These laws are an expression of God’s mind in creation, and our ability to think thoughts after him is a communicable attribute. If these laws are not universal, transcendent, or unchanging, there is no reason to place our trust in them, and trusting them is what we are doing. In denying God, the naturalistic worldview cannot account for such universal realities as the law of logic.
On top of that, you are judging this post for its moral content. As you agree or disagree, you are determining whether my words align or violate a standard of right and wrong. You cannot do otherwise. As a created being, you are a moral creature. You have your creator’s law written on your heart. Many try to deny this reality by explaining it away as evolutionary programming, but simply because something has been programmed, does not mean it is right. You can never get from what is, to what ought to be in a naturalistic worldview. Yet, those who deny their reality as beings made by a personal God and deny the reality of moral truth will continue to contradict themselves and live as if morality is a universal reality which all people should follow.
Though we often violate what we know to be right, this moral reality is such a part of our human nature it is the very reason most of you can read this post in safety. Societal structures built upon these moral truths protect you. For those of you who are not safe right now, you know that it is wrong. Your sense of justice, and ours as well, rises within to correct it. We are praying for you. The idea of justice is not some fanciful whim, it is reality and properly understood is grounded in truth.
I have barely begun to scratch the surface. Time does not permit me to go into any depth to the fact, that, while you are reading this, gravity is holding you to a large planetary body, and that globe is spinning through space orbiting an intensely massive burning star that is supplying your body with heat, food for your digestive system, and thousands of other benefits. God is not only our Creator, he is also our Sustainer.
Believing that matter came from nothing, that life came from non-life, that conscious personhood came from non-personhood, that truth is a mere social construct, and that there are no moral absolutes, violates every semblance of logic, truth, and communication you have been using to process and judge my writing. I agree with Francis Schaeffer when he said, “I am more certain of the existence of God than I am of my own existence.” God does not cease to exist when we deny him; we do.
Spiritual emptiness can manifest itself in countless ways, but in our culture, one of the ways it reveals itself is in shopping to find fulfillment. This is the kind of shopping that seeks to medicate a dry and thirsty soul. In a consumer culture like ours, this fulfillment shopping is exactly what we should expect.
I am never surprised by the fact that so many people feel hollow inside or that they think shopping can fill the void. I have been guilty of doing it myself. Our culture, as Francis Schaeffer has so aptly put it, has fallen below the line of despair. Society today is operating from a worldview of hopelessness because we have denied God, and, in the process, lost any foundation for meaning, truth, and morality. Since there is no true human nature and no real purpose, all we are told we can do is to try to make ourselves happy; whatever form that takes
The more people hold to this worldview and push it to its logical conclusions, the more absurd it will become. This absurdity is why our culture is now adamant that we call men, women and women, men, and when these two choices are not enough, we add 56 new genders. That is right; when you sign up for Facebook, you can now choose from 58 genders. When we denied humanity’s nature made in the image of God, we did not set ourselves free; we enslaved ourselves to futility.
The secular world hated the idea that we are made in the image of God but that we had fallen into sin. They hated the idea that we are glorious creatures in an abnormal state because they said it was demeaning to think of humanity that way. Then they declared that “God is dead,” so man no longer has a created nature, but if God is dead, so is humanity.
A secular world without design from a personal creator can have no ultimate meaning. Sure, we can make things up to give us hope or purpose, but never forget our hopes are only fanciful imaginations. This worldview of despair saturates almost everything we touch. It is littered throughout our endless social media feeds. It is in the TV shows we binge-watch. It has even made it into employment policies and laws. Yes, a culture that says morality is relative enforces its morality with the threat of punishment. You may have no inherent nature so you can be whatever you want, but you will live how we say or face the consequences.
It is no wonder people are empty. Even Christians swimming in these waters are bound to take their eyes off Jesus and put them on the waves from time to time. When we do that, we know what happens; we start to sink. There is so much emptiness to go around that many marketers appeal to it to get you to buy their product or use their services.
If we shop to fill an emptiness in our lives, when we consume, we are the ones being consumed. We all shop, and we all need to shop, but we should not shop to find joy, meaning, purpose, popularity, fame, and even glory in the products we purchase.
Many people will head home tonight to a home full of beautiful things. They will sit down in front of a television screen six times bigger than the televisions they had growing up. They will sit there, and they will be empty and numb looking for the next thing that will be able to give them a spark of life.
Subconsciously, they will be wondering what this life is all about. The TV will stream shows that subversively tell them there is no meaning in life, so look to fame, glory, and sexuality to fill your time while you are alive. Oh, and the only way you will ever find this personal peace and affluence is with the right products.
Ken Myers said it best when he said, “Popular culture is unimaginable without mass-media, which is, in turn, unimaginable without advertising, which would not survive in a cultural climate that places a premium on modesty, chastity, frugality, simplicity, and contentment. So those virtues will necessarily be alien to popular culture, even if the people wanted them there.”
Even the news is driven by advertising, and if you manage to turn off the TV or unplug from the internet for a while, advertisers will use billboards on your drive home to put their finger in your eye.
The next time we find ourselves looking to buy something to find a little relief from the boredom of our lives, remember, we are the ones being consumed. In a consumer culture, even the consumers become a commodity. Take a minute to be aware of the worldview that is driving this entire system.
It is a secular philosophy of life that says, as messed up as we are, we are not in an abnormal state. We are evolving creatures, and there was never a time when we were more glorious than we are now. So if you look around and see the despair, it is important to remember this is the best secularism can offer you.
The remedy to all of this is to look around and see that things are not the way they should be. Man is not in his most glorious state; something is seriously wrong. Sin has touched us all, but unlike the secular worldview that leaves us in our despair. The truth of Christianity lets us know that even though we have fallen, God has provided a way for us to be redeemed.
Our guilt, even though it is true guilt against the Holy God of the universe and not just an internal feeling, can be forgiven through the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who took our punishment on the cross. For those who come to him in faith, our relationship with our creator is restored. We, at that moment, are given a new life in Christ, and he begins a work in us that he promises to fulfill when he calls us home. For those of us who know Jesus, never forget that we are part of the greatest campaign ever imagined: to know God. Our calling is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. There is no reason for us to shop to find fulfillment.
If you publicly express your faith in Jesus, you will undoubtedly face challenges to your beliefs. This should not surprise us because Jesus told us this would happen. Thankfully, for those of us in the United States, most of these challenges are only verbal in nature. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world face threats to their property and lives. Wherever we find ourselves, Scripture calls us to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us, and that answer is always, Jesus.
The context in which we must give that answer will vary. For those of us facing intellectual challenges to our faith, we must be ready to expose fallacious arguments as well as give them the gospel. With that in mind, here are 11 common self-refuting arguments. I will break them down into three categories
Truth is relative.
Whenever someone claims that truth is relative, it is important to remember that that would apply to their statement as well. The statement, “truth is relative” would also be relative. This would make their statement about the relativity of truth just as true or false as any of your statements. Thus they lose all authority to speak. Here are a few ways this argument presents itself.
Postmodernism has taken root, not only in secular society, but in more liberal denominations as well. About 10 years ago, it was called the emergent church. Though that name has died, these ideas are still infiltrating many churches. Postmoderns argue that language is an invention of man and therefore cannot communicate truth, but they always try to communicate it using language.
The idea with this argument is that experience is truth, not words. This is a clear attack on the word of God. The funny part is, they often try to use the word of God to defend their point, which, of course, would only work if the word of God can communicate propositional truth.
This idea that truth is relative leads them to believe that there are no metanaratives. There is no one story that controls all other stories. There are no universal beliefs through which all people should be viewed like creation, fall, and redemption. They believe all metanarratives are a masked play for power. This, of course, is the one overarching story they use to control all other stories. It is the lens they universally apply to everyone else.
Their belief in the subjectivity of truth leads them to downplay biblical doctrine. From here, they argue that Christians should not disagree about doctrine. The problem is that this is a doctrinal disagreement they are having with you. Let’s not be naive, doctrinal disagreement can go too far, but to censure all doctrinal discernment leaves the arguer with only one option: to close their mouth and nod in agreement to everything you say.
Finally, you will sometimes see another self-refuting argument in the way they try to justify their belief that truth is relative, but every argument comes back to haunt them. Every time they use the fact that man can err to make everything untrustworthy, they make themselves untrustworthy.
Do Not Tell People How to Live
A second area were people often refute themselves is when they argue that morality is relative, and that we ought not tell people how to live. What they fail to realize is when they say “we ought not tell people how to live” they are telling people how to live.
The “Do not judge” argument is probably the most common version of this argument. Of course, if you misinterpret Jesus’ words to mean you have no right to tell people when they they wrong, you refute yourself because you are telling someone they are wrong.
Everything Must be Proven with Science
There are people who take the benefits of scientific inquiry and try to make it the sole source of truth, but they fail to realize that there is a philosophy of science which must under gird all scientific endeavors. Here is how a few of these arguments present themselves.
When someone says you should only believe in things that can be experienced with the five senses, realize, their theory cannot be experienced or proven with the five senses.
Never forget, science itself depends upon immaterial realities like the laws of logic, mathematics, time, and space.
This one is a little more sophisticated, but it suffers from the same problem. Metaphysics, according to the dictionary, is the study of first principles. These first principles include abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space. Often, as a Christian, when you begin delving into these topics, you will hear this argument from naturalists. The problem, for them, is that they make this statement because of there naturalistic metaphysical pre-commitments to these questions.
Finally, let us not forget that the naturalist often considers themselves free thinkers because they do not buy into “superstition,” but their own views of a closed system of cause and effect means that their own thought is the product of a closed system of cause and effect just like everyone else’s. The only conclusion that can be drawn from a closed system of cause and effect is determinism, and determinism leaves no room for freedom.
As Christians, let us be aware of fallacious arguments, but more importantly, let us stay close to our Savior and His word. The goal of apologetics is to help clear the intellectual impediments to the gospel, but if we never give them the gospel, or if we are not living close to our Lord and His word, we might as well not do apologetics at all. Though apologetics is helpful and important, it does not save the soul. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Truth is our creation: new dogma. Gender is a feeling. Identity, desire. Bigotry. The wealthy are evil. Their riches, our ambition. The free market creates kings, the government needs more power. Sacrifice to save our mother. The fetus, unnatural. Patriarchy. The only sin is sin. “God is dead.” His decomposition, our deities of decay.
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)
“Set up waymarks, make guideposts–set your heart toward the highway, even the way which you went–turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these your cities.” –Jeremiah 31:21
To look at the past is often a blessed encouragement for the future. If we are travelers in the way Zionward, we shall have our various waymarks. A conspicuous call, or a signal deliverance, or a gracious manifestation of Christ; a promise applied here, or a marked answer to prayer there; a special blessing under the preached word; a soft and unexpected assurance of an interest in the blood of the Lamb; a breaking in of divine light when walking in great darkness; a sweet sip of consolation in a season of sorrow and trouble; a calming down of the winds and waves without and within by, “It is I, be not afraid”–such and similar waymarks it is most blessed to be able to set up as evidences that we are in the road.
And if many who really fear God cannot set up these conspicuous waymarks, yet they are not without their testimonies equally sure, if not equally satisfying. The fear of God in a tender conscience, the spirit of grace and of supplications in their breast, their cleaving to the people of God in warm affection, their love for the truth in its purity and power, their earnest desires, their budding hopes, their anxious fears, their honesty and simplicity making them jealous over themselves lest they be deceived or deluded, their separation from the world, their humility, meekness, quietness, and general consistency often putting to shame louder profession and higher pretensions–these and similar evidences mark many as children of God who cannot read their title clear to such a privilege and such a blessing.
But whether the waymarks be high or low, shining in the sun or obscure in the dawn, the virgin of Israel is still bidden to “set them up,” and to “set also her heart toward the highway, even the way by which she came.”
The Lord is always speaking through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. He does so through His word, through the law written on our hearts, and through His providences. For the spiritually-minded believer, He is always there showing us the futility of the things of the world. It is all passing away, we are weak and broken, and He is eternally glorious. The problem is, we are often blinded by pride; our sinful nature is always at work.
Sin often makes us feel like we are the exception. Has the Lord prospered us? We look at our riches and take the credit, and if we were able to accomplish this, we will always be able to do so. Do you have good health? Undoubtedly, if we keep doing what we have always done, it will continue. Right? Isn’t our destiny is in our hands?
Yet, day after day the Lord is reminding us of the futility of it all. From the calamities we see on the news, to the thorns we experience in our work, to something even as small as a broken shoelace, He is telling us that it is unreliable and our only hope and surety is Him. On the contrary, the world is always trying to tell us something different. The Prince and the Power of the Air has blinded millions to believe this world is the source of their joy and the place of their hope.
If you have heard these voices today, make sure you can tell the truth from the lies. Providences, and even the law written on our heart can be easily misinterpreted, we must have the Word of God dwelling in us richly. His word is truth.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 15-17
If the Holy Spirit has illuminated your heart to the truth of His word today, and He has reminded you of the futility of the world, do not harden your heart. Do not continue in its ways: earthly-minded. Draw closer to your Savior, and He will draw near to you. Be spiritually-minded. Be ready to give it all away, for only then, when it is all taken, for it will all be gone someday, your heart will not break as you stand upon your true Rock.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, – Psalm 95: 7-8
Several Christian leaders recently released a statement which was designed to clarify the Biblical position on human sexuality. The statement said nothing new about these issues. Christians have held every proposition in this document for thousands of years. What is new over the past years, is the outrage that comes from those who disagree with statements like this. It is not merely disagreement but venom.
What is pictured above are some of the tame responses; the ones that left out the profanity-laced threats. We live in a time where if a group of people holds to a view of marriage that agrees with almost all of human history, 50% of today’s population will consider them bigots. Some will even call them Nazis and fascists. In condemning them, however, these new moral revolutionaries condemn most people who have ever lived.
The tide is indeed turning against those who hold to the biblical teaching on sexuality. So much so that the warning of being “on the wrong side of history” comes with some empirical force. This, however, should not surprise believers.
In history, when the authorities came for Christians, it was rarely ever because they were “Christians,” it was usually because of some other trumped-up charge. They often said that believers lacked patriotism, or indicted them with some other anti-social behavior. The same will happen in America if these trends continue. They will not say, it is because we are Christian that we need to be punished, but because we are hate-filled bigots abusing those around us through discrimination.
The important thing to remember is that the “wrong side of history” will not ultimately be determined by consensus, but by the only true God who revealed Himself in scripture. The Christian must remain faithful to God. To do this, we must never waver from His word, and we must continue to love those who hate us for it.
If we can only respond to this outrage with belligerence, maybe we should not respond at all. Not being belligerent does not mean that our logic cannot be sharp or our arguments strong. Nor must we water down the wrath to come for those who will not repent, but to quote Francis Schaeffer, “There is only one kind of person who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the person who is by nature unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way.. . .. We do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.”
May God be your strength, truth your anchor, and love your battle cry.
It is hard to believe that it has been almost nine years since I posted the video below on YouTube. Of course, some of the images in the video make it look like it is 20 years old. Though the media may be dated, the truth stays the same. This is a clip from a sermon I preached called, Can You Lose Your Salvation?
Everyone seems to have a grievance they want to air. Along with this, it seems most of the world is offended by someone else’s complaint, and they want to stir up the rest of the world because of it. We are a people clamoring to be heard. I suppose the world has always been this way, after all, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), but with the introduction of the internet and social media, it seems we hear more of it these days.
As the world continues shouting, truth has fallen in the streets (Isaiah 59:14). Our culture has replaced reason with emotions. Instead of talking about issues, we talk about how we feel, offer our offense, and then tell those who disagree that they are evil. Personal attacks rule the day. We judge people for their judging, unaware of our hypocrisy. In a world that believes truth is relative and self-autonomy the highest value, anything and nothing can be stated as truth, and anyone who disagrees will be labeled as hateful.
Yet, if truth is relative, then even someone’s hurt feelings can be privately interpreted as malignant, and if someone’s offense gets in the way of another’s self-rule, there can be no reasonable solution. All we have left are masked plays for power. Even those who claim to promote liberty and rights from within this worldview, no longer have truth or reason on their side. The will-to-power has become the new truth, even when it is disguised with a calm and compassionate voice. Our culture has suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and has become vain and futile in its reasonings (Romans 1:18,21).
He who shouts loudest wins. We shout on television, we shout on online, we shout with our pocketbooks, and more and more we seem to see people starting to shout with violent protests. Since we can no longer reason, anyone who denies that truth is relative and self-autonomy is king will be bullied. Might makes right is the only logical outcome in a culture that denies truth.
It should not surprise us that many people use the word “hate” like a bully uses his fists: to dominate and intimidate. They sneer “I will not listen to your reason because you were found wanting the moment you failed to recognize my autonomy. If you do not bow to my understanding of truth, I will beat you into submission with threats and social pressures if I can gain enough power.” He who shuns evil makes himself a prey (Isaiah 14:15). If this culture does not like what you say, it will try to silence you with trigger warnings and accusations of micro-aggressions.
In spite of the noise of this fallen world, the word of God stands strong. Truth does not bow to pressure because truth cannot be altered. The word of the Lord is firmly fixed in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). Though the light goes out into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light (John 3:19), the word of the Lord will not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
The grass will wither, and the flower may fade, but the word of the Lord endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). In fact, it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of the law to fail (Luke 16:17). We, as his children, have not been born of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, we were born again through the word of God which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23), and we have nothing to fear because our lives are hidden in him (Colossians 3:3).
Every word of God is pure, and he is a shield to those who put their trust in him. Those who add to his words, or take away words, he will rebuke, and they will be found to be liars (proverbs 30:5–6). The word of God is the rock upon which we must build our lives, for all other ground is sinking sand (Matthew 7:24-27). As believers, we do not need to compete with the noise of the world, trying to be louder than culture and to play its games, but we must speak, whatever the consequences may be (Acts 4:20). We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
We have been commanded by the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, to go out into all the world with his truth. It is not our cleverness or our volume that gives the word of God its power. It is truth, and it will stand forever. May it be a light to our feet, and a lamp unto our path (Psalm 119:105). If we abide in his word, we are truly his disciples, and we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32).
“The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.” – Psalm 119:110