Tag Archives: Absolutes

The Dangers of Subjectivism

Recently I have been doing research on the Emergent Church.  Just in case you are not familiar with this movement, let me give you a little background.  The Emergent Church movement originated in conversations between various pastors, youth pastors and church leaders back in the 1990’s.  They were concerned about certain trends and practices they saw in the church.  They were especially concerned about how relevant and effective the church was in reaching a postmodern culture.  Out of their conversations arose an entire movement which has swept through America, Britain, Australia and other parts of the world.

The original ambitions of those involved in these conversations were noble and good.  However, in their efforts to address the concerns of a postmodern society, they ended up becoming a postmodern movement.  It seems, at least in their thinking, that to be relevant you must accommodate yourself to the culture—even if this accommodation involves sacrificing some of the foundational truths of the Christian faith. Continue reading

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Evil = Okay!?

We live in a day when everything is relative.  According to the popular mythology, nothing is absolute.  (How popular mythologists get by with this absolute I will never understand.)  Truth and morality are situational, personal, relational and relative.  The all-too common thinking runs something like this: “If I think it is okay, then it is okay.  If I perceive it as moral and good, then it must be moral and good.”  Usually what such thinkers actually mean is “if what I am doing is something I want to do—that makes me happy—then it must be good.” Continue reading

Raindrops Keep Falling On Our Heads

One of the premier events for Christian young people in this country is the Urbana conference.  This event is sponsored by Intervarsity Christian ministries and is held every three years.  It is one of the largest Christian youth events in the world.  The most recent conference was December 27-31, 2015 and was held in St. Louis, MO.  Advancing Native Missions had a display there, with a number of staff representing ANM.

Back in our offices in Virginia, we received regular reports about what was happening at the conference.  One of these reports noted that social media from the conference was very interesting.  There were a number of posts to Facebook and Twitter commenting on the fact that the LGBT community was not represented at the conference.  Fascinating.  Would you really expect the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender community to be a part of this conference?  For some, apparently yes. Continue reading

Have We Lost Our Souls?

Years ago I remember reading a science fiction short story about the depletion of the stock of human souls.  I can’t remember the author or the title… wish I could.  But I do remember that the gist of the story was that God (or fate or nature or whatever) had only created a certain number of souls.  As the population of the earth grew to the abundance we see today, the quantity of available souls was completely reached.  Doctors and midwives, parents and childcare workers, all began to notice that they were seeing children who were alive, but had only a vacant stare and no intellectual response.  They seemed happy, in a sort of mindless bliss, but were missing the vital component that would make them fully human.   What was missing?  They had no souls.  The reservoir of souls had all been used up.  According to the story, the world had reached a stage where all beings genetically identifiable as Homo sapiens were only soulless human-appearing creatures.  We had come to the end of humanity as true human beings.

This story came to mind today because I have been pondering C. S. Lewis’s critically important book The Abolition of Man.  At Advancing Native Missions we currently have four interns working in the office.  As part of their program, they are reading this Lewis work.  George Ainsworth, an ANM staff member, is leading them in their study.  Knowing my devotion to Lewis, George asked if I wanted to join their discussion.  I jumped at the chance.  Thus prompted by this opportunity, I have reread The Abolition of Man for the first time in many years.  What a book!  Some believe that this may be Lewis’s most important work.  It certainly deserves attention as an amazingly prescient writing.

In this book Lewis takes to task a grammar book which he calls The Green Book.  Beyond just discussing grammar, the authors of The Green Book were attempting to change students themselves.  As Lewis observed, the authors were clearly redefining not only the use of language but values and fundamental beliefs.  Basically they rejected the objective nature of truth and the idea of universal absolutes and mores.  Lewis rightly asserts that these matters (call them first principles, natural law, human conscience, or just plain ol’ right and wrong) are foundational in all of Western philosophy and civilization.  We built our culture upon them.  To abandon these building blocks of our society has tremendous consequences not only for the individual students who read this work, but for society as a whole.

In the 1940’s, when Lewis wrote his book, he was seeing the beginnings of this move to jettison such fundamentals.  The idea of a postmodern culture was still decades in the future.  Now, what Lewis saw in a nascent form, we see full grown and endemic in our society.  We are daily witnessing what Lewis “prophetically” saw in 1943.

One of the main points of The Abolition of Man is that by rejecting natural law, what Lewis calls the Tao, the natural way of things, we are rejecting what makes us truly human.  When we remove first principles, absolute truth, we reduce man to something less than human.  We create what Lewis calls “men without chests.”  By this he means there is a disconnect between our intellect and our passions.  And without the mediating human factor, we become either thinking mechanisms or brute beasts.

For example, we may have intellects, thinking minds, but without a proper spiritual basis as a responsible beings created in God’s image, we are simply organic machines.  Thinking is reduced to electrical pulses between synapses in our brains—nothing more.  We are only fleshly computers.  This is the position asserted by Francis Crick in his final major work, The Astounding Hypothesis.  Crick was co-discoverer with James Watson of the structure of the DNA.  For this he was awarded a Nobel Prize.  However, with all his intelligence, Crick rejected the idea that we possess souls, something external to our material physiology.  For him, our minds are only physical realities.  The mind consists of nothing beyond electrical and chemical processes.  We are organic super-computers, if you will.  This is the same position held by many in our culture today.

At the other end of the spectrum we may be “men without chests” who are ruled by our physical urges.  We are slaves to our passions, those barking dogs in the lower recesses of our psyches that Dostoyevsky wrote about.  What is a human being?  According to this perspective, we are only animals dominated by instinct, feelings and hormonal desires.  There are no moral absolutes, no certainty in ethical matters.  What is right is what I want to be right.  Generally, the attitude is more like this:  What is right is what I enjoy, what gives me pleasure.  Humans are nothing but evolved, reasoning primates.  We are not made a “little lower than the angels.”  Instead, we are only one step above gorillas.

The point is this:  It is not our intelligence that makes us human.  Nor is it our physical form.  It is what is found in our chests—our values, our beliefs, our spiritual nature.  What makes us human is our soul.  And the evidence of our soulish nature is seen in the reality of natural law (absolutes, first principles, conscience).  If we deny the existence of natural law, we deny what it is that makes us human.  To deny what fills our “chests,” to dismiss the existence of the soul, is to reject the very essence of what it means to be a human being.  We abolish mankind en masse.

Think this too far-fetched?  Then consider the modern world.  How do you explain gross immorality being promoted as simply “alternative life-styles”?  How do you understand all the crime, violence, war, hatred, and terror of contemporary life?  How do you deal with the slaughter of untold millions of unborn babies?  Every year over 800,000 teens become pregnant out of wedlock in this country.  Why is this happening?  We kill each other over drugs, the very drugs that we use as an escape from the tedium and pain of life itself.  Religious faith has become either something to be mocked or an excuse to justify our immoral behavior.  God is ignored, or blamed for the mess we have created.  In other words, the world is totally fouled up.  And we have made it so.  What we are experiencing is a society of “men without chests.”

 

 

Angels of Light?

When I was in high school I was privileged to watch a true revival among the students of Henrico High, on the outskirts of Richmond, Va. A number of members of my class came to know the Lord, and interest in spiritual matters was greatly heightened even for many nonbelievers. At that time, I can remember these young believers engaged in a search for Christian heroes. Anyone who was famous and a believer was someone to be looked up to. One likely candidate at the time seemed to be John Denver. There were many rumors regarding his interest in spiritual matters. Of what type of spirituality this consisted we had no certain knowledge. Some were positive that he was a born-again Christian.

Some serious students began to investigate the matter. One guy, more spiritually seasoned than most, took the lead. He was somewhat of musician himself, and used to sing some of Denver’s songs in our impromptu gatherings of teen believers. I well remember the day that he found some solid information about John Denver’s perspectives on religion. We were crestfallen when he informed us that Denver was not a Christian. Instead, he was deeply committed to an Eastern/Occult belief system. Reincarnation, astral projection, psychic powers and pantheism were more his tune.

I want to use this incident to illustrate an important point: Everyone we think of as “spiritual” is not necessarily godly or right. This is so vital to realize. We now live in a society that has lost it Christian moorings and has been set adrift on a sea of spiritual ignorance. Most people, Christians included, don’t have a clue about how to discern between error and truth. By and large, we are doctrinally illiterate. I think if one were to quiz the average American, we would find that not only do we score low on math and science skills, but we also would bottom out on the “truth test.” When it comes to telling the difference between what is false and what is true, we are generally naïve, if not downright ignorant.

Let me give you a few examples. (Sad to say, I could list dozens.)

A few years ago I was in a Christian book store, part of a well known chain of stores. Prominently displayed was an entire series of books on famous Christians. It was called “Champions of the Faith,” or something like that. One of these books was about John Chapman, more popularly known as Johnny Appleseed. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Johnny Appleseed. I can still remember enjoying the Disney cartoon version of his life’s story when I was a child. I think that he was a man of character, discipline, vision and compassion. He did a noble and laudable work. But he was not, and I say this emphatically, he was not a Christian. Chapman was a follower of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg founded a movement that mimics Christianity in many ways, but rejects the essentials of the faith. Swedenborg repudiated belief in the Trinity. He denied that Christ’s death atoned for our sins. His religion is both mystical and works oriented, denying the doctrine of salvation through grace. Though a brilliant man himself, his spiritual experiences were nothing short of wacky. He claimed to have taken repeated jaunts through heaven and hell, describing their workings in great detail. His visions were often necromantic—replete with intimate conversations with Jesus, Paul, Moses, Luther, Augustine and other dead saints. This is not the stuff of the true faith of Christ. So you see, as a believer in Swedenborgianism, Johnny Appleseed may have been religious, he may have been a person of noble and distinguished character, but he was not an exemplar of Christian truth. And he was definitely not a “champion of the faith.”

By the way, Chapman is not the only famous “Christian” who was actually a Swedenborgian. So was Helen Keller. Again, Ms. Keller serves as a remarkable example of courage, determination and the power of the human spirit to overcome the adversities of life. But her life does not model true godliness and genuine faith. She was a member of a cult. And (it is truly tragic to say) she died believing a pack of lies and truckload of nonsense.

Another more contemporary illustration of my point is to be found in Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Now, I know I am treading in dangerous territory here, for Mother Teresa is held in such high esteem the world over. She was a person of such compassion, such kindness, such nobility of spirit, that to venture to criticize her at all seems mean-spirited. But she illustrates my point so well. For in accepting the genuine goodness of the woman, most people would be open to also accepting almost anything she said or did, or believed for that matter. As with many good people, her human virtues would seem to validate her theology. But this is a false premise. “Good people” can believe lies and promote error. And this she did.

You see, Mother Teresa was in the forefront of a popular move in the Catholic Church to have Mary, the mother of Jesus, to be officially declared as the Mediatrix of all graces. She was one of those who petitioned the Pope to define this teaching as a dogma of the church. What does this teaching mean? Mediatrix of all graces? What is that? Simply put, this teaching asserts that Mary acts as the agent for all grace which God dispenses to man. No work of grace, including salvation itself, comes to mankind without first coming through Mary. In essence, this would elevate her status to the same level as that of Christ Himself, making her a Co-Savior and Co-Redemptress with the Son of God.

Now I understand that many, if not most, Catholic theologians, clergy, prelates and scholars already teach this error. But it has never been defined as a dogma of the church, which is what Mother Teresa desired. And in this matter, this dear woman was wrong—drastically wrong. This doctrine about Mary is nothing less than heresy. It demeans the mediatorial office and redemptive accomplishments of Christ (see 2 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12, etc.). It asserts that His atoning work on the Cross was insufficient without the subsequent work of His mother. To affirm that Mary is the dispenser of all grace is to raise her to actual divinity, while at the same time denigrating the uniqueness and preeminence of her divine Son. Yet… Mother Teresa lobbied the Vatican for Mary to be declared “Mediatrix of All Graces.” This is nothing short of blasphemy!

Do you start to see the point? Good people—men and women who do admirable works and great deeds of charity, persons of indisputable integrity and laudable character, people admired by sinner and saint alike—may still be totally deceived when it comes to spiritual truth. This does not mean that we do not esteem them for their good work. Nor that we should despise their legacies and their influence. But let us be influenced by what is truly exemplary in their lives—their deeds, not their beliefs.

Am I only riding a hobby horse here? Am I majoring in a minor point? Most assuredly not. Indeed, the truth of the matter is that we are bombarded with the potential harm of deceitful influences through good people. I see it all the time. I hear Christians quoting from Robert Fulghum’s work, e.g., Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Good stuff? Yes, to a certain extent. Much of it is practical and serviceable in every day life. But Fulghum is a Unitarian minister. Do you honestly think that the doctrines of his heretical church background do not sometimes creep into his writing? Of course they do.

I see Christians reading and quoting the Chicken Soup books like they were new gospels. You know what I’m talking about, that whole series that started with Chicken Soup for the Soul and has now multiplied into an entire library for teachers, women, men, and mothers, and who knows who else. It’s become like a fast food chain. Chicken Soup is being distributed to hungry consumers like Big Macs. But pick up one of these books and you’ll see the Buddha quoted as authoritatively as the Christ. There’s no distinction. All sources of “truth” are treated equally. What “works” in life is promoted as necessarily good and true. This is a commonly held error.

(Need I remind my Christian brethren that there are no “First Amendment” rights in the law of God? All religions do not stand on equal footing in God’s courtroom! All beliefs are not true and acceptable in the sight of the Great Judge of all the earth!)

Turn on your TV and you will see many disturbing examples of what I am talking about. Oprah is a case in point. Oprah Winfrey is considered a “deeply spiritual” person. Sure. That’s why in her motivational seminars she can quote Deepak Chopra as easily as Jesus, and declare emphatically, “When you hear me, you are hearing the voice of God speak to you.” Wow! And did you know that when Ms. Winfrey was filming the movie “Beloved” that she actually prayed to her ancestors and sought to channel their spirits? Is Oprah spiritual? Yes, in one sense. Does she do good works? Decidedly so. Is she a Christian? Definitely not. But many Christians look to her for spiritual guidance and practice.

So what I am saying? We must all learn to be aware, to be discerning. We must really know what the Christian faith teaches, accept it with our whole hearts, cling to it—and willfully reject what is not consistent with it. We can learn much from people such as Johnny Appleseed, Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, even Robert Fulghum and Oprah Winfrey. But we must not look to these individuals when forming our own belief system. When it comes to spiritual truth, such people are often wolves in sheep clothing—or to use another image, angels of light, both deceived and deceiving (see 2 Corinthians 11:14-15).