Spirit of Unbelief
Every generation and culture has a spirit of unbelief, but the manifestation of unbelief in every generation does not always look the same. There different ways to go about the business of rejecting Christ and His Word. There are plenty of non-Christians in North Korea, but their unbelief is of a different variety than Saudi Arabia, which also has a plenty of non-Christians. The point is that there is unbelief everywhere, but unbelief manifests itself differently every where. Not all unbelief looks the same.
To take the point a little closer to home (for me), I grew up in Denver, which has plenty of non-Christians. Were I to have lived in Salt Lake City, my culture and society would have been drastically different, but the overwhelming population of non-Christians would be consistent. You get the idea. I don’t know if the devil has a favorite religion, but I know he has lots of them.
The early Christians fought the Gnostics, while later Christians fought off the Arians, and the Reformers were primarily focused on their dealings with Roman Catholicism. This leads me to ask: who are the primary theological foes of my day? What should I be most concerned with? That question is hard to answer, but I have licked my finger and stuck it in the air, and I think I have caught the general direction of which way the wind is blowing in our milieu.
During my childhood, it seemed that a kind of militant Atheism was on the rise. That was the foe being bread to wreak destruction upon the Christian landscape. Often times, Christians assume it still is our greatest enemy today. While there are certainly still atheists in the nation, especially in academics, I do not think that is the worldview posing the greatest earthly threat to Christians. I see Atheism dying off. It seems to be largely irrelevant already, as most non-Christians tend to maintain spirituality, and even theism. They reject formal religious identification, make very few statements about God and absolute truth, but they are, by definition, not Atheists.
The true spirit of unbelief I see most prevalent, and gaining strength, is theological liberalism. Lots of people want deity, they just don’t want Jesus. They want some historic lore with a soppy, sentimental center piece (Jesus of Nazareth) without all the icky stuff, you know, the Old Testament, the Laws, the miracles, the teaching of absolute truth, repentance, judgment, exclusivity, sexual standards, etc. You can’t get meaning, purpose, and the warm fuzzy feeling that there is a transcendental love in the sky guaranteeing you a nice place to live after death provided you do whatever you want on earth with Atheism. You can have that entire package with liberalism.
Although theological liberalism shares much more in common with Atheism than it does Christianity, it has enough disagreements to remain its own category.
The danger of liberalism is the small, gradual bites it takes of your soul. It begins in harmless places, and before you know it you’re out of the boat entirely, lungs filled with fluid, dead in the water.
This is why so many like me are such theological curmudgeons. We behave this way knowing there are some issues that are either not as small as they seem, or have dire inevitable consequences. When we see someone folding on certain theological issues, we don’t have to be prophets to know what they might fold on next. Once they have adopted the foundation of liberalism anything goes, and most things will go, unless the liberalism is uprooted, and some of us feel we need to try and uproot long before it has wreaked its havoc. As Douglas Wilson put it,
“There is a type of naïve observer who will accept that a denomination is going liberal after it has died of that liberalism. They will only accept a diagnosis of liberalism from the coroner, never from the doctors.”
One of the chief hermeneutical principles of theological liberalism is to subtly maintain the heresy red-letterism. Theological liberals likely won’t self-identify that way, but their methods are related. The hermenuetic of red-letterism looks like this: if Jesus didn’t say it, then it doesn’t matter who else did. Liberalism has a low view of Paul, the Old Testament, and the other apostles. The goal is to reject biblical inerrancy at all costs… unless Jesus is talking.
However, this new wave has developed a novel brand of red-letterism. I say that, because even Jesus’ own words and behavior refute theological liberalism. Thus, liberalism not only holds to a mini-canon within the canon, they hold to a mini-Jesus within the canonical Jesus. They are in love with the idea of being red-letter Christians, but this can only be pulled off if they refuse to examine too closely what the Lord Jesus actually said and did. I say this because a bunch of the red letters talk about the black letters very positively.
Next time you sense someone choosing Jesus’ words (ironically recorded for us by apostles and disciples, not by Jesus) over the other authors of Scripture, remind them of an old joke. Tell them you have a special Bible, one where the Holy Spirit’s Words are all printed in black.
“So if your forehead gets hot when you look at what Jesus actually said about Adam and Eve, and Abel, and Noah, then you need to run a serious spiritual inventory, and admit to yourself that you are ashamed of His words.The next step is to recognize that He will be ashamed of you at His coming, and that presents a higher level of difficulty, at least for you. If you don’t want to believe, then I would invite you to go find another religion to degrade. There were purported miracles surrounding the Buddha. Why don’t you go and doubt them?” – Douglas Wilson
There is a godly young couple in church who have a bit of a reputation in their social circles for being the king and queen of puns. It’s astonishing how quickly their minds come up with these things. As soon as one drops a pun no one saw coming, the other is bound to top it in a moments time.
I watch those two joyfully engage in pun-wars as if I am a scraggly bearded townsfolk, desperately in need of dental work, in a comedic Western movie. I am leaning on the post outside of the saloon, spitting tobacco in the dirt. I watch in bewilderment as these two prolific gunslingers, standing forty yards apart on the dirt straightaway cutting through town, fire away relentlessly. Each of them hitting vital organs, yet refusing to die.
It was the pun-queen who created the hysterical hashtag in the title which, had I a little less integrity, I would be tempted to take credit for.
One of the most basic ways to avoid sliding into theological liberalism is to fervently maintain that #blackwordsmatter. This is the first step: believe the black words.
Tota Scriptura is crucial to Sola Scriptuta. The Scriptures are sufficient for life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:15-17), and that includes the totality of the Scriptures. All of Scripture is sufficient. All of Scripture is God-breathed.