Just when most of us were folding up the bunting, thinking the Bicentennial birthday party was over, along came a suggestion that it had just begun.

“Perhaps now that religious leaders are no longer spooked by fears of a berserk Bicentennial Americanism, they can point toward the Bicentennial Era in which we have twelve years to celebrate the Constitution,” proposed Richard R. Gilbert. (The Constitution went into effect in 1789.) The challenge in the dozen years ahead, said Gilbert in a summary article in Religion and the Bicentennial, is to do something about the whole system of values in America.

Gilbert, a former United Presbyterian executive who served on the staff of the New York Interchurch Center’s Project Forward ’76, believes “the most significant development for Bicentennial religion” is the emergence of the term “value” rather than “religion” to describe the country’s religious orientation. He visited seventy-five cities in forty-three states to drum up interest in a series of meetings on “American issues,” and he found that few church leaders wanted to have any part in “one more discussion group on civics.” He learned, however, that these churchmen reflected a keen concern among their constituents about “basic moral values.” What is right and what is wrong? What is fair and what is unfair? These are the questions that people were asking.

In Gilbert’s article, “The Nation With the Soul of a Church” (also printed as a separate booklet by the Interchurch Center), “valuing” is seen as “a way out of moral relativism without bringing back the evils of religious inculcation [in the public schools].” He adds, “In brief, thousands of public schools have opted for the values process without violating constitutional protections against value prescriptions. That’s the theory, although in practice teaching values is just as tricky as teaching religion.”

Whether Gilbert is right or wrong in concluding that “organized religion is no longer the leading generator of moral, spiritual, intellectual, or theological insights in America” remains to be seen. We are not ready to concede just yet that the educational system has taken over this role. We will agree, however, that organized religion can do more in this area. Evangelical Christianity, in particular, is in a position to exert much greater leadership in the choice of values.

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Just as evangelicals had a vital role in America’s colonial and revolutionary era, leading up to the Declaration of Independence, so evangelicals should help to shape values in this era. Commentators who criticize Bible-believing Christians for trying to “foist their beliefs” off on unsuspecting fellow citizens should recall that some of the credit for America’s separation of church and state belongs to eighteenth-century Bible believers. Although the primary drafters of the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights might best be classified as deists, they were keenly aware of the convictions—and the plight—of their evangelical neighbors. Those non-establishment Christian neighbors were politically active, and they lobbied for religious freedom. And while they wanted no part of a state church, they made enormous contributions to early America’s system of values.

America is again at a critical point. Decisions must be made about priorities. What comes first, freedom, or justice, or mercy, or security and prosperity? Gilbert suggests that the interdisciplinary scholars will be making the decisions. “They realize that to go where the action is ethically and philosophically they must read sociology, psychology, literature, history, economics, and art criticism,” he writes. Granting, for the sake of discussion, that these are the people who will shape the nation’s values, let us ask who shapes their values. Secular humanists will be doing their best to exert their influence. Christians should do no less.

This is no time for retreat. When moral issues come up, whether in the local school board or in the trade associations, in state legislatures or federal courts, qualified Christians should be there. They should not default simply because someone will charge that their testimony represents “the church” or a “sectarian” viewpoint. They have as much right to express their views as the humanists do.

It may be a bit ambitious to think that the United States can get its values sorted out and in order in the next twelve years. There is no better time to start, however. Perhaps a better target date is the year 2000, the bimillenial of the birth of the one whose values are above all values.

Telling the Truth, Doing the Truth

Joseph was a shrewd operator, but he was first of all a person who told and did the truth. Unlike his brothers, who practiced deception to try to cover up his disappearance, he was a straight arrow.

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One of the high points in his life is recorded in Genesis 45, when he reveals his identity to his brothers. They probably thought the government official who dealt with them was an Egyptian; they certainly had no idea he was their brother. When Joseph made his announcement, they were stunned and unable to respond (v. 3).

Although Joseph could not hide his emotions at this climactic meeting (v. 2), he came right to the point: “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt” (v. 4). He immediately followed that bombshell with an assurance that he did not intend to pay back the harm they had done to him. He used the occasion to tell them the great truth that the whole affair was God’s scheme “to preserve life” and not their own plan (vv. 5, 8).

When the brothers regained their composure, Joseph was able to tell them about his successes and to provide them with the good things they had earlier tried to deny to him. He showed them the beauty of his own life when he promised (v. 20) and later produced the best that Egypt had to offer.

Joseph’s example in telling the truth throughout his life no doubt affected his brothers (albeit belatedly). They went back to their father and told him “all the words of Joseph” (v. 27). This time they did not try to alter the facts to keep Jacob from knowing the whole story. The truth was like a refreshing breeze to him; it gave him a new zest for living. Joseph’s father joined him in Egypt, and it was a place of blessing for his descendants for many years. That blessing was due in no small part to the quality of Joseph’s life, a life characterized by his commitment to telling and doing the truth. Ultimately, that commitment meant doing God’s will.

Others Say…

A Barrier to Christian Belief

David E. Kurcharsky, senior editor of Christianity Today:

Next time you say grace or kneel in private devotions, say a word of thanks to God for Francis A. Schaeffer, who has induced many people to think about the presuppositions—conscious or unconscious—that undergird their thought patterns and their actions. Schaeffer’s newest work, and his most comprehensive, How Should We Then Live? (Revell), promises to carry the self-examination goad even further.

Schaeffer is indebted to the more scholarly, substantive work of other evangelicals in philosophy, such as Gordon Haddon Clark and Cornelius Van Til. But no one can deny that he has gotten through to people who would not have been reached through the more conventional academic presentation.

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Schaeffer has persuaded thousands that no one can avoid philosophies; one can only choose among them. He diligently lays bare the principles that, for good or ill, underlie much of the modern outlook on life.

The challenge he lays down is for Christians in a variety of disciplines and vocations to undertake parallel probes in their own areas of expertise.

Yet Schaeffer in this new book lets us down in his brief comments on the mass media. He laments, appropriately enough, the naturalistic presupposition evident in today’s newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV programs. But in doing so he seems to opt for the old “objectivity,” the journalistic outworking of positivism and other philosophies that elsewhere in the book he rightly condemns.

Mortimer Adler sheds light on our modern predicament. In his lectures and writings he traces “little errors in the beginning” in the spirit of Aristotle, who said, “The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.” Thus evangelical concern for upholding the doctrine of biblical inerrancy pivots on the thought of what the consequences of not doing so would be. Similarly, Christian media will diminish their evangelistic effectiveness if they concede even small errors in crucial epistemological tenets. As a writer for Quill, the official journal of the professional journalistic society Sigma Delta Chi, said several years ago, “The problems of journalism, are, at base, philosophical problems.… Journalism is guided by philosophy—but it is whatever philosophy that the culture serves up in any given period.”

True, to some extent we must work within the prevailing system; this holds true for preachers and lay witnesses as well as for editors and writers. But Schaeffer eloquently reminds us that we must also call attention to philosophical falsehoods. Of particular importance are those aspects of the modern outlook that impair the communication of God’s provision of saving grace!

“Of all the little errors in the beginning that have plagued modern philosophy since its start,” says Adler, “the most serious is the one that was made in the psychology of cognition.” The error he cites seems small and somewhat technical: its most compact expression is found in John Locke (1632–1704) and has to do with failing to distinguish between sense and intellect. Actually, says Adler, the error originated with Descartes, known for his espousal of “clear and distinct ideas.” It led later philosophers to propound very complicated theories of knowledge, among the most notable of which was that of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), who distinguished between “analytic and synthetic” judgments.

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When all this filtered down to the popular level, the effect was to set up in the average Western mind a special category of knowledge commonly referred to as facts (and more recently in the vernacular as hard facts). This is the realm of the “objective,” a realm supposedly certain because of its confirmation by sense experience. It stands in opposition to the subjective, the realm to which value judgments and other “opinions” that cannot be verified by the senses are assigned. (If you don’t think that “fact” and “opinion” are relatively recent concepts, try to find them in the King James Version of the Bible.)

The domination of science in our age has further reinforced the human preference for “objective” data, so that he who questions “facts” is looked upon as mushy-headed. And, unfortunately, moral and religious propositions that deal with immaterial realities not directly confirmable in sense experience do not then qualify for such epistemological status. The result is that in the eyes of the world the proclaimer of the Word peddles a lot of second-class merchandise. His data cannot be “proved.” Schaeffer should be helping more Christians to see this problem, which is old hat to both secular and religious philosophers.

Christians use various rhetorical devices to breach this barrier, and a number of great minds in the secular world have begun to acknowledge that the great subjective-objective division is inadequate. But for most thinking people, this major impediment to Christian faith remains. To borrow from Shakespeare and another context, it is “the seeming truth which cunning times put on to entrap the wisest.”

I think that Christian journalism should get into this philosophical fray. It should expose the inherent weakness of the empiricist bias and encourage development of a sounder theory of knowledge. The cause of evangelism stands to gain, because to the extent that we reduce unwarranted intellectual encumbrances we will be confronting the non-Christian with the possibility of a “purer” act of the will, a decision more closely oriented to the basic question, “What do you think of this Jesus, who is called the Christ?”

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