Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.
This is the epitaph written by poet Alexander Pope for John Newton in the early 1700s. Our nation was birthed in the era after Newton, when Europe was brimming with supreme confidence that the scientist and the philosopher could know all that needs to be known to make the world the best place it can be. Traditional Christianity based on divine revelation in the Bible came to be seen as disposable – just another superstition that we can dispense with as we enter a new world in which we – humans – create heaven on earth with the limitless knowledge yielded by human discovery. This confidence that all mystery left the world after the discovery of Newton’s laws and that all of reality shines fluorescent and free of shadow in the light of almighty technology in large part drives our culture. This is the worldview that we call modernity.
Historian of science Derek De Solla Price devised a way to try and quantify the growth of scientific knowledge. He saw a more or less exponential curve. According to Price, human knowledge doubled in the 1500 years between the birth of Christ and the Renaissance; it doubled again in the 250 years between the Renaissance and the French Revolution; it doubled again, between the French Revolution and the dawn of the automotive age, 125 years later, and again between then and the start of the Cold War, another 50 years; then it doubled in the decade preceding the election of JFK. Now—by some estimates— human knowledge doubles every two years. Soon, it looks like, someone will be able to tell you that scientific knowledge has doubled in the course of this worship service. Is there no limit to what man can know?
In 1999 President Bill Clinton said the following at the National Medal of Science and Technology Awards Ceremony: “In an age when the entire store of knowledge doubles every five years, where prosperity depends upon command of that ever-growing store, the United States is the strongest it has ever been, thanks in large measure to the remarkable pace and scope of American science and technology in the last 50 years.” So as we bask in the glow of man’s ever-expanding, omnipotent, and all-beneficent scientific knowledge, we can be sure that we will always prosper. That is one of the best summaries of the worldview of modernity I have ever heard.
Yet at least there is rationality and such a thing as truth in modernism. In our day postmodernism has come along and said that rationality is impossible. Not only can we not be certain of what we know, says postmodernism, but that knowledge cannot even yield truth. There is no absolute truth. Truth is just a cultural construct invented by the powerful and imposed on the rest of us to gain a political advantage. You may not have realized this, but apparently all of history and literature were perpetrated in the interests of a wealthy few with the goal of marginalizing groups of people. Once you realize this, you are free from the notion of “absolute” truth. Your mission in life is then to determine which marginal group you identify with and then work, through the rewriting of history and literature, to impose its truth on everyone else. If we no longer believe in truth, then the idea that opponents are engaged in a mutual search for truth doesn’t make sense. Instead, disputes are about power, and the only effective tactic is to talk longer and louder and loftier than your opponent. That sounds like a political debate, doesn’t it?
It is in this context in which there is one impulse, on the one hand, from modernity that suggests that human scientific knowledge, wielding the almighty tool of technology, can create heaven on earth and doesn’t need the superstitions of the Christian faith and the Bible, while on the other hand there is another impulse from postmodernism that says that a coherent and rational view of reality is not even possible, and absolute truth is not possible, so the Christian faith is just the tool of white European males to keep down women or poor people or whatever. What modernity and postmodernity have in common is demoting God and the Bible from authority and promoting man to that place.
In the face of these opposing and conflicting and confusing worldviews, the historic Trinitarian worldview asserts that there is truth, and Truth is a person – the person of the Lord Jesus Christ who lived in ancient Galilee and died on a Roman cross under Pontius Pilate and rose again in space and time on the third day and ascended bodily to another dimension called heaven, where He rules over the world. The historic Christian faith, is then, the religion of the book of Jesus, the Holy Bible, and is the only basis for rationality itself. We Trinitarians are so bold as to be devoted to and declare the ancient belief that this book – and this book alone – is revealed truth and is all the truth that we need in order to be genuinely human and in order to live rightly in the world and, most importantly, to know and fellowship with the Triune God of Scripture who is the one true God.