Abandon Facts but Keep Feelings? (Machen)

J. Gresham Machen Liberalism is not new.  The liberal seminary magazines I get in the mail are printed in full color and talk about smartphones, laptops, and podcasts, but the liberalism in them pre-dates today’s technology.  The magazine I got in the mail last week doesn’t mention the cross, sin or the resurrection, and it barely mentions Jesus or the Bible.  But it does talk about social justice, “Christian” art, interfaith dialogues, and debt.  This kind of liberalism has been around quite some time.

J. Gresham Machen and others had to deal with liberalism a century ago.  Back then the liberals didn’t mind letting go of facts as long as they could keep their religious feelings.  In other words, it didn’t matter to them if Jesus actually came back to life.  What was important was that they could feel him living on in their hearts.  Machen addressed this false Christianity quite well:

“It seems to be such a promising solution of our apologetic difficulties just to say that science and religion belong in two entirely different spheres and can never by any chance come into conflict.  It seems to be so easy for religion to purchase peace by abandoning to science the whole sphere of facts in order to retain for itself merely a sphere of feelings and ideals.”

“But in reality these tactics are quite disastrous.  You effect thus a strategic retreat; you retreat into …an inner line of defense whence you think that science can never dislodge you.  You get down into your pragamtist dugout and listen comfortably to the muffled sound of the warfare being carried on above by those who are old-fashioned enough to be interested in truth; you think that whatever creedal changes, whatever intellectual battle there may be, you at least are safe.  You have your Christian experience, and let science and biblical criticism do what they will!”

“But do not comfort yourself.  The enemy in this warfare is good at mopping up captured trenches; he has in his mechanistic psychologists a very efficient mopping up squad.  He will soon drive you out of your refuge; he will destroy whatever decency and liberty you thought you had retained; and you will discover, too late, that the battle is now lost, and that your only real hope lay not into retreating into some anti-intellectualistic dugout but in fighting bravely to prevent the initial capture of the trench.”

“No, the battle between naturalism and supernaturalism, between mechanism and liberty, has to be fought sooner or later; and I do not believe that there is any advantage in letting the enemy choose the ground upon which it shall be fought.  The strongest defense of the Christian religion is the outer defense; a reduced and inconsistent Christianity is weak; our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word.”

Exactly.  Abandoning the facts of the faith (like the flood, the exodus, the wilderness wanderings, the monarchy, the miracles of Christ, his death and resurrection, etc.) may seem like a peaceful move, but it only exposes one to the head-on assaults of Satan.  Machen is right: “Our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word,” which gives the historical, factual accounts of God’s supernatural intervention to redeem his people from sin through Christ’s cross.  Under that banner, the Christian can bravely fight the battle!

The above quote is found on page 362 of Machen’s Shorter Writings.

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


The Blind Faith of Naturalism (Colson)

Growing up, I remember overhearing Chuck Colson’s “Breakpoint” from my mom’s kitchen radio.  Sometimes I would stop and listen.  I grew to appreciate his commentary, even though I didn’t always agree with all of it.  Here’s part of a previously unpublished memo of Colson’s from around 10 or 15 years ago:

It never ceases to amaze me that people are willing to bet their lives on naturalism; not only is it self-refuting, but to believe it is an act of supreme hubris.  I say supreme hubris because naturalism is the assumption that the only thing that can be known is that which you see and can validate with one of your five senses.  So what the naturalist is really saying is, if I can’t prove it’s true, then it can’t be true.  If I can’t, by physical observation, conclude something is real, then it can’t be real.

Of course, there are all kinds of things in life that we cannot see or apprehend with our senses that are nonetheless true, love being one of the most obvious.  The principle that allows an airplane to fly, the lift created by air traveling more slowly under the wings than over the wings, is a visible principle, but you can’t see the air actually moving.  It is measurable, of course, but still a certain amount of faith is involved in knowing anything.

Later Colson notes how naturalism is self-refuting because a naturalist presupposes that everything came about by chance, by evolution.  The naturalist says that reasonable, intelligent, and rational human beings evolved by chance mutations and evolutionary principles.  How can one prove this by physically observable facts?  Here’s Colson:

…To come to that conclusion, you’re relying on a brain and a thinking process that evolved by chance.  If it has evolved by chance, you have no idea whether it’s reliable.  Attempt to prove to me that an organ that evolved by chance is going to be reliable to always give you the right answer to any particular question.  Or prove to me that this organ has the capacity of knowledge, which is distinguishing what is real from what isn’t.  The answer, of course, is that you can never get there.

The naturalist is proceeding in blind faith.  He is defying what is self-evident, both in nature and the creation and in terms of our moral inclination.  He is, as C. S. Lewis said, like a man trying to lift himself up by grabbing himself by the collar and raising his hands.  He won’t get off the ground, but he will very likely strangle himself.

The naturalist is in the position of assuming that he knows everything he needs to know, and that everything that can be known is accessible to him through his senses.  It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to arrive at that conclusion.  But once you do, you have nothing.  You are defying the evidence.

Chuck Colson, My Final Word, p. 226-227.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Worldview of Naturalism

In Western culture, one popular worldview is that of naturalism.  Naturalism is the worldview that believes, in a word, that nature is all there is.  This worldview “regards the natural, material, and physical universe as the only reality.”  Naturalists say the cosmos is a closed system of cause and effect; nothing is beyond nature, there is no supernatural.  Quite obviously, this worldview is diametrically opposed to the historic Christian worldview.

Kenneth Samples has an outstanding chapter on naturalism in his book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.  In this chapter, Samples lists some typical distinctive features of naturalism.  In the form of a question, what are some beliefs a naturalist holds?

1) Monism. Monism is the metaphysical view that all reality is one thing or stuff.  By rejecting the supernatural, naturalists affirm that ‘everything is composed of natural entities.’  Naturalists agree that the physical universe – with its constituents of matter, energy, time, and space – is the one fundamental reality from which all things are derived.

2) Materialism.  Materialism is a particular type of monism.  This metaphysical view considers everything in the universe to be matter (that is, composed of material objects).  Nonmaterial entities or substances – souls, spirits, and angels – simply do not exist.  And, because the God of the Bible is an immaterial nonphysical being, materialists dismiss God as nonexistent and illusory.

3) Physicalism. Physicalism asserts that what actually exists is ultimately constituted of physical realities.  This theory entails the idea that all realities can be described an explained using only the vocabulary of chemistry and science.  Physicalism outright rejects all forms of mind-body dualism.

4) Scientism.  Scientism asserts that science is either the only reliable method (strong scientism) or the best, most dependable method (weak scientism) for obtaining genuine knowledge.  Naturalists who embrace scientism are convinced that the natural sciences are the only path that lead that lead to knowledge and truth.

5) Darwinian Evolution.  Naturalists assert that all life is the result of purely natural processes.  Evolution as a biological theory asserts that complex life-forms developed from more primitive life through a variety of mechanisms….  Naturalists staunchly defend some form of evolutionary theory because biological evolution is the only naturalistic explanation for life and the appearance of ‘homo sapiens.’

6) Antisupernaturalism. By insisting on natural causes, naturalism by its very definition dismisses the existence of the supernatural realm.   …All events, objects, and phenomena in the world must have purely natural explanations.  As one naturalist put it, ‘Naturalism, in essence, is simply the idea that human beings are completely included in the natural world: there’s nothing supernatural about us.”

7)  Atheism/Agnosticism.  Naturalists are typically atheistic in outlook, believing that no God or gods exist.  Because no supernatural realm exists, there can’t be a supernatural deity to affect the natural universe from the outside.  Atheists believe rather that the human mind invented God and, therefore, he is illusory.

8) Secular humanism.  The philosophical viewpoint of secular humanism strongly embraces all seven previous points that reflect the subcategories or family traits of the naturalist worldview.  This position emphatically opposes belief in God, religion, and anything supernatural.  Some would say therefore that secular humanism can be summed up in the statement: ‘Man is the measure of all things.’”

Though I’ve edited Samples’ points for the sake of length, this is a good summary of the worldview of naturalism.  In the rest of this chapter, Samples goes on to evaluate it by worldview standards: is it logical? coherent? does it have explanatory power? does it address the needs of humanity? (etc.).  You’ll have to read the chapter to see how Samples takes naturalism apart and says it is not a valid worldview and that it cannot stand up to Christianity.  Again, here’s the book: A World of Difference (the above quotes were taken from chapter 12).

rev shane lems