Friday, January 14, 2011

Tucson: Evil Exposed

Moral relativism breaks down when it encounters the kind of monstrous evil we saw in Tucson a few weeks ago. This type of evil is not a "mistake" nor is it a matter of taste or preference, it is dark and cruel and destructive. There can be no possible justification for such a heinous act. None. There are no mitigating circumstances to explain it, no moral dilemma to be resolved. In this act, we saw evil in all its ugliness.

Roger Simon on the Politico blog states the dilemma for moral relativism. On January 18 he wrote, "In modern times, are we embarassed by the term 'evil?' To some it seems too primitive or too religious or both." Yet, what else can we call the heinous acts of that day? And yes, evil is a religous issue.

This act reveals the monstrous capacity for evil in the human heart. While the murderer appears to have been severely mentally disturbed, insanity does not adequately explain the cruel inhumanity of his actions. As the facts of the case unfolded, I was often comparing this act of murder by a madman with the similar mass murder of men, women, and children in a public place by a suicide bomber. Mass murder can be rational or irrational, it is still murder.

Evil exists as a fearful reality in our world. We are confronted with its horrors every day. The death of a child at the hands of a molestor, death and dis-memberment of rivals by drug war lords in Mexico, or a car bomb blowing up a church in Baghdad are just some examples of the tragic events that fill our daily news broadcasts. There is no escaping the awareness of this monstrous reality.

The murders in Tucson were different in one aspect however. They gave us a glimpse of the sinister nature of evil. Who can forget the look on Jared Loughner's mug shot. It is almost enough to convince one of evil as a transcendent or metaphysical reality. Or to put it in biblical terms, to convince one of the demonic. The kind of evil displayed by these murders is inhuman, as beyond human. Dostoyevsky is said to have described the transcendent nature of human evil. It is un-natural, in that it cannot be explained just by the fulfillment of natural appetites, it goes beyond nature. As he wrote, "To call human evil 'bestial' is to insult the beasts, for no beast was ever as cruel as a man."

The existence of evil in the world is often used as an argument against God. Yet no system of thought or belief whether religious or non-religious deals as clearly and honestly with the existence of evil as Christianity. I would put Isaiah 59 up against any explanation for the existence of evil in the world. Particularly since it declares that our God does not just "explain" evil, He has acted to end its reign. "Now the Lord saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. And He saw that there was no man, and he was astonished that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him." God was not only disturbed by the evil in the world, He sent His Son and did something about it. Christ came, He bore our evil in all its monstrous cruelty on the cross, and by His death and resurrection liberated us from its power.

In the midst of the terrible evil of that day, there shone the light of faith. I was deeply moved by testimony of the parents of Christina-Taylor Green, as they expressed their conviction that their daughter was in heaven. And of Dorwan Stoddard who shielded his wife and died protecting her, confident of the reality of everlasting life through faith in Christ.

Evil is real but it will not have the final say. Even in the midst of such a tragedy we saw another transcendent presence: faith, hope, and love. May we display some measure of the courage, the faith, and love that were manifested on that day of infamy. And may we draw near to the God whose grace was present on that day and whose love is available to all who who will put their trust in Him.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why Belief Matters

In the past year I began working on a seminar on the importance of faith for the future of the church and our society. It is driven by the fact, recently reported, that a disturbing number of young people no longer consider themselves religious and experts expect that number to increase dramatically. Today, the number stands at 1 in 7 young people who delcare "none" in the religious affiliation box of an employment or academic application. Many experts predict that this number could grow to 1 in 4 in the next 20 years. This group, now designated as "nones," are a reflection of the growing influence of relativism and secularism on our culture.

Relativism is affecting the church too. A recent American Thinker article stated that 64% of Christians believe there are no absolute truths (some say it's 91% of Christian youth). In addition, a recent Barna survey declared that 50% of Christians no longer believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches.

This does not bode well for the future of the church or our society. We are as Jesus said, "salt," but if we lose our saltiness how do we have any beneficial impact on our world? Even worse, we are losing our kids. Just last year, an alarming prediction was made that the size of the evangelical church in Americal will shrink by 1/2 in the next several decades, and most of the shrinkage will take place within the next generation.

The reduction of Christian influence upon our culture will have drastic consequences. It will become more dysfunctional and even dangerous as we turn away from the core values of our civilization in the pursuit of a hedonistic utopia. The problem with utopias is that they are imaginary, they cannot exist in the real world because the basic assumptions upon which the utopia is built do not match reality. Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union fell under the weight of its hypocrisy. It's promise of a worker's paradise was founded upon a false view of human nature and economics; it didn't "fit" the world we actually live in and crumbled in a heap of contradictions.

There is only one antidote for this poison; the truth. And yes, truth actually exists. One of the goals of my seminar is to defend the core values that flow from the Bible, not in some type of political defense of my personal point of view, but out of a concern for the loss of benefit that arises when we fail to adjust our decisions in life to the brute facts of reality. The reason that I am deeply convinced that absolute truth exists, is that I see the consequences of its disregard every day. Our present educational crisis is not primarily a crisis in what we teach our children but more a crisis in the things we assume about their character and nature, and thus our assumptions about how they are to be treated in the educational process. I am certainly no expert in education, but looking at the current rank of American schools in global education standards, one must assume that many of our approaches such as enhancing self-esteem, and emphasizing diversity have not led to improved results. Those methods were based upon both a rejection of the former Judeo-Christian assumptions about human nature and the assumption of enlightenment utopian beliefs that have now been shown to be counter-productive. Truth is real, and denying it only leads to tragic consequences.

The Bible tells us that judgment begins with the household of God. In other words, Christians must first deal with the issues of sin and unbelief before they can turn and speak to the outside world. Thus, any attempt to deal with the influence of relativism must begin with the encroachment of relativism in the church.

None of this encroachment has taken place at the official or formal level. You will never hear a "relativistic" sermon from an evangelical pulpit. The encroachment has taken place at the personal and private level of individual Christian lives. All of us who follow Jesus are confronted by all the same pressures and influences of our deeply secular society that have produced the terrible confusion of our time. So, while every church publicly stands on the authority of Scripture and its teachings, many of the members don't in the recesses of their own personal convictions. This contradiction cannot remain hidden, it is already breaking out in things like the emerging church movement and the lack of church growth in the West. It stands behind the predictions of shrinkage in the next decades. The reason given for the shrinkage is that we have not given our children sufficient understanding for their faith to survive the arguments and attacks of secularism and relativism. We have not taught them how to defend the Bible or the historic doctrines of the Christian faith in the face of the increasing opposition we see in our culture. And, we have not taught them (nor has public education) the basic history, wisdom, and logic that stands behind Western civilization.

In a nutshell, then, my hope is to be able to speak to these issues in Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and week night services in any churches that will have me. I've already developed a powerpoint and many pages of notes, along with all the material I've accumulated in teaching apologetics and writing a book on apologetics in the past 19 years. I've given a title to the material, "Why Belief Matters," and I hope to get going on this as soon as possible. If anyone is interested in having me speak or teach in your church on this vital topic, please contact me by email, facebook, or through this blog. May we work diligently to enable a "yes" answer to the Lord's question while He walked the earth, "When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)