Well, it’s been a minute, and apologies to everyone who noticed. But Lord willing and the crick don’t rise, I’ll be back at this blog on the more regular, as in once or twice a week, with articles and the occasional shorter exhortation or meditation for your edification.
So where were we? As our world continues to descend into this cacophony of madness, Christians understandably ask themselves and one another, “What can we do?” When activists appear at city council meetings and school board meetings to simply scream in order to “express” themselves, one wonders what could possibly come next – what about animal noises to express the agony of endangered species? Anyone want to put that on your bingo card for this next year?
But even on so-called “talk shows,” where I suppose the idea is to “talk,” with you know, words which express ideas, we’ve seen an increasing lack of actual communication, what they used to call in the old days, “an exchange of ideas.” These days, it is more and more common for words to simply be chucked at one another like so many rocks. Words are weaponized, and with the added nuclear power of social media and the internet, a really good volley of words can go viral, scoring points and “owning” your opponent, burying reputations in various neanderthal stone ages.
In a moment like this, it can be tempting to give up telling the truth, give up rigorous reasoning and argument. I mean, Jesus did say not to cast pearls before swine, after all. And that principle certainly still applies in some situations. But there is a broader play at work that needs to be pointed out.
The Line of Despair
Since about the time of the so-called Enlightenment, the thinkers of deep thoughts have done their best to convince normal, ordinary people that the truth – transcendent truth – moral, ethical, cosmological truth – is very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to know. Francis Schaeffer called this broad trend “the line of despair,” a progression of ever-increasing doubt over whether we can know what is true or what is real, beyond this physical, material world. It’s one thing to measure weight or mass and know that kind of observable, so-called “scientific” truth, but it is another entirely to make truth claims about God, morality, and religion. Beginning with philosophers like Rene Descartes who attempted to ground his knowledge of the truth in his own ability to think – this was the beginning of the downgrade. Emmanuel Kant came later and divided up the sort of things human beings can know: arguing that some things like observable, measurable data are knowable by our minds, but other things like religion and ethics and transcendent meaning are sort of trans-rational. Kant said you can sort of know them, but you can’t know them like you know physical measurements and sensations.
Of course this was in direct contradiction to what the Bible says: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The Bible teaches that invisible, spiritual realities are clearly seen, knowable, observable just like the created order. And right on schedule, Modernists did exactly what Paul says they would do in that position: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). And having crafted idols from creation (instead of worshiping the Creator), God gives these sorts of people over to all manner of sexual confusion and uncleanness. And here we are.
But let’s trace this carefully: theology was known as the “Queen of the Sciences” in the Middle Ages and Reformation, the understanding that knowledge of God was essential for other knowledge, and not only that, but that knowledge of God was the path of all other true knowledge. The implication being that God has revealed Himself truly in His Word and in His world, in special revelation and natural revelation in ways that were actually suited to the right use of human reason. It was understood that sin has inhibited this natural capacity, and apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, natural, fallen man would only have partial and distorted knowledge to varying degrees, apart from God’s common grace suppressing the effects of the Fall. Nevertheless, because of this regenerating grace and common grace, true knowledge of God and of His world was possible, and not only possible but foundational to all other knowledge.
But Modernism was an all-out attack on this vision, fundamentally seeking truth apart from God, and as predicted, the range of true knowledge steadily decreased. Modernism held up knowledge of maths and sciences, and for a few minutes claimed it could do amazing things without acknowledging a Creator. But the most consistent thinkers quickly realized that reason and truth doesn’t really work if there is not an ultimate rational and intelligent source. And so postmodernism was born – basically relativism – doubt and skepticism about everything. And meaning and truth simply sunk down into the feelings and emotions and appetites. This is what one author has called the Triumph of the Therapeutic. And this is how you ultimately end up with people honestly thinking that they were born in the wrong body because that is how they feel – quite apart from what is true. This is the line of despair.
The Devil asked the woman in the Garden, “Did God really say?” And centuries later, Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” But Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Moderns and postmoderns have said, “you cannot know the truth.” And so we are enslaved by doubts and irrationalism, lies and despair.
And so once again, we return to the question of what Christians ought to do in this moment when no one seems at all interested in truth, what Francis Shaffer called true truth, the kind that goes all the way down and reaches all the way up. What do you do when a toddler lies down in the toy section kicking and screaming, throwing a fit? The answer is tell the truth, beginning with the biggest truths, the largest truths, the deepest truths. There is a God, and He made us and all things. He has spoken, and we have His Word in Scripture and in nature. He has spoken so that we might know Him and know the world He has made. We have rebelled, but in His mercy, He sent His only Son for our treacherous tantrums. He was crucified for sinners, and raised from the dead for the forgiveness of all our sins and to make all things new. He was crucified and raised to form the very reality our sin so irrationally denies.
When the world descends into childish, irrational chaos, the task of Christians is to keep telling the truth, preaching the truth, and cheerfully insisting on the truth, like confident grownups. God’s Word is what called light out of darkness in the beginning. God’s Word is what formed the Heavens and earth from their original chaos. God’s Word is what shines in dark, chaotic hearts to refashion them in regeneration. And God’s Word is truth. You do not stop telling the truth to the toddler when he throws an irrational fit. You do not scream back. You cheerfully, firmly insist on reality. And you keep telling the truth, trusting the God of truth to make His Word form what is not yet there.