Religion & Morality (or: Dead While They Live) (Hodge)

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes   -     By: Charles Hodge

Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37 NET). This commandment is echoed in the OT and in the NT. When discussing this great commandment, Charles Hodge related it to religion, morality, and Romans 1:18ff. I’ve put his comments on this below, although it’s longer than my usual post. However, it’s pretty easy to read and very insightful. I’ve edited the layout slightly:

The preëminence of this commandment is further evident from the fact that religion, or the duty we owe to God, is the foundation of morality. Without the former, the latter cannot exist.

This is plain,
(1.) From the nature of the case. Morality is the conformity of an agent’s character and conduct to the moral law. But the moral law is the revealed will of God. If there be no God, there is no moral law; and if a man does not acknowledge or recognize God, there is no higher law than his own reason to which he can feel any obligation to be conformed.
(2.) It is a principle of our nature that if a man disregard a higher obligation, he will not be controlled by a lower. This principle was recognized by our Lord when He said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10.) This involves the converse: He that is unfaithful in much, is unfaithful in that which is least.
(3.) It is the testimony of experience that where religion has lost its hold on the minds of the people, there the moral law is trampled under foot. The criminal and dangerous class in every community consists of those who have no fear of God before their eyes.
(4.) It is the secret conviction of every man that his duty to God is his highest duty, as is evinced by the fact that the charge of atheism is one from which the human soul instinctively recoils. It is felt to be a charge of the utter degradation, or of the deadness of all that is highest and noblest in the nature of man.
(5.) The most decisive and solemn evidence of this truth, however, is to be found in the revealed purpose of God to forsake those who forsake Him; to give up to the unconstrained control of their evil passions, those who cast off their allegiance to Him. The Apostle says of the heathen world that it was “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, … God gave them up unto vile affections.” (Rom. 1:21, 26.) And again in ver. 28, “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” Such are the natural, the actual, the inevitable, and the judicially ordained effects of men’s refusing to retain God in their knowledge.

Notwithstanding all this we see multitudes of men of whom it may be said that God is not in all their thoughts. They never think of Him. They do not recognize his providence. They do not refer to his will as a rule of conduct. They do not feel their responsibility to Him for what they think or do. They do not worship Him; nor thank Him for their mercies. They are without God in the world. Yet they think well of themselves. They are not aware of the dreadful guilt involved in thus forgetting God, in habitually failing to discharge the first and highest duty that rests on rational creatures. Self-respect or regard to public opinion often renders such men decorous in their lives. But they are really dead while they live; and they have no security against the powers of darkness.

It is painful also to see that scientific men and philosophers so often endeavour to invalidate the arguments for the existence of God, and advance opinions inconsistent with Theism; arguing, as they in many cases do, to prove either that there is no evidence of the existence of any power in the universe other than of physical force, or that no knowledge, consciousness, or voluntary action can be predicated of an infinite Being. This is done in apparent unconsciousness that they are undermining the foundations of all religion and morality; or that they are exhibiting a state of mind which the Scriptures pronounce worthy of reprobation.

 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 279–281.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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

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