In our age a wicked spirit of relativism aggressively attacks, tramples upon, scorns, and viciously ridicules the very idea of transcendent truth and absolute moral law, even within seminaries and the church where clergy who ought to revere truth most highly instead boast of thinking outside the box, of not being restricted by rules and in the spirit of the liberated contemporary church leader Brian McLaren of having,
"....captured, stuffed, and mounted truth on the wall." (The Truth War, John MacArthur, p. x)
In 1973, secular psychologist Karl Menninger took aim at the attack on truth when he pointed out in a book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? the fact that American churches were in the process of suppressing the reality of guilt in accord with the concept of a divine standard of right and wrong.
Menninger's definition of sin was distinctly Biblical and thus entailed the idea of willful rebellion against the transcendent truth and moral laws of God, and it was this unique concept of sin that was disappearing from the American consciousness and by extension, from public discourse.
Forty years later, increasing numbers of people within the Church either wittingly or unwittingly accept Robert Sculler's postmodern arguments in "Self-Esteem: The New Reformation." Today's church said Schuller, can no longer afford to think in a God-centered fashion but must put humans and their needs first. It was appropriate for Calvin and Luther to think theocentrically but now,
"the scales must tip the other way" towards a "human needs approach." In fact, "classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be 'God-centered,' not 'man-centered." In this context, the new definition of sin is, "any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem...And what is 'hell'? It is the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God---the ultimate and unfailing source of our soul's sense of self-respect...A person is in hell when he has lost his self-esteem." (Schuller, from "Christless Christianity, Michael Horton, p. 33)
Joel Osteen reflects this broader assumption among contemporary evangelicals. No longer do we fall short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23) as "new" sin now means falling short of self-esteem. So we are not sinners saved by Christ's objective work for us but by our subjective personal relationship with Jesus through missional works that we perform. Being saved is as simple as making a decision to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
Yet given the lack of any serious account of the human predicament before a holy Triune God said Horton,
"....it is unclear what this personal relationship might accomplish." Nor is it obvious "how or why an average American today would even care to have a personal relationship with a Jewish rabbi who lived in the Middle East two thousand years ago." (ibid, p. 73)
Besides the fact that Scripture never refers to the gospel as having a personal relationship with Jesus nor defines faith as a decision to ask Jesus to come into our heart, this concept of salvation fails to realize that everyone has a personal relationship with God already:
"either as a condemned criminal standing before a righteous judge or as a justified coheir with Christ and adopted child of the Father." (Horton, p. 74)
For America's postmodern church, salvation is no longer a matter of divine rescue from judgment and wrath coming on a sinful world. Today the Cross merely sanctifies narcissism (self-esteem) while Paul's admonition to Timothy, "But understand this...in the last days...people will be lovers of self..." is a statement of hate that according to wolves in sheepskin like Schuller, must not be preached lest it "hurt a lot of beautiful people."
For forty years both Christian and unbeliever have been told that given how special and unique they are, they should not submit to guilt-inducing rules, authority, processes or other restrictions and above all, trust their feelings to guide them. Relying upon absolute principles and immutable truth places unrealistic limitations on 'self' and damages self-esteem. So esteem 'self,' have lots of fun, actualize your dreams, embrace change, reject tradition, realize that God helps those who esteem and help themselves, revel in the moment, and accuse anyone who says otherwise of being evil incarnate.
In this light it comes as no surprise that to increasing millions of Christians Jesus Christ is a mouthpiece through which both narcissistic clergy and 'modern' Christians self-righteously affirm 'self' and the great things 'self' thinks and does.
According to George Barna, today's church is not interested in truth and repentance but in feeling good about self:
"....if we even believe in a supernatural deity (he) exists for the pleasure of humankind. He resides in the heavenly realm solely for our utility and benefit. Although we are too clever to voice it, we live by the notion that true power is accessed not by looking upward but by turning inward." (ibid, p. 31)
From 2001 to 2005 University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith investigated teen spirituality in contemporary America. From his extensive research he concluded that the dominant form of spirituality among teens is "moralistic, therapeutic desism" in which God is restricted to the inner sphere's of one's private world.
Smith defines moralistic, therapeutic deism in the following five points:
1. God created the world
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when needed to resolve a problem
5. Good people go to heaven when they die
(Horton, pp. 40-41)
While there are as yet many faithful, orthodox churches, pastors, evangelists, distinguished Christian laypeople and missionaries here in America and around the world proclaiming Christ crucified for the sins of all men and fulfilling their vocations with humility and integrity, Michael Horton sees that the postmodern Church is well on its way to falling into what he calls Christless Christianity.
Already we have arrived at a point where the message of the contemporary Church has simply become trivial, irreverent, sentimental, self-affirming, and irrelevant.
We do not realize the extent of our schizophrenia said Horton. While we annually decry the commercialization of Christmas we enthusiastically embrace the consumer-product-sales-approach formulated by 'church growth' experts and other transformational gurus. While calling our capitulation to self-affirming narcissism "mission and relevance" we charge secularists,
"..with emptying public discourse of beliefs and values that transcend our instant gratification." And as we lament "the growing secularization of American society...we ensure that the generations currently under our care will know even less than their parents..." (pp. 22-23)
After citing a series of reports, Barna concluded that the spirituality of America is Christian in name only:
"We desire experience more than knowledge. We prefer choices to absolutes. We embrace preferences rather than truths....Faith must come on our terms or we reject it. We have enthroned ourselves as the final arbiters of righteousness, the ultimate rulers of our own experiences and destiny. We are the Pharisees of the new millennium." (Horton, p. 31)
Unless something changes warned Barna,
"It will be every man for himself, with no second thoughts or regrets about the personal or societal implications of this incredibly selfish, nihilistic, narcissistic way of life..." (ibid)
A spirit of pride, arrogant ignorance and rebellion flows throughout America's contemporary church. The sin of pride begets the vice known as hatred of truth, moral law and knowledge of personal sin and accountability. In "Against the Heathen," early Church Father Athanasius reveals that pride and a haughty spirit preceded the fall of pre-flood men into idolatry (love of self), superstition (hatred of truth) and violence. Violence always accompanies man's fall into worship of self, selfish ambition, status, pleasures and acquisition of things.
Violence is the effect of a human will not in submission to the will of the one true God. It is the use of force, which may be psychological (i.e., shunning, ignoring, belittling, slandering, cursing), physical or both, in order to dominate, control, outrage or transgress the dignity and integrity of a righteous man.
In his book, "The Truth War," John MacArthur writes that one of the distinguishing qualities of every true believer is love for the truth:
"...a genuine love for the truth is built into saving faith...In Jesus' words, they have known the truth, and the truth has set them free. John 8:32" (p. xi)
The reverse is true of those who will not enter the kingdom of God. The primary characteristic of those who perish (2 Thessalonians 2:10) is non-submission to truth and personal sin:
"...where there is true faith in the Gospel of Christ, and in Christ the substance of it, there is salvation; the reason therefore of these men's perishing is not the decree of God, nor (for) want of the means of grace, (or) the revelation of the Gospel, but their rejection and contempt of it." (Clarke's Commentary on the Bible)
The haughty spirit rejects personal sin and holds truth in contempt and is therefore aligned with the will of Satan, the father of lies, narcissism, nihilism, and violence (John 8:44). Thus it is to haughty spirits that Jesus said,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21