Faith is on the decline nowadays, and it is no wonder. Most people in these postmodern times are convinced that it’s impossible to know anything with settled certainty — so they can’t really believe anything, either. When you aren’t even sure whether objective truth exists, the suggestion that there is something to believe in simply doesn’t make any sense. Begin with the assumption that nothing can be known for sure, and religious convictions are automatically out of the question.
In case you hadn’t realized it, that kind of thinking now dominates our society. The concept of settled, knowable truth is widely considered intellectually inept and politically incorrect. There’s “my truth” and “your truth,” meaning everything is ultimately just a matter of perspective. In other words, truth claims are really nothing more than just personal opinions, and they deserve to be treated that way. Every point of view, no matter how bizarre, demands equal respect. Because, after all, no one can say for sure what is ultimately true.
How did we get here? This is the wreckage of a post-structuralist epistemology, where all texts must be deconstructed; any spiritual precept or article of faith must be met with unyielding skepticism; certainty is deemed the very height of arrogance; feelings count more than facts; and common sense, moral values — even knowledge itself — are scorned as relics of a more naïve epoch of human history.
There is zero tolerance for religious faith in a climate like that.
Western society was built on beliefs that are rooted in Scripture, starting with the truth that God exists and has made Himself known. The whole weight of the United States’ Declaration of Independence hangs on truths about God and His creation that our nation’s founding fathers regarded as “self-evident.”
They were right about that. All creation is filled with important realities that are self-evident — axiomatic — beginning with the very foundation of all truth. The Bible says some basic knowledge of God is innate in every human heart: “That which is known about God is evident within them.” (Romans 1:19)
Furthermore, God constantly displays His glory through creation in a way that is hard to miss. Whether you study the vastness of the universe or examine a single drop of pond water through a microscope, you will see ample evidence of God’s infinite power, wisdom, creativity — and a host of other attributes. These truths (precisely the kind of ultimate, objective realities the postmodern mind rejects) are purposefully built into all of creation at every conceivable level.
Scripture goes on to say, “God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)
Humanity’s problem is that because of our sin, we resist accountability to God, so we suppress that innate knowledge and ignore or try to explain away what is literally spread across the universe in all its resplendence before our eyes. Because fallen minds refuse to see what is obvious, they lose the ability to make sense of anything. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.” (vv. 21-22)
I’ve been quoting, of course, from the opening chapter of the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans. He goes on to chronicle a pattern of decline that has been repeated in cycles throughout human history. It is a descent into sin and depravity that has brought down every one of history’s most powerful empires and currently threatens our civilization. It is a path that goes from unbelief to complete intellectual futility, and it drags whole societies through idolatry, uncontrolled lusts, degrading passions, and every conceivable expression of unrighteousness.
The end result is “a depraved mind” (v. 28) — a soul utterly given over to wickedness, irrationality, and contempt for everything that is truly righteous. In an act of divine judgment, God withdraws His grace and allows an individual (or an entire culture) to reach that point of moral and spiritual insanity. Here’s how the apostle says it:
Just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (vv. 28-32)
We have literally watched this play out in living color, with Jerry Springer narrating, as our culture has sped down the exact path of spiritual decline Paul outlines in that chapter. Hollywood, hip-hop, shock radio, and a host of other pop-culture obsessions — helped by mainstream media and the secular academy — have indoctrinated recent generations to accept and even encourage every imaginable kind of depravity and radical “alternative lifestyle.”
We’re not supposed to notice the overtly self-destructive nature of popular moral deviancies or the aberrant subcultures they spawn. Anyone who is still offended or appalled by such things is considered ignorant or ill-bred. Our mainstream media have displayed a stubborn determination to advance and encourage the moral meltdown. They will, for example, portray months of lawlessness and rioting as legitimate expressions of free speech — insisting that it has been “mostly peaceful,” even though the destructive result is clearly evident to anyone with eyes to see.
Meanwhile, nothing is more politically incorrect than religious belief. Genuine faith in God is commonly represented as a dangerous, disqualifying disorder. Just this week, for example, former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, speaking live on a national news network, suggested that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo does not qualify to serve in public office because he is “overtly religious … which in itself is problematic.”
Governmental response to the coronavirus pandemic offers more stunning examples of how far our culture has gone in losing its religion. States and counties across the nation have classified places like casinos, abortion clinics, liquor stores, and massage parlors as essential businesses, permitting them to remain open — while churches are commonly categorized as “nonessential” and kept closed. The governor of California and county officials in Los Angeles have shown a determination to keep our church closed, even while encouraging massive political protests by angry people in the streets.
Although public discourse today is full of cries for justice and structural change, there is simply no way to affirm any coherent standard of justice —much less is there any hope of change for the better — apart from a sweeping return to the God of Scripture, who is the source of all truth. We desperately need a generation of men and women who will open their eyes to that reality, turn from the unbelief and cold skepticism that define our culture, and flee for mercy to the God they have spurned. The good news is that God does offer full and free forgiveness and abundant blessing for those who will heed the call of Jesus Christ and come to Him in repentant faith.
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Dr. John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He is the author of more than 400 books, a featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry (gty.org), and is chancellor of The Master’s University and Seminary.