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The Bible and secularism: A deep and radical antagonism
June 06, 2005
By R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, Southern Seminary
"It need not further be denied," argued James Orr, "that between this view of the world involved in Christianity, and what is sometimes called 'the modern view of the world' there exists a deep and radical antagonism." James Orr observed this "deep and radical antagonism" over a century ago. Can we possibly fail to see it now?
As Christians, we are unavoidably engaged in a great battle of worldviews — a conflict over the most basic issues of truth and meaning. A worldview that starts with the existence and sovereign authority of the self-revealing God of the Bible will be diametrically opposed to worldviews that deny God or engage in what we might call "defining divinity down."
At the heart of this controversy lies the irreducible obstacle of biblical authority. As a matter of fact, it may be impossible to overestimate the true depth of postmodern antipathy to the Bible — at least to the Bible as an authoritative revelation from God.
Just consider what the modern secular mind confronts in the Bible. At the foundational level, the Bible makes a "totalizing" claim to truth. In the terminology of postmodern academic discourse, this means that the Bible claims to present absolute and non-negotiable truth that effectively trumps all other authorities. In an intellectual context of personal autonomy and individual self-expression, this appears to represent an unfair imposition of authority.
And the Bible contains so much material that runs against the moral sense of a largely-secularized society. Let's just be honest and admit right up front that the Bible pulls no punches and leaves no room for a public relations effort to clean up the dust storm.
The Bible begins with a straight-forward declaration of divine creation, complete with a divine design for every aspect of the created order.
Then, we confront the creation of human beings as made in the image of God, and thus uniquely gifted and accountable as moral and spiritual creatures. And, we add, human beings are made male and female to the glory of the Creator. There it is — gender as part of the goodness of God's creation. This is no vision of gender differences as mere social construction.
Marriage immediately follows as the divinely designed institution for human ordering, reproduction, sexuality and romantic fulfillment. Marriage — the union of one man and one woman — is presented as an objective reality constituted as a moral covenant with legal and moral boundaries, not as a contract to be made, remade or unmade at will.
Then comes sin. The third chapter of Genesis clearly fails to meet muster in terms of modern psychotherapeutic expectations. Responsibility for sin is laid right at human feet; and the consequences of sin — downright repressive — are worse than draconian. Most troubling of all, sin is presented as something that tells the truth about us — not merely the truth about a sinful world system.
The Pentateuch — all five books — presents an unvarnished picture of humanity's sin and its consequences. To a culture deeply committed to a therapeutic worldview, this is just too much. Now that sin has been banished from our moral vocabulary, what are postmodern Americans to do with the Fall, the giving of the Law, the sacrificial system and blood atonement?
And what of the New Testament? Instead of refuting the Old Testament, the New Testament fulfills the Old, pushing the envelope of secular suspicion even further.
Now we confront the great claim of the incarnation — that Jesus the Christ is fully God and fully man. Miracles are documented, the teaching of Jesus is presented in full force, and the Gospel is laid before our eyes.
Then come the cross and the empty tomb. God's determinative plan to save His people from sin come to a climax in the suffering and death of Christ, presented as God's plan set into action before the creation of the earth. The empty cross points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the truth claims of the Gospel contradict any effort to reduce Jesus to a mere teacher or guide, a social activist or a proto-therapist.
The church is established as God's people on earth: an eschatological people eventually drawn from every tongue, tribe, people and nation. And then, looming in the future, lies judgment. The realities of Heaven and Hell are presented as dual destinations for humanity, and the wrath of God is promised to be poured out upon sinners, even as the mercy of God is extended to all who have come to Christ by faith. The way to salvation is narrow; the road to destruction is wide. There is but one Savior and one way of salvation.
All this is just too much for the postmodern mind to handle. A "deep and radical antagonism" separates the Bible and our postmodern culture. But then, since the Fall that antagonism has always existed, separating obedience to God's truth from the demand for human autonomy.
Christians are often perplexed by resistance to the Bible and to the Gospel. We tend to distance ourselves from the reality that the Bible sounds so exceedingly strange to modern and postmodern ears. We underestimate the distance of the divide between biblical Christianity and secular worldviews.
All this should remind us of our constant evangelistic and apologetic task — and of the fact that salvation is all by grace. After all, it's not that we were smart enough to wade through all this and emerge as believers. Instead, our eyes were opened so that we would see.
That radical antagonism James Orr was talking about isn't overcome by force of argument and persuasion alone, but by grace. As we engage in the controversies and debates of this age, we had better keep that great fact always in the forefront of our thinking.