The Failure of Philosophy and the SCOTUS Decision

nietzscheI was reading an interview with seven philosophers about the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, and in none of their short essays, save one, did the philosophers who responded actually apply any serious philosophy. Their answers are mostly opinion pieces lauding justice and dignity, with no attempt to define those terms philosophically, or to justify their importance. As K. Scott Oliphint says, Philosophy is largely well-articulated unbelief.

Only one philosopher, Cheshire Calhoun of Arizona State University, asks the right question. She notices that Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, referred several times to the “transcendent purpose of marriage.” As a non-Christian Calhoun questions where Kennedy gets the notion of the transcendent, and why that notion should be binding. The transcendent smacks of religion, and that cannot be tolerated, so she suggests that we do away with the concept and the vocabulary.

If any law is based on a concept of transcendence, there is a danger that transcendence may interfere with the next sexual taboo to fall, be it polygamy, incest, etc. Best to drop the language of transcendence, she advises, because it legitimizes marriage too much, and it’s high time we stopped considering marriage to be anything more than a misguided relic of the hateful past.

Calhoun is right about one thing. If there is a transcendent to which we can appeal, we are all in deep trouble. That transcendent may demand of us things we don’t want to do. It may hold the specter of future judgment. Like many of her philosophical peers, Calhoun is eager to jettison the notion. Also like many of her peers, she forgets the prescient words of one of her own comrades in the philosophical guild, albeit of a different century.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s parable of the madman confronts the hubris of those who discard the divine. He knew that ridding ourselves of the transcendent did not bring bondage, but a loss of the foundations of society, dignity, and rationality.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

What Calhoun celebrates, the idolization of desire, will not only be the destruction of her trade, philosophy, but civilization as a whole, the very thing she thinks has been saved by SCOTUS’s decision. If desire reigns, there is no need for philosophy, because each one’s own peccadillos are all that matters. Philosophy’s task is rendered irrelevant. There is no more room for the questions of universal good and justice. Such questions themselves become as oppressive as a transcendent idea of marriage.

The concept of civilization, too, will have to be redefined or discarded, once the most deviant in society realize that the holy grail of hedonism, consent, is nothing more than a preference. If there is no transcendent, there can be no argument that consent should be the guiding ethic of sexual expression. Once consent is lost, it’s a quick fall to chaos and destruction.

Bible believers know what happens when everyone does what is right in his own eyes. The biblical book of Joshua recounts the horrors of life without restraint. As one Puritan divine prayed, “O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate. This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.”

While those in favor of the SCOTUS decision praise it for its grant of justice and dignity, they pull the rug out from their own feet. Do away with the transcendent God, and terms like mercy and justice become meaningless. Only by beginning with the triune God of Scripture can the genuine dignity and justice in the world be possible.

Stale White Bread: The State of Evangelism in the Church

In an article last month in Christianity Today on the state of evangelism in the American church, Ed Stetzer summarizes two recent studies by Lifeway Researchers and the Barna Group. The Lifeway study concluded what any observant ChristiaWhite-Breadn already knows—evangelism has dropped off significantly in recent decades. Most Protestant Christians (85%) believe they have a responsibility to share the gospel, but only a few (25%) actually do so, or plan to do so.

Why is this? As with any issue, the answer is complex, but I can suggest several reasons.

First, evangelism training has not changed much in 50 years. The last evangelism training many Christians received was the same as what their grandparents received, even though the world has drastically changed. Post-WWII evangelism was primarily aimed at Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants, both of whom held to a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian view of man’s ability to merit God’s favor to some extent through good works. These were people who already believed in the Christian God (to some extent), and who already respected the Bible. Evangelism, therefore, was primarily focused on showing the listener from the Bible that salvation was by grace, not works. From the 1940’s through the 70’s, this strategy worked quite well, as untold numbers were saved and churches grew. But it inherently lacked any great substance, like white bread. It appeared to be nutritious for the church, but it lacked any substance.

By the 80’s and 90’s this form of evangelism began to decrease in its effectiveness. Postmodern skepticism, the public failure of influential Christian leaders, and the influx of world religions through immigration changed the fabric of American society. No longer could evangelists assume that their hearers believed what had been widely held a few decades before. Now they were encountering objections to the Christian faith from a variety of directions. Believers found themselves having to defend the Bible and Christianity in ways many felt ill-equipped to do well—textual criticism, the historicity of the Gospel accounts, and the uniqueness of the Christian faith among world religions.

Coinciding with this change in the culture was the Church Growth Movement’s emphasis on the “come and see” approach to reaching the lost. This is the second reason many Christians don’t share the gospel—the whole idea of serious discipleship and the “go and tell” of the Great Commission has been superseded. Removing anything that could be remotely offensive to unbelievers, these proponents sought to massage the unbeliever into the kingdom. I have met many attenders of CGM that were no clearer on the gospel than the average Muslim or Mormon, because the sharp edges of sin, wrath, repentance and belief had been whittled down to having an emotional experience with God. Christians in these types of churches, like toothless, domesticated bears at a roadside attraction, are reduced to inviting their friends and neighbors to the next “super” event at their megachurch, because they themselves have never been equipped.

The stale evangelism training of the previous generations fails in today’s world. This was brought home to me powerfully while speaking at a family camp in St. John, New Brunswick last summer. A retired pastor of 50 years, now in his late 70’s, approached me after I gave a session on apologetics. He grabbed my hand firmly and said, “That’s what we should have been teaching all these years! We have been teaching evangelism all wrong!” In other words, the canned approach of spitting out a gospel formula failed to follow the example of Jesus and the apostles in their evangelism, and therefore was unable to deal with objections and challenges. This elderly saint recognized the power in an apologetic approach that enabled one to “go and tell.”

That brings us to the Barna study, which found that 65% of Millennials (those born between 1980 and the mid 2000’s) had shared their faith in the last year with an unbeliever. This is encouraging news. And it doesn’t surprise me as an undergraduate professor. Much more than my generation, the Busters, younger Christians seem motivated to know their faith and to boldly share it.

There are many factors involved in this generational shift, but one I believe is a major part of this move is the resurgence of apologetics. With the advent of the internet the availability of resources for defending the Christian faith have become ubiquitous. Younger Christians who are tech-savvy can easily find and learn apologetic answers to the challenges that arise against their faith.

The younger generation may be able to revive the evangelistic fervor of the American church that the Busters and Boomers lost. Rather than see the declining state of evangelism as something to mourn, we ought rather to perceive it as an opportunity for a new, more potent and effective form to rise from its ashes. This new evangelism will be apologetically equipped and ready for the challenges that arise. We may yet see a great revival of evangelism in our day.

The Terror of Antiquated Creeds

TerrorI spoke at my son’s Baccalaureate service this week, and it was held at an area church. The service provided an opportunity for the fellowship of Christian students at his public school to celebrate the faithfulness of God to them during the last year, and to celebrate the seniors’ graduation.

While waiting for the service to begin, I thumbed through the “chorus book” of the United Methodist Church. The title of the fourth song in the book caught my attention: “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning.” Besides the clumsy lyrics (“As two currents in a river fight each other’s undertow…”), it sounded like a scientist or mathematician wrote it, as it incorporated words and phrases like “calculation,” “converging,” “science,” “coherent,” and “breadth of human knowledge.” All good words, no doubt, but strange for a hymn.

The third verse, however, holds the real gem. Here are the lyrics:

May our faith redeem the blunder of believing that our thought

Has displaced the grounds for wonder which the ancient prophets taught.

May our learning curb the error which unthinking faith can breed

Lest we justify some terror with an antiquated creed.

Say what?

Now, I am all for correcting error that unthinking faith can breed. We have plenty of that in evangelical Christianity. Think the Left Behind series, celebrity pastors, TBN, and those who emulate the Duggars.

The crown jewel, though, is the word terror. The creeds now become the principles behind terrorism. This reminds me of my year spent studying German philosophy at Villanova University. In a class on Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of my professors became well-known in the philosophical world for his dissertation, which argued that disagreement constituted violence. I think the irony was lost on him that any dissertation worth its salt disagrees with at least some ideas from others.

So here is the UMC chorus book warning of the potential terror that might be unleashed on humanity should we hold to an ancient creed. This is the hubris of liberalism. Only those who live in the modern world of the late 20th century and early 21st century can be considered enlightened. Scratch that. Only the present liberal mind that does not hold too strongly to any religious beliefs can be considered enlightened.

Yet, what terror and disorder the abandonment of “antiquated creeds” has brought to our world! Nietzsche was indeed a prophet when he warned 19th century liberal Europeans in his “Parable of the Madman” that in killing God they had unleashed eternal night.

What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?

I contemplated the small group of teens gathered for the baccalaureate service in this UMC church. They had just navigated another year of public school boldly, and with a potent testimony that led to students being converted. I thanked God that they had cast their lot with the creeds and, as a result, possessed a thinking and powerful faith.

Affirmations for Evangelism and Apologetics

positive-affirmation-quotes-for-lifeSometimes in the midst of an encounter with an unbeliever our confidence in the gospel that we felt even one hour before dissipates quickly. We suddenly doubt that our conversation partner really needs the gospel, or that the gospel makes sense, or that unbelief is contradictory and irrational, or a thousand other things.

To avoid the loss of clarity and courage I have found that prayerfully meditating on a few apologetic truths on a regular basis keeps the fear and doubt at bay. Here are twelve affirmations I keep posted on my office bulletin board to review as often as I can. They help me boldly commend and defend the truth, so I am ready for any encounter with someone who needs Christ. This list originated from a reading of Cornelius Van Til’s My Credo, written many years ago as a summary of his apologetic method.

  1. Every person I encounter has a knowledge of God implanted in his heart that he is suppressing. This knowledge is clear and obvious to him because God has made it plain.
  1. God pursues sinners every day by every means. Everything in nature and in life is revelatory of God and man’s need to be reconciled to him.
  1. The key to effective evangelism and apologetics is to ask questions to reveal the unbeliever’s belief system and his ways of suppressing the truth.
  1. God has called me to be an ambassador of reconciliation between God and sinners. I have been equipped by the Holy Spirit and my training to do this.
  1. I will find supreme delight in glorifying God through sharing Christ. The joy that I will experience by speaking up for the gospel will eclipse any fear or discomfort I feel in the apologetic encounter.
  1. The good news of Jesus Christ is the answer for and the greatest need of the unbeliever. If the unbeliever comes to salvation, they will be forever grateful I addressed their greatest need.
  1. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of regeneration and transformation as I share Christ and defend the Christian faith. In the apologetic encounter, I am joining the conversation already going on as the Holy Spirit is drawing the unbeliever to Christ.
  1. The Word of God is living and powerful to expose and dismantle false systems of belief and stubborn opposition to the truth. I will incorporate as much biblical truth as is strategic in any conversation.
  1. Because unbelievers worship false and counterfeit gods, they experience guilt, lack of peace and joy, hopelessness, fear of death, and meaninglessness, among other results of the Fall. I will contrast these experiences with what is found in Christ.

10. Because unbelievers cannot consistently find meaning and truth in their unbelief, they borrow ideas and concepts from Christianity. I need to identify and challenge that borrowed capital.

  1. I will not wander into vain discussions and speculation about unimportant matters. I will stay focused on proclaiming the wisdom and glory of Jesus Christ. I will seek to get them to consider the person and work of Christ, and to read the Bible.
  1. As much as the Holy Spirit is moving, and the unbeliever is willing, I will seek to lead the unbeliever to repentance and faith in Christ. No matter how far I get, however, I will consider any progress to be successful planting and watering of gospel seeds.

Understanding Atheism

Atheism has been at the forefront of American consciousness since 9/11, because of its supposed ability to lead us to a religion-less utopia. The decade of attention on the “new atheism” has passed, yet atheistic literature shows no signs of slowing down. For Christians to effectively give an answer to the attacks of atheism, we must read what atheists are writing. Here are a few of the latest offerings from the world of unbelief.

What If I am an AtheistWhat If I’m a(n) Atheist?: A Teen’s Guide to Exploring a Life Without Religion by David Seidman (Simon & Schuster Ebook, 2015).

Here is an interesting ebook for adolescents that compares telling others about their atheism to coming out of the closet as gay. It even prepares the “awakened” teen to be thrown out of the house, and gives guidance on finding a shelter for runaway teens. It begins with instructions on how to tell your parents calmly, while allaying the fears of teen atheists that their father will kill them. Of course, the worst stereotypes of family, Christians, and friends are portrayed and extreme and hateful reactions are to be expected, says the author. The one sanctuary for an emerging atheist is university, where the teen can expect to find more accepting attitudes. Evaluation: If an atheist wanted to reasonably explore unbelief, this book would not be the place to go. The utter lack of objectivity in dealing with unbelief is more propaganda than instruction manual.

The Freemind ExperienceThe Freemind Experience: The Three Pillars of Absolute Happiness by Tom Fortes Mayer (Watkins Publishing, 2015).

Many atheists proudly advocate the non-necessity of God for finding fulfillment and human flourishing. In The Freemind Experience Tom Mayer wants readers to nourish themselves so they can bring themselves into alignment with their greatest values and unleash their ultimate potential. This is important for Christians to understand. Atheism is not simply about opposing religion and belief in God; it is an attempt to live life to the fullest without God. Mayer seems to borrow material right out of Jim Carrey’s move Yes Man when he writes about overcoming negativity and bringing a deep and strongly held sense of “YES” to everything. This is the path to total unconditional love and the foundation of absolute happiness. Mayer’s suggestions sound like self-help affirmations: YES #1: You are fully at peace with everything that has ever happened to you. [But what if you are not?]. YES #2: You are therefore fully at peace with who you are. YES #3: You meet the present with a full and happy heart that the universe and everything in it is happening in the perfect way at the perfect time. A Christian can see this is a parasitic counterfeit of the gospel of Christ. It is parasitic because it has to borrow themes of peace, identity, and sovereignty from Christianity. It is counterfeit, because wishful thinking can provide none of these things. Evaluation: This book is a good read if you want to understand the mindset of the atheist when it comes to his awareness of the brokenness of the Fall, and the fruitless search for restoration apart from Christ.

Atheism All that MattersAtheism: All That Matters by Dylan Evans (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014)

Of the three books reviewed here, this one is the most reasonable summary of atheism. It systematically works through topics such as the history of unbelief, the psychology of belief, and atheism and ethics. In describing the psychology of belief, Evans gives the common evolutionary explanation that belief is a useful cognitive behavior that may aid in survival. Evans notes that cognitive biases tend to predispose people to believe in gods, while no cognitive bias favors atheism. Interestingly, he argues that only a Calvinistic view of sovereignty can explain man’s predisposition to belief in God. He states that children are “cognitively prepared” for belief, even before they are exposed to religion. “This poses a serious challenge to the Christian notion that the creator has left his creatures free to disbelieve. A Christian who accepts the evidence from psychology would have to conceded that, on the contrary, the creator has endowed the human mind with a strong innate tendency to believe in him. It would appear that the creator has heavily loaded the dice in his favor.” Bingo! Evaluation: This book is the best of the three to gain an understanding of atheism from an objective viewpoint of an atheist himself.

Dealing with Accusations of Intolerance

tacticsThis is an enlightening part of Greg Koukl’s book, Tactics:

There is no neutral ground when it comes to the tolerance question. Everybody has a point of view she thinks is right, and everybody passes judgment at some point or another. The Christian gets pigeonholed as the judgmental one, but everyone else is judging, too, even people who consider themselves relativists. I call this the passive-aggressive tolerance trick.

The key to understanding this trick is knowing that everyone thinks his own beliefs are correct. If people didn’t think their beliefs were true, they wouldn’t believe them. They’d believe something else and think that was true.

If you have already been labeled intolerant by someone, ask, “What do you mean by that?” Though I already have a pretty good idea of what the person means when she says I’m intolerant, asking this question flushes out her definition of “intolerant” and sets the stage — in my favor — for the next two questions. Here’s how it looks:

“You’re intolerant.”

“Can you tell me what you mean by that? Why would you consider me an intolerant person?”

“Well, it’s clear you think you’re right and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong.”

“I guess I do think my views are correct. It’s always possible I could be mistaken, but in this case I don’t think I am. But what about you? You seem to be disagreeing with me. Do you think your own views are right?”

“Yes, I think I’m right, too. But I’m not intolerant. You are.”

“That’s the part that confuses me. Why is it when I think I’m right, I’m intolerant, but when you think you’re right, you’re just right? What am I missing?”

Of course, you are not missing anything; she is. Her move is simple name-calling.

Labeling you as intolerant is no different than calling you ugly. One is an attack on your looks. The other is an attack on your character. Neither is useful in helping you understand the merits of any idea you may be discussing.

Resources for Learning Philosophy and Logic

logic copyOne of the unfortunate results of the incredible resurgence of apologetics in Christianity in the last two decades is the impression many apologists give that an extensive study of philosophy is necessary to effectively defend the faith. On the contrary, what most Christians lack when it comes to apologetics is a robust grasp of Christian theology. Many believers try to defend Christianity with only a minimal understanding of their own faith.

On the other hand, a little knowledge of philosophy, logic (and worldviews, for that matter) can certainly help a believer catch contradictions in the thinking of an unbeliever, and in his own thinking, too. There are many excellent resources to help someone get started. Many online resources also have the advantage of being graphically oriented to speed comprehension and increase memorability.

Here are some of the best resources:

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments


What’s Your Worldview?

Your Logical Fallacy Is

Visualistan Philosophy Infographic

Do you know of any others? Comment to add other graphic resources on Philosophy, logic and worldviews.

No Relationship with God without Theology

Theology simply means “the study of God,” and doctrine means “teaching.” Since the main message of Scripture is the unfolding mystery of Christ, who reveals his Father and reconciles us to him, theology is a central concern of every believer. It would be odd if we told our spouse or other loved ones that we wanted to spend time with them and experience their fellowship regularly but did not want to know anything about them… Yet when it comes to God, people often imagine that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God apart from theology. In fact, some Christians assume that knowing doctrine and practical living are competing interests. The modern dichotomy between doctrine and life, theology and discipleship, knowing and doing, theory and practice has had disastrous consequences in the life of the church and its witness in the world. I hope to change some readers’ minds about systematic theology and its relevance by first changing our working assumptions about its nature, goals, and methods.”

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan,  2011), 13-14.

5 Things I Wish Liberals Would Admit About Their Rejection of the Historic Christian Faith, Part 2

John Pavlovitz’s article, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible,” ( calls Christians to “admit” certain ideas about the Bible. I return the favor and call on him to admit what his article assumes about the Bible. These assumptions amount to a rejection of orthodox Christianity’s basis in an authoritative Bible.

Part 1 can be found here.

Puppet3. Liberals don’t believe what the Bible says about itself.

Pavlovitz’s third point is the worst case of false dilemma I have ever encountered. Is there no third option between the writers of Scripture as “God-manipulated puppets” and regular humans beings in a rarified state of mind recording their experiences of the divine? Notice he doesn’t interact at all with any semblance of an evangelical view of inspiration. It’s either zombie secretaries or muses.

The apostle Peter testifies that the writers of Scripture did NOT take the initiative to write Scripture, but were rather moved by the Holy Spirit as wind moves the sails of a boat (2 Peter 1:21). Pavlovitz does speak of the primary Author of Scripture as the initiator but it seems to make no difference in his view of Scripture. He offers no solution for how the Bible can be God-breathed, yet also the work of human authors. His doctrine of inspiration is so thin a mouse couldn’t skate on it.

The overall impression I get from this point is that we need to dial down our belief in the authority of God’s Word—if he didn’t dictate it, we can’t take it all too seriously.

4.  Liberals don’t believe that the Bible has any objective meaning.

Pavlovitz makes a common mistake in this point. He confuses objectivity with neutrality. He is right that we can never shake off entirely our personal biases to be neutral, but that says nothing about whether I can objectively understand the Bible or interpret it objectively. Just as Pavlovitz had an objective meaning when he wrote this article, so God has an objective meaning to his words, and in his omnipotence knows how to communicate clearly.

Pavlovitz’s statement, “But until then, [when we reach maturity in the faith] most of us have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image” smacks of relativism. He makes it sound as if widespread confusion on the meaning of the Bible is automatic and hard to escape. In saying this, he is denying the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. He never tells us what the process of maturing is that sets us free from our own biases.

Has Pavlovitz reached this mystical plain? If not, why is his view of Scripture any better than mine. If he has reached maturity, maybe he can shine a light on the path so the rest of us can shake off our old fashioned ideas. This point smacks of cultural arrogance and triumphalism. Thank goodness someone like Pavlovitz has ascended the ladder of neutrality to tell us that that no one can ascend the ladder of neutrality. This is the relativist’s dilemma. If he is right that we are all blinded by our individual perspectives, then his own view is the result of a blinded perspective and it should carry no more weight than that of a farmer in Tibet.

This point reveals most clearly the influence of postmodernism in his thinking. At the root of it is a denial that God has spoken and that he has done so clearly. If God has not revealed, then this denial of neutrality leaves us all trapped in our own biases, with no chance of finding shared meaning. If however, God has revealed himself clearly, this postmodern gobbledygook is exposed for what it truly is.

 5.  Liberals don’t believe the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us.

The final point is the coup-de-grace. The Bible is not God we are told. It is words about God. Well, first of all, no one of which I am aware has ever mistaken the Bible for God. Second, as mentioned earlier, the Bible is not words about God, it is the revelation of God to man. There is a huge difference here.

Pavlovitz diminishes the Bible by saying it is a testimony about God. This is the neo-orthodox wedge. Karl Barth and all his neo-orthodox followers can be easily identified by the wedge they drive between God and the Scriptures. The Bible testifies about Jesus who is the true Word, they tell us. The Bible is the record about God, they claim. All this amounts to a Bible that does not need to be inerrant, because as long as it testifies to God, it fulfills its purpose, and the purpose is the only thing without error.

When Pavlovitz says that “the words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail,” he reveals his rejection of the Bible’s own testimony about itself. Excuse me, Mr. Pavlovitz, God created language. He tells us that his revelation is clear. Of course God is greater than his revelation to us in the Bible, but it is not therefore inadequate or ambiguous. The Reformation doctrines of the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture hold that the Bible is both sufficient to communicate to us everything necessary to know about God, and that these things are clear.

To claim that God is too big for words is to deny God’s ability to communicate. Pavlovitz’s strawmen are too numerous to detail here. For example, who has ever claimed that words can contain God? No one; that’s who. Yet, the effect of this statement is to encourage the idea that the Bible can’t accurately tell us about God.

To sum it up, Pavlovitz’s view of the Bible is nothing short of liberalism rehashed with a dash of neo-orthodoxy and a pinch of postmodernism thrown in for good measure. And make no mistake, it is a view of the Bible that is deadly to faith. It undermines the Reformation doctrines of Scripture—its sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity. Nothing will kill a church faster than this view of Scripture, because it undermines every other doctrine along with it. Look at the last 100 years in the mainline liberal denominations. One hundred years of steady decline. Look at the last 50 years in neo-orthodox churches. Fifty years of steady decline.

Why? Because a diminishing of the doctrine of Scripture results in the destruction of every other doctrine. Pavlovitz’s article probably reveals the growing consensus of the evangelical church in light of the modern pressures of evolution, homosexuality, multiculturalism, world religions, and other forces. If evangelical Christians are not careful they will find themselves without conviction about any of their beliefs and defenseless in the face of attack.

Genuine believers cannot admit what Pavlovitz wants us to admit because his strawmen don’t represent what most Christians believe. Rather, he ought to admit that what he is proposing reflects quite accurately a 21st century liberalism that is death to the church.

5 Things I Wish Liberals Would Admit About Their Rejection of the Historic Christian Faith, Part 1

buck-teethNineteenth-century theological liberalism is all the rage in evangelical Christianity these days, although it is never identified as such by those who peddle it. It appears, rather, as “enlightened,” modern, thinking—Christianity for the 21st century—respectable, so the world will not think we are odd anymore. Liberal theology is a real thing, not some imaginary boogey man used by Fundamentalists to scare their followers away from new Bible translations and contemporary music (although it is that too).

The essence of theological liberalism, according to Gary Dorrien, a world-renown liberal theologian at Union Theological Seminary, is the belief that Christianity needs no external authority. Therefore, as Friedrich Schleiermacher argued in the early 19th century, the essence of Christianity is an experience of God, a feeling of absolute dependence on the divine. Liberal theology opens the door for higher criticism of the Bible since the reliability of Scripture and the historicity of the events recorded in its pages are inconsequential. The Bible’s importance is to help us have an experience of God. The details are irrelevant.

One of the consequences of liberal theology, surprisingly, is a kind of anti-intellectualism that fights against any attempts to prove the Bible correct. While conservative scholars seek to find answers for the challenges raised by higher critics, liberals pooh-pooh these attempts and typically side with the critics. Liberals believe wholeheartedly in Immanuel Kant’s division between the noumenal and phenomenal. Kant (1724-1804) declared that the phenomenal world (the observable world) could be known, but the noumenal world (God, the self and the “thing-in-itself”) could only be believed. He was trying to make room for faith in a world that was increasingly skeptical of anything that could not be subject to the scientific method. As a result, you can believe whatever you want about religious matters, but they cannot be counted as knowledge.

The net effect of all this in liberal theology is that declarations by those in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.) are taken as gospel truth without question. And for most liberals, the soft sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.) are just as revered. Therefore, for the liberal, the Bible and Christianity must always make way for whatever the “sciences” declare. This leaves little room for anything of historical Christianity. The liberal must focus on religious experience, because that is all he has left. This is anti-intellectualism at its worst, because if the essence of Christianity is religious experience, no experience or belief can be shown to be wrong, because neither is based on the Bible being reliable or authoritative. This leads to rather fuzzy thinking, because critique and discernment are no longer allowed, since the standard on which they are based has been undermined.

Taken to its logical end, this ultimately leads to the kind of pluralism that admits any sincere religious experience, regardless of the subject’s stated religion. Not every liberal goes this far, but neither does he have any grounds to object when someone does choose pluralism. Christianity becomes just one religion among many, useful only to the extent that it leads to an ineffable encounter with the divine. Cue Rob Bell.

This is exactly why J. Gresham Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism almost 100 years ago, and why it still stands as an unanswered challenge to liberals. Machen argues persuasively that liberal theology is not even Christianity, because it denies every major belief that makes Christianity unique. In short, liberal theology is a parasite that attaches itself to a church, denomination, seminary, or otherwise and eventually kills the host by sucking the life-blood out of it.

John Pavlovitz’s article, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible,” ( is a perfect example of the kind of fuzzy thinking and anti-intellectualism that was characteristic of the 19th century version of liberalism. Pavlovitz wants to enlighten us about the Bible so we won’t be so gosh-darned old-fashioned. His five wishes parrot the theses of many of the most popular left-wing Christian writers in the last decade, including Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, Stanley Grenz, and Greg Boyd.

Since Pavlovitz calls Christians to “admit” certain ideas about the Bible, I will return the favor and call on him to admit what his article assumes about the Bible. These assumptions amount to a rejection of orthodox Christianity’s basis in an authoritative Bible.

  1. Liberals believe the Bible is a merely human book that contradicts itself.

Pavlovitz’s first error appears almost immediately when he claims that the Bible is not a book, but a collection of books. This is a false dichotomy. The Bible is both a library and one unified book. The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments are considered in one category as early as the writing of 2 Peter 3:15-16, and throughout the history of the church (as evidenced in WCF 1.2). He is correct that the various genres of Scripture require genre-sensitive interpretation.

However, when he writes, “we don’t approach each book the same way,” he introduces ambiguity into the discussion. What does he mean by this? Do we approach some books authoritatively, and others merely as histories not intended to be taken as historical? Because his writing is so vague it’s hard to know what he is implying. It would help if along with recognizing genre differences he would emphasize that all of Scripture is authoritative.

His final paragraph of his first point seems odd to me. While it is true that sometimes those who believe in “literal” interpretation don’t account for literary differences in genre, to say that Christians need to be freed from the confusion of literal interpretation seems to be a way of saying that we don’t always need to accept Scripture at face value, even when it speaks plainly.

His last sentence is problematic, too. I’m not sure what he means when he says that the Bible is a record of God. The Bible is only secondarily that. It is first and foremost a revelation of God. One of the net effects of liberalism is that the Bible, like the sacred books of all other religions, is reduced to a mere record of the religious experiences of its adherents. Whether Pavlovitz means this or not is unclear. Believers should be cautious, however, to guard against the reimagining of the Bible as simply a record.

  1. Liberals believe that because some passages are difficult to understand, we probably shouldn’t claim to know the true meaning of any passage.

I sympathize with Pavlovitz’s second point. Many Christians do, in fact, use verses out of context, and interpret the Bible the way they want. But these practices are clearly in violation of the way Scripture itself says it is to be interpreted.

Ironically, while Pavlovitz calls for a better reading of Scripture, his article reflects either a rejection or ignorance of hermeneutics and progressive revelation. Of course there are ambiguities in Scripture, but he doesn’t remind his readers at all that there are ways to arrive at the true meaning of a passage. God has not left us to doubt the correct meaning of most of Scripture. It is, as Pavlovitz says, a complex book, but it is not without definite meaning.

This essay will continue in Part 2.