Christians and the 20th Century Mars Hill

ACTS 17.  Paul stood on Mars Hill and preached to two groups:  the Epicureans and the Stoicks.

The Epicureans were the materialists of the first century and the Stoicks were the mystics.  The Epicureans said “all is matter” and the Stoicks said “all is mind.”  The Epicureans said “there is no God at all” and the Stoicks said “God is all and all is God.”  The Epicureans were Atheists and the Stoicks were Pantheists.

Today we face the same two groups only they have different names.  The Epicureans are Secular Humanists and the Stoicks are New Agers and they each believe as their earlier counterparts.  Therefore, Christianity stands again between these two great movements of Atheism and Pantheism:  there is no God at all and God is all.

One invaded our country from the west and the other invaded from the east.  The Stoicks invaded from the west because the Eastern world is closer to the west coast and the Epicureans invaded from the east because the Western world is closer to the East coast.

Secular Humanism came by way of the schools and the New Agers by way of the theater.  Secular Humanists believe “Salvation is through education” and the New Agers believe “Salvation is through meditation.”  Secular Humanism stresses “the world out there – space” and the New Ager stresses “the world in here – the soul.”  Secular Humanism is portrayed by Carl Sagan looking through a telescope studying the far reaches of outer space.  The New Age movement is portrayed by Shirley McClain in a lotus position studying inner space – the depths of the soul.  Both of these people epitomize the movements they represent.  Carl Sagan received the Humanist of the Year award a few years ago and Shirley McClain certainly has become the “pop theologian” of the New Age movement after writing three of her more recent books:  Out On A Limb, Dancing In The Light, and It’s All In The Playing.

THE THESIS is simple.  We must understand that truth and we must understand the times.  If we are going to be effective communicators of/for Christ we must understand the content as well as the context.  We must understand the absolute truth of God as well as the relative days in which we live.  Somebody once said, “We live in a strange age in which the relativity of Einstein is considered absolute and the Absolutes of the Bible are considered relative.”  We must understand our obligation to be anchored to the Rock as well as geared to the times.

TWO ANALOGIES:  I am told that government experts do not study counterfeit bills; they study the genuine bills for the reason that you cannot recognize the counterfeit unless you know the genuine.  The counterfeit in some crucial area falls short.  You and I must understand the Word before we can see how the world does not measure up.  Without the genuine we will not recognize the counterfeit.

Found in the song book of many conservative Protestant churches in America today is a New Age hymn entitled, The Celebration of Life.  It sings, in part, these words to God: “You are the grass I walk in, You are the water I swim in, You are the air I breath.”  This is New Age Pantheism.  God is not grass, He made the grass.

The difference between a Theistic world view and a Pantheistic world view is a Theistic world view says God is (at least) as different from the world as a painter is from a painting.  The Pantheistic world view says God is to the world what a pond is to the drops:  we are all little drops in an infinite pond – some perhaps drips.  Nevertheless, all is God and God is all.

In these days it is more important than ever to understand the genuine because it is increasingly more difficult to recognize the counterfeit.  Government experts are only able to tell the difference under microscope:  we need to use the microscope of Scripture.

SECULAR HUMANISM never intended to be a counterfeit.  We believe in God, they believe there is no God.  We believe there is a soul; they believe there is no soul.  We believe in afterlife, they believe there is no afterlife.  We believe in creation, they believe in evolution.

NEW AGE is different.  They believe in God, in prayer, in Christ, and in the Bible.  All that sounds the same as we believe they hold also; and so they have become the great counterfeit of our day.

The last 200 years of America have been a swing from a Judeo-Christian world view to a Secular Humanist world view and now to a New Age world view.

Judeo-Christian.  In 1776, the Manifesto of America included three indelible principles:  (1) Creator (2) man is created (3) belief in God given moral absolutes.  Through 1860 the intelligentia of the western world – virtually every scientist who founded virtually every area of modern science – believed in Creator, man is created, and God give moral absolutes.

Secular Humanism.  This changed after 1859.  Charles Darwin wrote, The Origin of Species and concluded, “Evolution has replaced creation and if there is no creation then there is no creator, natural selection has replaced design and if there is no design there is no designer.”  The Descent of Man says, “There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in an omnipotent creator.”  By 1900 the bright minds as well as the institutions of Europe were converted to the Secular Humanist world view.

A bitter price was paid for the writings of Carl Marx.  Stalin – who weeded out the undesirables – killed 18 million:  Hitler – after reading Darwin – began to weed out the unfit and killed 12 million.  Someone described the 19th and 20th centuries this way; “In the 19th century God died.  In the 20th century man died.”  In the 19th century man killed God and in the 20th century man is killing man.

Stalin – 18 million, Hitler – 12 million and America said that would never happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Enter John Dewey (1933) with a group of intellectuals who signed Humanist Manifesto I wherein these words were written; “there is no creator, there is no creation, and there are no God given moral absolutes.”  That should ring a bell, a Liberty Bell.  The exact antithesis to the Declaration of Independence had been espoused in America.

In 1973 Humanist Manifesto I was reaffirmed and the moral implications were added:  abortion, euthanasia, and suicide are acceptable.  Since then we in America have killed more than 22 million lives.

Between 1961 and 1981 Secular Humanism won every major battle in the Supreme Court and we became a Secular Humanist nation.  The courts ruled in that 20 year period that we cannot teach creator, creation or God given moral absolutes in the public schools – some of the very reasons these schools were instituted in the first place.  That means the courts ruled the Declaration of Independence unconstitutional.

New Age.  While we were fighting Secular Humanist out the front door through the back door and basement windows crept in Pantheism – the embrace that smothers.

It began in the 1960’s when the Beetles embraced the Maharishi and George Harrison wrote, “My Sweet Lord,” and combined praise to God – Hallelujah and praise to Krishna in one song: and said, “I wanted to reach young people for Eastern religion.”

It began when the hippies reacted to the materialism of their parents and went to the mysticism of the East.  There was a “New Consciousness” that took over and people began to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  In America there was a turn east.

Mysticism says, “to make a person happy don’t add to his possessions (materialism) take away from his passions.”  Neither is right.  One ends in Howard Hughes and the other ends in a Hindu Guru sitting alongside the road turned totally inward with no desire whatsoever.  The Bible does not say to take away possessions or passion to attain happiness, rather redirect the passion to God.  God alone is able to fill the God-size vacuum in the human soul.  The book of Ecclesiastes, in this regard is very relevant to this century. There is no happiness under the sun.  Happiness is not found under the s-u-n, it is found in the S-O-N (chpt. 12; the great Shepherd).

MESSAGE DIRECTED.  The Christian message on Mars Hill is not only to the rationalist who says “man is the ultimate authority and his mind should determine all” – the Secular Humanist; but it is also to the Mystics who say “Feel the force flow, Luke.  Put down your visor, close your eyes, don’t trust your senses.”

When Luke Skywalker had to make a pinpoint bombing on the space station at the end of the book/film he even shut down his computer.  Why?  You can’t trust technology, you can’t trust science, you can’t trust your senses or your mind.  Just feel the force flow!

We have moved from rationality to mysticism.  We have moved from reason to feeling and Shirley McClain summarized it this way; “Total acceptance is what we are after, that’s what we’re all struggling for.  When we totally accept experience without judgment we are operating on a higher level of understanding and thus a higher frequency.”  And this styrofoam filled quote from Dancing in the Light (p. 312), “Now relax, let your mind go, don’t evaluate and don’t let the left-brain judge what you are thinking.  Give your right brain more space.  As a matter of fact, don’t think.

CONCLUSION.  Here we stand, Christians and the 20th century Mars Hill.  What’s needed?  To understand our times but to proclaim God’s Truth; to see the experientialism of our day but to proclaim the authority of God’s Word.

With reference to two aspects of this article I would strongly urge the reader to purchase and listen to two (taped) sermons preached recently in Faith and Hudsonville PR churches respectively:

1. THE VANITY OF LIFE (Ecc. 1:12-14; 12:13) 12/31/89 PM Rev. Gritters

*This sermon for a proper perspective of Christian life.

2. THE BEAST FROM THE SEA (Rev. 13:1 – 10)   01/28/90 AM Rev. Van Baren

*This sermon for a proper understanding of the present days.  Series on the end of times.

For much of the content of this article I am deeply indebted to Dr. Norman L. Geisler, whose lectures I was privileged to sit through.