When I was in my doctoral program I asked a room full of eager, successful and intelligent graduate students if they would like to relive their junior high days—no one raised their hand. We all remember, whether we were popular or not, the hurt that we endured when we were mocked and bullied—no one was immune from it. As I watch TV, listen to the radio and surf the Internet I have encountered more and more disdain for the intellectual positions held by Christianity. Sometimes our opposition’s voices get so shrill it reminds me of the unpleasantness that we all use to endure what we were children.
Today, science in all its permutations is the driving force behind knowledge in our culture. It is a major force behind secularism, and as Christians we must understand the underlying philosophical principles that are busily deconstructing any vestige of understanding that truly articulates what it means to be human. The pressure behind secularism is not only intellectual, but also comes in the form of social pressure. Richard Dawkins, professor of zoology at Oxford, and preeminent atheist has this to say about theology in an article he wrote called “The Emptiness of Theology”:
What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? What has theology ever said that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to theologians, read them, debated against them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false.
As I write this, Richard Dawkins is on the lecture circuit touting his new book, “The God Delusion.” It seems that you cannot look at the Internet or watch TV without seeing Dawkins himself or hearing someone talk about this work. He continues to rail against the idiocy of religion—especially Christianity, and he is not alone. It is, of course, acceptable for you to be a Christian if your belief is only personal, but when we believe that Christianity has something to say about the way we should live people become much more negative towards us. People go as far as even questioning your rational capacities because you are a Christian. They will ask, “How can you still be a Christian would science has shown the incoherence of that believe?” Christianity does have to fight against the cultural pressures that have deemed Christians to be, at best, naïve, and at worst, dangers to society as a whole.
The pressures of a secular world will entice us to conform to their ideology, but to do so will be to abandon what we know as fundamentally true. Dallas Willard in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, points out that every day we are pressured by the secular world to conform. We are encouraged to abandon our Christian faith, and embrace the knowledge that is a brought to the secular world by science. Willard points out in his book The Divine Conspiracy that every day we are under
the crushing weight of a secular outlook that permeates or pressures every thought we have today. Sometimes it even forces those who self identify as Christian teachers to set aside Jesus’ plain statements about the reality and total relevance of the Kingdom of God and replace them with philosophical speculations lose only recommendations is their constancy with a modern mind-set.
When I was young I wanted to be liked. I wanted to avoid confrontations with those who mocked and bullied. It’s understandable when we are confronted by these social and academic bullies, like Dawkins and his ilk, who call in to question the coherence of our beliefs to want to steer clear of this conflict. In the long term, I do not think we will have this luxury.
I am writing this because there were times I found myself trying to ignore the growing voice of Christianity’s academic and social opposition. Their desire for ethical relativism, and, distain for those who hold beliefs which could potentially squelch their “freedom”, seems to continue to drive their anger to a fever pitch. I can only imagine this getting worse as they continue to gain the social and academic high ground. The paradigm of modern science which claims it is the true road to knowledge is at opposition to orthodox Christian beliefs. As Christians we must come to grips with the fact that we have a real cultural conflict on our hands.
Recently, I’ve been reading the book of Acts, and I’ve been amazed with the way the Apostle Paul deals with those who wish to silence his testimony about Jesus. Paul never shies away from speaking boldly about his ministry or his commitment to his Christian faith. In Acts 17 Paul is in Athens and he addresses the Areopagus where he expertly intertwines Greek writings with his testimony about God. All throughout the book of Acts his life is in danger and he is beaten because of the things he says about his faith, and, yet, he never stops boldly sharing with others about the reality of the saving work of Messiah.
It seems that two things are necessary for us to model our lives after Paul:
1. We need to pray and ask for boldness from God.
2. We need to prepare ourselves so that when the opportunity arises for us to share about our faith we clearly proclaim what is true about Christianity.
We need to wrestle with the important theological and philosophical constructs that undergirds our worldview. As we understand fundamental theological and philosophical principles, we will be able to more effectively grapple with and respond to the ongoing pressure of our culture. We should do this not to win an intellectual battle, but so we can be effective witness to the work of Christ on this earth.