By Ron Halbrook
Faith is exalted in Modern religion as a great benefit but the object of faith need not be true, it is argued. Hocking argued,
But with the conception of reverence for reverence we arrive at liberalism within religion.
At the same time, the principle of reverence for reverence establishes the liberal attitude toward the various religions of the world. Wherever there is worship, there is the living flame (Liberal Theology, p. 57).
All kinds of religion and worship embody “the living flame.” Faith can sidestep the question of absolute truth and still receive practical benefits – at least temporal benefits.
The exaltation of such groundless faith leads “inevitably to a bottomless skepticism which is the precursor of despair,” and the higher such faith is exalted “the greater will be the inevitable crash when the crash finally comes” (Machen, What Is Faith, pp. 174, 179). The Holy Spirit through Paul warned of just such a crash when men began to undermine the factual basis of New Testament promises. Notice especially the words we have emphasized in 1 Corinthians 15:12 and 16-19:
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
The only hope about which Modernism is sure is a temporal, material hope for goals on this earth. For instance, Washington Gladden was a classical spokesman for Liberalism and the Social Gospel. In his sermon on “The Incarnation,” he rejected the notion “that the work of Christ is to get people safely away from this world to heaven;” therefore Gladden sought instead “the Christianization of human society” (sermon reproduced in Robert T. Handy, The Social Gospel in America, see esp. pp. 160-1). That hope has been echoed again and again by American preachers under the influence of Modernism. The faith of Abraham when he “against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations” was not faithless faith (Rom. 4:18). Rather, it was the confident extension of a faith that was based upon the fact of God’s past dealings with Abraham. The Bible is not commending Abraham for a Modernist-type faith which might have said, “I enjoy the benefits of hoping to be the father of many nations, for the wish is a living flame of faith; of course, it is not necessary to believe that this promise will be literally fulfilled.” The immediate benefits of counterfeit money are the same as for genuine, but the more counterfeit currency a person spends the more misery he faces when he learns the truth.
Many people were surprised at the openness of Modernism to the Neo-Pentecostal or Charismatic movement of the 1960’s-70’s. Does this mean that Modernism has not conceded that the miracles of the New Testament were factual historical events? No, indeed. Such miracles as the virgin birth of Jesus, His raising of a man dead four days, His own bodily resurrection,, and His ascension to heaven are still viewed with indifference. The emphasis of the modern, so-called Pentecostal movement on inward experience attracts some Modernists. They have said all along that an inward experience is man’s encounter with God and the voice of authority in religion. The so-called gifts of the Spirit claimed by Charismatics, “speaking in tongues” above all, are intense personal experiences which appear to be self-validating to the individual. The emphasis is not on any miraculous historical event which can be recognized as such by friends and enemies alike (cf. Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 11:47-48; Acts 4:16). The bridge which some have found between Modernist and Charismatic faiths is the authority of a religious experience, and not respect for Bible miracles as historical reality nor for Bible authority as an absolute standard.
The object of our faith must be true if faith is to have real value! Peter argued that the object of our faith “our Lord Jesus Christ” – was literally seen and heard in the miraculous events of his life. “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16-18). Symbolism and all figurative language is thrown out of court by historical events witnessed by the Apostles. They did not claim the authority of a subjective religious experience but the authority of Jesus Christ who literally and bodily rose from the dead (Matt. 16:13-21; chap. 28; Acts 1:3). When the object of faith becomes a matter of indifference, the faith itself becomes indifferent. To destroy faith in the facts of the life of Christ and then to proclaim faith in Christ is to maintain a contradictory, self-destructive, faithless faith. To expect the world to be converted to a faithless faith is certainly to expect a miracle of major proportions!
The Miracle of Faithless Faith at Work (Are Facts Essential to Christian Living?)
Modernists have claimed over and over that Christianity is a way of life not dependent upon propositional truth. A person can be a Christian and live as one whether or not he believes the statements made in Matthew 1 about the virgin birth of Jesus or those in chapter 28 about the bodily resurrection. To the contrary, the Christianity found in Scripture was “a way of life founded upon a message” (Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 21). Without the gospel facts which were preached, there could be no promises and commands, no power to shape character, no basis for the unique way of life proclaimed. 1 Corinthians I S shows that the gospel is one piece of cloth – to pull one thread is to unravel the whole garment. The facts preached must be kept in memory or held fast, else all is lost (vs. 2). The hope, peace, love, joy, honesty, and goodness of the Christian life depend upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian graces of 2 Peter 1:5-11 depend upon the historical reality of miraculous events in the life of Jesus Christ, affirmed in verses 16-18.
Jesus was right in arguing that His words and works are inseparable. He pronounced a bedfast man’s sins forgiven, then healed him in order to prove that “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:1-8). When the Jews threatened to stone Him for claiming to be God’s Son, He challenged them saying, “For which of those works do ye stone me?” (referring to His miracles, Jn. 10:30-38). The Modernist professes admiration for the recorded words of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount, while viewing His recorded works on a scale from contempt to indifference. Since Christianity is a way of life embodied in the words of Jesus, His works are nonessential to Christianity, we are told. Actually, even the words of Jesus are sifted by the Modernist in search of “general and permanent principles” shared by all world religions, and certified by experience. These generic principles are the true gospel hidden within the recorded one. These principles are litle more than humanistic values read into the teaching of Jesus.
Recorded words of Jesus treated as non-essential or nonauthentic are those which relate to the supernatural and to His claim of personal, Divine authority:
1. His claim to be the exclusive Savior (Jn. 8:24; 14:1-6).
2. His claim to Deity (Jn. 8:58).
3. His claim to be judge of all men (Jn. 12:48).
4. His claim to forgive sin (Matt. 9:2).
5. His claim to exclusive authority in religion (Matt. 28:18).
6. His appointment of the Apostles to reveal on earth what is bound and loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19; 18:18).
Everything the Apostles said is sifted by the same screen all claims to the miraculous and to an exclusive, final, Divine revelation are thrown aside. So, not even the words of Jesus are honored unless they happen to agree with the preconceptions of Modernism. Truly, to reject His works is to manifest the spirit which will reject His words.
Modernism expects man to live by certain selected words of Christ and of His Apostles, yet destroys the credibility of the only record we have of those words. Only a miracle could sustain man in such living for any significant time when the foundation is destroyed. Ecumenical “church unions based on piety, sentiment, love of organization, or the simple urge for togetherness become not only live possibilities but appalling actualities” (Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology, p. 37). Ecumenical unions with all world religions can precede upon the same basis. Those who thus act on a faithless faith ultimately must face the question which thousands have already faced and answered by deserting Modernism and religion altogether. That question is, “if Christian faith reduces to humanistic values, then why bother with church membership” or religion at all? (Ibid., p. 33). The road from Modernism to secularistic humanism to moral anarchy leads in a straight line. Living faith in the facts of the gospel is essential for day to day Christian conduct.
Why Is Modernism Attractive?
Machen correctly identified the root idea of Modernism as “the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connnection with the origin of Christianity” (Liberalism, p. 2). The proclaimed goal of Modernism is seductive. It claims to mediate Christianity to the modern world, an attractive aim. But, in the process, Liberalism relinquishes “everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene” (Ibid., p. 7). The miracles of the Bible are rejected because, we are told, modern man will not accept a gospel which includes supernatural claims. Soon the gospel is reduced to a jumble of platitudes which in practical application mean whatever any man wants them to mean. Modernism is nurtured by evolution, worship of science, and by the appeal of convenience. Modernism is the power of this world victorious over “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Its success is explained by the Holy Spirit in 1 John 4:5: “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.” Modernism attracts the worldly mind precisely because Modernism is capitulation to the worldly mind.
What was the appeal of Satan in the Garden of Eden when he wished to set aside the authority of God’s Word in Eve’s heart? Satan had her to think that the Word of God should not be treated as a legalistic barrier to that which is “good for food,” “pleasant to the eyes,” and “desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:1-6). God’s law, His rule, His very Being must yield to human lust, human desire, human conquest. Modernism has its own intellectual and propositional content – such as the proposition that truth is not propositional – but its appeal is not simply to the intellect. The appearance of pride and intellectual arrogance remind us that Modernism appeals to man’s loves, emotions, aspirations, and aims.
The devices used in the Garden are still used in every worldly force and movement:
1 John 2:15-17 Power of the World
Love not the world, neither the things
that are in the world. If any man love
the world, the love of the Father is not
in him. For all that is in the world,
the lust of the flesh, and – Lust For Fleshly Experience
the lust of the eyes, and – Lust For Material Things
the pride of life, – Lust For Human Autonomy
Is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust
thereof: but he that doeth the will of God
Those who find that the will of God revealed in Scripture does not satisfy their yearning for things of the world can find satisfaction in Modernism, humanism, or complete moral anarchy. After the Earl of Rochester returned from infidelity, he confessed that his real problem had not been intellectual: “A bad heart, a bad heart is the great objection against the Holy Book” (Mistakes of Ingersoll and His Answers Complete, p. 40). Beneath the intellectual arguments lies an unwillingness to submit a man’s life to God’s revealed will, in many cases.
Does this mean that the power of the world is greater than the power of truth? No, John said that we may overcome the world “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The power of truth is sufficient to overcome the world but all men do not love the truth. Jesus is the King of truth in the Kingdom of truth; He said, “Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice” On. 18:37). Yet, the person to whom He spoke, Pilate, would not hear Him; Pilate loved that which is of the world more than that which is “of the truth.”
Jesus said that His teaching came from God. “If any man will – i.e. wishes to (RH) – do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself (Jn. 7:16-17). Robert E.D. Clark pointed out in Conscious and Unconscious Sin (pp. 167-68) that there was a purpose in the teaching method of Jesus. “Knowing what was in man,” Jesus would
seek to convince people by an appeal to the mind until He knew that He had presented sufficient evidence, and that rationalization alone stopped that evidence being accepted. After that, a continued attempt to present evidence on the same lines would have caused greater and greater sin against the light. Naturally, He would therefore refuse to go on presenting it, and instead would make the greatest efforts to show people that they were rationalizing in the hope that they might realize what were the true reasons for their rejection of Himself.
We must recognize, Clark argued, that the strongest evidence which can be presented today still will not convert some men. Clark continued,
The point for us to decide is not whether the story of Christ’s resurrection is as rigidly provable as we could wish it to be, but whether, if it did conform to the standard we demand, we should instantly change our lives and be willing to forsake all for Christ, or whether we should promptly raise the required standard of evidence or find some other point to argue about . . . The Christian does not stand for a religion which can answer every objection the wit of man can raise, but for the teaching of Jesus Christ that all who are of the Truth find in Him their Savior, Lord and God (material by Clark from James D. Bales, How Can Ye Believe?, pp. 95-96).
In short, so long as there are men not hungering for truth but yearning to rationalize their own desires, there will be hearts prepared to accept Modernism. In many cases, it is not a question of the evidence presented but of the hearer’s will.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 28, pp. 455-458
July 17, 1980