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Ravi Zacharias said...

The Great, False Dichotomy

We hear it in various slogans: "Love it or leave it!" We see it in the great divide between public and private realms, and we experience it in the impasse between science and faith. False dichotomies are everywhere. In formal logic, a false dichotomy sets up two alternative points of view as if they were the only options, argues against one of them, and thereby concludes that the other must be true.

Most scholars agree that the Enlightenment or Age of Reason, which began in the early seventeenth century, set up the great false dichotomy of our time.(1) The great "dichotomy" of the Enlightenment entailed the separation of the public and private spheres. The public sphere was the world of facts, governed by reason alone. Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin explains, "The thinkers of the Enlightenment spoke of their age as the age of reason...by which human beings could attain (at least in principle) to a complete understanding of, and thus a full
mastery of, nature—of reality in all its forms. Reason, so understood, is sovereign in this enterprise."(2) In the realm of reason, therefore, revelation was not needed. Human reason could search out and know all the facts about reality, and "no alleged divine revelation, no tradition however ancient, and no dogma however hallowed has the right to veto its exercise."(3) The realm of God was the realm of private value and private purpose.

Fueled by scientific and philosophical discoveries, the view of the world as the dominion of God's providence and rule, shifted to the view that sovereign reason could discover all that was necessary to advance humanity toward its highest destiny. All of Christianity's supernatural claims and all of its revelatory content were unnecessary in a world where the creator had endowed human beings with enough reason to discern what was important simply by looking at the great book of nature. The autonomous, rational human became the arbiter of
truth and knowledge, and that was enough.

(Continued Below)

Ravi Zacharias said...

What emerged from this dichotomy was the belief that the real world was a world of cause and effect, of material bodies guided solely by mathematically stable laws. It was believed, then, that to have discovered the "cause" of something was to have explained it. There was no need to invoke "purpose" or "design" as an explanation any longer.

And yet, we see in this belief another false dichotomy, for purpose remains an inescapable element in human life—in the public world of facts as much as in the private world of religion. Newbigin argues: "Human beings do entertain purposes and set out to achieve them. The immense achievements of modern science themselves are, very obviously, the outcome of the purposeful effortsof hundreds of thousands of men and women dedicated to the achievement of something that is valuable—a true understanding of how things are."(4) Hence, as Newbigin argues, persisting in the belief that science is
value and purpose-free belies blindness to what is really true. Moreover, it perpetuates the false dichotomy inherited from the Enlightenment abandonment of purpose or teleology. The pursuit of science to find causes for effects devoid of any larger purpose will ultimately end in the elimination of all ideals. The very zeal that seeks to explain a world without purpose is a purpose in and of itself.

Proclaiming that purpose undergirds every human endeavor, and that every endeavor finds its telos in "glorifying God and enjoying God forever" will not always move those convinced of nothing more than a purely material world of cause and effect. Yet, we come to know things truly and purposefully in and through a personal encounter with the living God who created everything that exists. We are reminded by the apostle John that Truth is ultimately and completely revealed in a person: "The Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us." The divine principle that undergirds all
things, as the Greeks understood the Logos, is embodied in the human person, Jesus. True knowledge and purpose meet in the Word made flesh, and in his life, death, and resurrection we have a new starting point for reason. The resurrection is indeed the very basis "for the perpetual praise of God who not only creates order out of chaos, but also breaks through fixed orders to create ever-new situations of surprise and joy."(5) The risen Jesus breaks the false dichotomy of reason that seeks to imprison God, and imbues all of life with purpose and meaning. New life is possible, not just in the private realms of devotion, but in all of reality. In the resurrected Christ, reason finds its hope and reality its purpose.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.



(1) Stanley Grenz and Roger Olsen, 20th Century Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 16-17.
(2) Lesslie
Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 25.
(3) Ibid., 25.
(4) Ibid., 35.
(5) Ibid., 150.


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The Professor said...

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face Him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world. - 1 John 4:17 NLT

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