by R.C. Sproul Jr.
Though I haven’t the infernal wisdom that C.S. Lewis demonstrated in his classic work The Screwtape Letters, I think I know something about at least some of the devil’s stratagems. The Screwtape Letters, you remember, purported to be a series of letters written from senior demon Screwtape to junior demon Wormwood, explaining how best to assault his “patient,” the young man under his charge. Lewis’ insights were eerily uncanny, as if he really had been spying on the devil and his minions. I have no secret wiretap, I’m merely guessing.
First, the devil is, I’m sure, rather proud of his work in the culture at large as we ditch that old devil modernism for the devil in the new dress, postmodernism. How we Christians bravely fought to tear down the smug certainty of the scientific worldview, to drive the enlightenment into the shadows. We have destroyed Frankenstein’s monster. There are precious few people left who are convinced that the scientific method is the only pathway to truth. The devil’s success, however, is that there are likewise precious few people who are convinced that there is a pathway to truth. We no longer need to bow down to the mighty scientist as the grand arbiter of truth. Now we bow to the man in the mirror, as each of us has his own truth.
It cost the devil nothing to get us to buy this latest lie. He promised that if we would but embrace relativism, we would enjoy peace. No longer would my understanding of truth war against yours, because even when they contradict, we can both be right. Now we can all get along. Except for this. If, in your reality, you have the right, and in my reality I have the right-of-way, all our smiling confidence that we can both be right won’t keep our fenders from trading paint. To Saddam, he had done nothing wrong. To Bush he had. And now 50,000 men, women, and children are dead. But we should have known. The devil never gives what he promises when he makes us a deal.
This success, however, is really small potatoes. The devil may take a sadistic joy in muddying up the world around us. But it is not the strategic ground he so desperately seeks. Victory for him isn’t confusing the world, it’s seducing the church. I believe that, like any good strategist, he is thinking several moves ahead. Relativism exists, in the devil’s game plan, not for the folly of the world, but as a tool to assault the church.
But how, we ought to ask, could relativism make any headway into the church of Christ? We are the people of the book. We are defined by creeds, affirmations of objective truths, that are true for everyone. Surely we must be immune from the folly of relativism. Sadly, we are not only not immune, but are not, in truth, people of the Word. The thin spiritual veneer that the devil drapes over his poison is simple enough — it is the Holy Spirit. The only thing that can trump God’s Word, is God Himself. It is ordinary and pedestrian to take our cues from the Bible. It’s so much more exciting and pious to hear direct from the author. Thus relativism gallops into the church.
This problem is by no means restricted to the more flamboyant pentecostals. Otherwise austere Presbyterians have been known to baptize their sin with this bilge. Adultery may be wrong for you, some have reasoned, but to me it’s okay, because the Holy Spirit has granted me peace about the matter. The command to obey may be okay for you, but the Holy Spirit has given me a spirit of freedom. We enlist the Spirit to justify not our souls, but our sins.
This is the spirit of our age. The driving force behind the culture’s embrace of relativism is the intense desire to justify away our own sins. Remove the objective standard of the law, and you remove the accountability that comes with it. It works the same with the Holy Spirit. Remove the objective standard of the Word, and you remove the accountability that comes with it. The devil likewise delights that we in the church are faithfully about the business of trying to remove the speck in the world’s eye, while blissfully ignoring the mote in our own. The foolishness of relativism is indeed laughable. But it is also understandable. They are, after all, fools. Folly is what they do. But we have been given a spirit of wisdom, and we still succumb to the folly. We must never forget that for all our worldliness, the world follows the church. They do the silly things they do because we do the silly things that we do. Which means, in turn, that the fastest way to rid the world of its folly is to remove it from the church. Do we want courts that treat the Constitution as the law of the land, rather than a quaint relic? More important than letter-writing campaigns, or rallies around the flag, is for us to begin treating the Bible as our law.
The spirit of wisdom is the Spirit of Wisdom. He is indeed speaking to us, telling all of us that there is but one truth. He is speaking to us, telling us to feed upon the Word of God, for therein is life, and life abundant. He is calling us to submit to Him, by submitting to His Word, the very words of life. If He whispers anything, it is only to go to where He speaks with clarity to all of us. May He grant us the ears to hear Him where He speaks.