Doctrine of Sin: Where Did it Come From & Why Does it Exist?

what-is-sin

Sin, in its very essence, is contradictory to the nature of God, creating separation in the intimacy between God and man; however, it is allowed and even used by God in the provision of man’s free will, but is ultimately conquered by God’s grace, in the ultimate redemptive plan, through Jesus Christ. However, several questions still remain: “Why did God allow sin to enter the world,” and “why does He continue to allow it, especially considering, ‘The wages of sin is death’” (Romans 6:23). The problem or doctrine of sin continues to be a highly debated topic amongst scholars, because to fully understand the grace of God; one must first comprehend the depth of despair rooted in sin and its origin. Furthermore, one must also comprehend the nature of God, in order to offer a proper apologetic response to theological questions like: “If God made everything in creation good, how did evil and sin enter the world? If God is good, why does He allow evil and sin to exist? Why, if humans are created in the image of God, is there an inherent propensity to sin? And what purpose could evil and sin serve in accomplishing the will of God?” Ultimately, the sovereignty of God is on trial when people question the mystery of how and why evil and sin entered the world, so one must know sin’s origin and purpose to defend the faith. The thesis of this paper will show God allows sin in order to establish the freedom of mankind to freely choose Him.

By examining the introduction of sin into the world, it will be established sin was first found in Satan because of his desire to seek something contrary to what God intended. While God is sovereign in and over all things, He did not create sin, so it will then be revealed how evil originated in the created and not the Creator. The rejection of God’s will leads to spiritual death and this was played out in the lives of Adam and Eve, leading to the fall of mankind and all future generations. Working from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it will be displayed, God was not surprised or caught off guard by anything that has happened or will happen. In Old Testament times, animal sacrifices were continually offered at the Temple. These sacrifices showed the Israelites the seriousness of sin because: “Blood had to be shed before sins could be pardoned” (Leviticus 17:11). But the blood of animals could not fully remove sins (Hebrews 10:4). The sacrifices could only point to Jesus’ future sacrifice, which paid the final penalty for all sins. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asserts the law failed only because “It was weakened by the flesh.” Douglas Moo illustrates, “In light of this criticism of the law in Romans, and the focus on liberation from sin and death in, ‘what the law could not do’ is not to condemn sin, but to break sin’s power—or, to put it positively, to secure eschatological life. It is God Himself who has done what the Law could not do, and He has done it through the sending of His own Son.”[1] When sin corrupted the world, God first provided the law as a means for sinners to know just how sinful they were and how far they had deviated from God’s standards. Before the law was given, sin existed (Romans 5:13). However, after the law was given, sin could be quantified and each act and could then be identified as an offense of a specific commandment found within law.

In the New Testament, God then provides a way for mankind to restore communion with the Father, which came through Jesus Christ. Ultimately, sin stands in the way of God’s best, and modern-day culture has become numb to its very presence, leading many to just do what feels good. However, the ripple effect of “original sin” still carries immense consequences. Lastly, it will be shown how Satan uses sin to isolate and condemn people, while God uses it to redeem and make His children whole. Sin has corrupted the world; so only by understanding how to counter Satan’s strategy will followers of Christ be able to use what the enemy meant for harm, for ultimate good (Genesis 50:15-21).

ORIGIN OF SIN

When most people think of sin’s origin, Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is often what is stated. However, while this was mankind’s first sin, it was actually Satan’s prideful fall from grace, which would set events in motion, ultimately leading to Adam and Even’s banishment from Eden and mankind’s separation from God. When the serpent in the garden tempted Eve, this created a death sentence for all future generations, because God had previously told both Adam and Eve, “For when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Millard Erickson explains, “One of sin’s obvious results is death and this death we have deserved has several different aspects: physical death, spiritual death, and eternal death.”[2] Paul, in Romans 5:12 says; “Yet while death entered the world through Adam’s sin, it spread to all humans because all sinned.” Here, Paul is alluding to physical death, while spiritual death relates to the separation created between God and man. Because sin is contrary to the very nature of God, it acts as a barrier and condemns man to face both condemnation and judgment. Erickson, then further illustrates the final component in death: “Eternal death is the extension and finalization of spiritual death. If one comes to physical death still spiritually dead, separated from God, that condition becomes permanent. As eternal life is both qualitatively different from our present life and unending, so eternal death is separation from God that is both qualitatively different from physical death and everlasting in context.”[3]

Pride was the root of Satan’s sin and he would be consumed by it, causing him to desire both God’s authority and dominion. Satan no longer wanted to serve and worship; he wanted to be worshipped like God. These same desires and schemes can be seen played out in Satan’s attempt to have Eve first question God’s command and then make her think by eating the fruit she would be like God. While the serpent deceived Eve, Adam made a choice, which led to mankind’s curse, estrangement from God, guilt, and shame (Genesis 3:1-7, 12-13). Because of the fall, John Frame explains sin is not only a disruption in the personal relationship with God, but that it is also disruptive in authority. “In God’s order, He is the ultimate authority. Adam is a subordinate authority, to whom Eve is to be submissive (Ephesians 5:22). Together, Adam and Eve are to have dominion over all the animals, but in the story of the fall, the woman submits to an animal, the man submits to his wife, and both claim to be judges of God’s behavior.”[4] Anything God stands for or has created, Satan attempts to pervert, counterfeit, or destroy. While the Bible does not fully explain the fall of Satan and his angels, both Isaiah 14:3-21 and Ezekiel 28:2-19 contrast the defeat and fall of the kings of Babylon and Tyre. The imagery used in both passages portrays the ramifications of pride. In Isaiah, John Oswalt illustrates how pride was:

Seen in the fact that it would prefer the world to be a desert in its own hands than a garden in the hands of someone else. In fact, the capacity to destroy and oppress becomes a source of pride. This is perversion at its plainest. But again the poet has turned the boast back upon the boaster. He who had exiled hundreds of thousands from their homes and would not let them return now is himself homeless, and in a much more profound sense. This man is a spiritual exile. His pride has driven him from the home, which the Father has given in trust to all his children. Because pride denies God it must deny us what God has given, ultimately life itself.[5]

The passage in Ezekiel similarly depicts the king proclaiming himself to be divine in nature, authority, and intelligence. As a result of these proclamations, Daniel Block shows:

The assault on the prince involves three actions, which, while directed at a human monarch, reflect the treatment that images of a deity in the temple would receive from an attacking army. If the king of Tyre would claim the status of a god, then let him put up with the treatment of a god at the hands of invaders. First, the nations will attack the source of the prince’s pride, the symbols of his wealth and glory. Second, the invaders will desecrate and profane the prince’s radiant splendor. Third, the strangers will send the prince down to the Pit and the prince will exchange his falsely secure position “in the heart of the seas” for the world of the dead. The one who dares to claim the status of deity and demands to live among the gods must join the dead in Sheol. For this man the way up led down.[6]

Some scholars have viewed this text as being related with the fall of humanity, while others have chosen to interpret the text strictly as being mythological, due to Mesopotamian influences in the text. Block maintains the imagery of these oracles point to Eden, the Garden of God and, “Like the king of Tyre, the first man (1) was created by God, (2) was divinely authorized to rule over the garden as king, (3) not being satisfied with the status sought or claimed divinity, and (4) was punished for this hubris by humiliation and death.”[7] William Harrison believes, while this passage may be addressed to the king of Tyre, it in no way describes any human king, or other man. Instead, Harrison asserts, “The great angel was originally the sum of wisdom and perfect in all his ways until he sinned. This sin resulted from the fact that his mind was set on his own beauty rather than on the glory of the Creator. The ensuing pride led him to determine to follow his own will rather than submit to God.”[8] Oliver Crisp further explains, “There is no single, agreed-upon definition of original sin in the Christian tradition – no hamartiological analogue to the person of Christ given in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon. Instead, there are various versions of doctrine that attend to a common set of theological themes, which differ about dogmatic shape of original sin.”[9]

NATURE OF SIN

Sin is caused by ignorance, error, inattention, and pride. It is then characterized by missing the mark, irreligion, transgression, rebellion, treachery, perversion, abomination, and lack of integrity.[10] These causes and characteristics of sin have detrimental results and consequences, which lead to guilt, wickedness, and evil. In Psalm 51, David becomes convicted of his sin with Bathsheba after his confrontation with the prophet Nathan making both this confession of sin and pleading for forgiveness a prime example of what all sinners should do. In v. 2, David laments, “Cleanse me from my sin.” David uses several different forms for the word sin and here חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt is used, which literally means missing the mark deliberately and purposefully disobeying God’s Word. In v. 3, David calls upon the Lord to blot out his transgressions, wickedness and rebellion. Here, David uses ‏פֶּשַׁע or pešaʿ, which essentially means forgiveness for knowing what God’s Words says, but choosing to revolt or rebel against His commands. In v. 9, David asks God to, “Blot out all my iniquities.” In this verse, David chooses the word עָוֹן‎ or ʿāwon to signify the crooked thinking and living that results when one acts against God’s Word. In each of these examples, David assumes responsibility for his sins and he knew that only repentance and forgiveness would cleanse his perverted inner state.[11]

A similar model can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter five. In v. 12, Paul is dealing with the topic of sin coming into the world through one man: Adam, but through the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, all believers might know the righteousness of God. Paul uses the word hamartia or ἁμαρτία, which is synonymous with the Old Testament חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt, meaning a purposeful missing of the mark and of God’s standards, His holiness, and His Word. In v. 14, parabaseōs or παράβασις is used to describe sinning as going beyond or over and disregarding or overstepping God’s Word. As humans, it is part of one’s fallen nature to test limits and boundaries of what is acceptable and allowed, but here the sin is to put one’s foot over the line to test what the consequences are and this is exactly what Adam and Eve did. In v. 19, parakoēs or παρακοή is used to define disobedience or the willful choice not to hear. Selective listening never fares well, especially when people hear what he or she wants to hear. In vv. 15, 17, and 18 paraptōma or παράπτωμα is used to describe the offense or trespass. Another deviation of this word means falling sideways or false stepping, which means instead of doing what is necessary or right, one chooses to go around. In this particular passage, Paul is addressing not only the problem of sin, but also the issue of continuing to sin. Before Paul could teach about the new life believers had in Christ, his listeners had to know the definition of sin.[12]

L. Thomas then demonstrates, “The biblical understanding of sin is not only an act of wrongdoing, but a state of alienation from God. [While] the origin of sin is indeed a mystery and is tied in with the problem of evil; the sin is personal and social, individual and collective. The effects of sin are also moral and spiritual bondage, guilt, death, and hell.”[13] The Bible has multiple words relative to sin, all of which convey its causes, its nature, and its consequences. As Robert Eagan illustrates, “Sin – that is, alienation from self-transcendence due to failure to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible – results in faulty apprehensions of value, and subsequent false judgments of value, and ultimately in poor decisions and wrong actions. This notion of sin takes into account the role of feelings in the apprehension and judgment of value.”[14] Crisp asserts, “Original sin is a real moral corruption or deformity of soul that affects all human beings with the exception of Christ.”[15] This view is rooted in the bedrock of Anglicanism, and Article 9, which states, “Original Sin is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit and in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”[16]

PURPOSE OF SIN

Temptation exists when something or someone attempts to influence another person to sin. Jesus Himself was tempted, so the act of being tempted is not sin, but acting on those thoughts is. God does not tempt His children, (James 1:13-15) but Satan does. In an attempt to corrupt the world, Satan wants everyone to live in total depravity, but as Frame demonstrates, “The corruption of sin remains until death, but it grows weaker and weaker, through the continual strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ. Scripture promises victory in Jesus, so the final word about the believer is not corruption, but overcoming. Paul said, ‘For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace’” (Romans 6:14).[17]

The doctrine of sin reveals man’s fallen nature and often can be difficult to identify. Frame shows, “Many people are unable to grasp the concept of sin as a inner force, an inherent condition, a controlling power. People today think more in terms of sins as wrongful acts. Sins are something external and concrete, logically separable from the person. On this basis, one who has not done anything wrong [generally conceived of as an external act] is considered good.”[18] In today’s society, sins are often ranked by a variety of manmade circumstances. In the judicial system, there are felonies and misdemeanors and each crime will carry with it a sentence or judgment. In a like manner, Christians often do the same thing with sin, but in God’s eyes all sin is still sin. While there can be some argument that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was considered an unpardonable sin, a proper understanding of the historical context and environment Jesus was speaking in reveals His authority came from the Spirit of the Father.

Joseph Haven provides two logically possible suppositions on the existence of sin in the world: “(1) That God cannot entirely prevent sin and (2) That for some reason, He does not choose to prevent it. Each of these propositions supposes what the other denies; and, as such, by the laws of contradiction, and of excluded middle, while they cannot both be true, one or the other must be true.”[19] It is the view of this writer that God chooses not to prevent sin based on four principles highlighted by Haven: (1) Because its existence is in itself desirable; (2) because, though not in itself desirable, it is still the necessary means of the greatest good; (3) because, thought not in itself tending to good, it may be overruled to that result; or (4) because, in general terms, its permission will involve less evil that its absolute prevention. The most valid response is the permission of sin serves the greater good and that God allow its presence, under specific restrictions. Haven then asserts, “It is not sin, but the purpose on the part of God not to do more than He is doing to prevent sin, that is for the best. [This view] puts the existence of sin, not in the light of a greater good, but only of a lesser evil.”[20] Harrison further demonstrates how, “The consequences of sin are so terrible that in permitting it the righteous and just God must see it as essential to the achievement of a purpose who benefits are of supreme importance to Himself.”[21] Upon this premise, Harrison claims sin entered the creation for three primary reasons: (1) God desired His creature to know Him and receive His blessings; (2) The freedom to choose exercised without any influence by God was the direct cause of sin; and (3) Sin and all of its consequences were necessary to show His love and holiness, and the inability of man and angel apart from God, not only to be redeemed, but so every creature would understand.[22]

EFFECTS OF SIN

Sin always leads to more sin, and ultimately suffering, but even in this state, God uses suffering, according to His good purposes to: transform and to save the sinner. Kenneth Himma, when dealing with the continuing-sin response, illustrates this premise claiming, “There is no wrong any person can do in this life that merits an infinite punishment and hence that punishment would be disproportionate to his or her worldly wrongdoing.”[23] [24] King David and his sin with Bathsheba is a prime example (Psalm 51 & 2 Samuel 11). To cover up the sin of adultery, David ultimately ends up committing murder by sending Uriah to the front lines to die at the hands of his enemies in battle. Himma then explains, “The most likely response by traditionalists is to deny that punishment in hell is disproportionate to the sum of one’s worldly sins and to embrace some form of the controversial thesis that sin against an infinite being is infinite.”[25] Mattias Gockel illustrates four claims which shows evil and suffering to be essentially two sides to the same coin: “(1) Evil is defined by events in which someone experiences ills, not by an act of the will or an evil intention; (2) One must distinguish carefully between suffering and various forms of evil; (3) Suffering is not always and in every case evil; and (4) From a Christian perspective, evil is something God has overcome through good.”[26] According to Friedrich Schleiermacher, “The existence of sin with and besides grace is ordered for us by God, since a consciousness of sin continues to exist besides a consciousness of grace.”[27] However, due to the consequences of sin and the effects of the fall, guilt, punishment, and corruption are the results. Erickson adds, “The impact of sin has several dimensions. There are effects on the sinner’s relationships with God and fellow humans, as well as oneself.”[28] Sins against God lead to guilt, punishment, and death; sins against oneself cause denial, strongholds, enslavement, and selfishness; and sins against community cause rejection, isolation, and inability to care about the needs of others. Octavio Esqueda demonstrates how, “Sin permeates our entire being and alienates us from ourselves, other people, our world, and most importantly from our Creator.”[29] The more people look to the world for answers; Esqueda explains the more culture continues to play a dominant role in determining what is right and wrong. Esqueda then explains sin’s primary role is to diminish God’s plan for His creation, leading to lives being corrupted, isolated, and prideful. These traits are detrimental because each is contrary to God’s nature. Esqueda explains because, “We are communal beings as our triune God is, our sinful pride makes us focus only on our self-interest and [this causes one to] neglect God and others. The more we pursue our own happiness by our own efforts and for our own benefits, the more lonely and isolated we become. This is the fallacy of sin!”[30]

Everyone is born into the world as sinners because of Adam’s sin. David Wilcox explains, “Adam’s sin is and was therefore indeed our sin – for Adam’s sin is embedded in those who make us human, and they can only make us after their image. Adam’s rebellion has come down to us generation after generation – culturally transmitted, and neurologically inevitable.”[31] Ian Boyd, when dealing with the issue of self-destroying sin, demonstrates how the problem of sin and evil is often contested when it affects the unwilling suffering of innocents. Boyd explains, “The problem of self-destroying sin can lead a Christian to doubt God’s power or God’s goodness toward the one who sins self-destructively. God appears to betray and be unable to save and redeem, which calls Christianity itself into question because of the central promise of redemption from sin.”[32] Despite this view, the justice and love of God work in conformity.

DEFEAT OF SIN

The law was ultimately incapable of providing life to those who adhered to it, as Dirk Venter explains, “All sin was collectively condemned by God in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and He bore that condemnation out in the destruction of His flesh. Those who partake of this reality through their participation or inclusion ‘in Christ’ by faith can boldly proclaim with Paul that ‘there is now no condemnation for me’” (Romans 8:1).[33] Thomas further explains the mission of Christ and how, “Christian faith teaches that sin cannot be overcome through human ingenuity or effort. The solution to the problem lies in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The penalty for sin is death, judgment, and hell, but the gospel is that God has chosen to pay this penalty Himself in the sacrificial life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.”[34] The vicarious atonement Christ provided at Calvary made a way not only to restore fellowship with the Father, but also to provide payment in full for all past, present, and future sin. Only an infinite God could cover the multitude of sin found within mankind’s fallen nature.

In 1 Corinthians 15:55-56, Paul wrote, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Here, Gordon Fee shows, “The law not only makes sin observable as sin, but also, and more significantly, shows that one’s actions are finally over against God, and thus leads to condemnation. The law, which is good, functions as the agent of sin because it either leads to pride of achievement, or reveals the depth of one’s depravity and rebellion against God, becoming either death-dealing or life-giving.”[35] Ultimately, Jesus conquered and defeated sin, through his death, burial, and resurrection. The fashion in which He did it bears mention. 1 Peter 2:24 declares, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Peter Davids illustrates, “Because of its use in Deuteronomy 21:22, the idea that the one so hung was cursed by God cannot be far from the author’s mind, but without explicitly mentioning this he points out that this death was vicarious, for it was “our sins” that he bore.”[36] This curse is reminiscent of the curse that fell upon mankind as the result of “original sin” in the Garden of Eden. In 1 John 2:2, Jesus is referred to as, “The atoning sacrifice or the propitiation for our sins.” These two translations represent an atonement made for sin and a sacrifice made to God. Howard Marshall explains Jesus was acting as our advocate before God, and, “Jesus is pleading the case of guilty sinners before a judge who is being petitioned to pardon their acknowledged guilt. He is not being asked to declare them innocent, i.e. to say that there is no evidence that they have sinned, but rather to grant them pardon for their acknowledged sins.”[37]

CONCLUSION

The existence of sin and the mystery of why a good God would allow its presence in a creation in which He declared as being good is a direct result of mankind’s free will. While sin did not originate with man, its effects and curse are still felt throughout time. As a result of the fall, sin has plagued humanity, leaving many to question God’s motives. While the problem of evil is a moral problem,[38] the problem of sin is the process of death at work in the lives of God’s children. C. S. Lewis suggests, God in His omniscience “Saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out… a deeper happiness and a fuller splendor than any world of automata would admit.”[39] Norman Geisler advances this theory by suggesting, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.”[40] Lewis then adds, “The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between.”[41] While free will makes it possible to choose wrong, Geisler emphasizes, “Forced love is rape; and God is not a divine rapist.”[42] God desires everyone to be saved, but He will never do anything to coerce one’s decision. Lewis put it best, “The door of hell is locked on the inside. [All who go there choose to] because there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”[43] When Christ died for all of humanity’s sins, Ravi Zacharias articulates how, “God’s justice demands that sin be punished, but His love compels Him to save sinners, [so] surely justice and mercy kissed on the cross at Calvary.”[44]

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Boyd, Ian T. E. “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 487-507. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Block, Daniel I. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

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Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Durden, John. “The Doctrine of Sin.” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation. 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

Egan, Robert. “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin.” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Esqueda, Octavio Javier. “Sin and Christian Teaching.” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164-176. General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Geisler, Norman L. The Problem of Evil, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 1999.

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995.

Gockel, Matthias. “‘Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97-105. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Harrison, William K. (William Kelly). “Origin of Sin.” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 58-61. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Haven, Joseph. “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose.” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 445-488. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell.” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 61-78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.

Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1     (§ 80).

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Venter, Dirk J. “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh.” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Wilcox, David L. “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 477-478.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 557.

[3] Ibid., 560.

[4] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 852.

[5] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 323.

[6] Daniel I. Block, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 98.

[7] Block, TNICOT, The Book of Ezekiel, 117.

[8] William K. Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 60. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

[9] Oliver D. Crisp, “On Original Sin,” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 17, (June 2015): 256. doi: 10.1111/ijst.12107 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[10] Erickson, Christian Theology, 517-529.

[11] John Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin,” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

[12] Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin.”

[13] R. L. Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 1103-1104.

[14] Robert Egan, “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin,” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[15] Crisp, “On Original Sin,” 258.

[16] The Church of England Website, “Article IX Of Original or Birth-sin,” https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#IX (accessed May 11, 2017).

[17] Frame, Systematic Theology, 870.

[18] Erickson, Christian Theology, 516.

[19] Joseph Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 472. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[20] Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” 481 & 483.

[21] Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” 60.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Kenneth Einar Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell,” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[24] See also William Wainwright, “Original Sin,” in Thomas V. Morris (ed.) Philosophy and the Christian Faith (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 34-35.

[25] Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible,” 77.

[26] Mattias Gockel, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017)

[27] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1, p. 488 (§ 80).

[28] Erickson, Christian Theology, 548.

[29] Octavio Javier Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164. General OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[30] Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” 166.

[31] David L. Wilcox, “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[32] Ian T. E. Boyd, “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes,” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 489. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[33] Dirk J. Venter, “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh,” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[34] Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1106.

[35] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 806.

[36] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 112.

[37] I. Howard Marshall, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 118.

[38] Toby Betenson, “Evaluative Claims within the Problem of Evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (09, 2015): 361. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1703895888?accountid=12085 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[39] C. S. Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 561.

[40] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995), 73.

[41] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 562.

[42] Geisler and Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 73.

[43] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 120.

[44] Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 31.

 

Charles Spurgeon’s Ministry and Role in the “Down Grade” Controversy

Charles Spurgeon

Throughout the history of the church, God has called and equipped individuals to stand opposed to apostasy and indifference, which attempts to cause moral and doctrinal decay. During the late nineteenth century, such an occasion arose as many so-called English Baptist pastors became so infatuated with worldly pursuits that many churches stopped engaging in prayer meetings and some even went as far as hosting dramas in the house of God. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the man God called and equipped to shine the light of truth on the moral and doctrinal decay of the nineteenth century, which sought not only to “downgrade” the Baptist denomination, but also the life-saving gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Spurgeon was a man of humble beginnings, but someone who the Lord used greatly to preserve and spread the Word of God. This paradigm is seen throughout Scripture, which always leads one to the conclusion that it could only have been God working through the individual to accomplish what had been done. By looking back to Spurgeon’s upbringing, influences, and calling to ministry, the aim of this paper will detail how Spurgeon developed his faith, which led to his strong convictions and captivating preaching style. In addition to the many contributions Spurgeon made to Baptists, this paper will also look at the climate of Darwinism and Liberalism and how these theories and philosophies impacted the church. Lastly, this paper will highlight the long-lasting impacts of the “Down Grade” controversy and the legacy Spurgeon has left behind. The commitment, exhibited by Spurgeon, to moral and doctrinal purity is just as relevant to the church today as it was during the nineteenth century. Just as there was a multiplicity of factors attempting to oppose or water down the message of the gospel, the climate of the present-day church is much the same, if not worse. It will take men and women with the zeal and commitment of Spurgeon to combat these forces, in an effort, to transform the world, instead of being conformed by it. There are some hills worth dying on and for Spurgeon this was evident in everything he practiced, preached, and his resolve in the “Down Grade” controversy.

HIS CALLING

Born into an Anglican household in Kelvedon, Essex, in 1834, Spurgeon would experience a life-changing conversion at a young age. God would use general revelation, in the form of a snowstorm to force Spurgeon to take shelter in Newtown, Colchester and it would be in a Methodist chapel that God illuminated the special revelation of His word, thus opening Spurgeon’s heart to the life-saving message of salvation. John Pitt further enlightens how, “Spurgeon’s conversion was as dramatic as any found in the history of Christian centuries and was entirely true to the evangelical tradition. Although only sixteen when the great transaction took place, young Spurgeon was under very deep conviction of sin – much like John Bunyan’s conversion experience, it was an emotional crisis of the most severe kind.”[1] Spurgeon believed salvation required a radical change and, “This change is a thorough and sweeping one, and operates upon the heart, and life of the convert… [And] the Bible is meant for mankind, and our text refers to any man, of any country, and any age.”[2] An early Scripture which captivated Spurgeon was Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Spurgeon and John Oswalt reveal how this passage illustrates, “There is a call to experience the same salvation that the Israelites have experienced. To be sure, that experience is predicated on a turning around and looking to the Lord in trust.”[3] As a show of trust in God’s plan, Spurgeon moved to Cambridge, England where he engaged in teaching Sunday school. Not knowing what the future held for Spurgeon, his first sermon actually occurred by filling in for a friend and it was given in a small cottage in Teversham. Shortly after, Spurgeon would become the pastor of a small Baptist church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, which is where his first published gospel tract was produced in 1853. Early in his ministry, his preaching style and ability stood him apart from his contemporaries and by the age of nineteen, Spurgeon would become the pastor of London’s largest Baptist congregation, the New Park Street Chapel. Over the course of his life, it is estimated Spurgeon preached close to four thousand sermons and has close to fifty published works ranging from commentaries to sermons and devotionals. Spurgeon’s style of preaching attracted crowds of up to ten thousand people at the young age of twenty-two. Each week, he would write out his sermons and at the pulpit he would simply use an outline of the message, while stenographers transcribed the sermon, which would later be sold for a penny. To this day, these publications remain one of the most widely circulated and best selling publications.

CONTRIBUTION TO BAPTISTS

Spurgeon practiced what he preached and he taught believers how to find instruction everywhere and even how to gather lessons from unpleasant circumstances. Spurgeon illustrates, “Many are stung by nettles, but few are taught by them. Some men are hurt by briers, but Solomon was improved by them, so do not begin stinging yourself with nettles, grip them firmly, and then use them for your soul’s health. Trials and troubles, worries and turmoils, little frets and little disappointments, may all help you if you will look upon them and receive instruction.”[4] During his ministry, Spurgeon came under fire when he challenged the Church of England on the matter of baptismal regeneration, but due to his resolve, he never backed down. Craig Skinner reveals, “Theologically, Spurgeon’s greatest facility was his ability to declare the paradox of God’s will working in conjunction with man’s… reaching into heights and depths of argument and illustration well beyond many of his contemporaries.”[5] He had an overly compassionate heart and believed firmly in the missional responsibility of the local church and Spurgeon was very good friends with James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. He was also very active in opposing slavery, which was a major issue facing America, which ultimately caused him to lose the support of the Southern Baptist Convention. Spurgeon believed:

Not so very long ago our nation tolerated slavery in our colonies. Philanthropists endeavored to destroy slavery; bat when was it utterly abolished? It was when Wilberforce roused the church of God, and when the church of God addressed herself to the conflict, then she tore the evil thing to pieces. I have been amused with what Wilberforce said the day after they passed the Act of Emancipation. He merrily said to a friend when it was all done, ‘Is there not something else we can abolish?’ That was said playfully, but it shows the spirit of the church of God. She lives in conflict and victory; her mission is to destroy everything that is bad in the land.[6]

Just because something was popular or just because the majority was of the opinion the action was justified did not mean it was so in God’s eye and the debate over slavery was such an instance. Gregory Wills illuminates how Spurgeon’s ecclesiology rested squarely on the experience of regeneration. Wills explains, “[Spurgeon’s] commitment to the centrality of regeneration (new birth) shaped his ecclesiology from local polity to evangelical union. [Additionally,] Spurgeon’s church polity included three commitments: regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism, and congregational church polity.”[7] These three pillars of the church were fundamental in Spurgeon’s organizational methods and he believed each of these was revealed in Scripture. Regeneration was where Spurgeon’s Baptist identity grew out from, but because of his stand for orthodoxy, he would eventually withdraw from the Baptist Union in 1887. This was in part due to the Baptist Union allowing modernist ministers in its membership, which Spurgeon believed weakened regeneration. Wills further demonstrates, “As modernism grew more popular, American Baptists based their ecclesiology increasingly on evangelical essentials, [so] when Spurgeon withdrew, the hailed him as a great Baptist Champion.”[8]

Spurgeon believed Christ established the church according to a pattern, which made the polity of the church a matter of revelation and not one of expediency. This led to a Tabernacle process, which examined the life, character, and testimony of applicants before membership was granted. Spurgeon also held to the notion that Christ required congregational church government or independency. This would allow a certain level of autonomy, thus allowing churches the capability of exercising all the functions of a church of Christ. Spurgeon also believed each church should be able to appoint a minister instead of the common ordination process. He also believed in the distinction between elders and deacons of the church. Elders, he believed, should counsel others and help those searching for the way to salvation and also care for the sick and needy. Deacons, then, should be responsible for the finances, logistics of the service, and the maintaining of church discipline. Pitts adds, “Spurgeon’s ministry was Christo-centric, [because] for him, every road led to Christ. However he dealt with a text – and he was a master of the art of homiletics – it was always full of the gospel; and no sermon ended without bringing the hearers face-to-face with the claims and challenge of the Lord of all Good Life.”[9] Interestingly, Spurgeon would not offer a traditional altar call at the conclusion of his services; instead, he would invite them to come back on Monday to visit him in his office. However, he would invite those down who had already made a commitment to following and serving the Lord.

DOWN GRADE CONTROVERSY

William Estep illuminates how, “Spurgeon lived in an age conditioned by an intellectual and a religious climate quite different from our own.”[10] With his tremendous fame and the high-demand for his sermons, he encountered some harsh criticism, especially in the climate and landscape of Darwinism and Liberalism. Spurgeon saw through the facade and recognized how these theories and philosophies were attempting to weaken the Baptist faith. These were hills worth dying on and Spurgeon believed, “Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaption for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart.”[11] Leon McBeth cites the “Down Grade” as being the most serious controversy faced by the English Baptists in the late nineteenth century. McBeth then reveals how, “The controversy broke out in London and swirled around two outstanding Baptist leaders, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and John Clifford. Historians reckon that the controversy ended with the death of Spurgeon in 1892, but its consequences have still continued.”[12] The controversy led to a split from the Union, resulting in Spurgeon’s church being the largest self-standing church. Against this backdrop, Dennis Swanson explains, “At the height of the Down-Grade Controversy Spurgeon and others created and signed a statement of faith stating the doctrines that distinguished them from those in the Baptist Union who were on the “down grade.” In 1891, The Sword and Trowel published the statement, which dealt with the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.”[13] Swanson then expounds how the “Down Grade” Controversy might have begun with the publication of two articles in Spurgeon’s widely distributed monthly journal, The Sword and Trowel, but were actually the product of Spurgeon’s close friend Robert Shindler. It was in this publication that Spurgeon, “Inserted a footnote on the first page of each of the “Down Grade” articles where he called for ‘earnest attention’ on the part of the readers, with the urgent warning that ‘we are going down hill at break-neck speed.’”[14] The first article addressed the issue of nonconformist churches falling prey to theological error and despite the churches being established as Calvinistic in faith, rarely would any last past two to three generations. Swanson then shows how, “The second article continued the discussion of theological “Down Grade” concentrating on the Baptist churches [pointing out] earlier church leaders, although themselves sound in doctrine, had not been sufficiently bold to confront error.”[15] Spurgeon and Shindler believed, “The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching.”[16] On the last point of a departure from Calvinistic doctrine, Shindler and Spurgeon seem more concerned about adhering to core evangelical truths and biblical inspiration than adhering to Calvinism. It also seems clear that Spurgeon had no aim in reopening old wounds over the Calvinist-Arminian debates. In fact, Spurgeon actually wrote, “The present struggle is not a debate upon the question of Calvinism or Arminianism, but of the truth of God versus the inventions of men. All who believe the gospel should unite against that ‘modern thought’ which is its deadly enemy.”[17] During the entire controversy, Spurgeon is consistently seen striving for unity, but not at the expense of compromising the gospel message or core doctrinal beliefs. Even when he withdrew from the Union, it was done in an endeavor to maintain unity. The Union did not feel the same and issued a vote of censure against Spurgeon as a final blow in the controversy, leading many to revere him as a martyr to the faith.

Throughout the Down Grade controversy, Swanson explains how the charge was made that “Spurgeon was motivated by his desire to force conformity within the Union to his Calvinistic theology.”[18] At this point in the controversy, Spurgeon was surprised by the reaction his articles had received and in many ways by the lack of any reaction. Spurgeon grieved, “A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese.”[19] However, Spurgeon steadfastly refuted this charge, declaring: “Certain antagonists have tried to represent the ‘Down-Grade’ controversy as a revival of the old feud between Calvinists and Arminians. It is nothing of the kind. Many evangelical Arminians are as earnestly on our side as men can be.”[20] Even when other Separatist Baptists tried to convince him to start a new denomination, he declined saying, “There are denominations enough. A new denomination would not be any safer than the old – heretics could enter a new one as well as an old.”[21] Battling the moral and doctrinal decay within the denomination took a toll on Spurgeon, as Estep further explains how, “The Down Grade Controversy took a greater toll on Spurgeon’s life and ministry than any other similar experience, [yet] when the Baptist leaders asked for documentation [proving Spurgeon’s claims,] he promised to protect the anonymity of his informer, Samuel Harris Booth, Secretary of the Union.”[22] Sworn to confidentiality, Spurgeon was a man of his word and never named names. McBeth believes, “Spurgeon’s refusal to name those who had embraced heresy may have grown out of Spurgeon’s belief if he named them, it would have introduced personalities into the discussion. Further, he pointed out that the Baptist Union had no doctrinal standard except a belief in immersion. [Ultimately,] Spurgeon wanted the Union to adopt a doctrinal statement.” This would have ended the controversy, united the Union, and quite possible extended the life of Spurgeon who died in 1892 at the age of fifty-seven.

In the second article, Spurgeon gave specific examples of how tolerance had led to disaster, writing that the, “Tadpole of Darwinism was hatched in a pew of the old chapel in High Street, Shrewsbury, where Charles Darwin had received his religious training and was first introduced to skepticism by a pastor who was enthralled with Socinianism.”[23] Shindler and Spurgeon attributed the common denominator for those caught up in the “Down Grade” being:

The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. ‘To the law and to the testimony,’ is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.[24]

Swanson explains, “During the years of the Down Grade Controversy, Spurgeon repeatedly warned of six areas of “down grade” in evangelical doctrine:

(1) The denial of the verbal inspiration (that is, the inerrancy) of Scripture. (2) The denial of eternal punishment and the affirmation of universalism. (3) The denial of the Trinity, mainly in terms of the rejection of the personality of the Holy Spirit. (4) The movement toward Socinianism or the denial of the deity of Christ and original sin. (5) The denial of the creation account in Genesis in favor of evolution. (6) The unhealthy influence of higher criticism on biblical scholarship, particularly as it relates to the Old Testament.[25]

Spurgeon then summarized his position on the theological trends of his day, stating:

Look at the church of the present day; the advanced school, I mean. In its midst we see preachers who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. They talk of the Lord Jesus, but deny his Godhead, which is His power; they speak of the Holy Spirit, but deny His personality, wherein lies His very existence. They take away the substance and power from all the doctrines of revelation, though they pretend still to believe them. They talk of redemption, but they deny substitution, which is the essence of it; they extol the Scriptures, but deny their infallibility, wherein lies its value; they use the phrases of orthodoxy, and believe nothing in common with the orthodox.[26]

In the third article, the tone took on a sense of urgency, as Shindler continued firing volleys against those engaged in apostasy and Spurgeon warned how this new religion had turned the church into a playhouse, as many were being used for dramas and entertainment purposes. There was plenty of blame to go around; however, Spurgeon placed it firmly on the preachers and modernists, who he believed were destroying the church. MacArthur explains how the focus of the controversy changes because now Spurgeon was suggesting that true believers might have reason to sever ties with those who were propagating the new theology. “In [Spurgeon’s] estimation, the truth of the Word had been so seriously compromised that true Christians needed to consider the command of 2 Corinthians 6:17: ‘Come out of their midst and be separate; and do not touch what is unclean.’”[27] After this, Spurgeon had become utterly obsessed and consumed by the controversy, leading to a decline in his physical health, which the Union used to attack Spurgeon, claiming his rants were that of a desperate and sick man. These personal attacks only fueled Spurgeon’s tenacity, especially considering, an answer or response to the allegations had still not been given by the Union. Spurgeon, a master of illustrations equated what was going on to, “The house is being robbed, its very walls are being dug down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs and meet the burglars; they are even half vexed that a certain noisy fellow will spring his rattle, or cry, ‘Thieves!’”[28] The final compromise would revolve around the Union Council adopting a creed. The once popular “no creed but Christ” was no longer enough because as Spurgeon highlighted, “The objection to a creed is a very pleasant way of concealing objection to discipline, and a desire for latitudinarianism. What is wished for is a Union which will, like Noah’s Ark, afford shelter both for the clean and for the unclean, for creeping things and winged fowls.”[29] However, even when a doctrinal statement was adopted, it was vague and bland, due to last minute modifications. MacArthur further demonstrates how, “Just as Spurgeon had warned all along, nothing was to be gained by compromising with the enemies of the gospel. The Baptist Union’s decline was, if anything, accelerated and those who embraced the ‘New Theology’ were emboldened after the Union Assembly, as they now held the reins of the Union.”[30] The ripple effects of this controversy have lasting impacts to this day.

HIS LEGACY

The prince of preachers has left a rich legacy behind. Spurgeon never sugarcoated any message and he always spoke to the heart of the matter. He wanted his listeners to understand, “There is a disease upon you which has already brought you down to spiritual death, and will bring you down to hell. The most moral of you, the most amiable of you, unless Jesus shall look upon you in love, is carrying about within himself a plague of the heart which will be your eternal ruin; Jesus must save you, or you are lost. Man’s only home is to come from Him.”[31] In many of his sermons, illustrations were used to allow light to shine upon the biblical truth being conveyed. Spurgeon said, “There exists no reason why the preaching of gospel should be a miserable task either to the speaker or the hearer. Pleasantly profitable let all our sermons be. A house must not have thick walls without openings, neither must a discourse be all made up of solid slabs of doctrine without a window of comparison or lattice of poetry.”[32] Out of Spurgeon’s immense devotion to God arose a charitable heart towards social concerns. Rooted in this construct, David Duke demonstrates, “The three pillars of Spurgeon’s social concern rest upon: his call for absolute devotion to God in Christ; his concern for the salvation of individual souls; and his emphasis on Christian character which develops from the new nature found in Christ.”[33] Duke reveals how Spurgeon’s life was lived so deeply in Scripture that, “He could not escape the powerful calls for justice and peace, [and] while his primary concern was for individual souls, his compassion for all souls in every dimension of their lives compelled him to speak fervently for radical changes in the attitudes of his society and Union.”[34] Spurgeon always sought the moral high ground in this fight against modernism, but the Baptist Union would never be the same. Spurgeon’s cost in this fight was great, as his friends turned against him, his health declined, and the church he loved was corrupted. While some questioned Spurgeon’s departure from the Union, MacArthur equates Spurgeon staying in the Union to Abraham staying in Ur, in the hope of converting the entire household out of which he was called. Following Spurgeon’s passing, Shindler brilliantly encapsulates the heart and desire of Spurgeon when he wrote, “May the Lord graciously purge His Church of all false doctrine, all false teachers, and all who are traitors in the camp of Israel! And may the Spirit from on high be poured out upon all flesh, that all the ends of the earth may see, and own, and rejoice in, the salvation of our God!”[35]

CONCLUSION

During the late nineteenth century, as many so-called English Baptist pastors became so infatuated with worldly pursuits that many churches stopped engaging in prayer meetings and some even went as far as hosting dramas in the house of God, Charles Haddon Spurgeon arose as the man of God who was called and equipped to shine the light of truth on the moral and doctrinal decay. The “downgrade” of the Baptist denomination, was a hard fought war, one in which ultimately took years off the life of the protagonist. Spurgeon himself warned everyone, “There is truth and there is error and these are opposite the one to the other. Do not indulge yourselves in the folly with which so many are duped-that truth may be error, and error may be truth, that black is white, and white is black, and that there is a whitey-brown that goes in between, which is, perhaps, the best of the whole lot.”[36] Following Spurgeon’s passing, Estep illuminates how “Thomas Spurgeon was reported to have remarked to a Baptist leader that the Union had killed his father, whereupon, the leader replied, ‘and your father almost killed the Union.’”[37] This controversy serves as a stark reminder that if one fails to stand for doctrinal purity, he or she will fall for anything. In today’s climate, tolerance and compromise have become the weapons being used to downgrade the moral and doctrinal purity of the gospel message.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Crocker, Lionel. “CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON’S THEORY OF PREACHING.” Quarterly Journal Of Speech 25, no. 2 (April 1939): 214. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Duke, David Nelson. “Charles Haddon Spurgeon: social concern exceeding an individualistic, self-help ideology.” Baptist History And Heritage 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 47-56. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 5, 2017).

Estep, William Roscoe. “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 3-15. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Hixson, Elijah. “NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM IN THE MINISTRY OF CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 3 (09, 2014): 555-70, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1565535207?accountid=12085. (accessed May 4, 2017).

MacArthur Jr., John F. “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy,” The Spurgeon Archive Website, http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/downgrd.htm#16 (accessed May 5, 2017).

May, Lynn E. “The impact of one life: Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History and Heritage 19 no. 4(1984): 2.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

Oswalt, John N. Oswalt. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Pitts, John. “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Theology Today 6, no. 4 (January 1950): 524-530. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Shindler, Robert. From the Usher’s Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit: The Life and Labors of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. New York, NY: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1892.

Skinner, Craig. “The preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 16-26. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “A powerful reason for coming to Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra 99, no. 393 (January 1942): 68-86. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

________. Art of Illustration. Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4,, 2017).

________. Is Conversion Necessary? Pensacola, FL: Generic NL Freebook Publisher, n.d., 1874 eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), (accessed May 4, 2017).

________. Talks To Farmers. Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

________. The Best War Cry. March 4, 1883. (accessed May 5, 2017).

________. The “Down Grade” Controversy. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 2009.

________. The “Down Grade” Controversy: Collected Materials Which Reveal the Viewpoint of the Late Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

________. The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon: Selected Books, Sermons, and Other Writings, Edited by Daniel Partner. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2009.

________. “The Form of Godliness without the Power,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon in the Year 1889, repr. ed. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1975.

________. “A Fragment on the “Down Grade” Controversy.” The Sword and Trowel 23 (1887): 560-565.

________. “Notes,” The Sword and Trowel (April 1887): 190-196

Swanson, Dennis. “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries: Some Lessons from Spurgeon’s Battle for Evangelical Orthodoxy.” Faith and Mission 20, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 20-33.

_________. “The Millennial Position of Spurgeon.” Master’s Seminary Journal 07, no. 2 (Fall, 1996): 200-211.

Wills, Gregory A. “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: unity, orthodoxy, and denominational identity.” Baptist History and Heritage 34, no. 3 (1999): 67-79. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA94161024&sid=summon&asid=f18c26f68eff860fdfd2b2c98d45a42e (accessed May 5, 2017).

            [1] John Pitts, “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Theology Today 6, no. 4 (January 1950): 524. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[2] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Is Conversion Necessary? (Pensacola, FL: Generic NL Freebook Publisher, n.d. eBook Collection, 1874), 4. EBSCOhost, (accessed May 4, 2017).

[3] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 223.

[4] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Talks To Farmers (Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013), 5. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4, 2017).

[5] Craig Skinner, “The preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[6] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Best War Cry, March 4, 1883. (accessed May 5, 2017).

[7] Gregory A Wills, “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: unity, orthodoxy, and denominational identity,” Baptist History and Heritage 34, no. 3 (1999): 67. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA94161024&sid=summon&asid=f18c26f68eff860fdfd2b2c98d45a42e (accessed May 5, 2017).

[8] Wills, “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon,” 68-69.

[9] Pitts, “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 529.

[10] William Roscoe Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 3. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[11] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The “Down Grade” Controversy (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 2009), 2.

[12] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 302.

[13] Dennis Swanson, “The Millennial Position of Spurgeon,” Master’s Seminary Journal 07, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 200.

[14] Dennis Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries: Some Lessons from Spurgeon’s Battle for Evangelical Orthodoxy,” Faith and Mission 20, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 20.

[15] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[16] Robert Shindler, ‘The Down Grade,” The Sword and Trowel (March 1887): 122.

[17] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Notes,” The Sword and Trowel (April 1887): 196.

[18] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[19] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The “Down Grade” Controversy: Collected Materials, Which Reveal the Viewpoint of the Late Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 513-514.

[20] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[21] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A Fragment on the “Down Grade” Controversy,” The Sword and Trowel 23 (1887): 560.

[22] Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 13.

[23] Christian George, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon Volume I: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854 (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2017), 332.

[24] John F. MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy,” The Spurgeon Archive Website, http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/downgrd.htm#16 (accessed May 5, 2017).

[25] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 29.

[26] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Form of Godliness without the Power,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon in the Year 1889, repr. ed. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 308.

[27] MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy, the final compromise.”

[28] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Our Reply to Sundry Critics and Enquirers,” The Sword and the Trowel (September 1887), 461.

[29] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Baptist Union Censure,” The Sword and the Trowel (Feb. 1888), 83.

[30] MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy, the aftermath.”

[31] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A powerful reason for coming to Christ,” Bibliotheca Sacra 99, no. 393 (January 1942): 73. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[32] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Art of Illustration (Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013), 7. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4,, 2017).

[33] David Nelson Duke, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon: social concern exceeding an individualistic, self-help ideology.” Baptist History And Heritage 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 47. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 5, 2017).

[34] Duke, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 55.

[35] Robert Shindler, From the Usher’s Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit: The Life and Labors of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (New York, NY: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1892), 274.

[36] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Three Sights Worth Seeing,” in the MTP 1887, 476.

[37] Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 13.

An Apologetic Approach to Postmodernism

postmodernism

INTRODUCTION

This paper will demonstrate how postmodernism is a self-contradicting illusion of spiritual apathy, which attempts to eclipse the fundamental truth claims of God and Christianity, by claiming all roads lead to God and everyone’s version of truth is acceptable. By contrasting postmodernism’s attempts to erode religious certainty, in the formation of spirituality lacking certainty, or sustained convictions, with the biblical view of truth found only in Christianity, the end-goal will be to formulate a sound defense of the Christian faith against this worldview and the existence of evil, through the proof of God’s existence and sovereignty.

SUMMARY OF WORLDVIEW

Without absolute truth and objective reality, postmodernists believe everyone should equally embrace the beliefs and perception of others. Douglas Groothuis illustrates, “The inconsistencies of postmodernism pose a direct challenge, since the irresolvable diversity of truth claims has no reliable criteria to test these claims against.”[1] One plus one should equal two, but for a postmodernist, even this truth does not exist. Graham Johnston furthers explains, “Truth by definition will always be exclusive, so the most important questions and tests of truth any worldview must meet are: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.”[2] For modernists, the issue in promoting Christian faith was credibility, but in postmodernism, the key issue has become desirability. It is no wonder postmodernism is thriving as the default setting among the most prevalent alternative worldviews. Everyone just wants to get along, forming an abomination of syncretistic beliefs. All roads may have led to Rome, but all roads do not lead to God, as postmodernists contend, and only Christianity provides logical proof about humanity’s origin, meaning, morality, and eternal destiny, which are found in God.

History of Worldview

From the ashes of modernity during the Enlightenment, postmodernism was conceived as the illegitimate offspring. It came out of a time of scientific certainty, where reason trumped faith, ultimately leading to an abandonment of God in the pursuit of knowledge. Some scholars date the modern age beginning in 1789, while others prefer an earlier date starting with René Descartes’ famous incorrigible truth statement of cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). In essence, postmodernism is simply a reversal of modernism. Johnston reveals, “Reason supplanted the role of faith and where modernity revealed in reason, science, and the human ability to overcome, postmodernity wallows in mysticism, relativism, and the incapacity to know with any certainty both what is true or the answers to life’s great questions.”[3]

Basic Tenants of Modernism

Modernity was based upon true knowledge, which was good and the world existed in a cause and effect relationship. Progress was ultimately used to produce a better world, through technology and scientific discovery. Additionally, as Johnston explains, “The world was perceived on two levels: the objective, physical, and scientific realm, (which was open to public debate,) and the subjective, spiritual, and moral realm, (which was a matter of personal conviction).”[4] This is a radical departure from the present postmodern worldview, which no longer believes knowledge to be inherently good. Instead, postmodernists reject objective truth, are skeptics, blur the lines of morality, and search for the transcendent in a material world.

Categories of Postmodern Belief

Worldviews are made up of a comprehensive system of beliefs that shape every area of life. However, a statement or belief cannot be true and false, at the same time, so there are multiple contradictions found within postmodernism. First, ultimate reality fails, as Groothuis demonstrates, “No one “metanarrative” (or worldview) can rightly claim to be a true and rational account of reality. That would be arrogant and impossible.”[5] Despite this, postmodernists still assert there is no knowable objective reality. Secondly, postmodernist’s source of morality is skewed due to the absence of objective judgment and objective moral facts. Groothuis adds, “Sociology of knowledge is not about knowledge in the philosophical sense, but merely about how beliefs gain plausibility in various cultural settings.”[6] Thirdly, absolute truth becomes a matter of perspective only; it is something that individuals and communities construct through language.[7] Groothuis further develops this point, by showing, “Postmodernism holds that truth is not determined by its connection to objective reality, but by various social constructions devised for different purposes.”[8]

 Additional categories of belief, which contradict a biblical worldview, are postmodernists’ views on the authority of Scripture, mankind’s creation, original sin, redemption, the nature of God, the nature and purpose of man, and religion in general. Postmodernists claim perfect agreement with fact is no longer an issue, maintaining the Bible is only used to provide great stories and to motivate spiritually. On some level, everyone has a worldview or take on how the world is and how it works. These views may or may not be oppressive toward those who do not hold the same worldview. When dealing with the nature of God, Groothuis explains, “There is no “God’s-eye view” of anything; therefore, there is no objective truth. This is a direct contradiction to God being a God of truth, whose word is also truth.[9] Postmodernists’ faith and beliefs are not comparable, since everyone is entitled to his or her own views. God is the source of objective truth and for truth to be objective; it simply means the truth is fact, independent of a person’s say-so. This self-contradicting characteristic of postmodernism claims, one need not worry about intellectual consistency, spiritual fidelity to an ancient tradition, or revealed authority by the combining of different faiths together in a syncretistic way.[10] However, even this approach lacks intellectual integrity because it makes religious belief into something to use instead of something to discover and live by. Truth is the property of propositions and knowing is having reasonable justification or confidence about said truth. While knowing is a human enterprise, truth is an extra-human exercise.

If there is no such thing as truth, or truth is open to interpretation, postmodernism fails the law of self-contradiction, because agreement to the law is necessary to deny it. The nature of man then becomes individualistic, as Groothuis illustrates how, “The ancient philosopher Protagoras said, ‘Man is the measure of all things,’ instead of being measured by them. [Protagoras meant] each man is his own measure and there is no measurement apart from each person’s measuring.”[11] This concept ties right back into the distorted concept of man’s purpose and why postmodernists view religion as being too structured. Groothuis further demonstrates the shift from religion to spirituality is rooted in religion being, “Too authoritative, exclusive, and rigid. Spirituality on the other hand, is more customized, subjective, inclusive, and open to pragmatic experimentation.”[12] David Clark suggests several strategies to address these beliefs:

First, we must learn both to distinguish and to connect knowledge and truth. Apologists   must then reaffirm the reality of absolute truth while recognizing their limitations in knowing that truth. Second, we should recognize that we live in a pluralistic culture, not a monolithically postmodern culture. Third, we can use vivid analogies to express the unliveability of postmodernism in its deconstructive mode. Fourth, it may be helpful to retrieve elements of tradition without attempting to recreate the past. Fifth, who we are counts most. The life of covenant relationships in Christian community is potentially postmodernism’s total liberation from tradition.[13]

EVALUATION OF WORLDVIEW

Rachel Fischer demonstrates how, “Postmodernism’s precursors include linguistic theory, semiology, phenomenology, and modernism, and were closely associated with German philosophers like Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.”[14] Postmodernism seeks to blend beliefs together in a syncretistic way producing internal logical inconsistencies. There are also no clear ways to test any truth claims and due to the wide array of beliefs maintained, not everyone can be accurate. In terms of practicality, postmodernism is not a viable worldview, since just because a person claims a certain worldview works for them does not mean it is existentially viable. This is clearly seen in the shift from religion to spirituality, by mixing and matching elements of various religions to form what works for the individual. Additionally, a collection of non-contradictory ideas is not sufficient to form a coherent worldview. This is apparent in the conflict between science and religion. However, as Ravi Zacharias illustrates, “Only Christianity puts truth on the line, which affords it the possibility of verification of any theological truth claims.”[15] In terms of intellectual and cultural fecundity, postmodernism fails to inspire cultural and intellectual discovery, creativity, and productivity, and it is difficult to embrace and master, since truth is only relative. It also fails to motivate others due to internal inconsistencies. By asserting there is no knowable objective reality apart from our languages and concepts, Groothuis further shows, “To say we know the objective truth about ultimate issues is to set up a metanarrative that is intrinsically oppressive and exploitative.”[16] Because each person’s view of truth alters the postmodern worldview, radical ad hoc readjustment is continually present, in an attempt to modify the essential principles to coincide with others. This creates a perpetual self-contradictory wheel. As a result, postmodernism is faced with a multiplicity of self-defeating counter-evidence and deep philosophical issues. If all things are equal, simpler explanations are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones; yet postmodernism continually appeals to extraneous entities more complex than what are required. Ernest Gellner believes, “On questions of faith, three ideological options are available to us today. One is the return to a genuine and firm faith in a religious tradition. The other is a form of relativism, which abandons the notion of unique truth all together… The third upholds the idea that there is a unique truth, but denies that any society can ever possess it.”[17] A genuine return to firm faith seems unlikely and relativism is too much of a middle-ground position, leaving only rediscovering truth found only in Christianity.

Further evaluation of postmodernism will center on coherence, pragmatism, and cosmic impiety. Coherence theories of truth create what Groothuis defines as a “web of truth,” because what makes a statement or belief true is its coherence or consistency with other beliefs.”[18] The problem Groothuis identifies is two worldviews can be internally consistent logically, but still contradict one another, especially in postmodernism’s view of relative truth claims. Pragmatism proves not to be a useful theory of truth, since this belief is only true if it produces a positive outcome. Groothuis reveals, “The pragmatic view of truth is a metaphysical claim, [which] maintains that truth is what works.”[19] Postmodernism also contradicts the correspondence theory of truth, which establishes truth is what coincides with reality. Lastly, cosmic impiety ignores reality, much like pragmatism does, but then adds the concept of truth being dependent upon human will and something, which can be created and controlled.[20]

Chris Altrock offers seven faces of postmodernism, which are vital to understanding the individual qualities behind this worldview. He suggests: “Postmoderns are uninformed about the basics of Christianity, [making] them the first generation with little to no Christians memory; they are interested in spiritual matters, they are anti-institutional, they are pluralistic, they are pragmatic, they are relational, and they are experiential.”[21] Knowing these traits helps explain how to reach them on a deep and personal level. As Altrock demonstrates, most postmoderns are more concerned with life before death, rather than life after death and trust must be earned through experience and relationships. The cultural shift that has taken place in postmodernism is evidence of the need to repackage how the gospel message is communicated and lived out.

CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE

 Maintaining a biblical worldview is something George Barna cites only nine percent of “born again Christians” possess. Barna then explains what a biblical worldview looks like:

 A biblical worldview is defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views are Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He still rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.[22]

In addition to these fundamental truths, a biblical worldview also explains the creation of the world, which points to a supreme God and Creator. This general revelation is crucial to understanding the nature and character of God. God’s nature is further revealed through the reading of Scripture. This is where believers discover God is a relational God and He is eternal, infinite, absolute, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Only a God with all these traits is worthy of devotion, service, and faith. Christianity is also the only religion where God reaches out to mankind in the form of a relationship. All other religions, the roles are either reversed, or there is no relationship to be had. The love and compassion of God for His children cannot be put in mere words and His sending of the only Son to die for humanity’s sins is proof. Absolute truth only exists in Christianity. However, the postmodernist says there is no truth, which is self-contradicting, since each person’s version of truth is supposed to be valid. Perception may be reality, but absolute truth can only be found in God. Christianity is also based on absolute moral truths laid out in the inerrant and infallible Bible. All Scripture is God-breathed. Unfortunately, the world has come to know more what the church is against, leading people to seek out more tolerance, which is the highest virtue of postmodernism.

Jesus Christ is also the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and He came as the suffering servant and the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Christ then passed on the Great Commission to mankind in order to restore unity and fellowship between God and His children. Christianity is based on the ministry and supernatural life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All other religions lack one thing: an empty grave and a risen Lord. The sacrifice Jesus made, as a substitutionary atonement for sin was the final one, as He became the temple. Internal and external evidence further supports biblical claims and are historically accurate and trustworthy. There is no other religion or worldview that has the historical roots of Judaism and Christianity. In fact, the earliest recorded words were God’s to mankind. Through Scripture, it is proven, man was created in the image of God and the Lord’s love for mankind is unconditional. Additionally, the truth of the law of non-contradiction corresponds to the very nature of God and the working of His mind. Groothuis reinforces this notion, adding, “God is a God of truth and not of falsehood and God does not contradict Himself and He cannot deny Himself.”[23]

However, mankind is fallen through the sin of Adam, and Jesus Christ, the second Adam was humanity’s only hope for redemption. Now, only a relationship with Christ will restore fellowship with God. As Christians become saved, he or she is invited into the Godhead. Groothuis illustrates how, “God is a personal being who created humans in His image. The metaphysics of God and humans are closely related on this account. Humans fell into sin against God, but God provided atonement through His own actions in Christ.”[24] Christianity is the only religion in which death is truly conquered. Only the risen Christ has control and authority over death. A fact many fail to believe or recognize is every human has everlasting life, but only a relationship with Jesus Christ will ensure it is spent in heaven and not in eternal separation from the Father. This new view and mindset should change the way Christians interact with the people in their lives. Whether non-believers know it or not, each of them is a prisoner of war, and the spoils of victory are his or her eternal soul.

In an effort to reach the postmoderns, Rick Warren provides an effective tool using the five basic purposes of the church to meet the five basic human needs:

1. A purpose to live for (outreach)

2. A power to live on (worship)

3. A people to live with (fellowship)

4. Principles to live by (discipleship)

5. A profession to live out (service)

Warren then adapts the above needs to target important things in the postmodernist’s life:

1. A focus for living (outreach)

2. A force for living (worship)

3. A family for living (fellowship)

4. A foundation for living (discipleship)

5. A function for living (service)

Lastly, Warren offers how the church can meet the fundamental needs of postmodernists:

1. Significance (outreach)

2. Stimulation (worship)

3. Support (fellowship)

4. Stability (discipleship)

5. Self-expression (service)[25] [26]

 A new creative and biblical approach, like the one above, is needed if the church is going to be able to reach postmodernists. The gospel message has not changed; instead, what must change is how it is communicated.

DEFENSE OF CHRISTIANITY

The Problem of Evil

Some contend the existence of evil in the world counters the existence of an all powerful God and creator. The question, “If God is good and powerful, why does He allow evil to exist?” must be answered. Despite any level of sophistication or technological breakthroughs, the basic moral problems with humanity still exist. Mankind is in desperate need to be reconciled with God, and this only happens through a relationship with Jesus Christ, who suffered substitutionary atonement for the sins of mankind. Köstenberger further illustrates, “The challenge is therefore not to explain evil but rather to accept its reality and to resist it whenever possible.”[27]

Logical Problem of Evil

Why God allows evil in the world can be traced back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, which led to the fallen state of humanity. Evil is inherent in a fallen world where free will allows choices, which are contradictory to God’s nature. Norman Geisler explains, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.”[28] Evil will not last forever and one day soon; God will make all things new. To justify the existence of evil with an all-powerful and all-good God seems on the surface like a paradox, but when properly analyzed can be summarized as:

1. If God is all-good, He will defeat evil.

2. If God is all-powerful, He can defeat evil.

3. Evil is not yet defeated.

4. Therefore, evil still serves a purpose and God can and will defeat evil.[29]

The Greater Good Defense

Strengths

In an effort to address the presence of evil in the world, some theists offer the Greater Good Defense, to suggest there exists a morally sufficient reason why God allows evil in the world. The defense proposes two premises: (1) Any instance of evil will result in a greater good; and (2) Eliminating evil would result in some worse evil. Proponents of this view often demonstrate the presence of human virtues, which would not be possible without the presence of evil and often refer to Genesis 50:20, “What you meant to harm me, God meant for good.” If this theory holds true, there would be no pointless instances of evil, which would mean God only allows evil to bring about a greater purpose.

Weaknesses

Upon further investigation, it becomes apparent the Greater Good Defense is susceptible to the evidential problem of evil, which undercuts social justice, and implies God would cause evil. The major breakdown occurs by simply proving any instance of evil was pointless, which would be evidence there is no God. Despite atrocities and genocide, this defense maintains God permits evil to bring a greater good, making the evil necessary. A further breakdown in this defense occurs when analyzing what happens if the required evil does not occur through random chance or by human means, essentially making God, out of necessity commit the evil Himself. No where in Scripture is this defense supported and there are a multiplicity of philosophical, theological and biblical reasons, which counter any strengths this defense has to offer.

Christianity’s Answer

Free will defense

This defense argues God has determined a world containing free creatures is better than one not containing freedom. Sadly, humans used their freedom to rebel against God, which allowed moral evil to enter into the world. Ultimately, human responsibility implies and leads to human freedom.

Sin and the Fall

Adam and Eve used the free will given to them by God to rebel and sin against God. This act would have permanent consequences for all who would ever live. The Fall in the Garden of Eden explains both: moral evil, which comes from the moral choices humans make, and natural evil, which is evidenced in natural disasters and pain and suffering.

Redemption

While free will and the Fall explain the existence of evil in the world, the question of why God allows evil to exist still must be addressed. Ultimately, it is the divine judgment of sin and the clearest expression of God’s goodness was found in His provision of redemption and restoration for mankind, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The shedding of blood was required for the remission of sin.

Pastoral care

Christians are called by God to share His love and grace with others. The existence of evil is a stumbling block for many, especially when it seems like bad things are continually happening to good people. Here, it is important to know God’s creation was initially good, until Adam and Eve sinned, and despite mankind’s rebellion, God provided redemption through Jesus Christ and He continually provides grace and comfort through His Holy Spirit.

Proof of God’s Existence

The existence of the world requires an explanation and the most plausible explanation is the existence of God. Theistic arguments provide many opportunities to persuade people towards a biblical worldview and the use of an abductive moral argument for God’s existence best explains many moral facts: duties, obligations, values, intrinsic human worth, dignity, human rights, and freedom. It is interesting to note only things that have a beginning need a maker and God has always existed. Thus, God is the cause of everything, as Andreas Köstenberger explains, “It seems ironic that postmodernism denies the very possibility of access to ultimate reality and the existence of God. Postmodernists believe only in what can be seen and anything that is invisible or intangible can only be comprehended by religious instincts, not by human reason. Because all human knowledge is subjective and objective, absolute knowledge is impossible.”[30] Instead, postmodernists believe in only what makes sense and works for the individual. Fortunately, as Köstenberger clarifies, “The preexistent Word became flesh in the form of Jesus, who made His dwelling among humans, and has revealed God, [through both general and special revelation].”[31]

Defense of Objective Truth and Moral Values

Christianity is based on absolute moral truths laid out in the inerrant and infallible Bible. All Scripture is God-breathed and Christians are called to be Christ-like. When there is no absolute truth, it can be twisted and distorted to suit those who are in control. Morality, like belief then becomes a matter not of principle, but of what works for the individual. The search for morality can incur profound pragmatism, dismissing what is right and true, and simply settling for what works. As Johnston demonstrates, “We do not live in an immoral society – one in which right and wrong behavior is chosen; we live in an amoral society – one is which right and wrong are categories with no universal meaning, and everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.”[32]

Biblical Basis

  The Great Commission clearly identifies mankind’s purpose, but as Johnston explains, “One reason the Christian worldview is so highly criticized in a postmodern context lies in the apparent Christian unwillingness to coexist with any other viewpoint… [Thus] the privilege of speaking God’s truth into someone else’s life will not be granted; it must be earned.”[33]

Jesus is the Truth

 When Pilate stood before Jesus and asked, “What is truth,”[34] he had no idea he was talking to the very embodiment of truth and the only person truly qualified to answer this profound question. Christians are called to be Christlike and this is portrayed as Jesus instructed His disciples it would be by their love the world would know they were His disciples. Köstenberger makes it clear, “In our highly pluralistic, postmodern culture, it will be increasingly unpopular to proclaim the biblical message that ‘there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved’ but Jesus. [The real question becomes] are we willing to suffer socially, economically, or otherwise for our faith?”[35]

All Roads Do Not Lead to God

Groothuis explains, “There has been a drastic shift from religion to spirituality because religion is deemed too structured, authoritative, exclusive, and rigid. Spirituality, on the other hand, is more customized, subjective, inclusive, and open to pragmatic experimentation.”[36] However, the Bible is clear that Jesus the only road that leads to God: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[37]

Atheism

The logical problem of evil is a challenge many atheists use to form his or her worldview. Despite this version of evil not enjoying overwhelming success, it still must be addressed:

            1. An omnipotent God would be able to eliminate all evil, so is God really all-powerful?

            2. An omnibenevolent God would want to eliminate all evil, so is God really all-good?

            3. Evil exists, therefore God is either not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent.

            4. Because Christianity requires both, the Christian God does not exist.

If this argument were true, then there is no God, but as long as it is possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing the evil in the world, then the logical argument fails.

Polytheism

The claim that all roads lead to God is not a new philosophy. However, Christianity states there is no other name by which mankind is saved. The way, the truth, and the life are found only in Christ Jesus. Good works are not enough to earn salvation and the worship of anyone and anything above God is idolatry. Monotheism is then left as the only viable option and worldview.

CONCLUSION

This paper has demonstrated how postmodernism is a self-contradicting illusion of spiritual apathy, by revealing how individuals create multiple versions of truth. These beliefs are façades, which attempt to eclipse the fundamental truth claims of God and Christianity. Additionally, the theory of all roads leading to God and everyone’s version of truth being acceptable has been debunked. Upon analyzing and contrasting postmodernism’s attempts to erode religious certainty, and sustained convictions, the biblical view of truth was found to be the only sound hypothesis. Lastly, Christianity and the belief God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful were proven and the existence of evil was explained, using a biblical worldview.

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[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 130.

[2] Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), 99.

[3] Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 27.

[4] Ibid., 25.

[5] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 119.

[6] Ibid., 121.

[7] Ibid., 119.

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 128.

[9] Hebrews 6:18 and John 17:17

[10] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

[11] Ibid., 128.

[12] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

            [13] David Clark, “Periodical Reviews,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 154, no. 614 (April), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 225.

            [14] Rachel K. Fischer, “Postmodernism.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, (Fall 2014), 29. General OneFile. GALE|A408784915 (accessed September 15, 2016).

[15] Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 52.

[16] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 128.

            [17] Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992), 12. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

[18] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 132.

[19] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 133.

[20] Ibid., 137.

            [21] Chris Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004), 9-10.

[22] George Barna, “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life,” Barna Group, December 1, 2003. https://www.barna.com/research/a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life/ (accessed October 20, 2016).

[23] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 125.

[24] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 54.

[25] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1995), 119.

[26] As cited in: Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists, 81.

[27] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 119.

[28] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), 59-60.

            [29] Zacharias and Geisler, Who Made God?, 38.

[30] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 86-87.

[31] Ibid., 87.

[32] Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 40-41.

[33] Ibid., 78-79.

[34] John 18:38

[35] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 153.

[36] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

[37] John 14:6 (ESV)