19 June 2020
In the last sharing, we have noted that there is certainly a place for thinking and reasoning for the believer and there is also a place to understand the developments in history that can impact our faith and our mission.
The following sharings by J.I.Packer are helpful in this regard:-
“The gospel does in truth proclaim the redemption of reason. All truth is God’s truth; facts, as such, are sacred, and nothing is more un-Christian than to run away from them.
‘Reason’ means reasoning, as ‘faith’ means believing and trusting. The Christian’s intellectual vocation is to think about all things in such a way that his life of thought is part of his life of faith and homage to God. Whereas the non-Christian is led by faithless reason, the Christian should be guided by reasoning faith.
God forbids Christians to lose interest in His world. He made man to rule the created order; man is set in it to have dominion over it and to use it for God’s glory, and therefore he may, and must, study its contents and its problems. This belongs to his vocation both as a man and as a Christian…
We must use the minds He gave us to apply revealed truth to the whole of life.When Christ enjoins us to love our God with all our mind, He is telling us to use our minds not merely to learn Biblical doctrine, but to apply that biblical doctrine to the facts of God’s world as we know them, so we may interpret them correctly and make a right and reverent use of our knowledge.”
The Apostle Paul himself wrote:- “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
Satan knows that if he can win the battle of the mind in unbelievers and believers, he can easily deceive them and lead them astray (for Christians in particular)) and prevent unbelievers from seeing the ‘light’ in Jesus. It is therefore pertinent for believers to know what has affected the thinking of the modern man and woman and how this can prevent him or her from receiving the message of the gospel. Also, it is also significant to realise that a proper understanding of “wholesome doctrine and biblical teachings’ can help the believer from being led astray by those who ‘peddle’ the Word of God for selfish and worldly reasons.
We come now to the shift in science, philosophy and theology.
Shift in science
The rise of modern science did not conflict with what the BIble teaches: in fact scientists have stressed that modern science was born out of the Christian world view and the scientists who acknowledged this were mainly non-Christians. They noted that Christianity is the mother of science because of the “insistence on the rationality of God” and the confidence “in the intelligible rationality of a personal being.” Because of the rationality, early scientists had a belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplying general principles. In other words, early scientists believed that because the world was created by a reasonable God, they were not surprised to discover that people could find out something true about nature and the universe on the basis of reason. The early modern scientists believed in the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in an open system. God and man were outside the cause-and-effect machine of the cosmos, and therefore they both could influence the machine. To them all that exists is not one big cosmic machine which includes everything
All these change when there was a shift from the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in an open system to the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system – i.e. nothing is outside a total cosmic machine; everything which exists is a part of it. This then left no place for God. But equally it left no place for man – man disappears, to be viewed as some form of determined or behavioristic machine. When psychology and social science were made a part of a closed cause-and-effect system, along with physics, astronomy and chemistry, it was not only God who died, man also died. And within this framework, love died. There is no place for love or morals in a totally closed cause-and-effect system. There is also no place for the freedom of people – man becomes a zero, only a part of the machinery.
In the humanism of the HIgh Renaissance, flowing on to maturity through the Enlightenment, man was determined to make himself autonomous. This flow continues, and by the time we come to the shift of modern science, man himself is devoured. Man as man is dead – life is pointless, devoid of meaning. Charles Darwin extended the concept to the origin of biological life – all biological life came from simpler forms by a process called “the survival of the fittest”.
Statistical studies indicate that pure chance (randomness) could not have produced the biological complexity in the world out of chaos, in any amount of time so far suggested. If chance alone operates, why should that which exists (including biological structure) move towards a consistent increase of complexity? More importantly, no one has yet shown how man could have been brought forth from non-man solely by time plus chance. The concept of the survival of the fittest and the advance of the fitter groups opened the door to racism and the non-compassionate use of accumulated wealth to be sanctioned and made respectable in the name of ‘science’. These ideas and concepts propelled the Nazi movement in Germany that stated that the law of nature must take its course in the survival of the fittest; we are all familiar with the atrocities which arise from such a concept and the ‘holocaust” came about because of the ethic of strength over weakness.
When we share the gospel today with some young people, we often encounter them saying that they believe in science, in Darwinism and that gives no room for belief in God, Many of these young people may not even understand which science they believe in, and they may not even realise that Darwinism is just a hypothesis which has not been proven conclusively and there are currently even many “gaps'” which have not been closed in this concept. The humanist thinkers, beginning from themselves autonomously, either come to the conclusion that there are no values and meaning or suddenly try to produce values and meaning out of rhetoric.Thus, there are problems of both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. The concept of an unbroken line from molecule to man on the basis of only time plus chance, leaves these crucial questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’ unanswered.
The Shift in Philosophy
Let us now examine the shift in philosophy. The older philosophic views were optimistic, for they assumed that people would be able through reason alone to establish a unified but true knowledge of what reality is,and that when this happened they would have satisfying explanations for everything encountered in the universe and for all that people are and think.
Unfortunately, this did not materialise – each philosophy showed that the previous one had failed and then tried to construct his answer, which future thinkers would again show to be inadequate to contain all of knowledge and all of life. The older philosophies could not find the answer and they optimistically believed that someone would. A drastic shift then took place that causes modern man to be modern man.
The concept of autonomous freedom came about, led by Rousseau, depicting the hero as the man who fights all of society’s standards, values and restraints. This idea actually was a factor that led to the hippie world of the 1960s. Rousseau was joined by David Hume who also criticised reason as a method of knowing truth and defended the centrality of human experience and feeling. Then came Goethe who equated nature and truth. He did not just substitute nature for the Bible, for him nature was God. Goethe became pantheistic to find a universal for all observed particulars in reality, even though these particulars were often contradictory. Influenced by Rousseau, romanticism was born – reason was the hero of the Enlightenment, emotion became the hero of romanticism.
The concept that everything is a machine and the ideal of a person’s having freedom could not hold together and had to go off in divergent directions. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, tried to keep the noumenal world (which consists of concepts of meaning and value) and the phenomenal world (the world which can be measured, the external world and world of science) together. However, there was no way beginning from man alone to bring these two worlds together. Another German philosopher, Hegel, understood the need for unity between the two worlds but struggled with it ending up with “no single proposition about reality can truly reflect what is the case”. To him, in the heart of truth of a given proposition one finds its opposite. The result is that all possible particular positions are indeed relativized – truth is to be sought in synthesis rather than antithesis.
Soren Kierkegaard (a Dane) came along and brought the notion that reason will always lead to pessimism. One must therefore try to find optimistic answers in regard to meaning and values on an “upper level” outside of reason. Through a “leap of faith” one must try to find meaning without reason. Modern man is a man of dichotomy – the dichotomy is the total separation between the area of meaning and values, and the area of reason. This is the mark of modern man. Modern people have no place for a personal God. But equally they have no place for man as man, or for love, or for freedom, or for significance. Beginning only from man himself, people affirm that man is only a machine But those who hold this position cannot live like machines! Thus they must “leap upstairs” against their reason and try to find something which gives meaning to life,even though to do so they have to deny their reason. Such a solution is intellectual suicide, and one may question the intellectual integrity of those who accept such a position when their starting point was pride in the sufficiency of human reason.
Today, not only in philosophy but in politics, government, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people had always thought of truth, has died. This is the seed that leads to postmodernism which claims that all truth is relative and there is no absolute truth. Taking such a stand, it is no surprise that the Biblical absolutes are rejected in favour of relativizing and synthesizing all possibilities.
In seeking to find meaning in life, modern man is also prepared to deny his reason and this is equally unsatisfying and leads to intellectual suicide and the abandonment of integrity and absolute truth.
Our understanding of the shift in philosophy can help us to understand the dilemma and distress of modern man when he refuses the offer of God in Jesus and opts for solutions which border on nebulous reasoning and contradictions. Yet the modern man clings to this rather than find true meaning in life which only God can offer in Jesus Christ.
We will go on to consider the shift in theology, which concerns believers more directly and to realise how this has diluted our beliefs and understanding of what God has revealed and even compromised our doctrines.