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James 3:15 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 38 secs

HVP Systems: Modernism and Postmodernism; James 3:15

 

Faith is believing something to be true, and faith is at the very core of every system of human thought. For example, in rationalism the ultimate underlying assumption is faith in human ability to reason clearly, that man on his own can come up with basic first principles and then on the basis of those argue logically the various conclusions. But those first principles are never proven, they are just assumed. That is the role of faith. The same thing is true of empiricism. Faith is in man's ability to interpret his experiences, the sense data that he accumulates, and that somehow man on his own can properly interpret all of the data that comes to him through his sense. So faith is at the core of everything. Remember, faith itself is non-meritorious; everybody exercises faith. The merit is in the object of faith. So when we come to the third system of human knowledge, which is authority, it depends on what authority we are looking at, and when the object of faith is the revealed Word of God then we have knowledge of absolute truth. Truth by its very nature is absolute, there is no such thing as relative truth.

 

The contrast we have in our passage in James is between human viewpoint and divine viewpoint. The Scriptures classify all human viewpoint as foolishness; all divine viewpoint is classified as wisdom. All human viewpoint will ultimately end up in destruction. No matter how well it might work for a while it always ends in some sort of negative consequence. Its origin is in arrogance.

 

Every culture has its own way of looking at reality. Right now the term that is used to describe the kind of thinking in our culture is called postmodernism. The prefix "post" refers to something that comes after. So if we have postmodernism it comes after modernism, and that would have been preceded by what we will call pre-modernism. Postmodernism is the kind of thinking that characterizes our age and we ought to think a little about what that involves.

 

1 Chronicles 12:32 NASB "Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do…" They had a divine viewpoint framework and so they were able to evaluate their culture, evaluate the historical trends, and were able to perceive what was taking place. They were able to be of benefit to the nation because they had a divine viewpoint framework and perspective for understanding what was going on at their time in history.

 

Romans 13:11 NASB "{Do} this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed." Because we are believers we have, as it were, a birds-eye view of history. God has declared the end from the beginning. We all know that the outworking of history is God's plan from eternity past and that Jesus Christ controls history. The background for this verse is the imminency of the Rapture. Jesus Christ could come back at any time, it is time for us to wake up and get serious about our spiritual life because Jesus could come back tomorrow. So the time is short and we need to be involved in working out our salvation. We need to be living out the spiritual life.

 

Earlier in Romans 12:1, 2 Paul has issued this mandate: NASB "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [kosmoj], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." This does not mean action in the sense of legalism. It doesn't means that we are not to do certain things or that we are to identify worldliness with certain activities. Worldliness biblically has to do with how we think, not what we do. The mandate here is that we are not to be influenced by the thinking of the world around us, the philosophy of life. We are to be transformed by the renovation of our thinking. "That you may prove" means to demonstrate in our life. It is a demonstration in the appeal trial of Satan. We demonstrate to the angels in heaven and to other human beings what the will of God is: "good and acceptable and perfect." Men around us think that the wisdom of God is foolishness, and when we apply divine viewpoint wisdom to our problems and we have tranquillity and stability and victory over that difficulty in life, then we move forward in life and the testimony to men and to angels is that the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NASB "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh…" There are specific combat guidelines and regulations for the believer to follow. [4] "for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh…" It is not based on sin nature response or on human viewpoint response that emanates from the sin nature. "…but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses." Bible doctrine will destroy anything, it is alive and powerful. [5] "{We are} destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and {we are} taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."

Modernism places human reason and human experience at the centre point for human authority and knowledge. Before that we could call that, for lack of a better term, pre-modern thought. Pre-modern thought (we're talking about the Middle Ages) was heavily influenced by Christianity. Whether a person was a biblical Christian or not nearly everybody operated on the basic assumption of theism, the belief that God exists, that God has communicated, in ethics that there are absolute values, and that God is infinitely involved in human history. Everybody from the beggar in the street to the princes and statesmen of every nation operated on these assumptions. But things changed. As there was a revolution against the Roman Catholic church, and after the Reformation had its impact and the thinkers began to shake off the chains of control of the hierarchy of the church, they went too far. In essence the Reformation was a return back to the authority of the Bible. They went back to recover ancient manuscripts. But in the Renaissance they went back beyond the Bible to the ancient MSS of Greece and Rome, because as the Moslem hoards came up from the south and the intellectuals from the Byzantine empire fled before their advancing armies, they took their libraries with them. They brought the ancient documents with them, of Plato and Aristotle and many others, and so there was a return to the classics. In the north they went back to the Bible and stopped there, and that had a tremendous impact on the culture northern Europe. In the south they went even further back and it impacted their art in the recovery of art forms of the ancient Greeks. All of this is in that pre-modern period and it is covered under the term theism. But with the Renaissance what happens is a throwing off of the authority of the Bible and there was the rise of what is called humanism where man becomes the centre point of his thinking, the ultimate source of authority.

The way that played itself out was that after we get into the 17th century and the thinking of Rene Descartes there was the construction of the understanding of reality on principles of pure reason alone. Ultimately that became bankrupt and there was the alternate philosophy of Locke, etc. that was called empiricism. But human experience isn't enough, and the last of those was David Hume and he was a sceptic and questioned everything, and as a result of his scepticism there was the rise of Emanuel Kant at the end of the 17th century. So the Enlightenment comes to its fruition. The seed was planted about 1600 and it comes to full flowering and the final death knell of the old pre-modern thinking was seen. They were going to rewrite history and all social institutions on the basis of human reason alone, and the Bible is thrown out. Modernism is really a state of mind and not a time in which we live, because modernism places the ultimate authority in life in human reason and human experience. What happens is that the Enlightenment gives birth to the rise of modern science. There was a great hope that science could answer everything but science also had a certain aspect to it in that is seemed to reduce everything to cold, hard reason. So there was a reaction. Always in the realm of ideas there are reactions. The reaction was what was called romanticism. Romanticism emphasised emotion. When Kant came along he said man can only know what he perceives. You can only know what you perceive is there, you can't know it as it is. Man just assumes it is there and lives in light of that. With the development of romanticism and emphasis on emotion, the emphasis on nature, glorification of the past and there is a reaction to science and to civilization, and there is an element of mysticism there.

One of the most influential thinkers of this time was a man named Friedrich Schliermacher, the father of all liberal theology. He said that if you want to know God you have to have the emotion of meeting God. He was a romanticist. Then there was a reaction from that back to what we will just call materialism. This becomes championed by Darwin. Man in a sense is part of nature but he is this product that nature is no longer this good and wonderful idealised environment, because now nature is exemplified in this horrible struggle exemplified in the phrase "survival of the fittest," the law of the jungle. Everything is now viewed as being purely material, you can't know anything unless you can see it, touch it, measure it, observe it. If it is beyond that it doesn't exist, so God doesn't exist, certain values don't exist—you can't touch or feel justice. So in terms of values there is the rise of pragmatism and utilitarianism. In pragmatism and utilitarianism thievery isn't wrong because God said, "Thou shalt not steal," thievery is wrong because it destroys economic order. You see it isn't wrong because it is an absolute, it is wrong because of how it impacts people. So if it didn't impact people it wouldn't be wrong. We see the same thing today in the debate over whether or not to legalise marijuana and whether to legalise prostitution, which is a so-called victimless crime. In other words, there is no longer a view of absolutes, the things are wrong only because of their utilitarian impact, only because of their pragmatic impact on people.

The thing is that under pure materialism the only thing that is real and has value and has meaning is what you can measure, what you can see and what you can touch. But that again leaves us with a very empty sense of reality. There has to be more than that, there has to be meaning, man has to have some level of significance. Because on the basis of material starting point you can't get to meaning, you can't get to universals any more. Because of what Kant taught you can't get upstairs and know what those universals are, what those ideals are; you can't know whether or not God has objective existence, you just have to assume it is true and live that way. This is what Kierkegaard did. It was called a leap of faith and it gave birth to a reaction that is called existentialism. The only way you know whether life has value is by doing something that brings credit to your existence. Because you don't have a value system anymore, an absolute system to determine whether something is good or bad, it doesn't matter what you do to validate your existence. Whether you help a little old lady across the street or hit her over the head with a tyre iron there is no basis for saying one is good and one is bad. If you do either one you prove that you exist, you validate your existence, you give some meaning to your life, so life otherwise is very hopeless, very dark, very depressing. All of this is part of modernism. 

Descartes gives birth to modernism and in the middle of modernism there is the development from Kant on of a reaction that ultimately gives birth to postmodernism, because postmodernism is nothing more than the romanticism—the emphasis on emotion, subjectivism, mysticism—played out on a much grander scale and carried to a new level in existentialism, and then all of that just goes to a whole new level in postmodernism where there is the total destruction of all objective knowledge and hope. And this is the kind of culture that we find ourselves living in.