A Very Wrong Idea
The Secularist Alternative
Theological Reactions to Scientific Secularism
Reinterpreting Providence and Revelation
Christ in Modern Theology|
Abject Capitulation Not Justified
Notes & References
The idea that there is no God is very old - - and very wrong!
The idea that there is no God is not exactly new. It has been around a very long time. Nevertheless, ever since about 2000 years before Christ, since Abraham, the nation of Israel witnessed to the world that there is a Supreme Being, that He is the Creator and Controller of the universe, that He is also a caring God, supplying all man's temporal and spiritual needs.
This concept of an all-powerful, all-wise, all-good God was introduced through Christianity into the Greco-Roman world , and while there were always a minority who disagreed, the concept was generally accepted in the Western world until well into the modern period.
In our time, however, belief in a God who is both transcendent and personal has been seriously undermined in the intellectual climate of our scientific civilization.
Starting from the basic premise, called by Jaques Monod, "the principal of objectivity" - that nothing is to be accepted as fact that is not verifiable by the senses - science has reached the conclusion, that the universe is a closed, self-sustaining system governed by unalterable natural laws, and showing no evidence of any power outside of itself.
"Naturalism assumes that a sufficient explanation of experience is available, whithin the realm of nature itself, without any appeal to a super- or non-natural principle or being of any kind." 
"The ever-increasing knowledge of matter in complexity and potentialities is making more and more unnecessary to demand the fiat of a Creator to explain the origin of man, or of life, or of the cosmic process." 
In fact, "In fact man has come to issue a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from God." 
On the face of it, the new "faith" of modern science has seemingly carried all before it. Working from this purely secular philosophy, scientists have produced a vast technological revolution which has encompassed the whole world. "Without supernatural illumination man can boast that he has created our glittering and largely pregnant civilization."  Nor is this all, for scientific technology is now carrying man out into the vast reaches of space. (Only now, 2010, the apparent lack of funds and/or plus the President of America's directed political, religious views jeopardize NASA's Space Program.) To many, the adequacy of the scientific method seems beyond doubt. The prestige of science and of scientists is very high, and for a vast number of people God, as He has been conceived in the past, is as good as dead.
The consequences of the "death of God" in modern life and thought have been shattering indeed.
In the first place, it is responsible for the growing indifference of modern man to religion. "People think that science is far and away the principal agent to social change, and will determine the future of man," says Dr. Michael Ramsey.  "In consequence," he continuous, "religion, morality, and philosophy no longer matter very much, because they do not effectively determine the goals of life. The real power belongs to a process of scientific discovery, technological innovation, industrial application and economic growth - the whole leading to greater prosperity and well-being."
"God," says John Reid, "simply does not enter into the considerations and concern" of man's "day-to-day existence." 
"It is not that science has disproved religion," adds Charles Davis, "it has simply made it irrelevant." 
Scientific secularism has not merely brushed aside the claims of a theistic world view, it has gone on to claim that it can provide a positive alternative for building a better world. "Atheism," contended Holbach, "truly promotes social virtues and the betterment of mankind, by showing man that he has it in his power to overthrow the apathy of pie-in-the-sky religion, and those who advocate it, and inaugurate a new age of progress."  And Condorcet declared that "no limit" could be set to "the perfectibility of the powers of man." 
Admittedly, atheism's first test in the French Revolution was a tragic failure; but in our time a new and more civilized humanism persists in claiming to be far better able than religion to improve the condition of mankind. .
"The ethic of knowledge that created the modern world is the only ethic compatible with it, the only one capable, once understood and accepted." 
"What the higher religions promise to the faithful, secular humanism holds out as a possibility within the grasp of man's own efforts, provided he will learn to actualize his own resources." 
"Prominent humanists have produced a confident atheism which vies the religious belief for the support of society in the building of a better world." 
If the effects of empirical science have been shattering in the social, economic, and political spheres of modern civilization, they have been even more disturbing to Christian believers in general, and to church leaders and theologians in particular, who have the special responsibility to the Christian faith.
There are those, of course, who refuse to deny the age-long witness of the Christian church and are still contending earnestly "for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Jude 3. But many theologians have felt that if the Christian faith is to make any appeal to the world today, it can do so only by coming to terms with the new scientific, and secularist faith through a drastic reinterpretation of its teachings about God, about Christ, about revelation and providence. Such scholars have been not inappropriately described as "theologians of the secular," and the results of their reinterpretation are collectively designated "modern theology."
Typical of these modern reconstructionists of the Christian faith is a recently published compendium entitled Christian Believing, edited by Maurice F. Wiles, professor of divinity at the University of Oxford, who himself only a year or two back published his own reinterpretation with the significant title, `The Remaking of Christian Doctrine'.
It does not take more than a brief perusal of such volumes to discover that, on the basis of the scientific dictum of the inviolability of natural law, the God of modern theology has been reduced to a remote noninterventionist deity who is denied any direct activity in human affairs.
In the past, "acts of God" have been construed as "the direct result of His initiatives, the means by which He intervened to set right the relation between His creatures and Himself, and to make possible the most intimate communion with Him."  Such direct intervention in the natural order must now be excluded. Instead, "acts of God" are to be understood as purely natural events which are subjectively interpreted as providential by the believers. An "act of God is an event, which, when interpreted in a particular way, mediates an encounter with transcendent love, beauty, moral judgment, grace and acceptance; in short, with God's self-communication to man."  Regarding miracles, "I do not think we are given such specific signs of God's goodness or God's power as they suggest." 
In the same way, revelation is explained not as the direct communication of absolute truth to man, but as a vague "divine-human encounter" to which man makes a "subjective response." On this basis, therefore, declares Lampe, the Bible is not a setting forth of divinely given infallible truths, but "a record of human experience" of God, "the interpretations which were placed upon experience, and reflections upon these interpretations." 
If this treatment is accorded to the "minor" acts of God in revelation and providence, no exception can be made of the supreme "act of God" in history, namely the incarnation of His divine Son. In modern theology the virgin birth of Jesus has to be discarded, and His divinity is explained simply as His "openness" to "encounter with God" at the "ground of His being." So, says Hugh Montefiore, "I feel that I can best assert the orthodox dogma of Jesus' full humanity by interpreting the credal phrases . . . in what are for me very real and meaningful, but non-literal and symbolic senses." 
Christ's death can be taken as a real event, but the resurrection and ascension, which if taken literally would contravene the inviolability of natural law, must be appropriately demythologized. Statements like "born of the Virgin Mary" and "the resurrection of Christ," says Dr. Lampe, "taken at face value, I hold to be untrue."
The recorded account of the life of Jesus between His birth and death contains many supernatural claims and acts which present difficulty to the modern mind. The difficulty is resolved, however, if they are not regarded as literal accounts of what He actually did and said, but as early Christian interpretations of these events, conditioned by Jewish and Greek concepts of that time, and needing to be demythologized to make them acceptable to the more enlightened and science-conditioned climate of our time.
On the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, Dr. Wiles with considered caution comments, "I wish to be as chary of claims that specific insights or achievements are the immediate result of the Holy Spirit's working, as I am about God's miraculous intervention or providential ordering of particular events in the natural order." 
The modern theologians, of course, hasten to assure us that their total reconstruction of the Christian message does not in the least affect the essence of the Christian religion, but H.E.W. Turner, in one of the conservative essays in Christian Believing, begs to differ. Any rethinking and reinterpretation of the Bible, he says, cannot be "without regard to the question whether it is the same Gospel that we are presenting, and the same faith that is being set forth," and he clearly feels that the extreme reinterpretations of modern theologians are not presenting the message of the Bible, or setting forth the ancient faith.
Other conservative exponents of the Christian faith agree with him. They assert that these reinterpretations constitute "another gospel" (2.Cor. 11:4) which bears little resemblance to the "faith once delivered unto the saints." H. Richard Niehbuhr put it succinctly when he said that modern theology presents "a God without wrath," who "brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." 
That modern theologians are not justified in accepting the concepts of our time as necessarily more valid than the concepts of past ages is stressed by A.M. Allchin, another conservative writer. To be truly "attentive" to the great figures of the Christian past, he says, will make one "more than a little skeptical of the presuppositions and unquestioned assumptions of the age in which he lives. Far from supposing that we live in an age in some way privileged over other cultures in all fields of knowledge, he will come to suspect that our great and unquestioned advance in certain areas of knowledge, i.e. the natural sciences, have been purchased at a very heavy price, a virtual blindness to other areas of human wisdom, so that the things which our forefathers saw so clearly that they hardly needed to speak of them, are now almost closed to us." 
Nels F.S. Ferre likewise deplores the abject capitulation of the radical theologians to the contemporary world outlook, with its new concepts of nature and reason, and pleads for a reappraisal of the biblical understanding of the faith and a recognition of the entire adequacy of a life responsive to the gospel.
These penetrating comments by well-known contemporary, conservative theologians must surely give us cause for pause. And before we swallow the new gospel of modern theology, allegedly in order to give an effective witness to the secularist civilization in which we find ourselves, we must ask if there is any justification at all for capitulating so completely to the modern scientific and secularist views of God, the world and man.
This article was followed by another one we shall try to obtain entitled `The Recovery of Belief.'
Notes & References
`The Remaking of Christian Doctrine'.
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