A Little History Lesson
The roots of what is known as "modernism" can be traced back to the 18th century Age of Enlightenment to Immanuel Kant who denied the proofs of God’s existence, and maintained that man could only know God through human reason. Thus, human reason was exalted as the final authority for truth in all matters and the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures was rejected (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 1:22).As a result, the Bible had to be in subjection to the claims of scientists and human experts. Human reason took the place of Divine wisdom and such reason often promoted world socialism as the cure-all for the human race. During this period of time people became so impressed with scientific discoveries and technology that such things were proclaimed as the Savior of the human race. A classic expression of modernism is the claim of humanists that "We don’t need a God to save us, will can save ourselves". As modernism crept into religious circles, one would find that the miracles in the Bible were discredited and the book of Genesis had to take a backseat to the theory of Evolution. However modernism is collapsing because the foundation it was built upon, the god of human reason, has failed. Human reasoning has failed to produce one single way of thinking that we can identify with reason and that would force us to acknowledge all other ways of thinking as irrational. That is, human reasoning failed to deliver an absolute standard of truth. It has also failed to deliver a universal standard of morality by which man can measure all cultures and all periods of time. Modernists believed that man, by himself could solve all his problems. "Where once it was believed that liberal education and the application of science would abolish the problems of the world, these beliefs are now treated with open skepticism. Knowledge itself is no longer seen as necessarily being a good thing. The shocking use to which science has been put….chemical nerve agents developed to eliminate population centers—brings home the fact that knowledge can be used for evil as much as for good" (Intellectuals Don’t Need God & Other Modern Myths, Alister E. McGrath, pp. 145-146). Added to this, "belief in God is no longer regarded as outdated. The natural sciences, once hailed as the discipline that abolished God, now seems to be allowing Him to return by the back door. The new questions raised by the natural sciences about the order and existence of the universe raise the possibility of God" (p. 146). As a result, modernism gave rise to existentialism, which says that everyone creates his own meaning and every meaning is valid. Therefore, one’s personal religion may not be imposed on anyone else. "What is true for you may not be true for me. There is no right and wrong". And this is the philosophical basis for what has been called "postmodernism".
- There are no absolutes: Christianity is rejected for the precise reason that it claims to be "the truth" (John 8:32; 14:6; Colossians 1:5 "the word of truth, the gospel"; 1 Timothy 2:4; 3:15; 4:3 "who believe and know the truth"; 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:4; Hebrews 10:26; James 5:19; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 John 4). Of course, such a claim as "there are no absolutes" is self-defeating for the very expression is the claim of what someone thinks is an absolute truth. We can see postmodernism creeping into the church or religious circles when people start expressing a definite lack of confidence in man’s ability to understand the Bible and apply it consistently. In 1996 William S. Banowsky, former president of Pepperdine University, spoke at the lectureship at ACU. The main thrust of his speech was the advocacy of fellowship with Denominationalism. He decried the attitude that we have "all truth in perfectly restoring Christ’s church", in addition, he stated that faith is more intuition and feeling, than logic and reason. He magnified his "experience" and argued that he knew Christ lives because he lives "within my heart". In contrast, God says that we can know the truth, and know it fully (1 Timothy 2:4). The local congregation is commanded to be the pillar and support of the truth(1 Timothy 3:15), therefore we better be preaching the truth. Timothy was commanded to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), which is placed in contrast with men who were teaching a specific false doctrine (2 Timothy 2:18). Paul was so zealous about the "truth", that he would not even bend on one point of doctrinal controversy (Galatians 2:4-5). In addition, the unity which is commanded in the Bible is a unity based upon the teaching of the apostles, teaching which hits upon attitudes, actions, and beliefs(John 17:20-21 "but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one"; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; 1 Timothy 6:3-4). In addition, John spoke of people who were actually walking in the truth, which means walking in God’s commandments (2 John 4,6; 3 John 4). Through John, Jesus commended congregations of which He had nothing negative to say, that is, Christ’s true church (Revelation 2:8-11). If a congregation in the first century can please God in all respects, then certainly such a congregation can be restored seeing that we have all the truth they had (1 Peter 1:23-25).
- All Beliefs Are Equally Valid: All belief systems are to be regarded as equally plausible. Something is true "if it is true for me". This is creeping into the church, especially when it comes to placing doctrinal matters in Romans chapter 14. Some members are reluctant to challenge false doctrine, because they have bought into the idea and no two people can understand the Bible alike, and everyone’s perception of truth is different. Hence Bible study becomes, "what the passage means to me", rather than, what the passage demands of all of us. Points to Note: 1. Postmodernism is very naïve in the claims that all belief systems are equally valid, for it must assume that the authors of every belief system were honest. Paul made it clear that people end up believing lies because they are not honest with the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 2 Timothy 4:3; Romans 1:18 "who suppress the truth in unrighteousness"). Romans chapter one seems to argue that every false belief system found among the non-Jewish peoples was a deliberate attempt to reject the truth. 2. On the surface many people like the statement, "What is truth for me may not be truth for you", but when one applies this statement, some real problems begin to surface. "The following reply might be made. Consider the person who believes, passionately and sincerely, that it is an excellent thing to place millions of Jews in gas chambers? That is certainly ‘true for him’. But can it be allowed to pass unchallenged? Is it equally as true as the belief that one ought to live in peace with one’s neighbors, including Jews? The moral seriousness of this question often acts as the intellectual equivalent of a battering ram, bringing out the fact that certain views just cannot be allowed to be true….Otherwise, postmodernism will be seen to be uncritical and naïve, a breeding ground of the political and moral complacency that allowed the rise of the Third Reich back in the 1930’s" (McGrath p. 179). As someone said, "Postmodernism destroys all objective foundations and replaces them with nothing. Its values are anarchy, mutants, absence, anti-form, anxiety, irrationalism and helplessness. It is a denial of objective truth in favor of humans making up their own realities". Friends, when man starts making up "his own reality", it isn’t very pretty, and sooner or latter this made up reality clashes with the reality we live in.
- Deconstruction: Postmodernism includes the distrust of all universal discourses, including the Bible. That is, language is always so compromised by metaphor and ulterior motives (of the author) that a text never means what it appears to mean. One feminist writer calls for a deconstruction of Scripture for a complete rewrite (reconstruction) of the Bible to go behind Moses and Paul to return to women the rights denied them which were buried by the authors who created an androcentric Bible for the sole purpose of exercising male control. That is, the Biblical writers were prejudiced by the times in which they lived. Points to Note: 1. But such a claim immediately breaks down when we realize that the Biblical writers, far from conforming to the times in which they lived, and far from embracing the false concepts and prejudices of the times in which they lived, actually condemned and confronted the evils of their time (Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 John 2:15-17). On writer noted, "Next comes the notion that all of the Bible is colored by prejudices and practices of the then existing culture. This brings the necessary conclusion that when culture changes, the Bible changes. It also totally ignores the indisputable truth that Bible writers were oblivious to the fanciful and insubstantial myths of their day. Moses, for instance, was not influenced by the ancient Egyptian theory that the earth was hatched from a winged egged" (Historical, Critical, Cultural, H.A. Buster Dobbs, Firm Foundation June 1996, p. 4). This attitude does enter the church when we hear people saying something like, "We can’t take what was written to people 2000 years ago and just apply it to our time, this was their mail and not our mail". Such an attitude allows, for instance, a person to look at the clear Bible proscription against homosexuality and conclude that such laws were temporary and limited to the peculiarities of the writer's day. 2. Secondly, people start arguing that all human beings bring prejudices and pre-conceived ideas as they read the Bible, hence, a true interpretation is impossible, and thereby so is any sort of unity based on conformity to the teachings of the apostles. In contrast, God commands people who had all sorts of preconceived ideas and prejudices to understand His will (1 Corinthians 1:10; 14:37; Ephesians 3:3-5; 5:17). It is important to note that prejudice does not keep people from seeing the truth, rather, if they value their prejudices more than the truth, such will hinder them from obeying the truth(Matthew 21:25; 13:15; John 5:40 "and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life"). 3. One of the interesting things about the claim that everybody approaches the Bible with their own set of colored glasses, which are impossible to remove, is that the people who claim this, do not apply the same concept to their own writings. The attitude seems to be, "Don’t trust anyone’s interpretation—that is, except the explanation that is given in this book". 4. If we think that such concepts are only floating around in very liberal denominations, we are in for a surprise. Many of these concepts are being embraced by brethren in institutional churches and colleges like ACU, and others; which are supported by institutional churches. "A ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ is what Randall Harris (David Lipscomb University) said we should proceed under. Assuming the relativism of Post-Modernism, he made an interesting case for the fact that we never see clearly in this world" (Firm Foundation, May 1995, p. 1).
- Since there is no objective truth, history may be rewritten to meet the needs of a particular group:Recently this has been seen in Edmund Morris’s "authorized" biography of Ronald Reagan. Mr. Morris invented three fictional characters who throughout the book speak and act as if they were part of the historical record. This shouldn’t surprise us, for if we are allowed to create our own reality of the present and future, then certainly we can also create our own reality of the past as well.
Sadly, many people are not content with the wonderful revelation which God has given to us, that is, the Scriptures. Human theories would never make any progress if people simply placed themselves under God’s authority and accepted the clear statements that God has given. Centuries ago God made it clear that the Scriptures are not the product of human wisdom, prejudice or culture. Rather, the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/ (503)644-9017