The Absence of Conviction


For what they're worth, The Barna Group's surveys offer some soul-provoking glimpses into the state of the Christian church today. One of their most widely disseminated studies (December 1, 2003) found that as few as 9% of American men and women describing themselves as born-again Christians have a Biblical worldview. Another study (February 12, 2002) found that, of born-again Christians, less than half (32%) believe in moral absolutes. Even wiithout the benefit of surveys, however, there should be ample evidence to believers everywhere that post-modern relativism and humanism have crippled a Church that more and more exhibits Laodicean laxity than ever before.

Modern society, by and large, conditions people to reject absolutes and to object to moral convictions. Relativism has achieved widespread acceptance to the point that it is now ingrained. The caricatures of the "holy roller" and "fire-and-brimstone preacher" have had popular cachet for years. From the schools to the popular culture and, sadly, to the churches, sincerity is mocked and irony cherished.

The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah Chapter 5:

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
An outrageous example of today's relativism came nearly two years ago when U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D., Wash.) addressed a group of students at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington. The local paper, The Columbian, reported her remarks:
Murray concluded the session by challenging the students to consider alternatives to war.

"We've got to ask, why is this man (Osama bin Laden) so popular around the world?," said Murray, who faces re-election in 2004. "Why are people so supportive of him in many countries...that are riddled with poverty?

"He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that.

"How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
"What is true for one individual may not be true for another" is the gold standard in contemporary philosophy. 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, among others, popularized these notions of subjective truth which are now accepted whole cloth. The line of despair that 20th-century Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote about so many years ago is clearly evident today.

David Virtue, writing in Touchstone Magazine, explained Schaeffer's argument from his 1968 book The God Who Is There:
In it Schaeffer articulated what he devised and called the “line of despair” (Europe about 1890 and the United States about 1935) in philosophy, art, music, and the general culture, as well as the New Theology. He attempted to show that for modern man, absolutes had died, modernity reigned, and the floodwaters of secular thought had overwhelmed the Church because its leaders did not understand the importance of combating a false set of presuppositions. Young people were being raised on the old sense of what was right and wrong based on absolutes the West had established from a biblical worldview, but on leaving home they were being exposed to “rationalism” and “humanism” that saw man as the center of all things and pushed God to the sidelines or out of the picture altogether.
Proponents of subjective truth and relativism, despite their protestations otherwise, resort to intellectual shorthand and demagoguery to advance their worldview and marginalize believers. Belief in moral absolutes is tied to fascism, fundamentalism, intolerance, hate-mongering, even luddism. Each of these descriptors carry with them a tremendous amount of pejorative baggage. By using these type of buzz words, or talking points if you will, arguments against objective truth can be left unsubstantiated and uncorroborated.

Secular (and theological) polemics against believers, conservatives, and others espousing belief in moral absolutes involves subtle and disingenuous tactics. Though fascism, by the very nature of totalitarian rule, requires the absence of moral absolutes, conservative Christians are often labeled "fascists." Though cursory comparison of Christianity and Islam would reveal serious incompatibility, Christians with a Biblical worldview are labeled "fundamentalists," i.e. suggesting that there is as much to fear from Christian fundamentalists as Islamic fundamentalists. Christians who believe in the inerrant Word of God and display the sincerest forms of faith are mocked and/or patronized; they are by turns portrayed as hypocritical, overly emotional, unctuously spiritual, or worst of all lacking education, intellect, worldliness, and the capacity for rational thought.

The absence of conviction in the inspired and infallible Word of God has dealt a serious blow to today's Church, from which it will not soon recover. The Church, in short, is undergoing a sinner's rebellion. Relativism and subjectivity, for all their high-class pretense, appeal to the natural man. Man resists (futilely) his own mortality, his culpability for that mortality, and most especially his inability to atone for that culpability. The prevailing feeling in churches today is that an individual's sin prevents them from having moral conviction regarding that sin, and sin in toto. The travesty here should be obvious: it represents a complete loss of faith in the transforming power of Jesus Christ. If a Christian cannot believe that Jesus has the power to change their life, then how can they possibly have any conviction whatsoever?

We naturally empathize with other people's troubles -- an ostensibly sympathetic gesture, to be sure. The truth is, as sinners, we empathize in order to make up (or buy favor) for our own shortcomings. Some Christians call this "good works," others call it "karma." But it is not Biblical. Christian action must derive from love of the Lord, not love of the Self (humanity). If there are none to stand up for Godliness and the faith, to declare the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, then humanism will continue its soulless march unimpeded. The tragic consequences should already be evident. As Edmund Burke famously said, "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

Jesus warned in Luke Chapter 6:
39 "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?"
At the very highest echelons of the Church today, leaders are under an intense spiritual onslaught, and the worst thing is, they're not prepared for it. Many have failed to put on the armor of God and are defenseless. As a result, the Church has been terribly hurt. Those who've abdicated Biblical conviction for "tolerance" and ecumenicalism do so because they are ruled by personal shortcomings and doubt, rather than the Lord. Christian churches are becoming cults of religiosity where situational ethics and emotion rule the day. When the Church proudly wears the filthy rags of its own righteousness (cf. Isaiah 64:6), there are certainly darker days around the corner.

We've all heard a lot of talk about "faith" of late. Yet, as surely as there can be no conviction without faith, there can be no faith without conviction.