Understanding the Times

G. I. Williamson


Contents

Preface
Part One: Describing the Storm
     Chapter One: Introduction
     Chapter Two: The Poets; The Novelists
     Chapter Three: Modern Art
     Chapter Four: Modern Music
     Chapter Five: The Theater; The Cinema, Television
     Chapter Six: Return to Babel; Postmodernism and Deconstructionism; Defending the Faith
     Chapter Seven: The Modern Church
Part Two: The Cause of It All
     Chapter Eight: The Root Cause; Working out of This Principle
Part Three: Attempted Solutions
     Chapter Nine: Astrology; The Occult; Drugs
     Chapter Ten: The Religious “Leap,” Other Answers
Part Four: The Biblical Answer
     Chapter Eleven: The Biblical Framework; Insight


Preface

It will be evident to many that there is nothing original in this study. It may be asked, then, why it was written. The answer is simple: There is need that these things be more widely understood. There is ample literature, perhaps, for those who go to college or university. But what about the catechism students who do not go on to higher studies? It is our conviction that they need to grasp these things quite as urgently as the others. Indeed, we would argue that the need is for someone to introduce all of our covenant youth to these truths sooner rather than later. The writer is a pastor, who wrote these lessons for no other reason than this: The need was there, and there did not seem to be anything that was quite suited to the need. It is our hope that whatever weaknesses these lessons may have, they will help to fill a void until something better is available.

The poetry quoted is from 11 Outlined Epitaphs, ©1964 by Bob Dylan, and Some Other Kinds of Songs, ©1964, by Bob Dylan. Selections used by permission. All rights reserved.


Part 1: Describing the Storm

Chapter One: Introduction

The Bible has much to say about “understanding the times.” Our Lord rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees because they understood the signs which told them of the weather, but did not understand what was happening in the spiritual realm (Matt. 16:1-4). They did not realize that the Son of God was in their midst, and that the great work of redemption was being accomplished. They did not understand how they were being deluded by Satan so that they were blinded to these things (John 8:44). And the result was calamitous. How important it is, then, that we understand the times in which we are living. We need to realize what is happening, and what our own position is. This is the purpose of this study. This study is written primarily for younger adults who have been born to privilege. This does not mean that it can be of no use to others. But it is written primarily for those who precisely because of their privileged status are now “in the eye of the storm.”

“Within the region of hurricane winds very close to the center the winds drop abruptly from their extreme maximum to light breezes or even to complete calm. Clear skies or only thin clouds prevail. The central circular calm area bears the name ‘eye of the storm’” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1963 ed., 22:497).

The person who is born to the privilege of living in a Christian family, and having the nurture of a faithful Christian Church, is in this “eye of the storm.” We do not mean a literal storm, of course, but refer to the spiritual storm that is raging all around us today. We may not realize that the storm is there, but it is. We may not feel its force yet, but it is unlikely that any of us will live long without doing so. Our purpose in this study, then, is to try to do four things. (1) We will try to describe this storm. (2) We will endeavor to show what the cause of it is. (3) We will take a look at some of the ways in which people today are trying to escape. (4) We will then try to show how the only real answer is found in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed to us in the Scriptures.

We would begin by stating the obvious fact that we live in a time of great change. Many things that once seemed very solid, fixed, and secure have suddenly moved. For example until very recent times it was generally assumed by people in our society, even if they were not personally Christian believers, that there is such a thing as truth. People also accepted the idea that there is such a thing as right. And it was generally agreed that the opposite of a true thing was false, and of a right thing was wrong. There was, in other words, a certain framework. It was a framework that came from the long standing influence of the Christian religion. In this framework most people lived. This does not mean that they were better people by nature than people are today. It does not mean that they were pleasing to God. No one (since the fall of man through Adam’s transgression) has ever been, or ever will be, pleasing to God except in Jesus Christ (by repentance and faith). No, what we are talking about is not that certain individuals were consciously doing things in a certain way. We are simply saying that the influence of the Christian religion was such that most people took certain things for granted. They thought in a certain way without realizing that the framework in which they were thinking rested on a Christian foundation. They thought of the universe as an ordered structure. They did not see it as “chaos” but as “cosmos.” They assumed (often without thinking much about it) that there are such things as final answers and an ultimate meaning in life. The tragic fact is that this is no longer true. We may not realize this if we are still in “the eye of the storm.” Your father and mother, let us say, do still believe in God. They believe and taught you to believe that the world is created. They believe and taught you to believe that Jesus Christ is in charge of the universe, and that He is running it all “according to His plan.” If so, then it may not have hit you yet that most young people today no longer see things this way.

Let us briefly compare these two “frameworks.” Both represent basic assumptions about the situation in which man finds himself. The old framework plainly shows the dominant influence of the Christian religion. The new framework shows just as plainly the dominant influence of modern science.

The Old Framework The New Framework
God exists God (probably) does not exist
The universe is created The universe is a product of chance
God has a plan for the universe            There is no plan (all is chaos)
Man is significant Man is not significant
There is absolute truth There is no absolute truth
There is a way of escape There is no way of escape

This is the real cause of what is sometimes called “the generation gap.” Fathers and mothers have more contact with the old order than their children do. Even if they are not personally Christian believers, they did grow up in a day when most people still believed the old framework. The children grow up in a very different climate of thinking. And to the extent that the children conform to the new framework, they tend to have trouble communicating with their parents. This is not a thing that only Christian teachers have noticed. Even some of our modern poets and popular song writers have seen it. This is illustrated in the following quotation from a poem by Bob Dylan. It has been said that his “lyrics have helped to form the consciousness of a whole generation.”

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a changin’

Many parents fail to understand what is happening. They do not realize that they have a framework of thinking that really depends on the truthfulness of the Bible. They do not realize, either, that their children are being educated into a different framework of thinking from their own. But such is (more and more often) the case. And so it comes to pass that even so simple a statement as this, “I believe Christianity is true,” can come to have a very different meaning for the one as over against the other. For the parents it may mean that Christianity is true for everyone, everywhere, and that all will sooner or later face the Jesus of history and the Bible as either Savior or Judge. For children educated into the new framework of thinking it may mean no more than this: “Christianity is true for me.” If there is no God no plan for the world no divine revelation of final truth (in the Bible) then the most that we can ever hope to have is something that is “true for me” or in other words, my own (self created) interpretation of reality.

Let us illustrate this point. The writer himself grew up in “the eye of the storm.” In university I sat under a brilliant young professor of philosophy. He took us on a “guided tour” of the great philosophies of history. His ability was such that he made each of them seem as at attractive as possible. He did this so well that I began to wonder which philosophy he himself accepted. Finally, toward the end of the course of lectures, I could stand it no longer. I went to him and said. “Sir, please tell me which of these philosophies you believe to be the true one.” Imagine my surprise when he said “they are all true.” Since one philosopher contradicted the other, this answer made no sense to me. If one was true, I thought, then the others must be false. But then my professor explained. When he said true, he did not mean true in the sense of final truth. He did not mean that any philosophy is true in the sense that all opposing philosophies automatically became false. No, what he meant was simply this: Nobody really has that kind of truth. The most that anyone can possibly have is his own personal view. And my professor’s thought was that if that view satisfied a certain person and seemed to be useful to him then for him it is “true.” Or, in other words, for him it is useful. I did not realize that I (coming out of the “eye of the storm”) had a completely different framework of thinking from that of my teacher. Yet the whole year I’d been sitting under the powerful influence of this man who had, as his deepest conviction, the idea that there is no such thing as “the old framework kind of truth.”

Now it may be that a certain young person today will say, “This could never happen to me, because I do not intend to go to university anyway.” This would be a mistake, because the storm has increased since the time when the writer was a student. It is true that, for some time the problem was not so evident in general society as it was among people in some of our university communities. At present, however, this new way of thinking is rapidly spreading out through our whole culture. The masses of people are now receiving it without even being aware of the fact. It comes to them in the things that they read, in the programs that they see and hear on TV, in magazines and books and even in the constant din of advertising. To illustrate once more from the lyrics of Bob Dylan, we quote from several of his poems.

(1) (you ask of truth?
there is no truth
for it is but a drunken matter
romantic? yes
tragic? no, I think not)
the door still knocks
an’ the wind still blows

(2) good and evil are but words      
invented by those
that are trapped in scenes
. . . there is not
one thing anyplace
anywhere that makes any
sense. there are only tears
an’ there is only sorrow
there are no problems


(3) I’d forever talk to you
But soon my words,
They would turn into a meaningless ring.
For deep in my heart
I know there is no help I can bring
Everything passes.
Everything changes

(4) i know no answers an’ no truth
for absolutely no soul alive
i will listen t’ no one
who tells me morals
there are no morals
an’ i dream a lot

(5) how does it feel
to be without a home
like a complete unknown
like a rolling stone?

Modern man can be said to live in a mood of despair. By this we mean that there is no longer the sense of hope that life can have meaning and a sense of purpose (as was the case under the old framework). One non Christian thinker has expressed this idea this way: “Man is placed in an infinite space in which his being seems to be a single and vanishing point. He is surrounded by a mute universe, by a world that is silent to his religious feelings and to his deepest moral demands.” This is not really true, of course. Man is not surrounded by a mute universe. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork (Ps. 19). Every day the universe loudly declares the power and majesty of God. It is not true, either, that man is a “nothing.” (He is made in God’s image and has permanent significance.) Yet it is true that more and more people think along the lines of the above quotation. And it is this that we must understand.

When young people today move out of the “eye of the storm,” they are often destroyed spiritually. They are not prepared. They do not understand the times. They do not realize the extent to which they are being brought into conformity with this new framework. It is this that we will seek this understanding and awareness in the remainder of these studies.

Questions

  1. What did Jesus mean when He spoke of “the signs of the times”? (Matt. 16:1-4).
  2. What is meant by saying, “Christian young people today are in ‘the eye of the storm’”?
  3. Describe briefly the framework of thought that used to prevail in our society.
  4. What is the framework of thought that now prevails (more and more)?
  5. Underline the words (or phrases) in Dylan’s lyrics that express the problem of the so called “generation gap.”
  6. How would the older generation interpret the state statement, “I believe Christianity is true”?
  7. How would the younger generation probably interpret this statement?
  8. What did the philosophy professor mean by the word true when he said. “They are all true”?
  9. Why did the writer fail to detect which philosophy the professor thought was the true one?
  10. Underline the words (or phrases) in the five quoted excerpts from Bob Dylan’s poetry which communicate to the masses today the same basic idea that the philosophy professor taught.
  11. What is meant by modern man’s “mood of despair”?
  12. Express in your own words what the non Christian thinker means in the statement quoted.

Projects

  1. Bring to class your own example (from pop music, TV advertisements, magazines, etc.) of the dominant influence of the new framework.
  2. Ask three different individuals of different age groups what they would mean if they said, “l believe the Bible is true.”

“The Times They Are a Changin’,” ©1963, Warner Bros. Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. “Like a Rolling Stone,” ©1965, Warner Bros. Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.


Chapter Two

In the first lesson we gave a general description of the times in which we live. We pointed out that a great change is taking place away from the old framework of thought and life toward a new framework. Under the new framework people see no meaning in human existence. If there is no God no plan no final or absolute truth then, of course, there can be no meaning. In this lesson (and the next four) we will endeavor to show the way in which this new framework is clearly manifesting itself in our culture and society today. We begin with

The Poets

We will make no attempt, in these lessons, to trace the history of various movements. We will not try to be technical. We will simply take a number of examples which clearly show how modern man thinks of himself and the world as without meaning or purpose.

The following poetry was written by the poet-artist Hans Arp. In Zurich, in 1916, this type of poetry was devised as a protest against the old framework of life. The name of this poetry is Dada, the French word for “hobby horse.” It was chosen by letting the dictionary fall open, at random, and then blindly placing a finger on the page. The word that they hit upon was the word dada, and the very “meaning” of the word as used by these poets was that it was not supposed to have meaning. The poetry to which this name was given was produced in much the same way. Various words were placed in a hat, and then drawn out at random and then with little touches added here and there by the poet allowed to stand in a senseless or meaningless order. Here is an example of Dada poetry: Hans Arp’s “The Guest Expulsed.”

Their rubber hammer strikes the sea
Down the black general so brave.
With silken braid they deck him out
As fifth wheel on the common grave.          

All striped in yellow with the tides
They decorate his firmament.
The epaulettes they then construct
Of June July and wet cement.

With many limbs the portrait group
They lift on to the Dadadado;
They nail their A B seizures up;
Who numbers the compartments? They do.

They dye themselves with blue bag then
And go as rivers from the land
With candied fruit along the stream,
An Oriflame in every hand.

In one sense it would be a big mistake to think that this poem has meaning. But in another sense it would be an even greater mistake to think that it has no meaning. It does have meaning. It tells us that the poet saw no meaning in the world because he is thinking within the new framework. That is the message of the poem, and that message is effectively expressed by it. Other poets use a more conventional form to express the idea that life has no meaning. The following stanzas from W. H. Auden’s poem entitled “September 1, 1939” (when the Second World War was just beginning) will illustrate.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-Second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade;
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death           
Offends the September night.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

In a similar vein is “Lament for a Lost Life,” by H. B. Mallalieu. We quote a few stanzas.

O, what shall I do for the long, long day
But dream of what never will be.
The husband and neighbours have gone away,          
Nobody comes at three.

There’s nothing to fill an engagement book:
There’s nowhere to take the car;
Not even the tradesmen seem to look
At my eyes as they are.

Never the sea will flood the street,
Or mountains spring from the road:
I’ll never run lightly or gaily to meet
One from my dream or a god.

O, what shall I do the long, long day?
Where shall I find a lover?
Will no one come to take me away,
Death or another?

Not all poetry that is written today expresses this idea that life has no meaning and makes no sense. As we shall see later on in these studies the very nature of man as God created him is such that man cannot quite kill the longing within his own heart for meaning and purpose in life. The Bible says that God has “set eternity in their heart” (Eccl. 3:11). It is because of this “built in” longing for ultimate meaning and purpose in life that men try to “create” meaning for themselves even when they imagine that they live in a meaningless universe. Yet it is true that more and more modern poetry expresses the new framework of thinking and therefore pictures man as nothing in a universe without meaning.

The Novelists

It is the same with the great novelists today. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, will serve as a good example. In this novel we find an old fisherman battling to catch a great fish. Day after day he goes out, farther and farther from the land. Finally the old man catches the great fish, but he is very far out at sea. It is an exhausting battle to bring it back in to land. Not only that, but because he has to tow the big fish back, the predators have the opportunity to eat away its flesh. And so, in the end, the fisherman has nothing left but the skeleton. It is not hard to see that all of this is symbolism for man’s life situation. Hemingway seems to be saying that human life is like this story, an endless battle wherein man seeks some kind of meaning and fulfillment. But even when he accomplishes what he sets out to do, it still turns out to be senseless. It is in effect a way of saying, “No, you can’t really come to anything that has meaning in a universe that is just a big accident.” Another novel that effectively expresses the idea that life is senseless is entitled The Plague. It was written by Albert Camus, who was an existentialist. Existentialists believe that the universe is accidental. Man is here as a result of blind chance, surrounded by a universe that is chaos (not cosmos). In this novel, a plague breaks out in the city of Oran. It begins to strike down people (or not strike down people) in a random and meaningless way. The principal character in the novel, Dr. Rieux, accepts it as his work to fight the plague. But why? What sense did it really make to fight the plague? As the novel puts it, “He knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could only be the record of what had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts” The message of the novel seems to be this: We are trapped in a hopeless and senseless world; yet somehow we must go on fighting against it, even though we know that we can never win. Here we see the new framework of thinking. The novelist accepts without questioning it that we live in a universe which has no creator and therefore no meaning.

We give as a third and final example Arthur Koestler’s novel entitled Darkness at Noon. The novel is based on Koestler’s knowledge of people who were caught in the purge trials in Moscow in the early 1930’s. The main character in the novel, Rubashov, is condemned to death for “crimes against the state.” At any moment he expects the final summons. His feelings are those of a man who has no hope for the future. Talk about the great future promised by the Communists does not help, since he will never live to see it. So the book ends with these words, in which Rubashov expresses the sense of despair that Koestler sees as our human predicament.

“What happened to those masses, to this people? For forty years it had been driven through the deserts, with threats and promises, with imaginary terrors and imaginary rewards. But where the Promised Land?

“Did there really exist any such goal for this wandering mankind? That was a question to which he would have liked an answer before it was too late. Moses had not been allowed to enter the land of promise either. But he had been allowed to see it, from the top of the mountain, spread at his feet. Thus it was easy to die, with the visible certainty of one’s goal before one’s eyes. He, Nicolai Salmanowitch Rubashov, had not been taken to the top of a mountain: and wherever his eye looked, he saw nothing but desert and the darkness of night.”

Koestler himself explains why man today is in Rubashov’s position, rather than in that of Moses. “Before the shift,” he writes (and he means the shift from the old framework to the new), “the various religions had provided man with explanations of a kind which gave everything that happened to him meaning, but the explanations of the new philosophy [new framework of thinking] were devoid of meaning”

There is a book of the Bible that says much the same thing that our modern poets and writers are saying. It is the book of Ecclesiastes. To understand the message of this portion of the Bible, two phrases are of key importance. When Solomon (the author of Ecclesiastes) speaks of life “under the sun,” he means life lived as if the visible is all that exists (that is, as if there is no God, no heaven or hell, and no continued existence after death). When man lives as if this is all there is, then he will finally arrive at the conclusion that “all is vanity.” The word vanity simply means empty, senseless, or void of meaning. So in Solomon’s day too there were those who adopted a certain framework of thinking and then ended up in despair. This is important. We are not the first people on earth who have lived in a time when society as a whole shifted over to such a framework of thinking. In the days of the decline of the Roman Empire (to cite one notable example) great multitudes of people felt very much as people do today. This is, in fact, what always happens when people reject the light of divine revelation (the Bible). God has created man and the world in such a way that it is impossible for man to find sense or meaning apart from Him. One can say, then, that God Himself is driving modern man to despair to the realization that he is at a dead-end, and that apart from Christ and the Bible there is no exit.

We must not make the mistake, however, of thinking that the message of the Bible (as in Ecclesiastes) and the message of the modern poets and novelists is the same. It is not. Both do indeed bear witness to where man ends up when he accepts the wrong framework. But it is only the Bible that shows us why this is so. In the final analysis it is only God who can show us the truth about anything, including ourselves. And this as we will see more and more in these lessons is the one thing that fallen and sinful man hates to admit. It is in fact so distasteful that men much prefer to stumble on in blindness and despair rather than to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. What we stress is the fact that men are not mere victims. No, they are also culprits. There is no valid excuse. A study of Psalm 19 and Romans 1:16-32 will clearly demonstrate this. As we speak to others, then, who are living within this new framework of thinking, we must be faithful: We must not only tell them where they are, but also why. And in dependence upon the Holy Spirit we must then call them to repentance and faith.

Questions

  1. How does the invention of Dada poetry illustrate new framework thinking?
  2. What is the meaning of the poem, “The Guest Expulsed”?
  3. Is the meaning communicated in the form or in the content?
  4. How does W. H. Auden express the view that life is without meaning? Support your view with lines or phrases underlined in the poem).
  5. What feeling do you have in reading Mallalieu’s poem? What phrases best bring out the idea of the emptiness of life?
  6. Why is it that some modern poetry is less expressive of the idea that life has no meaning?
  7. What does the “big fish” represent in Hemingway’s novel?
  8. Underline one phrase in the words of Camus expressing the idea of senselessness.
  9. What do Moses and Rubashov symbolize?
  10. What does the book of Ecclesiastes mean by “under the sun”?
  11. What does the book of Ecclesiastes mean by “all is vanity”?
  12. What is the big difference between the way in which modern writers picture the results of “new framework” thinking and the way the Bible presents this?

Projects

  1. Read Ecclesiastes chapter 1 or chapter 2 and choose the verse that best expresses what you take to be the meaning of “the new-framework” thinking.
  2. Bring to class a summary of a short story or novel or a poem, which expresses “new-framework” thinking, and be ready to defend your choice.


Chapter Three

In this lesson we continue our discussion of the new-framework of thinking, in which man sees himself as living in a meaningless universe. If there is no God and man is not created by God, and the universe is but an accident, then there cannot be any meaning in our existence. In this lesson we will look at some of the ways in which modern art expresses this despair.

Modern Art

In a book entitled Break-up: The Core of Modern Art, the author (Katharine Kuh) begins with these words:

“The art of our century has been characterized by shattered surfaces, broken color, segmented compositions, dissolving forms and shredded images; during the last hundred years, every aspect of art has been broken up color, light, pigment, form, line, content, space, surface and design.”

In the numbered illustrations supplied with this lesson there is a striking parallel. It is found in the sketches drawn by artist M. Jager while under the influence of the drug LSD (see illustration below). As the drug begins to take effect, the artist more and more loses touch with reality. The result is that each succeeding picture tends to go further in the direction of disintegration.

This is strangely similar to modern art, in which things (and especially man himself) become distorted and fragmented until all recognizable meaning disappears. In the sculpture by Michael Ayrton entitled “Evolution of the Minotaur,” we see what appears to be a semi-human figure.

The minotaur was a mythical monster supposedly half-man and half-bull. But here it is difficult to see any clearly recognizable features of either man or bull. One may perhaps imagine that this is an attempt to represent man as he struggles to rise up out of his “evolutionary past.” But the important thing is that in this (as in so many works of modern art) meaning must be put into rather than clearly seen in the work. In “Portrait of Vollard” (below) by the noted artist Pablo Picasso, we see a few faintly recognizable features of a man. But the rest of the picture is deliberately fragmented, or broken up. The artist seems to be saying that we can no longer see man as a whole, but only fragments or aspects of man.

Before we go further, let us pause to make an important point. It would be a great mistake to think that paintings such as this are unimportant. We, as Christians, certainly should not agree with such art. It reflects the new framework of thinking, which is anti Christian in its basis. But it is important. It is important because it shows us exactly how modern man, in our society, under the controlling influence of “the new framework,” sees himself. Modern science has broken man into bits. It can tell us much about various parts or aspects of man (such as the nervous system, the genetic code, brain functions, etc.), more than ever before, in fact. But the terrifying thing is that it cannot tell us that the whole man has meaning or significance. As one modern thinker has put it:

“In no other period of human knowledge has man become more problematical to himself than in our own days. We no longer possess any clear and consistent idea of man.”

The “break-up” is not, then, just a clever stunt that this artist or that thought up. No, it is an expression of the prevailing spirit of the age in which we live. As one famous British painter has put it, “Man now realizes that he is an accident,” and therefore sees himself as “a completely futile being.” Salvador Dali is perhaps the most famous of the surrealist painters. But in his work the new framework is expressed in a different way. In his paintings “content [is] purposely unhinged in denial of all rational expression, allowing disconnected episodes to re-create the disturbing life of our unconscious.” In other words, Dali deliberately blurs the distinction between (what, under the old framework would be called) the real and unreal. This can be seen in the illustration on the next page, where the real is distorted and the unreal is painted with photographic detail. If there is no God, no creation, no divine plan, and so on, Dali seems to be saying, then who is to say that the world of dreams is any less real than the “real” world?

In the illustration above there is no recognizable feature. In this painting everything is reduced to broken fragments. To the writer of these lessons this suggests something that one might see in an artist’s studio, namely, a piece of paper where the artist tests his brushes, or removes excess paint. One could not prove from the “picture” itself that it is anything more than this. But the artist can present it to an art museum, calling it a work of art and the museum will accept it as such for one very important reason. Both the artist and those who judge what is art work from the same framework of thought. And in a universe without meaning how can they effectively deny that this is a painting? No doubt a true Christian, who understood these things, would say, “This is not a work of art at all.” But we must realize that if the curator of one of our great art galleries did have the courage to do this, it would probably cost him his job.

To much the same effect is George Segal’s “Gas Station” (above). Here we see on display an actual Coca-Cola vending machine, with a rack of empty bottles, and a paper-maché figure of a tired, thirsty young man sitting on an empty bottle case. Is this a work of art? Well, the answer depends entirely upon your view of the universe. If you accept the modern evolutionist and humanist framework of thinking, then there is no reason to say this is not a work of art while something else is. The point is that in a universe with no absolutes, everything becomes equally important (or unimportant). In the July 6, 1970, issue of the National Observer, an interesting article appeared. It was entitled “The New Wave: Art That Isn’t There.” We quote part of this article.

Last year the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston received the following letter from artist Saul Ostrow: “Dear Sir: I wish to donate this work to the permanent collection of the Institute of Contemporary Art in the name of Frank Lincoln Viner.” Institute officials were unable to find the work Mr. Ostrow was donating, so they dropped the matter. Shortly afterwards a second letter arrived from the artist “Due to the fact that as yet I have not heard from you concerning my donation, I must assume it has been rejected and would appreciate the return of my piece.”

The letter came to the attention of the institute’s director, Andrew Hede, who wrote Mr. Ostrow: “I was unaware that you had offered the Institute a donation. I would be willing to hear about the particulars.” The particulars came by return mail. “Enclosed,” wrote Mr. Ostrow, “you will find a photostat of the work in question. Since the original was either lost or never delivered? this photostat is now to be considered as the work I wish to donate.” Enclosed was a photostat of Mr. Ostrow’s first letter.

At this point Mr. Hede might have suspected that he was the victim of a put-on. Not so. Mr. Ostrow was being very serious in a sly sort of way. His donation was an example of a new kind of art: conceptual art.

The article goes on to say that conceptual art means this: Every choice the artist makes is an artistic act. In other words, whatever artist chooses to call art is art. If he says a piece of paper with words written on it is a work of art, then it is a work of art. And the new framework is what makes it possible. Joseph Kosuth displayed a wooden folding chair in an art gallery, with a photograph of a chair pinned on the wall on one side of it, and on the other side a photostat of the dictionary definition of the word chair. These were displayed as a work of art called “One of Three Chairs.” Another work of art was a tape recorder with a continuous loop tape. It constantly recorded and then erased every sound in the art gallery. People who have been molded by the predominant influence of what we have called the old framework of thinking usually react to these things with a question: “How can people call such things works of art?” Sometimes they do not realize that these people who do these works are indeed serious. They can even be called genuine artists if the function of the artist is to give expression to the way in which most people see reality in a given generation. As the American artist, Mark Tobey, has said, “The content of a painting is tied up with time, place and history. It is always related to man’s beliefs and disbeliefs, to his affirmations and negations. How we believe and disbelieve is mirrored in the art of our times.” This is the heart of the matter. When men turn away from God and reject the absolutes that He gives to them, then it is inevitable that this will show in everything they do. The value of modern art is that it shows this so clearly.

But how many Christians understand? Francis Schaeffer has put it like this: “The tragedy is not only that these talented men [artists] have reached the point of despair, but that so many who look on and admire really do not understand. They are influenced by the concepts, and yet they have never analyzed what it all means.” It is for this reason that you can find Christian believers who like anti-Christian art. They like it because they have been so much influenced by the spirit of this age that they do not any longer feel uncomfortable with these things (as they should). Again we must warn against the temptation to say, “It doesn’t concern me.” The reason is that a person who professes to have no interest in art who, for example, would never take the trouble to visit an art gallery, or purchase a painting is still subject to its influence (unless, perhaps, he is literally blind). Modern art is not something that is safely shut up out of sight in museums. No, it influences us by the influence it has on advertising, magazines, TV, and so on. It often faces us, whether we notice it or not, in the foyer of a new office-building, or even in the city park. But even more important, we as Christians should not want to ignore these things. For these are, as H. R. Rookmaker has said, “signs of the crisis of our culture. They embody new ways of thinking. They proclaim the meaninglessness of all we may think sacred.” And this should concern us. “This art is the work of your neighbours—human beings who are crying out in despair for the loss of their humanity, their values, their lost absolutes, groping in the dark for answers. It is already late, if not too late, but if we want to help our generation we must hear their cry. We must listen to them as they cry out from their prison, the prison of a universe which is aimless, meaningless, absurd.” In other words, to keep ourselves out of the grip of the powerful spirit of this age, we must understand these things. But that is not all. We must also understand them in order to be able to help others who are held in the grip of this false framework of thinking.

It is important, then, to realize that art is rooted in culture. It is not necessarily Christian art simply because the artist himself believes in Jesus Christ. No, the great artists of the past painted as they did not only because of what they believed as individuals, but also because they lived in a culture in which certain absolutes were unquestioned. As Francis Bacon (a noted British artist) has put it: “I think that even when Velasquez was painting, even when Rembrandt was painting, they were still, whatever their attitude to life, slightly conditioned by certain types of religious possibilities, which man now, you could say, has had cancelled out for him.” When great artists of the past painted, those who viewed the paintings were able to understand the meaning because artist and viewer shared certain standards. Now we are not sure, when we look at a painting, that we “see” what the artist is trying to communicate. The reason is that there is no shared framework of meaning there are no shared certainties.

The sole message is that there is no meaningful message. And the important thing for us is to realize this. It is now crystal clear. When man turns away from God, and from God’s word, he dooms himself to death and destruction. And what is death? Is it not dissolution—break-up of God’s created order? “To live apart from God is death,” says the metrical psalm. To know the true God in Jesus Christ is life. This is the message that we must understand and experience and then seek to communicate to modern man.

Questions

  1. What does Katharine Kuh mean by “break-up”?
  2. How does the series of sketches by M. Jager parallel this?
  3. In the series of pictures supplied with this lesson, pick the one that best illustrates “break-up” to you. Give your reason(s) in a brief sentence or two.
  4. Why is it wrong to say that these paintings are unimportant?
  5. In the various paintings and other works of art (described or illustrated in the lesson) there are several ways in which “break-up” is evident. Try to describe at least three different ways.
  6. What is the framework of thought that lies behind those different “works of art”?
  7. Why is it that in former times an artist might paint something with content acceptable to a Christian though he himself was not a Christian believer, while today an artist who is a believer may not do so?
  8. How is it possible for Christian people to like modern art? Should they? Why?
  9. Why is it essential that we understand modern art?
  10. What do we mean when we say that art is rooted in culture?
  11. Why did art in previous generations communicate, while art today does not? (Or does it?)
  12. What (if anything) does God reveal to us through modern art?

Projects

  1. Try to find your own example of a work of art that reflects either the old or the new framework of thinking, and explain why to the class.
  2. Find an example of the influence of modern art in modern advertising.
  3. Write an argument pro or con on this statement: “A Christian may make use of the art forms expressing ‘break-up.’”


Chapter Four

If there is no God, there can be no meaning for man except that which he creates for himself. Modern music has expressed this concept in a most powerful way. One might well say that the history of modern music is the story of man’s failure to attain to anything solid or permanent as he has sought to create his own meaning. We look, then, at

Modern Music

If we ask what the leading difference is between modern music and the music of earlier times, the answer would surely be the element of the spontaneous. Traditional music—whether of the concert auditorium or of the parlor was structured. It was written (and could be written) in musical notation. The musician could play it by reading what was written there, since the framework was one of order, form, harmony, and plan. The concept of music, in other words, reflected a biblical view of the world. But what happened when the new framework of thinking began to dominate music? Man began to think of himself as a part of a big cosmic accident a universe that was not created, and which does not have a plan behind it. The only thing that man can do in such a universe is to try to create meaning out of himself. Thus the characteristic element in music reflecting this new framework of thinking is spontaneity and the element of chance.

As we understand it, this is the ultimate foundation of modern music. Some have suggested that the original Negro jazz was very different. It is even argued that it developed out of a Christian origin in the blues. This may well be true, to some extent, at least. It may be that the spontaneous element in the blues was an expression of hope, derived from the Christian faith, as over against the sense of oppression and deprivation of slavery. In any event, it is clear that when the white man copied this music and spread it through Western culture, it was used as a way of expressing the framework of thinking that we have been discussing in these lessons. The rhythmic element in the new music expressed the concept of a mechanistic universe. The element of “ad lib” or spontaneous variation expressed the concept of human autonomy (auto = self, and nomy = law: man became a law unto himself, or, in other words, created his own meaning). But you will notice, if you think back over the last few decades, that the music scene is constantly changing. One might well say that the most basic thing about it all is that it cannot arrive at anything fixed. The reason is not so much in the changing novelty itself, as the theory out of which it comes. The theory forbids anything fixed or stable.

Up to this point we have given our own viewpoint. At this point we will quote from a European writer. He is discussing the work of a well-known symphonic composer, Mr. John Cage. Here it will become clear that the new framework of thinking does indeed explain some of the strange “happenings” in great concert halls of the world.

The power of art to communicate ideas and emotions to organize life into meaningful patterns, and to realize universal truths through the self-expressed individuality of the artist are only three of the assumptions that Cage challenges. In place of a self-expressive art created by the imagination, tastes, and desires of the artist, Cage proposes an art, born of chance and indeterminacy.

Back in the Chinese culture long ago the Chinese had worked out a system of tossing coins or yarrow sticks by means of which the spirits would speak. The complicated method which they developed made sure that the person doing the tossing would not allow his own personality to intervene. Self expression was eliminated so that the spirits could speak.

Cage picks up this same system and uses it. He too seeks to get rid of any individual expression in his music. But there is a very great difference. As far as Cage is concerned there is nobody there to speak. There is only an impersonal universe speaking through blind chance.

Cage began to compose his music through the tossing of coins. It is said that for some of his pieces lasting only twenty minutes he has tossed the coin thousands of times. This is pure chance, but apparently not pure enough, he wanted still more chance. So he devised a mechanical conductor. It was a machine working on cams, the motion of which cannot be determined ahead of time, and the musicians just followed this. Or, as an alternative to this, sometimes he employed two conductors who could not see each other, both conducting simultaneously; anything, in fact, to produce pure chance. But in Cage’s universe nothing comes through in the music except noise and confusion or total silence.

There is a story that once, after the musicians had played Cage’s total chance music, as he was bowing to acknowledge the applause, there was a noise behind him. He thought it sounded like steam escaping from somewhere, but then to his dismay realized it was the musicians behind him who were hissing. Often his works have been booed. However, when the audience members boo at him they are, if they are modern men, in reality booing the logical conclusion of their own position as it strikes their ears in music.

We might add that one of the “compositions” of John Cage is called “Silence.” It consists of precisely that: four and a half minutes of total silence! One could almost laugh, if it were not so sad and serious. But it is. When man rejects God, and God’s word revelation to man, he ends up here doomed to silence. For what can man say (musically, or in any other way) in a universe that has no meaning? When man refuses to think and speak God’s thoughts after Him, he is consigned to this predicament. And more and more evidence is seen today in the realm of musical art. Take, for example, the work of Pierre Schaeffer, who invented a machine whereby the source of sound itself can be broken up. It is said that he can take a human voice and “cause it to fall apart.” So, again, there is something recognizable and identifiable to begin with, but when the artist has done his work it ends up as something no one can identify. It is the same effect in music as “break-up” has given in the sphere of visual art. The reason is that it expresses the same framework of thinking about man and the universe. Pop music too has expressed the new framework. And no one has had a greater part in demonstrating this than the Beatles. Here it was not only the music (which we cannot illustrate in lessons of this kind in sound) but also the words that conveyed the new concept of man and the universe. We quote from Owlseley’s LSD.

Turn off your mind relax and float down-stream
it is not dying, it is not dying,
lay down all thought surrender to the void,
it is shining, it is shining.
That you may see the meaning within,
it is speaking, it is speaking,
that love is all and love is ev’ryone
it is knowing, it is knowing.
Without going out of my door
I can know all things on earth.
Without looking out of my window
I could know the ways of heaven.

The weird sounds of voices climbing up into space the transcribing of a human voice backwards on the sound track all of these things, and many more, gave expression to the new framework. And by such artists this new framework was powerfully communicated to a whole generation. We had “happenings” which expressed the idea of a chance universe in which the masses now think they are living. In the midst of it they have been taught to think of themselves as “creators of their own meaning.” They have become “the now generation” because this is all there is in such a universe.

Here we must remark upon another aspect of popular music today. Because of the new framework which is now shared more and more by performer and public alike it becomes more and more difficult to satisfy the demand for something that is new and original. We believe this is the reason why pop music groups become more and more “far out” in a variety of ways. In New Zealand a pop group called The Split Enz (no doubt derived from the TV commercials about the hair shampoo that cures split ends of hair) began to dress in weird, almost clown-like garments, with hair made to stand erect (as if electrified). Other things that are now commonplace are male singers who dress in what appear to some, at least, to be female garments and vice versa. We can well imagine the difficulty that these entertainers have in coming up with something that is new enough to be considered really creative. This, we point out, is the logical outworking of the new framework of thinking. If man is in a chance universe, a universe that has not received a fixed meaning and significance because God created it and planned its history, then all attempts to create meaning and significance are doomed to failure. In order to have meaning there must be something (or rather someone) with reference to which it has meaning. To say it another way, there must be absolutes. If there are no absolutes, then in the end even the novelties become boring. We are approaching this point in Western culture.

Again we point out that we are not suggesting that all music that is being written today or performed today is like this. No, there is some music that still has (some more, some less) the influence of the old framework of thinking. But we must understand that those who are “far out” often express the essential idea of the spirit of the times. And while we cannot accept this or approve of it, we must understand it. We must understand it well enough to see the plight of our fellow men, so that we can interpret the gospel to them. One way in which we can do this is by remembering one all-important fact: the universe is not what the new framework says it is, and the very inconsistency of “new framework” people bears witness to this fact. This is very clearly seen in the person of John Cage. Now it just so happens that John Cage is an expert on mushrooms. But this was not always the case. During a time in his life when he was working on some of his “music” he lived on Long Island in New York, and when he took walks in the woods he noticed mushrooms growing there in a great variety of sizes and shapes. He also liked to eat mushrooms. But here is the inconsistency. If a person is willing to take a chance and eat just any mushroom of any sort, it might very well be fatal. So, in the realm of art John Cage lived as if the new framework is true. But in the realm of mushrooms John Cage rejected the new framework of thinking. “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the same spirit of my chance operations,” he says, “I would die shortly. So I decided that I would not approach them in this way.” The point is that men cannot live consistently on the basis of the new framework of thinking. In order to live at all they must live at least to some extent on the basis of the Christian view of the universe. It is because of this inconsistency that we find that which is good and true also in modern music, and even more in those who make it. Our task, then, is to make our neighbors aware of these things, and then to bear witness to them of the biblical framework of thinking. Even such a man as John Cage is forced to admit (by his actions) that the universe is what we Christians say it is, rather than what he says it is in his music.

Questions

  1. Why did the element of the spontaneous become prominent in twentieth-century music?
  2. What other explanation is sometimes given of Negro jazz music?
  3. As jazz became popular in general culture, what did the two elements of rhythm and “ad lib” express?
  4. Why is modern music constantly changing (often at a very fast pace)?
  5. What are some of the concepts of music that John Cage rejected?
  6. Why did Cage imitate the method of the yarrow sticks?
  7. What are some aspects of his “music” that gave expression to this?
  8. What does Francis Schaeffer mean by saying that those who boo Cage’s music are, in effect, pointing the finger at themselves?
  9. Why is “Silence” perhaps the truest expression of the new framework?
  10. How does the work of Pierre Schaeffer reflect the same basis as Cage’s work?
  11. In the lines quoted from the Beatles’ record, find those expressions which reveal to you the new framework.
  12. Why does it become more and more difficult for pop artists?
  13. Why is it that there is (sometimes) value too in modern music?
  14. How does Cage’s approach to mushrooms help us to witness to new framework people?

Projects

  1. Bring a record to class which expresses the new framework. Be ready to give your reasons for selecting it.
  2. Give an illustration from your own experience of the way in which modern music (a) expresses the new framework of thinking, and (b) influences the younger generation to think in this way.


Chapter Five

No survey of the new framework of thought would be complete without at least some consideration of the Theater and the Cinema. We therefore take up both of these briefly in this lesson.

The Theater

In an important essay a few years ago, Time magazine had this to say about modern dramatists such as Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, Pinter, and Osborne.

None are alike; yet all raise a hemlock toast to the 20th century. In their plays, the situation of man is horrible and funny at the same time. These playwrights begin with one major premise, the absence of God. Their despair and their task are to fashion a post-Christian ethic to find a meaning for life without supernatural sanction. Man as they see him, is a creature trapped between two voids, prenatal and posthumous, on a shrinking spit of sand he calls time.

Or, in other words, the universe is just a gigantic “fluke.” Man himself is a result of chance. There is no meaning, and there is no purpose or destiny. Life is absurd because man is trapped in this “void.”

How do the playwrights show this? They do it in a number of ways. For example, in Eugene Ionesco’s play, The Bald Soprano, the clock strikes 17 in the first act of the play. In this play, too, the beginning and the ending are identical scenes. So the idea on the one hand is that anything can happen (the clock striking 17), while on the other hand there is no progress (the identical scenes). History is not viewed as a line of development to a goal (as it always has been in biblical thought) but as a recurrent cycle (as in non-Christian religions). In Harold Pinter’s play, The Birthday Party, two agents come to a rooming house. They rough up one of the lodgers and then take him “for a ride.” But why? The answer is not given because the playwright knows that violence is more terrible when it happens without reason. So, in his play no victim knows his hour, no executioner the source of his orders. Blind fate moves the figures, and they cannot evade or even contact the unseen powers that determine their fate. In John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, Jimmy Porter hurls a newspaper to the floor and says: “Why do I do this every Sunday? Even the book reviews seem to be the same as last week’s. Different books, same reviews.” In this way Osborne communicates man’s sense of aloneness in the universe as a kind of island separated from all others with the ultimate unmeaning, death, lying ahead. So the method varies. But the aim of all these playwrights is (to quote Time) “not to convey actions, messages or answers but states of being and feeling. Some modern playgoers insist that they hate and cannot comprehend these modern plays. The playwrights counter that this hate is what Oscar Wilde described as ‘the rage of Caliban at seeing his own face.’” Or, in other words, what the playgoers are seeing is the logical conclusion of the framework of thought out of which they themselves are living. If there is no God, no truth, no right as over against wrong, and no destiny to which all things are moving, then this picture that we see in modern drama is indeed an accurate picture. And our anger should not be directed at the playwrights, merely, who show us so well what “life” is like without God. No, it should rather be directed against this false system of thinking that now dominates our culture.

The Cinema

The cinema gives, if anything, an even more powerful presentation of the new framework of thinking. It pictures life as a tragic joke, with no exit for man. As Francis Schaeffer has written: “The gifted cinema producers of today, Bergman, Fellini, Antonini, Slesinger, the avant-garde cinema men in Paris, or the Double Neos in Italy, all have basically the same message.” The message is that man is trapped in a meaningless void. He is thrown up by chance in a universe without meaning. In some of the earlier efforts by some of these film makers, there was an attempt to show that man could try to create his own meaning. For example, you can escape the void in which you are trapped by going into the world of dreams. But the trouble with this is that you then have no way to prove it. To use the terms of Schaeffer, you have either content without meaning (the real world) or meaning without content (the dream world). So, again, there is no genuine gain in this attempt by man to create meaning. This was brilliantly shown in the film entitled Juliet of the Spirits. This is the way Schaeffer puts it:

A student in Manchester [England] told me that he was going to see Juliet of the Spirits for the third time to try to work out what was real and what was fantasy in the film. I had not seen it then but I saw it later in a small art theatre in London. Had I seen it before I would have told him not to bother. One could go ten thousand times and never figure it out. It is deliberately made to prevent the viewer from distinguishing between objective reality and fantasy. There are no categories. One does not know what is real, or illusion, or psychological or insanity.

Another film that may be compared with this is Belle de Jour. As another commentator describes it: “Most audiences will not find anything visually shocking about Belle de Jour. They will find instead a cumulative mystery: What is really happening and what is not? The film continues switching back and forth between Severine’s real and fantasy worlds so smoothly that after a while it becomes impossible to say which is which. There is no way of knowing and this seems to be the point of the film with which Bunuel says he is winding up his 40 year career. Fantasy, he seems to be saying, is nothing but the human dimension of reality that makes life tolerable, and sometimes even fun.”

Another way of expressing the new framework of thought is seen in the film entitled The Silence, by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It is just a series of snapshots with immoral and pornographic themes. The camera just clicks away, as it were, recording a series of unrelated and non-moral events. The message is that human life is nothing more than this: a series of unrelated events (because there is no God, and no plan governing all things) having no moral significance (because there are no absolutes). The message of another famous modern film, Antonini’s Blow Up was summed up in the following advertisement which appeared in the London subways: “Murder without guilt; Love without meaning.” How could one better express the new framework of thinking?

Television

We must again point out that what we describe in these lessons does not appear in everything that is popular with people today. What we are describing in these studies is, for the most part, the leading group of modern artists, those who see most clearly the logical conclusion to which we must come if we begin with the basic ideas assumed as true in our society and culture. Because these artists are most fully held in the grip of “the spirit of the times,” they are the ones who best enable us to see the issue most clearly.

At the same time, however, it would be a great mistake to think that these things are isolated within a small circle. No, the fact is that the message of such artists as these is more and more general in our society. Again, to illustrate, we quote Francis Schaeffer. “People often ask which is better, American or BBC Television. What do you want, to be entertained to death, or to be killed with wisely planted blows? That seems to be the alternative. BBC is better in the sense that it is more serious, but it is overwhelmingly on the side of the twentieth-century mentality [new framework thinking].” He continues:

“The really dangerous thing is that our people are being taught this twentieth-century mentality without being able to understand what is happening to them. This is why this mentality has penetrated into the lower cultural levels as well as among intellectuals. We usually divide cinema and television programmes into two classes: good and bad. The term ‘good’ as used here means ‘technically good’ and does not refer to morals. The ‘good’ pictures are the serious ones, the artistic ones; the ones with good shots. The ‘bad’ are simply escapist, romantic, only for entertainment. But if we examine them with care we will notice that the ‘good’ pictures are actually the worst pictures. The escapist film may be horrible in some ways, but the so-called ‘good’ pictures of recent years have almost all been developed by men holding the modern philosophy of meaninglessness. This does not imply that they have ceased to be men of integrity, but it does mean that the films they produce are tools for teaching their beliefs. Such writers and directors are controlling the mass media, and so the force of the monolithic world-view of our age presses in on every side.”

If we once come to understand the framework, it will not be hard to see how much this “worldview of our age presses in on every side.” A recent television series produced by the BBC is a good illustration. We refer to “Man at the Top.” It depicts the ghastly lifestyle of a sharp business executive in modern “cut-throat” London business. There is no morality. There is no sense of purpose in life. Whether or not there is a God is not even considered a question worth asking. Life is made to seem absurd. The program perfectly expresses the new framework concept of man trapped in a meaningless universe. Over and over this note of emptiness, despair, and the sense of futility dominates in all of these art forms. It is even used in the attempt to create humor by jumbling together things that once (under the old framework) were kept separate. The holy and the vile are deliberately blended, as it were, so that modern man may laugh at the old out-dated ideas that men had when there were absolutes. But in reality it is a hollow laughter. To laugh at some of the so-called comedy on television today is really to tell more about ourselves than about the programs we are watching, because it would not seem funny except to those who view it out of the new framework of thinking.

The question may be asked, whether Christians ought to have anything at all to do with these forms of art. There are Christian people who take the position that any participation in the use of these things is wrong. How can we view such things, they will say, without being corrupted by them? Others say that we cannot deal effectively with our fellow-men unless we understand these things, and to do this we must have some contact with them. We believe that there is truth in both of these arguments. We must not view just anything and everything, because it is true, these things do corrupt. Yet it is also true that there is no way of escape—complete escape—from all contact. The spirit of the age is all about us, and we who live in this age will (in one way or another) be confronted with it. So the important thing is to understand it, and combat it, and then seek to reach those who are held in its grip. There are films, stage-plays, and television programs that we have not seen, do not want to see, and do not need to see, in order to understand the new framework. Just as we can study a disease without infecting ourselves with it to see what it is like, so we can understand these art forms without necessarily viewing them ourselves. We give one example, the film entitled The Last Tango which was banned in some countries. According to the reviews it depicts immorality of the worst sort. It tells of a man who is finished—“over the hill,” as we would say—who gives free expression to his sexual lust in order to defy the emptiness of life and to try to find a fleeting moment of meaning. There is no need to see the film. Indeed, the Christian may not. But when news of this film is in every newspaper in the world, the Christian must know about it. One can, in other words, understand without being defiled. The Christian is commanded to keep himself unspotted from the world. He must fight against the spirit of the age. He must understand it, yes. But he may not, in order to understand it, yield himself to it. This is particularly important with respect to television, since it so often tends to condition us without our realizing it.

Questions

  1. What basic assumption is made by leading playwrights today?
  2. What are some of the ways in which they express this in their plays?
  3. Why do many, who view these plays, feel angry?
  4. Is this anger justified?
  5. What is the basic message of avant-garde cinema?
  6. In what ways do cinematographers express this?
  7. What was the problem experienced by the Manchester student?
  8. Why do we meet the same thing, to an extent, at least on TV today?
  9. Which does Schaeffer regard as better, American or British TV?
  10. How does “Man at the Top” reflect new framework thinking?
  11. How does “comedy” on TV often reflect this framework?
  12. Should a Christian see such stage-plays, films, and TV programs?
  13. Why is it impossible to entirely escape from contact with these things?
  14. Is it a duty for the Christian to understand these things? Why?
  15. Why is TV a particular danger?

Projects

  1. Report in class on a play, film, or TV program. Explain to the class whether it is new framework or old.
  2. Analyze your favorite TV program in terms of the old and new framework influences and report to class.


Chapter Six

New framework thinking has also had a powerful influence on the way in which our University and College teachers look at language. This was made clear in an article by John Barach which originally appeared in Christian Renewal (vol. 13, no. 1). It is used here by permission.

Return to Babel

So you came to school to study stories? You will still do that, though not as much as you might have hoped, but stories are studied in the light of theory. Such has always been the case: any book review or any book about literature is based on a theory about literature, but critical theory has never been emphasized as much as it is today.

Critical theory dominates the university English department, and has spilled over into many other departments as well. At first, it may seem irrelevant to those outside the university: “I don’t particularly care what some professor in a university says about Shakespeare or Dickens!” But ideas do not stay confined to the university setting, and the new critical theories are particularly potent, for they are ideas about language.

In the past, critics used to believe that a text had a meaning, that a reader could figure out what the author intended to say, that there were objective standards to use in studying texts. Even if no one could figure out a piece of, say, Browning’s poetry, it was assumed that the author meant something by it (or that it was nonsense).

All that has changed. The traditional critical theory has been laid aside long ago. Indeed, a couple of changes have taken place. The New Criticism already quite old declared that we should just examine the structure of the poem. John Donne’s religious sonnets would be examined for rhyme, rhythm, line structure, and so forth, but the theology and the historical context would be largely overlooked. But both the traditional criticism and the New Criticism have been overthrown by postmodernism and deconstructionism.

Postmodernism and Deconstructionism

Deconstructionism is a theory about language. Language, they say, shapes reality. We cannot think apart from language of some sort. Everything we perceive through our senses, everything we claim to know about the world around us and about truth, is shaped by language. Each person does not develop his own language. Rather, language develops in a society; language is a social construction. Deconstructionists point out the arbitrary nature of language. There is no reason why the letters d.o.g. should refer to a four-legged hairy creature (nor why they should correspond to the sound “dog”). The deconstructionists claim that language is learned in a social context: you learn to identify the sound “dog” with the letters d.o.g. and both with the animal itself because your society did so.

In fact, the deconstructionists claim that everything is language of a sort. The words on this page are certainly language, but so are the clothes that you wear, the car you drive, the house you live in, and so on. We cannot escape from language. Everything is a text, and so critical theory that was developed for literature is now applied to all of life.

Gene Edward Veith summarizes the view: “As human beings, we are unable to step outside the boundaries of our language; we cannot escape its limits or its demands. Since language is bound up with our culture, it is largely beyond our control, and we cannot truly even think for ourselves. To a large degree, our language thinks for us. There is no ‘transcendental logos,’ no objective meaning, no realm of absolute truth that exists beyond the bounds of our human language. To use another postmodernist slogan, we are incarcerated in a ‘prison house of language”’ (Veith, 53).

More than that, language is a prison house developed by society. Societies claim that language communicates truth, that words reveal truth. But all such claims to universal truth are oppressive. Societies use language to further their own goals and aims, to impose them upon the readers and speakers of a language.

Postmodernism, then, is a revolt against foundations and against truth. It opposes Christianity, which depends on God as its Foundation, but it also attacks modernism with its various foundations: human reason, the material world, the scientific method, or whatever else.

To reject foundations, however, is to reject truth. Truth cannot be distinguished from fiction, the postmodernists say. All of life is narrative. All of life is a story, and it is a story told in language drawn from a society.

In the past, people believed and sought worldviews, ways of looking at life, that were true and were universally applicable. Worldviews are, in the postmodernist jargon, “metanarratives,” stories about stories.

Once again, they come in the language of a society. Any such claim to universal truth, a “totalizing discourse” in the postmodernist jargon, is an attempt at oppression on the part of the society that produced the “metanarrative.”

If all language springs from a society that is, by its very nature, oppressive, then we must attack language itself. The deconstructionists do so. Language is unstable, they say. It is self-contradictory. After all, whenever we think of freedom we must also think (a little bit, at least) of slavery. Whenever we say man we exclude woman. Besides, no author can ever have exactly the same context as a reader, so no reader can ever determine exactly what an author means by each word.

Moreover, the deconstructionists practice a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” Societies use language to further their goals. Whenever we read anything, then, we must look to see how the author is serving the goals of his society. We must suspect the author of trying to oppress us into accepting his view of reality. Behind Shakespeare lurk racism, sexism, patriarchy, and Christianity. Likewise, even the basic definitions of words reflect the biases of society: “wolf” has a bad connotation and “dog” a good one simply because society likes tame animals and dislikes wild ones.

Deconstructionist theory, then, argues that no meanings are correct. There is no right reading of a text. (A variation called “reader response theory” says that all readings are correct, which is really the same as saying that none are.) Indeed, we are told that we should overthrow the traditional readings of the text, readings which reinforce the oppressiveness of the text. The traditional reading of King Lear sees Lear as the tragic hero, cruelly treated by his wicked daughters. But it is possible and good to read it as a play about feminist daughters who overthrow their oppressive father.

Postmodernism enters other fields, too. History is not objective. There are only various stories about what happened in the past, and none of those stories is authoritative. None is true; none can be distinguished from fiction. Thus we see constant attempts at revisionist history, rewriting history from the perspective of blacks or women or homosexuals (Veith 50). Truth no longer matters. All that matters is how well the view stands up, how widely it is accepted.

The results of this theory have not been and will not be confined to the university campus. They are being taught to children in elementary schools. The “whole language” method is not a neutral tool in a teacher’s toolkit. It is closely tied in to deconstructionist theory. Children are not to be expected to get meaning from texts; rather, they are to create their own meaning as they read.

Deconstructionism is seen in the law courts. Judges feel free to depart from the actual text of a law or an act and make decisions based on their subjective reading of that law or act. Thus, although Alberta’s Individual Rights Protection Act does not name “sexual orientation” as a protected category, judges rule as if it were covered.

The results of deconstructionism and postmodernism are also seen in the “political correctness” movement. Various “oppressed” groups are now attempting to shape language. What can you do if all language is determined by society, and if societies are always oppressive? You try to gain enough power to be the one determining meaning. You try to shape language so your view comes out on top. Now the “oppressed” are becoming the oppressors. A leader in the new critical theory, Stanley Fish, recently published an article entitled, “There is No Such Thing as Free Speech and it’s a Good Thing, Too.”

There are political results, too. It is not at all surprising to learn that the forerunner of the modern critical theory, Heidegger, was a Nazi. In fact, one of the leading Harvard deconstructionists, the late Paul de Man, was a Nazi collaborator in his youth. After abandoning his wife in Brazil, he came to the United States, remarried, and taught at Harvard. Later, he invited Hans Robert Jauss, a former S.S. officer, to lecture on literary theory.

Deconstructionism and postmodernism declare that language is developed by a society and that all societies necessarily are oppressive. People’s views are always determined by the group with which they are identified, and whose use of language shapes their own thoughts (think of all the “subcultures” that fill North American society). Moreover, the existing structure of society needs replacement. There are no moral standards as a basis for a new structure; there is only power. Postmodernism may claim to reject totalitarianism and fascism, but it is in fact a recipe for it.

Defending the Faith

Postmodernism is not modernism, and it is not the kind of individualistic relativism that one often encounters. One might say that postmodernism calls for a new kind of apologetic response. Really, however, what is needed is nothing more than consistent biblical apologetics.

The “old” apologetics that must be replaced argued on the basis of common ground between the believer and the unbeliever. The Christian and the non-Christian shared a belief in foundations, though they differed on what the ultimate foundation was. The modernist may have placed reason as his ultimate foundation, and many Christian apologists allowed him to do so. Beginning with man’s reason, they attempted to prove the existence of God and eventually to displace the old foundation (reason) with a new one (God).

The postmodernists have shown that the modernists and all unbelievers have no foundations. Why should reason be the foundation? After all, logic is a Western invention, part of the language by which Westerners communicate, a product of Western society. Making logic central is oppressive, especially to those from the East, but also to women (modern critical theory holds that logic is patriarchal).

Modernists cannot justify their use of logic. Where is the standard? Who set the rules for logic? Likewise, they cannot justify laws of science (when everything came into being by chance?). Since our minds always interpret using language, what comes through our senses, how can we trust our senses? Where can we get the right interpretation?

The postmodernists are absolutely right in declaring that men are trapped in a prison house of language. They cannot know the facts without an interpretation of those facts; they can never know the bare fact itself. Although they may claim to ground their thinking in certain foundations, they have actually built the foundations themselves.

In fact, even though the postmodernists reject all foundations, they still share a common foundation with all unbelievers. Their thinking is circular. All unbelievers and postmodernists are no exception: they ground their thought in the rejection of the God of the Bible and the assertion of their own independence.

We, as Christian apologists, cannot argue on the basis of common ground with unbelievers. The old apologetic was wrong when it tried to do so. There is no common ground because we start with God and they start with themselves. Unbelievers must be challenged: either they must give up their starting point and turn to the God of the Bible, or they must become consistent with their starting point.

As unbelievers become more and more consistent in their thinking, their thinking itself will break down. To reject God is to reject the possibility of thought. Those who refuse to give Him glory, who seek to be wise apart from Him, become fools (Rom. 1:21-22). Those who do not want God in their knowledge will have increasingly darkened minds (Rom. 1:28).

The Christian apologetic must confront the problem at the root: What is the foundation? Postmodernism sweeps away all the unbeliever’s foundations. The unbeliever can never know truth unless there is a transcendent logos, a sovereign Word, who is also a person. There can be no meaning unless God, the God of the Bible, who speaks truth, uses our language to declare truth and ensures that language can indeed reveal truth.

No one can live consistently as an unbeliever. To give in to postmodernism is to abandon oneself to utter despair. There is no way of truly communicating to others, since every attempt to communicate is frustrated by the flaws in language and by the oppressive nature of language. There is no way of ever knowing truth. There are only contradictions. Some people plunge into pleasure, since there is no meaning to be found anyway. Others grasp for power. There is only oppression in the prison house of language.

Until God’s grace enters the prison house. God created language. He was the first to speak, and His Word is truth. He created man as a speaking being. And though man is fallen, God still uses language to speak His truth. God has chosen to have His truth proclaimed through preaching, through language (Rom. 10:14), and He ensures that His Word is effective (Rom. 10:17; Isa. 55:11). His word is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). As we challenge unbelievers to abandon the hopelessness of unbelief, grounded in the demand for independence from God, and as we bring the Word of God to unbelievers, that Word will be mighty to save.

The postmodernists may think they have escaped God. “He doesn’t exist. If He speaks, I cannot know His meaning, and His words are flawed and twisted by the language He uses.” But they cannot escape from His Word and Spirit. “Language is not merely a prison house; God’s language can break in from the outside and give us freedom” (Veith 68).

Questions

  1. Who is the creator of the phenomenon of language according to the deconstructionists?
  2. What do the deconstructionists mean when they say “there is no transcendental logos?” (Compare John 1:1-3 where “word” (English) translates the Greek word “logos” (logoV)?
  3. What are some of the results of deconstructionism?
  4. Do you see any effects from deconstructionism that we can use effectively in witnessing as Christians?
  5. To what does Barach refer when he says deconstructionists, even in rejecting all foundations, still share a common foundation with all unbelievers?
  6. What is the inevitable result of deconstructionism? (Rom. 1:21, 22, 28)

Projects

  1. Give an example of the effect of deconstructionism in the realm of ‘political correctness.’
  2. Give an example of the influence of deconstructionism on the content of a TV program which is listed as ‘documentary.’


Chapter Seven

We now come to the final part of our discussion of the situation in modern culture. Modern man is under the spell of a new framework of thinking. He sees himself as a part of an evolving universe. This universe has no creator. It is ruled by mechanistic and spontaneous forces. Man is trapped in a world that has no meaning. There is no final truth. There are no moral absolutes. In this lesson we consider the way in which this new framework of thinking is also evident today in the visible church. We do not mean by this that all churches have capitulated, or that everyone in any particular church has accepted this new framework. Yet the fact remains that much of the visible church is infected with this unbiblical concept of reality.

The Modern Church

It is not possible in a brief study such as this to trace the development of modern theology. What we will seek to do, then, is to describe the fundamental shift and then give examples to illustrate it.

The teaching of the historic Christian faith is that God, who created the world at the beginning, has also acted in history. The biblical account of the flood, the deliverance of the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt, or the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ, etc., were therefore regarded as events that men actually witnessed. The world of fact and the ideas of faith were never divorced from one another. The things of faith were things that had entered the stream of time and space. This culminated in the incarnation, in which the Word (God the Son) became flesh (truly human) and dwelt among us. In modern theology all is radically changed. The realm of fact is now seen as the province of science (the modern word for human thought) alone. If there is a God so modern thought (conditioned by the new framework) insists then He must exist in a realm that is sealed off from man. There is no contact between the two realms. Man is closed within a natural order, a mechanistic realm of visible events. The realm of faith has nothing to do with this realm of fact. To say that Jesus lives, or that the Bible is true, therefore on the basis of new framework thinking means something entirely different from what it meant on the basis of the old framework.

Let us seek to illustrate the contrast in a simple diagram. In the old view, (a) the realm of fact is also the realm of faith. Thus Jesus Christ is both God and man. The Bible is both human and divine, God’s Word written through the instrumentality of men. The resurrection of Christ is a matter of both fact and faith. But under the new framework (b) these are severed from one another.

(a) God has entered into                        
the realm of fact

(b) the realm of faith (upper story)
the realm of fact (lower story)

We now illustrate the change in a number of quotations. First, let us consider the concept of Scripture. The following quotation is from Karl Barth, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, who clearly speaks out of the new framework. Speaking of the Bible, Barth says this: “We do not have here a direct speaking of God from heaven; the human word we hear in the Scriptures is not always appropriate or adequate to the Word of God which its authors have heard and to which they bear testimony. We cannot speak of a direct identity of the Scriptures as such with Revelation; in the Bible there is this ‘wall’ between us and divine Revelation, namely, the man-conditioned and time-conditioned character of the witness.” To put the matter in our own words, we understand Barth to mean that ‘the Bible cannot be the very word of God because it is part of the realm of time and space, and modern science has determined that this is the realm of blind chance.’ Having accepted the new framework, in other words, even modern theology denies that there can be anything meaningful in the realm in which man exists.

It is the same when we come to the doctrine of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Bible the resurrection is treated as a plain fact of history which has tremendous importance for faith because it happened in the realm of fact and history. Now the resurrection is seen quite differently as the following quotations from Rudolph Bultmann will illustrate. “The resurrection is not an event of past history. All that historical criticism can establish is the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection. The historian can perhaps to some extent account for that faith from the personal intimacy which the disciples had enjoyed with Jesus during His earthly life, and so reduce the resurrection appearances to a series of subjective visions. But the historical problem is scarcely relevant to Christian belief in the resurrection....The real purpose of myth is not to present an objective picture of the world as it is, but to express man’s understanding of himself in the world in which he lives.” Or again, as Paul van Buren puts it: “As historians we would prefer not to speak of the Easter event as a ‘fact’ at all, not in the ordinary sense of the word....The resurrection does not lend itself to being spoken of as a ‘fact’ for it cannot be described....We can say that the disciples were changed men. They apparently found themselves caught up in something like the freedom of Jesus Himself, having become men who were free to face even death without fear. Whatever it was that lay between [crucifixion and the change in the disciples], it is not open to our historical investigation. All we can say is that something happened.” Or again, as Gunther Bornkam (a disciple of Bultmann) says, “Certainly faith cannot and should not be dependent on the change and uncertainty of historical research.” If these theologians do not come right out in the open to deny the traditional doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, it is because they still want to sound as if they are Christian. They want those who hear them to accept them as Christian. Yet it is clear that there is no room within the new framework for authentic Christian belief.

There was a time when theologians who accepted the new framework still tried (in one way or another) to find a way to bring the realm of fact into meaningful contact with the realm of faith. What is interesting to observe now is that this is fading. Just as the artists and poets have followed the line of new-framework thinking into the void, so have the theologians. Thus it is that some deny that there is any realm other than that in which man is trapped. John Robinson, of the Church of England, put it this way: “A dualist model of the universe is out....‘There is no supernatural reality, high and lofty, above us. There is only the reality which concerns us directly concretely.’ There is no second story to the universe, no realm of the divine over and above or behind the processes of nature and history which perforates this world or breaks it up by supernatural intervention.” As William Hamilton expressed it: “When we speak of the death of God, we speak as well of the death in us of any power to affirm any of the traditional images of God.” To put it in our own words, when the biblical framework is once rejected, it is only a question of time before complete despair sets in. If (to look again at our diagram, section b) God is once banished from the world of fact, it is only a question of time before the realm of faith disappears. From a biblical point of view it makes no difference at all whether you have a two story universe (as in part b of the diagram)or just a lower story. A realm of faith divorced from fact is no more Christian than to have a realm of fact alone.

Again we point out that only a few theologians have worked out to a logical conclusion the results of new framework thinking. Most people in the Church, or even in a culture traditionally influenced by the Christian faith, still tend to hold to at least the comforting words of Christian teaching, even if they have lost their original content. Francis Schaeffer (an orthodox Christian) puts it like this:

I have come to the point where, when I hear the word “Jesus” which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and His work, I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word “Jesus” than almost any other word in the modern world. This word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it, and nowhere more than in the new morality which follows the New Theology. It is now Jesus-like to sleep with a girl or a man, if she or he needs you. As long as you are trying to be human you are being Jesus-like to sleep with the other person, at the cost, be it noted, of breaking the specific morality which Jesus taught. But to these men this does not matter, because that is downstairs in the area of rational scriptural content. We have come, then, to this fearsome place where the word “Jesus” has become the enemy of the person Jesus, and the enemy of what Jesus taught.... Increasingly over the past few years the word “Jesus,” separated from the content of the Scriptures has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal son of God. So let us take care. If evangelical Christians begin to slip into a dichotomy, to separate an encounter with Jesus from the content of the Scriptures (including the discussable and the verifiable), we shall without intending to, be throwing ourselves and the next generation into the millstream of the modern system. This system surrounds us as an almost monolithic consensus.

People sometimes wonder why it is that once-great Protestant denominations can suddenly come out in favor of such things as premarital sex, adultery, and even the right to be homosexual! But the answer is not really difficult. The new framework of thinking eliminates the very basis of fixed moral standards. How can there be any fixed moral standards if the realm of fact and faith are separated? If God has never acted in history so that His Word and His Son became part of the realm of fact then how can anyone really be sure that a certain thing is right or wrong? Situation ethics is an inevitable result of the kind of theology (which we could really call anti-theology) that we find within the new framework of thinking. In situation ethics it is man himself who is ultimate who decides in any given situation, on the basis of his own concept of love, whether or not a thing is right. If this particular sexual relationship satisfies my own mind and I feel certain that it will not hurt anyone and that it is, for me, a meaningful expression of love, etc. (this is the way the situation ethics people reason), then I decide in that moment whether it is right or wrong, but I can never say that a thing is wrong per se. I can never say that all homosexual activity is wrong, because I do not have any absolutes of any kind in this realm of fact. The Ten Commandments, according to new framework thinking, cannot possibly be anything higher than Moses’ educated opinion. The situation people do not say that the Ten Commandments have no value. To the contrary, they would say of them very much what the “new theologians” say of the resurrection story. They are an attempt to express something in the lower story which cannot really be expressed.

Someone has seriously suggested that the theologians (as they are falsely called) should stop talking about God entirely. The reason for this suggestion is the realization that on the basis of the new framework of thinking theologians really have nothing to say that has meaning. Just as the new framework leads a composer to silence the orchestra because he has lost contact with meaning, so it is with theologians too. The only difference between the theologian who says, “I have nothing to say,” and the theologian who talks about the resurrection as a thing of faith but not fact, is that the first is more honest than the second. If the new framework is valid, then Christianity cannot possibly be true (in the old meaning of the word true). If Christianity is true (that is, if what the Bible says happened really did happen), then the new framework is false. And the whole history of modern theology demonstrates that when we once abandon the biblical framework, God, creation, etc., we end up in complete despair. Is it not despair when theologians admit that they can no longer talk about God?

Questions

  1. Why is it necessary to also consider the Church in this survey?
  2. What is the relationship between faith and fact in the old framework?
  3. What is the relationship between these in the new?
  4. Why does Barth say the Scriptures are not to be identified with the Word of God?
  5. Why does Barth speak of a “wall” in the Scriptures?
  6. Why does Bultmann say “ the resurrection is not an event of past history”?
  7. What does the word myth mean in Bultmann’s thinking?
  8. Is the resurrection upper or lower story in the thinking of these new theology people? Why?
  9. Why do they insist that faith cannot rest on fact?
  10. Why is Robinson more consistent?
  11. What do the “ death of God” theologians mean by that phrase?
  12. Why does Schaeffer listen carefully when he hears someone speak of “Jesus”?
  13. Why should people not be surprised when some Protestant denominations come out in favor of what used to be considered as sin?
  14. Why are the Ten Commandments little more than the opinion of Moses to many today?
  15. Why have some so-called theologians called for silence (no more “ God talk,” in other words)?

Projects

  1. Find an article on the Christian religion in Reader’s Digest and be prepared to show (by quotation from it) whether or not it is “ new framework” in outlook.
  2. Listen to a radio sermon. Make an outline of it. Be able to show the class which framework it reflects (if it is a mixture, show this too).


Part II: The Cause of It All

Chapter Eight

In the first six lessons of this study we have attempted to describe the storm of change that is sweeping over our culture. It is fundamentally a change in the whole frame-work of thought. Man no longer sees himself as a part of a universe made by God, in which there are absolutes such as truth and right (as over against falsehood and wrong). The result is a loss of any sense of meaning in human life. In this lesson we will seek to outline the course of this change.

The Root Cause

When our Lord was tempted by Satan, He said this: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”! Man, as he was originally created by God, was to worship God and serve Him only. All that man thought and said and did was supposed to be under the control of the word of God. The temptation of Satan was therefore concentrated at this point. Satan aimed to get man to begin at some point to think autonomously. We use this term because it briefly and accurately states the root cause of all evil and vanity in this world. The word autonomous is a compound of two Greek words meaning self and law. Auto means self, nomos means law. Man becomes autonomous when he becomes a law unto himself. He makes his own mind or heart the source and standard of truth and right. It is clear, from Genesis 3, that this is what man’s original sin was. It was, in effect, a declaration of independence from God. It was (see Gen. 3:6 especially) man’s search for meaning of his own, in place of the (previous) dependence upon God’s revelation as the sole source and standard of meaning.

We do not mean to suggest that Adam, in paradise, had an express command of God to tell him, in detail, everything that he was to do. The way in which Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:19) seems to clearly refute this idea. No, man was never expected to function as a mere robot with everything programmed like a machine is programmed. If that were so, man could not be called the image of God. The point is that man was required to function in a creative way (discovery, invention, artistic endeavor, etc.) within the guidelines of divinely revealed absolutes. He was, in other words, never to attempt to think, or say, or do anything without first being sure that the God-given absolutes were respected. And what were these absolutes? To name a few: man would say to himself, “I am a creature. I live in a universe created by God. All things are under His plan and control His revealed word is the only safe and reliable guide.” The moment that man began to think, say, or do anything without regard to these absolutes, he was acting as if he was a law unto himself (or autonomous).

We say that man was acting as if he could be autonomous, because God is still sovereign over man despite man’s attempt to become a law unto himself. God alone is truly autonomous. He is a law unto Himself because He is not a creature. He is not responsible to someone greater than Himself. When Satan said that man could be as God (Gen. 3:5), he was telling a lie. Man can be like God while he remains God’s faithful image. Man can remain God’s true image only by living (as Jesus said) by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. When man declares his independence from God, he becomes Satan-like, rather than God-like, since it is Satan who originated the idea of the creature being autonomous. But even here, we must realize, it does not really “come off.” Even Satan cannot succeed. He will never escape the all-encompassing control of God. The master strategy of Satan, the “would-be” autonomous rival of God, fails. Even when Jesus is killed, and this was Satan’s boldest act of defiance, yet he accomplished only what “God’s hand and purpose had predestined to occur” (see Acts 2:23; 4:28).

God warned Adam against such a declaration of independence with these words: “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). The words translated as “surely die” are interesting in the Hebrew. The sense is, literally, “dying you shall die.” The words did not mean that Adam would suddenly drop dead, and be buried, on the very same day in which he first sinned. What was meant was that death would begin to work. It would “set in.” And we see how this happened in the chapters that immediately follow in the book of Genesis. Adam feels shame. He accuses his wife. They are sent out of paradise. And, because of man’s position as head over all things under God, the whole world of nature feels the effects of the fall. Now there are thorns and thistles. The earth will yield its produce to man only with much sweat and toil. The environment is no longer friendly to man. Now come calamities such as flood and famine. From this time forth man’s existence is “hemmed in” by trouble and sorrow. This is the solemn message of Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven: a time to give birth, and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted, a time to kill, and a time to heal, a time to tear down, and a time to build up, a time to weep, and a time to laugh.... He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.”

Observe that Solomon sees man’s existence as firmly in the hands of a sovereign God. God has determined that these sorrows shall be man’s portion, and man cannot escape them. Yet, because man was made in God’s image, eternity and the restless longing for eternal life is always there within him. And so it is that man is miserable. He cannot escape from God, and yet (because of his wickedness) does not wish to return to Him.

The Working out of This Principle

It will be evident, by now, that there is nothing new in the present situation, in principle. History is a witness to the fact that man always comes to the same place of futility and despair when he tries to be a law unto himself. This was the situation (to give one example) in the ancient Roman Empire in the days of Paul the apostle. In Romans 1 he outlines the religious history of the gentile nations under Roman government. He explains how men “professing themselves to be wise became fools” (vs. 22). “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (vs. 25), and “for this reason God gave them over to degrading passions, etc...” (vs. 26). Apostasy from God, as Paul shows in this chapter, results in the moral breakdown of life. In the end man’s existence becomes vile and ugly. It was in the midst of this situation that the Christian Church was first planted by the Lord. Here God raised up a people who did seek, once again, to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth. Even the pagans took note of this Church. It became a proverb in that day that these Christians loved one another. They were different. They demonstrated the fact that life can be a thing of meaning and purpose. And so amid the ruins of a dying empire the ancient Church became a mighty force in the world. Great nations and entire cultures began to feel the impact of God-given absolutes. To an extent the ancient world was “Christianized.” But then, as in the history of Israel in the Bible, there was a re-introduction of the fatal principle that always brings forth evil fruit. Already, in the fourth century, we begin to find in Christian thought the idea of another source of truth alongside the Word of God. This second source of “the absolutes” was called sacred tradition. This was really nothing but a new way of making men a law unto themselves. With this so-called sacred tradition put alongside the Bible, it was possible, again and again, to nullify the teaching of Scripture. So there came the rise of the papacy (the pope as supreme ruler of the Church) and the doctrine of Mary and the saints (as objects of devotion), etc.

Finally, in what we now call “the dark ages,” things became almost as bad as they had been before in the pagan Roman Empire. And the unfaithful Church was often the source of the abominations that came. Then, in the mercy of a sovereign God, men were raised up who threw off the yoke of human authority. Once again the Church went back to the Bible as the only infallible Word of God. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others, but especially Calvin, wanted to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God and by this only. So there came the greatest advance in all of history since the time of the apostles. One need only visit the nations of the world which have felt the impact of the Protestant Reformation to see the contrast as over against those which have not. The effects in these nations have spread through the whole culture. The time came, in such a nation as our own, when the whole society was nourished and guided to a considerable extent by the absolutes of the Bible. It is our conviction that all that is great and noble in our national heritage ultimately traces back to this source.

But then, hard on the heels of the Reformation, came the so-called “Enlightenment.” In the passing of time the basic principle of the Enlightenment has come more and more to the forefront. And what is this principle? It is that in some areas of human endeavor the word of God is not needed. It is, in other words, just a new and up-to-date version of the old autonomous man idea. When Charles Darwin wrote his famous book entitled The Origin of Species, it was an instant “sell out.” The reason was that already at that time more and more thinking was becoming autonomous again. At first it was imagined that men could work in some areas (for example, scientific investigation) without dependence on the Bible, while at the same time holding the Bible in reverence in things of religion. The result was that an area was marked out in which man was a law unto himself, and God was excluded. As time passed, this area became steadily larger, and the area of religion became more and more restricted. Darwin’s book was a welcome relief, as it were, because it seemed to open up the vista of a unified world and life view in which the word of God was no longer seen as necessary at all. Since Darwin’s time the tide has risen steadily so that even many churches today have accepted the new framework of thinking. (The new framework of thinking is, of course, new in form only not in principle.) The following quotation from Deitrich Bonhoeffer will indicate something of the present situation.

“The movement beginning about the thirteenth century towards the autonomy of man (under which head I place the discovery of the laws by which the world moves and manages in science, social and political affairs, art, ethics, and religion) has in our time reached a certain completion. Man has learned to cope with all questions of importance without recourse to God as a working hypothesis. In questions concerning science, art, and even ethics, this has become an understood thing which one scarcely dares to tilt at any more. But in the last hundred years or so it has been increasingly true of religious questions also: it is becoming evident that everything gets along without ”God“ and just as well as before. As in the scientific field, so in human affairs generally, what we call ”God“ is being more and more edged out of life, losing more and more ground.... There is no longer any need for God as a working hypothesis, whether in morals, politics, or science.”

The man who wrote the above quoted words was executed by Adolph Hitler’s order. He lived, in other words, in the midst of the horrible evidence that apostate thinking leads to moral chaos. How tragic it is that he did not see or was unwilling to challenge the whole concept of the autonomous man. It was this that lay at the root of the evil he was fighting against when he joined the plot to overthrow Hitler. Professor B. B. Warfield was a champion of the Bible as man’s only infallible rule. He summed the issue up this way: “We cannot be supernaturalistic in patches of our thinking and naturalistic in substance.... We cannot be supernaturalistic with regard to what occurred two thousand years ago in Palestine, and simply naturalistic with regard to what occurs to day in our hearts.... It is only he who heartily believes in the supernaturalism of salvation who is not fatally handicapped in meeting the assaults of that anti-supernaturalistic world-view which flaunts it-self so triumphantly about us. Conceal it from ourselves as we may, defeat here lies athwart the path of all half-hearted schemes and compromising constructions.”

Questions

  1. What is the root cause of the rise of “new framework” thinking?
  2. What does “autonomous” mean?
  3. What evidence do you find in Genesis 2 to show that man was not created to function as a robot?
  4. Is man actually autonomous? Explain.
  5. How does Scripture show that no creature can succeed in escaping from God’s sovereign control?
  6. How do you understand the phrase, “you shall surely die,” in Genesis 2:17?
  7. How many items in the quoted portion of Ecclesiastes 3 remind you of things that we have seen in earlier parts of this study?
  8. Why is the unbeliever doomed to frustration?
  9. Read Romans 1:16-32 and note at least two parallels with our situation today.
  10. Why did the early church make so great an impact on ancient Roman society?
  11. In what form did the old principle of human autonomy come in to weaken the church?
  12. What was the result?
  13. What was the most important principle of the Protestant Reformation?
  14. What was the result (of the impact of this principle)?
  15. What has brought about the decline of Western culture and the church of the Reformation?
  16. Why was Darwin’s book so eagerly purchased?
  17. In your own words, in a sentence, what is Bonhoeffer saying?
  18. In your own words, in a sentence, what is Warfield saying?

Projects

  1. Analyze Psalm 2, and be prepared to explain it to the class with reference to this lesson.
  2. Explain to the class why it is right for God to be autonomous, but wrong for man.
  3. Find a magazine article on science and relate it to this lesson in a classroom report.


Part III: The Attempted Solutions

Chapter Nine

We have looked at modern man’s idea of the universe. Because of the dominant power of the dogma of evolution in our culture, man is no longer seen as a creature made in God’s image. He is seen, instead, as an accident coming out of the void, and returning to it again. This is the result of trying to make scientific thought autonomous. And it might seem that modern man (having accepted the basic assumptions of evolutionist thought) would also accept the inevitable conclusion that man is nothing and cannot hope for more than momentary and meaningless existence. In this lesson we wish to show that this does not happen in most instances. To the contrary, modern man defies the conclusion to which this very framework that he has accepted inevitably leads. We believe that this is so because man is not really what he thinks he is (what he has been taught to believe in new-framework thinking). No, in actual fact man is what God says he is. He is God’s image bearer, and he has eternity set in his heart (Gen. 1:26; Eccl. 3:11). It is this that explains the many attempts that we see today in which “new framework” people try to somehow find meaning and purpose in life in spite of their despair.

The Tendency Toward Mysticism
The Mystical Realm of meaning (without content)
The Concrete Realm of content (without meaning)

In the new framework of thinking we find man trapped in a universe that has no meaning because it is looked upon as (a) not created by God, and (b) not controlled by His eternal plan or purpose. It is (as the diagram suggests) full of content without meaning. Yet, since man really is what the Bible says (rather than what the new framework teaches) There is an irresistible urge to find, or even to create, meaning. But how can there be meaning for man within this situation? The answer is that he must somehow go beyond, outside or above the closed system in which he feels himself trapped. There must be some kind of experience whereby man transcends the world of content (without meaning). So it is that we live in a day in which we can see all manner of attempts to make a kind of “great leap into the void,” in hopes of finding “the answer.” As F. C. Happold puts it, “The whole of our analysis more and more forces us to the conclusion that the only possible religion for twentieth century man is a mystical religion and that all theological language must be recognized as a language of symbols.” There must, in other words, be a realm of meaning (even if it has no content).

So the question is: How does one attain to this mystical realm of meaning? The answer is that there is no answer that can be put into words (as the old framework would use words). F. C. Happold gives a summary of the main characteristics of mystical experience. We give his summary in simplified form.

  1. Mystical experience cannot be communicated in words. (It is intelligible only to those who experience it for themselves).
  2. The experience results in a kind of immediate in sight into the nature of reality.
  3. The experience is (usually, at least) momentary.
  4. There is, in this experience, a sense of “the oneness of everything.”
  5. There is, in this experience, a sense of “timelessness.”
  6. There comes in this experience, the conviction that the familiar ego of phenomenal realm (concrete world) is not the real “I.”

What, then, are some of the ways in which modern man seeks this “leap,” this transcendent experience, this “trip”? The answer is that we find many different ways in our culture. In the following paragraphs we will consider a few of them in a very brief way.

Astrology

An important article appeared in Time magazine a few years ago on the rapid increase in the number of people turning to astrology (and other occult interests). We quote from this article. “It is one of the stranger facts about the contemporary U.S. that Babylon’s mystic conceptions of the universe are being taken up seriously and semi-seriously by the most scientifically sophisticated generation of young adults in history. Even the more occult arts of palmistry, numerology, fortunetelling and witchcraft, traditionally the twilight zone of the uneducated and overanxious, are catching on with youngsters. Book shops that cater to the trend are crammed with graduate students and assistant professors.” But why has this happened? “Carrol Righter, the best known and most successful of U.S. astrologers puts it into a Christian context. ‘The Piscean Age,’ he says, ”was an age of tears and sorrow, focused on the death of Christ. In 1904, we entered the Age of Aquarius, which will be an age of joy, of science, and accomplishments and measuring his joy.’” The article goes on to note that “Righter is only one of about 10,000 full time and 175,000 part time astrologers in the U.S.” The reason for this amazing increase is stated clearly by another popular astrologer, a young half Japanese woman named Kiyo, who works mostly among young pop groups and folk singers. “They’re interested in astrology,” she says, “because they’ve found material things failing them, and they’re trying to find their souls.” The article continues: “Predictive astrology, like divination and occultism generally, tends to take hold in times of confusion, uncertainty, and the breakdown of religious belief. Astrologers and assorted sorcerers were busy in Rome while the Empire was declining and prevalent throughout Europe during the great 17th century waves of plague. Today’s young stargazers claim to be responding to a similar sense of disintegration and disenchantment.... “Preposterous as it may be, the astrology cult suggests a deep longing for some order in the universe, an order denied by modern science and philosophy. Astrology is becoming popular today, in other words, for the same reason that it became a way of life in ancient Babylon, and again in the Roman Empire, and yet again in Europe in certain periods. It became popular because man cannot live with the consequences of his own rejection of the revelation that God has given. When God came to visit Israel in bondage, to deliver them from Egypt and bring them into covenant fellowship with Him self, He not only gave them a genuine revelation, but also warned them of the consequences of departing from it. “Beware,” He said, “lest you lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (Deut. 4:19). God’s people so long as they remain faithful to His covenant will always see the heavenly bodies within the framework of His decrees of creation and providence. They will not reverence them because they know the created things are not to be worshiped. They will not reverence them because they know they are in the service of God. But whenever that framework is denied, man will repeat the sin of the Babylonians, and astrology will come to the forefront.

The Occult

As the above material suggests, there is a close relation ship between astrology and such things as witchcraft, fortunetelling, seances, etc. In this section we shall simply take one of these as representative. The following quotations are from an article on this subject which appeared in the National Observer, a weekly newspaper. “Cleo is a pseudonym. He doesn’t want to be identified for the same reason that he and the others meet secretly by moon light in the woods, far from the notice of folks who just wouldn’t understand. They aren’t sure what would happen if they were found out; but, reincarnation being among the group’s beliefs, Cleo harbors a worrisome image of what happened in a former existence. He was burned at the stake. To come right to the point, Cleo is a witch. So are his wife and six of their closest friends, a female writer, a seamstress, a druggist and his wife, and a business executive and his wife.... To their neighbors, co-workers, and non-witch friends and relatives, these eight people are respectable, responsible middle class citizens. They range in age from 27 to 45 and live in a predominantly industrial region of Michigan.” The article goes on to explain in some detail the weird practices of the cult. Then it asks this question: “What draws a technician and scientist to an anachronistic cult devoted to procreation and talismanic wonders? ‘The computer age is one of incredible boredom to most of us,’ the (Air Force) captain replies. ‘The sense of wonder and awe has been lost and replaced by programmed learning and living. Now people are searching for something more personal, more intimate, more stimulating, something with deep roots and ancient mystery. Christianity, which has a strong magical element of its own, once provided these things; but today the Christian church no longer seems relevant.’” The rise of the occult, then, is clear to anyone who understands the shift from old framework thinking to new framework thinking. Of this, too, the Bible speaks clearly. In Deuteronomy 18:9ff. we read these words: “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a consulter with familiar spirits, for all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.” Despite God’s warning these things did come to exist in Israel. The reason then was the same as the reason is today. When men refuse to live by the light of God’s true revelation in His word, they may imagine that they can live by bread alone. But they cannot. They cannot because they were created in the image of God, and because they have eternity set in their hearts. There is, to use the words of Francis Schaeffer, an incessant need and desire for some “first order experience,” some thing that will lift them right up out of this world of content without meaning, into another world of meaning (even if it has no content that can be put into words).

Drugs

We do not doubt that many young people in our culture have experimented with drugs simply because other young people were doing it. Young people like to be “with it.” They do not like to have others look down on them because they stand apart from the group. (Even in not conforming to their parents’ wishes, many young people are acting the part of conformists: they are simply conforming to their peer group). But it would be a mistake to think that this is all there is to it. When a professor from one of the most honored universities in America organizes a religious sect based on the use of drugs (to obtain “first order experience”) when he invites his followers to believe, saying “The LSD kick is a spiritual ecstasy, the LSD trip is a religious pilgrimage,” it is perfectly clear that there is something much deeper than mere group conformity here. It is a well known fact that drugs have long been in use by various tribes of American Indians for the same purpose. These tribes lost contact with the original and reliable content of the truth. There was a longing in their hearts too for some way out of the void, to some first order experience. They found, in the use of drugs, a momentary ecstasy which made them feel that they had an insight into another (higher) realm. Modern man, for the same reason, has tried to find the answer in drugs. The following lines from one of the songs of the Beatles probably was meant to express the invitation to surrender to drug addiction as a “way out.”

Turn off your mind relax and float            
down stream
it is not dying, it is not dying
lay down all thought
surrender to the void
it is shining, it is shining,
That you may see the meaning of
within

it is speaking, it is speaking,
that love is all
and love is ev’ryone
it is knowing, it is knowing
Without going out of my door
I can know all things on earth
Without looking out of my window
I could know the ways of heaven

Questions

  1. Why is it that many new framework people cannot live with the logical conclusions of their own beliefs?
  2. 2. What are some of the ways of seeking escape discussed in this lesson? Can you name others?
  3. Why do we call the mystical realm a realm of “meaning without content”?
  4. In your own words give a few characteristics of mystical experience.
  5. Choose one of these characteristics and try to show how it is present in astrology, witchcraft, or drug addiction (as a way to “first order experience”).
  6. In the section on astrology underline the quoted words which show that the present day increase of this practice is a result of new framework thinking.
  7. Why is astrology forbidden in Deuteronomy 4?
  8. In the material quoted from the National Observer underline any phrases which prove to you that this phenomenon too is a result of “the new framework.”
  9. Why is witchcraft (and similar occult practices) forbidden in Deuteronomy 18?
  10. In what way are modern drug users like the American Indian tribes?
  11. Relate the lines of the Beatles to the principles stated in the first part of this lesson.

Projects

  1. Find a magazine article on astrology, the occult or drugs. Report your findings in class. Show how it supports (or does not support) the teaching of this lesson.
  2. Read the story of King Saul and the witch at Endor (I Sam. 28). Consult a Bible dictionary for a summary of Saul’s life. Relate this event to the main point of this lesson.


Chapter Ten

This lesson continues our discussion of the many ways in which people today are seeking to find something to fill the void in their hearts. The new framework that man has created for himself, out of his pretended autonomy, leads logically to the conclusion that there cannot be any meaning or purpose in life (nothing that has ultimate significance). But man, being made in God’s image (however much this may be denied), cannot cease to seek something ultimate.

The Religious “Leap”

We come, then, to another way in which people today are seeking to break out of the iron cage in which they feel enclosed. It is for this reason that there is a great wave of interest in Eastern religions, particularly among younger people, in our society. This is not really strange when we stop to realize that the Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) were developed by people who had lived for centuries in a similar spiritual predicament. They too exchanged the truth of God for a lie, because they did not want to retain the true God in their knowledge (Rom. 1:25, 28). It is too unpleasant for sinful man to acknowledge the true God as the one to whom he is responsible. So, long ago, in such sin darkened cultures it was assumed that the world was not created, and that it is not ruled over by a sovereign God. History was conceived by these cultures to be a circle rather than a line. A line has a beginning, and leads to an end. A circle has no beginning and no end. Thus the wheel of life, the never ending repetition, over and over again, of a meaningless existence, is the key to Eastern religions. Those who have lived for many centuries in this predicament have developed rather sophisticated ideas as to how man—autonomous man—can ‘authenticate’ himself (or, in other words, find or create some ultimate meaning). But how do they do this? Well, the answer is difficult because it cannot be expressed in words. We will illustrate this by quoting from a book entitled Zen Existentialism: The Spiritual Decline of the West. This book was written by Lit-sen Chang, who once was a teacher of Zen at Kiannan University in China. He is now a Christian and teaches at Gordon Fjesus trip, a theological seminary in the U.S.A. Dr. Lit-sen observes that Western culture is in decline because it has rejected the old absolutes based on God’s word, the Bible. Having thus shut out the light of divine truth, Western man has put himself in essentially the same position that people have long been in where the Bible was not known. The result is that Western thought is now coming closer to such ancient religious concepts as Zen (a type of Buddhism) long ago developed. Now we quote:

Zen’s way of teaching is to demonstrate Reality rather than to talk about it, and to avoid formally religious terminology and conceptual statements.... So “Zen teaches nothing” as Suzuki asserted, “Whatever teachings there are in Zen they come out from one’s own mind. Zen merely points the way....” Therefore, Zen masters do not always teach with their mouths, but with their actions. “They shout, strike, and push; and when questioned, they sometimes run away or pretend to be dumb....” For instance, “a monk called Hung Chou came to visit Ma Tsu, and asked: ”What is the meaning of Bodhi Dharma’s coming from the West?“ Ma Tsu said: ”Bow down to me first.“ As the monk was prostrating himself, Ma Tsu gave him a vigorous kick in the chest.”

To put it in our own words, Zen is an experience. Somehow no one can say how we make a great leap, we transcend the “iron cage,” and experience the ultimate. Again we quote Lit-sen:

The Zen school commonly describes its experience of Satori (Enlightenment, Wu, in Chinese) as “the bottom of the tub falling off.” When that happens all of its contents are suddenly gone, all problems are suddenly solved, in the sense that all problems have ceased to be problems. Nothing is left, but to burst out into loud laughter. Then, as it is described, there is a source of certainty, a sense of airiness which comes from dropping the burden of self and its de sires.... There is a willingness to let things happen and a diminishing desire to control the universe.... The mind (Hein) becomes no mind (WuHsin), without thought of security or achievement or any purpose, much less ultimate goal.

It is, in other words, a kind of mental breakdown that leads to the crumbling of the edifice of logical thought. It is a leap out of the realm of content without meaning (the “real world,” as seen in the cyclical framework of Eastern thought) into the realm of meaning without content.

Now the remarkable thing is that much that passes for religion in the West today—and this includes much so called Christianity—is basically identical with what Dr. Lit-sen describes. It is, of course, realized rather generally that some have turned to Eastern religions. When the Beatles go to sit at the feet of some noted Swami, it makes the newspapers throughout the Western world. It is also news when an Eastern religious figure gives lectures to vast numbers of students at some of our great universities. But what is not often realized is that much popular religion that goes under the name of Christianity is not really different from this new framework escapism. Take the teaching of “Neo-Orthodox Christianity,” for example. This system of teaching is to the effect that (1) we must accept without question the fundamental assumptions and conclusions of modern scientific thought. Evolution is considered a fact, rather than mere theory. The Bible is said to be a fallible book, written by men who had a “pre-scientific” framework of thought. They did not really see and hear the things that they report to us in the Bible in the way that they describe them there. No, what they supposedly did was to experience some sort of divine-human encounter which took them out of this world, and then they used these forms (called myths) to try to express the meaning. (2) What we need today, then, is to demythologize the Bible. We need to realize, in other words, that they were making the great “leap” out of the world of content without meaning into the realm of meaning without content. When we realize this, they suggest, then we may have an encounter of our own. Thus, to them, Christianity is not something that happened in history, but rather something that happens in experience. It is with this in mind that Francis Schaeffer speaks of being “more afraid of the word ‘Jesus” than almost any other word in the modern world.” “The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it.” The fact is, in other words, that multitudes who say that they have had “an experience with Jesus” or, have taken “the Jesus trip” really mean about the same thing that the Zen Buddhist means when he claims that he has found enlightenment: it is a would be escape from the iron cage of a mechanistic (and meaningless) universe, into the mystical realm of meaning (which can not be put into words because it is) without content.

We believe that it can be shown that the rapid increase in the number of people who are caught up in the Pentecostal (or charismatic) movement, arises from this same cause. Many historic Protestant denominations have accepted the new framework. The dogma of evolution is simply assumed to be true, and the Bible no longer considered the inerrant record of things that really happened in history. It is little wonder, therefore, that many people feel themselves to be trapped in this cage even within the visible Church, and have therefore been attracted by a movement that claims to have the secret needed to experience “the great leap.” Here is the way Frank Barlemann describes his own experience of speaking in tongues.

I had not the slightest difficulty in speaking in “tongues.” And yet I can understand how some may have such difficulties. They are not fully yielded to God. With me the battle had been long and drawn out. I had already worn myself out.... I never sought “tongues.” My natural mind resisted the idea. This phenomena [sic] necessarily violates human reason. It means abandonment of this faculty for the time. And this is generally the last point to yield. The human mind is held in abeyance fully in the exercise.... There is a gulf to cross, between reason and revelation. But this principle in experience is just that which leads to the “Pentecostal” Baptism.... We must come “naked” into this experience. All of self is gone.

Here again the parallel is striking. It is experience that matters. And it is not something that we can communicate to others in words. It “happens” when we take this “leap” out of the ordinary way of rational contact with the real world, in order to experience the transcendent order. The experience comes when one ceases to think, as it were, and begins to feel. The ultimate, in other words, comes from within. It is just so with Eastern religions. And however piously disguised, it is the autonomous man who thus finds the ultimate answer outside of himself.

Other Answers

It is not our intention to suggest that the occult, drugs, Eastern religions, or various types of “contentless Christianity” are the only false answers being given today to the problem. Many people seek the answer in other ways. There are those, for example, who continue to believe that science itself will eventually be able to create a new order that satisfies the deepest needs of men. There are even some who speak of the hope that science can give men new absolutes, and that it can even eventually perfect a method of preserving human life so that man can escape death. Others, in sharp reaction against the many failures of modern science (now seen as a threat to life because of hydrogen bombs, destruction of the environment by chemicals, etc.), have opted for a return to nature. So today we have communes in which people attempt to live close to nature, with as little as possible that is not “of nature” to support and maintain life. The hope is that in this way they will discover the meaning of life. Then there is the perennial attraction of love. Not a few have thought that perhaps in the intensity of romantic love something ultimate, some final order experience, may be attained. And others (and the number may be by far the greatest) simply live from day to day with the radio turned up loud so they will not have to think about the fact that for them, too, life seems to be without meaning or purpose. One of the symptoms of the “iron cage” that we have been describing in this series of lessons is the fact that many people cannot endure even a few moments of silence.

In the next, and final, portion of this study, we will attempt to show why it is that the historic Christian faith (and it alone) is the answer. It is the answer because it deals with factual, historical data. It is concerned with the concrete realm of reality, providing content which has meaning of such importance that the whole of reality is thereby shown to be other than what modern man has assumed. But for this chapter it will suffice to emphasize just one main point. Modern man is what the Bible says he is, not what modern science says he is, and because this is so, modern man constantly tries to escape from the iron cage in which he has imprisoned himself. A famous modern philosopher described the universe as a place having this sign on it: “No Exit!” But there is an exit, an exit from the imaginary universe of apostate man into the real world of the living God who sent Jesus Christ into history to save His people from their sins. As Jesus truly said, men must know the truth in order to be free (John 8:32).

Questions:

  1. Why has there been an upsurge of interest in Eastern religions in our society?
  2. Why did Eastern religions come to see history as a circle rather than as a line.
  3. What is there in the new framework thinking of the West that leads to this same conclusion?
  4. Why has the West declined, according to Lit-sen Chang?
  5. Why does Zen shun “conceptual terminology”?
  6. Why do all problems cease to be problems to an “enlightened” Zen Buddhist?
  7. Can you find in the quoted material words or phrases which show (1) that the real world is, to the Zen adherent, content without meaning, and (2) that the “enlightenment” is meaning without content?
  8. How is Neo-Orthodoxy akin to Zen?
  9. In what way are some church denominations responsible for the misuse of the word Jesus?
  10. How is Pentecostalism similar to Eastern religions?
  11. In the quotation from Frank Barlemann, underline words or phrases that a Zen Buddhist could borrow to express “enlightenment.”
  12. What are some other ways modern men seek to escape the “iron cage”?
  13. Why is Christianity the only real answer?

Projects:

  1. Find an example, not discussed in the lesson, of modern man’s attempt to leap out of the world of content without meaning. Present this to the class.
  2. Bring an article from a Christian periodical to class having an account of personal experience. Be prepared to show that it is, or is not, false escapism of the new framework type.


Part IV: The Biblical Answer

Chapter Eleven

Biblical Christianity provides the only answer to man trapped in “new framework” thinking. It does this in two ways: (1) it provides a true framework of thinking (as over against the false one that prevails in our culture), and (2) it provides insight for Christians seeking to help those who are brought to the point of despair by this false framework in which they are trapped.

The Biblical Framework

What, then, is the biblical framework of thinking? The answer is that it is a total world and life view. It is not, in other words, what some evangelical Christians have imagined it is not just a matter of knowing how to be “saved” so that we can go to heaven when we die nor is it realized when we add the religious aspects to the other dimensions of life.

Because many Christians fail to see this, they tend to live as “spiritual schizophrenics.” They have, as it were, split personalities, doing their praying and believing for the life to come on a biblical basis, while they live the rest of their daily life along the lines of new framework thinking. What is needed is a consistently thought out and consistently applied world-and-life view, in which there are no compartments. This means that Christians must be willing to do some hard thinking! Yes, they must even be willing to study. It all begins with a solid foundation of biblical doctrine. The Christian must know and understand such things as the doctrines of creation, divine providence, the fall of man, and eschatology, for example, as well as the doctrine of salvation. To put it another way, all biblical doctrine is inter related. It forms a system. And we need to grasp more and more clearly its content and meaning.

It is not our intention here to review the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. We assume that those who use these lessons will also receive catechism instruction and know the basic biblical doctrines. Here we wish only to stress certain things about Bible doctrine. (1) Above all we would stress the fact that Bible doctrine is scientific. This is exactly what is denied by many today (even some who claim to be Christian). Science deals with the realm of fact, they say, while Christianity deals with the realm of faith. But this is incorrect. Webster defines science as “study concerned with observation and classification of facts” and deals especially with “the physical world.” This is exactly what makes Christianity unique among world religions: It alone deals with facts in the physical world (as well as things beyond it). While other religions are abstract and deal with myths, Christianity deals with history and concrete events. By this we mean authentic Christianity, of course. When teachers and preachers no longer teach a physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus Christ when they deny the literal (actual) occurrence of the miracles recorded in the Bible when they cease to believe and teach the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (and teach evolution instead)then they are not really Christians no matter what they may be called. Such people teach only a pseudo-Christianity because they have abandoned the scientific and historical in favor of the mythical, joining the false religions. True biblical Christianity refuses to be excluded from the realm of fact and history. In fact, it insists that it alone can give a consistent interpretation of the whole of reality. (2) We would further stress the fact that Christian doctrine is revealed. Let us try to explain this in a simple way. If the universe is so vast that we do not even know (as yet) how vast it is and again, if there are things even within ourselves (the brain, for example) that we do not fully understand, then how can we make any statements about the whole universe with confidence that they are true statements (and will remain true forever)? The Christian can answer this question. A non-Christian cannot. The Christian knows there are certain things that are true, and other opposite things that are not true. God has revealed these things in history in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and in the infallible Scriptures. No one can deny that the Bible exists. That is why men still weary themselves to disprove it.” When the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our understanding so that we can receive the teaching of Scripture, then we can know the final truth about reality. This does not mean that the Christian knows all there is to know. But it does mean that the Christian has certainty in what God reveals to him. This is what we call presuppositional thinking (pre = before, and suppositional = to suppose). It simply means that the Christian does all of his thinking about reality from a certain starting point. That starting point is acceptance of certain final truths revealed by God. (It should be pointed out that the non-Christian person also adopts a starting point “by faith.” The difference is that he makes something else—modern science, expert opinion, even his own mind—rather than God the ultimate reference point.)

Insight

It is the Christian’s awareness of the real situation which gives him insight into the thinking of the unbeliever. The Christian knows that God did create the world, and that man is image and not original or ultimate. He therefore realizes the flaw in all system building other than that which is Christian. To illustrate, the non Christian is often very critical of the consistent Christian because of his openly admitted presuppositions. Against this the non-Christian will claim that he takes a neutral position, he assumes nothing, he insists, and then deals with the raw facts, however they come, reaching whatever conclusion is warranted by these facts. What he does not realize (and what the Christian does realize) is that this position too is full of presuppositions. What are some of the things that the non-Christian position assumes? (1) One of the amazing things it assumes is that man, without any help from God, can successfully interpret reality. There is, in other words, the unspoken assumption that man has God like powers. But this is not all. (2) It also assumes that the universe is full of raw facts (that is, facts which could mean most anything). To assume this is one and the same with assuming that the Bible cannot possibly be true, because it says there are no uninterpreted (raw) facts. All facts, according to the Bible, have been constituted what they are by God, and given a certain meaning by Him as a part of His system. (3) It follows from this that the unbeliever, in order to think on this basis, must assume that the true God cannot exist. Anything less than this would be an act of self-condemnation, and this is the one thing that sinful man is not prepared (of himself) to do.

There is, in other words, in all human thinking a kind of circle. In order for man the creature (made to be image, not original)to think at all, he must think in this way. He must (in effect) assume the very “truth” he sets out to “prove.” It is for this reason that we sometimes read in modern “scientific” writings that the scientists are disappointed! For example, scientists recently expressed deep disappointment because they did not find life on Mars. They are disappointed because, according to their evolutionist assumptions, they ought to have found what they did not find. Clearly they are working with the facts after making the assumptions. So it is not just the Christian who (in a certain sense) begins at the end. The Christian life begins with the opening of the eyes of the mind and heart so that something of God’s system of truth as a whole may be grasped. This does not mean that the newborn Christian understands it all fully from the start. But it does mean that he grasps something of the final truth of God’s perfect system right from the start.

Perhaps we can illustrate the point we wish to make. The writer became a Christian in a church that was very weak in teaching the system of doctrine that is in Scripture. He then went on to study at a theological seminary where some of the professors taught false doctrine. It was not easy to withstand the effects of this teaching. Yet time and again the writer could see that these doctrines could not possibly be right if Jesus is what the Bible says He is, and the Bible is what He says it is! One of these professors taught us that the only solution to the problem of religious uncertainty is to get all the churches back together in one united fellowship. Only when this happens, he said, can we learn from one another until we finally come to the collective wisdom which will give us “the truth.” When he was asked about the Bible, he said that God never intended people to think of it as final and in fallible truth. Even though we were ignorant of many things and up against a man who was clever and very well educated, we could still see that this man was talking as if he himself was infallible. He was, in effect, making the infallible pronouncement that the Bible is not infallible. So he made the assumption that he could pronounce words of ultimate wisdom. But we (the writer, and some of the other students) made the assumption that Jesus Christ was right about the Bible, and the Bible was right about Jesus. We therefore rejected what this professor said. It became clear, in other words (and this is our “main point”) that we both had to begin with “faith” in something or someone.

In our dealings with unbelievers we need to make good use of this insight. One of the greatest weaknesses in the “witnessing” of some Christians has been the tendency to leave “framework” questions alone, while simply talking about the Jesus of personal experience. (Re-read the quotation of Francis Schaeffer in the previous lesson). What is needed today, as never before, is the kind of witnessing that challenges the assumptions. We must develop skills that will enable us to enter in, as it were, to the “new-framework” situation of the unbeliever. In doing this we can then show those who are trapped within it the consequences of their own presuppositions. We can show them what these logically lead to. We quote once more from Francis Schaeffer:

We should not first try to move a man away from what he should deduce from his position but towards it, in the direction in which his presuppositions would take him.... [We should] push him towards the logic of his position in the area of his own real interests. If he is interested in science, we will push him to the logical conclusion of his position in science. If it is art, then gently and yet firmly we push him from the point of tension to the end of his presuppositions. [Then, having done this,] we confront men with reality; we remove their protection and their escapes; we allow the avalanches [of reality as it is, and as we know it to be] to fall.

Modern man often feels helpless, hopeless, and alone. He feels himself to be trapped in a meaningless void. But the trouble is that he does not feel that he is exceedingly sinful. He does not admit that he has rebelled against God because he has closed his eyes to the truth which faces him at every point in the real world. In the real world the heavens daily declare the glory of God to man and the firmament (the world environment in which man lives) shows His handiwork. The “new framework,” when all is said and done, is nothing more than a man made shelter which sinful man has made to insulate himself from the true God. Man does not want to face the fact that there is such a God and that he is under the wrath and curse of that God in a measure in this life and without measure in the world to come. This is not new in principle. Man has always been in rebellion since Adam sinned in Eden, and has constantly sought ways of proving to himself that God is not there and that there will be no day of judgment. The difference is that today apostate man has gone further has developed more fully a world and life view that excludes God. It is our task in witnessing to expose this fact, and then to witness the truth of the Christian religion. It is our hope that these studies have contributed in small way to this end.

Questions:

  1. Why does Christianity alone provide the answer to modern man’s predicament?
  2. Why has evangelical Christianity often failed in its witness to modern man?
  3. What is the difference between the weaker, and the stronger, more consistent, Christian position?
  4. What do we mean by saying the Christian position is “scientific”?
  5. Why is it true that pseudo-Christianity is not really scientific even though it may boast that it goes along with “modern science”?
  6. What do we mean when we say that Christianity is “presuppositional”?
  7. Is non Christian thinking also presuppositional?
  8. Why is it that the Christian has insight into the non-Christian way of thinking, while the non-Christian does not have insight into the Christian way?
  9. What are some of the things that non-Christian thinking assumes?
  10. Why is it that man must reason in a circle?
  11. Why are modern scientists “disappointed”?
  12. Is it the facts that bring people to faith, or is it faith that brings them to see the facts the way they do?
  13. In the writer’s illustration what was the important discovery?
  14. How should we make use of our insight in dealing with unbelievers?
  15. In what sense is there “nothing new” in the new framework thinking? In what sense is there something new?

Projects:

  1. Report to the class on your own experience in witnessing either (a) with or (b) without insight into the new framework.
  2. Find an article on science and be prepared to show in class that it is based on presuppositions about the universe.


The Rev. G. I. Williamson, is a semi-retired minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. | Return to G. I. Williamson Home Page