Genesis, History, and Morality (Schaeffer)

 If a person denies the factual historicity of Genesis 1-3 that person has cut himself or herself off from some of the major truths of biblical Christianity.  Others have explained this well: if you deny the fact that Adam was a historical human being, you are far out of step with Jesus’ teaching (Mt. 19:5) and the apostle Paul’s (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22).  It is not a Christian position to believe that Adam was a mythical figure.  Denying the historicity of Adam and Eve opens the door to many theological problems.  Francis Schaeffer expanded on this and said denying Genesis 1-3 also leads to moral problems:

There was a time before the fall, and then man turned from his proper integration point by choice, and in so doing, there was a moral discontinuity; man became abnormal.  Remove that and the Christian answer in the area of morals is gone.  Often I find evangelicals playing games with the first half of Genesis.  But if you remove a true, historic, space-time fall, the answers are finished.  It is not only that historic, biblical Christianity as it stands in the stream of history is gone, but every answer we possess in the area of morals in the area of man and his dilemma, is gone.

Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 35

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Moral Slide of Western Culture Illustrated (Guinness)

 In chapter one of Time for Truth, Os Guinness tells a story that very clearly describes our culture’s moral downhill slide.  It also illustrates the turn from modernity to postmodernity.  Guinness mentions “The Lottery,” a fictional story that the New Yorker published in 1948.  When it did come out in print, there was plenty of moral outrage since the story was about human sacrifice in rural America.  Guinness notes, that the “story’s moral – the dangers of ‘going along’ in blind social conformity – found a passionate response in the generation that had stood up to Hilter.”

Fast forward to the 1970s to 1990s.  A professor in an American college used this story often during her 20+ years of teaching.  She noticed a shift in the way people responded to the story.  For the most part, with a few exceptions, the responses during the 70s and 80s were what you’d expect: moral disagreement with the idea of going along blindly and submitting to human sacrifice.

In the 1990s things changed.  The professor continued to assign the story and discuss it with the class.  However, her students of various ages no longer consistently showed moral outrage at the idea of human sacrifice.  The responses included, “The end was neat,” or “It’s their ritual.”  The professor was stunned after talking to a woman who was passionate about saving whales, had concern for the rainforests, and recently rescued a stray dog.  The woman, however, was unconcerned and unmoved about the idea of a human sacrifice ritual.  The professor later said,

“At one point I gave up.  …No one in the whole class of more than twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand  against human sacrifice.”

Guinness does a fine job of explaining how this story is an example of the culture in which we now live.  He noted that the 11th commandment of today is “thou shalt not judge.”

In such a world, what follows is simple: When nothing can be judged except judgment itself – “judgementalism” – the barriers between the unthinkable, acceptable, and doable collapse entirely.  And then, since life goes on and the sky doesn’t fall, people draw the conclusion that the original concern was unfounded.  Lighten up, the newly amoral say as they skip forward blithely, complicit in their own corruption.

You can find this entire excellent discussion in chapter 1 of Time for Truth by Os Guinness.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Morality, Media, and Philosophical Pluralism

Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism [15th Anniversary Edition] One dominate trait of our American culture is what Don Carson calls “philosophical pluralism.”  This is the belief or philosophy that no person, claim, or ideology is superior to another one.  “The only absolute creed is the creed of pluralism.  No religion has the right to pronounce itself right or true, and the others false, or even (in the majority view) relatively inferior” (Carson, p. 19).  Since, they say, there is no absolute truth, no one can claim any high ground anywhere.  The effects of this philosophy or belief are numerous and tragic.  One that Carson points out is in the area of morality:

“In the moral realm, there is very little consensus left in Western countries over the proper basis of moral behavior.  And because of the power of the media, for millions of men and women the only venue where moral questions are discussed and weighed in is the talk show, where more often than not the primary aim is to entertain, even shock, not to think.  When Geraldo and Oprah become the arbiters of public morality, when the opinion of the latest media personality is sought on everything from abortion to transvestites, when banality is mistaken for profundity because uttered by a movie star or basketball player, it is not surprising that there is less thought than hype.”

“Oprah shapes more of the nation’s grasp of right and wrong than most of the pulpits in the land.  Personal and social ethics have been removed from the realms of truth and of structures of thought; they have not only been relativized, but they have been democratized and trivialized.  As a guest on a talk show dealing with pornography put it, ‘The great thing about our society is that you can have your opinion and I can have mine” (p. 24).

Carson is right: this kind of pluralism touches every part of society, right down to the moral framework of people’s thoughts and lives.  Thankfully, the gospel rescues us from such depressing pluralism and also gives us a reason and motive to share the good news with those in such a framework.  For more on this, see Carson’s The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism.  It’s a great book!

shane lems

The Early Church on Homosexuality

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts      In the days of the early church – I’m thinking specifically of the 2nd century – Christian apologists had to defend the faith against false charges, accusations, and misrepresentations.  One such apologist, Athenagoras (d. 200 AD?), wrote a booklet to Roman rulers called A Plea for the Christians.   This apology by Athenagoras is still quite relevant today because it discusses things we still talk about today.  I’ll come back to this booklet later, but for now I want to point out what this 2nd century Christian apologist said about sexual immorality and homosexuality.

Athenagoras refuted the claim or accusation that Christians were very sexually impure compared to non-Christian Roman citizens.  He said Christian spouses – man and wife – were committed to one another and instructed to avoid and detest adultery while the same could not be said of the Romans.  He also argued that Christians avoided and detested homosexuality.  As Athenagoras introduced this topic, he noted that he is not comfortable to “speak of things unfit to be uttered.”  But he briefly did in order to defend Christian sexual morality:

“For those [Romans] who have set up a market for fornication, and established infamous resorts for the young for every kind of vile pleasure – who do not abstain even from males, males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and comliest bodies in all sorts of ways, so dishonoring the fair workmanship of God. …These men, I say, revile us for the very things which they are conscious of themselves, and ascribe [them] to their own gods, boasting of them as noble deeds, and worthy of the gods.  These adulterers and paederasts [pedophiles] defame [even] the eunuchs and once-married, while they themselves live like fishes, for these gulp down whatever falls in their way….”

In other words, while non-Christians accused Christians of being sexually immoral, it was actually the non-Christians who were far more sexually immoral as was seen in their homosexual and pedophile practices (which were even part of the religious stories of their gods!).

One more thing worth noting is that Athenagoras mentions how the old Roman laws condemned homosexuality and pedophile acts.  When Roman citizens commit these acts, they “do violence in contravention of the very laws which you and your [Roman] ancestors, with due care for all that is fair and right, have enacted.”  In other words, those old Roman laws of sexual morality were good and fair: we Christians follow them, you Roman citizens do not!

Much more could be said here, but I’ll end with the following points: 1) the early church agreed with Scripture that homosexuality and adultery were sinful acts, 2) the early church desired to live sexually pure lives in the midst of a sexually impure culture, 3) the apologists did not give in to culture’s ways, but stood for Scripture’s truth when (falsely) accused, and 4) the apologists were not afraid to mention the usefulness of good and fair government laws which Christians obeyed.

This booklet, A Plea for the Christians, is recommended reading if you want ancient Christian help in standing for the truths of the faith.  Next time, I’ll share what Athenagoras said about Christians and abortion.

shane lems

Calvin on the Great Usefulness of the Law

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Beveridge Translation In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin talks about three parts, or uses, of the law (I.II.VII.6-12).  First, he said, the law “warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness. …The law is like a mirror.  In it, we contemplate our weakness….”  Second, Calvin said the law restrains people by the fear of punishment: “The law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh.”  What did he say about the third use of the law?

“The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law.”

The “two ways” Christians can profit from the law are:

 1) It teaches us the will of the Lord.  “It is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow.  …Let none of us deem ourselves exempt from this necessity, for none have as yet attained to such a degree of wisdom, as that they may not, by the daily instruction of the Law, advance to a purer knowledge of the Divine will.”

2) It exhorts us to and encourages us in obedience: “The servant of God will derive this further advantage from the Law: by frequently meditating upon it, he will be excited to obedience, and confirmed in it, and so drawn away from the slippery paths of sin.  On this theme, Calvin says that in Psalm 119 the prophet “proclaims the great usefulness of the law: the Lord instructs by their reading of it those whom he inwardly instills with a readiness to obey.  He lays hold not only of the precepts, but the accompanying promise of grace, which alone sweetens what is bitter.”

I appreciate how Calvin said the third use of the law is the principle part, or use.  This is one reason why the Reformed/Presbyterian catechisms have a large section on the 10 commandments as they apply to the Christian life.

Tomorrow I’ll note what Calvin said about those who want to do away with the law in the Christian life – the antinomians.  Stay tuned…

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths

The Dawkins Letters I’m thoroughly enjoying David Robertson’s The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths.  This book is a chapter-by-chapter response to Richard Dawkins’ well known title, The God Delusion.  I’ll come back and write more on this later; for now, I want to point out the great counter argument Robertson gives to Dawkins’ Darwinian explanation of morality.

Dawkins defines goodness as altruism and says that humans tend to be altruistic towards people of our own kin – that’s how we’ve evolved genetically.  On top of this is a reciprocal aspect – that people are nice to each other so people are nice to them in return.  Dawkins also says that people are sometimes nice because they want to show off.  One other thing he writes is that kindness and sympathy are blessed Darwinian mistakes.

Robertson deconstructs this evolutionary view of morality:

1) First, it does not seem much of a morality.  It is still primarily focused on the Selfish Gene.  It is all about me, me, and mine.  As a Christian I believe that the Bible teaches that human beings are fundamentally selfish and self-centred – however the Bible is not content to leave us there.  There is something better.  Christ came to challenge and to deliver us from the self-centredness which you [Dawkins] glorify as the basis of morality.

2) Second, it is deterministic.  There is no concept of free will, choice, or responsibility.  We are only ‘good’ because we are programmed to be that way.  If my will is not free then you cannot blame me if I only do what I am genetically programmed to do.  The trouble with such an approach is that it legitimises all kinds of behaviour; from the drunkard claiming it is in his genes to the rapist saying that he is only doing what he has been programmed to do.  On the other hand, if I am free and responsible for what I do, then I cannot be genetically programmed.  I do not doubt that there are genetic factors in all aspects of human behavior but I cannot believe that every human being and their actions are governed by such determinism.  A crucial part of being human is having the ability to choose.

3) Third, your [Dawkins’] secular morality is not, as you admit, absolute: ‘fortunately however morals do not have to be absolute.’  As you indicate it is changeable according to the whims of society.  If indeed as we are, as your favourite philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, ‘tiny lumps of impure carbon and water crawling about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded,’ there seems to be no basis for absolute morality. …If there are no absolutes then there is no absolute standard to judge by.  And if there is no ultimate standard then we are left with anything goes, might is right, or the whims of a changing and confused society.”

4) Finally, your [Dawkins’] absolute Darwinian philosophy cannot logically and consistently argue for morality because, to put it bluntly, there is no good or evil.  As you so brilliantly describe it… “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any injustice.  The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’  That then is the atheist basis of morality – no justice, no rhyme nor reason, no purpose, no evil, no good, just blind pitiless indifference.  Despite the best efforts of atheistic philosophers… this basis is severely lacking, being little more than a utilitarian ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ without ever defining what ‘good is.’

I’ve thought about this before quite a bit, and I think Robertson’s arguments are correct – one glaring weakness of the atheist religion is the lack of basis for morality, good, and evil.  For more info on this, read Dawkins’ discussion of morality in The God Delusion, and then read chapter eight of Robertson’s excellent book, The Dawkins Letters.  

shane lems
hammond, wi

In

Turretin on Natural Law

Product Details Near the beginning of his 3-volume theological work, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Francis Turretin (d. 1687) argues from Scripture that all humans have a sense of the divine (sensus divinitatis).  One reference he uses to prove this point is Romans 2:14-15 (quoted below).  Here are his comments.

“We find in man a natural law written upon each one’s conscience excusing and accusing them in good and bad actions, which therefore necessarily implies the knowledge of God, the legislator, by whose authority it binds men to obedience and proposes rewards or punishments.”

“‘For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, (i.e. the law of Moses) by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them’ (Rom 2:14-15).  This could not be said if conscience did not dictate to each one that there is a deity who approves of good actions and disapproves and punishes evil deeds. 

…For the inscription (of the law) implies a natural revelation of that law to the conscience opposed to the external revelation made to the Jews by the writing upon stony tablets.  Hence it is expressed by the conscience which exerts itself both in observation and in consciousness (v. 15).

Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1 p. 7.

shane lems

hammond, wi