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A Call for Christian Humanism

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Title PageDefining HumanismThe Roots of HumanismThe Breadth of TruthChristian HumanistsThinking in Christian CategoriesEndBibliotheca Sacra 143 (July 1986) 195-204. Copyright © 1986 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission. Thinking like a Christian Part 3: A Call for Christian Humanism D. Bruce Lockerbie The novel The Great Gatsby ends with Nick Carraway, the narrator, musing on what he calls "the last and greatest of all human dreams."1 It is that, certainly: the last and greatest, as F Scott Fitzgerald writes; but it is also the first and foremost, the primary dream. Anthropologists and students of myth recognize it as such; even casual readers of the Bible find this same dream tracing its way from Eden to Mount Ararat and beyond to a mid- night conversation between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and an itinerant Teacher from Nazareth. This "last and greatest of all human dreams," this first and foremost aspiration, is the dream of starting all over again. Other similar expressions are in use, such as "turning over a new leaf, " "making a fresh start, " "creating a new identity, " "achiev- ing a new consciousness." The hope contained in these terms is that, somehow—by an act of the will, by a physical uprooting from one location to another, by a deliberate change in behavior—new conditions can be formed that will lead to a happier life. In specifically Christian terms, this experience is provided for by the new birth—being born again. The gospel offers this hope in spiritual rebirth by faith, regeneration, and renewal. Indeed Chris- tians look back to their time of rebirth; but they can also look forward to a time when God the Creator will fulfill His promise to make everything new, the a]pokata<stasij ("restoration") of proph- ecy and apostolic preaching. 195196 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1986 Defining Humanism This is God's plan, to be performed in God's time. But to the God-denying secularist, for whom there is no supernatural dimen- sion, no ultimate power outside this natural sphere, "God's plan" and "God's time" are nonsense. If anything new is to come about, says secular man, it will happen only because human beings them- selves achieve it. This certainty, this self-assurance, stems from the belief, declared by Protagoras in the fifth century B.C., that "man is the measure of all things."2 This is the philosophy of the egocentric self, the vanity that exalts the individual over any other authority. Even his Greek contemporaries—the playwright Sophocles, for instance—recognized the heresy of Protagoras, who also wrote, “About the gods I have no means of knowing whether they exist or do not exist or what their form may be.”3 If, then, the concept of God is at best irrelevant, if human ingenuity is all there is to rely on, there is no course open but to establish the supremacy of human values and the legitimacy of human claims to control human destiny. This is the attitude popu- larly known as humanism; but because that word has been so loosely used and abused in many quarters, the term "secular humanism" may be used. This is the dogma that exalts the human being as the god of this age. For secular humanism is the religion of the contemporary culture. It has its own shrines and cathedrals, its idols and icons, its scriptures and creed, its hymns and bumper stickers. All these proclaim belief in a naturalistic universe defined by time and space, denial of any supernatural or eternal reality, denial of human accountability to a personal and transcendent God. The magazine Free Inquiry condenses the creed to a sen- tence: "Secular humanism places trust in human intelligence rather than in divine guidance."4 A serious blunder is being made by well-meaning Christians in the pulpit and the classroom, before television cameras, and in widely read books. This is the common practice of assuming that all humanism is the same as secular humanism, that the historic tradition known as "Christian humanism" is an oxymoron, a contradiction as puzzling as "liberal Republican." To give the proper setting for this point some broad strokes of historical survey need to be made. The Roots of Biblical Humanism Christians trace the revelation of truth about God to the his-A Call for Christian Humanism 197 torical Chaldean whose willingness to trust the God of the cove- nant resulted in the righteousness of faith. All believers are the "sons and daughters" of Abraham, his spiritual descendants (Rom. 4:12; Gal. 3:29). But Christians are therefore also heirs of culture as well as heirs of faith. Yahweh's covenant with Abraham did not invalidate the patriarch's need to eat and sleep. His tents prospered, his flocks increased, his wealth and power expanded. Abraham became the associate of kings, as well as being priest of Mamre and Beersheba, the stout-hearted father on Mount Moriah. Further- more those covenant promises of God were to be fulfilled through an ever-enlarging penetration by Abraham's children. "Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies," said the Lord, "and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me" (Gen. 22:17-18, NIV). Clearly the call of Abraham to leave the culture of Ur and trek the Fertile Crescent to Canaan was not a call to cultural isolation. It was a call to reestablish an order of living in which God's authority was supreme, a call to thinking and acting on godly principles, a call to living in full obedience and full delight. The same must be true for Abraham's spiritual descendants today. Christians are called not only to the test of faith but also to the blessings con- comitant with faith. Believers have inherited the rich legacy that begins with recognition of God and continues through mankind's unique relationship with God as Creator and Lord. From this same legacy springs the revelation in the written Word and the incarnate Word, the doctrine that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself' (2 Cor. 5:19). From this legacy of faith, new hope brings dignity to all of life, dissolving the old fear of death; a new regard for all persons—men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants—eliminating the old bondage to pride and caste. From this legacy a new


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