The New Paganism (Part 4) Does the Holy Spirit Work Apart from Christ?

SERIES INTRO: The New Paganism

As our culture becomes more post-modern—as well as post-Christian—in mindset, both traditional religions and unambiguous atheism are being rejected by many and an undefined spirituality—a fuzzy spiritual agnosticism—has been embraced, which lives by the axiom, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

For all practical purposes, they live as atheists within secular society but still embrace some self-defined form of spirituality. In many ways, Western Christians are living in a culture that is increasingly like the culture the first Christians lived in: a pagan culture. The only thing forbidden in this new paganism is believing your faith is the only true path.

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Here’s a quick recap for your convenience:

Exclusivism – The traditional Christian view that salvation can come only through Jesus Christ’s free gift of salvation; thus, biblical Christianity is the only true path to God. 

Inclusivism – The belief that Jesus Christ’s life and work (including his death and resurrection) achieved salvation, but one does not have to know of or believe in Christ to benefit from it and be saved. One can be saved by faithfully following another religion or pursuing their personal understanding of God or spirituality.

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Read Part 3: The New Paganism (Part 3) Exclusivism: Why is Jesus Needed for Salvation?

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Does the Holy Spirit Save Apart from Christ?

Respected scholar and inclusivist Clark Pinnock explains that the work of the Holy Spirit is “central” to his view of salvation. The Holy Spirit proceeds before Christ preparing the way. In other words, the Spirit is at work in non-Christians even when they do not know the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Citing John 3:8 (“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”), Pinnock states the Spirit is “under nobody’s control” and not confined to inside the church and free to grace anyone regardless of their place in life since Christians “do not have a monopoly on the Spirit.”

Interestingly, he makes clear that neither general revelation nor the religions themselves play a central role in his understanding of inclusivism, but only the Holy Spirit, through whom God shows “every person the mystery of his grace, because in their hearts… he works in unseen ways.” [1]

Pinnock’s idea that the Holy Spirit may “work” on someone before they come to saving faith in Christ, to prepare them to be convicted by the truth of the gospel and to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior is not a controversial idea. Yet, his idea that the Holy Spirt may grant someone salvation apart from Christ is controversial, and this idea is what we must examine with Scripture.

 

The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit’s work is certainly essential in bringing one to saving faith – to salvation – in Christ, but the biblical evidence shows that saving faith only comes after the unbeliever first hears a gospel proclamation and, second, the Holy Spirit convicts him of the truth of that proclamation and converts him.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we see the Spirit ever working independently of Christ or in a saving way apart from the gospel of Christ. The Spirit is the companion of Christ “[f]rom womb to tomb to throne,” and the Spirit’s work is as “chief witness” to Christ, leading to saving faith specifically in him. [2] The biblical evidence is clear that no one comes to saving faith prior to hearing the gospel of Christ and being convicted by it by the Holy Spirit. (More on this below.)

In his letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14), we see the work of the Holy Spirit closely connected to the work of the Father and, especially, the Son. Paul begins his letter by writing of the work of the Trinitarian God in bringing one to salvation in sequence: first writing of the work of the Father, then the work of the Son, and then the work of the Holy Spirit:

The Father:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

The Son:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 

The Holy Spirit:

13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Here, we see the work of the Spirit is not separate from the work of the rest of the Trinitarian Godhead.

Returning again to 1 John 4:2–3, (By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already), Theologian John Stott sums up the message of this section of John’s letter: “Those who deny the Son have neither the Father nor the Spirit.” [3]

The Spirit cannot come before Christ. Contra Pinnock, Scripture says you cannot have the Spirit without having the Son.

First Corinthians 12:3 states,

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

Moreover, “Jesus taught that it is the Holy Spirit’s particular ministry both to testify to, and to glorify, him” [4]:

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

Clearly, the work of the Spirit flows from Christ Jesus, and thus, after Christ Jesus.

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Regeneration: Being Born Again

Jesus taught that one must experience regeneration – being born again – to have salvation.

Jesus says in John 3:3,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Theologian Wayne Grudem points out that in John 3:8 (“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”), when Jesus speaks of “being born of the Spirit,” Jesus “indicates that it is especially God the Holy Spirit who produces regeneration” (though God the Father is also involved). [5]

The Holy Spirit convinces an unbeliever of the truth of Christ, and may even prepare the person to hear that truth; thus, the work of the Holy Spirit is conversion. But an adherent to a religion that denies Christ Jesus, the second person of the Trinitarian God, as Lord and Savior cannot have the Holy Spirit, and without the indwelling Holy Spirit there is no regeneration and no salvation.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. ‘I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.'” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6)

 

NEXT: But isn’t there evidence of saved pagans in the Bible?

[1] Pinnock, Clark H. “An Inclusivist View.” In Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic Worldedited by Stanly N. Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. Kindle.

[2] Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert A. Peterson, ed. Faith Comes By Hearing. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008. Kindle. Loc 2067.

[3] & [4] Stott, John R. W. The Letters of John. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Pages 155-156.

[5] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. Page 700.

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Read Part 3: The New Paganism (Part 3) Exclusivism: Why is Jesus Needed for Salvation?

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The New Paganism (Part 3) Exclusivism: Why is Jesus Needed for Salvation?

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Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Inclusivism VS. Exclusivism

In article #2 of this series, we started exploring the idea of inclusivism – the idea that salvation can be attained apart from the knowledge of Jesus (though Jesus’ work was necessary for salvation to be available, even if through a faith other than Christianity). So, we asked, “Is this idea biblical?”

We concluded inclusivism does NOT hold up under biblical scrutiny and concluded that the clear stance of the Bible is exclusivism: salvation is only found in faith in Christ alone.

Before we move on in this series, I wanted to quickly give one more explanation why Christianity is an exclusivist religion.

It comes down to this: Christianity isn’t exclusivist because certain verses say so; Christianity is exclusivist because the whole biblical explanation of reality leads to exclusivism. Those verses we looked at in the last article are simply confirming the exclusivist storyline of the Bible.

And it comes down to three things:

the nature of God,

the nature of humankind, and

the nature of Christ.

If what the Bible says about the nature of God and the nature humankind are true, then the ONLY hope for salvation is Jesus Christ.

 

THE NATURE OF GOD

First, God is perfectly good, righteous, holy, and just.

 

THE NATURE OF HUMANKIND

Secondly, all of humankind has sin. Thus, all of humanity – every individual human being – is separated from our perfectly good, righteous, holy, and just God. To deny this is to not have a high enough view of God or a low enough view of sin.

Separation from God due to sin is the current state of every human (apart from Jesus Christ), and once they die, they will continue to be separated from God. Thus, we need a savior.

This answers a common misunderstanding I hear often from those who are offended by the exclusivism of Christianity. The mistaken idea is that God condemns those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ because they don’t believe in Jesus, as if God chose belief in Jesus as some random reason for condemning people to hell. But humankind is ALREADY condemned because of sin. Jesus Christ is NOT the CAUSE of damnation but the CURE.

So, then the question is: WHY? Why must one believe in Jesus Christ to have salvation? Why can’t someone follow another spiritual teacher? Or, why can’t someone even follow, say, Moses instead – after all, both Moses and Jesus serve the same God?

 

THE NATURE OF CHRIST

Jesus Christ is exclusively the God-man. The second person of the Triune God took on flesh and became a man. He is completely God and completely man.

This God-man lived a perfect life that none of us can and died a death he didn’t deserve. As fully man, he can represent humankind. As fully eternal God, his sacrifice can cover us all and all our sins.

The separation between God and humankind could only be bridged by Jesus Christ, the only God-man. The exclusive gift of salvation could only be won by the exclusive God-man.

This is why Christianity is exclusivist.

The gift of salvation can be attained alone by faith in the only one who could attain it.

Thus, if all that the Bible says is true – about the nature of God, man, and the God-man – then Christianity must be exclusivist.

NEXT: Is the Holy Spirit needed for salvation?

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Learn more about Who Jesus Ain’t here.

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The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

The New Paganism

As our culture becomes more post-modern—as well as post-Christian—in mindset, both traditional religions and unambiguous atheism are being rejected by many and an undefined spirituality—a fuzzy spiritual agnosticism—has been embraced, which lives by the axiom, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

For all practical purposes, they live as atheists within secular society but still embrace some self-defined form of spirituality. In many ways, Western Christians are living in a culture that is increasingly like the culture the first Christians lived in: a pagan culture. The only thing forbidden in this new paganism is believing your faith is the only true faith.

In the first article, we examined pluralism and its close cousin universalism to see if they were compatible with the Christian worldview. In the following articles, we’ll be looking at the claims of inclusivism, another cousin of the new paganism.

The Nuanced View: Inclusivism

As we saw in the last articlepluralism and universalism are clearly not Christian beliefs; the only way a Christian can subscribe to either view is to disregard much of the Bible. But what about the less extreme view of inclusivism?

Inclusivism is the belief that Jesus Christ’s life and work achieved salvation, but one does not have to believe in Christ to be saved. One can be saved by faithfully following another religion or through general revelation. General revelation is the idea that we can know certain things about God through nature and/or our innate senses.

Inclusivism is a much more conservative view than pluralism and universalism, and an inclusivist often holds to a higher view of Scripture. The inclusivist believes Jesus when he said “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and Peter when he says “there is salvation in no one else” but Jesus (Acts 4:12). Yet, the inclusivist diverges subtly from the traditional exclusivist view and says, Yes, salvation is only possible because of Jesus, but one does not have to specifically believe in Jesus to benefit from his salvation.

One of the most respected scholars for presenting an argument for inclusivism is Clark Pinnock; therefore, his arguments will be considered for the rest of this series.

We will address Pinnock’s inclusivism by addressing 4 questions throughout the articles in this series:

(1) Is knowledge of Jesus needed for salvation? 

(2) Is the Holy Spirit needed for salvation? 

(3) Are there pagans in the New Testament who gained salvation through other faiths?

(4) Are all the faithful people in the Old Testament damned to hell simply because they lived before the life and work of Jesus Christ?

 

Saved Apart From Christ

“The saving grace of God can be effective through a person’s relationship to God as creature in advance of conversion to Christ,” Pinnock states in his chapter on inclusivism in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. 

He is careful to point out that inclusivism does not blindly cast a blanket over all religions as equally valid or even good. He admits there are certainly negative aspects, untruths, errors, and dangers in other religions. Contra pluralism, Pinnock confirms that all paths to God are not equally valid and a criterion is needed to discern truth and error (1 John 4:1). Political correctness and blind tolerance, he writes, are not always virtues. He confirms that Jesus is Lord of all and the standard of truth in all religions.

Yet, according to Pinnock, God may use other religions to bring a person to salvation. Christianity is not just the fulfillment of Judaism, but “in some way” the fulfillment of “all religious aspiration and the human quest.” At one point, he refers to religious non-Christians as “’not yet’ Christians.” 

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The Need to Know

The validity of Pinnock’s inclusivism can be determined by answering one question: Is knowledge of Christ required for salvation? 

Interestingly, in his chapter in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, Pinnock cites 1 John 4:1 (“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.“) when stating that we must test all religious claims. Yet, if we continue reading, 1 John 4:2–3 stands in clear opposition of his inclusivist views:

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist…”

John goes on to explain in 4:6 that this is the ultimate test of whether one knows God or does not:

“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (4:6)

Immediately, we find Pinnock’s case at a biblical disadvantage!

Pinnock clearly believes that the Holy Spirit can give saving faith to someone who has never heard of Christ. Pinnock differentiates between the work of Christ for salvation and the knowledge of Christ for salvation; Christ’s work made salvation possible, but one does not have to know of Christ’s work to benefit from it, according to Pinnock.

Conversely, as we saw above, 1 John 4 states one must confess belief in Jesus Christ to truly know God. Clearly, in order to confess Christ, one must know of Christ.

An inclusivist may dismiss verses like Romans 10:9 (“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved“) by saying that the verse doesn’t state one must confess and believe to be saved or Romans 10:9 doesn’t say only those who confess and believe are saved, yet 1 John 4:2-3 makes a clear contrast.

Likewise, 1 John 5:12 states, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Both 1 John 4:2–3 and 5:12 are clearly “either/or” statements, not “both/and” statements.

Commenting on the exclusivity of 1 John 5:12, John Stott explains, “We cannot escape its logic. Eternal life is in God’s Son and may be found nowhere else. It is impossible to have life without having Christ as it is to have Christ without thereby having life also.”

Furthermore, one does not have to read far after Romans 10:9 to find 10:13–14, which lays out that the gospel must be preached, heard, and believed in order for someone to be saved:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:13-14)

Paul concludes in 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Additionally, shortly after one of the most famous proclamations of salvation through belief in Christ, John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”), we find John 3:18. Again, an inclusivist may say John 3:16 never explicitly says that belief in Christ is the only way to salvation, but John 3:18 states, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

The key phrase here is “condemned already.” Christ is the only solution to the state of condemnation. Since all people are sinful and separated from God by that sin without exception (Romans 3:23), without specific belief in the Son of God that condemnation remains.

Furthermore, in John 3:33–34, 36, we read, “Whoever receives his [Christ’s] testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure… Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

The Gospel Call

When ordering the teachings of the Bible into a systematic theology, what is often referred to as the gospel call is placed immediately before regeneration (i.e. being born again). The gospel call is – of course – communicated, which means it’s a clear exchange of giving and receiving information about Christ so the non-Christian hearer may be saved.

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology states, “Anyone who comes to Christ for salvation must have at least a basic understanding of who Christ is and how he meets our needs for salvation.” Grudem cites the following three pieces of knowledge as essential for salvation:

(1) All people have sinned (Rom. 3:23);

(2) The penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23); and

(3) Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:8).

Along with this information comes a personal invitation to receive the free gift of salvation through Christ, and thus a personal response, based on the knowledge received, is needed (John 1:11–12; Rev. 3:20, 22:17). 

Grudem, citing Romans 10:14 (How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”), emphasizes the absolute importance of the gospel call because if a person never hears, how can he be saved? In other words, without the knowledge of Christ, there is no salvation. In the same way, John Frame in his Systematic Theology places the gospel call before regeneration.

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The Big Picture of the Bible

Along with the explicit verses we looked at above, which are enough to discount inclusivism, exclusivism — the belief that there is only one true faith — is taught throughout the Bible. Throughout both the Old and New Testament there are many warnings against following false gods, false prophets, and false faiths.

In Exodus 20:3, the first of the Ten Commandments says there are to be no other gods worshipped other than the one true God (Isa. 43:10, 44:6), and the second commandment forbids worshipping idols (Exod. 20:4-5). The Shema, arguably the most important group of verses to Jews, states God alone is to be worshipped (Deut. 6:4), which is echoed by Paul about the Father and the Son in 1 Corinthians 8:6. In John 4:22, Jesus bluntly tells the Samarian woman “salvation is from the Jews,” instead of saying something, like “salvation is found in many faiths.”

Yes, general revelation appears to have instilled some truths in non-Christian faiths (and even secular thought) as we see in Paul’s interaction with the Athenians in Acts 17, but the overall view in Scripture of other faiths is overwhelmingly negative.

For instance, Romans 1:18–2:5 explains that faiths apart from the gospel of Christ are the result of sinful rebellion against God’s clear revelation in nature. We are told that because of the sinful suppression of God’s truth, adherents to false faiths have become “fools” (1:22), and they are “storing up wrath” against themselves (2:5).

Nowhere in Scripture do we find confirmation that the partial truths found in other faiths can lead to saving faith.

Why Evangelize? Why Missions?

Furthermore, if the inclusivists are correct, one has to ask why Jesus commands the spreading of his gospel and why his commands for evangelism hold such prominent places in Scripture.

The Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations is the culminating climax of Matthew’s gospel (28:18–20), and Luke records Jesus’ words about the Spirit empowering his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth as his final words before his ascension (Acts 1:8).

Moreover, if inclusivism is true, much of the book of Acts, which tells of the first Christians’ work to spread the gospel, can be discarded as a waste of time – as well as all evangelism and missions. If knowledge of Christ is not needed for salvation, evangelism and missions are pointless, but this is clearly not the stand Jesus and his first followers take.

Finally, throughout Scripture, correct doctrine is emphasized (1 Tim. 1:3–4; Eph. 4:11–14; Gal. 1:6-8, 11–23; Deut. 6:7), confirming again that knowledge is important to faith. Stephen Wellum writes in Faith Comes By Hearing, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Scripture is concerned that one’s theology is correct.”

Proper knowledge of Christ cannot be separated from saving faith.

So, faith comes from hearing, and salvation comes from knowing and believing.

NEXT: Is the Holy Spirit needed for salvation? **The 1st two articles in this blog series were long! The last 3 will be short and sweet!** 

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Sources:

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

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert A. Peterson, ed. Faith Comes By Hearing. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008. Kindle.

Pinnock, Clark H. “An Inclusivist View.” In Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic Worldedited by Stanly N. Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. Kindle.

Stott, John R. W. The Letters of John. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009

Read Who Jesus Ain’t…

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Ashton Kutcher & Why Sex is Not Morally Neutral

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Recently, celebrity Ashton Kutcher appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to speak about child sex trafficking. First, among all the political and social nonsense spewing from every direction these days, it’s good to see someone putting his fame and wealth towards something worth fighting for. Give it a watch/listen; it’s worth the time, though not something easy to listen to due to the subject matter.

As I listened to Mr. Kutcher, I couldn’t help having a thought I’ve had before: Despite what popular culture tells us, sex is not morally neutral.

GROUNDING YOUR MORALITY

Before we talk about sex, let’s talk about morality in general.

As a Christian, I find myself often addressing two claims of secular people:

(1) Morality is relative.

(2) People can be moral without God.

It is often not hard to refute #1, as all I have to do is bring up something like child sex slavery and people will agree that such a thing is objectively immoral – meaning that the wrongness of this is not a matter of opinion; child sex slavery is always morally wrong. Thus, morality is not relative, but objective.

I have no idea if Mr. Kutcher ever considered himself a moral relativist, but judging from his emotional statement about the things he has witnessed since becoming involved in the fight against human sex trafficking, I’m sure he believes there is objective good and objective evil in this world.

As far as #2 (People can be moral without God), I don’t have to refute it. I totally agree that people can be moral without believing in God. But they cannot justify their morals. In other words, morality is objective, but what can explain objective morality? Where does it come from? Yes, everyone has morals, but according to their view of the world, can they justify having those morals?

So, an atheist may say, “Child sex trafficking is wrong,” and I say, “I agree, but why is it wrong? According to what?” “According to human decency,” he says. “By what standard do you judge human decency?” I ask. “Everyone has the right to live his own life.” “And where did you get that idea? If we’re here, according to your view of the world, just by random chance; if we’re just a happy accident of a purposeless universe and there’s really no difference between us and star dust or star fish, where on earth do you get this idea of human rights?”

Often the response is some sort of pragmatism: it’s moral because it works. So, the atheist may say something like, “Whatever leads to the maximum amount of human happiness and flourishing is what’s morally good.”

But without an objective moral standard of good, this fails for two big reasons:

(1) Why do you assume human happiness and flourishing is the greatest moral good? That, within itself, is a moral claim. Why isn’t the flourishing of mosquitoes or oak trees the greatest moral good?

(2) If usefulness is all that defines morality, then what if something like, say, child sex slavery leads to the most people being happy and flourishing? Does that mean it’s morally good?  In fact, I’m sure there’s been plenty of cultures where common slavery was absolutely great for the majority of the people in the culture. Does that mean slavery was morally good?

Without an objective standard, it’s all just personal preference and opinion.

The immaterial, timeless God of the Bible is the objective standard of good, and the only explanation for the immaterial, timeless moral law. Yes, we often suppress the moral consciousness God put in us, his image-bearers, because we want to be independent of our Creator, but once one has abandoned God, they have abandoned any grounds to make any moral claims.

It’s interesting: in order for a moral claim not to be simply a personal preference, everyone – whether Christian or not – has to appeal to a greater authority outside themselves. Kutcher, appearing before the U.S. senate, appealed to the Declaration of Independence when he speaks of the right of all people to pursue happiness. Yet, the Declaration of Independence appeals to an authority higher than itself: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

(I’ve written about this moral argument before. Read more here.)

SO WHAT’S THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SEX?

The sexual revolution started about 50 years ago with my parents’ generation in the 1960’s, and sex has been progressively losing value in American culture ever since. Even in the 20-odd years since I’ve been in high school, attitudes about the value and importance of sex have continued to plummet. Millennials are 48% more likely to have sex before a first date than any other generation before them. To many millennials, a date is considered more intimate than sex. People often write off the Christian view of sex as old-fashioned and outdated, but once on that slippery slope, things move quickly.

When we step back and look, even Americans who claim morals are relative believe that certain things, like racism and slavery, are objectively wrong. But sex, they say, is surely subjective. No one has any grounds for making any sort of moral judgment on anyone else’s sexual practices or preferences. I do my thing; you do yours. It’s not much different than liking different ice cream flavors or styles of music. It’s just taste and preference. Sex is a morally neutral act.

But like other claims of moral relativism, this view can’t stand either. I’ll give you four reasons: rape, sexual abuse of children, sexual harassment, and sex trafficking.

What’s worse?

Someone getting attacked and beaten OR someone getting attacked and raped?

A child being abused OR a child being abused sexually?

Someone harassing you OR someone sexually harassing you?

Being sold as a slave OR being sold as a sex slave?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that all violent crimes are universally seen as more horrendous when some sort of sexual violation is involved. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and beaten so severely that she is put into the hospital, people will gasp and people will be angry. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and raped and beaten so severely that she’s put in the hospital, people are enraged and they’re also calling for the castration of the attacker. If sex is a meaningless act, then rape is no different than being attacked and beaten; the addition of sex into the situation should not matter. But people are rightfully enraged by any act of rape because sex is not meaningless.

Even hardened criminals know this. I’ve heard from a number of sources that people in prison for sexually abusing children are considered the worst of the worst. Even among the most violent criminals in prison, child molesters are seen as deplorable and are the targets of violence from other inmates.

As Mr. Kutcher spoke to the senate, he spoke of a girl being “sold into sex.” Again, if sex were a morally neutral act, why emphasize the sex aspect of the crime? Why not just say, she was sold into slavery?

My point? Even those who criticize Christians for taking moral stances on sex (and related issues) know that sex is not a morally neutral, meaningless act.

The hardest part to hear of Mr. Kutcher’s talk was about a video of an extremely young child being sold for sex in Cambodia to an American tourist. Mr. Kutcher spoke of the girl being so conditioned that she thought she was “engaging in play.” I pause to use such a horrifying evil to make a point, but if morality is relative, as well as if sex is morally neutral, then what is there to condemn here? Can we honestly say our revulsion and disgust is simply personal preference? If sex is a morally meaningless act, and the girl does not even seem aware of what she’s doing, do we have any grounds to say this is wrong? Yet we know this is evil.

In fact, even the common refrain that all sex is morally neutral – or even morally good – as long as it is consensual fails here. If this exploited girl thinks of what she is doing as play, is it not consensual? Someone may counter, “Sex must be consensual between adults.” But within a worldview with no grounding for morality and where sex is morally neutral, why include this arbitrary stipulation that sex is only for adults with other adults? If sex is a meaningless act, what’s the harm of sex between an adult and child? In fact,pedophilia has been brought to its logical conclusion due to sexual relatively and some have started arguing that it’s just another morally neutral sexual orientation. (Don’t believe me?  See: HereHereHere)

Where the biblical view of sex is often mocked, it’s clear sex is not a morally neutral act.

And just as we need the God of the Bible to make any moral claim, the same God created sex and defines the moral perimeter surrounding sex. Scripture tells us sex is intimate, valuable, and powerful. If fact, it’s so powerful, homicide detectives say there are three main motivations for murder: power, money, and sex. Therefore, God gave clear guidelines concerning sex to protect intimacy, to protect its value, and, yes, to protect us.

When I taught high school in a “rough” area of New Jersey, I once had a student in in-school suspension who had a reputation of being “sexually liberated.” She was the type that was always talking loudly and never listening. Another student had purposely pushed her buttons to get her ranting, and she was going on and on about how what she does with her body is her business and why should God care who she “loves.”

The bell was about to ring, so I had to move on to my next class, but in the final second I had in the classroom – when she finally took a breath – I said, “I can tell you this, if more people listened to God about sex, there would be a lot less problems in the world.” And the craziest thing happened: the girl was quiet. She had nothing to say.

You don’t have to explain to a kid from the inner city what problems uninhibited sex causes.

 

 

 

Quick Responses to Bad Memes #2 (Ricky Gervais Version)

Welcome to “Quick Responses to Bad Memes #2” i.e. “the Ricky Gervais Version” i.e. “the meme + video version” i.e. “Don’t get your theology from a comedian #2.”

If you see this meme…

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Reply with this meme…

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In early February, Some people got excited that Ricky Gervais (atheist) and Stephen Colbert (Roman Catholic) had a short (very short) debate about the existence of God on Stephen’s show (Watch the clip here).

In my opinion, even a short debate on primetime TV about God is a good thing. But neither man really said much, and based on how atheists are sharing the clip (and applauding Gervais in the video), they seem to think Gervais won the “debate.” Though what Gervais said certainly sounded clever, he really didn’t say anything at all.

Feel free to use the following memes in reply to the primetime “debate”…

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Sincerely, God From the Machine

Quick Responses to Bad Memes #1 – Click Here.