Tag Archives: secularism

Is the Book of Psalms Obsolete?

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
–Psalm 51:1 ESV

David wrote about his experience with sin and his discovery of important moral truths nearly three thousand years ago. What does his writing have to do with twenty-first century human beings?

The first time I wrote a blog post questioning the use of the word “marriage” for same-sex unions, I received quite a few comments. Among them were several writers who objected strenuously to my position on that moral question. One person, unlike the other objectors, did not try to persuade me that I had misinterpreted the Bible. Instead, he protested the whole idea of using the Bible to learn the right thing to do. He said that he was smart enough to decide for himself what was right and wrong, and he did not need a Bible to tell him. I had never before encountered someone who thought he needed no external standard to guide his moral choices, and I asked him how he knew that he was doing it right. He replied, “When it makes me feel good, then I know it is right.”

If David had subscribed to that moral standard, he never would have written Psalm 51.

I have been blogging for about 10 years, and I have often blogged about the effect of sin in our lives. David wrote about that problem, too, and in Psalm 51 uses the word “sin” more than once:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
–Psalm 51:2-3

The word “sin” is not a popular word among secular thinkers, and among those who call themselves “progressives,” there are many who believe that it is immoral to call anyone a sinner. They feel so strongly about it that they even accuse parents of child abuse if the parents tell their children that they are born sinners.

If David’s worldview included rejection of the whole concept of sin, he would never have written Psalm 51.

David makes other comments that arouse scorn and pejorative labels in contemporary culture. David speaks to God and says,

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
–Psalm 51:4

Contemporary culture expresses scornful dismissals and abusive language for God that is unthinkable in polite conversation, let alone public discourse. The intellectual elite think they are being polite when they accuse Christians of serving an “imaginary friend,” and those who believe that nothing in all the universe is more intelligent or powerful than themselves utterly reject the notion of letting God push them around with a bunch rules. They believe that they are quite well able to know what is good for them, and they don’t need an imaginary friend to tell them anything.

If David had agreed with contemporary culture that no power in the universe had any right to tell him what to do, he would never have written Psalm 51.

If you closely examine contemporary cultural mantras, you know that the culture would never send you to a higher power in order to fix what is broken in your life. The culture believes that you must merely “dig deep” within yourself to find the power to do the things that make you feel good. When you do what makes you feel good, the culture says that you won’t be wallowing in self-degradation and begging to be cleansed, because, according to secular thinkers, when you feel good about what you are doing, you won’t feel bad about yourself.

Furthermore, if you do doubt yourself, you can simply take a poll and find out what everyone else thinks, and that should clear up your moral choices. According to the culture, when you are part of a consensus that something is right, whether it is abortion, homosexual behavior, or full frontal nudity, the fact that there is consensus means you are not alone. If you act consistent with the consensus, you do not need to do any research at all to know what is right. If everybody else feels good about doing it, you can do it, too, and feel good about it.

If David had believed that knowing the consensus was the same thing as knowing what was right, he would never have written Psalm 51.

David would not have fitted in with contemporary culture at all, just as confessing Christians do not fit in. Studies of the culture, conducted by Barna and Pew, reveal that the culture regards many central Christian teachings as either irrelevant, detrimental to the culture, or dangerous. The idea of sin is anathema to secular thinkers. The idea of God is anathema to all who consider evolution to be the guiding power in the universe. A man who calls himself a sinner for doing something that made him feel good looks ridiculous to secular thinkers. A man who believes he has broken his relationship with the Creator of the universe by doing something that displease the Creator is to be pitied for his lack of self-esteem. A man who believes he needs to be cleansed because he is a filthy sinner, a man who believes he needs to be born all over again with a new heart because he is out of sync with the will of God will be laughed to scorn by those who say they can plainly see that there is no God.

We can all be grateful that David was not a contemporary secular thinker, because instead of leaving us to contemplate our own sinful human nature and our multiple specific sins against God, David confessed his own experience with sin, and then he showed us how to be healed when we sin:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.          –Psalm 51:10

If you have ever been suddenly brought to attention by the recognition that you committed sin against God, sin you hid from even yourself as you did it, then you know that you cannot heal what is sick, or fix what is broken, by claiming that it made you feel good at the time. You know what David knew—you are a sinner. You have built a wall between yourself and God, a wall  made up of your own will and wishes. Furthermore, the “good” feelings that accompanied your behavior are dissolving in your shame when you realize that your barrier is full of holes, and God can see exactly who you are. Then is a good time to borrow David’s words and pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

The Bible is full of Jesus, from the first page to the last. The day that Jesus rose from the dead, he joined a couple of men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walked together, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Christ] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). David’s Psalm 51 surely came up that day. When you read David’s words, baptism is vividly referenced in David’s statements, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:2 ESV) David further wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), obviously pointing forward to the work of Christ on the cross, which Paul would describe by saying, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

The moral values of contemporary culture are not very different from the values in the cultures contemporary with David’s lifetime. In fact, contemporary values are well described as far back as Genesis, where God observed that “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). That is why the work of Jesus on the cross is relevant to every era. In every age it is always necessary to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV).

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Government is Not the Answer

Someone finally said it in straightforward language.Never before have both parties failed so spectacularly, producing two dishonest, deceitful candidates who should be disqualified from running for town council, much less leader of the free world.” (David French, quoted in the Daily Briefing by Nick Pitts at http://www.denisonforum.org/daily-briefing) For everyone who does not rely on God as the only hope for a broken world, such a pair sounds like the end of all that is good in the USA.

Take note that each of these candidates represents what secularism most fondly approves–the actualization of the deep yearnings of human beings who simply want to be the best they can be. Each of these candidates has promised at one time or another to fulfill every possible self-worshiping dream of a secular thinker. Each promises benefits and opportunities galore. If “the people” vote to receive what makes them feel good, either of these candidates will be a fine choice.

Thus, if nothing changes between now and election day, the voters will assuredly elect someone who will give them everything they ever wanted. Voters who believe government is the answer to the brokenness of the world will put the person who agrees with them in a position of immense power. For once, if you believe government is the solution to national and global challenges, you can rest easy, because both of the candidates completely agree with you.

Some of us doubt even the most powerful government on earth can fix all the brokenness. Some of us are quite confident that the answer to the world’s problems does not lie in the space/time continuum at all. We are not alone in our viewpoint. In fact, wise people have always recognized that the evils in the space/time continuum can only be reversed by someone not limited by the space/time continuum. One of the more famous among our number was David, the shepherd who became king of ancient Israel. He wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7). The phrase “chariots and horses” is a metaphor for government. Ordinary subjects in David’s lifetime possessed neither chariots nor horses. Government, the king and his retinue, had chariots and horses. In plain speech, then, David said, “Some trust in government, but we trust in God.

Voters who trust in God will be hard-pressed to know how to vote in the election in November. When neither candidate can be considered the “lesser” of the two evils, it is very hard to decide what to do. Fortunately, if we trust in God, a wise and Wonderful Counselor is available to us at all times. In prayer, both speaking and listening, each of us can learn to discern the right course of action.

A good way to begin praying about this problem is to pray Psalm 20 in its entirety. The whole psalm speaks of turning to God for the solution to our problems, but this psalm does not dump government by the side of the road. The psalmist recognizes God’s gift of government as something humanity needs. Human beings need wise human administrators, even when the leaders are, as they inevitably are, broken, flawed leaders. Even though the psalm lays all the problems in God’s hands, it recognizes God’s purposes worked out in human authority structures. The final verse prays for the human government to be subject to God and to do the right thing for the citizens. The psalmist implies, but does not develop, the truth that some problems do not lie within the scope of God’s plan for human leadership. The ultimate authority lies with God, and he delegates authority for various sorts of problems to a variety of people. In the set of all problems, only a subset is within God’s purposes for government.

Pray for your government, and put all the problems in the hands of God. Open your Bible to Psalm 20 and personalize this prayer for your government. Then listen. Learn how God will lead you to perform your own civic duty in this republic of republics and let him guide you to the right way to interact with the government. Only God knows the outcome in November that will advance his kingdom and his purposes.

Are Human Beings Merely Biochemical Machines?

It is a principle of secular thinking that humans have no spiritual component. In other words, they say humans do not have souls or spirits. Secular thinkers believe that the universe described in the laws of physics is all there is, and they are adamant that humans cease to exist at the moment of death, except for the dead body that requires safe disposal.

It is hard for a real observer of human beings to agree with the secular worldview. Dogs, cats, worms and whales are all non-spiritual beings, and whales, for example, are extremely intelligent. So are apes, which seem so similar to humans that comparisons almost make sense. Yet even in the ape family of beings, there is not one that comes vaguely close to a human being.

If human beings have no spiritual component, and if human beings are simply one step farther down the evolutionary path than a chimpanzee, why are human beings so utterly different from chimpanzees? Can anyone believe that the differences between humans and chimpanzees are simply biochemical? I have a few questions:

  • Why don’t drugs fix problems such as depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder?
  • Why do humans insist on going beyond the need for nutrition and prefer food with flavor, color and artful presentation?
  • Why do humans need relationships beyond a partner for sexual intercourse and some association for personal safety?
  • Why do humans have aspirations that transcend their need for food, clothing and shelter? In other words, why are humans never satisfied with the way things are?
  • Why do humans change the space around them in so many ways when other animals hardly leave footprints?
  • Why don’t all homo sapiens make identical sounds for purposes of gathering crowds, finding sex partners or warning of predators? In fact, why do humans have so many ways to express language, laws, government, art, philosophy and religion? Why does no other creature even bother with these things? (Please refrain from the temptation to tell me that an elephant or a cat has produced real art.)
  • Why does every human culture include a religious element? Even the most atheistic, secularized humans on earth worship something—themselves.

Human beings obviously have facets to their existence that no other animal has, yet it is not possible to find an origin or reason for these differences that can be measured in the scientific way. The differences between humans and animals are vast and they cannot be expressed as equations or measurements. Human beings all have aspects that simply transcend the time/space world of physics and chemistry. Human beings are spiritual beings.

The Bible explains the phenomenon in many different ways, but there is one verse that sums up the real difference between humans and mere animals: “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). Human beings are the result of a specific act of creation by God in which God breathed his own breath into them.

Planned Parenthood, the women who go to them for abortions, and people all over the world who are trying to prevent women from “suffering” the “disease” of “unwanted pregnancy” need to pay attention to this truth. God put something of himself in every human being, and when an abortion provider is cutting the spinal cord of a living baby in order to harvest the baby’s head for research, all parties to that act are setting themselves up for a confrontation with God Almighty. This crime of murder is not the unforgivable sin, and any guilty party can come to God in repentance and obtain forgiveness, but in order to obtain forgiveness, the guilty party would need to recognize that he or she needed forgiveness.

If human beings are only biochemical machines, no forgiveness is required. Abortion simply cleanses an unwanted parasite from a woman’s uterus. It is no different from liposuction. I do have two questions:

  • If abortion is not the murder of a living baby human, what good are the body parts of this organism for research in the realm of human medicine?
  • If abortion is not the murder of a living baby human, why do couples post on Facebook an ultrasound of the lump of cells in a woman’s uterus and announce, “We’re pregnant! Meet Ellen!”

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

 

 

What do Twenty-first Century Christians Believe?

In his book We Cannot Be Silent, R. Albert Mohler summarizes some research by Christian Smith into the elements of faith that are most prominently exhibited in the lives of teen and young adult Christians in the first decade of the twenty-first century. I would love to read the books in which Smith details his research, and I will read these books, but the summary reported by Mohler is so consistent with my own observations that I will dare to say that Smith’s research is disturbingly accurate. Smith uses the term moralistic therapeutic deism to describe what passes for orthodox Christianity in the lives of many young people.

As soon as you look at the term, you see why it fits. First, these young people have a fervent commitment to what they believe is morality, but the core of their morality is nothing like the moral code of the Bible. In fact, their morality is not an expression of God-fearing faith, but rather it is an expression of human-fearing despair. Their morality suggests that murdering unborn babies and shutting down vital industries because polar bears are alleged to be starving are essential expressions of compassion and responsibility. Nevertheless, they knit this moral code into a general sense that God must want them to do right.

Second, they aspire to decisions and actions that make them feel better; the outworking of their morality is therapy for their vague but persistent feeling that the existence of humans is a cosmic threat. Because of this attitude, they enter into a consensus that all sorts of things that cannot be proved threaten humans and the whole earth but the threats must be believed because the threat is so dire. They don’t believe in sin, and certainly not in original sin, but they are sure that humans as a species are responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened.

Finally, they worship a God who has no image, and they feel most in tune with their spirituality if everybody is mouthing the same words, even when the words have no legitimate meaning. The deity to which they consistently turn is government, and in the words of government, as laws and regulations, they find the outworking of their penance and absolution.

According to Christian Smith, the adherents of moralistic therapeutic deism have a simple creed:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

The worldview of people who subscribe to this creed is about saving polar bears, curing cancer, and dividing everything equally. Safe, consensual sex in any combination of humans renders marriage an obsolete concept, an unborn baby is protoplasmic waste whose only value is as a vehicle for research, and it is immoral to eat broccoli, because vegetables have feelings, too.

This worldview is in serious conflict with the biblical worldview that starts with a commitment to Jesus Christ and works out as follows:

  1. I put my trust in the triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  2. I center my life in Christ.
  3. Christ is first, and I am last.
  4. I willingly die rather than give up Christ. The cross is Christ’s glory and my greatest aspiration is to be like him.
  5. Instead of self-actualization, I aspire to be obedient to God’s will.
  6. My weakness is a gift that allows God’s power to triumph.
  7. In contrast to the culture, I always stand out rather than blend in, living by God’s absolute revealed values.
  8. I do not evolve, and my values do not evolve.
  9. I am first to take on the dirty jobs, serving others rather than promoting self.

It is inevitable that God’s worldview will be in direct conflict with feel-good deism. This is not a bad thing. What is unfortunate is that for so long, moralistic therapeutic deism has held sway in the culture as if it were Christianity. It is actually quite a beneficial development that Christianity is now clearly differentiated from all other ways of living.

The real challenge ahead for confessing Christians is the inevitable conflict when confessing Christians exercise their right to free exercise of religion while moralistic therapeutic deists look askance at behavior they disapprove as surely as any atheist does. Why can’t Kim Davis just do her job and hand out marriage licenses to same-sex couples? Why doesn’t football coach Joe Kennedy go silently into a room and pray behind closed doors instead of “making a scene” on the fifty-yard line? Why must those rabid pro-lifers pray and sing on the sidewalk in front of the local Planned Parenthood clinic? For the twenty-first century deists, secular definitions of marriage, prayer and abortion just make sense, and they cannot understand why the quaint language of some ancient book has any bearing on life and death in the contemporary world.

Confessing Christians, Christians who can state their faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, have been standing out from the general culture for about two thousand years. It will always be so. This is our destiny.

 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.     —John 15:18-19 ESV