Humanism in “Christianity”

Genesis 3:4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Last week we spoke about generic humanism seeking to make the case that we in this culture are awash in humanism. This morning we want to look at what we might call in a purposely contradictory manner, “Christian Humanism.”

By that, I mean that doctrinaire humanism that has come into the visible Church and its theology all the while calling insisting that such humanism is the pure gold of Christianity theology.

As we look at the text this morning we note that the sin of our first parents was to turn away from God’s legislative word to embrace themselves as god and own their own word as legislative of all reality. Like Nebuchadnezzar who we considered last week, this was straight-up humanism.

The temptation here was that each man could be His own god, knowing and so determining good and evil. Like the King of Babylon who stands as a representative for Lucifer in Isaiah 14:14 our first Parents resolved to

“Ascend above the heights of the clouds,”

They said

‘I will be like the Most High.’

In the pursuit of this man as God theology, our first parents as God had sought to not only know all reality independent of God but to order all reality as their own God. This is humanism. Man with the Fall had attempted to destroy God’s world as well as all God interpreted facts and instead had sought to create his own anti-reality brought into existence by his creation of the meaning of all facts. Facts would still be god-dependent but the god that all facts would be dependent upon would be man as the new god in town.

Too often we read this text as a children’s story and we reduce it to trees and fruit. It is that but it is much more than that.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil and the prohibition of the eating of that fruit was about the Creator-creature distinction.

It was about ontology – God is God and man is not.
It was about epistemology – Man can only know in light of God’s knowledge
It was about anthropology – Man is most human when he walks in obedience
It was about axiology – God’s legislative Word is the ultimate value
It was teleology – Man’s end/destiny is God-dependent

And in the surrendering to the Tempter our first parents were the first practitioners of humanism.

As we considered last week that humanism is characteristic of men not limited in their passions, power, or resources.

It was characteristic of the builders of Babel.
It was characteristic of Pharaoh.
It was characteristic of Nebuchadnezzar.
It was characteristic of Herod

Elsewhere in Scripture, it was characteristic of the Gnostics that Paul, Jude, and John dealt with.

Alas, this humanism is also characteristic in the visible Church. Indeed, you and I will have need to fight our orientation towards the self as god our whole lives and will not be completely done with that until we cross to the other side.

Yet this idea of living a God-centered life remains the goal of all Biblical Christians. We live with the maxim of “to God alone be the Glory.”

This idea is the reason for the Reformed Chruch’s existence. Consider these three forms of Unity … especially this Synod of Dordt that we are confessing. What is the passion? The passion is to eliminate every particle of man being able to boast before God that in any way he was contributory to His restoration to and acceptability before His maker.

This emphasis on sola Dei Gloria is what distinguishes us. This is the major reason why we need to continue to exist. The Methodists, most Baptists, The Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, the Pentecostals don’t teach to “God alone be the Glory.” In all these traditions any claims of Sola De Gloria — “To God alone be the glory” is mixed with an alloy of human contribution which takes glory from God. Linguistic deception enters in if and when they talk about the Glory of God alone.

And to be honest we must admit that much of the Contemporary Reformed Church has fallen down in this area as well. For example, by mixing our doctrine with Liberation theologies or R2K or Federal Vision or New Perspectives on Paul we have stripped the meaning out of “to God alone be the Glory and so have become incipiently practitioners of humanism.

Having set the table I would like now to consider some ways in which humanism has entered the visible Church. Of course, we must limit ourselves here with just a few examples lest we go far into the night in our service.

The first example I want to consider is what remains yet the most popular understanding of the Atonement which is anchored in a kind of humanism that ought not to be named in the visible Church. This is the idea that Christ died for everybody.

This thinking is ubiquitous but it is generally found in Arminian churches. Its proper name is the Governmental theory of the Atonement. In this understanding of the Atonement Christ dies in order to give a general satisfaction for the dishonor done by sin to God’s governmental order.

The death of Christ is seen as a demonstration of how seriously God takes sin BUT it is not an actual payment for actual sins committed.

The effect that the death of Christ has in this theory of the atonement is to make it possible for God to forgive sins once an appeal has been made to that end. God is not forgiving sin because the Son paid for those particular sins. God is forgiving sin because a generic principle has been upheld and with that principle being upheld God can in the future be forgiving upon a proper appeal.

You see the death of Christ makes forgiveness possible but it does NOT make forgiveness actual. In this theory, there is no actual correlation between the death of Christ and the payment for your sin. The death of Christ is merely the proclamation that sin, generally speaking, is deserving of God’s wrath but it is not particular people’s sins who are being particularly paid for. In this view of the atonement, there is neither expiation (sins being taken away) nor propitiation (the price of sin being paid for). What is communicated is merely that generally speaking God’s government was violated and so God’s government must be restored.

Obviously, this fits for Arminians since Arminians don’t believe that the Death of Christ is the salvation of sinners but instead believe that the Death of Christ makes salvation possible upon a proper appeal.

Perhaps this illustration will get to the matter at hand.

A certain king one day discovered that an unknown thief had stolen a golden chalice from his treasury. He brooded on the insult to his honor. He was a most wise king. Finally he came upon a solution. To rectify the insult to his honor he had to punish someone, and who else but his beloved daughter? She was the most esteemed and flawlessly virtuous maid in the kingdom, and her beauty was legendary. She was the apple of her father’s eye. And so he concluded, what could be of more value, than the suffering of one so virtuous? So much honor would be rendered to the king that she should be innocent yet suffer willingly; surely that would be more than sufficient to restore the insult of the transgression. He told the fair maid, and she recognized his great wisdom and did dutifully agree to be beaten for the crime. And so the great king did beat his beloved daughter. He beat her in the public square, and he did beat her sore, that apple of his eye. And she was so dutiful in the suffering that as he beat the harder she did not ask for respite, terrible though her wounds were. And all his couriers and all the townsfolk did behold that terrible beating, of one so fair, and they were overcome by this display of the wisdom of the king; that having been robbed of a chalice he should then furthermore beat his precious daughter.

The idea here is that whoever did steal the chalice would be so overcome with pity for the daughter that they would decide to repent and appeal for clemency from the King who then could grant forgiveness because his daughter upheld the honor of the King’s governmental structure.

You see, for a great many Evangelicals, the Cross of Christ is not an objective, vicarious substitution for particular sinners. Sin and guilt is not remitted at the Cross but is only made potentially remittable upon later appeal and the Cross becomes only a public declaration of divine justice designed to stimulate sinners to choose to follow God. This is called the Governmental theory of the Atonement. In this theory, the Father punishes the Son on the Cross NOT as a substitute paying for the designated penalty of a designated elect. Rather the Father is using the Son’s death as a cosmic public demonstration to all sinners everywhere at all times that justice for sin and disobedience has been paid in the abstract. Not for any one concrete individual or any concrete group (Church) but only in the abstract. The effect of the Atonement is still dependent upon fallen man and not God.

Now, that God has made this public declaration of abstract justice “whosoever” is welcome to return to God if they will. Preaching thus becomes an explanation of why Christ was such a victim of the Father and how feeling sorry for Christ should be a motivator for man’s repentance. This is where the pitiful sentimental pietistic Preaching comes from that so often happens in our pulpits today. God is not commanding all men everywhere to repent. Instead, Jesus is “softly and tenderly calling, calling for you and for me.”

Note in all this man remains sovereign in his salvation. Here is the humanism. God has provided an abstract justice but it is up to man to decide whether or not he’ll feel sorry enough for poor poor Jesus hanging on the Cross, punished by the Father, to actually choose him to be the sinner’s savior.

The humanism here is seen by the move from what God has done to provide atonement to what God is offering to individuals if they will but choose to accept what He has offered. The shift is from the Objective work of God providing forgiveness in the work of Cross to an Elect people to the subjective opportunity for all people to decide or not decide to buy into this forgiveness. Man remains the center.

And so Humanism enters the Church. The emphasis will inevitably fall upon the wisdom of man to buy into what God offered. The preaching will become man-centered pleading, begging, and cajoling men to buy the eternal life lotto ticket.

And so in the words of Tennyson

A lie that is half the truth is the wickedest lie of all
For a lie that’s all a lie can be met with and fought outright
But a lie that is half the truth is a harder matter to fight

Our next example of humanism in the visible Church exists as in many Reformed denominations. It is called the well-meant offer of the Gospel, or alternately the well-intentioned offer of the Gospel.

The Well-meant offer of the Gospel teaches that with the Gospel call that God is genuinely offering salvation to those God has predestined to be vessels of destruction. Of course, such a thing if true, would place a contradiction in God.

The contradiction would be that while God’s will has predestinated the end of all individuals God’s will also desires the salvation He has eternally set aside to be those who would harden their heart against the Gospel.

We wonder how it cannot be the case that the so-called “well-meant offer of the Gospel” involves a Calvinist in sheer contradiction. That God is gracious only to some in predestination but gracious to all in the gospel call, and that God wills only some to be saved in predestination but wills all to be saved by the gospel, is flat, irreconcilable contradiction. It is an absurdity.

In brief, the well-meant offer of the Gospel has God desiring the salvation of the reprobate that He has determined from all eternity to harden their hearts against Him.

This is a move of humanism because in embracing the well-meant offer of the Gospel one has moved the acceptance or refusal of the Gospel from God’s eternal predestinating decree to man’s decision to respond or not respond to the Gospel call.

This non-God centered doctrine has in its sights not only the doctrine of God’s predestinating decree it has in its sights the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Is it really the case that God desires all hearing to receive Christ when Christ’s death is particular for only some who are hearing the Gospel command to repent?

Those who affirm the “Well meant offer of the Gospel,” insist that those who disagree with the same are guilty of making God’s offer hypocritical. They say that a God who calls on some to repent who are not elect is not being genuine. This is a not well thought out charge.

That all men are responsible to answer affirmatively God’s command that all men everywhere repent can not be translated into meaning that all men are able to repent. That the reprobate are responsible though not able to answer God’s summons to repent is not to say that the summons to repent is not genuine. The fault is not in God’s summons. The fault lies in man’s hatred of God.

You cannot infer an indicative from an imperative. Ought does not imply can. Responsibility does not imply ability.

Evangelistic preaching as a universal offer of salvation made in love to all who hear and stamped with the explanation that God desires to save to every sinner without exception is a move towards humanism that fails to honor God’s majesty.

What else might we speak of? We spoke last Friday at Labri about how R2K is a move towards humanism. We have spoken previously of Federal Vision being a move towards humanism. We have looked at how continuationism in Revelation ends up being a humanism move. We have talked about how CRT and Cultural Marxism and Intersectionality in the Church are moves towards humanism. We have spoken relentlessly about how the denial of distinctions and the embrace of egalitarianism in the church is a move towards humanism. We have spoken repeatedly on who Barthianism / neo-Orthodoxy is humanism.

And all of this is so much in the Church we sometimes find ourselves asking ourselves… “Where is the Church.”

The Church is supposed to be the one place where one discovers a radical God-centeredness. No humanism is allowed.

But remember as we said at the outset that humanism… man desiring to de-god God and en-god himself will always be something we fight against. I’m sure there is humanism in myself and in this church that I don’t see. A humanism that sorrowfully needs repenting of. I’m confident that I am a hypocrite on this subject.

However, every minister is a hypocrite inasmuch as He is always required to preach a way that is far greater than what he has attained himself.

So we plead for God to open our own eyes to what is displeasing to Him while we inveigh against Humanism in the Church.

When we discover humanism in ourselves we can rejoice that God receives penitent sinners for the sake of Jesus Christ. When we discover our own selfishness, self-centeredness, desire for self-aggrandizement, we can fall on our face and confess our sins knowing that God receives those who own their sins…. even the sin of humanism.

In Christ’s death Christ paid for this sin of humanism in the Church and reminds us that only by being satisfied with His forgiveness can we constantly be putting off the sins of a ugly stinking humanism.

Praise God for His great grace towards humanist sinners like us.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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