By / Nov 18

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a series on what Christians should know about worldviews and worldview analysis. The other articles in the series can be found here.

How do we determine whether one worldview is better than any other?

A primary way to answer that question is to determine whether a worldview is true or false. A worldview that is true—that is, a worldview that corresponds to reality—would be better than one that is not. In an earlier article, we discussed that there are (at least) 10 basic worldviews, such as Christian theism, Naturalism, and New Age spirituality. Since these worldviews make claims that contradict one another, they can’t all be true (though it’s possible they could all be false). We could therefore rank the worldviews from better to worse based on whether they are truer than their rivals.

To do this we need a test for the truth or falsity of a worldview. The Christian philosopher and apologist Norman Geisler proposed that the test for the falsity of a worldview is “unaffirmability,” while the corresponding test for the truth of a worldview is “undeniability.”

The two tests

Unaffirmability means that a statement or belief cannot be supported with evidence or that it contradicts itself. It is based on the most basic law of logic, the law of noncontradiction. This law states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. Or, to put it more simply, if something is true, then its opposite is false.

Take, for example, the statements, “It is currently snowing in my house,” and, “It is not currently snowing in my house.” If “my house” refers to the same thing, then both statements cannot be true (though, again, they can both be false). The reason they cannot both be true is because that would violate the law of noncontradiction, which is a basic assumption about the nature of reality.

All false worldviews contain statements or beliefs that are similar in that they are unaffirmable. Let’s consider pantheism, the worldview that identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God. A primary claim of pantheism is that God, or the Absolute, is all that exists and that individual entities do not exist. As Geisler notes, a strict pantheist must affirm, “God is, but I am not.” But this is self-defeating since an individual entity—an “I”— must exist to affirm that one does not exist. The claim “I do not exist” is therefore unaffirmable. Since it is an essential claim upon which pantheism relies, pantheism must be false.

Claiming that a statement is unaffirmable does not mean, of course, that it is unsayable or unstatable. For example, we could make the statement, “Green taste like yellow.” While the statement is both sayable and statable, it is completely meaningless. It is also unaffirmable, but only because it is affirming something that is meaningless.

What makes most unaffirmable claims unaffirmable is that what is being affirmed is denied in the process or act of affirmation. If you were to affirm that you lack the ability to affirm anything, then you would be making an unaffirmable claim. What is unaffirmable is self-defeating, and what is self-defeating cannot be true because it violates the law of non-contradiction.

The second test for the truth of a worldview is undeniability, that is, a statement or belief is so true that we are unable to consistently deny it is true. The law of noncontradiction is an example of a belief that is undeniable. Another is the claim, “I exist.” For you to make that statement you would have to exist—otherwise, you would not be able to make the denial (“I do not exist.”). The claim, “I exist,” is therefore undeniable.

Unfortunately, few truths are as obviously undeniable as existence and the law of noncontradiction. But as we’ll see in a later article, Christian theism contains the most consistently undeniable beliefs of any worldview.

A more persuasive approach

Armed with this two-pronged test—unaffirmability and undeniability—we should now be able to convince non-Christians that their worldview is wrong, shouldn’t we?

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. As the Apostle Paul pointed out that the ungodly suppress the truth by their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). The ungodly can find a way to deny even the undeniable.

Consider, for instance, the famous argument Dr. Samuel Johnson had with his biographer, James Boswell. The dispute was about a claim made by the philosopher George Berkeley that only the mind exists, and that matter is not real. As Boswell writes in The Life of Samuel Johnson:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus.”

Johnson’s point was that it was undeniable that matter exists—and he was right. But he was not wholly convincing. His appeal to the stone would certainly not have convinced Bishop Berkely that he was wrong. Some people can—and will—affirm the unaffirmable and deny the undeniable. Some refuse to accede to logic or reality while others merely embrace that they are contradictory. As poet Walt Whitman unapologetically stated, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The intransigence of the unrighteous should not lead us to abandon undeniability and unaffirmability. But we should be prepared to adopt a more persuasive approach when it comes to convincing someone the Christian worldview is better.

As Sam Chan explains, when the culture was Christianized, we used to argue and teach in this sequence: (1) what I say is true; (2) if it’s true, then you must believe it; and (3) if you believe it, you must live it.

It’s TRUEBELIEVE it LIVE it

That is the logical sequence, but the way our post-Christian friends discover it is often the reverse: (1) what you see is a wiser way to live; (2) but if it’s a wiser way to live, then it’s also more believable; (3) but if it’s believable, you need to consider that it might also be true.

I can LIVE it → I can BELIEVE it → it must be TRUE

The corollary to this is that if a worldview is not a wiser way to live, then it’s less believable, and therefore unlikely to be true.

In the next few articles, we’ll apply this approach to show why non-Christian worldviews are not only unaffirmable but “unlivable” and should therefore be abandoned. 

By / Aug 25

Scripture calls Christians to glorify God in all elements of life (1 Cor. 10:31). However, connecting our faith to our vocation can often be a challenge. Furthermore, some Christians work in a nonvocational ministry setting while sensing a call to full-time ministry. What does it look like to glorify God in our workplace? And how can it prepare those going into vocational ministry?

I interviewed Param Yonzon, a seminary student and pastoral intern who works full-time for a corporate insurance firm. Yonzon shared how he lives his faith out in his workplace and why he believes his role at his firm has made him a better minister of the gospel. The lessons he shares are important and applicable whether you plan to enter full-time ministry or not. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your vocation.

I am originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am 24 years old, and I’ve been living in New York for seven years now. I originally came to New York in 2014 for my undergraduate degree at St. John’s University. I studied risk management and insurance, and I ended up getting a job at Marsh McLennan, a global insurance brokerage firm. 

I came to faith when I was 20 years old, in my sophomore year in college. I was raised in a Buddhist household, so I was not raised with a Christian worldview. God got a hold of me through a local church near my college. I sat under Bible/gospel preaching for two years and was discipled by the church’s associate pastor. I eventually came to faith after my father was diagnosed with cancer. 

Ever since coming to faith, I’ve had a heart for evangelism and missions. So I decided to pursue a theological education after getting my undergraduate degree. 

I am currently in seminary and working toward getting my MABS. I’ve been attending Reformed theological seminary in New York City, where I’ve been trained by teachers like Dr. Timothy Keller and Ligon Duncan. 

My aspiration is to eventually become a church planter in the city. 

What are some particular challenges of being a Christian in your area of work?

The biggest challenge I face in my area of work is the idolatry of money. In finance/insurance, there is a culture of an ever-unsatisfying pursuit of wealth. 

Colleagues will move from job to job, team to team, company to company, and city to city to fulfill their desire to make a better paycheck. Most of my subordinates at work always have a lingering feeling that the grass is greener on the other side — that is, there is a better opportunity elsewhere for work. 

Part of the challenge of working in this type of culture is that it is alluring and easy to fall into. I can easily come to a place where I look at my co-workers not as image-bearers, but projects and steps that can help me advance in my career and paycheck. 

How does being a Christian bring purpose and direction to your vocation?

Being a Christian in my workplace has radically changed how I view every person I work with. 

The doctrine of the image of God has helped me process why I should treat every employee, no matter their job, as a person who has infinite value because they are made in the image of God. 

Being a Christian in my workplace has also changed how I view my talents, skillset, and knowledge. God has gifted everyone of us with certain abilities, and it is our duty to cultivate and sculpt those skills for his glory. 

Lastly, being a Christian in my workplace has changed how I view my work in light of God‘s redemptive plan for the world. I know that everything that I do at work plays a part in the long redemptive-historical narrative of Christ, and therefore, everything I do at work matters. 

What advice would you give to a believer who aims to go into your line of work?

The biggest piece of advice I would give to someone aiming to go into my line of work is to learn to cultivate the desire to do the work you are called to do at the present time. 

Most of my anxiety at work occurs when I’m trying to be at two places at once. But, when I make an effort to be present with the work that is before me, I typically end up doing an amazing job. Christ honors even the smallest of attempts to glorify him, especially when we anchor our hope and aim to do every task to the glory of God. 

You mentioned that you are currently a seminary student and aspire to church plant. How do you integrate your call to ministry with working in a full-time, non-ministry position?

Many times in my ministry with youth students, I encounter the same heart problems that young professionals in the workplace have. Often, the heart problems deal with anxiety for the future, relationships not working out, and a works-righteousness mentality (best career, resume, titles, etc.). 

I also know that the Lord has given me a set of spiritual gifts. Things such as preaching, teaching, and hospitality. All of these skills are transferable and applicable to my non-ministry position. Perhaps I’m not preaching, but I can teach certain things I’ve learned to the rest of my co-workers.

One of the things I am more conscious about, as a client advisor, is people do not receive information just by telling them facts. People need illustrations, analogies, and sensory details to understand the full picture of the facts you are presenting to them. I don’t ever want to use my preaching skills in order to advance my career success, but it has led me to become a better persuader and storyteller. 

Working a non-ministry job has also allowed me to learn about the depths of common grace that God has toward all mankind. I have met many talented, smart, and wise people at my work. And most of them are non-Christians. My job has allowed me to see that God loves to glorify himself through their tasks, jobs, and skills because they were created in his image.

How has the gospel shaped the way you view your workplace?

The biggest way the gospel has shaped my view of the workplace is by helping me understand that work is a good thing. Work was created before the fall in Genesis 3. And therefore, work can bring a sort of satisfaction that all mankind can find. However, the gospel has also taught me why work can be hard, daunting, and hurtful because of the Fall. Work can be brutal when left in a toxic environment. A Christian worldview, a gospel-saturated worldview, will leave a person with a sense of the goodness of work in the midst of its brokenness. 

However, ultimately, one day work will be made new. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, all those who repent and trust in him will eventually find a place where there is an infinite amount of ways we can glorify God, in an infinite amount of time, with an infinite amount of grace, and with no sin at all. 

I am looking forward to the day that Jesus redeems the workplace. 

This is the first article in a new series on Vocation. This and future pieces can be found here.

By / Sep 23

For a long time I’ve had a serious problem. And it is the kind of thing I’ve always thought I couldn’t talk about. My problem is doubt. I know that might not seem like a scandalous revelation. But to be honest, for most of my life I felt enormous pressure to keep my doubts a secret. And I think there are two reasons why.

The first reason is that I didn’t want to undermine the faith of anyone around me. It’s not as though I felt like the people in my life only believed in Jesus because of me. But I didn’t want to have anything to do with causing someone else to question their faith. The second reason is even more personal. I didn’t want to admit that I often struggle to believe in my best friend. And that is what Jesus has been ever since I was a small child—my very closest friend.

Doubt and despair

I was in junior high school when I first began to deal with doubt. And of all things, I think it was reading Greek mythology that kicked it off. As I began to learn about the vastness of our world and the multiplicity of beliefs about God and life after death, I began to question my beliefs. And for the first time I wondered if I was merely assuming my beliefs were true because they were the only ones I’d ever known.

As time went on, more things compounded these questions. I learned about other religions, each of which had its own perspective on both the divine and the meaning of life. I was introduced to agnosticism and atheism, and alongside these, secular humanism and Big Bang cosmology. And even as a teenager, I realized that Christianity wasn’t something I could believe by default. My faith was no longer something I could take for granted.

In college I was surrounded, for the first time, by smart people who rejected my beliefs. Not only that, but many of them were effective apologists for their own. And during those years, I went through something like the dark night of the soul.

I remember lying on my bedroom floor in the middle of the night, crying out to God, and feeling ridiculous because I was certain no one was listening. I was crushed and in despair. My faith that was once so certain was anything but secure. And Jesus, my best friend, felt so far away. But probably the worst part was that I was ashamed to reach out for help. I didn’t want to harm anyone else’s faith, and I didn’t want to admit where I was with my own. 

But thankfully, Jesus came through.

Help for my unbelief

One day during this time I wandered into a LifeWay bookstore and picked up a tiny book called, of all things, Doubting. In this little volume, the author, Alistair McGrath, offered real answers to my questions instead of merely brushing them to the side. Though I have not read it in many years, what I remember most is that McGrath helped me understand that my doubts didn’t erase my faith. He showed me, as strange as it may sound, that my faith was actually the best defense against my doubts. 

 Jesus is God. He can handle my doubts. And he can handle yours, too.

Around the same time, I started to dig into apologetics. I wanted to learn the answers to the questions people put forward to challenge Christianity. The more I learned about defending the faith, the more answers and hope I gained. Ultimately, I realized that if the Christian story is true, it is strong enough to withstand any challenge or scrutiny.

But as much as those things helped, nothing helped me more than Scripture. I learned that the Bible is a book for doubters and skeptics. And in my early 20s, I began to devour God’s Word, specifically the New Testament. The more I read, the more I found that my doubts were relieved.

The men and women featured within the pages of the New Testament who followed Jesus and continued to advance his ministry after his ascension laid everything on the line to do so. Nothing stills my doubts more than this reality. The Apostle Paul suffered greatly—stonings and shipwrecks and snakebites—all for the sake of the gospel. For me, his most comforting words were these: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19) Or as Lecrae put it, “If Christ ain’t resurrected, we’ve wasted our lives.”

Freedom to doubt, and believe

One of the most helpful passages of Scripture for doubters like me comes from Matthew 11, when John the Baptist—the cousin of Jesus, who declared him to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”—is in prison. At this time, John knows he is about to die. But before he makes that final sacrifice, literally giving up his head for the sake of his faith, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John is imprisoned because he made enemies by faithfully proclaiming the words of righteousness. But before he embraces martyrdom, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he really is the Christ, just to be sure. Instead of rejecting John because of his doubt, Jesus answers John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus assures John that indeed the kingdom has come and that he is the long-promised Messiah of Israel. Jesus was not ashamed of his cousin. In that very passage, Jesus offers John assurance, and then commends John as the greatest man ever born of a woman (high praise coming from the eternal king of the universe).

Meditating on that passage brought forth a realization for me. If Jesus wasn’t ashamed of John, he isn’t ashamed of me or my doubts either. Jesus is God. He can handle my doubts. And he can handle yours, too. After all, Jesus is also the good shepherd. He is patient and gentle with his sheep. If, like me, you are prone to wander in the midst of doubt, Jesus is always faithful to seek us out. And he will carry you, if necessary, in order to bring you back and help you believe.

By / Aug 13

Herman Bavinck, Dutch theologian and Christian leader of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, delivered the first edition of his Christian Worldview in 1904, and later revised and republished it in 1913. Through the good work of Crossway publishers and editorial/translation work of Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton, and Cory C. Brock, this important work is now available in English.  

While the notion of a world and life view has persisted for millennia, the word “worldview” was not coined until 1790 by Immanuel Kant (originally the German weltanschauung) and quickly became common-speak in the Western world. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian worldview had become a central theme. David Naugle argues that the “headwaters of Christian worldview thinking can be traced back to the Scottish Presbyterian theologian James Orr and to the Dutch Reformed polymath Abraham Kuyper” (Naugle, Worldview; The History of a Concept, xviii).   

Summary of three chapters

In the vein of Kuyperian thought and influence, Bavinck offers his slim, three-chapter work on Christian worldview as a front-footed, unapologetic case for believing the truth of Christian Scripture as the only story that accounts for the world as we know and experience it. 

Weighing in at only 133 pages, let not the brevity of the book deceive concerning its depth or density. Bavinck addresses three basic questions that he believes are “problems” that have and continue to confront the human mind; “What am I? What is the world? And what is my place and task in the world?” (29).  His chapter titles address these questions respectively as “Thinking and Being,” “Being and Becoming,” and “Becoming and Acting.” He ends his introduction with this preliminary answer to these questions; 

Autonomous thinking finds no satisfactory answer to these questions—it oscillates between materialism and spiritualism, between atomism and dynamism, between nomism and antinomianism. But Christianity preserves the harmony [between them] and reveals to us a wisdom that reconciles the human being with God and, through this, with itself, with the world, and with life. (sic., 29)

As a point of advice to future readers, allow the quote above to serve as a constant clarifier for the rest of the volume. With each chapter, Bavinck attacks the question at hand, though the journey between question and answer is sometimes difficult to follow. He commonly takes sharp turns down the path of rival worldviews and ideas, sometimes seeming to agree or argue in favor of the position, only to turn back just as quickly in favor of the Christian view.  

In chapter one, Bavinck argues that we are capable of knowing only because God has known first. Then, “the doctrine of the creation of all things by the Word of God is the explanation of all knowing and knowing about,” for this assumes a correspondence between the knower and the thing known (46). He continues insisting that, “the deeper one thinks this through, [the clearer it becomes that] all truth is understood in the Wisdom, in the Word, who was in the beginning with God and who himself was God. The one who denies this Wisdom undermines the ‘foundation’ of all science…” (sic, 47, italics added for emphasis).  

Bavinck’s emphasis on wisdom is noteworthy and relatively unique in the broader—and more popular—worldview literature. Throughout the book, Christian wisdom serves as the clue to worldview. Thus, in chapter two Bavinck demonstrates the superiority of the “organic” worldview over what he calls the monistic-mechanical approach on one side and the dynamic/energetic approach on the other. He argues that the organic view does justice to the oneness and diversity of creation, and to “being and becoming.”  

Bavink notes that wisdom accounts for the essence of all things, but adds that God’s will (decrees) must be joined to wisdom to account for their existence in the world. Wisdom and will, then, account for the dynamism and development in the world that the mechanistic and energetic views cannot.  

Finally, Bavinck’s final chapter calls its readers to recognize that we are designed to conform to God’s laws and norms in the world: “You shall love the true, the good and the beautiful with all your soul; and you shall love God above all else and then your neighbor as yourself” (95). This isn’t accomplished by individualism, communism, or autonomous reason, but only by the Christian faith. “Christianity is not exclusively a teaching about salvation, but it is salvation itself, brought about by God in the history of the world,” centered on the person and work of Christ, concluding with the end of the ages (115-116).   

Three takeaways

First, Bavinck’s consistent pushback against individualism and autonomous reason remains timeless counsel that we do well to heed today. In our day, as in Bavinck’s, the temptation to assume center stage as though the function of human reason is the beginning of wisdom remains a fatal flaw in the pursuit of right living in God’s world.  

Second, Bavinck’s awareness of the broader disciplines is exemplary. He was not only conversant and up to date in the sciences, but his unique ability to penetrate the assumptions, methods, strengths, flaws, and plausibility of differing views yields insight that remains valuable even more than 100 years later.  

Finally, as noted above, the emphasis on divine wisdom is commendable and unique. While I have concerns about an over-intellectualized understanding of wisdom in the book, Bavinck rightly and repeatedly returns to God’s wisdom as essential for a proper view of the world. 

Bavinck’s work is an important addition to the last hundred years of Christian worldview literature. It will quickly become a classic volume for Christian philosophers, theologians, and worldview teachers everywhere.   

By / Sep 15

Gresham Machen is most well known for his opposition to liberal Protestantism and his trenchant defense of orthodox Christianity. He served as a professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary for 23 years during the time of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. In 1929, Machen left because of encroaching liberalism to form Westminster Theological Seminary. In his classic, Christianity and Liberalism (1923), he argued that liberalism was an altogether different religion than Christianity.

Machen’s critique of liberalism was prophetic and continues to be of abiding value 90 years after it was first published. For those observing the current move of some within evangelicalism who are taking incipient steps toward normalizing homosexuality in the church, reading Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism brings the realization that the arguments being presented as progressive and cutting edge are actually hauntingly recycled from the failed modernist project. Liberalism in every age accepts a utilitarian view of the truth that accommodates Christianity to the prevailing spirit of the age. Machen wrote, “At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin” (54). He continues, “The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in the absolutely impossible task—she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance” (68).

Theological liberalism does not set out to destroy Christianity, but rather its claim is to save Christianity by making its message more palatable to modern culture while preserving its real purpose. Make no mistake; with the legal redefinition of marriage upon us, every church in America will be forced to clarify where it stands. Many will capitulate and find that, in an attempt to save Christianity, they lost it. But, perhaps Machen can remind us of what is at stake. The discussion is not between different brands of Christianity—it is a choice of Christianity or liberalism. Below I summarize several lines of argument for normalizing homosexuality in the church being floated from self-identified evangelicals and note how Machen’s critique of liberalism deals with the logic of the contemporary argument.

The “Jesus and Me” Argument

People have same-sex feelings and attractions, and they say they are fulfilled in monogamous same-sex relationships and marriages. Who are we to judge them? They are faithful to the church and love Jesus. Many of them are better Christians than a lot of heterosexual Christians we know. We just need to love people in same-sex relationships and disciple them like we do with everyone else. After all, we are all sinners.

Machen on Liberalism:

Liberalism argues Christian experience is all that is necessary to validate faith (71).

“It is one of the root errors of modern liberalism. Christian experience, we have just said, is useful as confirming the gospel message. But because it is necessary, many men have jumped to the conclusion that it is all that is necessary” (71).
“My Christian life, then, depends altogether upon the truth of the New Testament record. Christian experience is rightly used when it confirms the documentary evidence. But it can never possibly provide a substitute for the documentary evidence” (72).
“The only authority, then, can be the individual experience; truth can only be that which helps the individual man. Such an authority is obviously no authority at all; for individual experience is endlessly diverse, and once truth is regarded only as that which works at any particular time, it ceases to be truth. The result is an abysmal skepticism” (78).

The biblical witness authoritatively judges the validity of our Christian experience and never the other way around. This is true of our sexual feelings and experiences and every other matter as well. Machen asserts, “Christianity is founded on the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men” (79).

The “I Ask Questions But Don’t Answer Them” Argument

Don’t you think we evangelicals have unnecessarily singled out homosexuality? After all, we all have sins that we struggle with; shouldn’t we love and serve those with whom we disagree and not isolate and marginalize them? We do not refuse church membership or discipline gluttons in our churches, so why would we treat homosexuals or same-sex couples differently? Too often, we have given simplistic answers to complex questions.

Machen on Liberalism:

Liberalism questions the Bible and apostolic Christianity as outdated while refusing to talk about specifics or take clear, direct positions (74).

“If the liberal preacher objected to the doctrine of plenary inspiration on the ground that as a matter of fact there are errors in the Bible, he might be right and he might be wrong, but at any rate the discussion would be conducted on proper ground. But too often the preachers desire to avoid the delicate question of errors in the Bible—a question which might give offense to the rank and file—and prefers to speak merely against ‘mechanical’ theories of inspiration, the theory of ‘dictation,’ the ‘will likely fail superstitious use of the Bible as a talisman,’ or the like” (74).
“But of course such appearances are deceptive. A Bible that is full of error is certainly divine in the modern pantheizing sense of ‘divine,’ according to which God is just another name for the course of the course of the world with all its imperfections and all its sin. But the God whom the Christian worships is a God of truth” (75).

Self-identified evangelicals seeking the normalization of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the church are often unwilling to answer direct questions so the discussion can be, as Machen says, conducted on proper ground. Most often, they position themselves as asking in-house clarifying questions about evangelical attitudes on the issues. They often suggest the issues are too complex for short answers and when questioned adopt the posture of a victim either by saying they are not formal theologians or that they will not allow legalists or theological bullies to interrogate them. The normalizers want to have a public voice questioning the view of apostolic Christianity without the public accountability of full disclosure of their own views.

The red-letter argument—Jesus ate with Sinners

It is legalistic Phariseeism to single out and inordinately focus on certain ethical standards. The real purpose of Christianity is the forgiveness and grace found in the Gospel, which we all need. That is our mission. That is our message. Jesus never singled out homosexuality or any other behavior as a special class of sinfulness. He served, loved, and discipled all kinds of sinners. Same-sex marriages may or may not be God’s best, but we are all broken, and need to simply focus on what Jesus and what he would do.

Machen on Liberalism:

Liberalism pits the authority of Christ against the authority of the Bible (76).

“The impression is sometimes produced that the modern liberal substitutes for the authority of the Bible is the authority of Christ. He cannot accept, he says, what he regards as the perverse moral teachings of the Old Testament or the sophistical arguments of Paul. But he regards himself as being a true Christian because, rejecting the rest of the Bible, he depends upon Jesus alone. The impression, however, is utterly false. The modern liberal does not really hold to the authority of Jesus” (76).
“The words of Jesus, spoken during his earthly ministry, could hardly contain all that we need to know about God and about the way of salvation; for the meaning of Jesus redeeming work could hardly be fully set forth before that work was done. It could be set forth indeed by way of prophecy, and as a matter of fact it was so set forth by Jesus even in the days of his flesh. But the full explanation could naturally be given only after the work was done. And such was actually the divine method. It is doing despite, not only to the Spirit of God, but also to Jesus himself, to regard the teaching of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles, as at all inferior in authority to the teachings of Jesus” (76-77).
“The truth is that the life-purpose of Jesus discovered by modern liberalism is not the life-purpose of the real Jesus, but merely represents those elements in the teaching of Jesus—isolated and misinterpreted—which happen to agree with the modern program. It is not Jesus, then, who is the real authority, but the modern principle by which the selection within Jesus’ recorded teaching has been made. Certain isolated ethical principles of the Sermon on the Mount are accepted, not at all because they are the teachings of Jesus, but because they agree with modern ideas” (77-78).

The attempt to pit the teaching and ethics of Jesus against the rest of Scripture is a repudiation of what Jesus taught and the Bible’s self-attestation (Matt 5:17-20, 26:54, Luke 24:24-49, John 10:35, 2 Tim 3:16, 2 Pet 1:21). The words of the prophets pointed beyond themselves to the coming Messiah and the words of Jesus recorded in the Scripture (by apostles) pointed forward to the further revelation of Christ to come in the apostolic witness. Jesus taught the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture: “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Scripture has a single divine Author and the various parts of Scripture are consistent with one another. Liberalism sets Scripture against Scripture but Christianity does not.

Machen was right, “The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts” (47). Evangelicals must understand as we move forward that the new liberalism will often be packaged in evangelical garb, but it will still be asking the age-old question, “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1).

By / Aug 15

As Christians called to be salt and light within our culture, we must be able to analyze the ethical theories of our society in order to bring Scripture to bear upon them. Many of the decisions happening daily in our culture fall within the category of consequentialist ethics. While consequentialism is nothing new and much more extensive work has been offered on it than can be found in this article, my goal is to explain how a broad understanding of consequentialism is helpful for the Christian when parsing ethical decisions. Adding competency in consequentialism to the Christian’s tool belt will supply a ready filter useful in deconstructing an ethical decision.

Consequentialism focuses decision making upon the potential outcomes of an action; the outcome, coupled to some extent with intent, becomes the standard for morality. Situation ethics, utilitarianism, and pragmatism are examples of the larger school of ethical thought known as consequentialism. A crude, but often effective, way of characterizing consequentialism is to claim that the ends justify the means. In other words, if deemed necessary, then seemingly unethical actions can be employed ethically so long as the outcome is itself, ethical.

Initially, consequentialism seems intuitive, even natural. Don’t we always choose what we think is best? Shouldn’t we choose what we thing is best? Biblical ethics, however, seeks those actions that God deems best. Instead of seeking what we think to be the best outcome, our duty is to seek the will of God in humble obedience. God’s will may happen to coincide with the outcome that we thing is best, but it will be coincidental to the reason for the ethical decision. With this contrast between biblical ethics and consequentialism in hand, we can offer some general critiques of consequentialism.

The primary difficulty with consequentialism arises in deciding who determines the bestaction in any given situation. If the end determines the means, who determines what end ought to be sought? Various themes are offered, such as Jeremy Bentham’s utility principle or Joseph Fletcher’s love principle, but no theme can ever be considered anything but subjective. What objective feature of the universe demands that we love someone? Which universal aspect of reality points to utility as a good? Unless some objective, universal standard can be offered, any consequentialist ethic yields subjective ethics which are necessarily not binding upon others.

Secondly, if no objective standard exists, then how can one truly know which action is best? Consequentialism lacks a sufficient knowledge base from which to categorize good or bad. Unless one can see into the future, many actions must be recognized as presently ambiguous. Only a being with the attributes of God can be sure that he/she is making the proper decision.

Another way of stating this idea is that any perceived outcome is primarily dependent on one’s own experience and the best available evidence, facts, and information. Without much effort we can imagine wrong conclusions coming from good evidence, good facts, and good information that is grounded in our previous experiences. Just consider any scenario in which an individual who is actually innocent, perhaps framed by some devious nemesis, is judged guilty by a group of peers in a court of law based on evidence that does, in fact, point towards that individual’s guilt. Just as the jury in our thought exercise was technically incorrect in their decision to ascribe guilt, we too run just such a risk if our primary impetus for action is based on potential outcomes.

To show how to utilize consequentialism as a filter and to combat it biblically, consider the following scenario. Imagine a young man Joe seeking a pastor’s counsel. Joe has recently graduated from college with an economics degree and has been offered a great position in a large financial firm. Joe worked hard for his degree, his parents gave much to see him graduate, and his professors put their reputations on the line by recommending Joe for his newly acquired position. Joe tells his pastor that he has felt called as a missionary to a country hostile to the Gospel and evangelism. He worries that it would be unjust to “throw away” his parents’ sacrifices and stain his professors’ reputations. Nevertheless, he maintains that he is truly convicted to pursue this missionary opportunity. Which action is the ethical action for the Christian?

The consequentialist can give a variety of answers. If the guiding theme is self-preservation, then Joe should take the job with the financial firm because he will probably be killed in the foreign country, possibly without ever winning anyone to the gospel. Another answer could be based on the theme of utility; Joe could be of more benefit by earning a great living and donating large sums of money to organizations that contribute to struggling parts of the world than he could ever do by actually living there himself. He could even fund the sending of multitudes of missionaries to the very country in question which is surely better than his going himself. Then again, Joe could be murdered in any U.S. city just as easily as he could be murdered in a foreign country, so either decision could be the correct decision; Joe should simply do what makes him happy.

Hopefully you can see that the consequentialist has no firm basis for any of this advice. The proper biblical response would be to seek the God’s guidance through prayer, petition, and fellowship with other believers, and then to follow the conviction of the Spirit. Since Joe feels convicted concerning a specific location and the Bible teaches to make disciples of all nations, Joe should pursue his missionary calling.

John 11 offers two examples of consequentialist thinking. Mary says to Jesus in John 11:32, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” While that statement does not entail an ethical decision, it does exhibit a consequentialist mindset. We should not fault Mary for her sadness, but it is obvious that she assumes a longer life is better than a shorter life (leaving aside any sociopolitical concerns Mary may have had concerning income, etc) Why is a short life bad? We can speculate dozens of morbid, painful scenarios that Lazarus may have had to endure had he lived which would make death enviable. God’s will was to resurrect Lazarus for the glory of God, which is surely a good.

Next, the high priest Caiaphas says in John 11.50, “It is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” While it is true that the Spirit intended this comment as prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion, Caiaphas certainly had no such intentions. Instead, he attempted to play a numbers game saying that an innocent man should die so that the potential for further death does not arise. Consequentialism allows for the death of an innocent if it prevents more deaths so that Caiaphas would actually be justified in making the decision to seek Jesus’ death. It should be apparent that the numbers game always leaves one in an ethical fog. How does Caiaphas know that killing Jesus won’t incite Jesus’ followers to murder every Jew they can find? How does he know that the emperor wouldn’t convert if Jesus continues teaching, which would presumably be good for the nation? The subjectivity of consequentialism and ignorance of the future are clearly seen in Caiaphas’ thinking.

By / Aug 11

A prominent Christian leader recently said to me that for Evangelicals and traditional Catholics and Orthodox, the metaphor of putting our fingers in the dike as holes of evil burst through it is anachronistic.

We are not having a few fissures in the dam, he said. We are experiencing a mudslide.

Our cultural erosion is comprehensive and accelerating. From family structure to religious liberty, the moral implications of our social collapse are stunning.  But this piece is not about that.

Rather, there is a movement within Evangelicalism that says our decades-long effort to restrain cultural disintegration has been futile. Instead of continuing it, some believers argue that we should abandon our public activism and de facto accept the triumph of the cultural and political Left. They argue that Christians should perform private acts of  love and pursue faith-based but socially unobtrusive charitable ministries.

Here’s how one prominent Christian writer, a brother I respect and appreciate greatly, put it in a recent column:

Early Christians had far fewer religious freedoms than we enjoy today. Subjects of Rome were made to worship the emperor; Christians were often targeted for wholesale persecution and slaughter; believers had no legal protection for their faith. Yet they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, KJV) and launched the largest spiritual movement in human history. How did they do it? They demonstrated their faith by their love (John 13:35). They met felt needs in order to meet spiritual needs. They viewed the secular authorities not as enemies to be defeated but as people for whom to pray (1 Timothy 2:2).  They did not mount a “culture war,” but gave their lives to a movement of subversive service and grace. 

All true, in that (a) Christians should never depend on government’s permission to obey their Lord faithfully and (b) quiet, persistent obedience and sacrificial love in the Name of Jesus are profound testimonies to His reality and transforming power.

Yet this proposition poses a false alternative. The United States is not ancient, oppressive, persecutorial Rome. At least it hasn’t been, and to allow it to descend into such a state with no resistance would be what Carl F.H. Henry called “an act of Christian lovelessness.”

In other words, in addition to showing Christ’s love in practical, hands-on ways through our churches, para-church and other ministries, and through individual acts of mercy for our Lord’s sake, not to seek legal protection for the unborn and sound medical care for their mothers … not to use the law to fight the commodification of women through sex trafficking and pornography … not to use legal means to protect marriage as God designed it and to strengthen the family unit, which is the fundamental means by which we become healthy, functional, productive persons … and not to work through legislation and the courts to sustain and defend the practice of religious conviction as well as the right of private conscience, recognizing that “freedom of religion” is the foundation of all of our other freedoms … is to abandon a massive sphere of human experience to evil.

Such abandonment is un-Christian, even anti-Christian.

I am not suggesting that comprehensive triumph inevitably will be our lot. We do not know God’s plan for our country, although we do know that as nations propel themselves into spiritual rebellion to Him that He both lifts His hand of protection and renders them subject to His judgment.

What we do know is that in the United States today Christians retain legal, political, and judicial tools to fight the triumph of evil. To lay those tools down in resigned anticipation of persecution is more masochistic than spiritually mature. Even more, not to use these tools is to say to those most at risk, “We love you, and we’ll try to help you, but when it comes to the actions of the state – you’re on your own.”

This kind of attitude hardly reflects the heart of the Savior we profess.

We might well come to a point where the game truly is up and repression becomes our lot. The rights and liberties we have long enjoyed might be dramatically curtailed and Christians could become a socially odious and unacceptable class of people.  Then, our acts of grace will truly become not just subversive but, often, secret – and costly.

We are not there yet.  We have within our grasp the legal and political facilities for advancing and defending things close to the heart of God and essential to the future of this nation. To drop them now would be to invite suffering, something from which we should never shrink but also something we should never seek and for which we should never long.  Such seeking and longing are not evidences of Godliness but of emotional trauma.

As we use the tools our citizenship in the American republic provides us, we must do so with humility, wisdom, and grace, and also truth, commitment, and courage. Christians should want to “crush” no one, but nor should they become passive acceptors of wrongdoing. We want to stop evil and advance good, persuade our adversaries even as we oppose them, demonize no one and yet prevent those who would do (even if unknowingly) the devil’s work from succeeding.

Of course we should do the thousand works of Christian compassion we can do outside the public eye. There will never be a time when private and church-based service to others for the sake of the cross is insignificant. But this kind of service must not exclude our participation in the public square. For the sake of our fellow believers, for the good of all men, and for the sake of God.