Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Decline of the Church?

Michael Spencer wrote a provocative essay, "The Coming Evangelical Collapse," which was published in the Christian Science Monitor on March 9, 2009. Mr Spencer predicts that the number of evangelical Christians in the United States will decline by 50% in the coming years. I profoundly hope that he is wrong just for the sake of the damage that will ensue for our culture. The New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins may want a world free of religion, but they have never lived in one. The only recent examples we have of "religion free" societies are Stalin's Russian, or Mao's China, or worse yet, Pol Pot's Cambodia. They were not places of live and let live freedom or tolerance, they were cultural gulags. The less Christianity is allowed a place of influence in society, the less moral and the more brutal it becomes.

I understand why Mr. Spencer made this prediction. He correctly sees the rising opposition to Christianity in Western societies. Atheism is on the march, and secular humanist organizations are becoming much more aggressive in their opposition to all things religious. Secularists are putting signs on buses and in subway stations promoting atheism and opposing religion. Several books defending atheism have been best sellers in the past year, and of course, Bill Maher did an anti-religious movie entitled, Religulous.

Opposition to Christianity has existed since at least the time of the Apostles, and of itself, is not the problem. The problem is that today, the evangelical church is ill prepared for it. As Mr. Spencer writes, "We evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught." I am afraid that statistics support his statement. Ministries that prepare young Christians for college regularly point to studies that show that at least 50% of students who say they are Christians as freshmen lose their faith by their senior year. The growing unpopularity of Christianity in the larger society will only increase this terrible problem.

It is this very problem that contributed to the writing of my book. What is so sad to me is that the evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel is so strong. Yet we seem to be losing the battle, primarily because we don't know how strong the historical, philosophical, experiential, and even the scientific evidence is for the validity of Christianity. I would hope that every Sunday school program and youth group in every church in this country would incorporate a basic apologetics course. We must prepare our children for the attacks upon their faith that they will surely face.

It is, of course, not just an intellectual or educational issue. The strength of our faith is based on our real experiential knowledge of the living God. We must also teach our children to love Jesus and to know Jesus, to have a living faith born of the Holy Spirit's presence in their lives. We and they must be people who know the reality of prayer, of worship, and of the real presence of the Lord in our lives. My prayer is that God will move on our society in this generation and upset these trend lines toward secularism. In the end this is the only real solution to this problem.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mister President you're scaring me

I don't mean to be an alarmist, but I found our President's decision to fund and expand embryonic stem cell research using federal tax dollars truly frightening. First, he told us that in doing so, he was defending "science" based on "facts and not ideology." Those are strong words. He is in effect, demonizing the former administration and his present political opponents as anti-science and pro ideology (another word for lies and propaganda). One must be careful in how one defines the people on the other side of an argument. Can the people who have deep moral misgivings about destroying human embryos to produce stem cells be written off as ideologues? Does their opposition to this kind of research really make them anti-science? As a Christian, I found his dismissive attitude toward my concerns about the sanctity of human life profoundly disturbing. He claimed to be a uniter and the post-partisan candidate. On this issue, he has proven to be the great polarizer and as deeply partisan as any leader we have ever had.

In defending his action in this way, he is elevating science to an almost sacred status. Because his opponents are opposing science, they are opposing all that is good, true, and beneficial. Science becomes something that should never be questioned or opposed. To be fair, he did acknowledge that there were legitimate moral concerns behind these issues, but he assured us that the science would take place under the guidance of our "humanity and conscience." The problem is these assurances aren't very re-assuring. A great many terrible things have been done in the name of "science." The forced sterilizations that resulted from the "science" of eugenics is just one example. One must be careful about invoking science. Science has been a wonderful tool for the benefit of all mankind, but it has also produced weapons of mass destruction. We have used science both to cure and to kill. We must be careful in giving it free reign because it is morally neutral. It will kill or cure depending on those controlling it. So we must ask the question who controls science and to what standards will they and it be held accountable. It appears that President Obama is releasing it to the control of the scientists themselves, but this, it seems to me is a dangerous choice. Science, in the last 100 years at least, has been enlisted in the service of methodological naturalism and the implicit denial of any religious or spiritual reality. I know of no moral system that can be built upon naturalism except a rationalistic utilitarianism. Even with the addition of "humanity and conscience," utilitarianism gives us no protection from the unthinkable and the unspeakable.

Finally, we must think long and hard before allowing human beings to be defined as just biological organisms. At that point, we have given up our humanity and even our conscience, since these can easily be explained away in biological and naturalistic terms. If we are just organisms, even the constraints the President imposed are gone, and we are left at the mercy of pure utilitarianism. Already, we see the fruit of this view. We may want to write him off as an eccentric, but Dr. James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, was a proponent of the "new eugenics." He openly endorsed human genetic engineering in 1998 and asked three telling questions that science can not answer, "Why shouldn't we do it? What's wrong with it" and "Who's telling us not to do it?" On a PBS special not long ago, he advocated for the mercy killing of the insane and the retarded. Dr. Watson was not crazy, read what he says, watch the videos in which he defends his policies. He is certainly rational in the sense that he is consistent with his naturalistic and atheistic worldview. The problem is that science as we define it in our culture today, has no answer for his three questions. And if we make the issue of Embryonic stem cells, which is really about how we define human life, merely a biological question, we have no answer for the three questions either.

Be very afraid.