Contending? Not culturally acceptable-part 3. Jude 3
In Jude we are focusing on the whole issue of contending for the faith, which is the theme of this epistle. The importance is that we are to be involved in a high priority struggle, a high priority battle for truth. That is what is indicated by the word that is translated "contending." We are to contend for "the faith," indicating a set body of doctrine that has been revealed to us via the writers of Scripture but originating from God as God the Holy Spirit worked in and through them to write and record the Scripture.
In continuing our study of how we can apply this principle of contending for the faith in Jude 3 we need to identify worldly thinking in our own souls. Romans 12:2 says that we are to not be conformed to the world. The word used for "world" there is not the word kosmos [kosmoj], it is a word that has more the idea of a time frame because each era has its own mentality, its own way of thinking. So there was fifth-century BC Greece and the rise of the Greek philosophers who were trying to find truth apart from God on the basis of reason alone or experience alone. Then after a few hundred years of Greek culture they sort of drifted away from rationalism and empiricism which did not really give satisfactory answers to the deep questions of life and what pervades the culture at this point was mysticism. It was that somehow they could not live with the dark despair of no answer, they had to live as if there are absolutes, even though on the basis of human reason alone of experience alone, or on the basis of human philosophy we can't find answers, real meaning, because there is a rejection of God that has gone on—Romans 1:18, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. In its place there was an attempt to find the truth in another form on the basis of human reason, on the basis of human authority. When this takes place, ultimately it always ends up with nothing, always wanting something. But man can't live on that sense of despair.
This is what is happening in modern times with the despair of nihilism, the despair of Nietzsche, the despair of existentialism—that there is really no meaning our there, no objective meaning; all we have is whatever meaning we can invent for ourselves. That is existentialism which, as we will see comes under the category of a worldview that now is fading quickly from the cultural scene and being replaced by what is known as postmodernism. Existentialism was sort of the last dying breath of modernism and it gave birth to postmodernism which is existentialism that has gone to seed.
What is a culture? A culture is a word that people often associate with what we might call "high culture" but that is just one application of the word. Culture basically describes what goes on within a society of people, a group of people. If you work for a particular company, teach school, etc., there is a culture in that environment. In your family there is a family culture. If you have a certain ethnic background you may be influenced by its traditions. So a culture that sort of encapsulates the belief systems of a group of people and how those work themselves out in terms of the behaviour within that group of people. It may be a Hispanic sub-culture, an Arab sub-culture, a Persian sub-culture, etc. But those are also manifestations of broader cultural trends. Middle-Eastern sub-cultures are influenced at a broader level by certain macro-themes that come out of Islamic religion and the way that religious system has influenced the way they think and live. Many of these are learned long before they are consciously aware of them.
We pick all kinds of different ideas. We are influenced through teachers, through peers, by parents, and a tremendous amount by media. We are influenced a lot by music in media. A lot of these things are the transmitters of cultural ideas and worldview ideas. All worldview ideas are inherently religious. A worldview is basically how a person tries to organize, categorize and correlate all of the details of life to the point where they can have some answer to the basic questions of life. Is there a God? Is there something beyond my physical senses? Is there right and wrong that is absolute? Am I going to be held accountable for something, right or wrong in the future after death? Is there life after death? These are the big questions of life and they are answered philosophically apart from sort of other religion that claims some sort of revelation, or they are answered through a religious system that claims some kind of revelatory authority? For Christianity that revelatory authority is the Bible that should be set completely against all of the values, all of the ideas, all of the trends and fads that come along that have their root in the soil of modernistic western civilization or post modern western civilization. And yet all of us have been influenced by these things. Probably very few of us, even if our life depended on it, could sit down and even list out the characteristics or the qualities of a modernist worldview or even a postmodern worldview. Yet no matter how spiritually mature we might think that we are (and most of us probably think more highly of ourselves in this area than we ought) we would be surprised if God gave us pure objectivity when we looked into our soul to realize how much our ideas are influenced by a Texas mentality, a western civilization mentality, etc. And we look at life completely different from others. If we are an evangelical conservative, politically we look at things in a completely different way than, say, an east coast liberal politician looks at things—secular, atheistic. We won't see things the same way; there is a different set of glasses, as it were, and this has to do with worldview.
As a believer, hopefully, when we have come to understand that we have picked up long before we were ever saved—and to a large degree after we were saved, probably—we keep defining and fine tuning this set of glasses that were given to us by the culture. And we accepted it, so we were not volitionally neutral in this. We chose to accept certain things and it is a part of our worldview, and now that we are a Christian we understand that we have to basically break this system down, identify the components of these glasses we have been wearing, remove it and replace that set of glasses with a biblical set of glasses. It is all about change, which is what Romans 12:2 says NASB "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." So we have to think about these things and understand that there are a lot of ideas, a lot of opinions, a lot of values that we have absorbed from family, friends, peers, educators, media, text books that we need to take out and evaluate under the bright light of Scripture. When we shine the bright light of Scripture on it, it exposes those ideas and values and then we need to change.
We need to be identifying worldly thinking in our souls, and this is part of the application of what Jude says, that we are to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. This is a word that indicates an extreme or an intense effort on behalf of something. We are going to make it a priority; we are going to decide whether we are going to be Olympic trainers in training for the worldview Olympics, or whether we are just going to be satisfied with trying to win a kindergarten contest. A lot of Christians think they could never make it in the Olympics or in any kind of context, so they decide they will just go out and stay at the kindergarten level and set their sights extremely low. As a result they wonder why things don't work for them in the Christian life. Why they don't is because a) they really haven't accepted the authority of Scripture absolutely, and b) they are not dedicated to transforming the thinking in our soul from the Word. They think that thirty minutes once a week is going to do it, and thirty minutes every day isn't quite going to do it unless we are really thinking about what is going on. So we have to exert ourselves.
Jude is writing this whole epistle for this purpose, to challenge the people to change. This is called a paraenesis which is a form of literature designed to encourage people to a specific course of action to discourage them from another course of action. So it involves both a positive as well as a negative: a positive statement as to what we should do and a negative of what we should not do. So we are contending for the faith, a set body of doctrine.
This is going to start first and foremost with our thinking, the thinking in our soul. That is the point of the battle starting. Then it moves to our family, our close environment, especially if we are parents, making sure that our children are brought up and trained in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This means constantly watching where they are getting input—from their friends, what they watch on TV, the movies, the media, etc. We can't be there all the time but from the time they are young we start inculcating these values into the children. One of the silliest things we hear is the statement, I am going to teach the kids and then they can make up their mind. No, the role of the parent is to make the mind up for the kid. You are the parent, you are the leader; you are not the friend of the kid, not the one who is there to give them options and they get to make a decision. Until they are eighteen they do it your way or the highway, and that is just the way it should be. Then we have to contend for the faith in the local church and make sure that we maintain our commitment to the truth of Scripture. This is part of the battle. It is seen in 2 Corinthians 10:3, 4. We are involved in warfare; we are pulling down strongholds. These are deeply entrenched ideas that have fortified themselves within our souls and we have to go in with doctrinal land mines in order to blow up these walls and get rid of them. We are in the demolition business doctrinally and that means we have to take a specific intentional effort in order to do this.
In terms of systems of thought or the basis for truth and authority we have either rationalism or empiricism or some blend of the two. Rationalism is the idea that man has certain innate ideas and if he just starts with those innate ideas and he uses logic and reason, then he can come to the answer to the great questions of life. Rationalism can't get to those ultimate answers, though. It always falls apart and is usually replaced historically with empiricism. Empiricism is the idea that I can come to truth on the basis of what I observe, on the basis of sense perceptions. In the Enlightenment period there was a rejection of religion as a source of truth and in its place man's reason was elevated. First it was rationalism, then empiricism, and man is going to be able to find truth apart from God. But again, it ends up being meaningless and it ended up in the scepticism of David Hume in the late 1700s. In response to him there was the rise of a German philosopher by the name of Immanuel Kant who said since we can't know truth in and of itself we can only know truth as we perceive it. So no longer is truth something that exists out there. Up until this time in history is western civilization, no matter what one believed or how one believed or how much one disagreed, everybody believed there was objective truth. They just didn't agree on what it was. After Immanuel Kant published his Critique of Pure Reason nobody believed on objective truth anymore—not instantly but it works itself out into the 19th century. The 19th century in terms of the study of the history an impact of ideas is really the impact of Kant's thinking in all of the different intellectual disciplines, and that is what brings all of the "wonderful" aspects of modern society—Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, sociology based on the likes of Herbert Spencer are all the ideas that are the fruit of the root of Kant's thinking. It is a rejection of rationalism and empiricism.
This is seen in music. Music up to the end of the 1700s is orderly. But them there is a shift. Listen to Mozart and then listen to Beethoven. Beethoven is emotional; it is a rejection of that rigid orderliness that was there in Mozart and Handel. It is a return to emotional. It was a shift from Enlightenment to romanticism. The same thing happened in art. And that is related to the fact that a shift began to take place in terms of going to mysticism or subjectivity. Mysticism didn't come in at full speed at this point but the door was opened. It took time. When modernism was periodised they said modernism died in 1900 and that was when postmodernism really came to the forefront in intellectual thought. But the average person in the pew, the average person at the school desk, the average person working at that time was basically still in modernism. It wasn't until post-World War II that there was the sociological grass root impact of mysticism.
All of these three systems stand in opposition to the revelation of God that is objective. In rationalism, where is your ultimate authority? It is in your reason, human reason, between the ears of every human being. In empiricism, where is the ultimate authority? Again, between the ears—sense knowledge. But sense knowledge is organised and categorised by reason (between your ears). In mysticism where do you get truth? Now it is a subjective impression. It is a rejection of logic but it is still between your ears. So in rationalism, empiricism and mysticism we have the ultimate expressions of humanism. And with the rejection of God it becomes known as secular humanism, i.e. a humanism that completely rejects God and focuses on pure secular society as the source of all truth. This is all over against revelation.
In modernism there is the emphasis that reason and experience based on logic can bring us to truth. In postmodernism there is a rejection of that.
Postmodern jargon is difficult for most people to decipher, and recent books on postmodernism, secular and Christian, offer little help because they are written by scholars for scholars. That wouldn't be a problem if postmodernism were just another intellectual knot for academics to busy themselves untying. Yet we see signs of postmodern analysis at every turn. We won't say whether we think the following examples are good or bad until later in the book, but you may be surprised that they share a common basis in postmodern theory:
• The "political correctness" movement, an attempt by schools and corporations to control what students and employees say
• A ripening view around the country that courts never provide fair trials to members of racial minorities or less affluent socioeconomic groups, because courts operate only to guard the privileges of the dominant culture—wealthy white males.
• A reluctance among educational and parenting experts to correct, confront, grade, test, or group children, based on the belief that labels stuck on children stick for life—so called "labeling theory"
• Tolerance gone extreme, as in the increasingly common view that we should never criticize another culture or question an individual's moral decisions, because all views deserve equal respect.
• A declining emphasis in schools on helping students master the literature, history, values, and philosophy of Western culture, and a growing emphasis through multicultural education on students determining their own standards of literacy—accepting, for example, non-standard or "street English" as its own legitimate language.
• New calls for segregation based on race, such as Afrocentric schools.
• The increasingly widespread belief that every hurt is intentional, every accident legally actionable. Radical victimology means that victims of all kinds belong to a marginalized, repressed group with only one hope: to strip power from the dominant group— the victimizers.
• Histories that purposely leave out even major events in the past to further the agendas of oppressed special-interest groups (examples: feminist, or gay and lesbian histories).
• Fresh attacks on Christian missions, claiming that missionaries are unrelenting "destroyers of culture."
• The belief that "male" and "female" are socially created categories intended to enslave women to men. Humankind is said to comprise not two sexes but at least five genders: heterosexual women, homosexual women, heterosexual men, homosexual men, and bisexuals. These genetically rooted identities are to be affirmed by our educational system and protected by the courts.
• Hostility toward science: When, for example, the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History received money to add an exhibit on American science, the funders expected to see displays commemorating the achievements of science over the past century Instead, they found mainly "a catalogue of environmental horrors, weapons of mass destruction and social injustice. Among all the displays of pesticide residue, air pollution, acid rain, ozone holes, radioactive waste, food additives, and nuclear bombs, there was no mention that the life expectancy in the United States has more than doubled in the last century, the period covered by the exhibit." The Death of Truth, edited by Dennis McCallum, p. 14.
Some of the postmodern basics: They believe the truth is created, not discovered. If truth doesn't have an objective external absolute then you can't discover it, you create it from within. Not only do individuals create it but groups create it, and in postmodernism it is the groups that created truth. Secondly, reason or rationality, and science are cultural biases. It has nothing to do with truth because there is a rejection of truth; there is no such thing as truth. Thirdly, those who trust reason and things based on reason—science, western civilization, education, the US Constitution—are trusting biases from a European cultural conditioning. (But what really influenced western civilization wasn't the paganism that was there before Christianity came along because that paganism was just another form of the paganism of North Africa, the Middle-East or Asia. What made it different was the absolute mentality that came from the contribution of Christianity.) It is inherently an attack upon Christianity. Fourth, in terms of postmodern basics, they believe that this cultural conditioning is designed to keep power in the hands of the social elite, i.e. Europeans or "whites." That is why if you are white you are the bad guy. If you are white and southern you are a really bad guy. If you are white, southern and male you are the really bad guy. If you are white, southern, male and an evangelical Christian then you are public enemy number one.
As we have seen, postmodernism is a reaction to modernism and so it brings a whole new way of thinking into every discipline of life. For example, you may think about science and medicine. But if you go to a number of doctors today they will be using various techniques that have come out of eastern mysticism. In history class what will be discovered is history is no longer a discussion of objective reality of what happened in the past, it is now a platform for radical and political and social activism. So what comes across in history teaching is not what happened in the past but how we can free ourselves from the social bind that was put upon us in the past by those who were more powerful. So there is an interest in black studies, in gay and lesbian studies, whatever the flavour of the year is, and this is all based on a postmodern analysis of history.
The other things that we see is that court decisions from the Supreme Court all the way down are more absurd because they view the Constitution as a "living document." If truth isn't absolute then it changes for every generation and we have to redefine truth in the law for our generation. This impacts Christianity because there is no set objective truth or faith, but faith is what works for you. If Christianity works for you, great; if Buddhism works for you neighbour, great; what right have you as a Christian to say he is wrong. It is not only because of me, it is what the Word of God says. He is not only wrong but he is going to go to hell and burn for it. That is even true or it is false. Then you have to bring in external absolutes to determine what is true and what is false. But every one of us has been desensitised because we hear it over and over again. It impacts every one of us.
In comparing postmodernism with biblical Christianity we note three categories. Biblical Christianity teaches that mankind is created originally in the image of God and that human beings are both spiritual and physical beings. In modernism humans are a part of the material universe. Everything goes back to materialism, the big bang; there is no such thing as anything that is immaterial, the universe is purely physical, nothing exists beyond our senses. In postmodernism they basically have no opinion on this but are suspicious of any dogmatic assertion. In the area of human responsibility, free will and volition biblical Christianity teaches that man's volition has been diminished by sin but he is still morally responsible and accountable for every decision that he makes. In modernism there is the belief that every human being is autonomous and self-governing. He is absolutely free, there is nothing inherently evil or bad, nothing that will negatively influence him, and so everybody can choose their own direction. But in postmodernism people are the product of their culture, and they only imagine that they are self-governing. The way this works itself out is interesting: you are the product of a white, middle class Christian culture. That's why you think the way you do, not because you made those decisions but your culture shaped you that way.
This has affected Scripture as taught in some of our evangelical universities: You are a dispensationalist because that is your background. You were saved through somebody who was a dispensationalist and taught that, so that is why you are a dispensationalist. It is not because that is what the Bible says objectively, but because that is the construct that you were taught. If you are an atheist, well that is the construct that you were taught. In other words, they don't give any basis for individual volition or responsibility. Think about that is terms of law, of government, of the penal system; nobody is responsible. Looking at something else, in terms of reason with the biblical Christian reason is necessary but it is not the sole or ultimate basis for understanding reality. God has revealed Himself to us, so reason is under the authority of revelation. In modernism, rationalism and empiricism are ultimate, they rule. And they are only basis for discovering truth, there is no revelation. But in postmodernism there is a denial of any objective truth, rationalism is just a myth. You only think you reason because you have no volition. In terms of progress biblical Christianity says mankind isn't progressing toward anything. History is to the ultimate conclusion that God has in the kingdom, but mankind isn't getting better and better in every way. There are positive advances but there is no utopia brought about by man.
A modernist or postmodernist worldview is what has influenced every one of us. That is the world system that we grew up under. In contrast to them, based on the Bible we can change that. There is a certain amount of truth to each of these worldviews and a certain amount of error, and remember that it only takes a little bit of error to make something completely wrong and fail. These are both inherently wrong because they are over against and in opposition to biblical Christianity. So all of us need to figure out what areas of our soul operate on the relativism of postmodernism and or the secularism of modernism, and we need to flush that garbage out of our soul. And the only way to do that is through the study of God's Word. But it is not just the study of truth, we have to understand the error that is there and it has to be exposed as well because these are the idols that work in the dark corners of our own thinking.