The Critical Crisis of Our Culture: Relative Truth and Morality
|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2010|
|There is a crisis of truth and morality in our increasingly secular culture. The abolition of slavery was a great accomplishment but the abolition of truth and morality is our greatest detriment. Why? Because when truth and morality retreat, freedom decreases and tyranny advances. In our culture, truth and morality are retreating, freedom is declining and tyranny is advancing! How can anyone be absolutely sure that absolute truth and morality do not exist?|
Text: John 17:17: “Thy word [God’s Word] is truth.”
- 1 Introduction: Objective Truth in Retreat in Our Secular Culture
- 2 Explanation: What Is Truth?
- 3 I. The Struggle for Power (Power Isn’t A Valid Biblical Motivation)
- 4 II. Criminalizing Our Thoughts – (Here Come the Thought Police)
- 5 III. Crime Without Conscience
- 6 IV. Order Over Liberty (Security Over Freedom)
- 7 V. Rescuing Our Culture
- 8 VI. Engaging Our World
Introduction: Objective Truth in Retreat in Our Secular Culture
There is a crisis of truth and morality in our increasingly secular culture. The abolition of slavery was a great accomplishment but the abolition of truth and morality is our greatest detriment. Why? Because when truth and morality retreat, freedom decreases and tyranny advances. In our culture, truth and morality are retreating, freedom is declining and tyranny is advancing! How can anyone be absolutely sure that absolute truth and morality do not exist? Answer: They can’t!
The retreat of truth has been going on since the 16th century Reformation. Forty years ago, Christian writer, apologist and scholar Dr. Francis Schaeffer said, “The crisis is one of truth and if we lose, we will have tyranny in America before the end of this century.” In his book, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, he warned of the dictatorship of 51%, a tyranny of the immoral majority. Our Founding Father warned us about this in the 18th century. Eric Hoffer said, “When freedom destroys order, the yearning for order will destroy freedom.” What is the result? Tyranny! According to Jesus in John 8:31-32, 36, knowing the truth is a necessary prerequisite to true freedom. Ignorance always enslaves.
Explanation: What Is Truth?
What do we mean by truth? Absolute truth means there is an ultimate reality and with it there is ultimate meaning. There is something objectively true whether we understand it or can apprehend it with our senses. Just as there is order in the physical universe, so there is order in the moral and spiritual universe as well.
As Christians, we follow the One who said, “I am the Truth” (John 14:6). Paul tells us that Jesus is the glue of the universe, of creation, “All things are held together by Him” (Col. 1:17). Throughout the centuries, Christian Revelation, the Bible, has been the foundation of western civilization. This biblical worldview provided the basis upon which people could unite, live and serve together.
The great Scottish reformer Samuel Rutherford wrote Lex Rex: “The Law is King.” The thesis of the book was that ultimate authority was not vested in the rulers of the world but in God’s Law contained in the Bible – His holy and inspired Word.
And it is that understanding of God’s truth that gave:
- Impetus to the Reformers of the Protestant Reformation;
- Our Founding Fathers the courage to stand against tyranny;
- Our country the cohesion (glue) that held our culture together.
I. The Struggle for Power (Power Isn’t A Valid Biblical Motivation)
Today truth is retreating; we are witnessing the abolition of truth and morality. Since the 1960’s in America, the reigning moral philosophy has been relativism – the belief that there is no absolute truth or ultimate meaning. Relativism is “absolutely” rampant on the campuses of secular colleges in America today!
Stanley Fish of Duke University argues that principles are merely preferences. This is straight out of the philosophy of Nietzsche, who so influenced Adolf Hitler. What he is saying? There are no ultimate values, only a struggle for raw power.
This is the secular philosophy that most of today’s politicians operate from.
Relativism is so rampant that in a Barna poll, 71% of the American people said there is no such thing as absolute truth. In the same poll he said that 40% of Evangelical Christians believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth.
In one Gallup poll, 69% of adults said they believed there are no moral absolutes. We are awash in relativism! If God is not the basis for moral law then what is? The rule of the majority – 51%. The inevitable result is tyranny, drawn into the vacuum of moral chaos. If authority cannot be establish among people by their shared assumptions, by their agreement about the meaning of life, then it will be imposed (tyranny) on people from the top by the liberal secular humanistic elite. Our founders understood this well. William Penn said “if we are not governed by God we shall be governed by tyrants.” When a people turn their back on God, tyrants move into the vacuum. People over react to tyranny with anarchy.
One of the evidences of the coming tyranny is the “politically correct” movement which started on the college campus among the intellectual elite but has since affected much of American life. A woman in Wisconsin advertised in a newspaper for a “mature Christian handyman” to work on renovating her 100-year old home. She was accused of religious and sexual discrimination and in court she was fined $ 8,000. This is nothing short of repression!
II. Criminalizing Our Thoughts – (Here Come the Thought Police)
It is one thing to criminalize actions, it is quite another to criminalize our thoughts and motives. Today we are criminalizing political thought. Are we coming to the place where what we believe can result in a criminal penalty? When this happens we are no longer a free society but on the road to tyranny. Hate crimes criminalize thoughts and motivations in addition to our actions.
III. Crime Without Conscience
Another evidence of coming tyranny has to do with the problem of crime. Opinion polls indicate that in addition to economic concerns, people today are concerned with crime and violence. Drive-by shootings in Miami are now routine; you don’t even read about them. In Oakland, one woman was chasing another woman with a knife. The crowd was shouting “Kill her! Kill her!” Someone tripped the woman who was being pursued, she fell and the pursuer stabbed her to death. These crimes are all too common and to most are very disturbing.
There can be no doubt that we have a serious crime problem in America. Is building more jails the answer? With the exception of Russia, we already incarcerate a higher percentage of our population than any other nation on the face of this earth. We’ve had a 560% increase in violent crimes since the 1960’s. But what is happening right now is different.
In the past most crimes were motivated by some recognizable human emotion: lust, hatred, greed or envy. But many of the crimes in the headlines today are different: young people murder without motive, without reason or remorse. In some cases they don’t even know the victim. For example, drive-by shootings.
An eight-year-old kid in the District of Columbia swung a baby around the room, repeatedly bashing his tiny head on the floor. The young murderer told the police, “I was just playing.” Killing for fun! For no good reason! That’s seriously sick!
What we are witnessing in America is the breakdown of the conscience. The faculty of conscience needs to be properly conditioned by godly values. Relatively few children today are being taught godly values. Conscience is inborn. In Romans 2, Paul speaks of “The law written on their hearts.” So is the ability to speak, yet there are children who have the capacity to speak but can’t because they have never heard a human voice.
Similarly, we’ve got a generation who have never been taught right and wrong, who have never been civilized in the home, who have never heard values taught in a school or heard God’s Word taught in a Sunday School. Instead, their culture tells them that there is no right and wrong. What are they doing? They are rushing out into the streets, randomly shooting and killing and many people are stricken with fear. It’s not unlike the movie, “Natural Born Killers.”
Can we trust the government to solve this problem? No, it can only treat the symptoms (such as gun control) and punish the results (build more prisons). You and I know that prisons aren’t going to stop the crime problem, no matter how tough you get, no matter how many prisons you build. Why? Because crime is the result of the breakdown in moral values. It springs from the human heart. Only the gospel of Christ, the personal spiritual transformation and the moral reformation that Christ brings can do anything significant about causes of crime!
We know what the answer is, but the answer is something the church (not the government) has to provide. The government with all its programs and policies, with all its get tough rhetoric, will never be able to provide an answer because the problem is a breakdown of conscience, a breakdown in the family, a breakdown in our schools, and a breakdown in our culture due to a lack of godly values.
Nobody put it better than Dostoyevsky in his book about three brothers: the youngest brother is a priest, and the oldest brother is unregenerate. And the middle brother, Ivan, blurts out the terrible truth: “If there is no God, everything is permissible. Crime is inevitable.” The Bible says that “it is by the fear of God men depart from evil.” Friends, the bottom line is very simple and it is this principle: People who don’t love, trust and obey God will hate, distrust and disobey God! While the choice is ours, the consequences of our choice is not optional.
IV. Order Over Liberty (Security Over Freedom)
Today, crime is so pervasive that the public is gripped with fear and guns and ammos are flying off the shelves. There has been a 40% increase since 2008. Several years ago, a Wall Street Journal – NBC survey reported that 93% of the American people list crime as the top issue in this country. The president may think the top issue is health care, or cap and trade or global warming but the people want jobs and safe streets. The two are related. The worse the un-employment, the greater the crime. With generations of barbarians unleashed on the streets, it’s going to take more than anything the government can do!
Have you ever walked down town to see some of the beautiful homes only to find them with bars on the windows? They are a metaphor for all America. When people are in such fear, they will always choose order over liberty. When truth and liberty retreat, tyranny and anarchy advance.
Crime is so bad in some areas that lawmakers are resorting to curfews. A curfew is a form of martial law – a curtailment of our freedom to assembly. It may be necessary on a temporary basis, but it still only treats the symptoms.
V. Rescuing Our Culture
What do we do? How can we rescue the culture? The clear and simple answer is: “We don’t!” We must not make the mistake of “politicizing” Christianity.
Our calling is not to rescue the culture but to please and glorify God by:
- Trusting, loving and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ
- Faithfully proclaiming the gospel of the grace of God
- Making Christian disciples (fulfilling the Great Commission)
- Being a caring Christian community (an extended spiritual family)
- Being faithful to God’s calling: to know Him and to make Him known
- Learning, loving and living His Word and leading by example
- Encouraging growth in godliness (Christ-like character and conduct)
- Proclaiming truth to society and pervading our society as salt and light
When we do this, when people see Christians living this way, moved by their love for God and out of gratitude to God for what He has done in their lives, then they’ll witness the power of God. If we are faithful to God, He can use us to help transform culture. Culture can only be transformed if enough people love, trust and obey God. Anything short of that will be inadequate. If we make disciples, that is, if we teach others to obey everything that Christ taught us, then our culture will be transformed! Our job is to speak God’s truth with God’s love and trust the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts and minds of people (regeneration).
We are called to live as God’s people – this doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the world of politics or culture. Not at all! To live as the church in the world, we must learn to think biblically – we must develop a Christian worldview.
We need to be able to give good, solid reasons for what we believe. In order to do this our minds need to be soaked with Scripture so that we can look at everything that is happening through God’s eyes. We need to learn to relate God to every aspect of our lives. Each one of us needs to be able to gently, lovingly and persuasively argue for Christian truth in every area of life (1 Peter 3:15).
We must be bold and unflinching in our defense of the Christian truth and faith.
- You talk about traditional Christian family values and how important they are and the world will laugh at you – all the while their children are pointing loaded guns at innocent people and maybe even at them.
- You talk about sexual abstinence before marriage and yes, they will laugh at you – all the while their children are getting pregnant, aids or sexually transmitted diseases (the welfare bill for families begun by teenagers is $29 billion). Today over 1 out of 3 children are being born to unwed mothers (in black communities it’s over 2 out of 3). Today the political establishment is telling our children lies regarding sex – they say that condoms do stop STD’s, so their children are getting AIDS.
- You talk about conscience and morality and they will laugh at you – all the while their houses are looking more like prisons with bars on the windows and metal detectors in their schools and many young people are acting like barbarians.
- You talk about absolute values and ethics and they will laugh at you – all the while businessmen and politicians are stealing you blind (33% of high schoolers admit they have shoplifted; 61% admit they have cheated on exams).
The more we talk the more they laugh, but the laugher will soon cease; because, it’s no laughing matter. But you and I can make a difference as we lovingly speak God’s truth to a lost and dying world. “Speaking the truth in love” is the first step in pre-evangelism (Eph. 4:15). You can’t have faith without understanding truth.
What is the first step in getting Christian truth back into the mainstream of our culture? Perhaps it’s when people begin to realize that:
- Without God’s truth they are living in the chaos of moral relativism and
- Tyranny and anarchy will fill the void that is created by that moral chaos.
VI. Engaging Our World
How do we engage our cultural leaders and government officials?
Be zealous in guarding the independence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel and ideology do not mix (God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat).
We should never make the gospel hostage to the fortunes of any political party. Political leaders have used Christians in the past and they will in the future.
Be skeptical, guard the independence of the gospel of Jesus Christ at all times, and never allow it to be taken over by any political movement – of either party.
Be loving, but never be intimidated about God’s call for righteousness and faithfulness. If a government official acts contrary to God’s will, the church has the right and the responsibility to challenge him and appeal to him to act morally and in the best interests of society as a whole.
Be civil. Being civil does not mean being silent. Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). If we are silent we betray our faith and fall short of what God expects of us.
Be patient. Remember that great changes in cultures and societies do not take place overnight. Press on. Don’t despair! In due time, we shall reap (Gal. 6:9-10).
If this culture is going to change, it is going to do so from the bottom up not from the top down. When people in the pews become disciplined by Christ and go out and patiently reach, one person at a time, one block at a time, one neighborhood at a time with the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Remember our weapons. Our weapons are not carnal but spiritual (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Paul said in Romans 12 we are to “Overcome evil with good.” That’s the gospel. That is the Incarnation. God overcame the evil of the world with the good of His Son nailed to a cross in an ugly death. The sacrificial Lamb of God overcame evil with good. No matter how dark or ominous the signs of tyranny are on the horizon, our hope is to cling to God’s truth and to “overcome evil with good.” To cling to God’s promises and to be the people of God – faithful and diligent in pursuing what He has called us to – even now, even yet, we will: 1) by the grace, 2) in the power of God and 3) for His glory! Amen.