CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Crisis of Truth

Feb 24, 2001

The first line of Carl F. H. Henry’s six-volume, 3,000 page work, God, Revelation and Authority says this: “No fact of contemporary Western life is more evident than its growing distrust of final truth and its implacable questioning of any sure word.”

Christians are not alone in pointing out this crisis in truth. Allan Bloom says in the first line of his best-selling volume, The Closing of the American Mind: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

Scripture too warns of times when there is an abandonment of truth: “Truth is nowhere to be found.” (Isa 59:15); “This is the nation that has not obeyed the LORD its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.” (Jer 7:28) “Falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land.” (Jer 9:3); “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:4)

Clearly the secular world has long ago abandoned any concepts of universal truth or absolute rights and wrongs. The sad part is that many churches have begun to follow in the footsteps of the surrounding secular culture. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian churches to make a clear stand on the authority of scripture, on moral absolutes, and the idea of objective truth. The warning contained in Romans 12:2 – “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold” (Phillips version) – has fallen on deaf ears. The number of church bodies and denominations that have either abandoned or softened their views on biblical authority seem to be increasing in number.

A handful of Christian thinkers have given warnings about this ominous trend. Back in 1963 Harry Blamires wrote a book entitled, The Christian Mind. In the first line of that book Blamires said: “There is no longer a Christian mind”. He went on to say that “the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history.” R.C. Sproul has more recently echoed his sentiments, calling the current Christian generation as the most anti-intellectual in church history.

Other titles decrying the erosion of truth have recently appeared. David Wells authored two important books: No Place for Truth: Or whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Eerdmans, 1993) and God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Eerdmans, 1994). Says Wells, “There can be no little doubt that if the capacity to think Christianly about this world is eroding in the churches, so too will the propriety of doing theology, both in the pulpit and in the academy.” In 1994 Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans) in which the first line reads, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind,” echoing Blamires’ words.

Os Guinness wrote an accurately titled volume, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds. He argued that we Christians seem more concerned about our daily aerobics schedule than our spiritual and intellectual condition. Said Guinness, “a leading problem in Western evangelicalism [is] anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is a disposition to discount the importance of truth and the life of the mind.” Guinness calls this “both a scandal and a sin”. “Failing to think Christianly,” he says, “evangelicals have been forced into the role of cultural imitators and adapters rather than originators. In biblical terms, it is to be worldly and conformist, not decisively Christian”. But, “intellectualism is not the answer to anti-intellectualism. Our passion is not for academic respectability, but for faithfulness to the commands of Jesus”. Indeed, a recovery of the authority of scripture and a willingness to follow Christ, not the most recent social trends, is the need of the hour.

The current intellectual malaise of the evangelical world can be borne out by a visit to any Christian bookstore. What are the best sellers? Books about how to lose weight for Jesus, build up your sagging self-esteem, etc. Such topics have their place and their importance, but serious theological and doctrinal works are few and far between. And if Christian bookstores do stock a good supply of such books, very rarely are they best sellers. What I call bubble-gum theology (self-help books, feel-good books) are the best sellers, while the serious tomes gather dust on the shelves.

We obviously need to recall and heed the words of our Lord. When he was asked what was the greatest commandment, he replied, quoting from Deut. 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, see also Matt. 22:37 and Luke 10:27). Many of us are good at loving God with our emotions, but are we loving God with all of our minds as well? As Romans 12:2 says, we are to be transformed – How? By the renewing of our minds.

It is imperative that we learn to love our Lord with our minds as well as with our feelings, otherwise when challenges to the faith arise – false teachings, heresies, etc. – we will not be able to withstand the onslaught. Given the recent events in some evangelical churches, this need is greater than ever. The words of Jeremiah especially ring true today: “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (5:31)  Unless we gird ourselves with truth and learn to discern good theology from bad, the situation described by Jeremiah will continue to get worse.

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