EVANGELICAL HUMANISM

BY:  JAMES A. FOWLER

Evangelical theology is unaware of the extent to which it has accepted humanistic theses.

The tragedy of the Western churches today is the extent to which humanistic philosophy has been accommodated into evangelical theology. As a starting point we will attempt a brief definition of both “evangelicalism” and “humanism.”

Evangelicalism is a theological movement. The name is derived from the Greek word euangellion, the word for “gospel” or “good news.” The English word “evangelism” is also derived from this same Greek word and has to do with “sharing the good news” with others. Evangelicalism, on the other hand, is a non-denominational movement of Christians who believe in the “good news” of Jesus Christ.

Early in the twentieth century here in America, there began a movement called “fundamentalism.” R.A. Torrey and A.C. Dixon published a four volume set of books entitled The Fundamentals in 1917 through the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. By the 1940s that fundamentalist movement had grown quite narrow and exclusive–absolutistic, separatistic and legalistic.

In 1942 the National Association of Evangelicals was established. This was a conservative, Bible-based association of Christians which allowed for more latitude of doctrinal variation, more emphasis on a Christian world-view and on the social implications of the gospel.

Humanism is more difficult to define, for it is a broad philosophy which focuses on the potentiality of man. It is to be distinquished from “humanitarianism” (the benevolent actions of men toward other men) and the “humanities” (educational disciplines which study the enculturation of man) and “humanity” or “humanness” (what God created us to be as man). Humanism is a presuppositional pattern of thinking that postulates the potentiality of man for self-realization, self-actualization and self-generation. It involves a human-potential premise that man has the inherent resource to be the cause of his own effects, to chart his own course, to run his own show, to do his own thing, to solve his own problems, and to be the master of his own fate.

The fallacy of humanism lies in the fact that man does not have the potential or the inherent resource to generate and activate his own effects. Man is not a creator! God is the Creator of all things, and man is a creature, specifically designed by the Creator-God to function only by spiritual dependency. Man is not just an animal that functions by repetitive instinctual behavior patterns which God designed in the soul, but neither is man a god who originates action in and of himself. Only the Creator-God is independent, autonomous, self-existent, self-generative and self-sufficient, and He did not create little human gods to operate in the same way as rivals or competitors. God created creatures known as “human beings” or “mankind” who were designed to function only by spiritual and behavioral dependency upon God, the presence of the Spirit of God operating within the spirit of man allowing the invisible character of God to be made visible in man’s behavior to the glory of God.

Although man is a spiritually and behaviorally dependent creature, this does not relegate him to being but the object of determinism. God entrusted man with freedom of choice, the volitional capability of personal receptivity. Man is a choosing creature who is responsible to live by the consequences of his choices of spiritual and behavioral dependency.

It is particularly the fallacy of human independency that lies at the root of all forms of humanistic thought. To understand the origin of this delusion one must understand some spiritual history.

Satan made an uncaused choice to pursue the lie of independent-self, saying, “I will be like the Most High God (Isaiah 14:14). In so doing he became the fixated liar, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), the polarized opposite of God. He became the “god of this world” (II Corinthians 4:4), whereby he originates all that is devoid of God’s character by means of a reverse polarity. Satan then attempted to propagate the “lie of independent self” (the fallacy of human independency and deified humanity) upon mankind. Man fell for the same lie (Genesis 3), but did not become fixated in evil with no opportunity of redemption, as Satan is, for man’s was a caused choice. Man was deceived by the Temptor, lied to, and God graciously ushered him out of the Garden of Eden so that he would not partake of the tree of life and have a perpetual representation of his sinful state.

Sin is generated by Satan. “The one who practices sin is of the devil.(I John 3:8) Sin is not a result of an alleged self-actuating resource in man that posits man as a “first-cause” of evil. Sin is not a self-generated expression of self-centeredness that is to be dealt with by the self-effort of self-castigation. If the problem is “self,” then “self” can and must deal with the problem, and such is the premise of all self-help programs (be they religious or non-religious). But if the problem of mankind is sin generated by Satan, then only God can take care of the problem, redemptively and functionally, by His grace in His Son, Jesus Christ.

If evil is something man does, actuated by his own choice, and the sin-effect is the result of his own self-causation, then we are the cause of our own effects, we are gods, creators creating “out of nothing” both our own evil and our own righteousness. If our sinful behavior is merely induced by an impersonal principle of evil or sin-principle, and we then actuate or generate such sinful behavior; then the logical alternative is that Christian behavior is merely induced by an impersonal truth-principle, life-principle or salvation-principle, and we then actuate or generate Christian behavior. If the expression of selfishness and sinfulness in our behavior is the result of a vague, ambiguous “influence” of Satan whereupon we have chosen to activate and generate the sinful behavior by our own power; then conversely the expression of the Christian life is the result of a vague, ambiguous “influence” of the Spirit of Christ upon our lives, whereupon we have chosen to activate and generate Christian living by our own power. Impossible!

Yet this seems to be a primary presupposition of “Evangelical Humanism.” Is righteousness a result of a Righteous God having given a righteous code of conduct which we, as man, choose to activate into our behavior in “works of righteousness” which conform to His righteous desires? The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 64:6) and the apostle Paul (Philippians 3:6-9) denied such vehemently.

The distinction between “Evangelical Humanism” and Christianity must be made. Christianity is Christ; the spiritual dynamic of the Lord Jesus Christ functioning in man. The Christian life is the behavioral expression of Christians deriving all from Him by faith, our receptivity of His activity. Christ functions as Life in us, to live out His Life. Christ functions as the Righteous One in us, to live out His Righteousness. Christ functions as God in us, to live out His godliness. Christ functions as Savior in us, to effect salvation in us making us safe from misused and dysfunctional humanity and restoring us to the functional humanity that God intends.

We must repudiate the fallacy of human independence, the lie of the independent self, of deified humanity. Man is a spiritually and behaviorally dependent creature. This is not mechanistic determinism that posits man as merely a stimulus-response mechanism. God created us with the capability of personal receptivity, a real choice of spiritual dependency. Our behavioral expressions are derived from one spiritual source or the other, either God or Satan. The behavioral fruit must always be traced to its spiritual root. Righteous behavior can only be the result of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, living out His character of righteousness in us. Unrighteousness is always a result of the Evil One, Satan, living out his character of evil, unrighteousness, ungodliness, sinfulness and selfishness in us, causing us to “act like the devil.”

Major W. Ian Thomas states in his book, The Mystery of Godliness, “As godliness is the direct and exclusive consequence of God’s activity, and God’s capacity to reproduce Himself in you, so all ungodliness is the direct and exclusive consequence of Satan’s activity, and of his capacity to reproduce the devil in you.”

Apparently the theologians of the Evangelical movement considered themselves too “enlightened” by humanistic psychological concepts to be so categorical, to attribute man’s spiritual condition and behavior either to God or to Satan. So they accommodated humanistic premises to explain both unregeneracy and carnality.

Evangelical Humanism predominates in Western churches today. The message is: “We can do it. It is up to us. Do your best, give it your all. Be involved, committed, dedicated and active.” The tragedy is that those in evangelical churches are susceptible as easy prey to the New Age philosophy of cosmic humanism. When we do not make the clear-cut distinction of “Either/Or” of spiritual origin and derivation, it is easy to slide into the monistic fusion of good and evil, and to accept the narcissistic selfism of New Age thought. Evangelical Humanism has already accepted the basic thesis of cosmic humanism ­ the inherent ability of an alleged independent man to be his own center of reference and the cause of his own effects.

It is imperative that Christians proclaim the only “good news” available to mankind, that Christ having taken our death for us desires to give His Life to us and live His Life through us to the glory of God. Functional humanity is restored when by spiritual and behavioral dependency upon Christ, by the receptivity of His activity in faith, we become man as God intended man to be, the Creator functioning within the creature.

©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.  Used by permission of the author.

 

 

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