In this first series of articles I’m discussing the massive intellectual attacks made on Christianity in the last several hundred years and the resulting cultural shift. The first attack was from (bad) philosophy (see my last post). The second attack was from a number of biblical scholars, primarily from Germany, who challenged the historicity of Scripture (known as “German Higher Criticism”). They began with an anti-supernatural bias (the assumption that supernatural events do not occur–everything that happens must be caused by something natural). Therefore, they concluded that any part of the Bible which reported anything “supernatural” must not be historically accurate.
Of course, the Gospels record Jesus performing miracle after miracle–supernatural events. Therefore, they argued, we must reject the “Jesus of History” (the person the Bible records doing miracles), who must not have existed as recorded due to all the miracles that he is said to have performed. Yet we still need a savior. For this, they argued, we are to look to the “Christ of faith” (our idea of Jesus as a spiritual being).
So it follows from this that the events recorded in the Gospels are irrelevant to our faith. Once again reason is divorced from faith. Belief in Jesus is no longer grounded in the historical facts of the incarnation, his miraculous fulfillment of messianic prophecy or his resurrection as proof of his claim to be God incarnate and the only Savior of the world. Rather belief if Jesus is reduced to merely an individual, subjective opinion one may choose to hold (believing in the “Christ of faith”), rather than the “Jesus of history” as recorded in the Gospels.
This idea flowed from German universities to American universities and then into the culture at large, and became a widely-held assumption. One outworking of this was the Thomas Jefferson Bible—a version of the Bible in which Jefferson deleted all references to the supernatural (Jefferson was a Deist, believing in God but not in His intervention in the world).
A third idea that began to permeate culture was “Scientism.” Note: not “science” but “Scientism.” Whenever “-ism” is added to an idea it is being made into something ultimate. This is what happened to science when Scientism was adopted—something good (science—a way we know certain truths about the world) was made the ultimate and absolute way to know everything. This view also soon moved from the universities to the broader culture and became “common knowledge” that everyone just accepted, saying “if I can’t see it, it isn’t real” or “If science can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist (or at least it isn’t worth knowing).”
Of course, God, souls, salvation and moral values are not physical things that can be studied and known by science. So, if Scientism is true, these things cannot be real (or at least cannot be known). Once again faith (those things we believe for reasons beyond what science alone can tell us) is divided from “reason” (redefined by Scientism as only things we know through scientific study). The assumption that follows from this, again, is that Christian beliefs are not facts and “True” but are only private opinions—at best “your truth” or “my truth.” But certainly not True for all!
As I said in an earlier post, the problem was not that these objections were raised against Christian belief. Objections have been raised throughout the centuries. The problem was that, for the first time in our history, believers did not respond properly to these challenges.
In my next posts I’ll discuss two wrong ways believers responded. Then I will share how a few brave souls responded in the correct way. Too few to stem the tide, but nonetheless these few provide a helpful way forward as we continue to face these challenges in the 21st century.
Until next week, grace and peace.