Responding Biblically to a Tolerant World

It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills.
Adrian Rogers


Key point: The church must repent of its worldly approach to tolerance and consistently exercise genuine love.


In a sermon he preached on February 28, 1999, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, long time pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, placed a spotlight on the one virtue that modern society upholds and seeks to demand of everyone—tolerance. Dr. Kennedy explained that the tolerance society now champions isn’t the same kind of tolerance Americans have practiced throughout the country’s history.

D. James Kennedy / D. James Kennedy Ministries
  • While tolerance used to mean exercising respect by putting up with a person or group with whom one disagreed, it now means
  • accepting and affirming all views as equal in value and as equally true. Moreover, it now means affirming all lifestyles as equally valid.

As we soon will see, the former definition of tolerance can be called negative tolerance, since it preserves differing or opposing opinions. The latter, more modern definition, can be called positive tolerance. Under positive tolerance, to fail to endorse the perspective of someone with whom we disagree is to be intolerant and bigoted.

But there’s a problem. The very people who advocate positive tolerance aren’t really tolerant of all views. In particular, they have a huge problem with the beliefs of biblical Christianity. Why? Because the tenets of biblical Christianity are absolute.

The very people who advocate positive tolerance are not really tolerant of all views. In particular, they have a huge problem with the beliefs of biblical Christianity. Why? Because the tenets of biblical Christianity are absolute.

In 1991, a very insightful Chuck Colson said,

A belief in tolerance is about as close as America comes to a national creed today. All lifestyles are equal. No one has the right to criticize. It’s the philosophy of the talk show hosts: Oprah, Donahue, Geraldo—keep an open mind, never judge anyone.

There is only one thing that is not tolerated—–and that is, people who are intolerant themselves, or rather, people who are labeled as intolerant. People with moral and religious convictions. These people are considered bigots.

How We Got Here—And Where “Here” Is

Returning to Dr. Kennedy’s sermon, we note that the new tolerance is a byproduct of the postmodern era. As Dr. Kennedy explained [minor edits made for clarity],

Postmodernism [the beginning of which is marked by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989] says that rationalism has failed. The modernist said, “Faith has failed. We must be rational.” The postmodernist has said “Reason has failed. We must resort to feeling.”

How often do you hear people say, “Well I feel that so-and-so. I feel that Washington, D.C. is the capital of this country”? I don’t feel that. I think it. But it’s always not “I think” but “I feel.” The only important thing is how they feel. And we have even invented a new civil right. And that is the civil right for my feelings not to be hurt.…

We cannot have anybody’s feelings hurt. And part of postmodernism is this universal individual. We don’t have countries, we don’t have anything except the individual. There’s no human race, there’s just the individual and his feelings, and they must not be offended.…

And so we have gone from a democracy, a government by the people—of the people, by the people, and for the people—to a government by the sovereign individual. Or should I say, more accurately, the sovereign individual’s feelings? And that brings us to the fact that there are not even any universal truths of any kind for people, and whatever truths we have are simply societal constructs that each community or society or nation has created and these do not apply beyond the borders of that culture.

This is why I have repeatedly said that tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society. When you have an immoral society that has blatantly, proudly violated all of the commandments of God, there’s one last virtue they insist upon—tolerance for their immorality. And they will not have you condemning what they have done as being wrong. And they’ve created a whole world construct in which it’s not, and in which they are no longer the criminal or the villain or the evil person, but you are. And so they call evil good and good evil (see Isaiah 5:20).

Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society.
—D. James Kennedy—

Charles Darwin

Also operative in this progression of ideas in history was the arrival of Darwinism on the world stage. Darwinism eliminated the “need” for God and absolute truth. The human individual became the measure or all things.

Even if you’ve been unfamiliar with the terms modernism and postmodernism, surely you’ve seen evidence of the grip of the new tolerance on American culture. Note carefully how accurate Dr. Kennedy is when he says that a new civil right has been established—the right not to have one’s feelings hurt, or we might call it the right not to be offended.

The new tolerance has ushered in a new civil right—the right not to be offended.
—D. James Kennedy—

The Biblical Response

Unfortunately, the new tolerance also has found its way into the church. One of the “Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church” today is that “the church has equated loving people with not offending them.” Other trends on the list provide evidence as well.

Josh McDowell

How should followers of Jesus Christ live out their faith when the new tolerance confronts them from every side? Josh McDowell, a Christian apologist and an insightful analyst of cultural trends, provides the answer in a presentation he gave well over a decade ago1 to the staff of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ).

Like Chuck Colson and D. James Kennedy, Josh expressed insights in his presentation that were ahead of the times.

Listen carefully to the following series of sound bites from Josh’s presentation. While you can listen here, you’ll be able to follow Josh’s progression of thought much more easily on this page, where a complete text of this 3½-minute compilation, along with the audio, is available.

  • Josh defines negative tolerance.
  • Josh defines positive tolerance.
  • Josh illustrates the difference between the two.
  • Josh points to the biblical response to a culture demanding positive tolerance.
  • Josh cites the importance of balancing truth and love.
  • Josh emphasizes that loving people will be costly.
  • Josh shows how genuine love relates directly to absolute truth and principles of right and wrong.

These insights are piercing. They also are sobering. They call on the church to repent of its soft approach to truth and to love authentically. This means exercising love by demonstrating compassion and by declaring truth—but we as Christians cannot do these things if we abandon a high view of God’s authority and the reliability of the Scriptures.

Francis Schaeffer was another Christian leader who read the culture clearly and accurately. In 1984 he wrote that easy Christianity is a thing of the past, and that

Francis Schaeffer

only a strong view of Scripture is sufficient to withstand the pressure of an all-pervasive culture built upon relativism and relativistic thinking.…Without a strong commitment to God’s absolutes, the early church could never have remained faithful in the face of the constant Roman harassment and persecution [it received]. And our situation today is remarkably similar as our own legal, moral, and social structure is based on an increasingly anti-Christian, secularist consensus.

Christian thinker and apologist Jonathan Morrow is dead on when he says, “Our culture desperately needs to hit the reset button when it comes to larger conversation about truth and tolerance.” For this to happen, the church must act as did the early Christians. If we identify ourselves with Jesus Christ, we no longer can continue to accommodate the culture by refusing to uphold the truth for fear of offending people.

Why? Because refusing to uphold the truth represents a failure to exercise genuine love!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Josh McDowell, “Tolerating the Intolerable,” Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, aired on March 21 and March 22, 2013. I strongly encourage you to listen to both programs in their entirety. Mr. McDowell’s presentation had aired earlier on Focus on the Family. A CD copy of the Focus on the Family broadcast indicates that the program “last aired in October of 2002.” Josh’s website is www.josh.org.

Mr. McDowell’s talk © 2018 Josh McDowell Ministry. All rights reserved. No part of these Materials may be changed in any way or reproduced in any form without written permission from Josh McDowell Ministry, 2001 West Plano Parkway, Suite 2400, Plano, TX 75075. www.Josh.org. +1 972 907 1000. Used by Permission.

2Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, (Westchester, Illinois: 1984), 48-49.

 

A portion of this article is based on the content of “Discernment Needed, Part 2: Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church,” which was originally published May 28, 2015.

Myths that Led to the Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States, Part 10

The daughter of a friend of mine recently told me she believes that “if you think a thing is right and commit yourself to it honestly, then it is right. And so then of course I brought up Adolf Hitler…[T]his principle that she announced endorses him, because he did very surely think that he was right. And I confronted her with that. And that was very hard for her. Implicitly, she had endorsed Adolf Hitler.…Now, you see, she’s got some thinking to do, but she didn’t have before. Because she just thought, ‘there’s a kind of person, and the person is sincere and is deeply committed to some values and pursues them honestly. That’s the right kind of person.’…That means that justification is all inside them.…God knows where that can lead!”
Larry P. Arnn, President of Hillsdale College


Note: In addition to highlighting two more myths that led to same-sex marriage in this country, this post sounds the alarm about dangerous legislation in the works in California. Occurrences in other places, including Illinois, also give us cause for concern. In my articles, I frequently drill down to discuss not only what is happening but also the philosophical underpinnings of these events. An excellent concise article on the situation in California, along with a clear explanation of why everyone, not just Californians, should be concerned, can be found here


Key point: However well-intentioned its promoters may be, the LGBT lobby is taking America to a very undesirable place.

This week we conclude our series on myths that led the the recognition of same-sex marriage in America. We’re adding two more myths to our list, bringing our total to eighteen. Be aware that while our list is thorough, it isn’t exhaustive.

Go here for a review of all the myths we cover in this series.

Myth #17: Absolute truth does not exist.

Fact: Absolute truth does indeed exist. This includes immutable principles of right and wrong, which are not determined within individuals, but outside of them. Yet, whenever a culture rejects absolute truth, eventually a set of values—the values of an individual or a group of individuals—is brought to bear on that society—with potentially disastrous results.

For the next few moments, as we begin to consider the myth that absolute truth does not exist, I’d like to ask you to forget that we’ve been discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Instead, consider the matter of absolute truth more broadly: What happens when individuals reject absolute truth? Inevitably, they make up their own truth and attempt to live according to it. They do this with varying degrees of success, because typically reality prevents them from living consistently according to the values they’ve decided to embrace. At other times, people may succeed in following the principles they’ve adopted, but it isn’t uncommon in such a situation for other people to be abused and violated.

Episode 4 of the 6th season of the original Hawaii Five-0 television series provides a great illustration. The episode is titled “One Big Happy Family.” In it, an unusual family arrives in Hawaii and commits a string of murders and thefts. Here is the closing scene. (Additional information about this installment, including a transcript of this scene, is available here.)

On the show, Sadie Ferguson is the name of the woman who offered Steve McGarrett the family’s rationale for killing their victims and stealing from them. Her reasoning sounds bizarre to us, but there’s an advantage in its starkness: In this situation, Sadie’s case sounds every bit as ugly as it really is. Why? Right and wrong do exist, and Sadie and her family had violated universal principles of moral conduct. With the trail of blood and robbery so glaringly obvious, and with the Fergusons’ reasoning so blatantly and obnoxiously self-centered, no one would deny this family was guilty of egregious wrongdoing.

Noble-Sounding Lies

Far more often, reasons to do wrong are just as terrible but not nearly as obviously horrific. Think of some of the noble-sounding excuses people use to justify all kinds of wrong actions.

  • Everybody’s doing it!
  • I can only go around once in life; so I should go for the gusto!
  • I need to be true to myself and follow my feelings.
  • Surely God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy!
  • If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with!

Now, all of us need to realize that no one—whether gay or straight, male or female, young or old—is exempt from falling into the trap of using faulty, crazy reasoning to justify doing whatever he or she want to do, even if God forbids it. Satan is a brilliant strategist, and as we have indicated, the kind of reasoning he uses to convince us to do his bidding often sounds attractive and even noble at first. Also, we often are shortsighted and foolish. Our hearts are evil! We entertain the notion, even unconsciously, that our way is better than God’s. It isn’t!

The good news is that when dangerous-but-noble-sounding “logic” is exposed to the light of God’s truth, those with minds that are open, even just a little bit, to His truth often can see just how foolish and even bizarre such reasoning is. It is, in fact, a lie. It’s also ugly—just as ugly as Sadie Ferguson’s justification for murder and theft. You see, the light of truth peels away the masks that hide the lie and that make the reasoning so attractive!

The good news is that when dangerous-but-noble-sounding “logic” is exposed to the light of God’s truth, those with minds that are open, even just a little bit, to His truth often can see just how foolish and even bizarre such reasoning is. It is, in fact, a lie.

Shedding the Light of Truth on Noble-Sounding, but False Ideas

The Ideas

Now, let’s consider several of the points typically made to justify homosexuality and same-sex marriage today. These ideas are about love, relationships, sexuality, and marriage. Take note—they probably won’t sound all that bizarre initially, partly because we’ve heard them so much, and partly because they appeal to our sense of fairness. In reality, however, they too are ugly—because they deny God’s established truth and His design for humanity. Furthermore, if left unchecked, they inevitably will produce very ugly results.

In June of 2013 after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, Joshua Bowman wrote an article for catholicvote.org pointing out the weaknesses of several arguments being used to promote same-sex marriage. The arguments included these four, which are quoted below directly from the article.

  • Gay Marriage Doesn’t Hurt Heterosexuals
  • If We Accept Gay Marriage, Peace and Love Will Reign
  • Marriage Is About Love and Commitment
  • Couples that Don’t Have Children Still Get Married

In another article, Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine of Family Life offer reasons for opposing same-sex marriage. They begin, however, by citing three rhetorical questions often used in favor of it. Here they are.

  • If two men are in love, and want to declare their commitment, why should we keep them from marrying each other?
  • If two gays want to be married, aren’t they upholding the institution of marriage rather than weakening it?
  • If a pair of homosexuals want to marry and provide a home for children who would otherwise be without a family, then how can that be wrong?

In addition to these and many more arguments, we often hear this: I was born that way. We addressed this argument in our last post.

The Truth

We have sought to lovingly yet forthrightly push back against many of these ideas in previous articles. Here, suffice it to say that both God and nature speak clearly about what marriage is. Moreover, God states clearly in Scripture that homosexual activity is sinful. In addition to offending God, it also is ultimately harmful in this life to those who engage in it.

You may strongly disagree with me on this. If so, then for the sake of our discussion, please consider for a few minutes the possibility that the points so often made to defend and justify homosexuality and same-sex marriage are indeed lies. I’m not saying they are intentional lies; in fact, most people don’t recognize them as lies at all. If this is true, people have become deceived and have been swept away in a very dangerous direction.

Who Is Imposing Their Morality on Whom?

There’s something else. We don’t have to reach very far back in our memories to recall the loud and forceful objections of militant gay rights advocates to laws criminalizing homosexual behavior and upholding marriage as an institution of one man and one woman for life:

What right to you have to impose your morality on me? 

Yet, now that homosexuality has been decriminalized and marriage has been transformed into an institution that also includes same-sex couples, militant homosexual rights advocates are attempting to impose their on morality on the rest of society.

Years ago, Josh McDowell predicted this would happen.1 This clip comes from a presentation he gave prior to October of 2002. In the soundbite, negative tolerance refers to the old definition of tolerance—respecting those who disagree with us—and positive tolerance refers to the new definition—that all beliefs and values are equal.

We don’t have to look far for evidence of what Mr. McDowell said. On Thursday, April 12, 2017, Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, was raked over the coals (also go here) by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). Watch the exchange.

Ben Shapiro observes that

according to Booker, you must celebrate sin in order to believe there is a right for people to commit sin that has no externalities in a free society. This makes sense from a Leftist point of view, where government is the great instrument of the good, not a mere protector of rights—the same people who try to stamp out dissenting thought through “hate speech” legislation are likely to believe that religious Americans feel the same way about using government to stamp out sin. But they’re wrong. And they’re religious bigots.

Yes, those on the left loudly pushing the militant homosexual cause are religious bigots. Just how bad is it? Currently, in ten states, with a good possibility that Maryland will become the eleventh, minors cannot legally receive professional counseling from a pro-heterosexual perspective to help them deal with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. Such counseling has been outlawed! Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), explains part of the reason: Gay activists have misrepresented and demonized legitimate counseling approaches (also go here)—often called reparative therapy—to help encourage heterosexuality. They have overtaken many professional groups and insist on pro-homosexual counseling regardless of the clients’ desires. The American College of Pediatricians stands out as the rare exception.

Gay activists have misrepresented and demonized legitimate counseling approaches—often called reparative therapy—to help encourage heterosexuality.
—Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays—

And now, things are growing even worse. The gay lobby has become a powerful and arrogant player in American life—so powerful and arrogant, in fact, that it is in the process of imposing it’s own “absolutes” on society at large.

For some time, California has been futile ground for coercive LGBT legislation. Now it could become the first state in the nation to ban reparative therapy for everyone! All forms of it this kind of therapy, even counseling given through the sale of a book and in a religious setting from a religious perspective. In a Facebook post, former Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon calls the proposal “the biggest effort at book banning, the banning of counseling services and church conferences, the banning of academic courses, and a general banning of free speech in the history of the United States.” He warns, “Any counselor that suggests to clients that homosexual practice or transgender identification is in any way wrong or unhealthy, irrespective of whether they offer ‘orientation change’ services will become a criminal in the eyes of the state.”

Any counselor that suggests to clients that homosexual practice or transgender identification is in any way wrong or unhealthy, irrespective of whether they offer “orientation change” services will become a criminal in the eyes of the state.
Robert A. J. Gagnon

On television, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Matt Sharp sounded the alarm.

As we have seen in the past, what happens in California has implications for the entire country. Since when does the government have any business preventing an adult from receiving a counseling service he or she wants and is willing to pay for? We may be on the cusp of entering a day when, even though the government has no business whatsoever doing this, it does it anyway! I would encourage you to find out more about AB 2943 here and here.

And be aware: It is especially significant that while AB 2943 prohibits pro-heterosexual counseling to help anyone with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender issues, another proposal AB 2119, “adds the mandate that ‘foster care kids struggling with transgender feelings [must] have access to ‘gender affirming’ counseling, puberty blocking drugs, and sex-change operations.'”

The new tolerance, therefore, is a one-way street down which a steam-roller is barreling, squashing everyone standing in its way!

The new tolerance, therefore, is a one-way street down which a steam-roller is barreling, squashing everyone standing in its way!

Make no mistake. This is tyranny! But it is the inevitable place to which society will go when it abandons absolute truth and one group becomes powerful enough to impose it’s own morality on the whole.

Myth #18: Since absolute truth does not exist, government can manipulate the meaning of marriage to mean whatever it deems appropriate.

Fact: This myth returns us to the place where we started in this series. In part 1 we considered four myths that related to the courts, government, law, and the US Constitution. I encourage you to return there for that discussion.

With Malice Toward Note; With Charity for All

As Abraham Lincoln did during his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, I convey these ideas “with malice toward none [and] with charity for all.” We began this post with a quote about the fact that a failure to affirm absolute truth essentially gives a green light to tyrannical actions like those of Adolf Hitler. We next cited an episode from Hawaii Five-0, the original series, that demonstrates what can happen when an individual or a group comes up with their own absolute truth. Let me be clear. I am not saying the leaders of the LGBT community are like Hitler or that the thefts and robberies depicted on a television crime show present a picture of exactly what the gay lobby wants to accomplish.

A book-burning in Nazi Germany, 1933.

I am saying that these represent the kinds of ends to which a society’s or an a group’s abandonment of absolute truth will lead. And significantly, one parallel between AB 2943 and Nazi Germany is glaringly evident: the censorship of books! Without question, the militant LGBT lobby is becoming more and more coercive and tyrannical.

Their agenda must be opposed, lest America be held for generations to come in bondage to all myths that led to same-sex marriage.

 


Update on AB 2943, Thursday, April 19, 2018: Assembly votes to violate the 1st Amendment


Go here for summaries of all the articles in this series.

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: California State Capitol in Sacramento, California, by Andre m

Note:

1 Josh McDowell, “Tolerating the Intolerable,” Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, aired on March 21 and March 22, 2013. The clip presented here comes from the broadcast on March 21. Mr. McDowell’s talk had aired earlier on Focus on the Family. A CD copy of the Focus on the Family broadcast indicates that the program “last aired in October of 2002.” Josh’s website is www.josh.org.

Absolute Truth Really Is All About God

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 17

Consider the atheist who is outraged at seeing a violent murder on the ten o’clock news. He is very upset and hopes that the murderer will be punished for his wicked actions. But in his view of the world, why should he be angry? In an atheistic, evolutionary universe where people are just animals, murder is no different than a lion killing an antelope. But we don’t punish the lion! If people are just chemical accidents, then why punish one for killing another?…[Moreover, m]any atheists behave morally and expect others to behave morally as well. But absolute morality simply does not comport with atheism.
Dr. Jason Lisle

Truth always carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.
Francis Schaeffer

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Part 16 is available here.

The Declaration of Independence begins with this insightful and profound statement:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The acknowledgement of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” is more than significant. The Founders affirmed the existence of a set of standards coming from God and reflected in nature, or the natural world. It’s true that the Declaration does not mention a specific God; the point of the document was not theological. Even more importantly, it was widely understood that this reference was to the God of the Bible. Our early leaders believed strongly in religious liberty. Even so, God’s existence is assumed, not argued—and equally assumed is the idea that laws, including principles that affirm human dignity and a set of standards of right and wrong, are an inherent part of the natural order of things. These standards originate from outside—and not from within—humanity and human reason.


Truth comes from outside human beings, not from within.


Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Mark David Hall addresses the question “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” He essentially answers by saying, “It depends on what is meant by ‘a Christian founding,’” but affirms the answer is yes if the phrase means biblical principles and ideas strongly influenced America’s architects. “I believe,” Hall writes, “that an excellent case can be made that Christianity had a profound influence on the Founders.” He cites five specific examples, including these.

  1. Their faith taught them that humans were sinful.…
  2. They firmly believed that God ordained moral standards, that legislation should be made in accordance with these standards, and that moral laws took precedence over human laws.

The idea of absolute truth, therefore, was an important principle informing and guiding America’s Founders as they led the Colonies to separate from Great Britain and as they drafted the US Constitution. Although it didn’t originate in the United States, the affirmation of absolute truth can rightly be called an American ideal.

Last week we highlighted five specific characteristics of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients, and we used Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman as representative examples. Against the backdrop of America’s founding, I want to underscore a point we dare not miss from our previous discussion. Here I am elaborating on last week’s fifth point, the importance of affirming and living by the right principles.

Blaine Adamson, Darold and Barronelle Stutzman, Kelvin Cochran, Evelyn and Donald Knapp, and Jack Phillips

Adamson, Phillips, Stutzman, and others are upholding principles that originated outside themselves. They are not willing to risk everything to have the right to follow their own feelings on a matter. If an individual is going to risk everything, he or she ought to risk it for something more certain than that! ADF clients are upholding the truth—absolute truth that reflects universal standards of right and wrong. These arise from God and His character.

God is the Architect of all that is, including morality and ethics.
Ancient of Days by William Blake (1757-1827)1

Yet their convictions run even deeper than that. Their beliefs are rooted, not just in ideals or principles, but in God Himself and their sense of accountability to Him. Last week’s three-minute audio clip contained clear evidence of this from the perspective of each client. This one-minute excerpt presents that core evidence. You’ll hear Adamson first, Phillips second, and Stutzman third.

To be clear, an individual doesn’t have to believe in God to believe in moral principles or absolute truth. However, the existence of absolutes is best explained by the existence of God, as apologist J. Warner Wallace has pointed out.

Confronted with the hostility, pressure, and expressions of hate that ADF clients surely must experience, these courageous men and women are not following their feelings. They’re not following their opinions either, although their opinions align with what they know to be true.


Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients aren’t following their feelings or opinions. Rather, they’re putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth.


They are putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth. It’s all the more reason to follow their examples. As Barrnelle Stutzman affirms, “you can’t be lukewarm” in your commitment to Christ.

What have you risked lately because you’re a Christian?

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

1Use of Blake’s work is not to be construed as an endorsement of his religious views. Ancient of Days does, however, symbolically highlight a number of divine traits that are consistent with the authority and creative power of the God of orthodox Christianity, which we do affirm.

top image: portion of an 1869 US postage stamp commemorating the presentation of the Declaration of Independence

Digging Deeper: Learning More About Divine Wrath—Four Helpful Insights

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 15

God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.
J. I. Packer

It is amazing that we hesitate to talk about the wrath of God, for fear of making sinners feel fearful. The fear they feel this side of the grave will be nothing compared to the fear they feel when they stand before Almighty God.
Ray Comfort

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
—The Apostle Paul to the Colossian Christians in Colossians 3:5-6 (NIV)—

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last week we highlighted Romans 1:18, which tells us “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (see the larger context of this verse here). The Greek word translated wrath reflects not only God’s judgment and punishment for wrongdoing, but also the divine anger on from which the judgment and punishment arise. This term is of special interest to us because of the implications it has, especially for those “who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

We should be aware that this word can refer to human ire, as it does in several places, including Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8. In both these verses it is translated anger. Here we will examine four Bible passages that use the term to refer to divine indignation and offer insights about each one. Even though our study will be far from exhaustive, looking at the “big picture” of God’s wrath will give us a helpful glimpse of His wrath to come. Moreover, we also will gain a sense of urgency about where all people, including you and me, stand before the Lord. In places where the word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 appears, we will show the English word representing it in bold text.

Passage # 1: Matthew 3:7-8

Matthew 3:7-8 says this about John the Baptist,

7 But when he saw man of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

Clearly John was referring to divine wrath that would be exercised at a later time. Matthew 3:1-12 provides the larger context for these verses.

Insight # 1: Repentance is essential to avoiding God’s wrath. Be forewarned, however! One cannot merely “go through the motions” of repentance and expect God to overlook his or her sin; a person must turn from sin to God and “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8).

Passage # 2: John 3:36

In John 3:36 we again see the words of John the Baptist. He declared,

St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

The context for this statement is John 3:25-36.

Insight # 2: If an individual isn’t actively trusting in Jesus for salvation and eternal life, that person does not possess it at all (see 1 John 5:11-12); rather, he or she is the object of God’s wrath, even now. God’s mercy often mitigates His wrath in the present (see Lam. 3:22), but divine wrath still is a reality, and it will not be restrained forever. Only one way of escape exists. When a person relies on Christ for salvation, he or she is permanently shielded from God’s wrath, because Christ bore God’s fury and punishment for sin for that individual (see Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9).

Taken together, Matthew 3:7-8 and John 3:36 show the connections between sincere repentance, active faith in Christ for salvation, possession of eternal life, and a life transformed by Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:17).

Passage # 3: Revelation 6:15-17

In Revelation 6:15-17, the apostle John wrote,

15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

The larger context for these verses is Revelation 6:12-17.

Pastor Jerry Cosper writes,

The Day of the Lord [uppercase letters] is a period of time in which God will deal with wicked men directly and dramatically in judgment. Today a man may be a blasphemer of God, an atheist, can denounce God and teach bad doctrine. And it seems like God does nothing about it.

But the day designated in Scripture as “the day of the Lord” [lowercase letters] is coming when God will punish human sin, and He will deal in wrath and in judgment with a Christ-rejecting world. One thing we are sure of, that God in His own way will bring every soul into judgment.

Now remember this is a picture of what will be happening right before the Day of the Lord comes. It hasn’t come yet. This is just the breaking of the seals of God’s Book of Destiny. The worst judgments are yet to come.

Insight # 3: While the Book of Revelation calls us to engage in in-depth study, many of its teachings are crystal clear at the outset. We readily see in this passage that the wrath of God is unspeakably terrible for those who experience it. Remember that among those who will experience God’s wrath, and even are experiencing it already, are those who, through their sinful actions, deny the realities arising from God and His rule. Recall Romans 1:18: “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

God’s wrath then will be manifested differently than it is now, but the fact that we’re speaking of divine wrath both then and now should command our attention, instill fear in our hearts, and incite us to concern, prayer, and action.

Note in Revelation 6:16 that this is the “wrath of the Lamb”—the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is the theme of our next passage.

Passage # 4: Revelation 19:15-16

 Revelation 19:15-16 describes Jesus, God’s Son, as the Supreme Conqueror and Judge:

15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.”

The larger context for these verses is Revelation 19:11-21.

Insight # 4: Jesus, who is Savior to all who rely on Him for eternal life, will return to earth and act as Supreme Judge over all (see 2 Tim. 4:1-2). He will rule over the nations “with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15-16). Even though Jesus shields His followers from the Father’s wrath against sin,1 we cannot separate the Son of God from His authority and prerogative to exercise divine wrath (see John 5:26-29).

Landscape with Noah’s Thank Offering by Joseph Anton Koch

Consider the worldwide flood of Noah. The water buoyed the ark, which kept its occupants safe, but at the same time this same water destroyed all who were outside. The apostle Peter alluded to these realities in 1 Peter 3:18-22 and 2 Peter 2:4-10. So also, when divine judgment comes at the end of the age, those who are in Christ will be protected from His wrath, yet everyone outside Him will face “condemnation” (see John 5:29).

Conclusion

Divine wrath is a reality everyone must face, so a person ignores it to his or her own peril. It stands regardless of all human feelings and opinions, and in spite of every claim to the contrary. Come to terms with God’s wrath now, admit you deserve it in its full force, and take advantage of the protection Christ offers in Himself, since He experienced God’s fury fully on the cross on your behalf. If you don’t, then one day and forever you will experience it at a level of unmitigated horror and devastation (see Matt. 25:44-46; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Rev. 25:44-46).


Divine wrath is a reality everyone must face, so a person ignores it to his or her own peril. It stands regardless of all human feelings and opinions, and in spite of every claim to the contrary.


No one can blame God, either. He has done all He can do to shield you from divine punishment, even sacrificing His own Son in the process.

We have seen a snapshot of God’s wrath to come, but what about His wrath that “is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”? (Rom. 1:18, NIV). We will explore this aspect of absolute truth soon in an upcoming post.


Note:

1In his excellent book, The Story of Reality ([Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017], 117), Gregory Koukl explains,

Jesus came to earth to save sinners. The statement is so common to our ears, it is easy to miss its significance. Save means to “rescue from imminent danger.” Jesus came to rescue us because we were in danger. What was that danger? What was Jesus rescuing us from? Here is the answer. Jesus did not come to rescue us from our ignorance or our poverty or our oppressors or even from ourselves. Jesus came to rescue us from the Father.”

Then, in a footnote appearing on page 190, Koukl adds this for clarification: “Jesus saves us from the Father, but His intention is not at odds with the Father since it was the Father who, out of love, sent Jesus to rescue the world in the first place.”


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

top image: The Preaching of St. John the Baptist by Pieter Bruegel the Elder; photo taken by Yelkrokoyade, 20/07/2013; more info available here

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One passage was taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

God Is Angry, and Here’s Why

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 14

It is hard to imagine anything in religion more repugnant to people than the wrath of God, and it is easy to see why.…The notion of a “vengeful” God strikes us as inconsistent with a God of love. This seems right at first, but the complaint is based on a misunderstanding. God’s love is not a thing in itself, so to speak, but is tied, like all of his attributes, to his goodness, the very goodness we are inclined to question when evil runs rampant. “Why doesn’t God do something?” We wonder. Yet we cry foul when we learn God will do something decisive about evil and we are the evildoers.
—Gregory Koukl1

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder, and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep of the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:6-9—

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Before distributing the final exam, the college professor told his class his last test would have a strict time limit. “Ladies and gentlemen, you have 90 minutes and only 90 minutes to complete this test. If you go over that time, I will have to lower your grade substantially for this class.”

An hour passed. Seventy minutes. Then the students began to finish—a few at first, then more. They rose from their seats, placed their work on the professor’s desk, and quietly left the room. At the end of the hour-and-a-half period, one student remained, and he kept working. The professor sat silently at his desk and watched him intently—but the student didn’t look up even once. Then, at a full 20 minutes past the deadline, he rose from his chair with paper in hand and walked to the front of the room.

“Young man,” said the professor, “you know you took more than your allotted time to complete this exam. I’m afraid I’m going to have to reduce your grade to a point where it really will hurt you. I would not be fair to everyone else in the class if I didn’t.”

“Sir,” responded the student, “do you know who I am?”

“No, I don’t” said the professor.

“Good!” He then randomly inserted his own test in the stack of exams on the desk. Grateful he’d been able to hide his own paper among those of his fellow students, he smiled at the professor, wished him a good afternoon, and walked out of the room.

Bad News That Gets Even Worse

“Wow, that’s a pretty sharp kid!” someone might say. Maybe so, but his tactic absolutely will not work for the biggest test of all—life’s final exam. You see, God not only knows who each one of us is, He knows all. Moreover, He overlooks nothing, and He doesn’t grade on a curve.

As hard as this news is, there’s more. It actually gets worse. God is angry. In Romans 1:18, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declared, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and righteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Actually, the New International Version translates the tense of the verb even more clearly:2 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” (emphasis added). Paul went on in subsequent statements to elaborate on ways this was occurring, but for now let’s consider the realities that God is angry, His anger is real, and it affects people directly.


God’s character determines reality, and anything contrary to His character invokes His wrath. This is how things are, regardless of feelings or opinions to the contrary. 


We said earlier that “God determines reality; people don’t.” Moreover, we’ve sought throughout this series to convey that God didn’t arbitrarily determine what reality would be, even though certainly He made deliberate choices. More to the point, God’s character determines reality, and anything contrary to His character invokes His wrath. This is the way things are, regardless of feelings or opinions to the contrary. The Greek word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 reflects not only God’s judgment and punishment for wrongdoing, but also the divine anger on which the judgment and punishment are based.

The Reason for God’s Anger

Why is God angry? We first need to know that the Lord has revealed Himself through nature and the created order. We call this “general revelation.” We use the term “special revelation” to refer to revelation occurring when God transcends nature and reveals Himself in miraculous ways, including through Scripture, and especially through His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Bible God speaks of His unveiling Himself in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” wrote David in what we now know as Psalm 19, “And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).

Asher Brown Durand, The Catskills1859

Note verse 3 in particular. Nature and the ordered world speak a universal language, one everyone can understand. They testify clearly to God’s glory. Furthermore, in Romans 1:20, Paul wrote that God’s deity and power are clearly evident in creation, so much so that people “are without excuse.” Verses 18-23 of Romans 1 provide a context that helps us more fully understand.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:18-23).

Please note these phrases and clauses. God is revealing His wrath (verse 18) against this backdrop.

  • Verse 19: “what may be known of God is manifest in them”
  • Verse 19: “God has shown it to them”
  • Verse 20: “clearly seen,” “understood,” “without excuse”

Even though people saw and comprehended the truth about God, the passage tells us, “they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). Consequently, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18).

Do you now see why God is angry? He effectively painted a portrait of Himself on the canvas of nature, declaring that He exists and created everything that is. He spoke—and speaks—so clearly that no one can fail to understand. God’s self-portrait is unambiguous. Specifically, since “His eternal power and Godhead” (v. 20) are evident, people know from what they see in nature to look for God, not in nature, but beyond it. Yes, it’s true that we need to know more about God than creation tells us, but here we are concerned with what people have done with the initial information they have received. People have ignored and rejected God’s revelation!


God has made Himself known, and people have ignored and rejected God’s revelation!


We are reminded of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. While this parable has multiple implications, we must not miss this main point: The king invited people to his son’s wedding, and they refused to come. They even “made light of it” (v. 5). We therefore readily understand why the king “was furious” and took action against them (see v. 7). Romans 1 presents a similar scenario.

A Warning for Everyone

The situation is dire for those who turn a cold shoulder to what they know about God, but we must read Romans 1 with great humility. No one is immune from responding to God’s revelation in the way Romans 1 describes. We need only look at Psalm 19 to see this. After describing God’s portrait of Himself in creation and how the Lord’s laws and ways were supremely valuable, David wrote, “Who can understand his [own] errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me.” (Psalm 19:12-13). As God declares in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?” If Romans 1:18-32 does not describe you, it is only because of God’s grace that it does not!

A Great Urgency

Again, we return to the truth “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). This may upset us, but because it is true, we need to know and understand what this means. The Greek word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 appears in numerous other places in the New Testament, including Romans 5:6-9, which we cited at the top. Examining several Bible passages that carry the term will help us gain the understanding we need, along with a sense of urgency about where people—including you and me—stand before the Lord.

Next week, we’ll look at 4 Bible passages that tell us about divine wrath.

Yes, the bad news is bad—no question about it. Even so, we have hope. Just as God’s character exudes wrath, so also is His character the source of our hope.

Don’t miss next week’s discussion!

Part 15 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One passages was taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Notes:

1Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 97.

2James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume 1, Justification by Faith, Romans 1–4, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 133.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 13

God Reveals Truth About Himself: Eleven Things You Need to Know

God cloaks himself in invisibility and leaves the world to guess, hope, and kill over his identity and existence? This is love?
—author C. J. Anderson in No Kingdom Come— 

He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
—Jesus in Luke 16:31, explaining that people who refuse to heed what the Scriptures teach about how to avoid eternal torment also will refuse to believe a person who has returned from the dead—

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
—The Lord in Jeremiah 19:13

There is a God.
Rush Limbaugh, in his “35 Undeniable Truths of Life”

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

We come in our series on absolute truth to consider truths God has revealed about Himself to humanity. Note carefully that these are objective truths, realities that are in place and operative for all people, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances—regardless of any and all human opinions or sentiments to the contrary. We call them objective truths because they have truth as their object. Thus, these realities exist outside human opinion or influence.


Truth about God is not subjective, but objective—outside of personal opinions and perspectives. It applies to all people, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances.


In what we now know as Psalm 19, David wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth (Psalm 19:1-6).

The apostle Paul affirmed David’s testimony in Romans 1, and he issued a warning. We must heed what nature tells us. Here’s what Paul said.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20)

Let’s carefully note several things from these verses.

First, those who deny or suppress the truth about God face His judgment (see v. 18).

Second, people suppress the truth about God “by their wickedness” (see v. 18; also see John 3:16-21). It follows, then, that God is perfect and holy. The prophet Isaiah declared that “the eyes of the arrogant [will be] humbled,” and “the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts” (Isa. 5:15-16).

Third, the truth about God is plain to all, even to those who refuse to believe it, and even if they claim evidence for God’s existence is lacking (see Rom. 1:19). Just how plain is God’s revelation? Another New Testament verse containing the word translated plain will help us understand.

In Acts 4, the Jewish authorities were angry with Peter and John for having healed a man in Jesus’ name and then proclaiming Jesus as the only way to salvation (see Acts 3). Conferring together, the Jews said, “What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16, HCSB, emphasis added). In this verse, the Greek word translated obvious is gnostos, which means “well known” or “notable.” It is the adjective form of the word ginosko, which means “to know.” Against this backdrop, the word translated plain in Romans 1:19 also appears. It is translated as evident in Acts 4:16. Just how evident was the miracle? So evident and obvious that the Jews were forced to admit, “We cannot deny it.”

Unlike the Jewish authorities in Acts 4, [many and perhaps most] Americans today are denying the undeniable.

Fourth, it is God who has made truth about Himself plain (see v. 19).

Fifth, God has revealed Himself through His creation (see v. 20). Accidents may happen, but no accident or random force ever could produce the ordered world in which we live. As human beings, we also are a part of God’s created order, and amazing miracles, at that! (Also go here.)

Sixth, Paul states that God’s “invisible qualities,” specifically His “eternal power and divine nature,” have been made evident in and through creation (see v. 20).

Seventh, God’s revealed truth is understood (see v. 20). The word translated understood means “perceived with the mind.” Having seen God’s revelation, people “get it.” They might not realize they’ve “gotten it,” but they have anyway.

We should stop here and point out that this seventh principle underscores the objective nature of the truth the Supreme Being has unveiled about Himself. Note carefully:

  • The truth about God is outside humanity and human influence. No person or group “creates” it; it simply is. We know it and understand it because God has revealed it to us, but it exists independent of us.
  • People understand the truth and either accept it or reject it. Their opinions to the contrary do not change it or alter it in any way.
  • Subjective responses to God’s revealed truth do, however, make all the difference in the world in people’s lives. Here’s why. A response to God’s revealed truth, whether negative or positive, influences God’s posture toward an individual. We readily should understand this, because we see this in human relationships all the time. God made the first move by creating us, but we sinned against Him. God acted again and again with overtures toward us, ultimately sending His Son to die for us (more on this in a moment). God loves all people, and nothing anyone can do will keep Him from loving them. Even so, when an individual rejects the innate understanding God has given him or her about Himself, He will respect that choice, even though He wanted it to be different. When is a rejection final? We cannot fully know. This is why Scripture repeatedly warns people not to put off accepting God’s revealed truth about Himself and the salvation He offers.

Eighth, because of the God-given understanding they possess, “people are without excuse” before the Lord (v. 20). They cannot say God didn’t reveal Himself in clear, discernible ways—because He has done just that!

Why Doesn’t God Erase All Doubts About His Existence and About What He Is Like?

Sometimes people ask, “If God really is real, why doesn’t He simply reveal Himself in ways that make His existence undeniable and undebatable? Why doesn’t He just prove Himself beyond all doubt?” Some, like author C. J. Anderson, whom we cited at the top, apparently already have concluded God has hidden Himself. But has He?

Let’s respond to this objection with three points, all of which are interrelated. These will be the ninth, tenth, and eleventh items on our longer list.

First on our short list and ninth on our long one, if God were to disclose Himself in a way that would “blow us away,” His disclosure really would blow us away!


If God were to disclose Himself in a way that would “blow us away,” we truly would be blown away!


One day God will reveal Himself in this way, but because of His mercy, He hasn’t yet. Here’s the catch. With proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real, we no longer would be able to choose to love Him. Why? We cannot be free to choose to love God unless we’re also free to reject Him and His overtures of love to us. Consider this insightful parable by Søren Kierkegaard.

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden. How could he declare his love for her?  In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him.  But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage…that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal…For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

God wants us to have fellowship with Him. No human being ever can be totally equal to Him, but we must have a way of approaching Him. God provided that way in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. To the degree that He could, without ceasing to be God, Jesus became our equal!

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God Himself. God speaks through nature and His Word, the Bible, but He came to us personally in Jesus. Jesus was God from eternity past, but He lowered Himself to became a human being. He lived a perfect life and then died a terrible death on a cross to pay the penalty for human sin.

When we seriously consider the harsh realities involved in Jesus’ death on our behalf, can we really maintain a straight face and claim God has not revealed Himself sufficiently? While we haven’t received proof beyond all doubt that God is real, we do have proof beyond all reasonable doubt. As Christian businessman and layman Robert Laidlaw declared, “Christ has done all. I say it reverently; He can do no more. He has borne the penalty of your sin also; He has been raised by the power of God the Father, and now He presents Himself to you. Will you accept Him as Savior and crown Him as your Lord?”

This is Christ’s invitation to you and to everyone else. Unwilling to strong-arm His way into any person’s life, Jesus offers Himself to all. The Holy Spirit applies Jesus’ life-giving, stain-cleansing blood to the accounts of all who welcome Him into their hearts and lives. Accordingly, we can respond to Jesus’ invitation to us by repenting of our sins and trusting Him to give us eternal life as He promised.


Christ has done all. I say it reverently; He can do no more. 
—Robert Laidlaw—


There is a second reason God doesn’t yet disclose Himself in totally irrefutable ways. Because it especially puts the onus on us, this tenth truth should make us quake in our boots. Jesus indicated during His ministry that God reveals Himself increasingly to those who respond with open hearts to the revelations He’s already provided. On the other hand, if a person already has his or her mind made up, that individual cannot blame God for not revealing more. People like this may be brilliant by human standards, but they lack true understanding. They are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Third (and eleventh on our longer list), God doesn’t want mechanical allegiance, but real love. We should be quick to understand this, because we desire the same in our own relationships. It’s appropriate, therefore, that the inspired writer of Hebrews declared, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). If you’re not put in a position to trust God, you won’t. Moreover, you cannot have a meaningful relationship with anyone you do not trust!


You cannot have a meaningful relationship with someone you don’t trust!


Take some time this week and reflect on these eleven absolute truths about God’s revelation of Himself to humanity (a PDF is available here). Next week we’ll return to Romans 1 and make additional observations.

Paul was just getting started.

Part 14 is available here.

top image: Jesus Stilling the Tempest by James Tissot (see Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25.)

image credit: photo of candy cane rose—Susie Clay

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture passages are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The passage designated HCSB was taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®,  Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 11

Jesus’ Death and the Internal Consistency of the Christian Faith

Many people quite naturally think to themselves, If I live a good life and my good deeds outweigh my bad ones, I should be saved. Yes, in the abstract that sounds good, but it ignores so many things that a perfect God cannot allow to be ignored.…[Thus,] God’s salvation plan wasn’t just one plan that He chose among many.…He had no choice other than the one He exercised for our salvation because [of] His moral perfection, His holiness, and His perfect justice inhere[nt] in Him. Unless He was willing to deny His own nature and compromise and violate His perfect holiness and justice, He couldn’t just wipe the slate clean without requiring a sufficient satisfaction of our debt. Far from violating His nature, He vindicated it with this brilliant salvation plan.
—David Limbaugh1

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Although I originally had planned to release an article this Easter weekend about Jesus’ resurrection, I am compelled, in part because I am in the midst of writing a series of posts about the existence of absolute truth, to write instead about Jesus’ death. I trust you’ll see why as my presentation unfolds. I have written earlier about evidence for Christ’s resurrection, including one post about the transformed life of the apostle Peter. Please visit these posts for information about this crucial aspect of Easter.

Today’s discussion will rely heavily on last week’s presentation of the Seven Pillars of Christianity. For easy reference, print out this one-page summary of the Seven Pillars and refer to it as you read this article.


For your convenience, print out this one-page summary of the Seven Pillars and refer to it as you read this article.


Significantly, we’ll highlight all seven and demonstrate their interrelatedness. Unlike relativism, Christianity has perfect internal consistency. Its components fit together and make sense of the world.


Unlike relativism, Christianity has perfect internal consistency.


We start with pillar number three, which upholds the Bible as the true and reliable written revelation of God to humanity. Introductory evidence for this can be found here, here, here, and here. We need to realize as well that the Bible also accurately records the events in which God acted to reveal Himself in history, an element of Christianity upheld by pillar number two. Keeping in mind these two supports, we now move to a third.

The Role of Ethical Teachings in Christianity

In the seven pillars, pillar number five is made up of “ethical teachings that mirror God’s character and that contrast to man’s sinful nature as well as the choice of every human being to follow his or her own way rather than God’s.”

A set of ethical and moral teachings as a component of any religious belief system certainly does not surprise us. While living a pure life is important, Christianity’s moral teachings are unique in that they represent far more than guidelines to follow and ideals for which to strive. Old Testament principles of morality, as well as the broader teachings upheld by Christ in the New Testament—all the moral guidelines of the Bible—point not only to how people should live, but also to both God’s holiness and man’s sin. When we understand this, we begin to uncover a critical way in which the Christian faith stands apart from all other belief systems. We need to ask, therefore, what God is like, and how the moral guidelines He provides reflect His nature.

God Is Perfect

Pillar number one describes God with several important words, including “just and holy.” To the Lord God, “all things are not the same.” Notice that this refutes relativism outright. Also, God “is the source of absolute truth, for He is the source of reality.” There is much more here than we can cover in this short post, but let’s examine just a few Bible passages that showcase God’s righteousness, justice, and holiness. You can see all of the following passages printed on one page here.


To God, who is the source of reality, all things are not the same.


We see in these Bible passages that God is absolutely perfect. He always is just and fair. He consistently does everything right. Keep in mind, though, that He is loving as well. In fact, the Bible declares with profound simplicity that “God is love.”

God’s Laws Reveal His Perfection

Returning to pillar number five, we note further that the ethical teachings of Christianity don’t just tell us what God wishes of us; they also demonstrate His holiness and perfection. We need look no further than the Ten Commandments to see this. Here are some examples.

God’s love is shown in His commands as well. Matthew 22:35-40 says,

35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [see Deut. 6:538 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [see Lev. 19:1840 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

But wait! God isn’t just perfect in what He does, but also in who He is. Therefore, attitudes are important to Him, not just actions. Note Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. The sobering truth is this. If you think you’ve done well by not killing anyone, but have hated someone—anyone—in your heart, you’ve still broken the law. It’s a good thing not to have committed adultery, but you’ve still violated God’s law if you’ve lusted after another person in your heart. Do more than you’re required to do! Go the second mile! Love not just those who love you, but your enemies as well. Finally, Jesus nails us all when He says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

The important point here is God’s character, which is absolutely pure, perfect, and holy. To violate the law of God is to violate His character, and consequently, to offend Him!

God’s Laws Also Put the Spotlight on Human Sinfulness

We ought to be seeing this truth already. If we are attentive, we will hear the Ten Commandments and other divine guidelines telling us not only about God, but also about ourselves. It doesn’t even take Jesus’ expanded guidelines to show us we stand guilty before Almighty God. We tend to think we are pretty good people until we measure ourselves against God’s standard—then we realize how completely we’ve missed the divine mark. We’re reminded of Isaiah. Confronted with God’s holiness, he was overcome with a realization of his own unworthiness and sin. As Psalm 14:2-3 states, “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” Romans 3:23 echoes this with the testimony that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

On his Facebook page, evangelist Ray Comfort explains.

Have you kept the Ten Commandments? This is what someone would be like if he kept the moral Law—he would always love God with “all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength,” and love his neighbor as much as he has loved himself. He has never made a god to suit himself (either with his hands or in his mind). He has always given God’s name reverence, kept the Sabbath holy, honored his parents implicitly, and never once has he been “angry without cause.” He has never hated anyone, had lust in his heart, or had illicit sex. He has never stolen even a paper clip or ballpoint pen, or told as much as a “white” lie, and not once desired anything that belongs to someone else. He is, and always has been “pure in heart,” perfect in thought, word, and deed.

God is not indifferent to these offences. He cannot be, because of His holy character. He must judge sin. What is the punishment for sin before a holy God? Death, both physical and spiritual: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Ray Comfort continues,

The truth is, we are not like that. We have all “sinned” many times, and therefore we have stored up God’s wrath, which will be revealed on Judgment Day. The proof that we have sinned will be our death, and after death we must face God in judgment. Think of it—if He has seen our every thought, word, and deed, and if He is going to bring all our sins out as evidence of our guilt on the Day of Judgment, we will all be found to be guilty. Our conscience has shown us right from wrong; we will be without excuse. God will give us justice, and Hell will be the place of our eternal punishment. “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known” [Luke 12:2]. That’s why you need the Savior.

Before moving ahead, we do well to recognize that all of these things are true because of absolutes. God is, and He is who He is. We are humans made in God’s image but marred by sin. We not only have a bent to sin but also have freely chosen to disobey God. We face the dilemma we face because of the real circumstances that prevail. We cannot dodge these realities or imagine them away. We cannot come up with our own “truth” to rescue us.


God is, and He is who He is. Moreover, as sinners, we have offended God and stand guilty before Him. We face the dilemma we face because of the real circumstances that prevail. We cannot dodge these realities or imagine them away. We cannot come up with our own “truth” to rescue us.


What, then, can we do? As Ray Comfort declares, we “need the Savior,” One who can rescue us from our otherwise helpless state. Only God can provide a Savior, and the good news of Easter is that He did just that in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Law Points Us to Our Need for Christ

Accordingly, the Bible affirms, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Obeying the law was and is insufficient to save us, because we cannot obey it perfectly. Only God can do that. So, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, who was and is God, down to earth as a human being to live a perfect life and to reveal the truth about God. Pillar number four speaks to this. The apostle John wrote,

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.… 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:1-5-5,14,17-18).

Artist Enrique Simonet depicts Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem.

Jesus not only revealed truth about God; He also obeyed God’s moral law perfectly. In other words, He “fulfilled the law” (see Matt. 5:17). Having done that, He could die in the place of sinners, paying their penalty for them. Indeed, the only way their penalty could be paid was through His death. Accordingly, Jesus sacrificed Himself willingly as He was crucified on a Roman cross. Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection were the two most important historical events orchestrated by God and alluded to in pillar number two. What did God accomplish through Jesus’ death and resurrection? These passages tell us.

Artist James Tissot depicts his perspective of what Jesus saw from the cross.

From the writings of Paul:

  • For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

From the writings of Peter:

  • For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit (1 Pet. 3:18).

From the writings of John:

  • He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:10-13).
  • And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:14-17).

Significantly, John went on to write in John 3:18 these reassuring—and jarring—words: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”


He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
—the apostle John in John 3:18—


God’s Invitation, and Real Answers for Life as it Really Is

Christ died for all, but His death is credited only to those who receive God’s invitation “making it possible to avoid His wrath, experience His mercy and grace, and get to know Him personally and intimately. When we accept God’s invitation, the Holy Spirit regenerates us, giving us a new spiritual life.” This is pillar number six.

We note here also that God’s plan of salvation and the way it addresses life’s critical issues give us real answers to the questions we naturally ask about the imperfect world that surrounds us. We saw this in pillar number seven. Here is one such question. Why does a holy, perfect, all-powerful, and good God continue to allow suffering and evil in the world? Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [to return and to set the world right], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

The internal consistency of Christianity is striking. This is especially true when we contrast it to relativism, which is self-refuting. While the harmony between the components of the Christian faith by itself doesn’t prove Christianity to be true, it stands as strong evidence. Furthermore, the biblical worldview coincides with what we see externally, in the real world. It explains reality as does no other belief system. Our questions are answered, not completely, but adequately.


The internal consistency of Christianity is striking. This is especially true when we contrast it to relativism, which is self-refuting.


Knowing all these things, however, is not enough. We must respond. Returning to the invitation we highlighted in pillar number six, we emphasize that Jesus’ death and resurrection place before us life’s most important question. Pilate faced it, as will every other human being. Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:22). Again, because of the absolute realities of (1) a holy God who exists and loves you, (2) your sinful condition, and (3) Christ’s provision for you on the cross, you must answer this question. You can’t “make up your own truth” to detour around it.


Because of the absolute realities of (1) a holy God who exists and loves you, (2) your sinful condition, and (3) Christ’s provision for you on the cross, you must determine what you will do with Jesus. You can’t “make up your own truth” to detour around this issue.


How will you respond?

Next week, against the backdrop of this post, we’ll offer answers to two common objections to God’s plan of salvation.

Written on Good Friday, April 14, 2017

Part 12 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes—Part 10

The Seven Pillars Christianity, an Authentic Faith

 Genuine Christianity is more than a relationship with Jesus, as expressed in personal piety, church attendance, Bible study, and works of charity. It is more than discipleship, more than believing a system of doctrines about God. Genuine Christianity is a way of seeing and comprehending all reality. It is a worldview.
Charles W. Colson

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Christian Apologist Gregory Koukl admits to facing a dilemma when he meets another individual and shares introductory information about himself. Once, when he was seated next to a stockbroker on a flight, the gentleman asked him what he did for a living, and Greg told him he was a writer. “What do you write about?” certainly was a natural question for Greg’s new friend to ask, but it triggered a challenge for Greg. Mr. Koukl writes about religion—Christianity specifically—and he could have said that, but he didn’t want his seatmate to misunderstand the nature of his work. While most people would not condemn Christian authors outright for believing lies and myths, neither would they view their writings as authoritative or authentic in any deep way. Rather,

people are tempted to think of religion as a kind of spiritual fantasy club—true for you, but not necessarily true for me. Find the club you like—the one that meets your personal needs, that gives you rules to live by that are respectable but not too demanding, that warms your heart with a feeling of spirituality. That’s the point of religion. Do not, however confuse religious stories with reality. They don’t give you the kind of information about the world that, say, science does. Yes, believing in God is useful to a point, but religion taken too seriously is, in some ways, like believing in Santa Claus—quaint if you’re a child but unbecoming of an adult.1

Yet, as Koukl goes on to say, Christianity isn’t like that. Instead, it “is a picture of reality.”2

The rebuilding of a Southern California house previously consumed by a fire provides a great analogy, because the reconstruction of the dwelling reveals its otherwise hidden traits. These include things like the solid nature of the foundation as well as the strength of the nuts and bolts that hold the rafters and studs together. In Koukl’s words, the “whole house is bolted down to the ground in many different ways.”

Christians and non-Christians alike need to see that Christianity is like the new house: “It’s not a flimsy structure that someone has sunk a couple of nails in and the first guy to come by who can huff n’ puff real strong is going to blow it away. Christianity is a system bolted down to reality.”

If true, this has serious consequences for everyone rejecting or ignoring the Christian faith. Summit Ministries president Jeff Myers puts it this way.

Although it might sound broad-minded to argue that we should invite everyone to live as he or she pleases, the world does not change to fit our whims and desires. If Christianity is true, then it accurately describes the world as it actually is. Rejecting Christianity, then, is the same as rejecting reality itself. Inevitably, the real world crashes in, revealing the consequences of rejecting God’s rules and patterns.3


Rejecting Christianity is the same as rejecting reality itself. Inevitably, the real world crashes in, revealing the consequences of rejecting God’s rules and patterns.
—Jeff Myers—


As Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27,

24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Authentic Pillars Support a Faith that is Objectively True

We’re in the midst of a series of articles on absolute truth, and during the past two weeks (here and here) we’ve been poking holes in relativism as a belief system. We’re not finished doing this, but as we enter Holy Week with its Easter climax, I want to use a couple of posts to uphold the authenticity and reliability of Christianity. Next week we’ll do this by focusing on an important aspect of Christ’s resurrection, but this week I want to present the big picture of the Christian faith, which has seven reliable pillars. Christianity rests on these firm supports. Our discussion is far from exhaustive, but it will be informative and helpful in showing the basic elements of Christianity.

Just as no building can stand without adequate supports, so, too, Christianity can’t stand without authentic pillars. Because its pillars are solid, the Christian faith also is objectively true.

Pillar number one: A creative, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and loving God. The first words in the Bible highlight and allude to many of these divine qualities. Moreover, God is both objectively real and personal. He also is just and holy; to Him all things are not the same. He is the source of absolute truth, for He is the source of reality. In addition, God reveals Himself in nature. In other words, we can learn a great deal about God simply by observing the created order, the interactions within it, and the uniqueness of human beings (also go here).

Pillar number two: Real, historical events in which God has acted to accomplish His purposes.

Pillar number three: A trustworthy and reliable written revelation of God to humanity. We have this in the Bible, which we rightly refer to as God’s Written Word.

Pillar number four: A personal revelation of God to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh. Jesus, in fact, is the central focus of the Christian faith. Jesus is God’s Living Word and God’s ultimate revelation of Himself to humankind. One writer even affirms this: “Knowledge of truth is possible because of the creating and revealing work of the Logos [Word] of God, Jesus Christ.” Jesus came to earth as a human being without ceasing to be God, lived a perfect life, and on a Passover Friday died on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for human sin. On Sunday morning, He rose from the dead and subsequently appeared to His followers multiple times before ascending back to the Father, even as angels assured His disciples that He one day would return.

Pillar number five: Ethical teachings that mirror God’s character and that contrast to man’s sinful nature as well as the choice of every human being to follow his or her own way rather than God’s.

You’ll find pillars two through five discussed succinctly in this brief article.

Pillar number six: An invitation to humanity from God making it possible to avoid His wrath, experience His mercy and grace, and get to know Him personally and intimately (go here and here). When we accept God’s invitation, God the Holy Spirit regenerates us, giving us a new spiritual life.

Pillar number seven: Reasonable, clear answers to life’s basic questions. We look around us, and intuitively we know things are not as they ought to be. Why are things out of kilter? Christianity offers us substantive and adequate, though not exhaustive, answers. The explanations it gives us make sense of the world we live in as does no other belief system. The Christian faith tells us

  • how we got here,
  • how we got into the mess we are in,
  • the ultimate solution to our problems, and
  • how God will resolve things in the end.

It also shows us how we fit into God’s master plan.

Since the seven pillars are real, Christianity also is true, period—regardless of what people think or feel about it. In other words, Christianity and the biblical worldview square with reality because they are true in the absolute, objective sense.


Christianity and the biblical worldview square with reality because they are true in the absolute, objective sense.


Like the house built to withstand earthquakes in Southern California, they are “bolted down to reality.”

Next week, we’ll look at a central teaching of Christianity—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That discussion, too, will help us contend for the recognition of absolutes.

Part 11 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 21-22. Learn more about Koukl’s book here.

2Ibid., 23.

3Jeff Myers, Understanding the Faith: A Survey of Christian Apologetics, (Manitou Springs, CO and Colorado Springs, CO: Summit Ministries and David C. Cook respectively, 2016), 15.

 

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 9

Encouraging People to See Relativism’s Fatal Flaw

Imagine that you woke up today and saw this news flash: “All bills in American currency declared equal.” No longer is the $100 bill more valuable than the $1 bill. Under the new system the only thing that matters is who has the most bills of any kind. Thus, a person holding a hundred $1 bills now has the same purchasing power as a person holding a hundred $100 bills. The only question would be, “How many bills do you have?” Of course this would never fly. People would revolt and demand that the value of their bills be recognized.
Voddie Baucham

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last week we examined several serious cracks in relativism as a philosophy. This week I want to highlight what we might consider its fatal flaw. Yes, it has many—but this one is a doozy. As we move toward identifying this defect, we’ll briefly review material we’ve covered already and provide a context for making our main point. Remember what relativism is—a philosophy that states that all perspectives have equal value, that no one idea is less or more justifiable than any other. Thus, relativism says absolute truth does not exist.


Relativism is a philosophy that states that all perspectives have equal value, that no one idea is less or more justifiable than any other. Thus, relativism says absolute truth does not exist.


What ought we to say about relativism?

First, absolutes clearly exist in the scientific world. This point isn’t hard to make and we could cite countless examples to prove it. Previously, we examined the saga of Apollo 13. Here’s one more. Refresh your memory about the disease known as “infantile paralysis,” or polio, and the medical professionals in the 50s and early 60s who conquered the disease. In particular, become better acquainted with medical pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk on this page.

Why were Dr. Salk and his team successful? They respected reality and adjusted their work to absolute truth, to the unyielding realities that were in effect. While it’s true Dr. Salk is widely known to have said, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality,” we must never forget that he also said, “Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.”


Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.
—Dr. Jonas Salk—


Second, absolutes exist in everyday life, and relativists appear to have no problem conforming to them. Yes, even “a relativist has to admit that some truths and falsehoods exist. He knows he’s wearing a blue shirt and not a red one. She lives in Texas, not in Vermont. Go through a traffic intersection when you approach a green light, not a red one.” Let’s add this item to the mix as well: Allison is married to Rick.

Deny or even ignore realities like these, and you’ll get into trouble—maybe not right away, depending on which truths you challenge. Keep it up, though, you’ll be “up a creek without a paddle.”

Third, the notion that all ideas—even moral ones—have equal value is inconsistent and illogical. It is self-refuting. We said this early on in part 2 when we spoke of the law of non-contradiction. We emphasize this point once more here.

William M. Briggs notes, “In 1994, professor Mark Glazer said, “Cultural relativism in anthropology is a key methodological concept which is universally accepted within the discipline” (go here for the quote). Briggs encourages his readers to notice the flaw in Glazer’s claim, then he points it out in glaring terms.

If it is true that “Cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs are equally valid” etc., and that that proposition is “universally accepted”, then we are confronted with something that is true wherever you are. If “relativism” is true, then it is false because anthropologists everywhere believe it, and if they everywhere believe it, it is a universal truth, something that is true without regard to culture.

It gets even more asinine. If “Cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs are equally valid” etc., then how valid is the view that “Cultural relativism is false”? I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.

It’s even worse than this. Relativists use relativism to reject philosophies and ideas with which they disagree as well as to validate those with which they agree. They do these things in logically incorrect ways, but they do them nonetheless. Moreover, all the while, they essentially contradict what they say they believe by the way they live their lives. As we saw in our observations last week, apologist Greg Koukl paints this picture in vivid terms.


It is not my intention to offend—only to shed light on the truth.


Perhaps I should emphasize at this point that my purpose here is not to offend, but to help people who have been blinded by a lie discover the truth. This isn’t possible to do without taking the risk of stepping on some toes. I’ll take that risk.

Fourth, believing every idea has equal value has disastrous consequences. Hillsdale College president and professor Dr. Larry Arnn makes this point vividly in a true account he relates in a free online course on C. S. Lewis offered by the college. Dr. Arnn is discussing a Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man.

Go here to see photos depicting a partial legacy of Adolf Hitler. Be aware that the pictures are graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.

Adolf Hitler is but one example of many we could cite to demonstrate not only the poison consequences of relativism, but also the testimony of the truth that an immutable set of standards of right and wrong exists and is applicable for all.

I would like to ask my relativist friends this question: Are you really willing to live by a philosophy that exonerates Adolph Hitler? If this question bothers you, even a little bit, it shows that you really do believe in absolute truth. If it doesn’t bother you, you have a deeper problem than that of being misled by the popular idea of relativism.


Are you really willing to live by a philosophy that exonerates Adolph Hitler? If this question bothers you, even a little bit, it shows that you really do believe in absolute truth. If it doesn’t bother you, you have a deeper problem than that of being misled by the popular idea of relativism. 


Relativism’s Fatal Flaw

All four these items are serious enough, but now we come to relativism’s fatal flaw, and it is two-pronged. The fifth and sixth points flow from number four. While relativists claim moral absolutes don’t exist, sound reasoning demonstrates undeniably that—fifth—they actually do. Scientific and practical absolutes simply mirror their moral counterparts. Finally—sixth—they point to God’s existence.

Homicide detective and Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace explains. (This clip comes from part 1 of a 2-part series available on youtube.com. You can view both videos here.)

I have another question for my friends who claim to be relativists. Do you agree that it is wrong to kill people just for the fun of it? If you do, you really don’t believe in relativism! Relativism says that no moral absolutes exist, so if just one does, this philosophy is just as false as it would be if a set of absolute truths were real. The whole system falls like a house of cards. Here’s another important point. If one absolute principle exists, it’s quite likely others do as well, just as J. Warner Wallace indicated. 


Do you agree that it is wrong to kill people just for the fun of it? If you do, you really don’t believe in relativism! Relativism says that no moral absolutes exist, so if just one does, this philosophy is just as false as it would be if a set of absolute truths were real. The whole system falls like a house of cards. Here’s another important point. If one absolute principle exists, it’s quite likely others do as well. 


Sixth, even just one absolute principle points to the existence of God. Absolute truth has a Source to whom all things are not equal. Relativism is false on its face!

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Summary

In claiming that moral absolutes do not exist, relativism sets itself up as the ultimate absolute, moral and otherwise. It turns out, then, that to be a relativist is to be an absolutist after all—and to be both an inconsistent and self-refuting one at that!

Moreover, when any relativist appeals to or seeks to uphold any virtue—including the favorite tenets of tolerance and justice—she betrays herself, he unmasks his warped, convoluted, and false perspective.


When any relativist appeals to or seeks to uphold any virtue—including the favorite tenets of tolerance and justice—she betrays herself, he unmasks his warped, convoluted, and false perspective.


Not only do moral absolutes exist, but they have an ultimate source. They have to! A world without meaning really has to be a world without any purpose or meaning—including any kind of awareness of or aspiration to meaning or virtue.

Chew on this for a while, and be sure to return next week. We haven’t discovered nearly all the gems in this mine yet!

Part 10 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 8

 Cracks in the Foundation of Relativism

If you say there is no such thing as morality in absolute terms, then child abuse is not evil, it just may not happen to be your thing.
Rebecca Manley Pippert

The eternal difference between right and wrong does not fluctuate, it is immutable.
Patrick Henry

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

One of my favorite images demonstrating the core problem in American culture today is the Castle Illustration from Answers in Genesis. We’ve highlighted this image previously and discussed some of its implications. We said,

Ken Ham, president, CEO, and founder of Answers in Genesis, has observed that Christians commit a strategic error in opposing evil by going after…“progressive” causes themselves rather than attacking the foundation upon which those causes rest.

Christians must learn to effectively attack the foundation of humanism, sometimes called secularism.

Note that Moral Relativism is a balloon in the above graphic. Relativism can accurately be considered a balloon or thought of as part of the foundation on which the castle rests. For our purposes here, we will consider it a part of the foundation. Moral Relativism is, and grows out of, autonomous human reasoning.

Christians need to offer well-reasoned arguments that shine the light on relativism’s inherent weaknesses. We endeavored to do this earlier in this series, but this issue is of such importance we need to revisit it. Moreover, this post covers new ground. While such presentations might be perceived as vindictive, they actually are helpful and beneficial. Truth is a friend to everyone who cooperates with it and makes the adjustments needed to live under its authority.

This is not to say that Christians never should frame arguments defending natural marriage, the preservation of innocent human life, or religious liberty, to name just three of the hot button issues raging in today’s culture. It is to say that when we consistently fail to point out the fallacies of “autonomous human reasoning,” including relativism, we aren’t really acting in love toward our secular neighbors and friends.

“But the church just needs to ‘stick to evangelism,’” someone will say. “Only the gospel can change people’s minds and hearts.” When seen against the backdrop of a clear understanding of what is really happening in our culture, these statements demonstrate that Christians need to think of evangelism in broader terms. Hitting the foundation of secularism is all about evangelism. If our friends on the other side of God’s truth believe they’re right and we’re wrong* about foundational beliefs, we won’t ever be able to convince them to join our side.


Christians need to think of evangelism in broader terms.


Greg Koukl, founder and president of the apologetics ministry Stand to Reason, knows how to shine the spotlight on secularism’s crumbling foundation. In an article titled “Seven Things You Can’t Do As a Relativist,” he emphasizes that to be consistent, relativists can make no value judgements whatsoever. This renders their philosophical foundation as unstable as an avalanche! The mantra, “Well, that may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me; everybody can make up his or her own truth” may sound benign or even magnanimous, but it actually throws all kinds of obstacles in the paths of those who claim to live by it.


The philosophical foundation of relativism is as unstable as an avalanche!


Here’s a summary of Greg Koukl’s list of seven restrictions relativists have imposed on themselves through their own beliefs. In this seven-item list, quotations come directly from Koukl.

Rules for Relativists

First, don’t ever point your finger at anyone else and accuse him or her of doing something wrong. Relativists can’t do this, because their foundational belief denies the very existence of wrong. If they accuse anyone of anything they believe shouldn’t happen—things like racism, sexism, or bigotry, let’s say—they’ve stumbled on their own worldview. Advocates of relativism can’t be consistent without dropping words like should and ought from their vocabularies.

Second, don’t protest evil or complain about its existence. Relativism won’t allow this because, again, as a foundational belief, it denies the very existence of evil and wrong. This presents a huge problem for atheists, because the existence of evil frequently is seen as evidence that God isn’t real. Were God God, the argument goes, He would be omnipotent, and He would eliminate evil. Obviously He hasn’t done this, so

  1. He must not be all-powerful and therefore not really God, or
  2. He must not be good, or
  3. He doesn’t exist at all.

Mark it down. Relativism itself robs its followers of the rhetorical thunder they think they have. All three of these points rest on the assumption that evil is real. If a relativist is true to what she claims to believe, she won’t call anything evil. She can’t even call the Holocaust evil, since doing so would to be to uphold a specific standard of morality.

Third, don’t ever commend anyone or anything with praise or condemn it with criticism. Why not? A relativist claims to live by a philosophy that renders every action and event neutral. Nothing can be blameworthy or praiseworthy—ever; all things are “lost in a twilight zone of moral nothingness.”

Fourth, you have to throw words like fair, unfair, just, and unjust out of your vocabulary. You have to throw out terms like guilt and innocence as well. These words represent ideas that, under relativism, simply don’t exist. Think about it. If nothing can be blameworthy (see the third item), then no one ever can be guilty of anything wrong, and no one can be held accountable for wrongdoing. A relativist never can pursue justice and fairness, because nothing ever can be fair and just, or unfair and unjust. This rule simply says proponents of relativism need to make their words and their arguments conform to the beliefs they claim to hold.

Fifth, acknowledge that your belief system makes moral improvement impossible. A relativist certainly can change his ethics, but he cannot improve his behavior or aspire to anything better in any way. His foundational belief “destroys the moral impulse that makes people rise above themselves because there is no ‘above’ to rise to.”

Sixth, don’t try to engage in debates or discussions that address morality or values. With respect, I am compelled to point out that you have nothing to say. Relativism says all ideas are equally valid, so none can be better or worse than any other. Any claim to the contrary refutes relativism altogether. Thus, when an individual claims to be a relativist, he forfeits his right to accuse anyone of shoving his or her morality down his throat.

Seventh, stop talking about tolerance, because your belief system negates it. Relativism says values don’t exist. If values don’t exist, then how can tolerance, which is upheld as a value to be practiced, be real? It can’t.

You might think the heading of this list, “Rules for Relativists,” is an oxymoron because relativists don’t believe in rules. It isn’t an oxymoron, and I’ll tell you why. Not believing in rules doesn’t render them nonexistent. These rules are applicable because of the nature of reality and the inconsistencies of relativism as a belief system.


Not believing in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.


Greg Koukl has done all of us a favor—relativists included—by turning the spotlight on these cracks and exposing them.

As advocates of absolute truth, let’s follow his example and do the same. Here is a page carrying just the summary of Greg Koukl’s article.

Part 9 is available here.

 

Note:

*The very fact that our friends who espouse relativism would believe that they’re right and we’re wrong about foundational beliefs actually is a refutation of their belief system to begin with. Remember, they say all beliefs are equally valid. Yet they typically don’t see the inconsistency. This is why articles like this one and this series of articles are so important.

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: an avalanche in the Himalayas near Mount Everest