While recovering from my heart surgery I found a relatively easy and fun read, Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, a Catholic priest. The book is fiction, eschatological and written in 1907. The Lord of the world is the anti-Christ who gathers around him all those who believe that humanity is evolving toward a greater future and are the consciousness for the whole universe. A new evolutionary religion is blooming but evil is at its core. I was reminded of the book while reading a sermon on John Shuck’s sermon blog, Sermon and Jive.
Shuck, a Presbyterian teaching elder, is promoting the need for a new “bible.” One that will better fit with contemporary humanity. He, like the anti-Christ in the book, sees all religious narratives as part of the evolutionary unfolding of creation. As Shuck puts it:
“The Bible gave us a cosmology and a history. For it I am grateful. It provided inspiration for the search. Now we have to create a new Bible. It won’t be one book as such, but we are in the process of creating a unifying story of origins, identity, and future hope. We need our artists, musicians, and storytellers, to help in this great work. This new Bible, so to speak, will contain all of the other Bibles, all mythology, all religion, all philosophy, and psychology, in short, all human cultural evolution.”
There are errors in Shuck’s sermon, the first trivial perhaps. Contrary to Shuck’s words the Hindu and the Buddhist do have sacred texts, the Hindu Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, (which Shuck has used before) and the sutras which belong to Buddhism as well as the Pali Tripitaka.
And Karl Barth, he did not, as Shuck states, retreat when he embraced theology. He in fact returned much of modern theology back to the Trinity since so many of Europe’s enlightenment theologians were Arians, denying the deity of Jesus. In fact it is Barth in his small book Dogmatics in Outline who pointed out that when someone hears a complaint against the Christology of the Nicene Creed they should think of a wolf’s snarl. He wrote:
“There have been many complaints and murmurings over this formula and probably, sooner or later in your studies, you will come up against men of letters and even teachers, who also do the same thing and think it dreadful that this matter should be reduced to this formula. I should be happy to think that, when you meet such complainers, this hour at college may come back to your memory and release a tiny check in you. This inveighing against so-called ‘orthodoxy’ is just a ‘wolf’s snarl’, which an educated man should have nothing to do with.”
And to suggest that the person of Jesus as well as Old Testament characters are “more likely to be composite characters in fictionalized accounts of old myths and legends reframed and retold,” is utter nonsense. Few scholars today deny the historical reality of Jesus.
Shuck’s greatest error is his ideology, because he uses evolution as transcendent truth, he elevates humanity to an untenable place:
“Human beings are not insignificant worms in this story. We are the self-consciousness of this universe. It is possible that there is intelligent life somewhere else. But whether there is or not, we human beings are the self-consciousness of Earth and the Solar System for sure. We are here and able to tell this incredible story. Before human beings there were no stories of the universe. There were no stories of gods, stories of love, stories of sacrifice, stories of sadness. Self-consciousness emerged from evolution and all of our aspirations and hopes have emerged from our interactions, from our storytelling, from our small Bibles to a larger ever-emerging Bible that is our ongoing life story.”
It is important to notice here that Shuck’s words, despite his disbelief in a personal God, hold to a certain kind of faith—one that is centered in materialism—but nonetheless a faith. I say this because there is no empirical evidence, no scientific explanation, for how self-consciousness could emerge from evolution. Shuck simply believes that evolution produced self-consciousness.
Shuck also believes that good, without an absolute good creator God, emerges from evolution. The good is centered in humanity and is named by humanity. This is a path towards disaster. Without the absolutes that belong to the personal creator God of the Bible, which include mercy, compassion, redemption and judgement, humanity either falls into anarchy or develops totalitarianisms. It is like the iron mixed with clay in the biblical book of Daniel. The crumbles are constant, but still the iron overpowers.
Shuck often writes of being a “good” ancestor, but tell that to a dying person. In the book, Lord of the World, the heroine, who along with her husband believes in the same sort of evolutionary ideas Shuck believes, experiences a group of people dying because of a volor [Air-machine] crash. Her conversation with her husband is telling:
“Oliver, what do you say to people when they are dying?”
“Say! Why nothing! What can I say? But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone die.”
“Nor have I till to-day.” Said the girl, and shivered a little. “The euthanasia people were soon at work.”
Oliver took her hand gently.
“My darling, it must have been frightful. Why, you’re trembling still.”
“No; but listen… You know, if I had anything to say I could have said it too. They were all just in front of me: I wondered, then I knew I hadn’t. I couldn’t possibly have talked about Humanity.”
Who will proclaim to Shuck’s congregation the good news of God’s great mercy in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All they will be able to speak of will be the self-consciousness of humanity. The whole focus in this sermon is on gathering the world’s ideas for a new, so called bible. That they are not hearing the good news is Shuck’s great sin, but it is also the sin of his presbytery and synod. The sin belongs to all of us when we have not proclaimed winsomely, without fear, the good news of Jesus, when we have not proclaimed the authority of Scripture, when we have not held out to broken people the gracious promises of God.