Posts Tagged ‘relativism’

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Darkness At Noon: The Commission of a Post-Compliant Church

As the late Allan Bloom noted, a mind resolutely determined to be absolutely open is
often, in actuality, quite closed. The closing of the postmodern mind will present a
challenge for the church in this post-Christian age. Swirling worldviews and a
reflexive relativism come together to form a mentality often closed to all substantive truth
claims. Gathering clouds of darkness and the eclipse of truth present the believing church
with a great challenge – will we surrender in a spirit of cultural compliance?
We must recognize that the church has been compliant for far too long, and if we are
effectively to challenge the prevailing worldview of postmodern culture, the church must
become a post-compliant people. What will it take for Christians in this generation to be
awakened out of complacency and compliance? If we are complacent in this culture, if we are
compliant in the face of its demands and expectations, then there will be no preaching of the
gospel. There will be no authentic church. There will be no authentic Christian witness. We
will withdraw into our Christian cave, and we will cower there. We will not witness, we will
not work–we will simply retreat.

A recent debate between Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff is very revealing. In a book
entitled Religion in the Public Square, Robert Audi takes the secular argument–which is the
prevalent position in the academy–and argues that Christians have no right to make
Christian arguments in the public square. It is fine for Christians to make arguments, he says;
they just cannot show up as Christians. Following in the work of the philosopher John Rawls,
Audi goes so far as to say that when we enter the public square, we must bring with us a
purely secular rationale. In other words, any argument we make must be essentially and
purely secular, and such arguments are to be motivated by secular concerns alone. They
cannot even be spiritually motivated.

Think about what this means on the issue of homosexuality and homosexual marriage, to
take just one example. I believe historians will one day point to this issue as the catalyst for a
great and lamentable cultural revolution in America. The world will be categorically different
the moment homosexual marriage is normalized in this country. Then we will find out how
many Christians there are. We will find out how many churches there are. Who is going to
recognize these same-sex unions? Who is going to solemnize these same-sex unions? Not the
faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Any church that would normalize and celebrate
what Scripture condemns has set itself in direct opposition to revelation, reason, and the
witness of the martyrs. Those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel did not do so in a
spirit of cultural compliance.

Think for a moment about this issue of same-sex marriage in the context of Audi’s secular
rationale. I was in Washington recently and heard a presentation in which a very wellinformed
person–one of the nation’s leading researchers on the issues of the day, said,
“Look, we have to understand that we are not going to be able to bring God into the same-sex
marriage debate. We are not going to be able to use spiritual and biblical arguments, so you
Christian people are just going to have to understand that.” I was up next to speak, so I said in
response, “Here is everything I know about marriage apart from God – nothing of binding
significance. Now that that is out of the way, I can tell you that everything I know about
marriage, everything I know about sex, everything I know about gender, everything I know
about homosexuality, I know from the Word of God. That is all I know. That is all I can know,
and I am not going to not talk about it. And if we lose this battle while preaching the
Scriptures, then brothers and sisters, we lose gloriously!”

There are many who will say that what must be pressed in this debate over same-sex
marriage are the deleterious social effects of undermining marriage – and leave all
theologically-based arguments out of the picture. That argument, however, is not only
wrong in principle, it is a pragmatic failure. We will never get anywhere with that, because
the people driving the movement for normalizing homosexuality really aren’t primarily
concerned about those issues. A culture that will compromise itself into accepting
homosexual marriage will never really be convinced by such arguments. In the final analysis,
all we have is the authority of the Word of God. We Christians are the world’s most eccentric
people in a postmodern age. We are committed to a faith that is structured by a book that is
two thousand years old. Beyond eccentric, we are increasingly seen as dangerous. A people
who live by the light of an ancient book – and who dare to call it the very Word of God – will
look exceedingly dangerous to the prevailing worldviews of this age.

The entire biblical truth claim is under assault in today’s culture. We see the tightening grip
in the tenacity of all this onslaught. We see a culture that increasingly loves darkness rather
than the light. We can see the logic of the culture, and we can see that the church has been
compliant too long. Thus, when we turn to Hebrews chapter 12, we are confronted with an
exhortation that instructs is that the reality must be different for us. The prophet Joel warned
of that apocalyptic day of judgment that is coming–a day when the sun will turn to darkness
and the moon will be turned to blood. In Hebrews 12, we are confronted with another
warning of judgment–this time addressed to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer
of Hebrews writes of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. One represents the
covenant of old, and the other represents the New Covenant in Christ. Sinai represents
thunder and shaking and fear; Zion represents the festive joy of the people of God in the
work of Christ, in the Kingdom of the Redeemer.

In this passage, we are also told of a shaking that is about to come. In Hebrews 12:26, the
author quotes from the prophet Haggai in chapter 2, verses 6-7: “For thus says the Lord of
hosts: ‘Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and
the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in,
and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.’” Then the writer of Hebrews picks
up by saying. “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken–
that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may
remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)

We are now in a time of shaking, and there is more shaking yet to come. As we read the book
of Hebrews, this too is pointing towards an eschatological shaking and sifting. But just as in
Joel, there is both an eschatological and a present application. There is a shaking now
happening in this generation, and this shaking will be followed by more and more violent
shaking yet. We are about to see what remains and what falls. In this time of shifting and
sifting and shaking, we are going to be tested, and we are going to find out what we are made
of.

Look at Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be
shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God
is a consuming fire.” Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Yes,
there is a whole lot of shaking going on! But there is one kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and that is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does that kingdom look like? It is certainly a kingdom of victory, but it is sometimes a
victory that doesn’t look to observers like victory. Look at Hebrews 11:32: “And what more
shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and
Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice,
obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the
edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign
armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured,
refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered
mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were
sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats,
destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in
deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:32-38)

I think it is fair to say that to the casual, outside observer, this picture does not look much like
victory. But in the eyes of faith, it doesn’t get any more victorious than what this passage
declares. We don’t get to choose our times. We don’t get to choose our challenges. We didn’t
choose to live in a post-Christian age. We didn’t choose to confront the postmodern mind,
but this is where we are, and it is time that we become a post-compliant church. While all is
shaking and shaken around us, the one thing that cannot be shaken is the kingdom of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and this kingdom is visible in His church.

In a post-Christian age, confronted with the challenge of the postmodern mind, the Church
of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a post-compliant people. Anything less is just another
form of spiritual surrender.

~ by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

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Darkness At Noon: The Closing of the Postmodern Mind

The prophet Joel spoke of a day when the sun would be turned to darkness, and the
moon to blood. This picture–besides giving us a glimpse of that terrible, coming
Day of the Lord in judgment–is also a graphic picture of our own times. Even today,
in the gathering clouds of our culture, we see darkness at noon.

One of the central realities of this darkness is the dawning of a post-Christian culture – and a
central reality of our emerging culture is the closing of the postmodern mind. Something is
happening to the worldview, the mentality, and the consciousness of this age. If we listen
closely, we can hear something like the closing of a steel door — a solemn, cataclysmic
slamming of a door. We have been watching the postmodern mind in its development, and it
is now well developed. Not only do we see the themes of postmodernity taking hold of the
larger culture, but we understand the challenge this pattern of thinking poses to Christian
truth and Christian truth-telling. Tolerance is perverted into a radical secularism that is
anything but tolerant. There is little openness to truth, and growing hostility to truth claims.
Indeed, the postmodern mind has a fanatical, if selective, dedication to moral relativism, and
an understanding that truth has no objective or absolute basis whatsoever.

The late French philosopher Jacques Derrida shaped the postmodern mind by arguing that
the author of a text is effectively dead in terms of establishing the text’s meaning. One of the
fathers of literary deconstructionism, his concept of “the death of the author” exerts a
powerful influence on the culture at large. Derrida’s basically nihilistic philosophy suggested
that texts mean nothing in themselves. In other words, it is the reader who comes to the text
with meaning and determines what will be found within the text. The author is dead, Derrida
proclaimed, and can no longer dictate by his totalitarian authority what the text means.
Even before Derrida’s death, new debates about deconstructionism arose in the academy.
More significantly, these nihilistic philosophies have already filtered down into popular
culture. Even now, for example, many of our judges are practicing deconstructionists, seeing
the law not as what it was or what it was intended to be, but rather as a tool they can use for
their own agenda of social engineering. In the elite institutions of American academia,
deconstructionism is the order of the day. The text means what the professor says it means,
and it eventually means whatever each student would have it to mean. The reader reigns
supreme.

Unfortunately, deconstructionism has also found its way into many pulpits, sometimes in a
hard, ideological form, but more often in a soft and seductive form. In the hard form of
undiluted liberalism, it is simply the idea that this text, the Bible, may be a privileged text, but
the authors are dead. Thus, it is now up to us to decide what it should mean, so we can turn
the text on its head. And we can do so in the name of liberation, and freedom from
oppression. We are no longer bound to the oppressive truth of the text because we can now
twist the text to mean something it has never been understood to mean in the past – even the
opposite of what the words and grammatical structure would seem to mean. In so doing,
postmoderns seek to liberate themselves by deconstructing the text. After all, all the authors
are dead.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that such a hermeneutic must also assume that the
divine Author is dead. In its softer, subtler form, we find deconstructionism among some
who would never consider themselves liberals, and who would even claim to have what they
would characterize as a high view of Scripture. Yet when they encounter the text, they also
deconstruct it. The biblical text, they argue, has to be understood in terms of our modern
understanding. Modern psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and cultural studies have
something to bring to the interpretation of the text, they argue, something to tell us which
the human authors of Scripture missed. In other words, one may start with what it said, but
now we ourselves can decide what it means.

In both its hard and soft forms, deconstructionism has filtered down to the popular culture,
even to those who never heard of Jacques Derrida but have been nonetheless infected with
this postmodern mentality and this subtle form of subversive relativism and subjectivism.
You can hear Derrida in the discourse of adolescents in the mall. You can hear it in the
conversation on the nightly news.

The closing of the postmodern mind is the opposite of what postmodernism claimed to be its
aspiration. Postmodernism claimed that this new postmodern age–with the end of
modernity, the demise of scientific objectivity, and the openness to new forms and
understandings of truth–would lead to an opening of the mind. But as is always the case, the
totalitarian opening of the mind always ends with the radical closing of the mind. There is
nothing less tolerant than the modern ethos of tolerance. There is nothing less open than
the modern idea of open-mindedness. In the darkening sky and the gathering clouds, we see
the haunting closure of this supposedly open mind.

Sociologist Peter Berger reminds us that every single individual operates on the basis of
plausibility structures — certain frameworks of thought that are necessary for our
understanding of the world. For years, Berger and others have been telling us that the
plausibility structures of most Americans have little, if anything, to do with biblical
Christianity. The way most persons think about the world, the way they envision beauty, the
way they conceive love, the way they understand authority and marriage and structure and
principle and truth, all of these things are now basically secular in form. Not only so, but in
recent years we have witnessed the acceleration of this secularism into something that is
deeply dark, and increasingly nihilistic. What Karl Marx once promised would happen seems
to be coming to fulfillment–all that is solid melts into air. In the world of postmodernism, all
institutions are plastic, and all principles are liquid. We can reshape anything. Nothing is
given. Nothing is objective.

We can take the family, for example, and we can melt it down and make it something else. In
fact, we can turn it into an infinite number of liquid arrangements. We can take any
institution, be it government or church, or marriage, or family, and we can make of it what
we will. All principles are liquid, too. We can simply pour them out in a different way. Since
there is nothing really there anyway, we can reconfigure any principle according to our
desires. So we will reshape our entire worldview. We will shape our new philosophy. We will
be humanity come of age, and we will do this in the name of liberation and tolerance and
diversity–and open-mindedness. George Orwell never saw it so clearly, yet this is where we
live. Openness becomes closedness. Freedom becomes bondage, and tolerance becomes
intolerance.

The closing of the postmodern mind is not a pretty sight, nor is it friendly to human rights
and human dignity. We can look to Europe, where the post-Christian age is already
coalescing into a system of laws and a pattern of culture. Sweden, for example, already has
imprisoned a Pentecostal pastor, Ake Green, for preaching a sermon in which he spoke of
the sinfulness of homosexuality. He was recently acquitted of that “crime” by Sweden’s
highest court, but the fact remains that he was arrested and convicted by a lower court – and
the law remains in effect. Across much of Western Europe there is legislation in which it is
can be considered a crime to speak of the sinfulness of any sexual lifestyle, and of
homosexuality in particular.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, there are now official protocols for killing children and
infants in hospitals. Euthanasia has advanced to the point that, in the Netherlands, the
largest medical school in the country just reported that 31 percent of pediatricians have
admitted to killing babies, and 45 percent of neonatologists have admitted to euthanizing
infants–even without informing the parents that that is what happened to their child. And all
this is done, of course, in the name of health, even in the name of compassion. Then along
comes the Christian to say “We have a message about the dignity and sanctity of life,” and he
is told to be quiet. We can say, “Well, that is Europe. That is a post-Christian future that is an
ocean away.”

But even in the United States, we see all this coming together, and the clinched fist of a
closed postmodern mind is increasingly evident. In 1995, for instance, a U.S. District Court
judge in the state of Texas ruled against school prayer, afraid that some teenagers might in
the course of their graduation ceremony actually mention the name of Jesus, or mention the
name of God. When he handed down the ruling, the judge warned teenagers in the state of
Texas, saying, “If any of you shall mention the name of Jesus or God, or any other deity, you
will rue the day that you were born and will spend up to half a year in the Galveston jail.” That
is not Arthur Koestler warning in Darkness at Noon of the Soviet Union in 1941. It is the United
States of America in 1995. Legal observers may argue that this judge’s comments were not
indicative of a universal trend, but is this truly reassuring?

In the state of California, those who would be foster parents are now required to pledge that
they will say nothing that is in any way opposed to homosexuality or to any chosen sexual
lifestyle. Effectively, that means that Christians can no longer be foster parents in the state of
California. What a switch in ten years! Ten years ago, homosexual couples could not be foster
parents in the state of California. Now it is the Christians – who would raise their children as
Christians – who cannot be foster parents in that state.

A recently published book by Sam Harris entitled The End of Faith even claimed that faith
itself is a form of terrorism, and that the United States can no longer afford its long cherished
ideal of religions toleration and religious liberty. According to Harris, religious liberty is
simply too dangerous in a world like this.

We need to take notice of these developments in order that we might understand the
challenge we are about to face, because I fear that as evangelical Christians, we tend to swing
like a pendulum between a naive optimism and a wrongful pessimism. In reality, we have no
right to be either optimistic or pessimistic. To be either optimistic or pessimistic is to be
deluded, and in some sense to deny the sovereignty of God. We cannot be pessimistic because
Scripture tells us we are to be a people of hope. Of course, that does not mean that we are a
naive and ignorant people of hope who close our eyes to the reality around us. No, we find a
hope in something that is far more secure than anything this culture can secure.
But, on the other hand, we cannot be optimistic, either. Optimism is the message sent down
from public relations. Optimism is the happy face that tells us with a chipper voice that
everything is all right. Well, it is not all right, and everything will not be well, not in this age
or in this life. We have no right to be optimistic, but we have no right not to be hopeful.
Evangelicals, sometimes demonstrating a nearly breathtaking naivete, swing between these
pendulum extremes of pessimism and optimism, when Scripture calls us to reality. Be soberminded,
we are told. Gird up the loins of your thinking. Be ready, be alert, be watchful. Be a
watchman on the wall. Have your eyes open. Be ready for action. This is our calling as
Christians, even as the darkness gathers. We are to be the community of the open-eyed, the
intellectually alert, the broken-hearted, and the resolutely hopeful. Pulling that off will take
more than wishful thinking.

~ by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.