February 12, 2017 • KSYC • Download this article (PDF)
Last Sunday, I discussed different worldviews that people today cling to. There are two diametrically opposed worldviews: Christianity and atheism. Christianity teaches that there is one God, and this God exists in Three Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These Three Persons are all of the same essence, co-eternal, without beginning or end. Atheism, on the other hand, denies that God exists, and that there is nothing else in this world except the matter that we see. This is sometimes known as naturalism or nihilism. Nihilism means that nothing exists except the physical, and that life is meaningless. The world exists and operates apart from humanity, so humanity must create its own values and rules.
What is the prevailing worldview in America today? Atheists are few, and there are many who claim to be Christians. But do these people profess true Christianity. According to most recent surveys, the Christianity of most Americans are empty of Christianity. That is, most do not know much about what Christianity is all about. When asked very basic questions about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, man, sin, salvation, death, heaven and hell, majority of those who claim to be Christians fail miserably.
So then, what worldview do most Americans profess? As a result of these surveys, many theologians and sociologists conclude that they profess deism. What is this thing called deism? Deists view the world and the universe as created by God. But after he created the world, he left it to operate on its own. He doesn’t reveal himself anymore. He doesn’t intervene in miracles. He doesn’t interfere with the events and affairs of the world, unless he has to do a drastic correction, as in the great flood in Noah’s days. He is like a Divine Clockmaker who created a clock, and then left the clock on its own, unless he has to adjust its gears and springs if the clock is too slow or too fast.
So deists are not atheists. They still believe in a Supreme Being, but he is uninvolved. But is the God of deists the Christian God, the God we read about in the Holy Bible?
To understand deism better, let’s look first at its historical background. Before deism developed in the 17th century, Christianity was the prevailing view in the Western world. What prompted people to teach this worldview, if Christianity answered most questions about life?
The 16th century Protestant Reformation stressed that God revealed himself to man through the Bible. God is in total, perfect control of the world and the whole universe. But only a century later, some people started teaching that the only thing needed by man is reason. Though God exists, they matched reason against the Bible, the natural against the supernatural. Why? Because God is uninvolved and uninterested in human affairs.
What prompted this deviation from the true Christianity of the 16th century Protestant Reformation? Some historians and theologians give two main reasons. First, the Reformation caused much religious conflict and wars between Protestants and Catholics, between kings, nobles and peoples on opposing religious sides. The Thirty Years War, for example, destroyed about 15-20 percent of German population. So, many people became disenchanted with the Christian religion, and looked for something else, some belief that would give them relief from the religious wars. They found it in reason, not religion.
Second, the Reformation encouraged the study of the sciences. So scientific study exploded. But what was the result? Science took precedence over the Bible, over God, and over the supernatural. Science can explain everything we see in the world. What we see, hear, touch, smell and taste is all that there is to it. Natural law is everything. They did not need the Bible to understand anything. So God was set aside and ignored.
So deism started in England with Herbert of Cherbury, John Locke and David Hume. It then spread to the continent. The French philosopher Voltaire was the most famous of the deists, together with Robespierre and Rousseau. They influenced France so much so that for a time, the so-called Cult of the Supreme Being was the state religion of France. It wasn’t long before deism spread to America, so that even Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin became deists.
Cherbury set down five principles of Deism: (1) One, there is one God who created the world but who no longer intervenes by either revelation or miracle. (2) There is an objective difference between right and wrong. (3) The duty of one’s life is to support that which is right. (4) The soul is immortal. (5) Our condition in the life to come is based on our ethical conduct in this life.
What did you notice about these five principles? These are what most people, especially Americans, believe! The difference is that today, there is a breakdown in the belief about absolute truth and absolute right and wrong. Most people today don’t believe in these. Experience and emotions trump objective truth. But most people today still believe that they should behave in an ethical manner. Since they believe in the afterlife, they must do as much good as possible. And God will not ignore these good works in the afterlife. This is very similar to the principles of Cherbury in the 17th century.
But let’s compare what the Bible says about God. First, let’s read Psalm 19:1-4a:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
The psalmist says that God reveals himself and his glory to mankind through his creation. The sun, moon, stars, galaxies and nebulae speak to all the people of the earth. Do they have a voice? No, but in seeing all creation, man knows in his mind and heart that there is a Creator, a Supreme Being. He might deny this fact vehemently, but in his heart, he knows that there is a Creator.
And Paul says in Romans Chapter 1 that man knows that this Creator is not distant or aloof from his creation, but he demands worship and accountability.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom 1:20-23).
Since the creation of the world, there is no one who doesn’t know that there is a Creator. No one can say to God in the end, “I didn’t know.” In nature, they know there is a Creator. And in their heart and mind, they know God. But because of man’s sinfulness and rebellion against God, man chooses to worship other gods, instead of the one Creator God.
But is this deism, a knowledge that there is a Creator, from nature and one’s mind, sufficient to be saved? The Bible says no. One more thing is needed, and that is faith and trust in Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity. God the Father sent him from heaven into the world so he can reveal the true God to all mankind. He is called, “God with us.” In John 1:18, we read, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, [Jesus] has made him known.”
Jesus himself always said that those who know him know God the Father. And he also said that no one can come to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Through his life, death and resurrection, he is the only way, the only truth, and the only one who gives eternal life. And he gives forgiveness, salvation and eternal life to all who believe. He assures you that you who come to him in faith will never be rejected.
Do not reject God’s Word that Jesus is the only way out of God’s wrath. The Bible says that if you do not believe that Jesus is true God himself who came down in humility from heaven as a true human being, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. The Bible says that God is not distant, or uninterested in you. In fact, he is “most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, patient, and abundant in goodness and truth.” This is the true God, not the God of deism. Jesus became a true human being to bring these eternal blessings from God to sinners like you and me.
Let us pray: O Merciful Father, we live in a dying culture. People are either atheists or deists, with no knowledge of you as Creator and Savior. Help us to faithfully proclaim the truth of God as Creator and Christ as Savior to a hopeless and godless generation. Help us to give them purpose, meaning and life through the preaching of the truth in your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.