Christianity and Humanism – Stefan Gustavsson (Part 2)

Christianity and Humanism – Stefan Gustavsson (Part 2)


>>A new global inquiry showing people’s
beliefs and values was recently published. Question number 42 in that inquiry was: how
important is religion? And people who ticked the box ‘Religion is very important in my
life,’ the statistic is like this: In many countries you will find extremely high figures,
Senegal 98%, Indonesia 95, Brazil at 78, India 74, go over to the US it’s lower but it’s
still the majority – 57 percent think religion is very important in my life. If you move over to Europe, the picture drastically
changes. The highest figures are in Poland 33%, Germany 25%, Britain 19%, Hungary 15%
and in my country 8%. Now it’s a world of difference, if 98% of the population thinks
religion is very important or 8% thinks religion is very important. In the latter case, religion generally and
Christianity specifically is seen as having nothing to do with truth and reality any longer
and it creates a strong attitude of dismissal and cynicism, so people can say like this
about theology and talk about God, theology is searching in a dark cellar at midnight
for a black cat that isn’t there. Now some people don’t say well this is enlightenment
in modern thinking. What about post-modern thinking and culture, haven’t we passed
the modern enlightenment era and moved beyond it to the post-modern era where people don’t
believe in truth any longer and that could open some doors for us? Many think that a
change from modern to post- modern thinking will somehow solve our problem and open the
door for Gospel again. And they think that Christian apologetics has been made obsolete
since people do not care about truth. I think this is wrong. First, even though post-modern thinking is
influential in some areas, western culture in general, generally is far from post-modern.
Let me give you some examples. Take science as one example. It operates on the general
assumption that there is an external reality about which we can have true knowledge. This
reality is the same for everybody around the globe. The debate on global warming is a current
example. It presupposes from all sides that there are universal truths. Or take ethics,
and the discussion about homosexuality. The new view on homosexuality that it should be
affirmed and embraced which is now the dominant view in my country is not seen as relative
or context dependent. It is seen as the right view that should be exported to other cultures
and others should be convinced about it. Or take the debate about religion and the
new atheists who are making absolute claims about religion. Now I’m not denying the
influence of post-modern thinking. It affects the way many people think and react. What
I am denying is that the modern perspective has been replaced by the post-modern. It has
not. Along similar lines we need to think right
about post-modern spirituality. The post- modern is born out of the modern which is
not naturalistic and that naturalism has never been challenged. In post-modern spirituality,
therefore, there is no real transcendence, only imminence. Only pantheism and mysticism.
There is no real God outside the human experience. Even though words like ‘God’ or ‘prayers’
are used, they’re used within a different framework, a different world view without
real transcendence. As Christians living in a secular culture,
we now therefore have a double challenge. The concept of truth is challenged from the
post-modern philosophers and the content of truth is challenged by the Enlightenment perspective.
The lesson to learn is this: don’t underestimate the enemy. Secularism, secularity goes hand
in hand with the modern and post-modern perspective and can even affirm a dose of spirituality
as long as it’s grounded in man only. At the same time, it has devastating hole
in his armor. The project of liberating man from God, simultaneously undermines man. Without
God the significance and worth of the individual is evaporating. Our aspirations and longing
ends nothing and human existence in the final analysis is without meaning. In the Manila Manifesto, we can read this:
‘We also affirm that apologetics, namely the defense and confirmation of the Gospel,
is integral to the Biblical understanding of mission and essential for effective witness
in the modern world. Paul reasoned with people out of scriptures with a view to persuading
them of the truth of the Gospel. So must we. In fact, all Christians should be ready to
give a reason for the hope that is in them.’ I will end by just referring to what could
be called the world’s first Christian sermon in Acts 2. In Acts chapter 2, Peter is – the
context of Peter’s sermon is a context of bewilderment, amazement, perplexity and even
ridicule in relationship to what God is doing to this new community in Jerusalem. And Peter
had to respond to two different questions, where the first question is: what does this
mean, the things that is happening in Jerusalem and the things that the first Christian believed,
what does it mean? And you can find five very different aspects in Peter’s response to
that question. Later he had to answer the question what shall we do. Peter presents the Gospel firstly as responsible.
It’s responsible truth. He begins by saying: “Let me explain this to you. Listen carefully
to what I say.” So he has a message that can be explained in words and rationally understood.
He invites them to listen carefully and thereby asking them to analyze and probe his message.
It’s public truth. Peter refers to and underlines that it is about a shared reality and he appeals
to the knowledge of his hearers. He points to their knowledge three times. He says Jesus
of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs which God
did among you through him as you yourself know, it was public truth. Thirdly, it was historical truth. The Gospel
is good news about what has happened in history. And this has been – there’s witness to that,
up to 600 people who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection. Fourthly, the message is a biblical truth.
Peter quotes Joel once and David twice. There is coherence in the unfolding of God’s revelation
in the Old and New Testament. And finally the Gospel is convincing. Peter
says: “Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this, God has made this Jesus whom you’ve
crucified both Lord and Christ and thousands of people came to faith.” We may have some different situations than
Peter had in Jerusalem, but I think we should share his attitude of presenting a reasonable
public, historical, biblical and convincing truth. Therefore, we have an urgent need to
upgrade apologetics and reaffirm its importance. We need to equip Christians so they can stand
firm in the faith, and we need to challenge to growing the impact of secularism and secularity
with the wonderful truth and wonderful life of the gospel.

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