Francis Schaeffer used to stress Martin Luther’s observation that unless we are defending the faith at the point where it is being attacked in our generation, we are not defending the faith. He was right. There is a Scandal of the Cross for each generation and each people, but it changes as the shifting stratagems of the Enemy vary. For the Greeks it was the resurrection of the body; for the Jews it was the loss of their status as a privileged people defined by their keeping of the Mosaic Law; for the Modernist it was the supernatural, especially the miraculous; for all men at all times it is our absolute dependence on God’s grace, his unmerited favor.
What is the particular sticking point for our own time? A good case can be made that it is the existence of objective truth, or, more subtly, the ability of human beings to know objective truth, and hence to be responsible for knowing it and accountable to God for what they do about it. Current pseudo-philosophies reduce all truth claims to personal perspectives and power plays, and people influenced by them refuse to participate in any discourse (“logocentric”; “totalizing”) that does not acquiesce in those reductions. There is therefore a strong temptation to think that we have to play by those rules in order to gain a hearing for the Gospel at all. But if we yield to that temptation, are we still proclaiming the Gospel? If I speak in such a way that I have already admitted by the form of discourse I adopt that the Gospel is and can be no more than my personal perspective on religion, have I not denied the faith, however much I may still mouth the prescribed formulae about Jesus dying for our sins? For a Jesus who is lord only of my perspectives is not Lord of the cosmos and is therefore incapable of saving anyone.
It is good to be humble about our pretensions to knowledge and to admit that, while we know absolute truth, we do not know truth absolutely. But in the current climate it is one small step from that admission to becoming intimidated about asserting that the truth claims Christ makes on our lives are absolute and come with God’s absolute authority. That is ultimately the bottom line: is Christ Lord of all whether any of us perceives or accepts it or not, or is He just one of my opinions?
Are robust truth claims offensive to our generation? No one can doubt that they are. Should the soldiers of Christ then tiptoe away from that breach in our battle lines, or should they flood into it lest the entire phalanx of the Gospel message advancing into our culture be subverted and swept away? The ancestors of modern theological liberalism began by downplaying and soft-peddling the supernatural elements of Christian truth, because they thought modern men could no longer accept them. Their intentions were (at first) good and sincere, but they left their followers with only an impotent shell of the biblical faith. Can we afford to repeat their mistake with the epistemological elements?
C. S. Lewis saw the importance of this question as clearly as anyone, and his answer was a resounding “No!” He urged mere Christians to choose their Room off the great Hall by its truth rather than its paneling and its paint. He commended Christian faith for its truth rather than its helpfulness in book after book. He presents the choices perhaps most starkly in the essay “Man or Rabbit?” in God in the Dock. “Either [the faith] is true, or it isn’t. . . . Isn’t it the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?” Lewis’s own devotion to serving the secret was unambiguous and unmistakable.
Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. His claims on our belief are absolute. If we flinch at this point; if our trumpet gives an uncertain sound; if we present a Christ who is inoffensive because He is after all only one perspective among many; if we allow the enemies of truth to dictate the terms of engagement; if, in other words, we compromise on the issue of truth, then we betray the next generation to unrelieved darkness. If we do this, then may God have mercy on their souls—and, even more, on ours.
Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College. His most recent books include Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Broadman, 2006), Stars through the Clouds (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), his collected poetry, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., revised and expanded, and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).
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