Friday, January 31, 2014

Art and Literature Go Mystic


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

In today’s post, I will be summarizing Francis Schaeffer’s discussion on mysticism as it affected music and art. Recall that mysticism is the third level below the line of despair. The line of despair refers to the rejection of the existence of absolutes, such as truth. This way of thinking is the natural byproduct of atheism. If the universe is not God’s universe, but instead it is random material happenings, then there can be no absolutes. Truth would be relative, right and wrong would be concepts of nonsense, and all existence would be without meaning and purpose. Many people bought into this, but it proved impossible to live out. As humans made in the image of God, we live according to absolutes, we cannot separate ourselves from them, and we intrinsically know that everything has meaning and purpose. We know things are not random. Our very lives depend on the universe being stable and predictable rather than random and chaotic. So those who still chose to embrace the irrationality of their atheism had to find a way to live with absolutes even though they believed such absolutes were not real.

Nihilism gave way to dichotomy, which allowed people to pick whatever truth they wanted to believe in, while at the same time understanding that it is nothing more than a preference based on one’s leap of faith. Well, this dichotomy was not good enough for some, and so mysticism was the next result. Mysticism was this idea that there is some sort of absolute, but it is unknowable. All attempts to define and explain it are inadequate and therefore are equally valid expressions of the truth. Mysticism became necessary because most people could not deal with the idea of reality being meaningless.

By this point of reading my posts, I hope you can see that each major thinker that has been introduced has a different explanation of what this mystical absolute is. It is no different with music. Schaeffer focuses in on John Cage (1912-1992). He was so committed to the idea that the universe is random, that he saw that randomness as the mystical absolute. He did whatever he could to make his music random too. He would compose his music after flipping coins thousands of times. Eventually the methods became more sophisticated than this, but the result was the same – music that made little sense to the ears. Cage believed that the “truth” of chance can best be communicated through chance methods coming forth in his music. Well, sometimes when his music was played, rather than offering applause, the audience hissed and booed. Why? It is rather simple. In our heart of hearts, we know that the universe is not meaningless and it is not random. It is designed with intelligent purpose. We were designed with intelligent purpose, and given that we ourselves are designed along with everything else in nature, anything we create must be intelligently designed too. Cage’s randomly designed music was not pleasing to our ears. If chance is the true mystical reality, then chance should be able to communicate to us, but it cannot. Why? Because the ultimate reality is not chance! The fact that his music was aesthetically worthless should have caused him to reject his own presuppositions of randomness, but instead he pressed on and continued to produce utter nonsense. Consider this one more example of an atheist claiming to believe the evidence, but then ignores the largest pieces of evidence that stare him right in the face.

An interesting point to note about Cage is that like all other atheists that claimed there are no absolutes, he could not apply this belief consistently. To his credit, he did apply his philosophy to his craft of music. In that sense, he was consistent. However, he eventually became a mushroom enthusiast. He would wander the forest and study mushrooms diligently to where he became a very well informed amateur mycologist. He had a large library just on mushrooms, and knew that many were deadly and poisonous. He is quoted as saying, “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly. So I decided that I would not approach them in this way.” In other words, he could not apply what he believed to be the truth of the universe to the simple hobby of picking mushrooms. If he picked mushrooms randomly, he would be dead in a few days. With his life on the line, he practiced mycology as though there were absolutes, meaning is real, and intelligent care must be taken with each mushroom. This is just one more proof that that Cage’s atheistic assumptions were wrong. The fact that people booed his music because it was random, and the fact that he would not randomly pick mushrooms because his life was at stake both demonstrate the impossibility of living according to his assumptions. These were two screaming realities that should have caused him to reject his folly, and seek the real truth.

The painter Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) also decided to use the “mystical absolute” of chance to direct his painting. He is famous for laying canvases on the floor, and allowing paint to randomly drip on them. Because of the atheistic philosophical message that lied behind the ugly drip paintings, many saw this as brilliant. But at the end of the day, very few people’s eyes actually crave to stare at random drops of paint on a canvas. When artists buy into thought below the line of despair, this is the type of thing that happens. The artists of the Renaissance painted their worldview, which was fairly biblical. Painting, sculpture, and architecture were ways to communicate the biblical stories and truth to the masses. Well, these atheist artists that live below the line of despair choose to communicate their belief and story with these bizarre paintings that are sore on the eyes.

Perhaps it is noteworthy that we can stare for hours at paintings that reflect the biblical worldview. We can appreciate their beauty and we intrinsically appreciate the order and design behind them. Yet, when it comes to the “religious/philosophical” message of the atheist artists, we can only bare to look for a short time. We cannot appreciate disjointed chaotic expressions. Maybe this is simply one more reality screaming in the face of such artists, and yet it is a reality they choose to suppress. We are what the Bible says we are, and this is why we appreciate art and music consistent with the biblical worldview of order and design. If we were really products of chance, then we should be able to enjoy these “chance-based” artistic productions. Since we are made in the image of God, we cannot enjoy these things. Instead, we can only mourn for the tortured souls that put such chaos on canvas. Sadly, Jackson Pollock became entirely hopeless after he exhausted what could be done in art with his “chance” method. In 1956, he committed suicide. This is the frustration that comes from trying to consistently live as though the Bible is not true. Most forms of mysticism falsely help people avoid the despair, but Pollock was able to find no such relief.

In terms of literature, we can return to Henry Miller (1891-1980) of whom I wrote of before. He originally intended to use his gift of writing to destroying meaning in general, especially with regard to sex. So he wrote extremely dirty things meant to defile the mind and trivialize meaning where it mattered greatly. Yet, later in life, he changed his position. In fact, if one were not a careful reader, they might assume he became a Christian. He started using Christian words, biblical imagery, and he certainly became focused on spiritual matters. He even quoted Scripture. Like Salvador Dali, he saw spiritual significance in the dematerialization of matter into energy. He began to believe the ultimate reality was certainly spiritual, and that meaning does in fact exist. However, his faith was in pantheism. He believed the universe itself is the divine reality, and we are just part of it. Individual man does not matter, but we are just one small part of the whole. As I said in previous posts, this is not too far off from Eastern Hinduism. Francsis Schaeffer sums up Miller by writing, “He is doing the same as Salvador Dali and the new theologiansnamely, using Christians symbols to give an illusion of meaning to an impersonal world which has no real place for man.”

Sadly, this mysticism did not spare theology. Just like dichotomy infiltrated theology after it captured the other disciplines, so too did mysticism. Next time I will focus on what Schaeffer calls the new theology. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mysticism Invades Art and Writing


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

In the previous post, I discussed modern mysticism. According to Francis Schaeffer, this represents a third level below the line of despair. The line of despair refers to the belief that the universe is a meaningless non-rational place, and therefore there are no absolutes. The first level below the line is nihilism where people claim to accept the meaninglessness of it, and often sink into an utter depression from it. The second level below the line is dichotomy, where people divide knowledge into two separate spheres. They agree that reality is ultimately meaningless, but humans have the unique ability to ascribe their own meaning to things. Thus, truth and all values are relative to each person. Well, some people are uncomfortable with this, since they know it is admitted irrationality. They know it is contradictory. So they turn to a third level below the line of despair. They turn to mysticism, where they claim there is some inexplicable reality that does unify all things, but it is unknowable. Thus, all of our attempts to define and explain it are inadequate and are therefore equally valid expressions of “truth.” This third level provides the illusion that there must be meaning, and many people find it necessary simply because they cannot deal with the idea of true meaninglessness.

As I have said previously, this all goes to show that fallen man is foolish in his musings. All people everywhere live by absolutes. They believe in them. They cling to them. All people live as though antithesis is true. Even if they try to claim that they don’t, they do. The atheist college professor that says there is no absolute moral truth, but right and wrong are relative to each individual, will still flunk the student caught plagiarizing. The sexually depraved counterculture of the 1960s that cried for moral freedom were morally outraged at the Vietnam War. People who claim that the universe is random expect gravity to work tomorrow just as it did today as though the universe is orderly rather than random. Individuals who claim that matter in motion is all that exists tend to have no problem using immaterial thought and logic to learn things. Radicals who claim that property distinctions should be erased seem to have the full expectation that a cashier at a grocery store will return to them exact change when they overpay.

I think you get my point. As hard as fallen man tries to escape the obvious truth, his very actions betray him. The truth is that the universe is not meaningless. It was created by the Almighty God of the Bible, and that God sustains the universe every second of every day. The laws of logic are laws of thought that exist only because the mind of God exists. We have access to such laws because we are made in the image of God. Because God created the universe as He did, and assigned value to each thing He created, we know that absolutes exist. Every human knows this, even if they deny it with their lips. And all of those examples that I gave above demonstrate that no human can escape the truth. They all live in one way or another as if the Christian worldview is true. They do not live according to the presuppositions that they claim to have. Why? Because living according to their presuppositions are impossible. So they must borrow from ours. The evolution of the three levels below the line of despair is simply the shifting of presuppositions designed to remove the tension. Those who think deeply know that they cannot escape absolutes. They know they live according to the reality expressed in the biblical worldview. Therefore, they keep back peddling until they can find assumptions that satisfy them in their rejection of God’s truth. Yet, these faulty assumptions do not solve the problem, and thus these people keep living in ways that betray their claims. They pick and choose which absolutes they reject and then arbitrarily accept the absolutes that they like.

Well, in the last chapter I summarized, we saw that Schaeffer introduced the topic of mysticism in philosophy. In this chapter he moves back to art and language and shows that modern mysticism spread to these disciplines too.
Paul Klee Painting

One good example of such an artist and writer is Paul Klee (1879-1940). He described his art and his philosophy in his writings, and in such writings he tended to see his art like a Ouija board. Although he most likely did not believe in spirits, he hoped that the universe itself as an entity would communicate through his paintings. In a similar manner that a person’s hands automatically move to letters on the Ouija board, Klee hoped that by simply moving his brush on the canvas the universe would automatically communicate its truth through whatever was painted. He obviously had a mystical view of the universe, where he did in fact believe that there is an abstract universal absolute that exists, and he saw it as being some sort of consciousness of the universe itself. Francis Schaeffer was certainly right when he pointed out that the modern mysticism coming out of the West is very similar to Eastern Hinduism. The mysticism keeps taking on a form of pantheism. In pantheism, the universe itself is said to be God, and it is an impersonal consciousness. Klee obviously allowed this kind of thinking to influence his art.

A better known painter, Salvador Dali (1901-1989), also provides a great example of this mysticism. Dali was at first a Surrealist, where he agreed with the hopelessness and perversion of Dadaist art mixed with Freudian delusions. This was in the 1920s. Well, by the 1940s and 1950s his view had clearly shifted. He began to paint a new series of mystical paintings. They moved away from the absurd images of surrealism to more religious paints depicting certain aspects of Christianity. However, he made it clear that the Christian symbols painted by him meant something entirely different to him than what they really meant to historic Christianity. He believed that as science was reducing matter down to energy, this represented dematerialization, thus showing reality to be spiritual. So to him, energy was the universal absolute, and at its core it was spiritual. Somehow, in his mind, this allowed him to subscribe absolute meaning to concepts even though they were relative to him. To him, the existence of the “spiritual absolute” means that meaning can exist. Once again, this is nothing more than a pantheistic type of materialism.

A good example of mysticism in language is found in Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) in his later years. When he realized that the run of the mill existentialism did not work, and that dichotomy was not truly livable (since we all live according to absolutes that we expect others to live by as well), he moved down to the third level below the line of despair. To Heidegger, he believed the mystical absolute was to be found in human language in general. He believed some sort of being is there, and that it makes itself known through language. Thus human language itself became the universal absolute for Heidegger. We all participate in that being by our use of language. Of course, Heidegger argued that it was language in general that reflected this being rather than specific words. Thus, our specific words cannot describe this unknowable being, but the existence of language itself somehow allows us to participate in "it." This theory became the basis for the new theological liberalism that emerged after the 1930s.

In summary, mysticism is nothing more than nonsense. I hope you noticed that all of these people that claim that the ultimate reality is being beyond description somehow find a way to describe it. Heidegger's appeal to language is still a description of what he said was indescribable. Rather than accepting reality, these people become comfortable with admitted irrationality.  Reality is that the God of the Bible exists, therefore absolutes exist, and since we are made in God's image we cannot escape this reality. Of course, accepting that means we have to repent and do things God's way. We have to admit that He is the authority and humanity is not. Unregenerate man will never admit this. The end result is that fallen man would rather be irrational than accept the plain truth. Until next time, God bless.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Modern Mysticism: Despair Beyond Despair!


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Last time, I wrote about theology dropping below the line of despair with Neo-Orthodoxy. Now that such a plummet has been discussed with regard to all of the major disciplines, we can talk more about being below the line of despair. In fact, this is where Schaeffer goes next, for life underneath the line continues to evolve. For those who are just now jumping onto this blog, I am summarizing Francis Schaeffer’s books on the Christian Worldview. He argues that prior to 1890 people believed in absolutes since they believed in antithesis (if a statement is true, then its opposite is false). After 1890, absolutes were abandoned by the various fields of study. To not believe in absolute truth is to live below the line of despair.

Schaeffer points out that there are different levels of despair. The most basic level is nihilism. This is the total rejection of all meaning and purpose. Some of the early artists bought into this, became insanely depressed, and committed suicide. If the universe is truly a random-chance based accident, then nihilism actually makes sense. However, most people could not live with nihilism, for it is impossible to live by. Furthermore, it contradicts all aspects of human experience. Human experience clearly shows that there are absolutes and every single one of us lives by them, even if we try to claim that such absolutes do not exist. The failure of nihilism should have caused fallen man to logically reject the idea that reality is meaningless. Our experience so cries against the idea of a chance-based atheistic universe that the rational thing would have been to accept the Christian Worldview presuppositions. These presuppositions can unify all fields of knowledge and accurately explain all reality and experience. Well, this option was not good enough for fallen man. So their answer was to create a second level under the line of despair.

This second level was the division of knowledge that I have been talking about for the past few weeks. Schaeffer calls this the “dichotomy.” The general idea is that the universe is meaningless in and of itself, and so the disciplines that study reality (most ofd the sciences) do so with the understanding that there is no God, no purpose, and no unity to existence. However, human beings are placed at the center of knowledge and are then enabled to define and choose meaning for themselves in an irrational leap of faith. So humans can choose to live as though there is meaning and value, but it comes down to each one’s opinion. So morals, values, religious beliefs, and so on are all placed in this category. They are separated from the rational sciences and are seen to be individual matters.

This is how many people live and cope under the line of despair. This is also very relevant to the comments that were made on my last post. Most atheistic philosophers are not nihilists for this reason. They subscribe to this second level below the line. Therefore, they can live normal lives because they are comfortable with their irrational leap of faith. They comfortable with no grand unifying theory because they can unify thought however they want. In so doing, they actually betray what they really believe. All this proves is that they really do still believe in absolutes. They really do still believe in objective meaning. Their lives need objectivity since it is impossible for us to survive without it. As image bearers of the one true God, we know objectivity is real, but in order to suppress it, fallen man declares the universe to be meaningless. Since we cannot undo our humanness and the need for absolutes that stem from our status as imago dei, fallen humanity has divided knowledge so that we can live by absolutes while at the same time denying that they exist. It really is quite absurd. But this is what fallen man must resort to if he rejects the Christian worldview. Perhaps it is for this reason that Schaefer considers this second level of despair to be a more profound level of despair.

A key example of the non-livability of this way of thinking is Jean-Paul Sarte, the famous secular existentialist. He believed that since there is no true meaning, that if a person helped a lady cross a street or chose to rob her instead, neither would be more acceptable than the other. Moral absolutes were nonsense to him. And yet later on, he was upset with fellow existentialist Albert Camus for taking stands that seemed to be absolute. Sadly, Sarte’s very displeasure with this is a sign that he himself believed in absolutes. Otherwise, why be upset over Camus’ choice? Even worse, he then later signed the Algerian Manifesto, which was a moral statement against France’s control over Algeria. Well, this caused other secular existentialists to become upset since his taking of a moral stand as though it were objective and absolute betrayed their existentialism. Yet, their indignation with him for doing this betrayed their system too since they treated his action as though it violated an absolute standard. Thus, the idea that there are no absolutes is unlivable, even if you try to divide knowledge into two separate realms like the existentialists did.

So this failure of the second level below the line of despair (dichotomy) then led to the development of a third
level – mysticism. The best way to see mysticism is as an optimistic attempt to find a unified absolute that cannot be rationally defined. So it is still placed in the leap of faith category where morals, values, truth, justice, and religion. exist. They simply wanted to believe that behind all of these abstract ideas is an even more abstract reality. Some people, such as Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) said that the ultimate absolute was the collective conscious of the human race as a whole. In other words, we are all individual pieces of one giant collective reality. We as individuals cannot concretely define it, and thus it is an abstract mystical reality that can never be proved, but must be assumed. Other thinkers believed that using symbols are the best that we humans can do to speak of this abstract reality, but ultimately the symbols have no real power to define it.

For the person familiar with Hindu philosophy and religion, this will all sound familiar. The idea is that ultimate reality is one impersonal substance that is untouchable by human experience or rationale, but instead we are all illusions that use illusory words to describe a reality that is ultimately indescribable. Truly, this third level below the line was where the formerly logical West was now ready to meet the illogical East. There are many forms that this mysticism takes, but the bottom line is it tries to say there is something that is transcendent, but it is unknowable, and thus it is still up to each person to define what that reality is for itself. This effectively leads to a rejection of the law of contradiction, as all propositions are said to be attempts to describe the same ultimate reality.

To the rational person, this should all sound like total nonsense. And it is. But when you abandon antithesis and replace it with synthesis, you eventually even lose logic. As a Christian that sees the world through the lens of the Christian worldview, I must admit that this does not surprise me. Ultimately, there are only two points we can start from. We can either start from the idea that God is the ground of reality and we build our reason atop His revelation, or we can start with humanity at the center, and try to justify our thoughts on our own authority. The move from Renaissance to Enlightenment to Romanticism to Nihilism to Mysticism is the natural progression that human thought would take if we attempted to keep humanity at the center of our thinking.      

This is best exemplified with the brilliant Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). He was the first modern mathematician and was extremely brilliant in all ways (as a scientist, artist, inventor, and philosopher). However, he is perhaps the one who started Western Civilization on its path to despair. The Protestant Reformation was sparked just as Leonardo was dying, and it provided an opposite path. This was the path of a definite culture, and a justification for the absolutes that exist all around us. It was a path that is the grand unifying theory that brings together the universals with the particulars. This is the Christian worldview. Leonardo, however, began with man’s rational capacities as his starting point. From there he could find no universal that could unite the many particulars. This makes sense since each human is one of these particulars. Thus, when you begin with the particular rather than the universal, then you will only be able to find the particulars, and you will have no way to unite them. But if you begin with the fact that the universal exists, and in that universal all of the particulars find their connection and meaning, then all knowledge is united and works. God is the absolute person that is distinct from all particulars. He is the author of all universals and their particulars. He is the ground for all absolute truth. Beginning with Him provides the unity that Leonardo could not find.

But Leonardo did not surrender his hopelessness. Instead he died in it. He died with no unity of knowledge. Then the Enlightenment followed the Renaissance by keeping man at the center. Romanticism did likewise, until finally the modern age had come. At this point, the solution was to say that rationality and science can only deal with the particulars, and that we can believe in whatever universals we want by making an irrational leap of faith. At this point, man was below the line of despair, and progressed from nihilism to dichotomy (separating knowledge into the two spheres), and now to mysticism. Mysticism accepts the dichotomy itself as intrinsic to the universe. This is the heart of postmodernism.

The end result is that postmodernists can use our Christian vocabulary, but assign whatever meaning they want to it. On their theory of truth, there is nothing wrong with contradiction. Liberal theologians have embraced this themselves, to where they use all of the same words as us (God, Christ, salvation, sin, the Fall, etc.), but they mean entirely different things by them. The end result is two different religions that use the same terminology. No wonder people are confused.

Once again, the solution is for Christians to submit to the biblical worldview and to push antithesis to the world. Fallen man is still in the image of God, therefore he knows truth exists, he knows antithesis is true, and he knows that God is the ground of both the universal and the particular. No one needs proof that God exists. They already know this in their heart of hearts. They simply suppress it. We must confront that suppression with the truth, and show them the way out of their despair. I will close with  Romans 1:18-25, as it sums this up well.

Rom 1:18-25  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  (19)  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  (20)  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  (21)  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (22)  Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  (23)  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  (24)  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  (25)  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Theology Below the Line of Despair!


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Over the last few weeks, I have been summarizing Francis Schaeffer’s Christian Worldview series. We have seen that Western Civilization has fallen below the line of despair, and it happened in this order: 1) philosophy, 2) art, 3) music, 4) general culture, and 5) theology. Today, I will explain how theology eventually fell below the line.

If we looked at all of the non-orthodox and errant schools of theology individually, we would find a great deal of diversity in terms of thought and belief. Therefore, Schaeffer realized it makes more sense to focus on the single factor that unifies the errant theologies that live below the line. In so doing, he noticed something similar to the other disciplines. Within theology, there previously existed an optimistic attitude toward humanism and rational thought. This optimism was undoubtedly birthed by the Enlightenment Era. And this optimism was later followed by a thinker who served as the doorway to the line of despair. And afterward, those who followed entered the doorway and traveled below the line of despair.

Remember, the line of despair refers to the belief by most people that there are no real absolutes, especially with regard to truth. In fact, truth as a concept is divided between rationalism and faith. Rationalism and science are seen as objective, but abstract concepts like truth, justice, right, wrong, etc., are taken off a leap of faith because there is no real or absolute meaning to anything. Those who think like this are thinking below the line of despair.

So how could theologians descend below this line? How could there be a doorway from within our camp to this? How could we end up with liberal theology and Neo-Orthodoxy (this will be explained shortly)? And how could have the field of theology descended to the awful point that we see today where “Christian” theologians hold to an embarrassing amount of variety on key theological issues? Today on the subjects of
gay marriage, abortion, the theory of evolution, original sin, human nature, salvation, the person of Christ, etc., there is far too much disagreement within the umbrella of Christianity and the historic denominations. This diversity demonstrates that far too many Christians view truth exactly as the world does; as a matter of synthesis. Apparently, truth is a melting pot of whatever we want to throw together. This is not right. Truth exists, and it exists absolutely. In fact, the truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

So how did it come to this? Well, let’s first look at the doorway. But before we do that, first let me say that those who traveled below the line were never part of orthodox Christianity in the first place. They were people who accepted the Enlightenment rejection of biblical truth. They believed the Bible had errors and was scientifically inaccurate. They believed science and reason were where truth and progress were to be found. They accepted the “closed-universe” model, which teaches that the universe is a closed system that operates off of unchanging predictable laws. In a closed universe, miracles are not possible. If there is a God, He would have no power to alter, change, or break these laws of nature. From this assumption, the theologians moved toward liberalism. When they said the Bible was filled with errors, what they meant was that since it contained miraculous events in it, it must not be true. This was not the result of investigation, but instead it was the natural conclusion to the ASSUMPTION of a closed-universe.

The Bible holds to the open-universe model, which means since God is the creator of the universe, He is sovereign over it. As such, He can alter, change, or break the laws of nature whenever He sees fit. He can raise people from the dead. He can split Red Sea. He can send ten plagues onto Egypt. He can do any of the things mentioned in Scripture. This is quite logical. If by mere words He spoke the universe into existence, then it would be far easier for Him to do miracles within that world He created. Unfortunately, these theologians rejected this, and instead followed the lead of the Enlightenment philosophers. Their goal was to find out what really happened in the biblical narratives. They searched for the historical Jesus. After a century and a half of failing at this, they were ready to give up their optimism just as the other disciplines did. They were ready to enter the doorway that was previously opened by philosophy.

However, it is fair to note as I did with the philosophers, that a choice was before them. When their Naturalistic theology failed, there were two possibilities for them to choose from. They could either throw away their Naturalistic assumptions of a closed-universe and surrender to the biblical theology of the Reformation, or they could embrace the nihilistic assumptions of no absolutes. I am sure you can guess which choice they made. Just the like philosophers should have abandoned their atheistic assumptions rather than absolutes, the liberal theologians should have abandoned their naturalistic views rather than biblical theology. Well, what the theologians did is they attempted to create a third way, very similar to the philosophers. They agreed with Kierkegaard that a leap of faith is necessary. They agreed that truth is separated into rational and non-rational categories. They believed solid fact belonged in the rational category (the sciences) and that anything else is in the non-rational category and simply amounts to whatever a person wants to believe. This is the leap of faith. There is no true objective meaning, but we can define our own meaning and it will be “real” to us. Theologians bought into this, and thus traveled below the line of despair.

Kierkegaard was the doorway by dividing truth into rational and non-rational categories. Kierkegaard himself was religious and thus from him existential religion was born. However, the theologians were decades behind in terms of accepting his view. They still clung to the Naturalistic optimism of the Enlightenment. The philosophers, however, jumped on this idea quickly and created their atheistic existential ideas that influenced art, music, and the general culture. Afterwards, liberal theologians would jump on the bandwagon. The door had been opened for sometime, and as the secular existentialism savaged the old romanticism in all of the secular disciplines, liberal theologians were getting weaker and weaker in their optimistic commitments. All it took was for one theologian at the right time to push theology below the line of despair.

That theologian was Karl Barth (1886-1968), the founder of Neo-Orthodoxy (though he did not like this label). Barth sought to defend many of the orthodox
doctrines of Christianity, but he did so in a way that cost us much. He rejected the old liberalism and argued in favor of many of the Reformed doctrines. This was great. It was necessary that the old liberalism be destroyed in the seminaries. However, Barth’s understanding of the nature of truth caused him to reject the inerrancy of Scripture. He believed the Bible did have errors, both scientifically and historically. To Barth, the Word of God is Jesus Christ alone. It is true that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, but true orthodoxy also believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Barth’s rejection of this was quite costly. He was forced to separate religious faith from the rational fields of study. Secularists were fine with this since it would keep Christian doctrine out of their universities. In a sense, this way of thinking reinforced the idea that theology itself is a non-rational and unnecessary subject. It has no place with the sciences or social sciences. It allowed for Christians to happily believe the doctrines of the Bible and live in our own bubble where we define our own meaning for ourselves based on the Bible. This is how the unbelieving elites see us.

Barth’s intentions may have been good, but his commitment to synthesis and his agreement with Kierkegaard pushed theology below the line of despair. Many men, far less orthodox, came after him. Furthermore, the New Liberalism movement emerged in the 1930s, and those below the line were ripe to fall into it. We who are orthodox have been dealing with this ever since. This is the consequence of professing Christians denying that the God of the Bible is the grand unifying theory. Those who do this separate theology from science, and see no unity between the two. Politically and socially the consequences are obvious.

The unbelieving world definitely agrees with this development in theology. They want us to keep our faith out of politics and education. I remembered watching Ray Comfort debate the hosts of the Atheist Experience TV show, and he asked them why they cared if he believed what the Bible teaches. One of the hosts answered that he cares when Christians bring their faith into the public sphere and use their beliefs to prohibit certain groups from marrying. It was clear he was referencing gay marriage. This host awarded himself the position to declare what beliefs are acceptable for public life and which ones are not. On the one hand I wanted to call into the show and demonstrate to him his hypocrisy. But on the other hand, I also realized that Christians brought this on themselves. By agreeing to Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and then allowing for decades of secularization of public life without putting up a fight, we are left in a situation where unbelievers uncritically accept the idea that religious people are to keep their beliefs private.

Had orthodox theologians pushed the antithesis from the beginning and demonstrated the total irrationality of atheism and existential thinking, this could have been avoided. Had Christians lived Christ-centered lives where the Christian worldview informs all parts of their lives, then we would have resisted the move below the line of despair. Instead, most Christians have bought into it. Most Christians compartmentalize Christ and simply add Him to the other parts of their lives. This is wrong. He is the center of our life, the single unifying factor that ties all aspects of us together.

So what are we to do? Christians, place Christ at the center, stand up for antithesis rather than synthesis, and let’s push back against the world. They are hopeless, meaningless, and contradictory in their thinking. We have the truth. We have the gospel. May we go forth in a thunderous march and proclaim God’s truth to this hopeless and broken world! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christianity is Realism. Press the Gospel!


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Hello everyone. I am glad to get back to this blog. Military duties pressed me for time and I was unable to keep up with my original planned pace. With that being said, I think it is more realistic for me to post on this blog two or three times a week rather than five days a week. So please check back every few days to see if there is a new post. With that, I can move towards today's subject. 

Last time, I wrote on how the shift below the line of despair moved from art to music and then to the general culture. The next and final step below the
line is theology. However, that will be the topic of the next post. Francis Schaeffer pauses after general culture to identify one more time what the unifying factor is in the line of despair. He then seeks to exhort and encourage Christians with this knowledge.

The unifying factor is nothing other than the way people understand truth. Philosophy, art, music, literature, theater, cinema, etc., all understand truth in terms of synthesis rather than antithesis. If these terms are unfamiliar, then see the following post where these concepts were defined in a simple way: Philosophers Below the Line of Despair. Each discipline mentioned so far might choose to use different vocabulary to describe "truth," but they all ultimately are saying the same thing. Truth is not absolute. Truth is relative to the individual and society. Truth is arrived at through a process of combining ideas and beliefs together. This makes sense under the atheistic worldview since a chance-based universe can provide no real objective meaning. However, there are theological or religious flavors of this philosophy too, but they often define God as the universe or history itself.

Christians, in contrast, understand "truth" in terms of antithesis. Objective truth exists, and therefore some things are true while others are false. Some things are right, while other things are wrong. The existence of God is the ground of all objective reality. He is the ground of truth. He is the ground of standards.

Schaeffer believed that Christians in many ways should be glad that this shift happened. Prior to the plummet below the line of despair, people held to a romantic and optimistic humanism. They were atheistic, and yet they believed in antithesis.  They believed in standards. They believed in
objectivity. They believed that humanity was the judge and jury of setting and evaluating such standards. People believed in the Enlightenment Era's nonsensical ideas that man can be perfected, that we are generally good, and that the world is a good place. The problems that exist in the world were supposedly nothing more than minor hiccups that man would fix with the scientific method. There was a general feeling of optimism in humanity. God was removed as the standard setter. If He existed, He was said to be unknowable, therefore, He could not set standards for us. So the Bible was dethroned and supposedly refuted as nothing more than myths written by primitive Hebrews. Rather than having theology as the queen of the sciences
where the Christian worldview could be the grand unifying theory, fallen man moved theology to the back of the line, and sought a unifying factor in humanism.

This actually made it quite difficult for Christians of that era to evangelize. People held to a false objectivity. Had Christians used presuppositional apologetics back then, they could have easily shown these humanists that their presuppositions were impossible, and therefore their conclusions were folly. Well, that didn't happen. Instead, philosophers followed the implications of their atheistic philosophy to their conclusion. Meaning is nonexistent, and therefore absolute truth does not exist. The artists, in their depression, followed suit. Then came the music composers, and then everyone else. It did not help that two world wars, a great depression, and the use of nuclear weapons all happened within a 30 year period. These events forever buried the false optimism of humanism. Now people live below the line of despair. They are depressed. They see no meaning. There is nothing that grounds them in reality.

And yet this is our great opportunity. Romanticism is dead, but that is no problem for Christianity. Christianity is a worldview of realism. Christianity is a worldview that even declares itself to be realist. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-18 Paul writes, "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." Paul got it. There is no room for silly romantic notions here. Christianity is either true or it is false. If it is false, then we are pitiful people. He makes no room for foolish ideas such as Christ merely being an ideal that lives in our hearts. That does us no good. The Bible pushes for antithesis. Something is either true or false. Thanks be to God that Christianity is true. Paul triumphantly concludes in verse 20, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." The amount of evidence in favor of this is massive. For example, Gary Habermas debated noted atheist Anthony Flew over this topic, and the debate judges (who were secular) gave the victory to Habermas. Rationally speaking, the evidence was undeniable. So we hold to the truth. And our faith makes no false pretenses of inward truth that is devoid of outward objective reality.

This is good for the world below the line of despair. Those who are below the line see the world as a hopeless place with no meaning other than that which they artificially choose. And we too see the world as a messed up place. We agree with them that the answer is not found in humanity. However, since they reject the objective reality grounded upon God, they cannot rightly diagnose what is wrong with the world, nor can they effectively fix our woes. They realize their helplessness, which removes all hope. Yet, we can diagnose the world rightly. We can also show them deep down that they do in fact live by absolutes. We can show them the many inconsistencies in their way of thought. We can still use presuppositional apologetics to demonstrate to them that the God of the Bible is the necessary precondition of everything that exists. He is the ground of all reality. He is the ground of nature and its uniformity. He is the ground of the laws of logic. He is the ground of all absolute concepts. He is the grand unifying theory.

We simply need to push the antithesis. We need to maintain that standards absolutely exist. We need to point to the fact that God is the ground of such standards. We must show them that the image of God within them cannot be denied. This is why they betray their claims to synthesis. This is why they act as though truth exists. More can be said on this and would be if I were writing this from a standpoint of apologetics. However, my purpose is simply to encourage Christians to continue to push the antithesis. Continue to share the gospel. Man one hundred years ago clung to a false hope that blinded them to the gospel. Today man admits he has no hope, and thus the real and true offer of hope will shine in great contrast to man's hopelessness now more than ever before. The harvest is plenty as the Lord said.

Of course, it is necessary to end with a warning. Too many Christians do not think about thinking. They do not reflect on worldview matters. Thus, they think in terms of synthesis rather than antithesis. They bought into the postmodern lie. For this reason, we have not stood out in sharp contrast to the world. Instead, we have been just as hypocritical as they are and in many instances we have proven ourselves to be more inconsistent. We lose our voice when we lose our antithesis. Why? Because in a world of synthesis, our objective truth is treated as though it is our relative meaning that we chose for ourselves. It is seen as having no value and no power to change the world. When Christians sit down and act like this false view is right, it only turns people further away from Christ. In actuality, the bolder we are, the more contrarian we are, and the more consistent we are in maintaining a biblical worldview, the more the world will notice, for they will not be able to ignore us. Many will hate us, but many will have their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit.

It is tempting to sell out like the liberal theologians and churches do, but they truly have no respect from the fallen world. They are seen as a sick inconsistent joke. Since they live below the line of despair and think accordingly, they have lost their voice. True Christians, in contrast, are in the greatest position to gain our voice back in way that is louder than ever. And it is all because we think according to the Christian worldview. May we grow in our Christ-centered thinking and watch our voices grow louder and louder for the truth. Until next time, God bless.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Music and The General Culture's Shift Away From Absolute Truth


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Two days ago, I wrote about artists plunging below the line of despair soon after the philosophers. By way of reminder, the line of despair, according Francis Schaeffer, is when people abandon the idea of absolutes and instead see reality as being relative to each individual. Relativity makes sense in a godless, accidental universe. Since many philosophers and artists bought into the philosophy of atheism, they gave up absolute truth with it. The end result is everyone can make up their own truth since ultimately everyone is wrong anyway.

Well, after the artists went below the line of despair, music went next, and then the general culture was soon to follow. Thus, today I will talk about the plunge of music and general culture below the line. As I have said before, the things that Schaffer points out are even more relevant for our day than his.

Just as Hegel was the doorway for philosophy and Impressionism was the doorway for art, Debussy (1862-1918) was the doorway for music to drop below the line of despair. He abandoned traditional musical Musique Concrete. Sound was seriously and deliberately distorted. They would take real sounds, but break them up, rearrange the parts, and throw them back together in any chaotic way they chose. Their message was loud and clear. Everything is relative, all things are in change, and nothing (not even sound) is absolute. This seems to be the uniform message of postmodern man. They see us as arising by chance and chaos, and eventually all will return to that state. So in the meantime, they say we must reject all meaning since there is no purpose or plan that unifies all of the particulars in the universe. For those who are interested, Schaffer gives some very interesting examples on page 36 of The God Who is There, of real samples from these types of composers.
scales, eschewed tone in unnatural ways, and utilized chromaticism to alter music’s basic diatonic organization. In other words, our ears naturally make sense out of patterned scales and predictable tones, but he decided to jumble these around allowing for nonsensical sounds. This opened the door for music composers to deliberately go below the line of despair, as seen by the first large movement to do so. That movement was

Well, it did not stop with music. This progression below the line moved onto a fourth step—general culture. Schaeffer covers the different elements of general culture in this chapter to make his point. He begins with literature and claims that Henry Miller (1891-1980) started to move the general culture below the line. His writings were certainly pornographic, but his purpose was more philosophical than perverse. His goal was to smash everything, including sex. He rejected that there is any meaning, so his goal was to smash all traditional thoughts of meaning, and he even sought to show that sex is meaningless. Without meaning or standards, he can write about whatever he wants, no matter how perverse.

Related to Miller’s philosophic perversion was the emergence of philosophic homosexuality. Homosexuality was becoming more and more accepted among those who traveled below the line of despair simply because it was one more way to reject antithesis. Remember, absolutes depend on antithesis. Some things are good, others are bad. Some actions are right, and others are wrong. Well, homosexuality at its core is an attempt to undermine the most basic form of antithesis that exists in humanity—the distinction between male and female. Genesis 1:27 says that God created male and female in His image. Genesis 2:18 shows that God created woman as a complimentary partner and helper for man. This fundamental distinction between man and woman is what creates families and ultimately civilization. Well, those who rejected God and subscribed to a meaningless universe sought to do away with even this antithesis. The modern feminist movement is one of current driving forces for this idea. The goal is to annihilate the idea that man and woman are complimentary partners, but instead they seek the concept of unisex. Homosexuality actually fights against the entire order of God’s creation.

Next Schaeffer moves onto drama and focuses in on John Osborne (1929-1980). As brilliant as a playwright as this man was, he too was part of this movement towards absurdity. In his famous play Martin Luther, he deliberately distorts history to promote his view of truth. Luther was a man that was absolutely committed to truth and he was convinced that he was right in his doctrinal stances against the Roman Catholic Church. Well, in Osborne’s play, the story ends with one of Luther’s old Catholic mentors asking, “Martin, do you know you are right?” And contrary to all history, Osborne has Luther answer, “Let’s hope so.” The curtain rolls, and the audience is left with the mood that nothing is certain. What a moving way to end a play! If someone missed the point in a philosophy textbook, they certainly would have gotten it from the emotional pit in their stomach after watching the play. This is how drama works. It has the unique power, like music, to bypass the intellect and go straight for the emotions.

Poetry also fell below the line. Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) wrote a poem called Elegy, which is a depressing verbal expression of total meaningless. They are the words of a tortured soul. He put to poetic form the musings of the philosophers, and in so doing he capture the emotional torment caused by such a worldview. Once again, his poetic form could speak to more people than the philosophers could ever hope to.

Modern Cinema is no different. Good movies are not labeled as good because they are morally right, but instead because they are technically good with good camera shots, artistic flavor, and a philosophical message. It is much the same today. Often the movies that win the awards are the movies that the general public did not care for. The general public often likes to see a good guy overcome a bad guy amidst a two hour roller coaster of action and suspense. But in the opinion of the cultural elites, this is nothing more than bad writing and bad filming meant to appease the masses with romantic illusions of escape. The elites want none of that!  Instead, the films that are dubbed as “good” are almost always created by people who agree with the postmodern view of man. Their films have plots that ultimately blur morality, certainty, and truth. They are at their core existentialist.

If you were to explain the drift of modern thought to the average person, they probably would not understand what you are talking about, but as Schaeffer points out, it does not mean they are not influenced by the things they see and hear in movies and on TV, and what they sing along to in pop music. In fact, it is from these areas that the masses have probably been most influenced. It is in these areas that the average “Joe” fell below the line of despair, whether he realized it or not.

For example, the psychedelic music of the Beatles were a deliberate attempt to destroy antithesis, promote
relativism, undermined the truths of Christianity, and promote New Age Spirituality and drug use. The musicians that followed them simply brought more of the wickedness. Since the message was set to catchy tunes and directed toward drug-battered minds, an entire generation bought into the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and we are still living in the ramifications of it today. Music has only become more relative and meaningless. It has only promoted more drug use, violence, and sexual promiscuity. It has pushed the gay and feminist agenda further than at any other time. The televisions shows progressively did the same. The 1970s sitcoms were much less innocent than those that came before, and in the 1980s, the gender distinctions were certainly being challenged, and by the 1990s and onward the heterosexual norm of humanity was cast aside to push the unisex reality that the postmodern man seeks to create.

This all stems from the fact that fallen man rejects absolute truth because they reject the God of the Bible. In the past, they clung to idolatry so that they could appeal to some authority other than God in order to account for their absolute standards. But when the chief thinkers rejected any purpose or meaning to things, and instead insisted upon an atheistic existence, absolute standards were rejected. The philosophers wrote and articulated it, the artists painted it on canvas, the musicians promoted it with their new styles, and the general culture (literature, poetry, drama, cinema, TV, and pop music) unwittingly accepted it. Now this is the default mode of thinking for the people of Western Civilization. People reject absolutes even if they don’t know why. Most people would not call themselves atheists, but their entire view of truth and reality stems from an atheist worldview. It is amazing how the absurd ideas of a few philosophers were able to change the way of thought for the entire modern world.

So Christian, what is your view on truth? In a world where antithesis is rejected, we need to push the antithesis again and again until the culture understands they cannot escape it. There are ways to do this, and perhaps they will be shared in later posts. We know that it is impossible to live without absolutes. We know the universe does have meaning. Therefore we are not hypocritical or inconsistent when we live as such. But the culture is hypocritical and inconsistent when it rejects God’s absolutes and yet forms its own, while with the same breath claiming such absolutes do not really exist. We need to confront them with God’s absolute truth, which is the only absolute truth that exists.

The big battle of our day seems to be over the issue of homosexuality. We need to point out that homosexuality comes down to a lot more than people being able to freely love others. It is more than a civil rights issue. Instead it is savage rebellion against God’s created order. It is being used as a tool and weapon by the cultural elites to break the most fundamental antithesis that exists in human society. If they break the

distinction between men and women, then they have broken the prescribed structure for families. If they break the family beyond repair, then they have broken society beyond repair and have ushered in the chaos they seem to be hoping for. In many ways, the distorted feelings of gays and lesbians are being used and manipulated by these cultural elites in order to create this new order (or lack of order). Christians need to be aware of this. The only solution to this coming chaos is the same solution presented to man throughout all of history—the gospel. May we go out and proclaim it!