February 4, 2012
June 2, 2011
Truly Reformed… and Truly Wrong
by Eric Holmberg, The Apologetics Group
“Those who defend or excuse God-haters such as (John) Wesley show themselves to be God-haters. I am not saying this to be mean or unloving; I say this hoping that you will believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone and repent of dead works and idolatry, including repenting of speaking peace to those who worship a god who cannot save.” ~~ An online posting by a “truly Reformed” dude who will remain nameless.
I have been blessed (though a few have said cursed) to have had interacted with all kinds of Christians over the last thirty years of ministry. I have prayed and worshipped with them; evangelized and ministered, stood against child-killing (aka abortion) and other injustices; cared for the poor and sick; (I could go on but you get my drift). And these believers have run the gamut in age, nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic groupings, faith traditions, on and on.
As you might imagine, during this time my own beliefs on all manner of things have experienced some “diversity” as well. After becoming a Christian during the “Jesus Movement,” for example, like many of the new believers from that era I was rapture happy; enthralled with the end-time predictions of books like The Late, Great Planet Earth. But it wasn’t long before I jettisoned that belief (I felt it made Jesus too small and Satan too big) and my eschatology (study of “last things”) has undergone a couple of other attenuations since. In many areas of theology I have benefited greatly from “iron-sharpening-iron” conversations with devout, epistemologically self-conscious Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Roman Catholics (as opposed to just “Catholics” – which I consider all Christians to be), Orthodox… all manner of faith traditions.
Now, the purpose of this article is not to talk about all that I have come to believe or where precisely I find myself, metaphorically speaking, woven into our patriarch Joseph’s “multi-colored” coat. Rather, it is to point out and briefly critique a rather curious phenomenon that takes place far too often within one of those distinct, primary colors.
I am speaking here of the world of Reformed theology.
Anyone familiar with me or our ministry knows that I landed in the Reformed world many years ago and have produced a couple of videos, articles, and study guides on the subject. I very much believe in the doctrines of grace as expounded by many early Church fathers and re-introduced to the world by Luther, Calvin and others.
But those who know me best also know that I still esteem and work with men and women who process the mystery of God’s grace in election and salvation differently. While I have attempted to, in a sense, “systematize” this mystery from a Reformed perspective so that it can be understood and effectually applied in people’s lives, I also understand that it remains, at its deepest foundations – like all the deeps things of God – a mystery. Far better men and women than I have believed differently about these things. To just write them off as necessarily ill-informed, stupid, deceived, heretical – or worse unredeemed – is not something I can or will do.
Sadly, however, there are more than a few truly (or hyper) Reformed people (TRs as they have come to be known) who will.
Now let me be very clear: valuing love and charity over the understanding and wisdom of God’s own angels, while obviously Biblical (1 Cor. 13:1), does not mean that we should check our convictions and distinctives at some touchy-feely, ecumenical door. No, we should study to show ourselves approved (2 Tim.2:15), to be convinced in our own minds (Rom. 14:5) and then take the iron sword of our conviction and wield it with boldness and humility. (Ah, the inevitable tension of walking in the Spirit.) Iron sharpens iron…and this is one way that we as well as the greater Church learns and grows.
So again, I have no problem with boldly defending the truths that one has come to believe and embrace; disagreeing (agreeably) with other brothers and sisters in the household of faith.
But please, can we forgo calling the people who disagree with us heretics or, worse, unregenerate?
Now people in all manner of camps can do this to people outside their camp, though from my experience rarely as frequently as the TRs. But there is a profound irony in the latter judging people in this way because of the particular soteriology (doctrine of salvation) that, as much as anything, defines what it means to be Reformed; that is:
that the Fall has ruined all men in regard to their natural state, leaving them unable because they are unwilling, on their own steam, to seek after and serve God; that from among the world of fallen men, God elects (chooses) some of them for salvation and “births them from above”, regenerating them spiritually that both the choosing (election) and work of regeneration is unmerited; it is a gift from God that regeneration produces true contrition and faith, enabling the believer, with a now born-again heart, to repent and believe unto salvation.
In other words, regeneration (being born again) is a monergistic act – a unilateral move of God on behalf of fallen men – rather than a synergistic act of cooperation between fallen men and God.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 11:18
Now after one has been brought back to life by God, that life will inexorably change for the better over time. The redeemed, cooperating or working synergistically with the Holy Spirit in a process called sanctification, will become more and more like the LORD who regenerated them. And if they don’t – if there is no change – then the non-changeling should be concerned whether they yet remain dead in their trespasses and sins. (James 2:17).
And part of this change should evince itself in one’s beliefs as well as in their actions. (For truly, one’s beliefs and words are very much actions.)
But how perfect do one’s beliefs have to be to be proof of their being saved? And because no one, besides the One who is the Truth, will ever get it all exactly right on this side of the veil, how right in their beliefs does someone have to be before they can be secure in the confidence they have properly “believed unto salvation.”? And who is qualified to do judge this, particularly in regard to someone else’s heart and conscience?
All this is further complicated by the existence of feedback loops and ignorance. (Acts 3:17; 17:30) (Some have called it in its most extreme form invincible ignorance, although I don’t like the qualifier because nothing is invincible before God.)
Allow me to explain.
Humans are incorrigibly social creatures; in fact we were designed that way by God to the end that we be formed into a many-membered, many-splendored Bride for the Son. For that reason, all of us inevitably find ourselves in groups, often more than one of them. These groups are made up of like-minded, shared-experience individuals. This commonality can be rooted in a many things: nationality, family, hobbies, faith tradition, language, vocation, sexual interests and “orientation”, culinary tastes, sports, etc. Thinking (group-think) that is both the cause and the result of this communal dynamic cycles into and is reflected back by all the members of the group. A feedback loop is born.
And we all live in them; including, and perhaps especially, the truly Reformed.
And if we are not very careful, these feedback loops can produce presuppositions and frames of reference that inure us to the truth of God’s Spirit and Word. Ignorance, often completely unintentional and embraced without the victim’s awareness (or it would be rebellion and stupidity and not ignorance), is the result.
As an example, consider a 17-year-old Slovenian who is exposed to the Gospel through a scripture reading during a service in his Roman Catholic church. The message of “Christ-crucified” is mercifully anointed by the Holy Spirit, the grace of the new birth breaks out in his heart, and he repents and believes. “Great!” the TR says. “God is sovereign in election and regeneration and this (simplified) is the ordo salutis (the order of salvation). So far so good! Hallelujah!”
After the service the young man goes home. Through no fault of his own he remains in the same feedback loop of his Slovenian, family-oriented, Roman Catholic culture. (Thankfully, he does leave the carousing, blaspheming, fornicating group he used to hang with on weekends.) He genuinely loves the LORD and follows him as best as he knows how within what I would humbly submit are the errors endemic to the Roman Catholic tradition (cue the TRs shouting, “Amen!”) mixed in with all the wonderful truths that also survive and thrive. (And the TRs now shout, “Compromiser!”) Christians from the Reformed tradition would hope that someone would come into his life, like Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos, and “explain to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26b) It was, in fact, for this very reason that I produced tools like Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism.
But what happens if he is never introduced to these doctrines? What happens if he continues to process the energy of this new life within him through the lens – through the feedback loop – of his Roman Catholic tradition? Well according to TRs – like the one whose quote opens this article – he is simply proven to really be a “God-hater;” a slave to “dead works and idolatry.” He remains on the proverbial highway to hell.
Why? Because he has not added to his regeneration the “good work” of believing the right doctrine! And herein lays the irony I mentioned early: that the group that preaches the doctrines of grace louder than anyone, now says that we are saved on the basis of believing the right things about man, God and the way He saves. To boil it down even further: we don’t benefit from salvation until we can first thoroughly understand it!
I for one am glad that the first birth we experienced in and through our mothers didn’t carry the same requirements! None of us would be here.
Now I can hear the TRs objecting. Yes, I know doctrine is important. I have dedicated my life, in part, to teaching and defending right doctrine. Yes, I know that there are many people who have been deceived and have embraced a false Christ – one that can’t and won’t save them.
But to say that the converse isn’t true – that there are people who have been saved by the true Christ, but because of feedback loops and the ignorance they produce, end up believing in and following a Messiah who is out-of-focus to them – is to fall into the other side of the same ditch.
Another more nuanced example of this phenomenon can be found in a video produced by an old friend that examines some of the false teachings and humanistic methodologies of the famed 19th century evangelist Charles Finney. No problem there. I would agree that Finney fell into error in a number of areas and that some of the bad fruit from it continues to this day. (At the same time, I personally believe that it is proper, indeed Christi-like, to also consider the good fruit that in turn has inspired Winkie Pratney, Leonard Ravenhill, Keith Green and my friend Michael Brown to do some great things for God a century and more later.) But I believe the video goes too when it sets out to prove that Finney “was not and could never be a born-again Christian.”
As a product of a number of unfortunate feedback loops – his vocation (lawyer) and more notably the zeitgeist of his time: humanistic, hyper-pragmatic and individualistic; there was also the tragic fact that the traditional and largely Reformed church of the time had failed to deal effectively with an issue (slavery) that would lead America into a holocaust and thus inspired a great deal of mistrust for the old ways of doing church – it is completely understandable how Finney could have been powerfully converted by God (and there is much evidence in both his testimony and other places that such, in fact, was the case) but unfortunately remained under the “spell” of the ignorance woven by all this feedback. Whatever errors he taught and modeled through his new measures were the result.
Again, I agree that these new measures need to be examined and critiqued in the spirit of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and the damage they have wrought in the evangelical world exposed. But to insist, to judge, that Finney was unregenerate, a child of the devil and is now burning in hell is unfortunate, hurtful to both the Church and the Gospel and, again ironically, a back-handed denial of the very grace in which we all stand.
Last year I spoke at a conference to some young radical, reformed, street-preacher types; my favorite kind of people. In one of my messages I touched on this issue because I had heard a number of them opining about several popular Christians pastors and teachers, how they were not only teaching errant doctrine (in many cases I would agree they were and are) but judging them to be false converts, as unregenerate. Now again, we should ever be “searching the scripture to see if these things” (whatever anyone teaches) are true. (Acts 17:11) And qualified leaders – in the right context and in the right spirit – should be ready to challenge error when it appears and threatens to take others captive.
But having spent some time myself in the same feedback loops in which some of these men live and operate, I have seen first-hand how a born-again person who loves God can fall prey to some of the errors these leaders have embraced and taught. But there, except by the grace of God, go all of us. In fact, in that we all see to one degree or another through “through a glass darkly,” there are all of us. And that is precisely why James warned us as Christians:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
A parallel to this warning can be found in the words of our LORD:
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2
Am I vouching for each of these leaders’s salvation? No. It’s not my place or responsibility. Do we have a responsibility to reject – and in the case of qualified leaders – challenge their errant teachings? Absolutely. Is it possible that one or more of them are false prophets whose final lot will be in the lake that burns with fire? Sure. But it is also possible that some of the people that TRs love to mock – to paraphrase the famous quote by Whitefield concerning Wesley (possibly apocryphal and also more probably said by Wesley concerning Whitefield) – will be closer to Godâ€™s throne in the Resurrection than they will be.
Only God knows. And only God can judge such things.
A number of the attendees were very thankful afterwards, vowing to never again dare to be the judge of anotherâ€™s heart and eternal soul. I pray that all Christians will follow their lead.
I close with this observation from my friend, one-time-pastor and fellow Reformed minister, Ray Ortlund:
The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.
 This is why the Bible cautions us, among other things, to not lean to our own understanding (Prov. 3:5); to avail ourselves of multiple, wise counselors (Prov. 11:14); to pay heed to “the democracy of the dead”, Chesterton’s insightful metaphor for tradition (2 Thess. 2:15) and to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8)
 Personally, I am of the mind that if someone is Trinitarian and believes that Jesus was raised from the dead and confesses that He is LORD, we should take them at their word and treat them as a fellow Christian.
© 2011 The Apologetics Group – All rights reserved.
For more on the reformed doctrine, visit the page on our official website: Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism
September 27, 2010
I find this to be interesting timing considering the recent release of Go Stand Speak – The Forgotten Power of the Proclamation of the Gospel” DVD
I guess the Indiana police needed a refresher course in our Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
September 26, 2010
The Apologetics Group and Go, Stand, Speak Ministries presents “Go, Stand, Speak – The Forgotten Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel” – Now available on our Website!
Get ready… Get set… Go, Stand, Speak – The Forgotten Power of The Public Proclamation of the Gospel is now available!The long-awaited project was the collaboration of veterans of Christian apologetics media, The Apologetics Group and a growing group of street evangelists headed by Pat Necerato, founder of Go, Stand, Speak Ministries.
In a culture where speaking out about any subject in public has both been lauded as patriotic (“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”, Howard Zinn, during an interview with TomPaine.com) and discouraged (Ohio Town Violated Pro-Life Advocates’ Free Speech Rights, Federal Court Rules), street evangelism has all but disappeared from the public forum… but that could be changing.
“I’m as excited about this project as any other we have done for one big reason,” says Eric Holmberg, founder of The Apologetics Group. “I believe God will use it to spark the enlistment of hundreds, if not thousands, of public preachers to proclaim His gospel of the Kingdom… It will definitely ruffle a few feathers.”
Evangelist and business owner Pat Necerato, who co-produced this film with Holmberg, states, “The film tackles many questions that need to be answered about public preaching or open air preaching….and about the preachers themselves. Even Christians are asking, is public preaching biblical? Is it legal? Who should be doing it? Why should we do it? How it should be done? What should the message be? This film attempts to biblically answer these and many other questions. It’s our prayer that God will use this film to not only cause an insurgence of new preachers to flood the streets biblically, ethically and lovingly, with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but to also move Christians to encourage public preaching within their own churches.”
So many of our nation’s greatest spiritual revivals have been preceded by the fervent and godly activity of publicly preaching Jesus and him crucified, which begs the question – Why should today be any different?
We encourage you to share this compelling production with your pastor, your family, your church, and get ready to Go, Stand, Speak.
September 13, 2010
It has come to our attention that a recent version of Amazing Grace – The History and Theology of Calvinism with Spanish subtitles added has quite a few mistakes in the translation from English to Spanish. These mistakes are substantial enough as to change the meaning of the doctrinal message for those who do not speak English.
Please be advised that The Apologetics Group studio located in Nashville, TN. that produced the Amazing Grace DVD (2004) did not produce or authorize the DVD Spanish subtitle version with all the mistakes. The DVD in question was released by one of our ex-coworkers who now runs a separate company doing business as Apologetics Group, Inc.
We at The Apologetics Group will be exploring the addition of Spanish subtitles to our Amazing Grace DVDs and will make an announcement as soon as one becomes available.
Thank you and we apologize for any confusion about this.
(This is a rush transcript and may not reflect the final draft or message. ~~ The Apologetics Group WordPress Blog Admin.)
August 1, 2010
Why preach in public? Why endure the humiliation, the heat, the cold, the hecklers, etc. When you can just sit in the nice, comfortable pew and enjoy a sermon on the story of John the Baptist for the umpteenth time. Or, why not stand in the pulpit on Sunday and preach to the same crowd as you have for as long as you can remember? Why preach to those who obviously don’t care a whit about what you have to say, and even may be hostile to your message?
Go, Stand, Speak Ministries together with JeremiahCry Ministries will be working together to equip others to preach the word to those who are lost during the 2010 Evangelism Conference in Brooklyn, New York August 6-7.
“With the public proclamation of sin being openly promoted, taught, practiced, (and celebrated in the public forum, in schools, on television, in every realm of media, in every aspect of our culture, and even in the so called church among so called carnal Christians,) the scriptures call for the message of Christ to be brought to the streets and proclaimed.”
Speakers will include:
Jeff Rose – JeremiahCry Ministries
James White – Alpha and Omega Ministries
Eric Holmberg – The Apologetics Group
Mark Spence – The Way of The Master
Michael Marcavage – Repent America
Jon Speed – The Lost Cause Ministries
Tyler Mcnabb – JeremiahCry Ministries
Pat Necerato -Go, Stand, Speak
If you have a heart for the lost and would like to learn how to reach them with the public proclamation of the Gospel, come join us for this wonderful time of equipping, fellowship, and outreach.
Register here: JeremiahCry.com
To order the DVD, go here:
May 9, 2010
The Apologetics Group is happy to announce our new television program, “War of the Worldviews”, hosted by Eric Holmberg, founder and National Director of The Apologetics Group. The show will air beginning on Monday, May 17th on the NRB Network, and will feature many of The Apologetics Groups most well known productions such as Hell’s Bells 1 & 2, The Real Jesus, Amazing Grace – The History and Theology of Calvinism, and more, as well as commentary from Eric. If your service provider doesn’t carry NRB Network, please call or write them to ask them to carry it. There will be some great ministries featured during the prime time hours – We’ll be on at 9 pm Eastern Time/8 pm Central. Hope you will join us!
May 3, 2010
April 7, 2010
By Eric Holmberg
(This article was previously posted on our facebook page in August of 2009.)
I went to Amazon.com today to order another copy of Skousen’s seminal work, “The 5000 Year Leap.” (Written almost 30 years ago and once out-of-print, Glenn Beck has almost single-handedly resurrected it and turned it into a best-seller.) While there I took a moment to read some of the reviews that had been posted. I wasn’t at all surprised to see a majority of 5 Stars sprinkled with a handful of 1 Stars. This is one of those love it (if you’re a thoughtful Christian) or hate it (if you’re a committed materialist/secularist) books. I took the time to read one of the later postings and found that old prophetic bile rising up in my throat and decided to take a moment and respond.
If you’re interested:
“Like books of this type, don’t waste your time on this. It’s another one of those “Founding Fathers created a Christian Nation to glorify God” fantasies. Despite the well-documented facts that many of the founders were either agnostic or at most deists, the myth persists that somehow this was a Christian nation, blessed by God from the beginning. I’m as patriotic as anyone and a Marine vet and would still fight for this country I love, but I am sick of this myth.
The first people that came here were largely trying to escape state-religion, but then set about to create their own in each colony or settlement. I’m very big on religious freedom, freedom of thought and conscience, as well as speech, but am sick and tired of this same story. It’s not much different than a Christian Taliban. I’m quite sure some of those that founded the nation did indeed think that they had been given this continent by God. That’s why they had so little problem moving and removing the “savages” that were already here not to mention the various witch hunts.
The main message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to love one another as He loves us! Not just the others like you that are in the same church, but ALL of the others. All the rest is dogma, footnotes and the apostles’ efforts to try and understand this while figuring out how to build a new church/faith.
My Response (Nashville, TN): ”
Shut your eyes and repeat after me, “There is no place like home. There is no place like home.” Except now you don’t want to go back to Kansas (reality) but rather remain in Oz. Wishing that America wasn’t founded overwhelming by Christians and intended to be a Christian nation doesn’t make it so. And cherry-picking from the handful of contrary evidence and ignoring the avalanche of facts that support the “Christian nation” premise is manifestly disingenuous. My favorite example of this insanity (and proof that God has an interesting a sense of humor) is Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. This “founding document” (if you tilt your head and squint a little) is the source for the infamous “wall of separation” between church and state. (By the way, this is a completely Christian notion when properly understood – something that statists/secularists are loathe to do.) Now without question this letter and phrase are the holy grail for the ACLU and their ilk. The irony? The letter was written on New Year’s day, 1802 – a Friday. Just two days after penning it Jefferson attended Christian church services held — drum-roll please — in the Supreme Court chambers; at that time located in the Capitol building. H-m-m-m-m-m-m.
The simple fact is that there were only a handful of deists among the Founding Fathers – and maybe one or two agnostics. The vast majority were Christians. And even more to the point, the few deists – like Jefferson and Franklin – were heavily influenced by Christian thought. It was Franklin, for example, who called the assembly to Christian prayer – invoking the words of Jesus – when the Constitutional convention threatened to blow apart.
Part of me wishes a wand could be waved and the world that this reviewer seems to want could be created – one where the Judeo-Christian worldview was locked out of the public square and every law, every economic and social policy was based on naked human reasoning divorced from all illumination from the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. I promise you it would make George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” journey look like a walk in the park. Denton, our tough Marine, would be screaming for Christ’s mercy and presence AS WELL as His presence through the Church and through God-fearing magistrates within a microsecond of his immersion into hell on earth.
(c) 2010 The Apologetics Group/Eric Holmberg
Eric Holmberg is the Founder and current President of The Apologetics Group. The Apologetics Group – through its parent company Reel to Real Ministries, Inc. – is a non-for-profit educational ministry.
By Eric Holmberg
My response to an
Amazon review of The
5000 Year Leap (see“Answering a Fool According to His Folly – Pt. 1”)
response from another
reviewer. I then
responded to him.
Chris J. Miller says:
There’s a concept here you don’t seem to grasp. Saying that the United States was founded by a primarily Christian population is not the same thing as saying that it was founded as a “Christian nation.” The former statement is descriptive, the latter prescriptive. The founders of the country and framers of the Constitution were themselves a diverse group, certainly including many deists and skeptics as well as devout believers (of various stripes)… but their personal beliefs do not dictate how we can or should live today. Why? Because those founders were wise enough to establish a system grounded in principles that neither rely on nor privilege anyone’s religious beliefs. If you imagine otherwise, then you, not the reviewer, are the one who’s lost touch with reality.
Eric Holmberg responds:
Chris, thanks for your response. Two thoughts – one factual, the other
philosophical: While numbers are not the most important thing – the majority after all can be wrong – your phrase “including many deists and skeptics as well as devout believers” is akin to saying that among the founders were Italians and Croats as well as men of British, Dutch and German descent. The fact is that of the men that attended the Constitutional convention, for example, there were at most three who were not orthodox Christians. And even they (Franklin in particular; note his famous “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground” call to prayer during the convention) were more Biblically informed and Christian in their worldview than the majority of church-goers today.
More important, however, is your contention that America was founded on principles that did not “rely on nor privilege anyone’s religious beliefs.” If by that you mean that our founders didn’t want a state church or for any Christian denomination to have preference over another in the arena of public policy, taxes, etc., or that people would be in any way coerced to believe in God or a particular church, you are absolutely right. But if you are suggesting, as it appears you are, that our founding principles did not grow out of the seedbed of Christianity and don’t need a Christian consensus to sustain them, it is you who is not in touch with reality.
Our nation’s most foundational principle, codified in the preamble to our primary founding document – that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights – is not a principle that can be grabbed out of the air, examined under a microscope and proven scientifically. It ultimately rests on faith, religious faith in transcendent truth revealed by God and hammered out over time uniquely within the Christian milieu. I could go on and on with other examples (the abolition of slavery comes immediately to mind.) The simple fact is that all men and all human activity are inescapably religious. We all have certain presuppositions that appear to us as self evident and upon which we then build our entire world and life view. And whatever we do, and that includes vocationally – digging ditches or passing legislation in the US Congress – will be informed and guided by that worldview. But if we backtrack and examine the foundation of our worldview – those “first principles” or presuppositions – we will find, if we’re honest, that they are received by faith because at their root they can not be empirically proven.
In this sense, all of life is inescapably religious. The Christian – at least the
thoughtful, epistemologically self-conscious Christian – is aware of this and wears that truth on his sleeve. Everyone can say “that guy is religious”
without thought of a rebuttal because the Christian will happily own up to it. But the same honesty doesn’t characterize people who profess to be more “secular” – who embrace, for example, materialism (all that exists is matter and its motion) or the more common deistic ethos (OK, there probably is a God but “he” is neither immanent or very mindful of and thus relevant to our everyday lives and so we need to figure out right and wrong and how to live and govern ourselves on our own.). Neither first principle can be proven. They are both received by faith. And they are thus both inescapably religious.
(Interestingly, there have been a few people in the atheistic/materialism camp that have owned up to this fact; most recently Dr. Michael Ruse at Florida State, an ardent apologist for atheistic, Darwinian materialism.) With this in mind, let’s engage in a thought experiment. Imagine a materialist, a deist and a Christian wading into the marketplace of ideas: public policy, law, ethics, education, etc. One of them, let’s say the deist, says “We need to be concerned about and work for the benefit of the less fortunate.” (The recently deceased Ted Kennedy supposedly made this his life’s calling and proudly identified it as the essence of liberalism – as if conservatives are thus left only with the opposite tack, “We need to ignore the less-fortunate.”) The Christian immediately agrees. His foundational presupposition (there is a God) and its secondary implications (I must follow His ways because He is God (and I am not); He has told me that the faith without works is dead and that He is very concerned with the less-fortunate, etc.) inform his agreement. The materialist, if he is epistemologically self conscious and has the nerve to stare unflinchingly into Nietzsche’s abyss, may well ask “Why should we be concerned for the less fortunate?” From a strictly Darwinian perspective, not only is there little or no need to; it may well even be counterproductive. But he nevertheless says, “Amen” because it somehow just seems to be the right thing to do. (You also can’t get elected if you don’t say such things.)
So all three agree, run for office and get elected to Congress and begin to
work on behalf of the less-fortunate. Few people – and I am sure that would include you – would object to their purpose and goals at this juncture. Even the ACLU would say, “AMEN!” (Well, maybe they wouldn’t use that word.) So far, so good. No one is accusing anyone of bringing their religion into the public policy arena and attempting to impose it on the rest of the culture – although clearly that is precisely what the Christian is doing. The other two, while equally religious, are less epistemologically self-aware concerning their efforts to help the less fortunate. In fact, the materialist could well be operating in a manner that is contradictory to his first principles.
Now everything goes along reasonably well – and there are no accusations of the violation of church and state or of any “Christian Taliban.” As long as the laws they pass – say, for example, a food stamp program – fall well within the moral and ethical consensus of the broader culture as well as within the deist, atheist and Christian cultural sub-sets, no one’s underwear gets in a knot and everything is hunky dory. Few people really see what is being done as necessarily “religious” because they are: 1. not very philosophical/epistemologically self-conscious, and 2. a consensus exists between the Christian and the less “religious” (they are actually equally religious, as stated above – but that is the popular perception) and so “religion” seems peripheral to the issue.
But now let’s introduce something that falls outside of this happy consensus.
Here I will draw from our actual history. Let’s say the materialist (it could
just as easily be the deist) says that the less-fortunate are in part that way
because they have too many children and should therefore have access to,
among other things, abortion. All manner of faith-based presuppositions are behind this position: that the developing fetus is not a person, or if it is a person, abortion is a form of justifiable homicide; that children are an
economic and social deficit; that there is no God who will be angered by this and in turn judge the persons responsible for the act as well as the culture who sanctions it (thus exacerbating the very problem the policy is attempting to address) etc. Their call for legalized abortion is thus a religious, faith-based action as well as an effort to impose a specific religious morality on the rest of the culture. (The abortion advocate here will say, “Nonsense, no one is making you have an abortion if you don’t want one.” True, but that ignores both the fetus – who is obviously having a moral system imposed on him or her – as well as the “judgment on the wider culture” component just mentioned. The skeptic (still either ignoring or denying the rights of the fetus) will likely say that no such judgment exists; that there either is no God or if there is “he” doesn’t operate in this way. They are free to believe that if they will. But such a belief again is inescapably religious, an article of faith. There is no way they can prove it.)
Now if we go back a couple of generations, the materialist’s religiously informed advocacy for legal abortion fell on largely deaf-ears. Why?
Because the cultural consensus of the time still leaned heavily towards Christianity. Abortion was seen as murder, pure and simple – so much so
that even leaders in the feminist, contraception, and gay-rights movements saw it as a moral evil. Had the Christian congressman gotten up and called abortion wrong and then referenced the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not commit murder,” almost no one – including members of the newly formed ACLU – would have called it a violation of the First Amendment.
Now fast forward 40 years to the sexual revolution and the increased unraveling of the Christian consensus. As free love was found to be not as
free as promised (creating the growing need for abortion to eliminate the
pesky by-products of fornication) and as the faith-based presuppositions of Christianity began to be replaced by the equally faith-based presuppositions of materialism, secular humanism, deism, Unitarianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, communism, etc. – gradually the pro-abortion position became more defensible in many people’s minds.
Aldous Huxley owned up to this in his work, Ends and Means, when he
observed that many people are concerned “to prove that there is no valid reason why (they) personally should not do as (they) want to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”
A tipping point was finally reached. Abortion became legal and a “right” as more and more people embraced the religious system proffered by these alternative religious systems. And with this an interesting slight of hand took place, one that is very much with us today and is reflected in your comment. The pro-abortion position was defined – or at least perceived – as being somehow “secular”, “rational”, and “non-religious.” And as the Christian began to decry the position, using – like everyone else – the religious presuppositions that inform his world and life view – he was suddenly derided as a “religious fundamentalist”, a member of the “Christian Taliban,” and any effort on his part to pass pro-life legislation as a “violation of the separation of church and state,” or, to use your language, and attempt to “rely on or privilege one particular religion beliefs.”
I trust that you can see how disingenuous – and even more to the point, how philosophically absurd – this is. Culture truly is “religion externalized” and any effort to hide one’s own religious presuppositions while pointing out and then decrying another’s as a violation of the First Amendment is the worst kind of hypocrisy. And abortion laws are just one manifestation of this. Gay marriage, creeping socialism, government-controlled education, progressive taxation, universal health-care, on and on, the same dynamic is being played out over and over again.
Most of our founder’s understood the danger posed by any government that was not “under God” – that was not beholden to a higher Power and the inalienable rights that this Power had granted to all men. And so while they didn’t want a state-run church or to have religious tests for candidates for federal office (interestingly most had no problem with such tests at the state level – which, of course, was where most of the power once was) they nevertheless envisioned and created a system of government grounded in principles that relied heavily on and privileged – not the Baptists or the Congregationalists or the Roman Catholics – but Christianity. Pure and simple. And this is why founder Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration, the father of medicine in America, and the third most well-known person at time of our founding, said in 1802:
“Christianity is the only true and perfect religion, and that in
proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts,
they will be wise and happy.”
That, my friend, is called bumping up against the hard, working end of real
(c) 2010 The Apologetics Group/Eric Holmberg
Eric Holmberg is the Founder and current President of The Apologetics Group. The Apologetics Group – through its parent company Reel to Real Ministries, Inc. – is a non-for-profit educational ministry.