Category Archives: Apologetics/Worldview Question

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: Why Does God Require Faith? Why doesn’t God “prove” Himself to us so there is no need for faith?

Our relationship with God is similar to our relationship with others in that all relationships require faith. We can never fully know any other person. We cannot experience all they experience nor enter into their minds to know what their thoughts and emotions are. Proverbs 14:10 says, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.” We are incapable of even knowing our own hearts fully. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart is wicked and deceptive, “Who can know it?” In other words, the human heart is such that it seeks to hide the depth of its wickedness, deceiving even its owner. We do this through shifting blame, justifying wrong behavior, minimizing our sins, etc.

Because we are incapable of fully knowing other people, to some degree faith (trust) is an integral ingredient in all relationships. For example, a wife gets into a car with her husband driving, trusting him to drive safely, even though he often drives faster than she would on winter roads. She trusts him to act in their best interest at all times. We all share information about ourselves with others, trusting they will not betray us with that knowledge. We drive down the road, trusting those driving around us to follow the rules of the road. So, whether with strangers or with intimate friends and companions, because we cannot fully know others, trust is always a necessary component of our relationships.

If we cannot know our fellow finite human beings fully, how can we expect to fully know an infinite God? Even if He should desire to fully reveal Himself, it is impossible for us to fully know Him. It is like trying to pour the ocean (seemingly infinite in quantity) into a quart-measuring jar (finite) … impossible! Nonetheless, even as we can have meaningful relationships with others that we have grown to trust because of our knowledge of them and of their character, so God has revealed enough about Himself through His creation (Romans 1:18–21), through His written Word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:16–21), and through His Son (John 14:9), that we can enter into a meaningful relationship with Him. But this is only possible when the barrier of one’s sin has been removed by trusting in Christ’s person and work on the cross as payment for one’s sin. This is necessary because, as it is impossible for both light and darkness to dwell together, so it is impossible for a holy God to have fellowship with sinful man unless his sin has been paid for and removed. Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, died on the cross to take our punishment and change us so that the one who believes on Him can become a child of God and live eternally in His presence (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Peter 3:18; Romans 3:10–26).

There have been times in the past that God has revealed Himself more “visibly” to people. One example of this is at the time of the exodus from Egypt, when God revealed His care for the Israelites by sending the miraculous plagues upon the Egyptians until they were willing to release the Israelites from slavery. God then opened the Red Sea, enabling the approximately two million Israelites to cross over on dry ground. Then, as the Egyptian army sought to pursue them through the same opening, He crashed the waters upon them (Exodus 14:22–29). Later, in the wilderness, God fed them miraculously with manna, and He guided them in the day by a pillar of cloud and in the night by a pillar of fire, visible representations of His presence with them (Exodus 15:14–15).

Yet, in spite of these repeated demonstrations of His love, guidance, and power, the Israelites still refused to trust Him when He wanted them to enter into the Promised Land. They chose instead to trust the word of ten men who frightened them with their stories of the walled cities and the giant stature of some of the people of the land (Numbers 13:26–33). These events show that God’s further revelation of Himself to us would have no greater effect on our ability to trust Him. Were God to interact in a similar fashion with people living today, we would respond no differently than the Israelites because our sinful hearts are the same as theirs.

The Bible also speaks of a future time when the glorified Christ will return to rule the earth from Jerusalem for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1–10). More people will be born on the earth during that reign of Christ. He will rule with complete justice and righteousness, yet, in spite of His perfect rule, the Bible states that at the end of the 1,000 years, Satan will have no trouble raising an army to rebel against Christ’s rule. The future event of the millennium and the past event of the exodus reveal that the problem is not with God insufficiently revealing Himself to man; rather, the problem is with man’s sinful heart rebelling against God’s loving reign. We sinfully crave self-rule.

God has revealed enough of His nature for us to be able to trust Him. He has shown through the events of history, in the workings of nature, and through the life of Jesus Christ that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving, all-holy, unchanging, and eternal. And in that revelation, He has shown that He is worthy to be trusted. But, as with the Israelites in the wilderness, the choice is ours whether or not we will trust Him. Often, we are inclined to make this choice based on what we think we know about God rather than what He has revealed about Himself and can be understood about Him through a careful study of His inerrant Word, the Bible. If you have not already done so, begin a careful study of the Bible, that you may come to know God through a reliance upon His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to save us from our sins, so that we might have sweet companionship with God both now and in a fuller way in heaven one day.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: Why Does Unbelief Appear to Be Increasing in the World Today?

Studies show that unbelief is indeed on the rise these days. We are living in increasingly secular times and, unfortunately, those who do not believe in the truth of Scripture often seem to have the loudest voices in the public domain. Skeptics are becoming bolder and more vocal, and their influence is seen in education, entertainment, court systems, and government. They have made significant progress toward their goal of having God’s name entirely removed from the public realm.

Add to this the fact that we are living in what some call the most “biblically illiterate times,” and it’s apparent why unbelief is on the rise and why moral standards continue to deteriorate. Other factors include the pervasiveness of secular humanism; the church’s halfhearted adherence to the hard truths God’s Word; the significant growth of New Age and Eastern religions; the attempts to redefine the family; the postmodern rejection of absolutes; and the aggressive rise of the New Atheists.

The bottom line is this—we live in a fallen world and “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). As history moves forward, many will move further away from sound biblical doctrine. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). There are plenty of false teachers to keep the lost blinded and aid them in their flight from God (Matthew 24:10–11; 2 Timothy 4:3; 1 John 4:1). The sad truth is that most people do not see the Bible as the absolute authority anymore. As God’s Word continues to be marginalized, unbelief will continue to increase around the world.

The Bible warned against apostasy nearly two thousand years ago: “[People] will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). Along these lines, John MacArthur has stated, “Our society has grown steadily darker; and the message the church is now giving to the world is more confused and confusing than perhaps any time since the Dark Ages.” His conclusion: “the church needs to get back to the Word of God.” Indeed, getting back to the Word is the only solution; to do anything less is to hide our light under a bushel (Luke 11:33). If we want people to believe, we must give them something to believe in.

The servant of Christ should not lose heart. Despite the increasing unbelief and the growing tide of hostility toward Christianity, there is good news. Jesus told us that, before the end comes, His gospel would be preached in the whole world (Matthew 24:14). Portions of the Bible have now been translated into more than 3,850 languages, covering 98 percent of the world’s population. Christian radio broadcasts are now accessible to nearly 78 percent of the earth’s population. God’s Word is being preached around the world with tremendous success by multitudes of Christians, many of whom risk their lives every day to spread the gospel. “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save” (Isaiah 59:1), even in communist China where it is believed over one hundred million people are following Jesus Christ. World Christian Encyclopedia reports that nearly seventeen million people accept Jesus Christ every year. Scoffers will multiply (Jude 1:18), but Jesus is still Lord of the harvest, it is still His harvest field, and we still pray for Him to send forth His workers (Luke 10:2).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: Why Should the Bible Be Our Source for Morality?

If the Bible isn’t the Christian’s source for morality, then the question needs to be asked, “What should be?” The Christian worldview is based on two foundational axioms: 1) God exists, and 2) God has spoken to us in the Bible. If these two presuppositions aren’t the starting point in a Christian worldview, then we’re just like everyone else, trying to find objectivity in a sea of subjectivity.

According to the Bible, man was created in God’s image. Part of that image entails man as a moral being. We are moral agents who make moral choices and are able to differentiate between right and wrong. The basis upon which we differentiate between right and wrong is our knowledge of God’s law, and that knowledge comes from two sources—revelation and conscience. Revelation is self-explanatory. God gave a commandment to Adam and Eve in the Garden. He gave Ten Commandments to the Israelites after the exodus in Sinai, and Jesus boiled those Ten Commandments down to two essential commandments—love God and love your neighbor. All of these represent God’s revelation of His law which is simply a reflection of His moral character to His people.

The Bible also says that God wrote His law on our hearts (Romans 2:15). This is conscience. In other words, even without God’s revelation in the commandments, we intuitively know God’s law based on the fact that we were created in His image. However, due to the fall (Genesis 3), that image is marred and disfigured, including our conscience. So even though we know God’s law through our conscience, we tend to distort it to our advantage. That is why we need revelation.

The Bible, which contains God’s revealed moral will in His law and commandments, is His revelation to His people. As such, the Bible becomes our source of morality because the Bible is the very Word of God in written form (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). If the Christian wants to know God’s will, he turns to the Bible. If the Christian wants to discern right from wrong, he turns to the Bible.

What happens if the Christian doesn’t turn to the Bible as his or her source for morality? There are many ways to answer this question, but the bottom line is we all tend to trust our conscience, whether implicitly or explicitly. The human conscience can be likened to an alarm system; it warns us when we transgress our moral standard. The catch is our conscience is only as good as the moral standard that informs it. If it’s not the Bible, then we inevitably inform our conscience by various other means.

The current reigning ‘competitor’ to biblical morality in our society is social consensus. In other words, our morality is shaped and changed by the culture around us. It should be very easy to see that if social consensus is our moral compass, then we have built our morality on a foundation of shifting sand. Social consensus is just that—a consensus. It’s a picture of the general social mores of the day. A generation or two ago, homosexuality, divorce and adultery were still not accepted, even considered sinful. Nowadays, both homosexuality and divorce are normal and adultery isn’t as stigmatized as it once was. Basically what you have with social consensus is what happened to the Israelites a couple generations after conquering the Promised Land: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). The people abandoned God, and within two generations they were doing what was evil in the sight of God.

So why should the Bible be our source for morality? Because without it, we are like ships adrift at sea. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord said these words: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built His house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24–25). The Word of God, the Bible, is the only rock upon which to build morality.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: Do the ends justify the means?

The answer to this question depends on what the ends or goals are and what means are being used to achieve them. If the goals are good and noble, and the means we use to achieve them are also good and noble, then yes, the ends do justify the means. But that’s not what most people mean when they use the expression. Most use it as an excuse to achieve their goals through any means necessary, no matter how immoral, illegal or unpleasant the means may be. What the expression usually means is something along the line of “It doesn’t matter how you get what you want as long as you get it.”

The “ends justifying the means” usually involves doing something wrong to achieve a positive end and justifying the wrongdoing by pointing to a good outcome. An example would be lying on a resume to get a good job and justifying the lie by saying the larger income will enable the liar to provide more adequately for his family. Another might be justifying the abortion of a baby to save the life of the mother. Lying and taking an innocent life are both morally wrong, but providing for one’s family and saving the life of a woman are morally right. Where then does one draw the line?

The ends/means dilemma is a popular scenario in ethics discussions. Usually the question goes something like this: “If you could save the world by killing someone, would you do it?” If the answer is “yes” then a morally right outcome justifies the use of immoral means to achieve it. But there are three different ways to look at such a situation: the morality of the action, the morality of the outcome and the morality of the person performing the action. In this situation, the action (murder) is clearly immoral and so is the murderer. But saving the world is a good and moral outcome. Or is it? What kind of world is being saved if murders are allowed to decide when and if murder is justified and then go free? Or does the murderer face punishment for his crime in the world that he has saved? And would the world that was saved be justified in taking the life of the one who had just saved them?

From a biblical standpoint, of course, what is missing from this discussion is the character of God, God’s law and the providence of God. Because we know that God is good, holy, just, merciful and righteous, those who bear His name are to reflect His character (1 Peter 1:15–16). Murder, lying, theft, and all manner of sinful behaviors are the expression of man’s sin nature, not the nature of God. For the Christian whose nature has been transformed by Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), there is no justifying immoral behavior, no matter the motivation for it or the outcome of it. From this holy and perfect God, we get a law that reflects His attributes (Psalm 19:7; Romans 7:12). The Ten Commandments make it clear that murder, adultery, stealing, lying and greed are unacceptable in God’s eyes and He makes no “escape clause” for motivation or rationalization. Notice that He doesn’t say, “Don’t murder unless by doing so you will save a life.” This is called “situational ethics” and there is no room for it in God’s law. So clearly from God’s perspective there are no ends that justify the means of breaking His law.

Also missing in the ends/means ethics discussion is an understanding of the providence of God. God did not simply create the world, populate it with people, and then leave them to muddle through on their own with no oversight from Him. Rather, God has a plan and purpose for mankind which He has been bringing to pass through the centuries. Every decision made by every person in history has been supernaturally applied to that plan. He states this truth unequivocally: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:10–11). God is intimately involved in and in control over His creation. Furthermore, He states that He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). To go back to our first two scenarios then, a Christian who lies on a resume or aborts a baby would be violating God’s law and denying His ability to provide for a family and preserve a mother’s life if He purposes to do so.

Those who do not know God may be forced to justify their means to an end, but those who claim to be children of God have no reason whatsoever to break one of God’s commandments, deny His sovereign purpose, or bring reproach upon His Name.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: Can an atheist be a good moral person?

Can an atheist act in moral and ethical ways? Certainly, he can. All humans still retain the image of God upon them, even after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. The image of God was effaced at the fall, but it was not erased, and so man still understands right and wrong no matter how many try to say otherwise. Even atheists react to this inherent knowledge of right and wrong, some even to the extent of living exemplary lives.

C.S. Lewis put it this way: if a man sees another in danger, the first instinct is to rush to help (altruism). But a second voice intervenes and says, “No, don’t endanger yourself,” which is in keeping with self-preservation. But then a third voice comes into play and says, “No, you ought to help.” Where does that third voice come from, asks Lewis? This is what is referred to as the “ought-ness” of life. Morality is what people do, but ethics describe what people ought to do. And yes, people know what they ought to do, but that doesn’t mean that they always act according to that knowledge.

The difference between the atheist and the Christian in this sense is that the atheist may act ethically for certain reasons (e.g. not wanting to go to jail, it disrupts social order, it makes them look good to others, etc.), but he has no ultimate reason for acting ethically because there is no ultimate moral authority that exists over each sphere of his life. Without this ultimate authority, each atheist defines morality on his own terms, although his morality is influenced by the remnants of morality from the image of God within, along with the strictures and constraints of the culture and society in which the atheist exists.

The Christian, on the other hand, acts morally out of the knowledge of the moral law given by God in His Word and a love for the Law-giver Himself. In addition, that knowledge is continually increased and personalized by the indwelling Spirit of God, whose task it is to bring the Christian “into all truth” (John 16:13). From within believers, He directs, guides, comforts, and influences us, as well as producing in us the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). To the atheist who is without the Spirit, God’s truth is “foolishness,” because it is “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14), and the only fruit of righteousness is self-righteousness, not the righteousness of Christ.

When confronted with a situation that demands both the Christian and the atheist to make moral choices, a situation in which societal constraints are removed, the reaction of each will be vastly different. If a society deems it morally acceptable to kill unborn babies, for instance, the atheist sees no reason to oppose the practice. His own “moral law” even tells him it’s the compassionate thing to do in cases where the child is the result of rape or incest. The Christian, however, knows abortion is wrong because his moral choices are built upon the moral Law-giver who has declared all human life to be sacred because it is created in the image of God. The Law-giver has proclaimed “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) and, for the Christian, there’s the end of it.

So can an atheist act ethically? Certainly, but he has no ultimate reason to do so and no ultimate authority to look to in order to ensure his line is indeed straight and unbendable.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: What is utilitarianism?

The essence of Utilitarianism is in its concept of pleasure and pain. Utilitarian philosophy sees “good” as anything that increases pleasure and reduces pain. It is a philosophy of outcomes. If the outcome of an action serves to increase pleasure and reduce pain, then the action is considered good. At its heart, Utilitarianism is a hedonistic philosophy. The history of Utilitarianism can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, but as a school of thought, Utilitarianism is often credited to British philosopher Jeremy Bentham.

What are some of the problems of Utilitarianism? First is the focus on outcomes. An action is not good just because its outcome is good. The Bible says that “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is not as concerned with outcomes as He is with the intentions of our hearts. Good actions with bad intentions do not pass muster with God. Now, obviously, we cannot see the intentions of others. We are not even capable of completely discerning our own intentions. But that does not excuse us because we all have to come before God and give an account of our actions.

A second problem with Utilitarianism is its focus on pleasure as opposed to what is truly good. Pleasure is a human definition of good and as such can be very subjective. What is pleasurable to one may not be pleasurable to another. According the Bible, God is the definition of good (Psalm 86:5; 119:68), and since God does not change (James 1:17), the definition of good does not change either; it is objective, not subjective. It does not fluctuate with the passing trends of human desire or the passage of time. Furthermore, by equating good with pleasure, there is the risk of defining good as simply the satisfaction of our base, fleshly desires. As is evidenced with people who succumb to this type of lifestyle—hedonism—the more one indulges in a pleasure, the more one has to indulge to achieve the same stimulation. An example of this is drug addicts who progressively experiment with stronger and stronger drugs.

A third problem with Utilitarianism is the avoidance of pain. Not all pain is bad or evil. It’s not that pain in and of itself is good, but it can lead to good. The history of humanity is the history of learning from mistakes. As many say, failure is the best teacher. No one is advocating that we should actively seek out pain. But to say that all pain is evil and to be avoided is naïve. God is more interested in our holiness than our happiness. His exhortation to His people is for us to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15–16). The Bible also says that we are to count it all joy when we face trials of all kinds (James 1:2–4), not because the trials are joyful, but because they lead to greater perseverance and faithfulness.

All in all, the philosophy of Utilitarianism is focused on making this life as pain-free as possible for as many people as possible. On the surface, that seems like an admirable goal. Who would not want to relieve the suffering of people throughout the world? Yet the Bible tells us that there is more to existence than just this life on earth. If all we are living for is to maximize pleasure in this life, the bigger picture is being missed. Jesus told us that he who lives for this life will be greatly disappointed (Matthew 6:19). The Apostle Paul says the troubles of this life will not compare to the glory we will receive in eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). The things of this life are transient and temporary (v. 18). Our focus should be on maximizing our glory in heaven, not our life on earth.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: What is epistemology?

Epistemology deals with the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. It addresses the questions, “What is knowledge?” “How is knowledge acquired?” “What do people know?” “How do we know what we know?” “Why do we know what we know?”

Epistemology is typically divided into two categories. The first, propositional knowledge, can be thought of “knowledge that” as opposed to “knowledge how.” In mathematics, for instance, it is knowledge that 1 + 1 = 2, but there is also knowledge of how to perform mathematics. The second is personal knowledge. Personal knowledge is gained experientially. For example, the theoretical knowledge of the physics involved in maintaining a state of balance when riding a bicycle cannot be substituted for the practical (personal) knowledge gained when practicing cycling.

Epistemology also deals with statements of belief. Knowledge entails belief, and so one’s statement of belief cannot conflict with one’s knowledge. Conversely, knowledge about a belief does not necessarily entail an endorsement of its truth. For example, “I know about the religion of Islam, but I do not believe in it,” is a coherent statement.

Belief is regarded as subjective, while truth is regarded as an objective reality, independent of the individual’s beliefs or experience. While one might well “believe” that atheism is true, such an inclination has no bearing upon whether atheism is really true. The truth stands as independent and transcendent of one’s beliefs and opinions concerning reality.

What is the foundation for epistemology? Science and deductive reason, by which means one may acquire knowledge, presupposes that the universe be logical and orderly and that it obeys mathematical laws consistent over time and space. Even though conditions in different regions of space can be radically diverse, there nonetheless exists an underlying uniformity.

The Christian—who believes in a transcendent causal reality—expects there to be order in the universe. Since the Bible teaches that God upholds all things by His power (Hebrews 1:3), the Christian expects the universe to behave in an orderly and rational fashion. Since God is omnipresent and consistent within himself, the Christian expects that all regions of the universe will obey the same laws, even though the physical conditions of different regions of the universe may be different.

God transcends time (2 Peter 3:8). Thus, even though conditions in the past may have been different from those now, the laws of nature are not subject to arbitrary change. The Christian has a foundation upon which to base his assumption that the universe is upheld in a consistent manner, and therefore has a basis upon which to gain knowledge.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: What does the Bible mean when it says “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ”?

Both Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 read, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.’ ” Some take these verses to indicate that atheists are stupid, i.e. lacking intelligence. However, that is not the meaning of the Hebrew word translated “fool.” In this text, the Hebrew word is nabal which refers more to a “moral fool,” e.g., someone without morals. The meaning of the text is not “Unintelligent people do not believe in God.” Rather, the meaning of the text is “Immoral people do not believe in God.”

Many atheists are very intelligent individuals. It is not intelligence, or a lack thereof, that leads a person to reject belief in God. It is a lack of morals that leads a person to reject belief in God. People do not reject the idea of there being a Creator Being. Rather, people reject the idea of there being a Creator Being who demands morality from His creation. In order to clear their consciences and relieve themselves of guilt, people reject the idea of God as the only source of absolute morality. Doing so allows atheists to live however they choose—as morally or immorally as they desire—with no feelings of guilt for their refusal to be accountable to God.

Several prominent atheists have admitted this. One famous atheist, when asked what he hopes to accomplish through atheism, declared that he wants “to drink as much alcohol and have sex with as many women as possible.” Belief in a divine Being is accompanied by a feeling of accountability and responsibility toward that Being. So, to escape from the condemnation of conscience, which itself was created by God, one must deny the existence of God in order to deny the moral pull of the conscience.

This is not to say that all atheists are immoral people. Many atheists live relatively moral lives. The point of “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God’ ” is that a lack of evidence of His existence is not the true reason people reject belief in God. People reject belief in God due to a desire to live free of the moral constraints He requires and to escape the guilt that accompanies the violation of those constraints. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them … men are without excuse … their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools … Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:18–25).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: What are the dangers of postmodernism?

Simply put, Postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth, especially in matters of religion and spirituality. When confronted with a truth claim regarding the reality of God and religious practice, Postmodernism’s viewpoint is exemplified in the statement “That may be true for you, but not for me.” While such a response may be completely appropriate when discussing favorite foods or preferences toward art, such a mindset is dangerous when it is applied to reality because it confuses matters of taste and opinion with truth.

The term “Postmodernism” literally means “after Modernism” and is used to philosophically describe the current era which came after the age of Modernism. Postmodernism is a reaction (or perhaps more appropriately, a disillusioned response) to Modernism’s failed promise of using human reason alone to better mankind and make the world a better place. Because one of Modernism’s beliefs was that absolutes did indeed exist, Postmodernism seeks to ‘correct’ things by first eliminating absolute truth and making everything (including the empirical sciences as well as religion) relative to an individual’s beliefs and desires.

The dangers of Postmodernism can be viewed as a downward spiral that begin with the rejection of absolute truth, which then leads to a loss of distinctions in matters of religion and faith, and finally culminates in a philosophy of religious pluralism that says no faith or religion is objectively true and therefore no one can claim their religion is true and another is false.

Dangers of Postmodernism—#1—Relative Truth

Postmodernism’s stance of relative truth is the outworking of many generations of philosophical thought. From Augustine to the Reformation, the intellectual aspects of Western civilization and the concept of truth were dominated by theologians. But, beginning with the Renaissance periods of the 14th–17th centuries, thinkers began to elevate humankind to the center of reality. If one were to look at human periods of history like a family tree, the Renaissance would be Modernism’s grandmother and the Enlightenment would be its mother. Renee Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” personified the beginning of this era. God was not the center of truth any longer—man now was.

The Enlightenment was in a way the complete imposition of the scientific model of rationality upon all aspects of truth and claimed that only scientific data could be objectively understood, defined, and defended. Truth as it pertained to religion was left out and discarded. The philosopher who straddled this epoch’s and Modernism’s contribution to relative truth was the Prussian Immanuel Kant and his work The Critique of Pure Reason, which appeared in 1781. Among other things, Kant argued that true knowledge about God was impossible so he created a divide of knowledge between ‘facts’ and ‘faith’. According to Kant, “Facts have nothing to do with religion”. The end result was that spiritual matters were assigned to be matters of the heart and just opinion, and only the empirical sciences were allowed to speak of truth. And while Modernism believed in absolutes at least in the area of science, God’s special revelation (the Bible) was evicted from the realm of truth and certainty.

From Modernism came Postmodernism and, whereas Kant marked the philosophical transition from the Enlightenment to Modernity, Frederick Nietzsche may symbolize the shift from Modernism to Postmodernism. As the patron saint of postmodernist philosophy, Nietzsche held to ‘perspectivism’, which says that all knowledge (including science) is a matter of perspective and interpretation. Many other philosophers have built upon Nietzsche’s work (e.g. Foucault, Rorty, Lyotard) and have shared his rejection of God and religion in general. They also rejected any hint of absolute truth, or as Lyotard put it, a rejection of a metanarrative (a truth that transcends all peoples and cultures).

This philosophical march through history against objective truth has resulted in Postmodernism having a complete aversion to any claim to absolutes, with such a mindset naturally painting a huge bull’s eye on something that declares to be inerrant truth, such as the Bible.

Dangers of Postmodernism—#2—Loss of Discernment

The great theologian Thomas Aquinas said, “It is the task of the philosopher to make distinctions.” What Aquinas meant is that truth is dependent upon the ability to discern—the capability to distinguish ‘this’ from ‘that’ in the realm of knowledge. However, if objective and absolute truth does not exist, then everything becomes a matter of personal interpretation. To the postmodern individual, the author of a book does not possess the correct interpretation of their work; it is the reader who actually determines what the book really means—a process called Deconstruction. And given that there are multiple readers (vs. one author), there are naturally multiple interpretations, with the end result being no universally valid interpretation.

Such a chaotic situation makes it impossible to make meaningful or lasting distinctions between interpretations because there is no standard or benchmark that can be used. This especially applies to matters of faith and religion because the philosophers of the Enlightenment and Modernity had already deposed religion to the compartment of opinion. Such being the case, it naturally follows that attempting to make proper and meaningful distinctions in the area of religion (ones that dare suggest that one belief is right and another invalid) carries no more weight than one person arguing that chocolate tastes better than vanilla. In such situations, it becomes impossible to objectively adjudicate between competing truth claims.

Dangers of Postmodernism—#3—Pluralism

If absolute truth does not exist, and if there is no way to make meaningful, right/wrong distinctions between different faiths and religions, then the natural conclusion is that all beliefs must be given equal weight and considered valid. The proper term for this practical outworking in Postmodernism is “philosophical pluralism”. With pluralism, no religion has the right to pronounce itself right or true and the other competing faiths false, or even relatively inferior. For those who espouse a philosophical religious pluralism, there is no longer any heresy, except perhaps the view that there are heresies. D. A. Carson underscores conservative evangelical’s concerns about what they see as the dangerous element of pluralism when he says: “In my most somber moods I sometimes wonder if the ugly face of what I refer to as philosophical pluralism is the most dangerous threat to the gospel since the rise of the Gnostic heresy in the second century.”

These progressive dangers of Postmodernism—relative truth, a loss of discernment, and philosophical pluralism—represent real and imposing threats to Christianity because they collectively relegate God’s Word to something that has no real authority over mankind and no ability to show itself as true in a world of competing religious voices. What is Christianity’s response to these challenges?

Response to the Dangers of Postmodernism

It should first be stated that Christianity claims to be absolutely true, claims that meaningful distinctions in matters of right/wrong (as well as spiritual truth and falsehood) exist, and claims to be correct in its claims about God with any contrary claims from competing religions being incorrect. Such a stance provokes cries of ‘arrogance’ and ‘intolerance’ from Postmodernism. However, truth is not a matter of attitude or preference, and when closely examined, the foundations and philosophies of Postmodernism quickly crumble and reveal Christianity’s claims to be both plausible and compelling.

First, Christianity claims that absolute truth exists. In fact Jesus specifically says that He was sent and born to do one thing: “to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Postmodernism says that no truth should be affirmed, yet its position is one that is self-defeating—it affirms at least one absolute truth: that no truth should be affirmed. This means that Postmodernism does believe in absolute truth and such a fact is exemplified by its philosophers who write books stating things they expect their readers to embrace and believe as truth. Putting it simply, one professor has said, “When someone says there is no such thing as truth, they are asking you not to believe them. So don’t.”

Second, Christianity claims that meaningful distinctions exist between the Christian faith and all other beliefs. However, it should be understood that anyone claiming that meaningful distinctions do not exist between religions is actually making a distinction. They are attempting to showcase a difference in what they believe to be true and the Christian’s truth claims. Postmodernist authors expect their readers to come to the right conclusions about what they have written and will correct those who interpret their work differently than they have intended. Again, their position and philosophy proves itself to be self-defeating because they eagerly make distinctions between what they believe to be correct and what they see as being false.

Finally, Christianity claims to be universally true in what it says regarding man’s lostness before God, the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of fallen mankind, and the separation between God and anyone who chooses not to accept what God says about sin and the need for repentance. When Paul addressed the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on Mar’s Hill, he said, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30, emphasis added). Paul’s declaration was not a “this is true for me, but may not be true for you” statement, but rather an exclusive and universal (i.e. metanarrative) command from God to everyone. Any postmodernist who says this is false is committing an error against their own pluralistic philosophy that says no faith or religion is incorrect because, once again, they violate their own mandate of saying every religion is equally true.

In the same way that it is not arrogant for a math teacher to insist that 2 + 2 = 4 or for a locksmith to insist that only one key will fit a locked door, it is not arrogant for the Christian to stand against Postmodernist thinking and insist that Christianity is true and anything opposed to it is false. Absolute truth does exist, consequences do exist for being wrong, and while pluralism may be desirable in matters of food preferences, it is not so in matters of truth. The Christian is to present God’s truth in love and simply ask any postmodernist who is angered by the exclusive claims of Christianity, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16)[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Apologetics and Worldview: Is faith in God a crutch?

Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota (as well as former professional wrestler), once said: “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” Agreeing with him is pornographer Larry Flynt who commented: There’s nothing good I can say about it [religion]. People use it as a crutch.” Ted Turner once simply said: “Christianity is a religion for losers!” Ventura, Flynt, Turner, and others who think like them view Christians as being emotionally feeble and in need of imaginary support to get through life. Their insinuation is that they themselves are strong and in no need of a supposed God to help them with their lives.

Such charges and accusations bring a number of questions: Where did such thinking start? Is there any truth to it? And lastly, how does the Bible respond to such assertions?

Is faith in God a crutch?—The Impact of Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was an Austrian neurologist who founded the practice of psychoanalysis, a system espousing the theory that unconscious motives dictate much of human behavior. Though championing atheism, Freud admitted that the truth of religion could not be disproved and admitted that religious faith has provided comfort for untold numbers of people down through history. However, Freud thought the concept of God was illusionary. In one of his religious works, The Future of an Illusion, he wrote, “They [believers] give the name of ‘God’ to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves.”

As to the motivation for creating such illusions, Freud believed two basic things: (1) people of faith create a god because they have strong wishes and hopes within them that act as comfort against the harshness of life; (2) The idea of God comes from the need for an idyllic father figure that eclipses either a non-existent or imperfect real father in the life of a religiously-minded person. Speaking of the supposed wish-fulfillment factor in religion, Freud wrote: “They [religious beliefs] are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind. We call belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation and in doing so we disregard its relation to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.”

For Freud, God was nothing more than a psychological projection that served to shield an individual from a reality they do not want to face and cannot cope with on their own. After Freud came other scientists and philosophers who asserted the same thing and said that religion is just an illusion/delusion of the mind. Robert Pirsig, an American writer and philosopher who typifies Freud’s followers, has said: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it’s called religion.”

What about the above charges? Is there any truth to the assertions made by Freud and others?

Examining the Claims of the ‘Crutch Crowd’
When making an honest examination of these claims, the first thing to recognize is what those making the assertions are claiming about themselves. Deriders of religion are saying that Christians are prone to psychological and wish fulfillment factors that they, the skeptics, are not. But how do they know that? For example, Freud saw the need for a Father God as an outworking of emotionally needy people desiring a father figure, but could it be that Freud himself had an emotional need for no father figure to exist? And perhaps Freud had an outworking of wish fulfillment that manifested in not wanting a Holy God and judgment in the afterlife to exist, a wish for hell not to be real. Demonstrating the plausibility of such thinking is the writing of Freud himself who once said: “The bad part of it, especially for me, lies in the fact that science of all things seems to demand the existence of a God.”

It would seem reasonable to conclude, as Freud and his followers have argued in their position, that the only way a person could overcome “demanding” black-and-white evidence of something is by creating an illusionary hope that overpowers the verifications of God’s existence, and yet they do not consider this a possibility for them. Some atheists, however, have honestly and openly admitted this likelihood. Serving as one example, atheist Professor/philosopher Thomas Nagel once said: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

Another consideration to keep in mind is that not all aspects of Christianity are comforting. For example, the doctrine of hell, the recognition of humankind as sinners who are unable to please God on their own, and other similar teachings are not of the warm-and-fuzzy kind. How does Freud explain the creation of these doctrines?

An additional thought that springs from the above question is why, if humankind merely invents the concept of God to make itself feel better, would people fabricate a God who is holy? Such a God would seem to be at odds with people’s natural desires and practices. In fact, such a God would seem to be the last type of god they would come up with. Instead, one would expect people to create a god that nods in agreement with the things they naturally want to do instead of opposing the practices that they themselves (for some reason yet to be explained) label as ‘sinful’.

One last question is how do the ‘crutch’ claims explain people who initially were hostile to religion and did not want to believe? Such people seemingly had no wish or desire for Christianity to be true, yet after an honest examination of the evidence and an acknowledgement of its ‘realness,’ they became believers. English scholar C. S. Lewis is one such person. Lewis is famous for saying there was no more reluctant convert in all of England than himself, that he was literally dragged kicking and screaming into the faith, which is hardly a statement that one would expect from a person engaged in a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

These issues and questions seem to be at odds with the claims of the ‘crutch’ crowd, and are conveniently ignored by them. But what does the Bible have to say about their claims? How does it answer their charges?

Is faith in God a crutch?—How Does the Bible Respond?
There are three core responses that the Bible makes to the claim that people have invented the idea of God as a crutch for themselves. First, the Bible says that God created people for Himself and designed humankind to naturally desire a relationship with Him. Of this fact, Augustine wrote: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” The Bible says that humankind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). This being true, isn’t it reasonable to believe that we feel a desire for God because we have been created with this desire? Shouldn’t a divine fingerprint and the possibility of relationship between creature and Creator exist?

Second, the Bible says that people actually act in the reverse way from that which Freud and his followers claim. The Bible states that humankind is in rebellion against God and naturally push Him away instead of desiring Him, and that such rejection is the reason the wrath of God comes upon them. The reality is people naturally do everything they can to suppress the truth about God, which is something Paul wrote about: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:18–22). The fact that God is clearly evident in creation to all, as stated in Paul’s words, is nicely summed up by C. S. Lewis who wrote: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”

Freud himself admitted that religion was ‘the enemy’ and this is exactly how God depicts humankind before being spiritually enlightened—as the enemies of God. This is something Paul also acknowledged: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10, emphasis added).

Third, the Bible itself states that life is difficult, hardships are common, and a fear of death is experienced by all. These are truths that are easily seen in the world around us. The Bible also says that God is there to help us get through hard times and assures us that Jesus has overcome the fear of death. Jesus Himself said, “In the world you have tribulation,” which speaks to the fact that difficulties in life exist, but He also followed it up with “but take courage” and said His followers should look to Him for ultimate victory (John 16:33).

The Bible says that God cares for and helps His people and that He commands His followers to help one another as well and bear each other’s burdens (cf. Galatians 6:2). Speaking of God’s concern for people, Peter wrote: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7, emphasis added). Jesus’ famous statement also speaks to this fact: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

In addition to daily help, the fear of death has also been overcome by Christ. Through His resurrection, Jesus proved that death has no power over Him, and God’s Word says that Christ’s resurrection was a proving for the resurrection and eternal life of all who put their trust in Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20). The release from the fear of death is a truth proclaimed by the writer of Hebrews who said: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14–15, emphasis added).

So, indeed, the Bible speaks about God’s care, concern, and help for His creation. Such truth does indeed bring comfort, but it is a comfort that it is grounded in reality and not mere wish-fulfillment desire.

Is faith in God a crutch?—Conclusion
Jesse Ventura was wrong when he said that religion is nothing more than a crutch. Such a statement speaks to the prideful nature of man and epitomizes the type of people rebuked by Jesus in the book of Revelation: “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

Instead of affixing a “crutch” label upon the Christian, the wish-fulfillment claims of Freud, Ventura, and others only act as an indictment against them and showcase their desire to reject God and His claim to their lives, which is exactly what the Bible says fallen humankind does. But to these same people, God asks that they recognize their true desires and offers Himself in the place of the false hope of humanism that they cling to.

The Bible’s statements regarding the fact and evidence of Christ’s resurrection brings about comfort and real hope—one that does not disappoint—and instructs us to walk in a way that trusts God and recognizes our true ‘weak’ position before Him. Once that is done, we become strong, just as Paul said: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.