Twelve years ago I was surprised when I met an Anglican minister who denied God’s creation and Jesus’ divinity, and argued for impersonality of God. I thought, how come a church minister could deny Creator God, Jesus as the Son of God, and the believers’ personal relationship with God. And I was deeply puzzled at her claim that she was a Christian because I felt as if I was talking to a Buddhist. And a coup of years ago when I read an articles on Touchstone, I found that the writer was using interesting vocabulary—Christian atheist and atheistic Christian. I felt very strange with such a concept as Christian atheism.
The contemporary churches appear to be struggling with a problem of identity. We feel confused when we try to figure out who we are. How can we introduce ourselves to others? When we say, “I am a Christian,” they will respond, “What kind of Christian do you mean?” It seems to me that we Christians have lost our name. It is not merely identity confusion but identity crisis, I guess. I don’t think it is a small problem for the churches as they look out into the future because it did not happen accidently but by a shift in our theological ground on which the churches are standing.
Anyway, as I was pondering on the issue, I encountered CS Lewis’s comment in his book, Mere Christianity. “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” It happened when I was taking the seminar course which was about C.S. Lewis, which took place in Oxford, the year before. And then, I chose my research topic, as part of my doctoral studies. This is part of Introduction of my paper: “Being mindful of the challenge of identity confusion that 21st century churches are facing, the research aims to identify all the Christian doctrines in Mere Christianity, which C. S. Lewis suggested to be ‘common to nearly all Christians at all times.’ It also explores how the common Christian doctrines, identified from Mere Christianity, are expressed in Lewis’s novels, and examines the sermons that were preached for the last seven and half years at Crossway Community Church to find out how the common beliefs, depicted from Mere Christianity, were communicated in the form of preaching.”
Here are the eleven Christian doctrines that I depicted from Mere Christianity, which C. S. Lewis suggested to be “common to nearly all Christians at all times”: God as Absolute Being, The Corrupted World, Life beyond Death, God of Creation, God of Trinity, God of Revelation, Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus, the Redeemer, Jesus’ Resurrection, Jesus, the Only Way, and Jesus’ Second Coming.
I am talking about “God as Absolute Being” today, and others the following Sundays, respectively. So it will be a series of sermon under the title: “Eleven Christian Doctrines that are common to nearly all Christians at all times.” When I talk about “God as Absolute Being,” it may sound provocative to some people. I have deliberately chosen this sermon title in the hope to address seriously the issue of relativism which has been dominating the minds of the contemporary.
Cultural Relativism means that “There is no one universally applicable culture to all the contexts in human life,” which means that there is no better culture, or worse. It is based on a variety of scientific researches. E.g. Franz Boas, who was responsible for the founding of social anthropology in the U.S., claimed that: “The data of ethnology prove that not only our knowledge but also our emotions are the result of the form of our social life and of the history of the people to whom we belong.”
Which means, knowledge is not all about our culture. Experiences are another critical factor in shaping our own culture. Our knowledge may be compared to make a decision which one is better , but our experiences cannot be viewed, measured, or evaluated, that way. So, the conclusion is that: “There is no one universally applicable culture to all the contexts in human life.” We can see that Cultural Relativism brought about a positive outcome in our “life together” as part of the human community.
Why has Relativism become dominant in the contemporary world? One answer is, “there is no ready consensus on any one definition.” Through their experiences, people have found that what is good here can be bad there, what is right here can be wrong there, and what is correct here can be incorrect there. There is no consensus in the wider context. Also scientific development has proved that what was scientifically true yesterday turns out to be untrue today. As noted that “the scientific revolution of the early 20th century, brought about by the advent of Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics,” scientific relativism has gained its influential stronghold.
It is true that Relativism has contributed to human life in a positive way. However, not without dangers to our lives. This is what I want to focus on today: Relativism’s dangers. Let me begin with introduction to Absolutism, which is defined as that: “the view that at least some truths or values in the relevant domain apply to all times, places or social and cultural frameworks. They are universal and not bound by historical or social conditions.” Which means, there are some truths or values which are not under control of human decision, agreement, or formation. E.g. Creator God and Agape in Christianity. This is what I mean by God as Absolute Being: God who created the universe in the beginning and God’s unconditional love that never changes.
We Christians believe in God as Absolute Being, and our faith is rooted in the Scripture that revealed God: Who created the universe and owns all that is in it (Genesis 1:1, 1 Chronicles 29:11); whose greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty know no bounds. (1 Chronicles 29:11); with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 2:17); who exists from everlasting to everlasting, before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world had been formed (Psalm 90:2); who introduced Himself to the people as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). Simply speaking, God exists from everlasting to everlasting. God is not only good and just but loving, graceful and forgiving. And God’s love for us never changes. I don’t think anyone of us want to believe in such a God who exists but may disappear tomorrow, who is good and just at times, who is loving, graceful and forgiving most of times, or whose love may change tomorrow.
At this, an atheist may want to say to me, “Get out of your box.” OK. I have jumped out of the box of Christianity and I understand what atheists believe: Any religion is a human production. Therefore, no God, no life beyond death, and everything disappears at death. (OK. I am fine with it) Then, let me check it out with you: Based on your atheistic belief that there is no God, no life beyond death, and that everything disappears at death, (1) I don’t need to stick to any set of ethical teachings because there is no absolute truth about ethics; (2) I don’t need to listen to any set of moral teachings because there is no absolute truth about morality; (3) my happiness is the top priority in my life because everything will disappear in the end; Therefore, (4) I will do whatever I feel good about because this life is the only chance that I should make the most of. Is this the kind of life that you are arguing for? Well, I don’t think, anyone of us wants to live such a life. And of course we wouldn’t recommend it to our children.
Let me share an ancient parable that gives us an insight about a danger of Relativism: An army commander of an ancient dynasty in China, was crossing a river on a boat. When the boat was in the middle of the river, unfortunately he dropped his precious sword in the water. He hurriedly marked on the side of the boat so that he might be able to locate the spot where he dropped the sword. When he reached the other side of the river, he started searching his sword in the water under the mark on the boat. Do you think he is able to find his sword?
We all acknowledge ethical, or moral, relativism which explains that what is true today could be untrue tomorrow. Also we acknowledge that there are some truths that are only perspectival, which means looking at the same thing from different perspectives like this example. However, the issue of truth claim among difference religions and worldviews is not that simple. I wish the problem of truth claim could be as simple as this graphic, which shows different silhouettes of the same object when it is viewed from different angles.
Here is an example, for the reason that we cannot prove the existence of God, or for the reason that we can’t reach consensus on the matter, can the Christian worldview and the Buddhist worldview stand together in one’s mind as absolute truth? I said, “absolute truth” because for Christians Creator God is Absolute Being and for Buddhists “everything is illusion” or “nothing is everlasting” is an absolute and foundational doctrine. (Now I am talking about Theravada Buddhism, which is known as remained closest to the original teachings of Siddhartha Gautama). The answer is: No, the two worldviews cannot stand together in one’s mind, because they are contradictory to each other.
Let me summarize what I have talked about so far: I am doing it in a form of interview.
1.If Christianity is absolutely true in that it is based on God as Absolute Being, do you mean that other worldviews are wrong, e.g. the Buddhist worldview?
Yes, they are wrong. At the same time, I admit that they, e.g. Buddhists, may also say that Christianity is wrong. Here I mean by “Buddhists” those who believe in Theravada Buddhism, which is known as remained closest to the original teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.
2. Why don’t you say the both are right?
I can’t, because the two worldviews are exclusive to each other. If one is right, the other is wrong. They are contradictory to each other.
3. Isn’t it a matter of difference, not a matter of right and wrong?
Of course, they are different, but if you want to understand your past, present, and future, you have to choose between No God and Creator God. One of them is true for sure.
4. I see that. We human beings are so limited that we cannot tell what is absolute actually. Now, on what grounds do you say that the Christian worldview is absolutely true? Why not the Buddhist worldview?
I believe that the Christian worldview is absolutely true, because God revealed Himself in the Scripture and in Jesus Christ, what is called God’s self-revelation. On the other hand, the Buddhist worldview is based on a human being’s teachings, who was Gautama Siddhartha.
5. Then, again, on what grounds do you accept the Scripture and Jesus Christ as God’s revelation?
I have got a long story which may respond to your question. I am willing to share it if you don’t mind, but I want to use C. S. Lewis’ quote as an answer to the question this time.
“You must make your choice. Either this man [Jesus] was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
God as Absolute Being
I hope and pray that we and our children may believe that: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets about Jesus (Acts 3:18). The time of universal restoration—into the Kingdom of peace, joy and love—that God announced long ago through his holy prophets is surely coming (Acts 3:21). In faith all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Acts 3:25). God hears when we call to him (Psalm 4:1,3). God is searching the faithful who put their trust in Him (Psalm 4:3,5). God is willing to let the light of His face shine on us (Psalm 4:6). God has already put gladness in our hearts more than when our wealth abounds (Psalm 4:7). God makes us lie down in safety and sleep in peace (Psalm 4:8).
I want to close my sermon with a daring claim of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“the absolute authority of the word demands absolute obedience, that is, absolute freedom …..”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio).
I pray that we all may experience absolute freedom through our absolute submission to God who is Absolute Being. In Jesus’ name. Amen.