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free will

January 05, 2009

Today I want to step into dangerous territory and discuss free will. This is a massive topic with implications that stretch to almost every part of the Christian faith. I want to look at just one small part of it. I want to deal with a statement I’ve heard and read time and again. I came across this most recently when reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. “Free will,” he says, “though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” If God had not given us free will, such people say, we could not truly have loved him. Our love would be the love of robots, of automatons, love that would be neither genuine nor sincere. It would be a meaningless, forced love which in reality would be no love at all. This is what we are told. I want to suggest today that the Bible does not tell us one way or another. This may be a valid inference, but it is one that is not explicit in Scripture and, hence, one we should be hesitant to declare with great confidence.

I am writing today knowing that I could be wrong and inviting you to show me if that is, indeed, the case.

My line of reasoning will go like this. If this statement is true, it casts doubt on the manner and sincerity of the Christian’s love of God in heaven. Therefore, if this statement is untrue of the heavenly man, it may also be untrue of the earthly man.

It was Augustine of Hippo who first described the four states of man. They are most easily understood when put into the form of a table like this one:

nonposse.jpg

Adam and Eve were in what Thomas Boston calls a state of “primitive integrity,” able to choose whether they would sin or not sin. They were able to sin but were also able to not sin. The choice lay before them and we know which path they chose. Adam’s decision cast man into a state of “entire depravity” in which people can no longer make such a choice. Man is now able to sin and unable to not sin. There is not a person on earth who can go a lifetime without sinning; neither is there one who would wish to. Our very natures have become sinful. However, those who are born again, who are regenerated by the Spirit of God, are in a state of “begun recovery” (again, according to Boston) and every moment of every day face a choice. They are able to sin but are also able not to sin. Experience and observation shows that Christians sometimes make one choice and sometimes make another. Their new natures give them the ability to choose to not sin, but the old man constantly fights back, pushing to choose what is sinful. But all the while Christians look forward to the day of “consummate happiness” in heaven when they will be able to not sin and unable to sin. God will grant them the ability to not sin and will remove any vestige of desire to sin. This is one of the great promises of heaven, that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).”

It is this final part of the grid that causes me to wonder if our love truly had to be entirely free for it to be genuine. After all, as Christians we look with great anticipation to the day when our sin will be taken away and we will no longer even be able to sin. At this time will our love for God be more genuine or less genuine? Will we love God more or less than we love him now? When we read Scripture and, with great anticipation look to the passages that describe heaven, we can only conclude that our love for God today is only a shadow of the love we will have for him in that day. And yet it will be a love that is restricted by our sinless natures—a love that will not allow us to ever sin or even consider sin.

As I understand it, Augustine would agree with me here. He would say that the ability to sin is not essential to free will. After all, God is free but without the ability to sin. The angels are free but without any ability to sin. And, as we’ve established, we will be free in heaven, but not free to sin.

All of this to say that I simply do not find that we need to believe that the only love worth having is a love that can choose not to love.

But feel free to tell me if and how I’m wrong here…

October 01, 2007

Last week I went to Ottawa to enjoy my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful, classy, simple wedding. While the service was great from beginning to end, I particularly enjoyed the brief sermon which drew a startling contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God; between the love of the world and the love of God.

The pastor began by discussing a marriage contract drawn up by Albert Einstein. With his marriage disintegrating and already participating in extra-marital affairs, Einstein made a last-ditch effort to keep his marriage somewhat intact, even if only for the sake of the children. This is the contract he sent to his wife:

A. You will make sure

  1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;

  2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;

  3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, you will forego

  1. my sitting at home with you;

  2. my going out of traveling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

  1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;

  2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;

  3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.

His wife eventually agreed to them terms. When he received her response, “Einstein insisted on writing to her again ‘so that you are completely clear about the situation.’ He was prepared to live together again ‘because I don’t want to lose the children and I don’t want them to lose me.’ It was out of the question that he would have a ‘friendly’ relationship with her, but he would aim for a ‘businesslike’ one. ‘The personal aspects much be reduced to a tiny remnant,’ he said. ‘In return, I assure you of proper comportment on my part, such as I would exercise to any woman as a stranger.”

This comes from the pen (and from the heart!) of one of the brightest men the world has ever known. It’s a contract just shocking for its boldness and its polite disgust; its undertones of anger. Just imagine the state of the heart that would write such a thing.

What a contrast to the wisdom of the Bible. What a contrast to Colossians 3:5-17:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God!


I’m on my way down to Mobile, Alabama where I am going to bring a few reports from the Expositors’ Conference featuring Dr. Steve Lawson and Dr. John MacArthur. I hope to check in a bit later today…

September 16, 2005

This is the sixth article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here and the fifth here. We are reaching the end of the book; all that remains is today’s chapter and then the conclusion.

This chapter is an attempt to explain postmodernism. As anyone can attest who has attempted to define such a monster, arriving at a satisfactory explanation is no small feat. But Driscoll does quite a good job. He prefaces the chapter by reiterating the importance of the cultural mandate, though he provides no Scriptural support for this. “While we are here [on earth],” he writes, “we are supposed to be cultivating a culture like the kingdom…Culture is not something that God’s reformission people are merely to participate in; it is also something we are to cultivate, to plow, by living for the kindgom of heaven among the cultures of earth” (page 160).

Driscoll goes on to define postmodernism, at least as far as such a definition is possible. He begins by making four important points. First, postmodernism is basically a philosophical junk drawer into which people toss everything they can not make sense of. Ask four people for a definition and you’ll receive five answers. Second, postmodernity is not new, but was already being examined as a relic of the past as early as the 80’s. Third, postmodernity is simply another philosophy that is destined to pass away. And fourth, postmodern culture is not something that should be ignored, opposed or embraced; rather, it is simply another culture that Christians should seek to redeem.

The heart of the chapter is Driscoll’s list of seven demons that have entered the American church through what has been dubbed the emerging church. He warns that these are traps that must be avoided if we are to remain faithful to Scripture.

demon one: the Sky Fairy - Some church leaders see God as little more than an emasculated Sky Fairy who would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell. “As we work among cultures that value trendiness, we must not forget that the kingdom values timeless truths like sin, repentance, and faith that leads to good works” (page 167).

demon two: keeping it real…sinful - While emerging churches have placed emphasis on being real and genuine, many have taken this too far. “Because we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as license to sin without repentance” (page 167). We must not forget that the Scriptures value repentance much higher than being real or authentic.

demon three: hermeneutics of the Dragon - Postmodernity poses a challenge to the church because it changes the rules of hermeneutics. Too many postmodern leaders keep the Bible but do away with its authority, choosing to play with the interpretation and meaning of particular texts. Driscoll states, correctly I believe (in fact, this is something I’ve often mentioned in articles on this site), that while the battle of previous decades was for the Bible’s inerrancy, the battle for our day is over the Bible’s authority and meaning.

demon four: from creation back to ex nihilo - Postmodernism is a philosophy dealing with deconstruction. Too much deconstruction, without a building plan, leads to homelessness. “This sense of homelessness pervades those who have undertaken to deconstruct God, Scripture, gender, sin, the meaning of life, and anything else they can find” (page 169). The danger to postmodern churches is that, like fundamentalist churches, they become known more for what they are against, or what they are not, than for what they are.

demon five: the custom is always evil - We live in a gluttonous, spoiled culture where everyone is a customer and everything is a product to be marketed. This applies as much to the church as to a box of cereal. Many postmodern Christians have accepted a consumeristic mindset where they expect a church to cater to them and to meet their felt needs. “But as we cultivate a counterculture, we must not forget that what people need most is to die to themselves and live for God. If we simply give people what they want, we will not be giving them what they need” (page 172).

demon six: the photocopy heresy - Deeply embedded in our culture is the myth of egalitarianism, that everyone is equal in every way. This denies the obvious: that God has created people with different skills, roles and abilities. A postmodern church that is addicted to egalitarianism will be confused over many issues, including those dealing with sexuality and gender. It may also refuse to acknowledge any authority, including that of pastor or elder. In advanced forms this may even diminsh God (through open theism, for example), to make Him more equal to us. As Christians we must remember the duly-appointed authority structures God has seen fit to give us.

demon seven: the hyphenated Christian - Postmoderns reject any authority beyond themselves and reject any claim to truth other than the claim that there is no valid truth claim. Postmodernism has rejected truth and settled instead on the idea of multiple truths, none of which is in any way absolute. The Bible, though, claims to be truth and to reveal truth. It claims to hold total authority over the life of believers. “As we work among cultures, we must never proclaim Jesus as God merely from our limited and biased perspective but rather as God and the King who rules over a kingdom that includes the cultures of the earth. And the view from his throne is not simply one of the many equally valid perspectives but truth” (page 176).

Driscoll’s purpose in addressing these issues is to show that all of them will bring a rapid and inevitable end to reformission. He also warns of them so that believers can avoid being mired in these pitfalls as they seek to build a kingdom culture. He promises that “in the final chapter, I will share with you what this looks like at our church and will try to inspire you to pursue the dreams that God has given you for the place in which you live” (page 176).

Reflections

I began my reflection on the previous chapter by noting, “This was probably the shortest and lightest chapter in the book thus far. I agree with the majority of what Driscoll teaches here.” While this chapter was not nearly as light, I would have to echo the second sentence once more. I found myself saying “amen!” each time Driscoll discussed one of the demons that plague the emerging church. As he addressed each pitfall I could immediately think of examples of people or churches who have fallen into exactly that error. It seems clear that Driscoll has spent a great deal of time studying the emerging churches throughout American and reflecting on what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. I was especially pleased to hear his affirmation of the authority of Scripture, for if one has a biblical view of the authority of Scripture it seems likely that many other pieces of theology must necessarily fall into place.

I look forward to reading the final chapter and look forward to being able to reflect on the complete argument Driscoll presents in The Radical Reformission.

August 29, 2005

This is the third article in a series that examines various doctrinal and societal challenges the Evangelical church must face early in the 21st Century. Previously we examined Relativism and the dangerous doctrine of Open Theism. Today we will examine pragmatism, which has become a dominant force in both the world and the church. I want to take a brief look at the history of pragmatism and then show how it has influenced the church.

A History

Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that arose in the late nineteenth century in the United States. It is rooted in the teachings of men like John Stuart Mill who had a great formative influence in philosophers such as John Dewey who applied pragmatism to education and William James who applied it to religion. These men taught that the way to determine truth was to examine practical results. Having been founded by philosophers, pragmatism was cemented into the Western mindset by the Industrial Revolution. Pragmatism in industry has changed the way we live. James Boice says “The goal is to find the fastest, least expensive way of producing products and getting things done. Pragmatism has improved living standards for millions who now enjoy the benefits of home ownership, adequate clothing, indoor plumbing…and abundant food.” (Whatever Happened To The Gospel of Grace p.50) This mass production has been achieved, of course, at the cost of quality and craftsmanship.

Wikipedia says the following of pragmatism (emphasis added):

Pragmatism is characterized by the insistence on consequences, utility and practicality as vital components of truth. Pragmatism objects to the view that human concepts and intellect represent reality, and therefore stands in opposition to both formalist and rationalist schools of philosophy…Pragmatism does not hold, however, that just anything that is useful or practical should be regarded as true, or anything that helps us to survive merely in the short-term; pragmatists argue that what should be taken as true is that which most contributes to the most human good over the longest course. In practice, this means that for pragmatists, theoretical claims should be tied to verification practices—i.e., that one should be able to make predictions and test them—and that ultimately the needs of humankind should guide the path of human inquiry.

Few of us would object to the many benefits pragamtism has brought us. When we visit the local big box store to purchase second-rate furniture and cheap electronic goods for only a fraction of what it would cost to hire an expert to build them for us, we are experiencing the benefits of industrial pragmatism. The philosophy of pragmatism is deeply-rooted in our Western mindset.

A Definition

Pragmatism is defined by Webster’s as “the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value.” In short, truth is determined by consequences. Whether something is right or wrong, good or bad is primarily dependent on results.

A Challenge

Since the time of the Reformation, Protestants have affirmed the doctrine of Sola Scriptura which teaches that the Bible alone is to be our standard of morality and truth. This standard is rooted in the early church and, of course, in the Bible. It has always been a fundamental teaching of Protestantism. Sola Scriptura was the foundational doctrine of the Reformation - the doctrine upon which every other doctrine was built.

Pragmatism and Sola Scriptura must stand in opposition as each claims to be the key to determining truth. As Christians we need to decide if we are going to depend upon Scripture as the absolute standard of truth or if we will determine truth by consequences. Though we would be hard pressed to find a Christian who says “I believe in pragmatism” the philosophy manifests itself in the Christian world in many different ways. Though people affirm Sola Scriptura with their mouths (or doctrinal statements) they often deny it with their actions.

A Case Study

In order to understand how pragmatism can affect a church, let’s look at a fictional case study which compares two churches.

Oakville Community Church

A church of 250 people has been offered the opportunity to have a popular female minister preach in their church in a few weeks. Though the church believes that having a woman preach is unscriptural, they see the benefit of allowing her to preach just this one Sunday (no matter your feelings on women preachers, for the sake of this fictional story you’ll have to at least pretend you do not approve of women in teaching ministry). They share the news with the congregation and the people are electrified. They hold meetings to determine how they can best leverage this amazing opportunity. Eventually they decide they will spend a good portion of their advertising budget for that year on advertising this event. Each person is given cards to hand out to their friends and posters to hang in the work places. Prayer teams form to pray about this event and teams are trained to help respond to those who may wish to make commitments to Christ through the event.

As the big day approaches the excitement mounts. The morning of the service the members of the church arrive early, anticipating a great day in the history of their church. They are thrilled to see many of their friends and co-workers arrive. They are even more thrilled to see many strangers. By the time the service gets underway the church is packed. Literally hundreds of guests fill the seats that morning.

The service goes off without a hitch. The worship band plays songs that honor God and lead people to worship Him. The guest minister preaches an evangelistic sermon that shares the gospel message. By the end of the service many people are in tears and the prayer room at the back of the church is filled with people praying and making commitments to Christ. The congregation is overjoyed to see twenty five people come to the Lord.

In the aftermath of this service the twenty five people who made commitments to Christ all join the church and become active members. They grow in the Lord, becoming strong, committed Christians and even leading others to Christ. The church experiences a time of growth.

Second Baptist Church of Oakville

A church of 250 people has been offered the opportunity to have a popular female minister preach in their church in a few weeks. The leaders gather the congregation together to speak about the opportunity and after prayer and discussion they decide to affirm their belief that the Bible does not allow for female preachers. Though they acknowledge that his opportunity could help their church grow and lead people to the Lord they politely decline the invitation.

Several weeks later on the day the guest minister would have been there, the church has 250 people in attendance. There are two or three guests, conspicuous by their hand-written name tags. The pastor continues in his message series which is a 10-part exposition of Ephesians. He preaches a good sermon. At the end of the service no one goes to the prayer room and no one sheds a tear.

In the aftermath of this service the church continues its slow growth.

Which Is Right?

Now please, do not be distracted by the issue of women preachers, or you will be missing the point of the case study. Feel free to replace that example with any contentious issue. What we need to determine is which of these two churches was most faithful.

From our human perspective we would see no reason to doubt that the first church was faithful in using an open door provided by God. They took a step of faith and God blessed them richly. He also furthered His kingdom as twenty five people became believers that day. We have to acknowledge, though, that our human perspective means little if it does not agree with God’s perspective.

What would God say? God, above anything else, desires obedience. More than sacrifice, more than excellence, more than results, God wants obedience. By studying Scripture we can learn that in eternity when all is made clear, God will tell the second church that they were the ones that did His will. Results simply cannot excuse disobedience. God may choose to use our disobedience to further his purposes, but this does not give us license to ignore the clear teaching of the Word.

Evidently the first church was the pragmatic one. They foresaw wonderful results but ignored the Bible. The second church was the obedient one, also foreseeing the potential for wonderful results, but choosing to heed the Bible. The point is clear: either the Bible or the results need to be our standard. And as believers we must hold to the primacy of Scripture. The results, no matter how wild, cannot make up for disobedience.

Where You Might Find It

Pragmatism has reared its ugly head throughout the Christian world. It is found in statements about evangelistic techniques such as “if it only reaches one person it is worth it.” It is found especially in the Church Growth Movement. In Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church, a textbook for church growth, he writes “Never criticize any method that God is blessing.” He also says “We must be willing to adjust our worship practices when unbelievers are present. God tells us to be sensitive to the hang-ups of unbelievers in our services.” These ideas are not Biblical; they are rooted in the perceived consequences. We saw pragmatism at work before and after the release of The Passion of the Christ when far more emphasis was placed on the potential results of the movie than whether it was doctrinally-sound. Pragmatism is found wherever Christians run to join programs and hurry to change their worship services because of what they expect to see happen because of the changes they make. In short, it is found anywhere the emphasis is removed from what Scripture says and where the emphasis is placed on the expected results. Sadly, this means that it is found throughout the Evangelical world.

Concerns

We are far too human. We are limited in our perception and understanding. We are prone to believe that good results are necessarily indicative of faithfulness to Scripture. But this is simply not true. God sometimes chooses to use us despite our disobedience.

Similarly, God does not always provide the results we would like to see. There are missionaries that have spent many years laboring in the mission field and have seen very few hearts and lives changed. Does this necessarily mean that their technique is flawed? Does it necessarily mean that they are not doing God’s will? By no means! God sometimes chooses to provide results and other times He does not. Even Jesus experienced varied results when He ministered. In some towns the people listened and trusted in Him while other towns rejected Him. This does not mean that Jesus’’ technique was flawed or that He was being disobedient.

The obvious danger of pragmatism in the church is that we lose our focus on the absolute standard God has given us in His Word. When we lose that focus the church is on the slippery slope to becoming like the world. When we discard God’s standards we must depend on our own deeply flawed standards. We begin to trust in ourselves and lose our trust in God.

More than anything else God desires and expects obedience of His children. Pragmatism has no answer to the question of how we determine obedience, for obedience can only be determined through Scripture. Therefore pragmatism cannot be reconciled with Scripture and must be set aside in favor of faithfulness to God’s Word.

Resources

Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur

Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace

August 23, 2005

This is the second article in a series that examines various doctrinal and societal challenges the evangelical church must face early in the 21st Century. Previously we examined the dangerous doctrine of Open Theism. Today we will examine relativism. Future articles will examine the Emerging Church, ecumenism, postmodernism, and a variety of other topics.

Relativism is a challenge every Christian must face, for it forms the very foundation for the morality (or lack thereof) of our culture. We live in a pluralist society in which many religions and worldviews co-exist. Society dictates that the way for these divergent views to happily co-exist is to encourage tolerance and relativism, where we do not seek after the blacks and whites or wrongs and rights, but instead allow truth to be whatever the individual chooses for it to be. As people of the Book, we are beholden to a system of absolutes; a system of objective, God-given truth. This truth underlies everything we believe in. Thus we must stand strong against the relativism that is in our schools, our worldplaces and perhaps even our churches.

A Definition

Relativism is the view that truth is relative to a particular context and is not absolute. Truth varies from people to people, time to time, culture to culture and there are no absolutes. Truth is determined or created rather than discovered or determined.

The Challenge

“Baseball is a fun sport.” If I say those words am I making a statement about baseball or about myself? While it may seem that I am stating an objective truth about baseball, the fact is that I am really making a statement about myself. The meaning behind my words is “I believe baseball is a fun sport.” This is how we determine whether a statement is objective or subjective: does it state a fact about the subject or the speaker? Does it state a fact about baseball or about me? A subjective statement is an opinion, attitude or belief. “Baseball is a fun sport” is a true statement, but it a subjectively true statement - it is true to me, but may not be true to another person.

My wife does not like baseball. When she says, “Baseball is a boring sport” that statement is also true, even though it is in direct contradiction to what I said. It is true because it is also a subjective statement. The meaning apparent behind her words is “I do not enjoy baseball.” This is an opinion. Thus she and I can state contradictory truths, but they can both be right because of their subjective nature.

“The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.” When we look at this statement we will see that it is not a statement of opinion, attitude or belief, but a statement of fact. It is an objective truth. The statement says nothing about me, but tells something about baseball. The truth of this statement does not depend on my beliefs. The truth of this statement is there to be recognized or discovered rather than determined or created by myself. If my wife were to say, “the Blue Jays did not win the World Series in 1993” we would have a contradiction in apparently objective facts. Only one of these statements can be true. It is impossible for two opposing objective facts to be true. In this case, only a small amount of research would be necessary to prove which of these two statements is correct. We would also learn why Mitch Williams can never again show his face in Philadelphia and why Joe Carter never has to buy a beer in Toronto, but that is a whole different story.

Problems often arise when a person treats a subjective statement as if it were objective (or an objective statement as if it were subjective). We know this as the “subjectivist fallacy” or the “relativist fallacy.” The European Society for General Semantics defines this as follows: “The Relativist Fallacy is committed when a person rejects a claim by asserting that the claim might be true for others but is not for him/her.” It takes the following form:

  • Claim c is presented.
  • Person p asserts that c may be true for others but is not true for him/her.
  • Therefore p is justified in rejecting c.

We might see this fallacy in action if I were to say to Aileen, “baseball is a fun sport and you are stupid if you don’t enjoy it.” I have taken a subjective belief or opinion and attempted to make it objective or normative. Most people will immediately recognize this problem and see if for what it is, even if they don’t know of a fancy term to describe it.

It should be noted that the distinction between subjective and objective is not always perfectly clear. For example, consider beauty. Are there objective standards of beauty or is it truly “in the eye of the beholder?” This does not prove that objective and subjective standards do not exist, but only that there are sometimes difficulties in distinguishing which is which.

So where does morality fit in? Is morality objective or is it subjective? Is it a fact or an opinion? This is where Christianity differs from culture. Our society teaches that morality is subjective - what is good or bad for you may differ from what is good or bad for me. The Bible, on the other hand, indicates that there are standards of morality that are given for all people at all times. Moral relativism asserts that there are no objective standards of morality that apply to all people at all times. Instead, all morality is consigned to the sphere of the subjective. Morality is not a collection of truths to be recognized or discovered, but to be determined or created by the individual.

It is possible for a Christian and a relativist to have the same belief, but they will be built on different foundations. When I say “abortion is wrong” I am in fact saying “abortion is always wrong because it violates an objective standard of morality.” A moral relativist who believes abortion if wrong is actually saying, “I do not like abortion because I feel it is wrong.”

The crux of the matter is that for a moral relativist, conflicting moral judgments, such as “abortion is wrong” and “a woman has the right to choose” can both be true in the same way that opinions about baseball can both be true.

Consider the following statements made by the umpires at a baseball game:

Umpire 1: I call ‘em as I see ‘em.
Umpire 2: I call ‘em as they are.
Umpire 3: They ain’t nothing ‘till I call ‘em.

We will conveniently set aside the first umpire and look at the second and third. Umpire number two has an objective view. He understands his job as determining whether a pitch fits the criteria of ball or strike. He makes his judgment accordingly and calls them as they already are. The third umpire is a relativist who believes that in an objective sense a pitch is neither a strike or a ball. His opinion is the determining factor. He calls them as he creates them. Now let me ask: if you were a baseball player would you prefer the second or the third umpire? Clearly, if all umpires were like this one, the game would be impossible to play. Neither the batter nor the pitcher would have any sense of what made a ball or a strike. We can now see that this metaphor can be extended to moral relativists. Like this umpire, a relativist does not believe any action as being objectively good or bad.

The Downfall of Relativism

The great irony and the great failure of relativism is that almost no relativist is completely or even predominantly consistent in his worldview. Need proof? Break into his house and steal his television. When you do that he will be more than willing to call the police and inform them that you have committed an action which is intolerable. You may plead that in your view of morality theft is not wrong, but he will still demand that you are arrested and that his television is returned. The justice system will agree with him.

Our society is adamant that particular actions are wrong. At the top of the list is intolerance. Intolerance is regarded as the greatest of evils. Interestingly and ironically, the basis for tolerance, which is disagreement (after all, tolerance presupposes a respect for other beliefs despite objective disagreement) is undercut in our society. Further evils are slavery, rape, molestation and any other actions that infringe on the rights of the individual. But logically, relativists cannot condemn these actions simply because they cannot do so without expressing some level of objective morality.

Another confusion arises when relativists not only condemn actions of which they disapprove, but when they commend actions of which they approve. To be consistent with their beliefs they have no right to impose their beliefs on others. Relativists are only too happy to accept humanitarian awards, but with no objective standard of right or wrong, moral commendation has no place. It is illogical and even wrong.

Dealing With Relativism

In their book Relativism, Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith provide several helpful pointers for dealing with relavists. First, they suggest showing the contradictions inherent in relativism, for in practice, this position is self-refuting. One effective tactic, then, is to show people that many of their positions depend on some type of absolute stance. They suggest the best way of dealing with the charge of “don’t force your morality on me,” is to simply ask “why not?” What gives him the right to impose his morality on you when you are not able to do the same to him? Second, they suggest pressing the person’s hot button. Find that person’s pet issue and relativize it to undermine his position. Third, force the tolerance issue. Force the person to examine why he cannot tolerate what he perceives as your intolerance. And fourth, have a ready defense. Know the issues and know the best ways to defend your position while casting doubts on the relativist’s position.

Conclusion

Relativism is an irrational, inconsistent view which many tacitly accept, but which few adhere to with any consistency. Indeed, it is nearly impossible for a person to be a consistent relativist. Interestingly, those who hold strongest to this view are condemned by society as sociopaths - people who care only for themselves. Yet when we look at people who believe in absolutes, we see that the one who held strongest to objective truth was Jesus Christ. One system leads to the worst of human depravity, the other to the pinnacle of godliness.

Resources

Relativism by Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith.

Relativism by Paul Chamberlain.

Much of this article was drawn from “Talking About Good and Bad Without Getting Ugly” by Paul Chamberlain and “Relativism” by Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith. You can generally assume that whatever is good and worthwhile in this article is drawn from the books, whereas I take full responsibility for whatever is illogical and obnoxious.

August 09, 2005

It is a mild, grey morning at the cottage. My daughter is still asleep, so I have been unable to dial-up and do my twice-daily email check (that’s about all I do when I’m on vacation). So I’ve been passing the time by looking through directories of old articles. Among these I found the four articles that kick-started this site back in 2002. “Calvinism vs Arminianism” is dated October 10, 2002. “Mother Teresa” is dated October 28. Those articles were posted back when this site was only a repository for family photographs. Almost a year passes before it becomes a blog. A few months later there are articles about the band Evanescence and another examining my own propensity for evil. Those articles were really my first attempts at putting pen to paper, so to speak, and posting public articles. In October of that year I decided to get serious about blogging and haven’t missed a day since November 1, 2003.

There is one other article I found that I’m quite sure I never posted. But it seems that it was an important one in my spiritual development at the time. This was a time when I was considering walking away from the Reformed faith. Reformed was all I had known, yet I had begun attending a non-Reformed church and had seen a faith that I considered more active and more exciting. My wife and I began, pragmatically, I suppose, to wonder if being Reformed was a spiritual liability.

And so I wrote an article I entitled “Losing My Religion.” I am almost embarrassed posting it because it is somewhat private, but at the same time I found it interesting. I need to reflect on how successful I was in losing my religion. I have only vague memories of writing the article, but know that it came at a time when I began to “backwards engineer” my faith. This is a term I often used at the time and described the process of trying to dismantle my beliefs, bit-by-bit, to try to understand what was mine, what was tradition, and what was biblical.

And so I give you, without any further commentary, “Losing My Religion.”

Pronunciation: ri-‘li-j&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at RELY
Date: 13th century
1 a : the state of a religious a nun in her 20th year of religion b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : CONSCIENTIOUSNESS
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
- re·li·gion·less adjective

Is it not true that everyone in this world is searching for a system of beliefs to which they can subscribe with scrupulous conformity? And do we not all wish to have a cause, principle or system of belief to which we can hold with ardor and faith? Based on such a drab description it is no wonder that so many people in our society are abandoning religion. There are some who are comforted by holding to an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices, but certainly the general public is turning its back on just such a portrayal of religion. And who can blame people for running away from beliefs so stagnant and dreary?

The Christian faith, which our society is so quickly abandoning, should be much more than a commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. A religion based upon scrupulous conformity is destined to lead to legalism. Legalism, in turn, binds us to a reliance on our own abilities to find purpose and meaning in life.

Jesus was a perfectly sane man. Would it be sensible to suffer and die to save the world from sin and to deliver God’s people from the clutches of the Law in order to institutionalize a system of restraints and constraints? No! Faith, true saving faith, provides freedom. It provides joy and it provides pleasure. As Christians it becomes our joy and our delight to find pleasure in God. It is only in Him and through Him and ultimately through a restoration of a relationship with Him that we can find freedom. We are set free from the ties that have bound us and are allowed to experience true communion with our Creator.

I believe that every Christian has, within him, some religion. Within each of us there is desire to conform to an institutionalized system of beliefs. Sometimes we all prefer to be constrained rather than allowing ourselves to really be set free.

And so I am losing my religion. It is difficult to do. In many cases certain tenets of my religion have been with me since I was old enough to understand anything. Others have crept in somewhere along the journey and have wormed their way into the core of my being. Such beliefs are difficult to root out, and as a matter of fact, are difficult even to see within myself. Yet I am confident that with honest and deliberate self-examination I will be able to find them, contain them, and eradicate them.

I refuse to live a life bound by the bonds of religion. I want a faith that is living and breathing, a faith that wrap itself around every part of my life.

Life is far too short to miss the real thing.

April 19, 2004

Though not a regular reader of The Door Magazine as I find it a mite disrespectful at times, I do enjoy the section they call Truth is Stranger Than Fiction. In this section they highlight the most bizarre Christian products and advertising. For example, they have an advertisment they found in a newspaper for “Jehobics” which is a Christian system of aerobics.

On Saturday a pretty bizarre postcard showed up in our mailbox and I thought I would post it here as my contribution to Truth is Stranger Than Fiction.


Click the picture for the full image.

I have to ask…are unbelievers actually impressed with this sort of thing? It’s just so…gimicky…but perhaps that is just the view of someone who has been in Christian circles his whole life. I must say I am also a bit perterbed with them calling Jesus “the original hippie.” I presume they mean that he was anti-establishment, but it certainly strikes me as a very disrespectful thing to say about our Savior. Regardless, I guess it does stand out from the rest of the mail I received and perhaps the church will see some growth from it.