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THE CELL LEADER’S MANUAL

An Apologetics Primer:

Caribbean Apologetics Issues, No. 5

GEM ’85, this rev. Aug. 2002a

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect . . ."     (1 Peter 3:15)


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3.5       Post-Modernism

The logically self-defeating, morally bankrupt, environmentally destructive, economically unjust nature of secular humanist thought has led to an ongoing disintegration of modernity, thus to the rise of post-modernism.  For, it has become all too evident that men, starting from themselves and observation of the world around them, cannot come to an enduring consensus about ultimate reality in general, and in particular, specific and vital issues over truth, knowledge, values/morality, law and public policy.

As a result of this lack of consensus and resulting polarised diversity of views and agendas, a radical relativism has increasingly dominated the academy, the media, public policy, the arts and popular culture.  “Tolerance” and “diversity” are therefore the watch-words of the emerging global era — as we slide towards collective suicide in a cesspit of sensual perversion and self-indulgence.  [Cf. Eph 4:17 – 24.]

Against this backdrop, the church been shaken by the secularist idea that God is simply a fairy tale, and that morality is simply a matter of personal or cultural values and norms.  So, we have not been quick to publicly expose secularism's bankruptcy and respond to the huge wave of spiritual hunger that has swept the globe in the 1990's. 

Such a deep hunger in a relativistic, pluralistic age has also naturally accommodated the idea that all religions are equally roads to "God."  Thus, "tolerance" is now often redefined from respect for diversity to the notion that one must never assert or imply that another person's faith may be in error.

But, on closer inspection, it turns out that this concept may sometimes simply be atheism in disguise!  For, its advocates often quietly assume that religious beliefs are only true in the sense that those who believe feel that they are true.  Granting this, of course it follows that all religions are equally roads to god: "god" being simply a fairy tale that props up weak hearts and minds. 

For others, the idea that "all roads equally lead to God" means that they have simply reinterpreted — "wrenched" is a more accurate, though less polite, word — the world's major religious traditions out of context in light of their own ideas.  Typically, they hold a vague notion of "a common thread of truth" in all the traditions, dismissing anything that runs counter to such assumed "common truths." 

For instance, one popular guru has attempted to take "Be still and know that I am God" out of its context of quiet worship before our Creator, the LORD, into the utterly different Hindu concept that Atman is Brahman (roughly, "each of us is a little spark of god").   Far from being "tolerant," such sloppy thinking actually disrespects the fact of diversity in those traditions.

Thus, dramatic changes are also taking place in the world's spiritual climate.  While many people are still skeptical over any form of spirituality, the inner emptiness caused by trying to dismiss God as a fairy tale has created a great hunger for spiritual experience.  Many forms of "New Age" spirituality — repackaged paganism — are therefore emerging and are rapidly spreading across the world.    Islam, too, is aggressively responding to the hunger, and is working hard to win converts and to build a strong base in the Caribbean.  Even Hinduism is now taking a far more assertive stance in our communities. 

In short, there is a regional spiritual crisis, one that is largely taking place at the expense of the church.  It is therefore necessary for us to respond vigorously to the underlying themes and issues.

First, we need to establish a self-evident — but often denied — fact: the basic existence of truth.  For instance, as Elton Trueblood argues in his General Philosophy, if we try to deny the claim: “Error exists,” that would imply that the challenged claim is in error — proving it!  Thus, we may freely infer that at least one true claim exists, so truth exists.  It also follows that there is something to be in error about: the real world.  [Of course, such an “existence proof” should give pause to those who try to deny that objective truth exists, but it does not give us a golden key to the content of truth in general.]

But, is truth knowable?  This can best be responded to by noting that if one tries to claim that “we cannot know the truth,” this is itself a claim to know an objective truth: the “un-knowability” of truth — again, a self-defeating claim. 

So, it would be wiser to accept that, while our specific knowledge-claims are provisional — i.e. subject to correction in light of further evidence or reasoned argument — we can discover, recognise and understand truth and right.  Thus, however imperfectly, we reflect the image of our Creator, who know all things and can reveal them to us, through: (1) Creation [thus, the value of sound scientific research]; (2) our inner, intuitive awareness of truth and right [thus, the power of conscience-guided reason]; (3) his Word given through true, authenticated spokesmen/prophets [thus the importance of the Holy Scripture]; and — most important of all — (4) his Incarnate Son, authenticated by the resurrection from the dead.  [Cf. Heb. 1:1 – 14, esp. 1 - 4.]

We can then turn to questions of values and morality.  In this sphere, the Caribbean is now rapidly entering the post-modern age of cynical relativism — Yale Law Professor Arthur Leff’s age of “the grand ‘Sez who?’” For, many people now think there is nothing more to truth and morality than “this seems true or right to me.”  Therefore, they mistakenly challenge any asserted truth or moral claim that does not suit their fancy: “Who are you to impose your standards and views on me?”

They thus fall into a glaring inconsistency: how can you at one and the same time say that truth and right are relative to individuals and cultures, then expect others to accept as binding the moral obligation that they should not “impose their views on others”?

Clearly, then, relativists accept that at least one moral principle, respect for the views of others, is universally binding — or else, they would be the most blatant of hypocrites.   Why, then do they so often try to deny the binding nature of other time-tested, godly moral principles, such as respect for marriage and the family, for life, for property, for truth, and for the reputation and achievements of others?  [Cf. Exodus 20:3 – 17.]

Broadening this argument, the key point is that we all believe we have rights, and become quite upset or even angry when we feel that our rights are violated.  So, as C. S. Lewis observed, we quarrel in the private sphere, and we cry out for “equal rights and justice” in the public arena.   So, we reveal that we believe in objective moral standards that bind duties on other people.  (Unfortunately, we too often fail to bind ourselves by these duties as well, and become hypocritical. Thus, the bite in “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”  [Matt. 7:12, KJV.])

So then, all of us, in practice (but not necessarily in theory) believe in the objectivity of truth and of morality.  This, of course, sharply cuts across the evolutionary materialist’s picture of the world, “red in tooth and claw,” but it sits quite comfortably with the picture Paul painted on a fateful day in Athens.

 As Acts 17:16 - 34 records, he had gone to Athens to take a brief rest from his stressful Macedonian adventures.  However, he found the shock of Athens' extreme idolatry and associated moral bankruptcy in the very centre of Western Culture’s intellectual tradition too disturbing to keep silent.  So, as Socrates had so often done five hundred years earlier, he went to the marketplace and started to discuss the things of God with passersby. 

Soon, a group of Philosophers invited him to a meeting of the same Council of Athens' leading citizens that had passed unjust judgement on Socrates.[20]  There, Paul addressed Athens' leaders about nationhood under God: 

q       First, he picked the shrine that exposed the critical flaw in Pagan thought: an altar dedicated TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  That is, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians — the founders of the Western intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions — were forced to admit their ignorance, in a public monument! 

q       Paul continued: “what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”  For, God created the nations from one man, and "he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” [Acts 17:25 - 27; emphasis added.]  That is, the nations were created to foster godliness, and we are God’s tenants and stewards on the lands in which we live.  God therefore so controls our times that he brings us to the point where we must decide whether to seek or serve Him.

q       The Apostle then turned to the folly of devoting ourselves to substitutes for God, concluding: “now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."  That man, of course, is Jesus.

So the Athenians got more than they bargained for.  Starting from a careful analysis of their culture, religion and thinking, the leaders of Athens were forced to face the challenge of nationhood under Christ.  Sadly, at their moment of decision, most of the leaders failed to follow the truth, but we know now who had the better case that fateful day — the future belonged to the Apostle, not to the Philosophers and Politicians.

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NOTICES: This course module was originally created by Gordon Mullings, in 1985, for use as part of a manual for Cell Group Leaders for the UCCF, in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. It has been subsequently revised and developed, to date. (DISCLAIMER: While reasonable attempts have been made to provide accurate, fair and informative materials for use in training, no claim is made for absolute truth, and corrections based on factual errors and/or gaps or inconsistencies in reasoning are welcome.) FAIR USE: The contents of this module are intended for use as a support for learning about responding to the typical intellectual challenges to the Christian Faith and gospel that are commonly encountered in the Caribbean, especially in tertiary education and in commentary in the regional and international media. Permission is therefore granted to link to this page for fair use under intellectual property law, and for reasonable citation of the linked content on this site for church- or parachurch- group related training and/or for personal or academic use; this specifically excludes reproduction, linking or citation for commercial, controversial or media purposes without the Author's written permission -- especialy where matters relating to the validity and value of Faith/Religious/Atheological Commitments and Truth-Claims are being debated or disputed. PDF version available, under similar terms. COPYRIGHT:GEM 2002. All rights are reserved.

FOOTNOTES

[20] In 399 BC; cf. for instance Ross’ Commentary on the Apology of Socrates at http://www.friesian.com/#contents .  At least, with Paul, the issue seems to have been intellectual frivolity, rather than the proverbial cup of hemlock given to Socrates.