WHY ARE WE AFRAID TO JUDGE?
The Future Is Here
The church is to be in the world as a ship is in the ocean;
but when the ocean seeps into the ship, the ship is in
trouble. I fear that the evangelical ship is taking on water.
The world is seeping into the church so rapidly that we
might well wonder how long the vessel can stay afloat. The
church, which is called to influence the world, finds herself
If we as Christ's representatives can scarcely stay afloat,
how can we expect to rescue a society that is sinking around
us? We have bought into the world's values; into its entertainment,
its morals, its attitudes. We have also bought into
its tolerance, its insistence that we should never challenge
the private beliefs of individuals, whether outside the
church or within it. In the face of cultural pressures, we
have found ourselves confused, hesitant to act, unable to
give a loving but convincing witness to the world.
Of course, there are also many hopeful signs in our culture.
There are churches and individuals that are making a
great impact for the gospel, and for
that we are thankful. But for the
most part, we as Christians have settled
down to a comfortable kind of
Christianity that demands very little
and therefore, in turn, makes very
little difference in the wider culture.
When the world takes a step in our
direction, we embrace it without a twinge of conscience.
But a church that has made its peace with the world is incapable
of changing it.
Today there is a myth that the world is more tolerant
than it used to be because it accepts "both points of view." If
you were to stand on a street corner in the cities of America
and ask, "What do you think of Jesus Christ?" you would
probably get a favorable response. He would be described as
a good teacher or as one who taught us about love. But we
can be quite sure that the world speaks well of Him because
they misunderstand who He is and why He came to earth.
Listen to His own words: "If the world hates you, keep
in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world,
it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to
the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is
why the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). By and large the
world of today has a favorable opinion of Christ only because
it misinterprets Him.
Remember this axiom: The better the world understands
the purpose of Jesus' coming, the more it hates Him.
What the world values, Christ despises; what He loves, it
hates. Years ago, E B. Meyer wrote, "Between such irreconcilable
opposites as the church and the world, there cannot
be but antagonism and strife. Each treasures and seeks what
the other rejects as worthless. Each is devoted to ends that
are inimical to the dearest interests of the other." And yet,
just think, most Christians think it is possible to follow Jesus
without turning their backs on the world!
Generations ago, we heard sermons titled "Biblical Separation,"
that is, sermons about the belief that we must separate
ourselves from that which displeases God and commit
ourselves to the values and convictions of Scripture. Many
of us were warned about such things as movies, alcohol, tobacco,
and a small cluster of other sins. This kind of instruction
had its limitations because godliness was often
defined in terms of the things we were not supposed to do.
But at least we were taught that some things were right and
others were wrong; there was an attempt, however imperfect,
to distinguish the church from the world.
My generation claimed to be wiser than our parents. We
said that the list of "worldly sins" was man-made and that
we had to make our own decisions about these matters.
Older Christians, who knew their hearts better than we
knew our own, warned that if we began to tolerate worldliness,
however it was defined, we would trip a series of
dominoes and the day would come when the church would
be filled with "worldly believers."
That day is here.
Opinion polls show that the difference between the
church and the world is, in some ways, indistinguishable.
The sins that are in the world are in the church: divorce, immorality,
pornography, risqué entertainment, materialism,
and apathy toward what others believe. Officially, we believe
that without trusting Jesus as Savior people are lost;
unofficially, we act as if what people believe and the way
they behave really does not matter. No wonder our light has
become a flicker and our salt has lost its savor.
Many believe that we have no right to judge anyone's
lifestyle or beliefs. Our commitment to radical individualism
and the privatization of faith has made us willing to
"live and let live" without discussion, evaluation, or rebuke.
We have lost the ability to judge the world because we have
lost the ability to judge ourselves. We affirm certain beliefs
and then act as if they don't matter.
No wonder the most oft-quoted verse from the Bible is
not "For God so loved the world" (John 3:16) but, rather,
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1).
Even in evangelical circles we sometimes hear, "Who are
you to judge?" The clear implication of the question is that
we have no right to say, "This lifestyle is wrong," or, "This is
heresy," or again, "This preacher is a false teacher." The one
word that best describes our culture is
How did we get here?
Why do we find it so difficult to say that some religious
views are wrong? Or that some kinds of behavior are sinful?
Why do we allow so much of Hollywood into our homes,
pretending that we and our families are not influenced by
the entertainment industry? Why do we allow false teachers
and prophets to flourish without warning the people of
God? Why are various forms of occultism practiced? These
are just some questions we will be discussing in the chapters
Before we begin our journey, we must have a better understanding
of how the prevailing ideas of our culture have
influenced the church. We might find
that we are more affected by the world
than we realize. So before we turn to
speak about our responsibility as members
of the church, we have to take a few
moments to understand the challenges
we confront in the world around us.
We've all heard that we are living in a postmodern society,
but what does that mean? And how does postmodernism
impact the church? Every generation must fight its
own battles; sometimes the pressure points of one generation
are the same as those of a previous one, but often the issues
are different. But each generation must confront the
world, either to change it or to be changed by it.
Today our challenges are unique, for no generation has
been influenced by technology as has ours. We are bombarded
with television, the video revolution, and the Internet.
Perhaps no generation has had as many opportunities
as ours; nor has any had as many pitfalls. In the midst of
great opportunity, we have, I fear, turned from much that is
good toward much that is trivial and even irrational. In our
day there has been a mega-shift in thinking; this generation
perceives reality differently from the way past generations
did. Yes, people in general don't view life the way they used
to, and we Christians don't either.
So let's take a brief tour into what is called the postmodern
mind so that we might better understand the challenges
before us. Then let's ask ourselves how we have been influenced
by the world and what can be done about it.
Descending into Decadence
Truth has disappeared, and few have noticed. Before our
eyes, the old thought forms are crumbling, and in their
place we find new ways of seeing the world and our experience
of it. Some of us grew up with assumptions that are being
discarded, and in their place are new assumptions that
stand in direct opposition to the Christian gospel. Perhaps it
is not too strong to say that war has been declared on the
past in favor of a brave new future.
We can't understand postmodernism unless we understand
what modernism was (and is). Modernism was the
belief that reason had the power to make
sense out of the world; the human mind,
it was thought, has the ability to interpret
reality and discover overarching values.
It was optimistic, believing in progress;
there was the belief that science and history
could lead us to various truths that
would help us interpret reality. Modernism attacked religion,
particularly Christianity, because it believed Christianity
was filled with superstitions, but at least modernism
believed that truth existed and it was not afraid to say so.
The contemporary notion is that reason has failed to
make sense out of the world. Indeed, modernism, it is said,
does not have the building blocks necessary to construct a
system of truths that would be applicable to all cultures. So
the old assumption that there is objective truth must be replaced
with the notion that there really is no "truth"-if by
truth we mean values applicable to all cultures and all
times. Truth, if it exists at all, does not exist "out there" to be
discovered but rather is simply my own personal response
to the data that is presented to me. I do not discover truth; I
Whereas modernism attacked religion as being superstition,
postmodernism accepts all religions and gives a high
place to all kinds of superstitions. Spirituality of every sort
is now accepted without any suggestion that one point of
view might be wrong and another right. Since truth is now
defined as my personal opinion of reality, it follows that we
have any number of "truths"-about as many as there are
individuals in the world.
Theoretically, then, postmodernism says that there is no
independent standard of right or wrong, no independent
standard of truth and error. Yet, because we are moral beings,
not even postmodernists can discard all moral judgments.
When postmoderns see something they don't like,
they have new ways of describing what they see; they have
invented notions that replace the concept of truth.
These new thought forms have changed the dialogue in
our modern world. We had best understand our culture if
we wish to challenge it.
Truth Is Replaced by Fairness
As mentioned, time was when people believed truth existed,
even though they disagreed as to what it was. Today, a
belief is evaluated not on the basis of whether it is true or
false but by asking, "Is it
Think of what this means for those of us who believe the
gospel. The idea that salvation comes through Christ alone
certainly does not appear "fair," given the many different religions
in the world. Thus our message is ruled unacceptable
no matter how much evidence might be adduced for it.
In fact, what we believe, we are told, is based on narrow
prejudice. Christianity is just our bias.
The same approach is taken in evaluating morality. Post-modernists
say that morality, if it exists at all, is an exercise
in psychology. So if you and I were to say, "I believe this to
be immoral," the modern mind hears us saying, "I have this
prejudice." We've all heard gay rights organizations refer to
those who believe in the traditional marriage as people who
are bigoted. In other words, morality is not a matter of objectivity
but narrow, personal bias.
Perhaps this illustration from baseball will help. Someone
has said that a pre-modern umpire would have said,
"There are balls and there are strikes and I call 'em
." A modern umpire would have said, "There are balls
and there are strikes and I call 'em
as I see them
." But a postmodern
umpire would say, "There are balls and there are
strikes and they are
whatever I call 'em
." So in matters of religion
and morality, truth is whatever I say it is.
Our national icon is inoffensiveness. So if you think you
have the "truth," courtesy demands that you keep your
thoughts to yourself. As a good citizen, you should have the
civility to keep quiet about your privately held convictions
(your prejudices). Even freedom of speech should not
extend to making moral judgments about other people's private
To put it differently, a new "right" has been found in the
Constitution. No one should ever have to hear anything
with which he disagrees! No one should ever have to hear
anything that offends him. "Hate Crimes Legislation" is
touted to be a defense of those groups that are supposedly
unfairly singled out for bigotry and criminal activity. Whatever
the merits of this legislation, we should be aware that
the goal is to declare "offensive language" as a hate crime,
thus silencing freedom of speech.
For example, in Canada where such legislation has
passed, authorities have warned Dr. James Dobson's
on the Familyand Dr. Jerry Falwell's
Old Time Gospel Hourand Dr. Laura Schlessinger that they cannot broadcast unless
they cut any portions dealing with homosexuality. The
Canadian broadcasting board cites Canada's "hate crime
law," which says it is illegal to speak of any group derogatorily.
This means that pastors cannot read Bible verses on the
air regarding homosexuality, or they endanger the licenses
of stations that carry them.
Some take the argument a step further and say it is not
just the perpetrator of crimes who is guilty; anyone who is
not in step with the homosexual agenda is also guilty. Recall
that after the homosexual Matthew Shepherd was murdered,
a wide net of blame was cast that included all those
who spoke against gay marriages and special rights for homosexuals.
Thus since "anti-gay" expressions contribute to
the crime of others, the postmodern stance is that such biases
should be held privately-if for no other reason than because
they are highly offensive.
Inoffensiveness also has impacted the political sphere.
You will recall that after the September 11 terrorist attacks
some businesses would not allow their employees to keep
an American flag on their desks, for fear that they were offending
other workers who were not in support of the war
in Afghanistan. S. D. Gade, in his book
When Tolerance Is No
, says that the objective of political correctness (essentially
another term for postmodernism) is to avoid invading
anyone's "attitudinal space."
The result is that we can bear only good news, not bad.
You can say that Jesus has changed your life, but what is inadmissible
is saying that He is the only way to God. For one
thing, such statements are unfair because they make Jesus
superior to other religious leaders, and this offends the majority
of the world's population. What is more, such statements
cannot be objectively true but are only the reflections
of one's private religious bias. End of discussion.