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Knowing Good from

Evil
Josh McDowell

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.


Wheaton, Illinois

1
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Knowing Good from Evil copyright © 2002 by Josh McDowell Ministries.
All rights reserved.
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Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by
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Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American
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1977 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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Contents

Acknowledgments

1. The Day That Changed Everything


2. From Evildoers Come Evil Deeds
3. The Truth of the Matter
4. The Door to the Truth

Appendix: Is It Right for a Christian to Judge?


Bibliography for Moral Relativism
About the Author

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Acknowledgments

I wish to thank my wife, Dottie, who has been a constant


encouragement to me. My assistant, Christy Karassev, has given
me invaluable help. Without her help, this book would not have
been completed. And thanks to Pat Zucharan, an excellent
researcher who has compiled many of the outstanding quotations
you will read in this book.

Josh McDowell

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1
The Day That Changed
Everything

At 8:45 A.M. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines


Flight 11, a Boeing 767 that had departed Boston for Los Angeles,
slammed into the north tower of the 110-story World Trade Center
in New York City, killing all ninety-two passengers and setting the
tower ablaze. Within minutes, news cameras focused on the
burning tower, and crowds gathered along the streets of lower
Manhattan to witness a startling tragedy.
At 9:03 A.M. a second jet, United Airlines Flight 175, pierced
the steel and concrete façade of the World Trade Center’s south
tower.
At 9:43 A.M. —less than one hour after the first attack—a third
aircraft, American Airlines Flight 77, shattered the fortresslike
walls of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
At 10:00 A.M. a fourth airliner, United Airlines Flight 93,
plummeted to the ground in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, with
forty-five passengers and crew.
Each of these acts—and the resulting collapse of the World
Trade Center towers and fires at the Pentagon, which claimed
thousands more lives—was the work of nineteen terrorists who had
hijacked the flights by killing and terrorizing crew members and
passengers. Once the hijackers had seized control of the planes,
they resolutely used them as flying bombs to accomplish the worst

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terrorist act in U.S. history, killing not only themselves but also
thousands of innocent men, women, and children, including many
police, firefighters, and rescue workers who had sprung into action
to save life and minimize suffering.

The Raw Hand of Evil


People around the world watched the horrific events of September
11 unfold on their television and computer screens. They looked
on in shock and horror as flames engulfed the World Trade Towers
and the Pentagon. They watched with dread as people plunged to
their deaths from the skyscrapers’ burning façades, choosing to die
suddenly rather than endure the heat of the blaze. They witnessed
an unimaginable catastrophe as the World Trade Center’s south
tower buckled and collapsed in a plume of ash and debris, killing
or trapping thousands—followed less than thirty minutes later by
the collapse of the north tower. They heard the accounts of doomed
passengers or tower occupants calling their loved ones on cell
phones to say “I love you.” They learned of panicked New Yorkers
who were escaping the disintegrating towers while stone-faced
firefighters passed them as they rushed into danger to save others.
Those who saw or heard the disaster unfold knew that
something horrible—evil—was happening in their midst. People of
every nation and political persuasion were quick to condemn the
terrorists’ actions without mincing words. President George W.
Bush repeatedly referred to the hijackers and to their terrorist
network as “evildoers.” England’s prime minister, Tony Blair,
said, “This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world today.”1

1
Tony Blair, “Blair Condemns Terrorist ‘Evil,’” BBC News, September 11, 2001;
<news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_1537000/1537539.stm>.

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India’s prime minister, A. B. Vajpayee, declared, “We must, and
we will, stamp out this evil from our land, and from the world.”2
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel called the terrorists “forces
of evil,”3 as did democratic senator Harry Reid, on the floor of the
United States Senate.4
Majority Whip Tom DeLay issued a press release that referred
to “the raw hand of evil [that] struck our nation.”5 Swanee Hunt,
the founder of Women Waging Peace, called the attacks “an act of
evil that cannot be ignored.”6 Princeton professor of politics and
international affairs Richard A. Falk, writing in The Nation,
referred to the cks as a “massive crime against humanity” and to
global terrorism as “demonic.”7 And newspapers and magazines
around the world, from the conservative National Review to the
far-left-leaning Boston Phoenix, used phrases like “acts of
unspeakable evil” to describe what the hijackers and their sponsors
did.8
Who could argue with such sentiments, such judgments?
Seldom before—if ever—did the line between good and evil, right
and wrong, seem so clearly drawn, so plainly seen.

2
A. B. Vajpayee, “Prime Minister’s Address to the Nation on Terrorist Attacks on
the United States,” September 14, 2001;
<www.indianembassy.org/special/cabinet/Primeminister/pm_september_14_2001
.htm>.
3
Ariel Sharon, “We Can Defeat Forces of Evil,” September 11, 2001;
<www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/east/09/11/terror.reax/>.
4
Harry Reid, “Senator from Nevada Statement on the Terrorist Attacks,” September
12, 2001; <reid.senate.gov/record2.cfm?id=178909>.
5
Tom DeLay, “Majority Whip DeLay: Civilization Will Defeat Terrorism,” October
5, 2001; <www.majoritywhip.gov/News.asp>.
6
Swanee Hunt, “Inclusive Security: A Statement on the Terrorist Attacks,”
Women’s Enews, October 13, 2001;
<www.womenwagingpeace.net/content/whatwedo/newsevents/6statement.asp>.
7
Richard A. Falk, “Defining a Just War,” The Nation (October 29, 2001): 11.
8
Editorial, The Boston Phoenix, 13 October 2001.

8
Evil Walks the World
“Evil does indeed walk the world,” wrote columnist Jack Dunphy,
the day after the September 11 attacks that rocked the United
States—and the world.9
Like many, many others, my world was rocked when I heard
the news. I was in Denver, Colorado, when I heard the first news
reports of the attacks. Knowing, of course, that all air traffic was
grounded, I started the long drive home to Dallas that morning. As
I drove, I listened to the nonstop radio coverage of the events and
occasionally pulled off the road to rest, pray, or seek out a
television—or other people—for more information.
Even then, in those first hours, the brutality and wickedness of
the attacks was on everyone’s lips, including television and radio
news anchors and reporters. I noticed immediately how people
who normally eschew moral and spiritual terminology spoke
quickly and easily of good and evil, of praying for the victims and
their families, of the need to turn to God. I was struck by the
seeming ease and conviction with which such words of moral
certainty rolled from their lips.
After several such stops, however, I suddenly came to a
startling realization while sitting behind the wheel of my car, a
realization that shocked me by its stark accuracy amid all the
pronouncements about “evil” and “evildoers.” I came to two
conclusions:
First, an overwhelming majority of Americans have
surrendered the ability to call the terrorist attacks of September 11
“evil.” The vast majority of those who condemn the slaughter of

9
Jack Dunphy, “‘Senseless?’ No,” National Review Online, September 12, 2001;
<www.nationalreview.com/dunphy/dunphy091201.shtml>.

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more than 3,000 innocents are being woefully inconsistent and
arbitrary in doing so. Indeed, they have no more moral grounds to
judge those acts as evil than they do to herald as heroic the
sacrificial response of firefighters and rescue workers at the site of
the World Trade Center.10
Second, I saw the dedication, religious fervor, or blind
obedience of one of the masterminds of the attack, one of the
hijackers who flew one of the planes into the tower: Mohamed
Atta.
My emotions immediately questioned how anyone could judge
a man of such devotion as “evil.” No matter how I consciously
tried to bring my emotions in harmony with my mind at that
moment, I couldn’t. Somewhere deep down in I sensed a certain
admiration for such courage. Soon my thoughts were comparing
two men: President George W. Bush and Mohamed Atta.
They both

· believed in God;
· believed in a holy, sacred book;
· believed they were doing God’s will;
· believed they were morally right;
· believed the other was evil;
· believed the people were supporting them;
· believed their cause was noble;
· prayed for guidance;
· were judgmental;
· were “intolerant” (as defined by culture).
10
Many people—Christian or otherwise—react negatively to the use of the word
judge as I use it here, citing Matthew 7:1-6 as a prohibition against judging
anyone’s actions as evil. For a complete exegesis of this passage and the biblical
perspective on such “judgments,” see <www.josh.org>.

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One of these two men went to his death; the other put his
entire presidency on the line. All this came crashing down on me
emotionally and intellectually.
Can you make a moral judgment on Mohamed Atta? Have
President Bush and the American public been morally right to
judge a man who truly believed he was doing the “will of God”?
What then flashed through my consciousness was that America
and the church are hypocritical. With deep anguish and sadness,
my heart and mind dictated to me that we as a “people” and the
church as an institution have lost the moral right to judge!
When the second plane hit the tower, it should have been the
death knell to “moral and cultural relativism.”
Newsweek reports that for many students “the future is
increasingly unpredictable and that long-held beliefs and
assumptions will be severely tested in the next few years.”11
Other people argue that the concepts of the “new tolerance”
and “moral relativism” have a downside. Author David Brooks,
senior editor of The Weekly Standard, visited Princeton University
after 9-11. He found a “surging interest in global affairs and issues
of right and wrong, but also a frustration [by the students] with the
moral relativism of much of the curriculum. One student told him
that he had been taught how to deconstruct and dissect, but never
to construct and decide.”12
Alison Hornstein, a Yale University student, concluded that at
Yale University students are “being taught to think within a
framework of moral and cultural relativity without learning its

11
Barbara Kantrowitz and Keith Naughton, “Generation 9-11: Terror, War and
Recession Hit Home on Campus,” Newsweek (November 12, 2001): 48.
12
Ibid., 49.

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boundaries [which] has seemingly created a deficiency in my
generation’s ability to make moral judgments.”13
A Newsweek study shows that “68% of young adults believe
the terror attacks have made people their age more serious about
their work and studies.”14 This is very healthy for the country. But
what can be even better for the country is for students in both high
school and college not only to take more seriously the origins of
their personal beliefs and values and how they arrive at their
worldview but also to not accept at face value how their professors
and textbooks try so hard to convince them to accept that “the only
truth is that there is no truth.”15

13
Alison Hornstein, “The Question That We Should Be Asking,” Newsweek
(December 17, 2001): 14.
14
Kantrowitz and Naughton, “Generation 9-11”: 56.
15
John D. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the
Hermeneutic Project: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
(Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1987), 192.

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2
From Evildoers Come Evil Deeds

(From evil beliefs come evildoers)

Soon after the September 11 tragedy, I was the subject of a live


radio interview for the American Association of Christian
Counselors. The scheduled topic for the interview was my book
(coauthored with Bob Hostetler) Right from Wrong. I was also
scheduled to conduct a second interview on a different topic.
With only three or four minutes remaining until the end of the
first interview, I happened to mention my September 11 epiphany
on the drive from Denver to Dallas. “A full 78 percent of
Americans and 68 percent of Christians,” I said, “have lost the
right to judge the actions of the terrorists.” (Since I made that
statement, Barna Research Online’s latest poll [since September
11] shows only 22 percent of Americans and 32 percent of
Christian evangelicals believe in absolute truth).1
My statement shocked the hosts of the program—and lit up the
call-in show’s switchboard like a pinball machine! The host asked
me to explain my statement, but with only a few minutes
remaining, I was able to offer only an elementary clarification. The
host called me the next morning before the second interview to see

1
Barna Research Group, “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11,” Barna
Research Online (November 26, 2001); <www.barna.org/cgi-
bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=102&Reference=B>.

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if I would change my plans and revisit my startling statement and
elucidate the reason for such a provocative claim. The reason for
wanting to continue on the same subject was that their switchboard
had lit up after the first interview for six hours, with callers
demanding an explanation. I agreed to continue the discussion on
the next broadcast, and the next morning we revisited my
statement.

The Amoral Majority


You may be wondering, like the hosts—and callers—of that radio
program, how I could make such an outrageous claim. How could I
possibly say that the majority of Americans have surrendered the
ability to say that the September 11 terrorist attacks were “evil”?
Let me explain.
Studies conducted by the Barna Research Group have revealed
that in 1991, 67 percent of the American public agreed with this
statement: “There is no such thing as absolute truth; two people
could define truth in totally different ways, but both could still be
correct.”2 In 1994, the same question elicited 72 percent
agreement.3
Such thinking is strikingly common even in the church. Barna
reports that in 1991, 52 percent of “born-again Christians” did not
believe in absolute truth. In 1994 that proportion had increased to
62 percent, a faster rate of increase—ten percentage points—than
among the movement from 67 percent to 72 percent among the
general public.4 A study of American values showed that 84

2
Barna Research Group, “The Churched Youth Survey” (Dallas: Josh McDowell
Ministry, 1994), 55.
3
Ibid.
4
Ibid., 61.

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percent of Americans believe that “there are many different
religious truths and we ought to be tolerant of all of them.”5
However, the latest research after 9-11 exposes a staggering
reality of American culture and the church. And among young
people in the church, a belief in standards of right and wrong that
apply to everyone is even more rare. Barna’s earlier research
shows that more than 70 percent of young people agreed with this
statement: “When it comes to matters of morals and ethics, truth
means different things to different people; no one can be absolutely
positive they have the truth.” Most of them say that everything in
life is negotiable, and that “nothing can be known for certain
except the things that you experience in your own life.”6
All this means that a broad majority of the American public—
including a majority of Christians and church attenders—don’t
believe in absolute truth: a truth that is true for all people, for all
times, in all places. They don’t believe in a standard of truth and
morality that applies universally to everyone. They don’t accept
that some truths are objective, universal, and constant.
Instead, most people subscribe, to one degree or another, to a
very fluid and flexible concept of truth, one that suggests that there
are no absolutes, that all truth is relative and subjective, and that
right and wrong differ from person to person and from culture to
culture. This view of truth and morality is most commonly referred
to as postmodernism.

5
Alan Wolfe, Moral Freedom: The Impossible Idea That Defines the Way We Live
Now (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), 62.
6
Barna Research Group, “The Churched Youth Survey,” 58.

15
Living in Postmodern Times
“Between 1960 and 1990,” writes Stanley J. Grenz, in his book A
Primer on Postmodernism, “postmodernism emerged as a cultural
phenomenon [in America].”7 Postmodernism is a rapidly spreading
and constantly changing way of thinking that influences many
people’s views of truth and morality—even among those who may
be unfamiliar with the word postmodernism. Postmodernism is
complex, and its individual points are sometimes contradictory, but
it can be summarized by the following statements:

· Truth does not exist in any objective sense.


· Instead of “discovering” truth in a “metanarrative”—which is a
story (such as the Bible) or ideology (such as Marxism) that
presents a unified way of looking at philosophy, religion, art,
and science—postmodernism is characterized by “incredulity
toward metanarratives.”8 In other words, postmodernism
rejects any idea that there exists any “grand story” that explains
an individual, local story, or any universal Truth by which to
judge any single “truth.”
· Truth—whether in science, education, or religion—is created
by a specific culture or community and is “true” only in and for
that culture.
· Individual persons are the product of their cultures;
individuality is an illusion, and identity is constructed from
cultural sources.

7
Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans, 1996), 17.
8
Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans.
Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1984), xxiv.

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· All thinking is a “social construct.” That is, what you and I
regard as “truths” are simply arbitrary “beliefs we have been
conditioned to accept by our society, just as others have been
conditioned to accept a completely different set of beliefs.”9
· Since human beings must use language in order to think or
communicate and since words are arbitrary labels for things
and ideas, there is no way “to evaluate or criticize the ideas,
facts, or truths a language conveys.”10
· Any system or statement that claims to be objectively true or
that unfavorably judges the values, beliefs, lifestyle, and truth
claims of another culture is a power play, an effort by one
culture to dominate other cultures (i.e., acting intolerant).

People often hold or reflect these concepts without even


realizing that they’re reflecting a particular philosophy or way of
thinking. But whether they realize it or not, their postmodern
worldview is reflected in such common statements as these:

· “No one has the right to tell me what’s right or wrong!”


· “I can’t tell you what’s right or wrong; you must decide that for
yourself.”
· “It’s wrong to try to impose your morals on someone else!”
· “I have the right to do whatever I want as long as I’m not
hurting anyone.”
· “You have to do what you think is right.”

9
Jim Leffel, “Our New Challenge: Postmodernism,” in The Death of Truth: What’s
Wrong with Multiculturalism, and the Rejection of Reason and the New
Postmodern Diversity, ed. Dennis McCallum (Minneapolis: Bethany House,
1996), 35.
10
Ibid., 40.

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· “Those may be the values your parents taught you, but my
parents taught me different values.”
· “Look, that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.”
· “The Bible says that we are not to judge.”

But such statements signal the death of truth—and morality. As


the late author and philosopher Francis Schaeffer said, “If there is
no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense
that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which
always applies [to all people], that which provides a final or
ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be
morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values.
If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final
appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral
judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting
opinions.”11
Researcher George Barna writes that the “world of the
postmodern is a universe that is decentralized. There is no ultimate
authority beyond oneself; moral anarchy rules the day.”12 He
asserts that postmodernists “turn inward and suggest that the best
decisions are based upon human will and emotion: Autonomous
people will do what is best and work out the rough edges of those
choices. The keys to life comprehension are experience and
emotion: Absent any kind of universal truth, the only reality that
cannot be denied is what you feel or experience.”13
Barna’s conclusion on postmodernism is this: “Without any
insight into the vacuous and dangerous philosophy that they have
11
Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H.
Revell, 1976), 145.
12
George Barna, Real Teens (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 2001), 94.
13
Ibid., 94–95.

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unwittingly accepted, teenagers are facing a rapidly changing
world armed with a worldview that places them at the center, lifts
up personal experience and emotion as the arbiter of decency and
righteousness, and rejects historical experience as relevant to
today’s world. . . . It will ultimately undermine the capacity of
America to be a beacon of goodness, sanity, morality, and
purposeful faith.”14
This has been precisely my experience as I have traveled
around the world speaking to audiences on the subject of truth and
morality. At such events, I will typically launch out into the
audience with a cordless microphone and take an informal poll of
my audience. One recent example was a convention of Christian
educators—schoolteachers, administrators, and other educational
professionals.
I found a willing volunteer in the audience. Sharing the
microphone with the woman, I asked, “Do you believe that lying is
wrong?”
“Oh yes,” she answered emphatically.
I nodded. “Why is lying wrong?”
“Well,” she said, hesitating, “because that’s what my parents
taught me.”
I thanked her and moved on. I soon found another volunteer
and asked her the same question: “Do you believe lying is wrong?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Why is lying wrong?” I asked.
She answered confidently. “Because the Bible says it’s wrong.”
“Why does the Bible say it’s wrong?” I asked.

14
Ibid., 97.

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She was clearly unprepared for that question. “I . . . I don’t
know,” she said.
The next person who volunteered was a tall man, an outgoing,
confident sort. “Do you believe lying is wrong?” I asked.
“Absolutely!” he responded.
“Why is it wrong?”
“Because God said so!” he answered, even more emphatically.
I held up a Bible in my hand. “Do you believe this is the Word
of God? Do you believe it is truth?”
“Absolutely!”
He must have expected another fastball because he simply
blinked at the next question I threw at him: “Why do you believe
that?”
“Well, I . . . ,” he stammered. “It just is.”
I receive similar answers every time I conduct this little
exercise—whether at Starbucks, in an airport lobby, or with the
person in the seat next to me. Often someone will respond to my
questions about why lying (or stealing or killing) is wrong by
saying, “Because I personally feel it’s wrong,” “Because our
culture [or government or laws] condemns it,” “Because my
parents taught me it is wrong,” or “Because the majority of people
think so.” But I seldom receive an accurate or even sensible
answer.
Of course, most people speak much more confidently of right
and wrong, good and evil, when something tragic and horrifying
occurs, such as the September 11 attacks on America. But while
politicians, pundits, and news anchors may feel more comfortable
saying that it’s wrong—even evil—to hijack airplanes and fly them
into skyscrapers and government buildings in an effort to kill as
many people as possible, the reasons for the proclamations are no

20
more clear or coherent than the answers I get when I survey my
audiences about their views of right and wrong. That’s because
people who live in postmodern times and absorb postmodern ideas
are poorly equipped to condemn even the most horrific actions in a
truly coherent and consistent way.

To Tell the Truth


There’s only one accurate and satisfying answer to the question
“Why is it wrong to hijack airplanes and fly them into skyscrapers
and government buildings in an effort to kill as many people as
possible?” There is only one answer in judging Mohamed Atta.
However, before I explain what I perceive the answer to be, let me
try to explain many answers people give for making moral choices,
answers that seem to be inadequate and fall short. In doing this you
will understand the “one answer” so much easier.
My father once gave me some profound advice that I would
like to apply here: “Son, a problem well defined is half-solved.” So
true! Let us look at various ways people make moral choices. I
have found nine common responses:
1. “I believe there is no ultimate truth.”
2. “I believe we cannot judge truth because all truth is of equal
value.”
3. “I believe what I do because it’s what my family and
community taught me.”
4. “I believe something is true when it reflects my personal value
system.”
5. “I believe something is true when it works for me.”
6. “I believe something is true if a majority believes it is true.”
7. “I believe something is true if it is true for my culture.”

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8. “I believe something is true because I feel it is right.”
9. “I believe something is true if the Bible tells me it is so.”

After looking at these nine responses, I will present what has


come out of my struggles over the years as I have tried to teach my
children, whom I love and cherish, how to discern good from evil.

1. “I Believe There Is No Ultimate Truth.”


Don Closson of Probe Ministries points out postmodernism’s
contention that “since there are multiple descriptions of reality, no
one view can be true in an ultimate sense . . . since truth is
described by language, and all language is created by humans, all
truth is created by humans.”15 Richard Rorty, professor of
comparative literature at Stanford University, states language is
manmade and, “Where there are no sentences, there is no truth, and
sentences and their respective languages are human creation [i.e.
truth-values are human creations].”16 Greg Dening, retired
professor of history at the University of Melbourne, is emphatic
that “words do not mirror the world but make it.” Dening goes
further and endorses the view that history is fiction. He says that
while teaching undergraduates at the University of Melbourne, he
has “always put it to them that history is something we make rather
than something we learn. . . . I want to persuade them that any
history they make will be fiction—not far from fiction, something
sculpted to its expressive purpose.”17

15
Don Closson, “Multiculturalism,” PROBE Perspectives (Richardson, Tex.: Probe
Ministries, 1998); <www.probe.org/docs/multicul.html>.
16
Richard Rorty, quoted in ibid.
17
Keith Windschuttle, The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social
Theorists Are Murdering the Past (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 77, quoting

22
When it comes to historical truth, French theorist de Certeau
teaches that history is merely a form of writing, and therefore all
history is fiction: “The past is the fiction of the present.”18 As a
result then, “When historians write, they are not recording history;
rather they are manufacturing history.”19
Many Americans go further and state there is no truth. John
Caputo, professor of philosophy at Villanova University proclaims
that “the cold, hermeneutic truth is the truth that there is no truth,
no master name which holds things captive.”20
Richard Rorty maintains, “For the pragmatist, true sentences
are not true because they correspond to reality, and so there is no
need to worry what sort of reality, if any, a given sentence
corresponds to—no need to worry about what ‘makes’ it ‘true.’”21
Hayden White, professor of the history of consciousness at the
University of California at Santa Cruz, says bluntly, “Truth is
produced, not found.”22 White went on to apply this to historic
truth: “What historians produce are imaginative images of the past
that have a function rather like the recall of the past events in one’s
own individual imagination. . . . [There is no contradiction between

Greg Dening, Mr. Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power, and Theatre on the
Bounty (Cambridge, Eng.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 366.
18
Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, trans. T. Conley (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1988), 10.
19
Windschuttle, The Killing of History, 34.
20
John D. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the
Hermeneutic Project: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
(Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1997), 192.
21
Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays, 1972–1980 (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 16.
22
Hayden White, quoted in Ewa Domanska et al., Encounters: Philosophy of History
after Postmodernism (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia,
1998), 20.

23
imagination and the real] because what would be meant by the
real is always something that is imagined.”23
Karl Popper, a philosopher and former professor of logic and
scientific method at the University of London, reinforced the
relative approach to truth: “There can be no history of the past as it
actually did happen; there can only be historical interpretations;
and none of them final; and every generation has a right to frame
its own.”24 Historical truth, according to Carl Becker, one of
America’s most influential historians of the early twentieth
century, is “an imaginative creation, a personal possession which
each one of us . . . fashions out of his individual experience, adapts
to his practical or emotional needs, and adorns as well as may be to
suit his own aesthetic tastes.”25
In his book The Killing of History, Australian historian Keith
Windschuttle critiques the postmodern historians approach to truth:

One of the principles of Enlightenment rationality is the


idea that the truth is something that cannot be altered by
subsequent human influence. The Enlightenment believed
that the truth was something we discovered, not something
we decided. Most historians over the last two hundred years
have accepted the view that the truth about the past is
something independent of themselves. However, the
current generation of social theorists, and quite a few
historians today as well, believe that the past is not

23
Mark Noll, “History Wars II,” Books and Culture 5, no. 4 (July/August 1999): 22.
24
Gary Habermas quoting Karl Popper, “Defending the Faith Historically” (paper
presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society,
Philadelphia, 1995); <www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/ets-mtg.html>.
25
Mark Noll, “Traditional Christianity and the Possibility of Historical Knowledge,”
Christian Scholars Review XIX (June 4, 1990): 388–406.

24
something we discover but something each age invents for
its own purposes.26

While making a trenchant criticism of postmodernist theory’s


rejection of traditional values, Harry Oldmeadow, literary critic
who teaches at Latrobe University in Victoria, Australia,
nonetheless accepts its critique of truth. “The epistemological
objections to the liberal ideal of a disinterested pursuit of truth are
more difficult to counter. The positivist rubric of ‘objectivity’ is
now quite rightly in tatters. Kuhn, Rorty, and others have shown
how the apparently objective basis of the scientific disciplines
themselves is illusory (never mind the more absurd pretensions of
the positivist sociology or a behaviorist psychology).”27
The feminist historian professor Ann Curthoys, of the
University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, has claimed,
“Most academics in the humanities and the social sciences, as far
as I know in the physical and natural sciences as well, now reject
positivist concepts of knowledge, the notion that one can
objectively know the facts. The processes of knowing, and the
production of an object that is known, are seen as intertwined.
Many take this even further and argue that knowledge is entirely
an effect of power, that we can no longer have any concept of truth
at all.”28
Ewa Domanska, assistant professor of the methodology of
history and of the history of historiography at Adam Mickiewicz
University in Poznan, Poland, posed a question to Hans Kenner,
professor of rhetoric and historical discourse at the University of
26
Windschuttle, The Killing of History, 30.
27
Harry Oldmeadow, ‘The Past Disowned,” Quadrant (March 1992): 63.
28
Ann Curthoys, “Unlocking the Academies: Responses and Strategies,” Meanjin 50
(February 3, 1991): 391.

25
Texas at Arlington, about truth in relationship to reality or
personal judgment: “I would like to clarify my position,” stated
Kenner in response, “and say that truth ceased to be a relation and
has become a judgment.”29 Relation means a corresponding
relationship between truth and fact (or reality). Judgment means
your personal perspective (i.e., judgment) of the reality is what is
“personally true.”
However, as Mortimer J. Adler, a philosopher and educator,
explains: “The truth or falsity of a statement . . . derives from its
relation to the ascertainable facts, not from its relation to the
judgments that human beings make. I may affirm as true a
statement that is in fact true. My affirmation and your denial in no
way alter or affect the truth or falsity of the statements that you and
I have wrongly judged. We do not make statements true or false by
affirming or denying them. They have truth or falsity regardless of
what we think, what opinions we hold, what judgments we
make.”30 Adler thus distinguishes between the subjectivity of our
judgments about truth and the objectivity of truth itself. Again
Adler makes the point: “We may differ in our judgment about what
is true, but that does not affect the truth of the matter itself.”31
Can you imagine the serious implications if postmodern
historians were right about historical research? In light of many
scholars’ declaring that all history is “manufactured,” that it is all
“personal perspective” (and one is as good as another), think about
people’s criticism of the Holocaust (or Waco or Pearl Harbor or
the Cambodian genocide or the Oklahoma City Federal Building

29
Ewa Domanska et al., Encounters: Philosophy of History after Postmodernism,
39.
30
Mortimer J. Adler, Six Great Ideas (New York: Macmillan, 1981), 41.
31
Ibid.

26
bombing, or the attacks on the World Trade Center. If you say,
“That’s not history,” I would respond, “Yes it is. It was history one
minute after it happened.”
Let’s take the Holocaust. Pastor and educator Tom Dixon
writes:

There are few events as historically well-documented as the


Holocaust. The twentieth-century slaughter of six million
Jews by the Nazis left behind a churning wake of
[objective] historical evidence, and the waves created by
the dark ship’s passing can still be felt fifty years later. We
can still inspect the camps, the gas chambers, and the
warehouses full of documentation, and many who were
directly involved in the gruesome events remain to tell of it.
Such are the kind of sources and documentation historians
dream of: a vast number of eyewitnesses whose accounts
are in agreement, and a whole corpus of virtually
harmonious evidence. Historically speaking, it doesn’t get
any better than that.32

Dixon observes:

In the last few years, however, thousands of people have


bought into the remarkable suggestion that the Holocaust
was a grand hoax. Most historians have brushed aside this
theory as ridiculous, thinking that if the Holocaust is not
historically proven, probably nothing else is. But
surprisingly, the idea has established a firm foothold in the

32
Tom Dixon, “Postmodernism and You: History,” The Crossroads Project (Xenos
Christian Fellowship, 1996); <www.crossrds.org/dothist.htm>.

27
nation’s universities and news rooms, and a Gallup poll
conducted in January of 1994 showed that 33 percent of
Americans think it seems possible that the holocaust never
happened.33

Scholars used to “view ‘history’ as the investigation into what


actually happened in the past and why. Today’s postmodern
historians view history more as a study of people’s images and
thoughts about their society and their past. What actually happened
is no longer the historian’s primary concern, and in fact, can never
be known. Instead, what matters is what people thought
happened.”34
If the “relativistic” scholars are right, then why all the fuss of
the lawsuits and international tension and political debate over
those who deny that the Holocaust ever happened or that only a
few thousand Jews were exterminated.
British historian David Irving challenged the scope of the
holocaust but says that he “does not deny Jews were killed by the
Nazis, but challenges the number and manner of Jewish
concentration camp deaths.”35 Deborah Lipstadt, director for the
Institute for Jewish Studies, maintains in her book Denying the
Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory that Irving
“denies the Holocaust and distorts statistics.” Irving sued her for
libel, but the suit was thrown out by a British court that declared
there is too much evidence to claim what Irving was saying. Wait a
minute, if no objective history or truth exists and if all history is
personal perspective and manufactured, then isn’t it possible that
33
Ibid.
34
Ibid.
35
Karin Laub, “Overseer of Holocaust Plays Down Role in Prison Memoir,”
Associated Press release, February 29, 2000.

28
Irving’s “personal perspective”—what he “manufactured”—is
just as true as another’s “truth”? Distorted? Must there be a real
“truth” to have “distortion”?36
Why did Austria’s decision to include Joerg Haider and his
Freedom Party in the government cause such an uproar throughout
Europe and Israel?37 Haider’s crime was “playing down the crimes
of the Nazis.”38 There must be the “facts” then that cause one
person’s manufactured truth to be better than another’s
manufactured truth.
Jorn Rusen, president of Kulturwissenschaftliches Institute
Essen at the Wissenschaftszentrum Nordrhein-Westfalen and
professor for general history and historical culture at the University
of Witten/Henleche, takes issue with those who say people create
values or truth. He asserts the postmodernist belief that “since
there is no such thing as truth and plausibility, it is completely
open to what people (or critics) want to know about the past.
Apply this concept to the Holocaust [or the Taliban] and the
questions of the so-called revisionists, and you see its limits. There
is something like evidence, information, experience, and there is
no doubt that it happened. Historians cannot create values. It is
nonsense to say that history has the task of creating meaning. It
can’t create, it only can translate meaning.”39

36
Irving v. Lipstadt and Penguin Books, Ltd., The English Court of Appeal before
Lord Justice Pill in the Royal Courts of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, I. no.
113 (1996), trial transcript (January 11, 2000).
37
William Drozdiak, “Austrian President Approves Coalition with Haider Party,”
International Herald (Frankfurt) Tribune, 4 February 2000; John Reed, “Austrian
Voters Are Alarmed by EU Heat,” Wall Street Journal, 3 February 2000.
38
Richard Murphy, “EU Sanctions Caught Chancellor Unaware,” USA Today, 9
February 2000.
39
Domanska, Encounters, 142.

29
Even agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell argued that truth
is not relative to minds: “It will be seen that minds do not create
truth or falsehood. They create beliefs, but when once the beliefs
are created, the mind cannot make them true or false, except in the
special case where they concern future things which are within the
power of the person believing, such as catching trains. What makes
a belief true is a fact, and this fact does not (except in exceptional
cases) in any way involve the mind of the person who has the
belief.”40

2. “I Believe We Cannot Judge Truth Because All


Truth Is of Equal Value.”
Grasping the supposed logic and reasoning of the preceding
arguments is crucial to understanding how some people view
moral truth. If all truth is created by humans, the reasoning goes,
and all humans are “created equal” (as the American Declaration
of Independence says), then what is the logical next step? It is this:
All “truth” is equal, i.e., all “equal people” have “equal
truth/values.”
ABC News writes, “How about getting your nose out of the
Bible (which is only a book of stories compiled by many different
writers hundreds of years ago) and read the Declaration of
Independence (what our nation is built on) where it says ‘All Men
Are Created Equal’ [i.e., “All” means are equal in beliefs, values,
lifestyles, and truth claims]—and try treating them that way for a

40
Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York: Oxford University,
1959), 129–30.

30
change!? Or better yet, try thinking for yourself and stop using an
archaic book of stories as your crutch for your existence.”41
In his book El Mito Nacionalista, Spanish philosopher
Fernando Savater states: “Tolerance, the doctrine currently in
vogue, is that all opinions are equal. Each one has its point, and all
should be respected or praised. That is to say, there is no rational
way to discern between them.”42
Teacher and political theorist Willmore Kendall, a leftist turned
right, acutely observed four decades ago that “American liberalism
[maintains]. . . that everyone is entitled to his point of view, that in
general one man’s opinion is as good as another’s. . . . All
questions are open questions.”43
Thomas A. Helmbock, executive vice president of the national
Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, offers a critical analysis of the new
tolerance when he states: “[This postmodern view] is that every
individual’s beliefs, values, lifestyle, and perception of truth claims
are equal. . . . There is no hierarchy of truth. Your beliefs and my
beliefs are equal, and all truth is relative.”44
Did you catch that? All values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth
claims are equal. In the words of Edwin J. Delattre, dean of Boston
University’s School of Education, today’s “enlightened” approach
involves “the elevation of all values and beliefs to (a position
worthy of equal) respect.”45

41
Larry P. Arnn in response to ABC Online Webmaster, “In Littleton’s Wake”;
<www.claremont.org>.
42
Fernando Savater, El Mito (Madrid) Nacionalista, 1996.
43
Sam Tanenhaus, “The Trouble with Enemies,” Wall Street Journal, 19 October
2001.
44
Thomas A. Helmbock, “Insights on Tolerance,” Cross & Crescent (summer 1996):
2.
45
Edwin J. Delattre, “Diversity, Ethics, and Education in America,” Moral
Education Journal 19 (December 1992): 48–51.

31
According to The Scholastic Children’s Dictionary, the new
definition of tolerance is “the willingness to respect or accept the
customs, beliefs, or opinions of others.”46 British philosopher R.
M. Hare states, “Tolerance equals a readiness to respect [or praise]
other people’s ideals as if they were his own.”47
Alasdair MacIntyre, professor of philosophy at the University
of Notre Dame, explains that in contemporary America, “All moral
judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions
of attitude or feeling.”48 Alan Wolfe, professor of political science
and director for the Center for Religion and American Public Life
at Boston College, after extensive research on values and morals of
middle class Americans, concluded that “the judgmentalism of
Americans has its own form of philosophical undergirding. When
our respondents expressed a reluctance to pass judgment, they
were, in their own way, indicating commitments to two important
political ideals: respect for others and equality [morally].”49 After
surveying a significant number of Americans on values related to
“moral freedom,” Wolfe concluded that the almost noncritical
passion for nonjudgmentalism “is the readiness with which some
of them rely on genetic or medical factors to explain why people
sometimes do harmful things, both to themselves and to others.”50
America’s greatest commitment to nonjudgmentalism (the new
tolerance) is to moral freedom or equality. One of the people

46
The Scholastic Children’s Dictionary (New York: Scholastic Books Inc., 2002),
s.v. “tolerance.”
47
Ryszard Legutko, “The Trouble with Tolerance,” Partisan Review 61, no. 4
(1994): 617.
48
Alasdair MacIntyre, quoted in Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 167.
49
Ibid., 82.
50
Ibid., 79.

32
Wolfe quotes says it best: “I don’t think anybody is better
[morally speaking] than anyone else. I really don’t.”51
“So strong is the culture of nonjudgment in America,” writes
Wolfe, “that even those who believe that they ought to make the
self-destructive behavior of others their business generally do so
defensively.”52 After conducting his extensive research, Wolfe said
he was disturbed because his research showed, “Americans seemed
to be copping out of their obligations to others by adopting a
version of moral laissez-faire in which seeming tolerance became
an excuse for not taking others seriously.”53 After Wolfe’s first
study—One Nation, After All—he wrote, “Americans had become
more reluctant to tell other people how to live.”54 Writing about
middle-class America’s serious moral handicap, Wolfe says that
“they are reluctant to impose their values on others, they are
committed to tolerance to such an extent that they have either
given up finding timeless morality or would be unwilling to bring
its principles down to earth if, by chance, they came across it.”55
Writing in the essay section of Time, Roger Rosenblatt,
professor of English at Southampton College, says:

One would like to think that God is on our side against the
terrorists, because the terrorists are wrong and we are in the
right, and any deity worth his salt would be able to discern
that objective truth. But this is simply good-hearted
arrogance cloaked in morality—the same kind of thinking
that makes people decide that God created humans in his

51
Ibid., 83.
52
Ibid., 80.
53
Ibid., 79.
54
Ibid.
55
Alan Wolfe, One Nation, After All (New York: Viking Penguin, 1998), 298.

33
own image (See the old New Yorker cartoon that shows a
giraffe in the field, thinking, ‘And God made giraffe in his
own image.’) The God worth worshipping is the one who
pays us the compliment of self-regulation, and we might
return it by minding our own business.56

Meredith is a student at Southern Methodist University in


Dallas, Texas. She also taught a Sunday school class in my church.
She was asked about the relationship between her Christian faith
and other religions she learned about in her class on comparative
religions. She explained, “Although I am a Christian, I do not feel
that other religions are wrong. I understand that Christianity is not
for everyone.”57
Pat Zucharan, writer and researcher for Probe Ministries, was
eating dinner with Tuwin, a graduate student in literature from the
University of Michigan. He had already accelerated into the
graduate program after two and a half years of undergraduate work
and was looking forward to a earning a Ph.D. After a few minutes,
they got on the subject of truth. Pat articulated the position that
absolute truths exist and must exist for a society to maintain justice
and freedom. Tuwin turned red with anger as he listened to Pat
articulate his point. He responded, “This is the kind of thinking
that makes me angry. We cannot say absolute truth exists. All truth
is relative. We cannot make moral judgments on people’s actions.”
Pat then responded, “If what you are saying is true, then we
cannot say what Hitler did in exterminating six million Jews [or

56
Roger Rosenblat, “Essay: God Is Not on My Side. Or Yours,” Time (December
17, 2001): 92.
57
Mary Jacobs, “Faiths under Construction,” Dallas Morning News, 31 May 1997.

34
murder of more than 3,000 innocent people on September 11,
2001] was wrong.”
Tuwin looked Pat right in the eye and said, “Yes, that is
correct. If what Hitler believed he was doing was right, then it is
right in his own eyes.” Can the same be said of Mohamed Atta?
Answers such as this one should not surprise or shock you
because it is so typical of moral understanding by many in
America before 9-11. Is it the conclusion one must arrive at if one
embraces moral relativism?
A friend of mine was speaking at a Baptist church in southern
California on why the Bible is true. During the question-and-
answer time a student asked a pointed question about a social issue
that the Bible explains as “sin.” Immediately a young woman in
the crowd raised her hand. She stated, “I do not think any of us has
the right to judge. The Bible clearly states, ‘Judge not, lest you be
judged.’ We cannot say this is wrong.”
My friend glanced around the room and asked, “Who agrees
with her position?” A number of hands went up.
Then a young man stated, “I probably disagree with her, but
can we really condone it? She is quoting a biblical principle from
Matthew 7:1: ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.’ I may disagree, but
can I say I am totally right?” Much of the class agreed with this
young man’s comments.
My friend then asked the class, “Is this a sin in the Bible?”
They all agreed it was. My friend continued, “Then, if it is a sin in
the Bible, we can judge whether it is a wrong lifestyle based not on
our opinion but on God’s Word.”
A young woman responded, “Yes, but I don’t think we can
judge those who choose not to live by our standard.” She went on
to say, “Our beliefs are individual and should not be imposed on

35
others. It’s wrong to try to impose your morals on someone else,
and I should not impose my biblical morals on you.” If that is true,
then how in the world can anyone call terrorists piloting the planes
into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center evil?
Alison Hornstein is a student at Yale University. Finding it
extremely difficult to remain silent in light of Yale’s students’ and
professors’ response to the 9-11 murders, she finally had her say in
an article in Newsweek: “The Question That We Should Be
Asking—Is Terrorism Wrong?” She wrote:

My generation may be culturally sensitive, but we hesitate


to make moral judgments. . . . Student reactions expressed
in the daily newspaper and in class pointed to the
differences between our life circumstances and those of the
perpetrators, suggesting that these differences had caused
the previous day’s events. Noticeably absent was a general
outcry of indignation at what had been the most successful
terrorist attack of our lifetimes. These reactions and similar
ones on other campuses have made it apparent that my
generation is uncomfortable accessing, or even asking,
whether a moral wrong has taken place. . . .
[At a Yale seminar one day after the terrorists murdered
more than 3000 people] a professor said he did not see
much difference between Hamas suicide bombers (who, he
pointed out, saw themselves as ‘martyrs’) and American
soldiers who died fighting in World War II. When I saw
one or two students nodding in agreement, I raised my
hand. I wanted to say that although both groups may have
believed that they were fighting for their ways of life in
declared “wars,” there is a considerable distinction.

36
American soldiers, in uniform, did not have a policy of
specifically targeting civilians; suicide bombers, who wear
plainclothes do. The professor didn’t call on me. The
people who did get a chance to speak cited various
provocations for terrorism; not one of them questioned its
morality.58

When someone today questions another’s “moral” choice or


beliefs, the response so often is, “Who are you to say?” Then it is
expressed that you are “a narrow-minded, intolerant bigot!” Why
wouldn’t it then be appropriate for Osama bin Laden to say to
America, “Who are you to judge me [us]? Why do you think you
have the right to impose your ‘moral’ values on us?” Could he
rightly conclude that Americans are “narrow-minded, intolerant
bigots—i.e., infidels”?
One of the most penetrating accusations by people today is to
say, “You are being judgmental!” It is almost always followed by
this statement: “The Bible says you should not judge.” The person
then quotes Matthew 7:1, where it is recorded that Jesus said,
“Judge not . . .” It’s as if America has added an eleventh
commandment: “Thou shall not judge.”
My wife, Dottie, and I were recently having lunch with a pastor
and his fifteen-year-old daughter. During our conversation,
someone used the word judgment. Instantly his daughter spoke up,
“I don’t think you should be judgmental. You should never judge.
The Bible says, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.’”
I glanced at her father, and he was beaming with joy. My
immediate response was to say, “Carolyn, do you know what you

58
Alison Hornstein, “The Question That We Should Be Asking—Is Terrorism
Wrong?” Newsweek (December 17, 2001): 14.

37
just did? You just gave up the right to discern the moral
difference between Mother Theresa and Osama bin Laden: ‘Judge
Not.’ You just gave up the ability to discern the difference between
Todd Beamer and Mohamed Atta. ‘Judge Not.’”
Author and seminary professor Paul Copan writes:

It has been said that the most frequently quoted Bible verse
is no longer John 3:16 but Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge, or
you too will be judged.” We cannot glibly quote this,
though, without understanding what Jesus meant. When
Jesus condemned judging, he wasn’t at all implying we
should never make judgments about anyone. After all, a
few verses later, Jesus himself calls certain people “pigs”
and “dogs” (Matt. 7:6) and “wolves in sheep’s clothing”
(7:15)! Any act of church discipline (1 Cor. 5:5) and
rebuking false prophets (1 John 4:1) requires judgment.
What Jesus condemns is a critical and judgmental spirit, an
unholy sense of moral superiority. Jesus commanded us to
examine ourselves first for the problems we so easily see in
others. Only then can we help remove the speck in
another’s eye—which, incidentally, assumes that a problem
exists and must be confronted.59
What is interesting in these charges of arrogance and
judgmentalism is this: Besides failing to define what is
meant by “judgmentalism,” the accusers often act just as
“arrogantly” and “judgmentally” as the “judgmental” ones.
If the Christian (or an exclusivist) is denounced for

59
Paul Copan, “True for You, But Not for Me” (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998),
32, quoting D. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker,
1978), 97.

38
judgmentalism, he can respond that his accuser is judging
him for being judgmental!60
To be consistent, judgmentalism cannot mean “being in
disagreement with someone” or “considering someone to
be wrong.” It is undeniable that the relativist disagrees with
the absolutist, which makes the relativist just as
“judgmental” as the absolutist. If judgmentalism is to be
understood correctly (in keeping with the context of
Matthew 7:1), it should be defined as an inappropriate
sense of moral superiority over another because of that
person’s moral failure.61
Judgmentalism, then, is that ugly refusal to
acknowledge that “there but for the grace of God go I.”62
Furthermore, it is an act of theological blindness to cite
the “judge not” passage while ignoring Jesus’ charge to
make proper judgments: “Stop judging by mere
appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).63

Even the American courts have endorsed this definition of new


tolerance by declaring (in the words of Judge Danny Boggs of the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit) that not only do
“adherents of all faiths deserve equal rights as citizens” but also
“all faiths are equally valid as religions.”64 In other words, not only
does everyone have an equal right to his beliefs, but all beliefs are

60
Copan, “True for You, But Not for Me,” 32.
61
Ibid., quoting Caroline J. Simon, “Judgmentalism,” Faith and Philosophy 6 (July
1989): 275–287.
62
Copan, “True for You, But Not for Me,” 33.
63
Ibid., 32. See extensive explanation of “Judge Not” in Matthew 7:1 in the
Appendix on page 165.
64
Stephen Bates, “Religious Diversity and the Schools,” The American Enterprise 4,
no. 5 (September/October 1993): 18.

39
equal. All values are equal. All lifestyles are equal. All truth
claims are equal. Is that as true for Christianity as for the radical
Islamic fundamentalists? the Ku Klux Klan? white Christian
supremists?
When my daughter Katie was fifteen years old and a
sophomore in high school, I asked her, “What is the one thing you
most fear being called at school?” She instantly replied,
“Intolerant.”
My son Sean was just ready to graduate from high school. I
asked him if he had been taught any absolute truth at Julian High
School. Even though I had expected a negative answer, he said,
“Yes!” I asked him what it was. He replied, “Tolerance.” What
Sean was taught is that all truth claims are equal—except truth
claims that say all truth claims are not equal!
I shared with Sean that the essence of what he had been taught
was that “you are to be tolerant of the tolerant, and you have the
right to be intolerant of those who are intolerant.” He said, “Dad,
you’re right!”
Professor Gene Edward Veith, author of Postmodern Times,
described the label of intolerance as “perhaps our cultures worst
term of abuse.”65
Stephen Bates, literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly,
concludes that “tolerance [nonjudgmentalism] may indeed be the
dominant theme of the modern curriculum. The authors of a recent
study of American high schools concluded that ‘tolerating diversity
is the moral glue that holds schools together.’ One study of

65
Gene Edward Veith, “The New Multi-Faith Religion,” World (December 15,
2001): 16.

40
American history books found toleration presented as ‘the only
religious idea worth remembering.’”66
In a postmodern society—a society that regards all values,
beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims as equally valid—there can be
only one universal virtue: tolerance. And if tolerance is the
cardinal virtue, the sole absolute, then there can be only one evil:
intolerance. And that is exactly the attitude we see among the
proponents of the new tolerance and postmodernism.
If tolerance is America’s cardinal virtue, then it makes it very
agonizing to call the murders at the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon “evil.” If we do that, we will be labeled as intolerant
because we are making a “moral judgment.”
Dr. Frederick W. Hill, a school administrator, said, “It is the
mission of public schools not to tolerate intolerance.”67 Leslie
Armour, a philosophy professor at the University of Ottawa,
proposed, “Our idea is that to be a virtuous citizen is to be one who
tolerates everything except intolerance.”68
Kenneth Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on
anti-Semitism and extremism, writes, “They [students] all have to
be encouraged through forums, presidential statements, and
campus debate to remold the institution into one that will be
stimulating, relevant, and comfortable [i.e., tolerant] to all its
members [some of the terrorists were students].”69
But what does it mean to be intolerant? According to the
United Nations “Declaration of Principles on Tolerance,”

66
Bates, “Religious Diversity,” 19.
67
Ibid.
68
Bob Harvey, “Wanted: Old Fashioned Virtue,” Montreal Gazette, 19 February
1995.
69
Kenneth S. Stern, Bigotry on Campus: A Planned Response (New York: The
American Jewish Committee, 1990), 8.

41
“Tolerance . . . involves the rejection of dogmatism and
absolutism.”70
Ironic, isn’t it, that the proponents of the new tolerance are so
dogmatic about dogmatism and so absolute in their opposition to
absolutism?
Researcher Pat Zucharan writes:

If all religions are true, as George Lucas [see Rogier Bos,


“The Theology of Star Wars,” Time (April 26, 1999): 94]
and so many others claim, then all religious practices are
valid and cannot be judged good or evil. Even just a brief
study of the world religions reveals they are contradictory
on their basic truth claims and therefore mutually
exclusive. For example, let us look at their understanding
of the Religious ultimate or God. Atheists believe there is
no God. Southern Buddhist schools also hold to an atheistic
worldview. Hindus, Northern Buddhist schools, the New
Age movement, and other Pantheist groups believe that
God is an impersonal force made up of all things in the
universe. In other words, the universe contains God, and
the universe is God. Islam believes in a Unitarian
monotheism. Allah alone is God, and to associate anyone
else with Allah is blasphemy. Christians believe in a
Triune, personal God.
Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction states that two
contradictory truths in a relationship with one another
cannot be true at the same time. When it comes to religious
70
“Declaration of Principles on Tolerance,” The Member States of the United
Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, meeting in Paris at the
twenty-eighth session of the General Conference, from October 25 to November
16, 1995.

42
truth, we cannot say that no God exists and a God exists,
and conclude that both statements are true. If there is a
God, the monotheists are correct and the atheists and
Southern Buddhist schools are wrong. We cannot say that
God is personal and impersonal at the same time. If He is a
personal God, the Pantheists cannot be correct. The
doctrine of God [held by] Christians and Muslims cannot
be both true. Either God is Unitarian or triune. One is
blasphemy, and the other is true. Philosopher and apologist
Ravi Zacharias says, “Most people think all religions are
essentially the same and only superficially different.
However, just the opposite is true.”71

The new tolerance is a cherished and protected value in our


postmodern culture. In legislation regarding the National
Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the U.S. Congress
declared: “The arts and the humanities reflect the high place
accorded by the American people to the nation’s rich cultural
heritage and to the fostering of mutual respect for the diverse
beliefs and values of all persons and groups. Congress is seeking to
promote acceptance for the diverse beliefs and values of all
persons.”72 Would that include the terrorists? Osama bin Laden?
the Taliban? Timothy McVeigh?
A policy accepted by the New York State of Regents states,
“Each student will develop the ability to understand, respect, and
accept people of different races; sex; cultural heritage; national
origin; religion; and political, economic, and social background,

71
Personal research by Pat Zucharan of PROBE Ministries for Josh McDowell,
October 11, 2001.
72
Delattre, “Diversity, Ethics, and Education in America,” 48–51.

43
and their values, beliefs and attitudes.”73 Again, does that include
the intolerant? Al-Qaeda? the terrorists? Osama bin Laden?
Timothy McVeigh? The ideas of every person are to be understood
and accepted and not to be criticized or evaluated. It is important in
the above use of the word respect to understand that it means,
“Your values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal to mine,
and I mean it from the heart.”
Sam Tanenhaus, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, concluded
after analyzing congressional debate on the anti-terrorism bill that
the opposition had not only a “fear for our civil liberties” but also a
greater doubt “about whether we have the right to condemn any
beliefs at all, even beliefs that threaten our existence.”74
Accept everyone’s values no matter how extreme it may seem?
Challenging the New York State Regents policy, American
Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker wrote:

Do we really want [students] to respect and accept the


values, beliefs, and attitudes of other people, no matter
what they are? Do we want them to respect and accept the
beliefs that led Chinese leaders to massacre dissenting
students in Tiananmen Square? And what about the values
and beliefs that allowed the Ayatollah Khomeini to
pronounce a death sentence on Salman Rushdie. . .? Is
exposing unwanted children to the elements and certain
death, a custom still widely practiced in some countries in
Asia and Africa, to be respected and accepted because it is
part of somebody else’s culture? Is female circumcision?
73
E. Calvin Beisner, “The Double Edged Sword of Multiculturalism,” The Freeman
(March 1994): 109.
74
Sam Tanenhaus, “The Trouble with Enemies,” Wall Street Journal, 19 October
2001.

44
Must we respect the custom of forcing young children in
the Philippines or Thailand to work in conditions of virtual
slavery? And must we look respectfully on Hitler’s beliefs
and actions?75

Must we also look respectfully at the beliefs and actions of Ted


Kaczynski or Osama bin Laden or the Taliban or Eric Harris or
Timothy McVeigh? If truth is relative and all truth statements are
created equal, then we must inevitably conclude we cannot
criticize anyone’s beliefs no matter how extreme. Albert Shanker
asked, “Must we look respectfully on Hitler’s beliefs and actions?
Relativists must and indeed do so.”76
Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota “slams organized
religion.” Governor Ventura said, “Legalizing prostitution should
be considered but is an unpopular idea because of religion.
Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people
who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick
their noses in other people’s business.”77 Is this one way of calling
someone intolerant? Is it another way of saying, What right does
anyone have to question another person’s values or behavior?
Would Governor Ventura say, “Don’t stick your nose in Al-
Qaeda’s business”?
Another result of postmodernism or the new tolerance is that
“moral indignation” is prohibited. Why? If all values, beliefs,
lifestyles, and truth claims are equally valid, then when we call
something or someone evil or when we abhor an action, behavior,

75
Albert Shanker, quoted in Beisner, “The Double Edged Sword of
Multiculturalism,” 109.
76
Albert Shanker, quoted in Closson, “Multiculturalism.”
77
Carolyn Batz, “Reform Party, Christian Coalition Leaders Criticize Ventura
Comments,” Dallas Morning News, 1 October 1999.

45
or person, we are making a “moral judgment.” Our children are
taught that such an attitude is intolerance, judgmentalism, narrow-
mindedness, and bigotry. Or, as Governor Ventura might shout,
“You are sticking your nose in other people’s business.”
Can you see that the moment we express moral indignation—
by saying, for example, that something is evil—we are saying our
belief, value, lifestyle, or claim to truth is better or more acceptable
than someone else’s? And that, we are told, is intolerant.
Girl Scouting is committed to the new tolerance:

In most societies, different peoples, with different religions,


cultures, lifestyles live together peacefully. Yet throughout
the world, discriminating against minority groups, attacks
on refugees, and immigrants, religious extremism, ethno-
nationalist conflicts, acts of violence, and hate crimes
continually make the news headlines.
Tolerance is respect for the rights and freedoms of
others, for individual differences, for cultural diversity [i.e.,
all different, diverse cultural values are equal]. It means
having a positive attitude toward others, with no trace of
condescension.78

Does that mean having a positive attitude toward Timothy


McVeigh and Osama bin Laden and Ted Kaczynski? By having
“no trace of condescension,” it means that we are not to “judge”
others’ values, lifestyles, beliefs, or truth claims.
A friend of mine is taking a course on humanities at Collin
County Community College in Plano, Texas. The students are

78
“Girl Scouting Is Committed to Cultural Diversity,” Daily Clay County Advocate
Press, 15 March 1996.

46
encouraged to respond to the professor and each other regarding
truth, faith, and reason. The on-line “postings” reveal the depth or
breadth on moral and cultural relativism in today’s American
culture. Message #2016 posted by Laurette on Tuesday, October
30, 2001, states, “No one can say that other religions aren’t correct
in their teachings. We each have our own thoughts and beliefs
about things. . . . No one has the right to say their belief is the right
one. Your belief comes from what you feel in your heart.”
On the same day another student responded, “What proves
God? Your own belief. If you believe in God, God exists to you.
. . . I feel love, therefore it exists to me.”
Edwin J. Delattre, dean of Boston University’s School of
Education, questions the new tolerance credence that “all values,
beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal.”

All values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims do not


deserve to be respected for (their) own sake without regard
to . . . content. . . . The values of the Ku Klux Klan do not
deserve respect; nor of any racial, gender, or ethnic
supremacist group. Neither do we owe respect to the values
and beliefs of the organized crime cartels operating in the
United States. We do not owe respect to the values of
countless other individuals and groups you can think of as
well as I, that are ambitious for power and use without
regard to considerations of morality.79

What would the world look like today if we had left it to the
individual to decide if the anti-Semitism of the Nazis in Germany
was truly evil and immoral? If in reality all virtues and values are

79
Delattre, “Diversity, Ethics, and Education in America,” 49.

47
equal, then the only way “right or moral” would be determined is
by “might” (i.e., the moral view with the greatest “might is right”).
As I wrote the previous paragraph, I thought about the
worldwide observance of January 1, 2000, when we launched the
twenty-first century and celebrated the hope for the future and
people’s memories of the past. I reflected that in the previous
century a multitude of atrocities have been committed by a
progressive, nonjudgmental world. In his book The Crooked
Timber of Humanity, Isaiah Berlin acknowledged, “It is by now a
melancholy commonplace that no century has seen so much
remorseless and continued slaughter of human beings by one
another than our own. Compared with it, even the wars of religion
and the Napoleonic campaigns seem local and humane.”80 James
Hitchcock in What Is Secular Humanism concurs with Berlin: “In
the twentieth century, mass slaughter [was] perpetuated not by
religious believers in opposition to heresy but by secularists
convinced that their plan for a worldly utopia [was] the only
possible one.”81
You would think that those who hold—and promote—such
views as tolerance and nonjudgmentalism (i.e., appeal to Matthew
7:1) would have trouble condemning any act, no matter how
hateful or destructive, as evil, wouldn’t you? And you would be
right.
The high school textbook Economics Today and Tomorrow
asks these questions of students: “Can we say that the growth of
government is good or bad? Everyone knows that government in

80
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1990), 175.
81
James Hitchcock, What Is Secular Humanism? (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant
Publications, 1982), 141.

48
the United States has grown in the 1900s—particularly during the
Depression and during the 1960s and 1970s. Can we say whether
there is a good or bad society? Is there an answer to such a debate?
Not really, because the side that one takes depends on one’s
values. No right or wrong answer exists when values are at
stake.”82Does that include the value of human life in the World
Trade Center?
Kenneth Stern points out that “students and faculty alike
should learn that people interpret their own realities differently,
that there is no one perspective that necessarily defines the truth.”83
Josh Weidmann, a student in Littleton, Colorado, wrote to me
shortly after the Columbine tragedy:

[I was recently] sharing the gospel with a guy who sits next
to me in class. After he let me share, he turned to me and
said, “I respect you, Josh. I respect what you believe, but
it’s not what I believe.” I said, “Thanks, but it is the truth!”
He replied saying that it “was only my truth, not his.”
Josh, my generation is so confused. We live in a world
that prides itself with many truths. We have been taught
and encouraged to be tolerant; everything and every way is
right. We hear that it is “politically correct” to think that
there is not only one truth but many; that no way is above
another’s; that no religion is all truth. How one person
chooses to believe may not be another’s, but that is okay.

82
Roger LeRoy Miller, “Government Spends, Collects and Owes,” chap. 17 in
Economics Today and Tomorrow (New York: Glencoe Division of
Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, 1991), 415, emphasis added.
83
Stern, Bigotry on Campus: A Planned Response, 8.

49
While speaking about the new tolerance and the popular
concept that all truth is relative at the Fishnet music festival in
Virginia, eight students from a public university that is
conservative in comparison to most public universities approached
me. They said in unison, “Josh, everything you said [about
tolerance], we’ve experienced. In fact at our school if you are
accused of intolerance—just accused—you have to take a class in
cultural sensitivity before you can take another university course.”
Then one student, a senior, spoke up and said, “Josh, I’m very
committed to Jesus, but it’s been the hardest year of my life. I am a
resident’s assistant, and last summer they took all of us to a
conference center for two days. For those two days all we heard
about was tolerance, tolerance, tolerance. They brought in gays,
lesbians, pedophiles, and the like, and they said we had to be
tolerant. They told us to determine what is right for us and what is
wrong for us and that we are not to share or impose our values on
others. We are to allow others the freedom to determine what is
right for them and what is wrong for them and to live it out
unhindered. By the second day of the conference, they threatened
us at every session: ‘If we catch you trying to change anyone as an
RA, you will not only be fired but it will go on your record, and it
will follow you for the rest of your life.’”
Young people are badgered in our high school as well. One
young person was asked in class by his high school teacher
whether he believed Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the only
way of salvation. He muttered almost incredibly, “Yes, I do.” He
said that the teacher immediately responded with unmitigated fury.
In front of the class with a voice as loud as a rocket launcher, she
yelled at him, “That is the most narrow-minded, bigoted, and
arrogant statement I have ever heard in my life! You must be a

50
supreme egotist to believe that your way of religion is the only
way.”84
The impact of moral relativism is also felt in classes on
comparative religion studies. Formerly when students took a class
in comparative religions, it was to “understand and evaluate” the
truth claims of various religions. That is no longer true in most
universities. Now students take the class to “understand in order to
appreciate” the various truth claims.
When I made this observation to a group of two hundred youth
directors and pastors in Chicago, a youth pastor stood to his feet
and said, “Josh, I am a graduate student at Northwestern
University, and I’m taking a class in comparative religions.”
I immediately asked him, “Is the purpose of the course to
evaluate the truth claims?”
He said, “Oh no. It is to understand and appreciate.”
Courses in comparative religion and philosophy are not offered
in order for students to evaluate “truth claims”; to do so would
commit the “sin” of moral hierarchy and intolerance. To do so
would judge someone else’s beliefs, values, lifestyle, or truth
claims, and that is anathema.
Another development in the notion that all truth is relative only
to the individual or culture is the response to a person’s truth
claims. Over the years now, I have given more than twenty-two
thousand talks in close to eight hundred universities and 83
countries. So I have a little experience to state the following: Eight
or ten years ago when I would make “truth” statements about the
Bible, Jesus, or the Resurrection in universities and high schools, I
would be challenged or heckled. Students would say things like

84
As told in James D. Kennedy, Skeptics Answered (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah,
1997), 102.

51
these: “I don’t believe that.” “Prove to me that Jesus is the Son of
God.” “I don’t believe Christ was raised from the dead.” “I don’t
think God exists.” “Give me some proofs or evidence.” Today I am
still heckled, but the content of the heckling is quite different:
“What right do you have to say that?” “You’re intolerant.” “You
have no right to say that.” “You’re a bigot.” The issue is no longer
the truth of what I say but my right to say what I do.
Australian historian Keith Windschuttle writes:

In recent years, some textbook committees of secondary


school authorities in Berkeley, California, have been trying
to ban history and social science textbooks that assert the
native American populations arrived on the North
American continent from Asia towards the end of the last
Ice Age. These origins, confirmed by generations of
archeologists, anthropologists and prehistorians, run
counter to the myths of the native Americans themselves.
Academic supporters of the native Americans are now
arguing that there is no reason why the findings of non-
indigenous scientists should be privileged over the
narratives that the indigenes tell about themselves.85

Under postmodernism or the new tolerance it doesn’t matter


what the facts or evidence shows because whatever the indigenous
culture believes is just as valid as whatever reality the facts might

85
Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its
Quarrels with Science (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994),
247–48, as quoted in Keith Windschuttle, The Killing of History: How Literary
Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering the Past (New York: The Free Press,
1996), 303.

52
indicate. Remember, we are taught to “act out” our own personal
behavior based upon our own “personal truth.”
George Lucas, film director and creator of the Star Wars series,
recalls, “I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother if
there’s only one God, why are there so many religions? I’ve been
pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I’ve come
to is that all the religions are true.”86 Is the religion of the Taliban,
Osama bin Laden, and the other terrorists true?
In the first episodes in the latest Star Wars series, “Episode
One: the Phantom Menace,” Anakin Skywalker mounted the
floating machine, Pod Racer, to race for his life. Qui-Gon Jinn, his
mentor, approached him and said, “Focus. . . . Your focus
determines your reality. . . . Depend on your feelings.”87
Remember, our youth are taught that they should act on their
“own truth.” This is what Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did when
they murdered thirteen students and faculty at Columbine High
School.
John Leo, writing in the Washington Times, points out the
bizarre results of this view that all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and
truth claims are equal:

In 30 years of college teaching, Professor Robert Simon has


never met a student who denied that the Holocaust
happened. What he sees increasingly, though, is worse:
students who acknowledge the fact of the Holocaust but
can’t bring themselves to say that killing millions of people
is wrong.

86
Bill Moyer, “The Theology of Star Wars,” Time (April 26, 1999): 92.
87
Ibid., 92–94.

53
Simon, who teaches philosophy at Hamilton College,
says that ten to 20 percent of his students are reluctant to
make moral judgments—in some cases, even about the
Holocaust. While these students may deplore what the
Nazis did, their disapproval is expressed as a matter of taste
or personal preference, not moral judgment. “Of course I
dislike the Nazis,” one student told him, “but who is to say
they are morally wrong?”88

Would the same student say that he disliked what the terrorists
did on September 11, 2002, but refuse to say that they were
morally wrong?
Postmodernism has created a climate in which people can no
longer say that the systematic murder of six million men, women,
and children is morally wrong! And a person who cannot condemn
the killing of six million innocents would certainly be inconsistent
to judge as “evil” the murder of more than 3,000 at the World
Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Somerset County,
Pennsylvania.

3. “I Believe What I Do because It’s What My


Family and Community Taught Me.”
One of the more frequent responses I get when I ask audiences
whether lying or stealing or killing is wrong is what social
scientists call behavioral conditioning. As I mentioned earlier,
when I ask, “Why is lying wrong?” people sometimes reply,
“Because that’s how I was raised,” or “That’s part of the value

88
John Leo, extracted in “It’s All Relative,” Reader’s Digest 152, no. 910 (February
1998): 75.

54
system my parents taught me.” This view would define right and
wrong according to information passed on from parent to child,
from one generation to the next.
In fact, the Barna Research Group reports that “roughly one-
sixth of the adult public (17 percent) . . . credits the values they
were taught by their family as the dominant influence on their
moral considerations.”89 However, if such “family values” are the
basis for moral truth, then what happens when the value system
your parents taught you differs wildly from the value system my
parents taught me?
Take, for example, the terrorists who attacked the citizens of
over forty nations on September 11, 2001. What if their parents
taught them (and some did) that it’s okay under certain
circumstances to kill thousands of men, women, and children in the
name of Allah? What if they were raised to believe that performing
such an act in the name of their race or religion was noble and
righteous? By what reasoning can you—whose parents taught you
that killing was wrong—condemn the September 11 hijackers,
whose parents may have taught them that killing is right?
The answer is, you can’t. If the basis for your sense of what is
right and what is wrong goes no deeper than what your parents
taught you, then you have no grounds on which to judge those who
wantonly kill innocent men, women, and children because their
parents taught them it is right.
The New York Times research showed that before making
moral choices, instead of consulting parents, Americans often

89
Barna Research Group, “Practical Outcomes Replace Biblical Principles As the
Moral Standard,” Barna Research Online (September 10, 2001);
<www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=97&
Reference=F>.

55
consult various sources of moral wisdom: popular TV shows,
self-help books, Jesus Christ, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, William
James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
Dorothy Day, Winston Churchill, and Rabbi Hillel.90
It wouldn’t surprise me that Mohamed Atta consulted the
“moral wisdom” of Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri
(founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad), Mu‘ammar Gadhafi,
Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, or Mullah Mohammed Omar.

4. “I Believe Something Is True When It Reflects


My Personal Value System.”
Sometimes the best a person can do in explaining his or her
concept of right and wrong is conclude that something is wrong
because “I personally feel it’s wrong,” or “It goes against my
personal value system.” Many people consider a carefully
constructed personal value system to be the fundamental basis for
moral and ethical standards.
The Humanist Manifesto II, for example, states unequivocally,
“All persons should have a voice in developing the values and
goals that determine their lives.”91 Many would argue that’s
exactly what Eric Harris, Mohamed Atta, Timothy McVeigh, and
Ted Kaczynski had.
Reflecting that perspective, many textbooks and educational
resources since the mid-twentieth century have promoted a process
called values clarification, a process that discourages individuals
from adopting “the old religion, the old culture . . . the old values,

90
Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 196.
91
Edwin H. Wilson et al., The Humanist Manifesto II (Amherst, N.Y.: The American
Humanist Association, 1973).

56
the old standards,” in favor of new, individual personally
constructed “truths” and “morals.”
George Barna, after analyzing the extensive research on culture
and individual beliefs and values, observed that today’s
postmodern culture implores each individual to:
1. Determine what is right and wrong for themselves.
2. Define their own understanding of God, based on their
experiences and perception, without the restraints that religious
texts and traditions impose upon the human mind.”92

Barna’s in-depth research indicates that “seven out of ten


[Christian] teens say there is no absolute moral truth, and eight of
out ten claim that all truth is relative to the individual and his or
her circumstances.”93 The Third Millennium Teens study by Barna
showed that only ”15 percent say that there are moral absolutes
which are unchanging.”94
This way of thinking—which has reached the status of dogma
throughout much of the public school system in the United States,
Canada, and other western nations—is defined quite clearly in the
extremely influential 1972 book Values Clarification. The book’s
back cover explained that the book was designed “to engage
students and teachers in the active formulation and examination of
values.” It does not teach a particular set of values. There is no
sermonizing or moralizing. The goal is to involve students in
practical experiences, making them aware of their own feelings,
their own ideas, their own beliefs, so that choices and decisions

92
Barna, Real Teens, 92.
93
Ibid.
94
Ibid., 90.

57
they make are conscious and deliberate, based on their own value
systems.95
A myriad of textbooks promotes the values clarification
message, that the basis of morality is the development of a
personal value system. The following text from marketing copy on
textbooks illustrates that point:

Everyone must develop his own set of principles to govern


his own sexual behavior. (Webster/McGraw-Hill )96

The particular patterns of behavior that one accepts for


himself is a decision that adults must make.
(Webster/McGraw-Hill ).97

The moral has been purposely omitted in order that the


children when talking about the story, may come to their
own conclusions. (Heath)98

[The goal of this text is] helping children to form the ideas,
values and habits of mind. (Macmillan/McGraw-Hill)99

No right or wrong answer exists when values are at stake.


(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill)100

95
Sidney B. Simon, Leland W. Howe, and Howard Kirschenbaum, Values
Clarification: A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students
(New York: Hart Publishing Co., 1972), back cover.
96
Psychology for Living (New York: Webster/McGraw-Hill), 189.
97
Ibid., 190.
98
Communicating, 2d grade (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath).
99
The World Past and Present, teachers ed. (New York: Macmillan/McGraw-Hill,
1993), T20.
100
Roger LeRoy Miller, Economics: Today & Tomorrow, teachers ed. (New York:
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 1995), 4.

58
Designed to engage students and teachers in the active
formulation of values. . . . it does not teach a particular set
of values. There is no sermonizing or moralizing. The goal
is to involve students in practical experiences, making them
aware of their own feelings, their own ideas, their own
beliefs, so that choices and decisions they make are
conscious and deliberate, based on their own value systems.
(Hart Publishing Co. Inc.)101

America has marveled at the broad diversity of its people


. . . prided itself on its ability to accept and borrow from the
lifestyles and values of many different nationalities. . . .
[Pluralism] means that people must compromise . . . by
yielding on certain points. Americans [must] exercise
tolerance . . . for the lifestyles of others. (Houghton
Mifflin)102

The adjusted individual conforms where it is mutually


beneficial to himself and society—to laws, to rules of
etiquette, to modes of dress, for example. He does not
conform when his principles or his best judgment advise
against it. (Webster/McGraw-Hill)103

One of the most important parts of any culture is its values.


. . . Many people’s values are shaped by religious beliefs.
As a Hindu, for example, Azeez believes that all living
things have souls and are “a fraction of God.” . . . Think
about how the way you live at home reflects your family’s

101
Simon/Howe/Kirschenbaum, Values Clarification, back cover.
102
“Understanding Pluralism,” in A More Perfect Union, 8th grade social studies
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 50.
103
Psychology for Living, 319.

59
beliefs and customs. Cultures [i.e., truth, values] do not
stay the same forever. They constantly change through their
interaction with other cultures. (Macmillan/McGraw-
Hill)104

[This part of the book] describes [the] . . . goal of helping


students to progress to higher-order skills in thinking. . . .
Critical Thinking: Thinking that is focused on deciding
what to believe or what to do. (Houghton-Mifflin)105

In other words, these authors and publishers believe that


children should have the right to define their own values, free of
religious doctrine or parental guidance. Keep in mind, humanism
does not believe in absolute truth; therefore, “critical thinking” is
not based on the discernment of truth. Rather, it becomes a process
for developing your own personal values and truth. Furthermore,
the development of a “higher order thinking skill” is designed to
help children think critically of their parent-instilled value system.
Many authors of public school textbooks use all opportunities to
instill “politically corrected” values instead.106
The authors advocate that children should be able to create
their own values and truth, free of their faith or parents. What is
actually meant by the wonderfully sounding concept of critical
thinking? It is not based on truth. Raymond English, vice president
of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in a speech to the National
Advisory Council on Education Research and Improvement,

104
World: Adventures in Time and Place, 6th grade (New York: Macmillan/McGraw-
Hill, 1997), 14–15.
105
This Is My Country, 4th grade social studies teacher’s guide (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin), T30–31.
106
Ibid.

60
explained: “Critical thinking means not only learning how to
think for oneself, but it also means learning how to subvert the
traditional values in your society. You’re not thinking ‘critically’ if
you’re accepting the values that Mommy and Daddy taught you.
That’s not ‘critical.’”107
Charles Reich in the 1995 best-selling book The Greening of
America, which popularized moral freedom, wrote, “The
foundation of Consciousness III is liberation. It comes into being
the moment the individual frees himself from automatic acceptance
of the imperatives of society and the false consciousness which
society imposes. . . . The meaning of liberation is that the
individual is free to build his own philosophy and values, his own
lifestyle, and his own culture from a new beginning.”108
The values clarification message is also buried in children’s
literature and story collections, many of which teach—often subtly,
sometimes overtly—that the source of moral truth is within each
individual. But if forming a personal value system is the answer,
we can hardly condemn others—such as terrorists, hijackers, or
school shooters—if their personal value system conflicts with ours.
For example, take Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two
teenagers who killed thirteen people at Columbine High School in
April 1999 before taking their own lives. The weeks of
investigation and analysis following that tragic day revealed that
each of those young men had developed his own set of principles
to govern his own behavior. Both of them had come to their own
conclusions about right and wrong. And when seventeen-year-old
Rachel Scott told her attackers, “Yes, I believe in God,” she was

107
Cited by Berit Kjos, Brave New Schools: Guiding Your Child through the
Dangers of the New School System (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1995), 20.
108
Cited by Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 216.

61
killed . . . by a young man who had formed his own personal
value system.
The previous examples profile a concerted effort by many
people within and without the American educational system to
destroy the concept of universal, absolute truth. The Humanist
magazine declared, “The battle for humankind’s future must be
waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who
correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith. . . .
The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between
the old and the new—the rotting corpse of Christianity [or Islam or
Judaism, etc.] . . . and the new faith of Humanism . . . will finally
be achieved. . . . Humanism will emerge triumphant.”109
James Q. Wilson, author of The Moral Sense, in a book review
of Alan Wolfe’s Moral Freedom comments about the moral
laissez-faire often depicted in American culture: “To me,
Americans have been persuaded by several generations of
intellectuals that virtue is simply a personal preference, akin to
liking the Red Sox more than the Yankees. The new view of virtue
has converted the Ten Commandments into the Ten Suggestions
for Helping Other People.”110
Phyllis Schlafly in her report “What Caused Columbine?”
gives an acute analysis to better understand how students create
their own values today:

For the past 25 years, the prevailing dogma in public school


teaching has been Values Clarification (as in the
tremendously influential 1972 book of the same name by
109
John Dunphy, “A Religion for the New Age,” The Humanist (January/February
1983): 26.
110
James Q. Wilson, “Bookshelf: The 11th Commandment Seems to Be ‘Judge
Not,’” Wall Street Journal, 5 April 2001.

62
Sidney Simon). That means teaching students to reject
“the old moral and ethical standards,” and instead “make
their own choices” and “build their own value system.”
Indeed, Eric Harris and his sidekick, Dylan Klebold,
did “build their own value system,” which allowed them to
kill 13 people at Columbine, then take their own lives.
Harris and Klebold were not dumb or underprivileged:
They came from affluent two-parent families.
Professionals who evaluated them concluded that Harris
was “a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in
life,” and that Klebold was “intelligent enough to make any
dream a reality.”
Values Clarification teaches that, since there are
absolutely no absolutes, students should engage in personal
“decision making,” about behavior instead of looking to
God, the Ten Commandments, parents, church, or other
authority which teaches that behavior should conform to
traditional morality.
Values Clarification is a book of 79 dilemmas for the
teacher to present to the students. The most frequently used
classroom dilemma is the “lifeboat game” (and its
numerous variations, such as the fallout shelter). The
student is told there are ten people in a sinking lifeboat and
four must be thrown out to drown so that the other six may
live. The student is vested with the authority to decide who
lives and who dies. Shall it be the famous author, or the
pregnant woman, or the rabbi, or the Hollywood dancer, or
the policeman?
Any answer is acceptable—whatever each student feels
comfortable with is OK, and the students can choose

63
different drowning targets because there are no right or
wrong answers. No wrong answers, that is, except one. One
mother told our Eagle Forum Parents Advisory Center that
her child answered the question by saying, “Jesus brought
another life boat and nobody has to drown.” That child got
an F for giving an unacceptable answer.
The worldview of Cassie Bernall, who looked into the
barrel of a gun and said, “Yes, I believe in God,” is not
acceptable within the rubric of Values Clarification. She
was killed by a fellow student who had built his own value
system.
As in the “lifeboat game,” Harris and Klebold had
already decided that it was their right to decide who would
live and who would die. Harris posted on the Internet: “My
belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law. . . .
Feel no remorse, no sense of shame.”
“Your children,” Harris proclaimed, “who have
ridiculed me, who have chosen not to accept me, who have
treated me like I am not worth their time, are dead. THEY
ARE (expletive) DEAD.”111

May I add that like Harris and Klebold, other people such as
Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, and Mohamed Atta decided
it was their right to decide who would live and who would die.
Susan Ager, a journalist from the Detroit Free Press, wrote, “I
realize that everyday human frailties like hypocrisy and dishonesty
trouble me far less than these two: intolerance and gratuitous
cruelty. . . . The intolerant are those who deride and reject other

111
Phylllis Schlafly, “What Caused Columbine,” Eagle Forum Newsletter (April 12,
1999); <www.eagleforum.org/column/1999/may99/99-05-12.html>.

64
human beings for having rings in their noses or for doing things
under the covers that they imagine—wrongly—are vastly different
from what they and their friends do.”112
According to Ager, intolerance is cruel, narrow-minded, and
unloving. She regards it as one of the worst prejudices one can
have. Those who hold to absolute truth and a universal moral code
are intolerant. Her attitude reflects the sentiments of popular
culture today.
Again it would appear that the two killers at Columbine High
school did exactly what Susan Ager encouraged students to do:
“We each might spend a few invigorating hours someday charting
our [own] moral standards, ranking human behavior from most to
least offensive.”113 It is also what people such as Timothy
McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and the September 11 terrorists did.
In his book One Nation Alan Wolfe quotes Ian Dobson, an
electrical engineer, who expressed his desire to have his children
grow up to be good citizens. Dobson said that he was “trying just
to make sure they grow up to be reasonable people and don’t steal,
cheat or lie or do any of the things that are on my list of values.”114
Alison Hornstein is the Yale University student who struggled
with the university’s lack of discussion addressing “the question of
whether an absolute wrong has been committed.”115 Alison,
however, agonized that professors did not pass “absolute moral
judgment” on the murder of more than 3000 innocent civilians on
9-11 as “objectively bad.” She then goes on to leave all “morality,”
“moral judging,” and “objectively bad” discernment to the

112
Susan Ager, “Ruminations on Morality, Cruelty and Intolerance,” St. Louis Post
Dispatch, 20 March 1996.
113
Ibid.
114
Wolfe, One Nation, 271 (emphasis added).
115
Hornstein, “The Question That We Should Be Asking,” 14.

65
individual’s choice or determination. “Just as we should pass
absolute moral judgment in the case of rape,” admonishes
Hornstein, “we should recognize that some actions are objectively
bad, despite differences in cultural standards and values. To me,
hijacking planes and killing thousands of civilians falls into this
category. Others may disagree. It is less important to me where
people choose to draw the line than it is that they are willing to
draw it at all.”116
Think this through: “It is less important to me where people
draw the line than it is that they are willing to draw it at all.” It
appears that what you personally determine is “objectively bad” is
morally wrong; that is, you draw the line that if terrorists kill more
than 3,000 people, it is “objectively bad”; however, if they kill
only 3,000 innocent civilians, it is “objectively good” and
therefore, is “moral” because you “drew the line” that at more than
3,000, dead is “objectively bad.” This is similar to columnist Susan
Ager’s determinate of good and evil: “We might spend a few
invigorating hours someday charting our [own] behavior from the
most to least offensive [objectively bad decided by the subjective
individual].”117
Mike Kelly, a columnist for the Washington Post, had a
reaction to Hornstein’s “something is morally wrong.” After
analyzing Hornstein’s comments, Kelly writes:

At some point soon after Sept. 11th, listening to Yale


students and professors offer rationalizations for the mass
murders (poverty in the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy,
etc.), Hornstein had an epiphany. Some things were just

116
Ibid., emphasis added.
117
Ager, “Ruminations on Morality, Cruelty and Intolerance.”

66
wrong. “Just as we should pass absolute moral judgment
in the case of rape, we should recognize that some actions
are objectively bad, despite differences in cultural standards
and values. To me, hijacking planes and killing thousands
of civilians falls into this category.”
Hurrah! A breakthrough! A moral judgment! Yes, Ms.
Hornstein, murdering thousands of people in fact is bad.
But wait. A lifetime of instruction is not sloughed off quite
so easily as all that; Hornstein’s bold moral judgment is not
quite so bold as all that. Look at her conclusion again: “To
me,” it begins. To me, hijacking planes and killing
thousands is not objectively bad after all. It is objectively
bad only in Hornstein’s opinion. Indeed, she rushes to
reassure [us] on this point: “Others may disagree.” Others
may disagree. And she adds: “It is less important to me
where people draw the line than it is that they are willing to
judge it at all.” Oh, dear.
It is astonishing, really. Here you have an obviously
smart, obviously moral person trying nobly and painfully to
think her way out of the intellectual and moral cul-de-sac in
which the addled miseducation of her life has placed her—
and she cannot, in the end, bear to do it. She cannot
judge.118

Joan Montgomery Halford, senior associate editor of


Educational Leadership, interviewed Nel Noddings, professor of
philosophy and education at Teacher’s College, Columbia
University. Professor Noddings instructs teachers of philosophy

118
Michael Kelly, “Non-Judgment Day at Yale,” Washington Post, 19 December
2001.

67
and religion that when it comes to faith and truth, “We don’t have
to tell them as ‘the truth.’ I would never do that.” Noddings
pointed out, “Educators don’t have to end such inquiry by saying,
‘Which position is right?’ But students should be familiar with
some arguments that good thinkers have put forth. Educators never
need to say, ‘I think,’ but they can say, ‘Biologically and
historically, here are some of the things people have said about
religion.’” She concluded that “philosophers have tried for a long
time to reconcile philosophy and faith, but there’s never been any
universally convincing argument. It isn’t the sort of story that can
be told convincingly except from a personal perspective.”119 Isn’t
that exactly what the terrorists had—a personal perspective?
The Quest for Excellence, a book designed to help young
people to make moral choices, sums up the observation of values
clarification teaching: “Early on in life, you will be exposed to
different value systems from your family, church, mosque or
synagogue, and friends. You may accept some of these values
without questioning whether or not they are the right values for
you. But you may eventually realize that some of these values
conflict with each other. It is up to you to decide upon your own
value system to build your own ethical code. . . . You will have to
learn what is right for yourself through experience.”120 Another
section of the book pronounces that “your sexual identity can be
defined in any way you choose. . . . Only you can decide what is

119
Joan Montgomery Halford, “Longing for the Sacred in School: A Conversation
with Nel Noddings,” Educational Leadership (December 1998/January 1999):
30–31.
120
Robert Hatcher et al., The Quest for Excellence (Decatur, Ga.: Bridging the Gap,
1993), 3.

68
right and comfortable for you.”121 I wonder, does that include
date rape?
The title of the article grabbed my attention: “How to Teach
Values to Your Children.” I purchased Parenting magazine and
immediately went to the featured article by Ron Taffel, who holds
a Ph.D. in child and family therapy. At the beginning he boldly
stated, “Now it’s not my business (or anyone else’s, for that
matter) to proclaim what you stand for. But it is my job as a family
therapist to help families communicate about the issues that mean
the most to them. Here, then, are five truths I’ve learned that will
help you express your values so that children can understand.”122
David A. Noebel, an expert on worldview analysis and the
decline of morality and spirituality in Western civilization, looks at
the Columbine murders and challenges:

Ask yourself the question: Where did Harris learn, “My


belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law. . . .
Feel no remorse, no sense of shame.” From his parents? I
doubt it. From his church or Sunday school? I doubt it.
How about a class entitled, “Values Clarification”? Here
students are taught that no outside authority (parents, God,
the school, the government, the Bible, the church) must
dictate their values. Their values must come from within
where everyone makes up his own values system. Values
imposed from above (God) or from outside one’s self
(parents, the school, the Bible) are considered non-
humanistic values and harmful to being truly human. Being

121
Ibid.
122
Ron Taffel, “How to Teach Values to Your Children,” Parenting (October 1996):
134.

69
a mature human being means focusing on one’s self, one’s
own will and desires. Man is beyond the notions of good
and evil as found in Western Civilization.123

A teacher said to me recently that schools don’t really teach


that. Really? My daughter Katie came home from school two years
ago and gave me the following exercise she had to do in class.

Who Should Survive?

Task: Choose seven of the following people to survive. List


them in the order in which you would choose them, and
indicate the reasons for your selection, i.e., why you chose
these particular persons and why you placed them in this
particular order.

(“X” represents the four the class chose as a whole to die!)

A. Dr. Dane: thirty-seven, white, no religious


affiliation, Ph.D. in history, college professor, in
good health (jogs daily), hobby is botany, enjoys
politics, married with one child (Bobby)

X B. Mrs. Dane: thirty-eight, white, Jewish, rather


obese, diabetic, M.A. in psychology, counselor in
mental health clinic, married to Dr. Dane, has one
child (Bobby)

123
Dr. David A. Noebel, “Execution at Columbine High School, Littleton,
Colorado,” The Journal, a Summit Ministries publication (June 1999): 4.

70
X C. Bobby Dane: ten, white, Jewish, mentally
retarded with IQ of 70, healthy and strong for his
age

D. Mrs. Garcia: twenty-three, Spanish American,


Catholic, ninth-grade education, cocktail waitress,
worked as a prostitute, married at age sixteen,
divorced at age eighteen

E. Jean Garcia: three months old, Spanish


American, healthy

F. Mary Evans: eighteen, black, Protestant, trade-


school education, wears glasses, artistic

G. Mr. Newton: twenty-five, black power advocate,


starting last year of medical school, suspected
homosexual activity, music as a hobby, physical
fitness buff

H. Mrs. Clark: twenty-eight, black, Protestant,


daughter of a minister, college graduate, electronics
engineer, single now after a brief marriage, member
of Zero Population Growth

X I. Mr. Blake: fifty-one, white, Mormon, B.S. in


mechanics, married with four children, enjoys
outdoors, much experience in construction, quite
handy, sympathizes with anti-black views

J. Father Frans: thirty-seven, white, Catholic,


priest, active in civil rights, former college athlete,

71
farming background, often criticized for liberal
views

X K. Dr. Gonzales: sixty-six, Spanish American,


Catholic, doctor in general practice, two heart
attacks in the past five years, loves literature and
quotes extensively

You might say this is exactly what the nineteen terrorists did at
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Or they followed
columnist Susan Ager’s advice about making “moral choices”:
“We each might spend a few invigorating hours someday charting
our moral standards, ranking human behavior from most to least
offensive.”124
The New York Times study “The Way We Live Now” found
that 73 percent believe that all people are born inherently good.125
There is a basic dislike by Americans for a theology with a dim
view of human nature. Alan Wolfe makes the observation that
“when people believe that individuals are born with a blank slate
and are unlikely to be radically evil or radically good, it is a short
step to believing that the best place to turn for moral guidance is
themselves.”126
Most people today “find themselves quite comfortable with the
idea that a good society is one that allows each individual
maximum scope for making his or her own moral choices.”127

124
Ager, “Ruminations on Morality, Cruelty and Intolerance.”
125
“The Way We Live Now,” study by the New York Times, as quoted in New York
Times Magazine, 7 May 2000;
<www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20000430poll-results.html>.
126
Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 194.
127
Ibid., 195.

72
Pollster George Barna, after analyzing postmodernism in today’s
culture, concluded that many Americans believe that “autonomous
people will do what is best and work out the rough edges of those
choices.”128
William Spady, the man often referred to as the father of
Outcome Based Education encouraged teachers to eradicate the
concept of absolute truth: “Despite the historical trend toward
intellectual enlightenment and cultural pluralism, there has been a
major rise in religious and political orthodoxy, intolerance,
fundamentalism, and conservatism with which young people will
have to be prepared to deal.”129

5. “I Believe Something Is True When It Works


for Me.”
Not everyone looks to the Bible or to family or even to a personal,
internal value system to differentiate between the rightness or
wrongness of an action. An increasing number of people—many as
a result of what they’re taught in school—believe that the answer
to questions about right and wrong can be found in what I would
call pragmatism.
In other words, an increasingly popular way to view morality is
by “evaluating whether an action or attitude brings about generally
desired [personal] results or consequences.” On September 10, just
one day before the killing of more than 3,000 at the World Trade
Center on 9-11, the Barna Research Group released a report about
moral standards: “When asked the basis on which they

128
Barna, Real Teens, 94.
129
William Spady, “Future Trends: Considerations in Developing Exit Outcomes,”
(September 1987), quoted in James R. Patrick, comp., Goals 2000 Research
Manual (Moline, Ill.: Citizens for Academic Excellence, 1994), 121.

73
[Americans] form their moral choices, nearly half of all adults (44
percent) cited their desire to do whatever will bring them the most
pleasing or satisfying results. Roughly one-sixth of the adult public
(17 percent) bases its moral decisions on what they believe will
make other people happy.”130 It sounds as if Americans did their
homework in school and took their textbooks seriously.
Stop! Think about those statistics for a moment. A combined
total of 61 percent (44 percent and 17 percent) of Americans just
validated the “moral” choices of the radical Islamic terrorists.
Understand that such a standard, if applied to the perpetrators of
the September 11 tragedies, justifies their decisions. The attacks on
the World Trade Center and other sites clearly brought about
desirable, pleasing and satisfying results for Osama bin Laden,
Mohamed Atta, and their Al-Qaeda terrorist network. One
imagines that they could hardly have been more pleased at the
murderous results of their actions.
Are a person’s actions morally justified because he or she truly
believes they will bring “personal joy and pleasure to yourself or to
others”? One of the suspected hijackers on September 11 was Ziad
Samir Jarrah. He wrote a letter to his Turkish girlfriend of five
years: “You should be very proud because this is an honor and in
the end will bring happiness to everyone.”131 Remember that the
moral standards of 61 percent of Americans say you should make
choices based on your own personal joy or pleasure (44 percent) or
the personal joy and pleasure it brings to others (17 percent). Does
this make Jarrah’s decision moral and right?

130
Barna Research Group, “Practical Outcomes.” The study reports a 95 percent
degree of certainty.
131
Carol J. Williams, “Love Letter Written by Suspected Hijacker Reportedly
Surfaces,” Los Angeles Times, 18 November 2001.

74
This method, which appears in numerous public-school
textbooks, encourages students to construct “good values” based
on their own personal pragmatic considerations. The following is
an example from a junior-high-level civics textbook:

When faced with a decision, you should ask yourself three


questions: (1) What are my alternatives? (2) What are the
likely consequences, or outcomes, of each alternative? (3)
Which consequence do I prefer? . . . Decisions lead to
consequences. When you choose one alternative over
another, you choose one outcome rather than another. So,
an important step in decision making is to predict the good
and bad results of each alternative. Your choice of a course
of action will be influenced by what you think are the
outcomes of each alternative. . . . Careful decision making
is choosing the alternative most likely to lead to the
outcome you want. You need to think about your goals in
order to make good decisions.132

Is this how Timothy McVeigh, the September 11 terrorists,


Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold made their moral choices?
A high-school-level world history text gives students similar
advice:

When you make a decision, you are making a choice


between alternatives. In order to make that choice, you
must be informed and aware. There are five key steps you

132
Civics for Americans (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company: 1982), 21–
23, emphasis added.

75
should follow that will help you through the decision-
making process.

1. Identify the problem. What are you being asked


to choose between?

2. Identify and consider various alternatives that are


possible.

3. Determine the consequences for each alternative.


Identify both the positive and the negative
consequences.

4. Evaluate the consequences. Consider both the


positive and the negative consequences for each
alternative.

5. Ask yourself. Which alternative seems to have


more positive consequences? Which seems to have
more negative consequences? Then make your
decision.133

And from a social sciences textbook for elementary-age


children: “This values clarification program is packaged in a box
and includes forty individual investigations presenting the child
with a conflict in values within his own frame of reference. He is

133
Mounir A. Farah and Andrea Berens Karls, “Learning the Skill,” in World
History: The Human Experience, teacher edition (New York: Glencoe/Macmillan
McGraw-Hill, 1999), 179.

76
led to explore the alternative solutions to the conflict, prompted to
choose a solution and examine the consequences of his choice.”134
These textbooks teach people to make “sound” decisions based
on what is best for them. That is what the terrorists did! The hard
drive of a computer found in the Al-Qaeda headquarters in a two-
story brick building in Kabul, Afghanistan, contained strategic
information and letters by the Al-Qaeda leadership. Abu Yaser
wrote a letter to top Al-Qaeda Lieutenant Ayman Al-Zawahiri,
stressing that “hitting the Americans and Jews is a target of great
value and has its rewards in this life and, God willing, the
afterlife.”135 Abu Yaser, chose, as Americans are taught to do, the
“consequences which I [he] prefer[red].”136
The high school textbook World History: The Human
Experience teaches students that the critical issue is that they
“evaluate both positive and negative consequences. Make a sound
decision about which alternative is best for [them].”137
“The defining characteristic of the moral philosophy of the
Americans,” concludes Alan Wolfe, “can therefore be described as
the principle of moral freedom. Moral freedom means that
individuals should determine for themselves what it means to lead
a good and virtuous life . . . [by] what consequences follow from
asking one way rather than another.”138
The Quest for Excellence, a book produced for early teens and
written by a national board member of Planned Parenthood, says it

134
Principles and Practices in the Teaching of the Social Sciences: Concepts and
Values (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975).
135
Alan Cullison and Andrew Higgins, “Computer Gives Inside Look at Al-Qaida,”
The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, 1 January 2002.
136
Ibid.
137
Farah and Karls, World History: The Human Experience, 179.
138
Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 195.

77
“helps today’s younger teens make responsible sexual decisions.”
The Quest for Excellence promises to help teens “achieve an
ethical code that belongs to you. What’s right; what’s wrong.”

Early on in life, you will be exposed to different value


systems from your family, church or synagogue, and
friends. You may accept some of these values without
questioning whether or not they are the right values for
you. But you may eventually realize that some of these
values conflict with each other. It is up to you to decide
upon your own value system—to build your own ethical
code. Your own value system will be important, especially
for helping you through difficult times. You have to learn
what is right for yourself through experience. Developing
your own ethical code takes time. In fact, it takes a
lifetime.139

Would the previous statements justify twenty-year-old


Suleyman al-Faris (John Walker Lindh) to go to Afghanistan,
betray America, and fight for the Taliban?
The Quest for Excellence continues to admonish children that
“the choice about sex or any form of sexual expression is yours—
not your parents’, your friends’, your church’s, your boyfriend’s or
girlfriend’s, but YOURS. No one can tell you what is right or
wrong for you, because you are the only one who knows your
needs, values, and desires. Talking to someone else about your
thoughts and feelings may help you sort things out, but remember,

139
Hatcher et al., The Quest for Excellence, 3.

78
the final decision is yours. In the end, you may decide to do
certain things and not others—that’s okay.”140

If you’re a parent, listen to warning about you in The Quest for


Excellence:

Even if your parents haven’t talked to you specifically


about sex, you probably have a good idea of how they feel
anyway. If your parents are very protective, or if they
expect you to be a virgin for the rest of your life, their
message may not be very realistic. If they fear your
sexuality or don’t want you to be sexual at all, you may feel
a need to tune out their voices.
Sometimes your parents’ voices may be strong enough
to make you feel guilty. But if your parents trust your
judgment and only want you to take care of yourself, their
advice can be very helpful. Whatever the message, it will
be a powerful one, and one you should be aware of.141

America’s concept of moral equality “corresponds to a deeply


held populist suspicion of authority and a corresponding belief that
people know their own best interest.”142 Mel and Norma Gabler,
whose lives are given to analyzing textbooks, make an observation
about the ideas so many classes on decision-making present:

Tautologies instead of values. They stress that responsible


decisions are made after analyzing alternatives and
considering consequences. But what decisions are these?

140
Ibid., 65.
141
Ibid., 66.
142
Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 226.

79
Those decisions which are good. Furthermore, they
emphasize that genuine values are those which are freely
chosen. But what values are these? Those values which are
genuine. These are meaningless, redundant formulae. They
all avoid defining good values.
First, they assume that peer groups form only good
consensus. But of course peer groups may also form bad
consensus. Second, they assume that only people of good
character analyze alternatives and consider consequences.
In fact, people of bad character analyze alternatives and
consider consequences too. They, however, judge by bad
standards and make bad decisions. Analyzing alternatives
and considering consequences therefore trains bad
character as efficiently as good character.143

“Morality,” for Americans, “is not likely to be based on


abstractions but on consequences. Because they live with the
choices they make. . . .”144 I wonder if Alan Wolfe was prophetic
when he said before September 11, 2001, that “moral freedom is
bound to have consequences we will regret.”145
Did you notice that in all the previous textbook references
there’s no mention of any moral considerations beyond pragmatic
concerns. Do you see in the above there is no consideration of
what is “true,” but rather of what is “personally rewarding”? That
reflects the view of many who believe that the best way to
determine the rightness or wrongness of an action or attitude is to
consider whether it brings about personally desirable results. If you
143
Mel Gabler and Norma Gabler, “Moral Relativism on the Ropes,”
Communication Education 36, no. 4 (October 1987): 356.
144
Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 17.
145
Ibid., 231.

80
agree with the 61 percent of Americans who held to this standard
of morality, then you just justified the motives and decision of the
nineteen terrorists on September 11, 2001.146 For their moral
choice of murdering more than 3,000 people on 9-11 was based on
their personally desirable results.
If making value decisions based on “the alternative most likely
to lead to the outcome you want” is the path to moral truth, must
we call the events of September 11 (or the bombing of the
Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995, for that
matter) as moral—as righteous—as any outcome anyone may
pursue?

6. “I Believe Something Is True If a Majority


Believes It Is True.”
Another answer to the question of what distinguishes right from
wrong was most recently suggested to me by a flight attendant. I
had asked her if she believed that killing other people was wrong.
When she said yes, I asked her, “What makes it wrong?”
“Well,” she said, “most people would agree that killing is
wrong; therefore it’s wrong.”
Yesterday I telephoned a well-known northeastern university
professor who writes extensively on moral relativism. I asked him,
“How would the average American judge 9-11?”
He replied, “They would call it evil.”
I responded, “On what basis would they call it ‘evil’?”
He said, “There are certain actions that everyone will say are
‘evil’—killing civilians, abusing children, that kind of thing.”

146
Barna Research Group, “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11.”

81
Immediately I reacted, “That’s not true. The Taliban doesn’t
agree. The Nazis didn’t. Thousands of radical militant Muslims
don’t agree. Maoists guerrillas don’t agree. I can think of many
other who wouldn’t agree: Americans who dropped the atomic
bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Palestinian bombers, Israeli
terrorists, Irish terrorists, Sudan’s Muslim guerrillas.” The phone
was silent on the other end.
Many people may not be aware that they reflect the view of
scholars such as Hans Kellner, professor of rhetoric and historical
discourse at the University of Texas, who says, “Truth would be
what is plausible or convincing to a universal audience.” However,
Kellner goes on to admit that “I am skeptical about the existence of
a universal audience within any human experience. The universal
audience is a kind of ideal concept, like the idea of truth. What we
have are stories that are true for a time and a place.”147
American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, writing about
whether authentic truth or values are those accepted by the
majority of the people, explains:

Statements such as “That may have been true in the Middle


Ages, but it is no longer true,” or “That may be true for
primitive people, but it is not true for us” are based on two
sorts of confusions. Sometimes truth is confused with what
a majority of people at a particular time or place think is
true, as in the following example:
A portion of the human race some centuries ago held it
to be true that the earth is flat. That false opinion has now
been generally repudiated. This should not be interpreted to
mean that the objective truth has changed—that what was

147
Hans Kellner, as quoted in Domanska, Encounters, 142.

82
once true is no longer true. . . . What has changed is not
the truth of the matter but the prevalence of an opinion that
has ceased to be popular.148

Many people today follow Emanuel Kant’s decision on moral


restraint: the categorical imperative. That is, each person must act
on or make moral choices based on what would happen if others
made the same moral decisions we are tempted with. For some
people this is a deterrent; for others it is an encouragement. For
example, isn’t this exactly what Mohamed Atta chose to do? I
imagine that Osama bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, the Taliban, and
the Al-Qaeda wish the entire Muslim world would represent “all
others” and commit devastating terrorists activities. This is why
Osama bin Laden called for a global jihad against the infidels.

7. “I Believe Something Is True If It Is True for


My Culture.”
French sociologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim detected that
without a sense of morality, culture could not exist. To him
“morality” was based on the “collective conscious” of particular
cultures. This universal morality would be possible because of the
popular view that humans in each culture would follow their
conscious rather than their personal passions, desires, or
consequences.
Durkheim went on to declare:

It can no longer be maintained nowadays that there is one,


single morality which is valid for all men at all times in all

148
Adler, Six Great Ideas, 41.

83
places. We know full well that morality has varied. . . .
The moral system of the Romans and Hebrews was not our
own, nor could it have been so. For if the Romans had
practiced morality with its characteristic individualism, the
city of Rome would never have been, nor consequently
would the Roman civilization. The purpose of morality
practiced by a people is to enable it to live; hence morality
changes with societies. There is not just one morality, but
several, and as many as there are social types. And as our
societies change, so will our morality. It will no longer be
in the future what it is today.149

These comments, as well as previously cited comments by


Hans Kellner, reflect the typical postmodern view that truth and
morality are created by a specific culture or community and thus
are “true” only in and for that time and place. In other words, as
theologian Stanley J. Grenz points out in his book A Primer on
Postmodernism, “Truth is relative to the community in which a
person participates. And since there are many human communities,
there are necessarily many different [and all equally valid]
truths.”150
In The Killing of History Australian historian Keith
Windschuttle writes that French poststructuralist historian and
writer Michel Foucault “also argues that knowledge is relative not
only to historic eras but to social groups as well. Those who have
power generate the kind of knowledge that they need to maintain
their power; those who are subject to this power need their own,

149
Cited in W.S.F. Pickering, ed., Durkheim: Essays on Morals and Education,
trans. H. L. Jutcliffe (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), 12–13.
150
Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, 14.

84
alternative kinds of knowledge in order to resist.” Foucault is also
committed to a relative concept of truth. Truth for him is not
something absolute that everyone must acknowledge but merely
what counts as true within a particular discourse.”151
“Each society,” writes Foucault, “has its regime of truth, its
‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it
accepts and makes function as true: the mechanisms and instances
which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the
means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures
accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the statue of those who
are changed with saying what counts as true.”152
“However,” points out Windschuttle, “it is not difficult to show
that a relativist concept of truth of this kind is untenable. If what is
true is always relative to a particular society, there are no
propositions that can be true across all societies. However, this
means that Foucault’s own claim cannot be true for all societies.
So he contradicts himself. What he says cannot be true to all.”153
Sean McMeekin, author and writer for Error! Reference
source not found., analyzed postmodern cultural relativism this
way: “If every culture must be interpreted according to its own
values, is there any place for ethical judgment of another culture?
. . . If historians cannot evaluate the actions of cultures according
to standards of rational judgment . . . then we may as well throw up
our arms and accept the cultures of Nazi Germany and Stalinist
Russia, as ‘equal but different.’”154 Would McMeekin say of the

151
Windschuttle, The Killing of History, 143.
152
Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings,
1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 131.
153
Windschuttle, The Killing of History, 143.
154
Sean McMeekin, “Is History Dead?” Salon Magazine (January 1999);
<www.salon.com/it/feature/1999/01/cov_11feature4.html>.

85
Taliban’s Afghanistan and of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda the
same thing he has said about Germany and Russia?
Therefore, if the majority of people in a given community or
culture agree that killing is wrong—well, then, according to
postmodernism, it’s wrong. If that is true, it must follow that if the
majority of people in a given community or culture agree that
killing is right—well, then, it’s right. Isn’t that what the Taliban,
the Nazis, and Mohamed Atta would say?
If cultural relativism is the answer—if truth and morality are
“true” only in and for a specific person or community or culture—
then our culture has no business condemning Hitler for the
Holocaust or Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network
for what they accomplished on September 11. If the Taliban, for
example, in their specific culture, have defined the murder of the
infidel American men, women, and children and the horrible
treatment of women as acts of righteousness that will earn the
favor of God, then according to their value system, the hijackers
did no evil on September 11. But then according to many
American’s value system, is it wrong for America to morally judge
the terrorists?

When Cultures Clash


But what happens when two cultures have opposing or destructive
values? When cultures collide morally, people respond from one of
two approaches: nonjudgmentalism and consensus.

(a) Nonjudgmentalism
If truth is relative to the community in which a person participates,
there is no standard by which cultural values and truth claims can
be judged as better or worse by that which exists in another

86
culture. If truth and morality are cultural creations that cannot be
adequately understood between differing cultures, there are no
grounds for any person or nation to protest such abhorrent cultural
practices as widow burning (burning living widows on their
husband’s funeral pyres), slavery, the cruel treatment of women in
Afghanistan, child abuse, the forced abortion and infanticide that
results from China’s severe reproductive laws, or the murdering of
more than 3,000 people at the World Trade Center.
Jim Leffel, director of the Crossroads Project, drives this point
home when he writes: “What happens . . . when culture decides a
certain race or gender is non-human, and those non-humans are
targeted for extinction? If reality is culture-bound, it would be an
act of imperialism for another culture to intervene. Without an
absolute standard, there is no basis for judging a Nazi or
misogynist.”155 One could add, there is no basis for judging Osama
bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, Mohamed Atta, or Al-Qaeda.
Indeed, one feminist columnist admitted as much in a widely
discussed 1992 editorial on the forcible genital mutilation
performed on young females in many Islamic countries. In a
clitoridectomy the clitoris is cut off, often without an anesthetic, to
prevent the woman from experiencing sexual pleasure and thus, it
is thought, preclude the possibility of sexual promiscuity and
adultery. Journalist Andrea Park wrote that though she despised the
oppression of women and wished to condemn the custom, she had
no standard by which to judge other cultures: “How can I argue
against a culture I haven’t tried to understand? Is it relevant that I,

155
Jim Leffel, “Our New Challenge: Postmodernism,” quoted in The Death of Truth,
ed. Dennis McCallum (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996), 41.

87
an outsider, may find the practice cruel? As hard as it is for me to
admit, the answer is no.”156
True to her postmodernist principles and ideals, Park’s editorial
should have sounded the death knell of human rights. If all beliefs,
lifestyles, and truth claims are culturally defined and equally valid,
Park and her culture have no right to question the practices (or
defend the rights) of those living in other cultures. You and your
children would also have no right to question them.
Alison Hornstein, who questions Yale University’s
nonjudgmentalism when it comes to values and morality, struggles
with the fact that “in high school, my classmates and I learned
about how women in some countries are circumcised and how,
even though this seemed abhorrent to us, it was part of their
culture. We discussed the pros and cons of imposing our standards
on other cultures. And, overwhelmingly, we decided we should
not.”157
If what is taught in our schools, universities, and textbooks is
true about truth and values, then we would have to remain silent,
exercise “tolerance,” and be very nonjudgmental about the killing
of a pregnant woman in Nigeria “for having premarital sex.”158
Then in Afghanistan we would have to accept that “women
were beaten until they bled. Women were arrested because they
ran away from their husbands who beat them.”159

156
Andrea Park, as quoted in David O. Sacks and Peter A. Thiel, The Diversity Myth
(Oakland: The Independent Institute, 1995), 32.
157
Hornstein, “The Question That We Should Be Asking,” 14, emphasis added.
158
“Pregnant Woman Ordered to Be Stoned to Death,” Baltimore (Md.) Sun, 13
October 2001.
159
Molly Moore, “Aid Workers Recount a Time of Contrasts in Prison,” Washington
Post, 16 November 2001; <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-
srv/world/articles/release111601.html>.

88
Almost equal to the fear of Americans’ being labeled
“judgmental,” is the accusation of being a “moralist.”160

(b) Consensus
Again, there are those who claim that consensus defines morality
not only within cultures but also between them. Professor Arthur
C. Danto, professor of philosophy at Columbia University, says as
much when he proclaims: “There is no moral knowledge because
there are no moral truths. That does not make for moral relativism,
of course, since consensus is as wide as it is. Take the case of
human rights: Rights are declared. The declaration of human rights
in the United Nations structure is universal.”161
The Christian strongly advocates “human rights” because we
are all created in God’s image and are his personal creation with
infinite value and dignity. The United Nations, on the other hand,
advocates “human rights” based on consensus: Might is right.
Danto’s statement begs the question, of course: If consensus
(either within cultures or between them) determines morality, what
happens when cultures clash? What happens when one culture
(such as the Taliban, for example) comes to a moral consensus that
prompts it to attack and kill members of another culture?
I had a memorable conversation with a superintendent of
schools in San Diego County. I had driven my daughter Katie to
the countywide science fair to set up her booth and discovered that
only the students were permitted to go inside until a certain time.
So I waited outside, and before too long I found myself engaged in
conversation with a man whom I knew to be a superintendent in
that school system. Stephen Spielberg’s tragic Holocaust epic,

160
Wolfe, One Nation, 27.
161
Ibid.

89
Schindler’s List, had been showing in theaters at the time, so I
brought that up to him. The conversation went something like this:
“Do you believe the Holocaust was wrong, morally wrong?” I
asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you believe that killing is wrong?”
“Yes.”
“Let me ask you a couple other questions. Do you believe in
individual relativism? In other words, that each individual must
determine what is right and wrong for himself or herself?”
“Yes.”
“Do you believe in cultural relativism, that is, that each culture
must determine what is right or what is wrong in and for that
culture and then live that out?”
“Yes.”
“Then how can you say the Holocaust was wrong? If Hitler and
the Nazis, who were in power, determined—individually and
culturally—that killing Jews was right and that it served a “just
end” and the consequences were positive from their perspective,
then how can you morally judge them if each culture determines
what is right or what is wrong in and for that culture?”
“Because killing is wrong,” he answered.
“But why is it wrong?”
“Because it just is.”
“Does it make it right,” I asked, “if I say killing is right just
because it is?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Then how can you say the Holocaust was wrong?”
“Because we won the war.”

90
“Okay,” I said. “Let me ask you another question. If Hitler
and the Nazis had won the war, would that have made the
Holocaust righteous?”
“Yes.”
“Sir,” I said, “are you saying that might is right?”
“Of course,” he answered. “Whoever has the most bullets or
the biggest guns or most votes is right.”
“Then, tell me, why do I send my daughters to school here in
San Diego County to learn citizenship and good character, to learn
civics, and so on? Why don’t I instead show them that whenever
they have conflict with someone, they should throw that person to
the ground, put their heel to the person’s throat, and kill ’em?”
I suspect his answer reflected his frustration at that point. “You
know,” he said, “that might not be a bad idea.”
That’s a fundamental—and untenable—problem with cultural
relativism: When cultures clash, it comes down to “might makes
right.” Is the only way to establish right from wrong in such an
event a gun or a nuclear device?
Steve Brown of Reformed Seminary in Canada wrote me his
experience with a guest lecturer who visited his class:

The visiting professor was the tenured dean of a mainline


divinity school at a major university. He articulated his
belief that each culture develops their own reality or truth.
He stated, “Just as Santa Claus doesn’t need to be real to
have an effect, so different religions or beliefs are equally
real regardless of their foundation in truth or fact.”
When I asked the professor, “Do you believe there is
absolute moral truth?” he answered no. The professor went

91
on to state, “Each culture and even subculture determines
its own reality or truth.”
I then asked, “If there is no absolute truth, does that
mean what Hitler did was right in his culture but wrong in
our culture?” The dean stated that is correct.
Then I asked, “How do we determine whether or not
Hitler was right or wrong? Was might right?”
To this question the answer was very vague and
unclear.162

8. “I Believe Something Is True Because I Feel It


Is Right.”
A study by the New York Times observed that “our respondents are
guided by subjective feelings more than they are by appeals to
rational, intellectual, and objective conceptions of right and
wrong.”163 Could you say the same for Mohamed Atta?
Quoted earlier in this chapter is an on-line conversation two
students had about beliefs. One student said, “Your belief comes
from what you feel in your heart.” Later on the same day, another
student responded, “What proves God? Your own belief. If you
believe in God, God exists to you. . . . I feel love, therefore it exists
to me.”164 According to these students, feelings lead us to truth.
George Barna sees the postmodern culture as one that implores
“each individual to determine what is right and wrong for
themselves, given the conditions, their feelings and their past

162
Personal correspondence with Steve Brown, 2 June 1997.
163
Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 223.
164
Humanity’s Class Postings, message #2016, posted by Laurette on Tuesday,
October 30, 2001, Collin County Community College, Plano, Texas.

92
experiences.”165 Barna continues that in today’s American culture
where there is an “absence of any kind of universal truth, the only
reality that cannot be denied is what you feel or experience.”166
The most common source “of guidance regarding moral decisions
trusted by Americans are feelings (28 percent).”167
Marvin Olasky, professor of journalism at the University of
Texas, stated that the response of so many Christian students in his
classes to moral choices is this: “Sometimes my personal beliefs
contradict those taught by the church. I make my decisions upon
what I feel is right.”168 So did Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold,
Mohamed Atta, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, and Osama
bin Laden.
Yale University student Alison Hornstein writes, “When my
third-grade class read a story about one boy kicking another at a
school bus stop, our teacher talked about why the boy might have
done what he did—maybe he was having a bad day or had a fight
with his mother that morning. The teacher stressed that the little
boy had feelings that sometimes led him to do mean things. That
these feelings did not necessarily justify his actions got lost in the
discussion.”169
George Lucas, creator and producer of the Star Wars series,
was asked in a Time magazine interview titled “The Theology of
Star Wars” how to access truth, the force. Lucas replied, “You’ll
notice Luke uses that quite a bit through the film—not to rely on
pure logic, not to rely on computers, but to rely on faith. That is
what ‘Use the force is,’ a leap of faith. There are mysteries and

165
Barna, Real Teens, 96.
166
Ibid.
167
Ibid.
168
Marvin Olasky, World (May 9, 1998): 30, emphasis added.
169
Hornstein, “The Question That We Should Be Asking,” 14.

93
powers larger than we are, and you must have to trust your
feelings in order to access them.”170 Is that what Mohamed Atta
did—trusted his feelings as he flew the plane into the tower?

Not Perspective, But Objective


We’re convinced that what nineteen men did to nearly 3,000
people on September 11 was evil. We’re confident that Hitler,
Stalin, and Osama bin Laden were not acting righteously when
they ordered the deaths of innocent Jews, Russians, and Americans
and other citizens—from dozens of countries—who died in the
World Trade Center attacks.
As Charles Sanders Pierce, founder of philosophical
pragmatism, said, “Every man is fully satisfied that there is such a
thing as truth, or he would not ask any question.”171 And every one
of us confirms the existence of objective truth—a truth that is
independent of our own opinions, ideas, beliefs, and
perspectives—nearly every time we speak or act. People could not
function or live very long if they consistently acted as if truth were
a matter of personal perspective, rather than one that is objective.
They would bounce checks because their bank account has money
“to them”; drink poison, which “to them” is lemonade; fall through
thin ice that is thick “to them”; or get hit by a bus that is not
moving “to them.” Thus, all of us not only sense that truth exists or
that there is an objective reality independent of our family
background, personal perspective, or cultural conditioning; we
acknowledge its existence daily.

170
Rogier Bos, “The Theology of Star Wars,” Time (April 26, 1999): 94, emphasis
added.
171
Charles Sanders Pierce, Collected Papers, vol. 5 (Reprint Services Corp., 1931),
211.

94
“But on occasion,” writes political analyst James Q. Wilson,
“a real, concrete case of a particular human being behaving in an
unmistakable manner intrudes and suddenly the moral ambiguity
of Americans disappears.”172 Can that be said of Mullah
Mohammed Omar and Mohamed Atta, of planes crashing into the
World Trade Center towers?
Writer Paul Kern observes:

The handful in intellectual circles who advocate the quaint


idea that there is no distinction between right and wrong
have the luxury of doing so only in the abstract, while
living and working among those of us who do espouse such
distinctions. Let them miss a paycheck, have their car
stolen or a daughter raped, and suddenly right and wrong
will come into a sharp relief. At that point it will not matter
to them where the idea of right and wrong came from, but
only that it exists, and the legal infrastructure is still
thankfully based upon this.173

What we crave, however, is a clear and simple grasp of the


truth. What truly distinguishes right from wrong? It is far more
than a philosophical question, and the answer is far more than
academic. If we fail to answer it accurately, we—and those we
love—will pay dearly for it.

172
Wilson, “Bookshelf: The 11th Commandment Seems to Be ‘Judge Not.’”
173
Paul Kerr, The Secular Christian (Carlsbad, Calif.: Hampton Press, 2001), 44.

95
Can We Cry Out for Justice?
In a speech following the terrorist attacks, President George W.
Bush stated, “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of
life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood
down enemies before, and we will do so this time.”174 In an
inspiring and heroic speech given on September 20, President Bush
stated, “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at
war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.”175 Over
and over President Bush repeated the theme of justice.
The idea of justice must be established on the foundation of
universal truth. If there is no such thing as universal truth, then
there can be no universal basis on which to determine right from
wrong in a pluralistic world where different countries, religions,
and cultures hold to different values. If we cannot determine a
system of universal right and wrong—and 78 percent of Americans
say there isn’t one—we cannot establish a universal code of
justice.176 If that is true, then with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and
Osama bin Laden, we are merely imposing our own personal view
of “American” justice, and it is not a universal “moral” justice or
cause.
Don Closson of Probe Ministries writes, “While (advocates of
the new tolerance) might refer to justice occasionally, it cannot be
the foundation of their movement. This is for the simple reason
that justice is not possible without objective truth. In order for
someone to say that actions or words (are unjust), they are

174
President George W. Bush, “Statement by the President in His Address to the
Nation,” White House Press Release (September 11, 2001);
<www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/print/20010911-16.html>.
175
Ibid.
176
Barna Research Group, “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11.”

96
assuming that a moral order (apart from one’s self or culture)
really does exist. Injustice implies that justice exists, justice
implies that moral laws exist, and laws imply that a law giver
exists.”177
Therefore, if we evaluate the killing of more than 3,000 at the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon according to a postmodern
grid, can we say what the terrorists did was morally wrong? Those
nineteen terrorists were products of their culture. They were simply
living out their beliefs, which young people are told are as equal as
and as valid as any other individual or culture. The terrorists’
convictions taught them it is just to punish the American infidels
for what wrongs they had done to their homeland or their faith.
They were just in killing thousands of civilians on September 11.
According to their faith, the terrorists were doing what was right,
moral, and just. Therefore, according to “America’s” morality,
how can we judge their actions since in their eyes they truly
believed they were right (i.e., all truth and values are personal,
cultural)?
Since the majority (78 percent) of Americans believe all truth
is relative and no one individual can determine right from wrong
for another person, can we say what the terrorists did was morally
wrong? Our correct response, then, should be not to seek justice
but to seek tolerance. Understand that these men were simply
living out their faith, which those who advocate “tolerance” say is
equal and valid to anyone else’s. If we truly believe what we say
about our values, then America does not have the right to seek
justice or the moral ground to ask countries to buy into our value

177
Closson, “Multiculturalism.”

97
system and join our cause. It is for pragmatic survival and not a
“moral-just” cause.
If a God does not exist, then the postmodernists are right:
There is no absolute truth. If there is no absolute truth, there can be
no universal moral code. If there is not a way to determine right or
wrong objectively, then a universal code of justice is impossible.
As a result, right and wrong will be determined by pragmatism:
what works best for you individually or for the greatest number of
people or by the philosophy “might makes right.”

98
3
The Truth of the Matter

It is wrong—demonstrably evil, in fact—to hijack an airplane and


use it as a flying bomb in order to kill as many men, women, and
children as possible—no matter how sincere, devoted, or
committed the hijackers might have been to their “truth.”
Understanding why it’s wrong is a matter of great importance, not
only for us as adults and for our society, but also for all those we
love. As Mark Hartwig, science and worldview editor for Focus on
the Family magazine, writes: “Truth exists, and . . . we are
obligated to heed it. There really is an objective world, created by
an all-powerful God. There really are objective moral laws,
established by that same God. And if we ignore those truths, our
make-believe world will one day come crashing down upon us,
1
and we will bewail our mistake for eternity.”
One person confessed, “If life were a game with nothing at
stake, perhaps I’d play along. But the stake is my eternal soul. And
that’s nothing to play with.”
I couldn’t agree more. The stakes are inexpressibly high—for
us, our children, our churches, our nation, and our world.

1
Mark Hartwig, “Tell Me the Truth!” Teachers in Focus, March 1999;
<www.family.org/cforum/teachersmag/firstwrites/a0004868.html>.

99
High Stakes
Coming to grips with moral truth—that is, understanding what
truly distinguishes right from wrong—is necessary if we hope to
establish any basis on which to condemn the horrors of the
Holocaust, the excesses of the Taliban, the evils of terrorism, and
the selfishness of the Columbine shootings or to prevent such evils
in the future. But the stakes involve not only those sometimes
distant threats; they also affect your home, school, church, and
community—and your loved ones who inhabit those places.
A number of years ago, with the cooperation of thirteen
evangelical church denominations, we conducted the most
extensive ever research of young people who attend church. Under
the expert direction of the Barna Research Group, a scientifically
designed process randomly selected youth groups from thousands
of churches throughout the United States and Canada. More than
3,700 young people were extensively and confidentially surveyed.
The participants were young men and women who are regularly
involved in church activity (Sunday school, worship, youth group,
Bible study) and who overwhelmingly identified their parents as
loving and their family experience as positive.2
The study—and the analysis it made possible—revealed a
startling correlation between what those young people believed
about moral truth and how they lived in relationship to others.

A Portrait of Confusion
The portrait that was revealed by the study showed that Christian
young people are ambivalent and confused regarding truth. An

2
Barna Research Group, “The Churched Youth Survey” (Dallas: Josh McDowell
Ministry, 1994), 4.

100
intense emotional, intellectual, and spiritual battle is raging within
them. A significant portion of our church youth—better than
half—acknowledged the existence of truth in certain circumstances
but then denied that view when the question was phrased
differently. For example, 72 percent said that the Bible provides a
clear and indisputable description of moral truth, yet only 44
percent asserted that humans are capable of grasping the meaning
of truth. Apparently, they recognized a relationship between God’s
Word and moral truth, but their answers to other questions
revealed a high level of confusion about that relationship.
Our survey included seven statements about objective
standards of truth and morality. The reactions to the statements
revealed that our young people are not at all sold on the biblical
view of right and wrong. For example, 57 percent could not even
say that an objective standard of truth exists; when the same
question was asked after September 11, 2001, that statistic jumped
to 68 percent.3 Though that percentage is not as high as among
unchurched youth (87 percent), it revealed that even if your
children are actively involved in church, they are likely to approve
the view that “there is no such thing as absolute truth; people may
define truth in contradictory ways and still be correct.”4
Only 15 percent of evangelical churched youth disagreed with
this statement: “What is right for one person in a given situation
might not be right for another person who encounters the same
situation.” In other words, 85 percent of evangelical churched kids
are likely to reason, “Just because it’s wrong for you doesn’t mean

3
Barna Research Group, “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11,” Barna
Research Online (November 26, 2001); <www.barna.org/cgi-
bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=102&Reference=B>.
4
Ibid.

101
it’s wrong for me.” Their idea of the distinction between right and
wrong is fluid, something that is subject to change, something that
is relative and personal—not constant and universal.5
A mere 29 percent disagreed with this statement: “When it
comes to matters of morals and ethics, truth means different things
to different people; no one can be absolutely positive they have the
truth.” This means that less than one in three of our youth believe
that recognizable standards of right and wrong apply to everyone.6
Just over one-third (38 percent) of our kids disagreed with this
statement: “Nothing can be known for certain except the things
that you experience in your life.” Such matters as morality and
ethics are up in the air for two-thirds of churched youth.7
Just under half (45 percent) of our Christian youth could not
disagree with this statement: “Everything in life is negotiable.” The
astounding implication of that statistic is that almost half of our
young people are unable or unwilling to recognize some things in
life as nonnegotiable [such as 9-11]. It’s unlikely, of course, that
they realize the devastating effects of such a view, but that’s part
of the whole problem.8
More worrisome than any single response, however, is the fact
that on a cumulative basis, only 9 percent of our churched youth
provided a “pro-truth” reply to each of the seven statements. In
other words, less than one in ten could articulate a cohesive,
consistent view of objective morality!9
As we examined our children’s views about truth and morality,
it became apparent that most of our Christian youth lack the most

5
Barna Research Group, “The Churched Youth Survey,” 55.
6
Ibid.
7
Ibid.
8
Ibid., 58.
9
Ibid.

102
basic moral perspectives that previous generations took for
granted. Many of our young people are struggling with the concept
of truth and how they are to apply it to their own lives and
experience when making moral choices. Their inconsistent
response to the above statements reveals that even when they
express a “pro-truth” position, they do so with little conviction or
assurance. Even our Christian kids are confused about what truth is
and who defines it; they are uncertain about what truths are
absolute and what makes them absolute.

Reactions to Statements about Absolute Truth


The following chart tallies the results of the 1994 Churched Youth
Survey conducted by the Barna Research Group for the Josh
McDowell Ministry:10

Statement Agree Disagree Not


Sure
What is right for one person in a 71% 15% 15%
given situation might not be right
for another person who encounters
that same situation.
When it comes to matters of morals 48% 29% 23%
and ethics, truth means different
things to different people; no one
can be absolutely positive they have
the truth.

10
Ibid., 55.

103
Nothing can be known for certain 39% 38% 23%
except the things that you
experience in your life.
God may know the meaning of truth, 31% 44% 25%
but humans are not capable of
grasping that knowledge.
There is no such thing as absolute 29% 43% 28%
truth; people may define truth in
contradictory ways and still be
correct.
Everything in life is negotiable. 23% 56% 22%
All Statements: Took a pro-truth 9% 91%
position.

In One Nation, After All Alan Wolfe concludes, “The idea that
this is a Christian nation, blessed by one particular God, no longer
describes the reality of the country’s religious belief.”11
To the surprise of many, the truth views of Americans have
radically been altered since September 11. George Barna, director
and founder of Barna Research, Inc., explains that one of the most
startling shifts culturally since September 11 has “been in people’s
views about moral truth. . . . Given the nature of the terrorists
attack, one might have expected Americans to become more
convinced of the presence of good and evil, and that there are
absolute moral principles that exist regardless of cultural realities
and personal preferences.”12

11
Alan Wolfe, One Nation, After All (New York: Viking Penguin, 1998), 319.
12
Barna Research Group, “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11.”

104
However, even to Barna’s surprise and expectations,
“Research showed exactly the opposite outcome.” The most recent
research, done in late 2001, shows:

Prior to the attacks, the most recent inquiry concerning


truth views was in January 2000, some 20 months prior to
the terrorist activity. At that time, people were asked if they
believed that “there are moral truths that are absolute,
meaning that those moral truths or principles do not change
according to the circumstances” or that “moral truth always
depends upon the situation, meaning that a person’s moral
and ethical decisions depend upon the circumstances.” At
the start of 2000, almost four out of ten adults (38 percent)
said that there are absolute moral truths that do not change
according to the circumstances. When the same question
was asked in the just-completed survey, the result was that
just two out of ten adults (22 percent) claimed to believe in
the existence of absolute moral truth.13

Now, those least likely to believe in absolute moral truth were


people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-six, and of those
only 13 percent embrace absolute moral truth. Of born-again,
evangelical Christians only 32 percent give any credence to
absolute moral truth.14
The most common source “of guidance regarding moral
decisions trusted by Americans are feelings (28 percent).” The

13
Ibid. The research was done in late October to early November 1, 2001, with a ± 3
percent factor of error; i.e., a 95 percent confidence level.
14
Ibid.

105
second most common source were “the lessons and values they
remember from their parents (14 percent).”15
An interesting finding of the study was that “when people were
further queried as to the source of the principles or standards on
which they base their moral and ethical decisions, the post–
September 11 survey discovered that only one out of eight adults—
just 13 percent—cited the Bible.”16

Truth Matters
As I’ve said, however, the consequence of this confusion is not
merely academic. It affects our kids, our families, our churches,
our schools, and our communities in many ways. The study
revealed to us that people’s view of truth intimately—and often
tragically—affects not only their lives but also the lives of those
around them. We Americans pride ourselves that we can’t be
prosecuted for our beliefs but only for our actions. (Right now in
light of 9-11, hundreds of Arab-Muslim descendants are being
retained and questioned because of their “beliefs.”) However, we
better wake up. Beliefs have consequences—both negative and
positive. For example, the study indicated that when our church
youth do not accept an objective standard of truth, they become

· 36 percent more likely to lie to their parents;


· 48 percent more likely to cheat on an exam;
· 200 percent more likely to try to physically hurt someone;
· 200 percent more likely to watch a pornographic film;
· 200 percent more likely to get drunk;

15
Ibid.
16
Ibid.

106
· 225 percent more likely to steal;
· 300 percent more likely to use illegal drugs;
· 600 percent more likely to attempt suicide!17

The study also revealed that young people who lack a strong
and cohesive groundwork for the moral principles that underlie
their behavior will be

· 65 percent more likely to mistrust people;


· 200 percent more likely to be disappointed;
· 200 percent more likely to be angry with life;
· 200 percent more likely to be lacking purpose;
· 200 percent more likely to be resentful!18

That same study indicated a correlation between young


people’s beliefs about moral truth and their sexual opinions and
behaviors. Youth who do not affirm the existence of absolute truth
are twice as likely to classify fondling of breasts (between
unmarried persons) as moral and three times as likely to regard
fondling of genitals (between unmarried persons) as morally
acceptable. And kids who do not accept truth as absolute are four
times as likely to approve premarital sexual intercourse as a
“moral” choice. The research indicates that possessing a conviction
regarding objective standards of truth and morality will double,
triple, even quadruple a young person’s chances of experiencing
purity and faithfulness in their dating and marital relationships.19
The study also suggested that convictions about truth provide a
network of roots for our children’s concepts of marriage and

17
Barna Research Group, “The Churched Youth Survey,” 57.
18
Ibid., 69.
19
Ibid., 5–7.

107
family. For example, those youth who have formed a strong pro-
truth view are more likely to say that God intended marriage to last
a lifetime. Conversely, kids who lack a pro-truth view are 65
percent more likely to accept divorce as an option, even when
children are involved. Youth who lack a pro-truth view are much
more accepting of cohabitation (unmarried couples living together)
and four-and-a-half times (450 percent) more likely to say that two
homosexuals—male or female—living together constitute a
legitimate family! In short, if a young person cannot evaluate
moral matters in an objective way, he or she is likely to see
marriage as an unnecessary (and usually negative) institution.
These young people will tend to view divorce as an appropriate
solution to marital difficulties, and they will be more likely to
regard “alternative” arrangements (such as cohabitation or
homosexual unions) as acceptable “family” settings.20
The study also reflected a relationship between the possession
of objective standards of truth and morality (beliefs) and spiritual
practices, such as regular church attendance and the spiritual
disciplines. If young people see truth as absolute and eternal, they
are 32 percent more likely to develop a daily habit of prayer and
more than twice as likely to read their Bible daily. Their
perspectives about truth also affect whether or not they make a
lasting personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Youth who have
formed a pro-truth view are 48 percent more likely to say that they
will go to heaven when they die because they have confessed their
sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.21
In short, the study suggests that young people’s views of moral
truth are influential in determining the choices they will make (for

20
Ibid., 15.
21
Ibid., 71.

108
example, whether they engage in premarital sex, whether they
cohabit or divorce, and whether they trust Christ for salvation,
among others) and in the attitudes they adopt (whether they will
claim to be mistrustful of others, disappointed, or resentful, among
others).

Beliefs Have Consequences


The obvious conclusion that children’s perspective of truth affects
their choices and lifestyles is cogently reflected in an extensive
study of American teenagers. The research data was for the 2000
“Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth,” a comprehensive
national survey on the ethics of young people. The study was
conducted by Michael Josephson, founder and president of the
Josephson Institute of Ethics and Character Counts Coalition.
Josephson called on political and educational leaders “to recognize
the vital importance of dealing with ‘shocking levels of moral
illiteracy.’” The survey results of 8,600 teenagers show that there
is “a hole in the moral ozone.” Josephson added that “being sure
that children can read is certainly essential, but it is no less
important that we deal with the alarming rate of cheating, lying,
and violence that threatens the very fabric of our society.”22
Here are a few highlights of the preliminary results of the
nationwide “Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth”:

22
“New Survey Reveals ‘Moral Illiteracy’ Problem That Needs to Be Addressed in
Educational Reforms,” Character Counts (October 16, 2000): 1.

109
· Cheating: 71 percent of all high school students admit they
cheated on an exam at least once in the past twelve months (45
percent said they did so two or more times).
· Lying: 92 percent lied to their parents in the past twelve
months (79 percent said they did so two or more times); 78
percent lied to a teacher (58 percent two or more times); more
than one in four (27 percent) said they would lie to get a job.
· Stealing: 40 percent of males and 30 percent of females say
they stole something from a store in the past twelve months.
· Drunk at school: Nearly one in six (16 percent) say they have
been drunk in school during the past year (9 percent said they
were drunk two or more times).
· Propensity toward violence: 68 percent say they hit someone
because they were angry in the past year (46 percent did so at
least twice), and nearly half (47 percent) said they could get a
gun if they wanted to (for males, 60 percent say they could get
a gun).23

The moral ambiguity expressed in these responses was


confirmed after extensive research on middle-class American
morality. Alan Wolfe concluded that “Americans do feel that they
have lost the distinction between right and wrong.”24

Without Truth, Moral Choices Are Random


After the extensive research on America’s values, George Barna
wrote out a definitive progression of truth once absolute truth is
denied by a culture:

23
Ibid.
24
Wolfe, One Nation, After All, 289.

110
If a person does not accept the existence of absolute moral
truth, then we will not get very far describing to them the
consequences of their sin. Why not? Because if there is no
absolute moral truth, then there can be no difference
between right and wrong. That then means there is no such
thing as sin, which implies that there cannot be judgment.
Without judgment there is no condemnation, and without
condemnation there is no need to be saved. Without a need
for salvation, Jesus becomes a good teacher who performed
some mighty works. But the eternal need for such a savior
is eliminated—simply because there is no absolute moral
truth.25

So many people don’t “connect the dots” between the belief


that “all truth is personal” and its implications in life. While
speaking to a group of parents in Texas, a youth pastor of a Baptist
church handed me a newspaper with a column that one of his
sixteen-year-old students wrote for her campus newspaper. He
identified her as one of his most spiritual students, and her parents
had been leaders in the church for years. The alarming issue with
her column on “What Is Truth” would be echoed by at least 68
percent of evangelical church youth.26 She writes: “What is truth?
Is it always the same? I don’t think so!! Truth changes constantly
with time. It always varies from person to person, and from the
different circumstances. What is true today will not be absolutely
true tomorrow. What was truth yesterday is not absolute truth
today; therefore there is no absolute truth.”27 According to this
25
Barna Research Group, “Third Millennium Teens” (Ventura, Calif.: Barna
Research Group, 1999), 64.
26
Barna Research Group, “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11.”
27
Article in a high school newspaper written by a student at First Baptist Church.

111
student’s perspective, legitimate truth varies with Timothy
McVeigh, Eric Harris, Osama bin Laden, and the Al-Qaeda.
Alan Wolfe’s research showed that “never have so many
people been so free of moral constraints as contemporary America.
. . . Now, for the first time in human history, significant numbers of
individuals believe that people should play a role in defining their
own morality.”28
You know, there is a moral majority in America, and it is “one
that wants to make up its own mind. . . . The old adage that
America is a free country has, at last, come true, for Americans
have come to accept the relevance of individual freedom, not only
in their economic and political life, but in their moral life as
well.”29 For nearly all Americans, “When a moral decision has to
be made, they look into themselves—at their own interests, desires,
needs, sensibilities, identities, and inclinations—before they
choose the right course of action.”30 Is this what Osama bin Laden
and Mohamed Atta did?
The culture’s desire to define “morality” to individual tastes
and inclinations is also reflected in a Wall Street Journal article
about how Americans are even “redefining” God to their own
desires.31
After years of studying American values and morality, author
Alan Wolfe acknowledged two complete surprises:

28
Alan Wolfe, Moral Freedom: The Impossible Idea That Defines the Way We Live
Now (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), 199.
29
Ibid.
30
Ibid., 195–96.
31
Lisa Miller, “Redefining God,” Wall Street Journal, 21 April 2000, W1.

112
1. Americans are unbelievably relativistic.
2. “What so many philosophers and theologians for so long
considered an impossible idea [individual moral freedom] has
become the everyday reality in which modern Americans
live.”32

Norman O. Brown, Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, and


Charles Reich—all moral relativists—must be ecstatic about the
unapologetic praise of moral freedom eschewed in America. It
would be interesting to see how each one would personally deal
with the moral choice of Osama bin Laden and Mohamed Atta on
September 11.
Alan Wolfe in Moral Freedom makes a very poignant
observation of many people’s consensus: “For if there are no
binding moral rules—if individuals are as free to drop or add their
moral beliefs with the same alacrity [cheerful readiness] with
which they can buy or sell stocks—then all social relations,
including those of free exchange, will be threatened.”33
Friedrich Hayek, one of the most noted theorists of economic
freedom in the twentieth century, says that “voluntary economic
exchange can exist only when morality is treated in a nonvoluntary
fashion. Our capacity to act rationally is dependent upon a morality
that evolves outside our cognitive control.”34
The discernment of a sound, defensible standard for objective
moral truth is as important as it is close to every one of us. But the
question remains: Where do we find that standard? What truly

32
Wolfe, Moral Freedom, 223.
33
Ibid., 201.
34
Friedrich A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1983), 156–66.

113
distinguishes right from wrong? If moral truth is not determined
by each person or each culture or by my parents’ values or my
school or even my church’s teachings, then where do I go?
Stephen L. Carter presents the problem this way in his book
The Culture of Disbelief: “The hypothesis that dropped objects
tend to fall to earth is a hypothesis about the natural world. If one
wants to test it according to the rules of natural science, one would
. . . set up an experiment that would yield one result if the
hypothesis were false, another if the hypothesis were true—
dropping lots of objects, say, and seeing whether they all fall to
earth. . . . The trouble with claims about moral knowledge is that
even today, more than two centuries after the Enlightenment, we
have no settled rules by which to try to determine their truth.”35
The majority of people today would tend to agree with Stephen
Carter. But unless we are willing to attribute righteousness to
terrorists and their sponsors, we must discover how to determine
the truth of “claims about moral knowledge,” as Carter puts it.36
We must discover our basis for attributing unrighteousness to the
terrorists. What we need is a way to discover—and convey—what
is right and what is wrong. What we need is an identifiable,
ultimate standard of truth, one that exists outside ourselves (i.e.,
objective) and above ourselves (i.e., universal) and beyond our
own place and time (i.e., constant).
It seems that without any prompting, we instinctively know that
certain things are morally wrong or morally right. There are certain
situations that we know are wrong: extermination of six million

35
Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief (New York: Basic Books, August
1993).
36
For an extensive treatment of the question “Is Truth Knowable?” see Josh
McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas
Nelson, 1999).

114
Jews, rape, child abuse, torture, genocide, or murdering more than
3,000 people in the World Trade Center towers, for example.
There are certain people whom we instinctively know have done
evil acts: Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Ted Kaczynski, Eric
Harris, Dylan Klebold, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, Idi
Amin, Jeffrey Dahmer, or David Berkowitz, for example.
Similarly, there are certain people we know have done good, moral
acts: Todd Beamer, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, Albert
Schweitzer, Helen Keller, Hudson Taylor, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Abraham Lincoln, and Louis Pasteur, for example.
Many find it hard to connect moral or immoral instinctiveness
with a personal creator God. To me there is a direct relationship
between a deep sense of morality and a personal God. The
connection is personhood, both God’s and ours.
Theologian Paul Copan writes:

If objective moral values exist, as even atheists like Kai


Nielsen [and others] believe, it seems plausible to argue
that a personal, transcendent, perfect God is the source of
and ground for morality. We resemble God—created as
valuable persons by a person Being, divinely endowed with
a conscience, with a capacity for morally significant
relationships, and with certain objectively correct moral
institutions. We are moral beings because we have been
created in the image of a moral God. Even those who don’t
believe in God possess an ingrained moral sense that
corresponds in some measure to God’s moral sense.
This explains how an atheist can know the content of
morality without acknowledging God’s existence. For
instance, we read in Amos 1 and 2 that God threatens

115
judgment on the neighbors of Judah and Israel. Why?
Because they have flagrantly violated an objective moral
law that they knew and should have obeyed. Syria treated
its enemies barbarously (1:3); Philistia, with utter
inhumanity, sold whole communities into slavery (1:6);
Tyre broke a pact and treated Edom treacherously (1:9).
The citizens of such nations should have known better.
In Romans 2:14-15, we read: “Indeed when Gentiles,
who do not have the law [of Moses], do by nature things
required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even
though they do not have the law, since they show that the
requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their
consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now
accusing, not even defending them.”
Scripture assumes that God has written this binding law
on the hearts of people. Although the awareness of these
objective standards is clouded by the Fall, a seared
conscience, and social decline, this doesn’t mean people
can’t form moral beliefs or act virtuously through God’s
common grace to all.37

9. “I Believe Something Is True If the Bible Tells


Me It Is So.”
Judging from the responses I get from my audiences, many people
believe that the ultimate source of right and wrong is the Bible. But
when I ask people why the Bible says lying (or stealing, or killing)

37
Paul Copan, True for You, But Not for Me: Deflating the Slogans That Leave
Christians Speechless” (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998), 65, footnote 8.

116
is wrong, they are usually baffled. The most common response is
a sheepish, “I don’t know.”
Now, don’t misunderstand. I acknowledge the Bible’s truth and
authority; I wholeheartedly testify that it is “full of living power. It
is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost
thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12). For generations, people
have found the answers to their moral and ethical questions in the
Bible.
But, if that’s as far as we can go in determining the rightness or
wrongness of things like the September 11 attacks on America,
we’re no better able to come to moral conclusions about Osama
bin Laden and his followers than the moral relativist who can pass
judgment on Hitler and the Holocaust. After all, each of the
terrorists on those four fateful flights of September 11 believed that
he was following the dictates of “Holy Scripture.” As a matter of
fact, each man believed that his sacred writings not only justified,
not only permitted, but dictated the murderous actions. We may
choose to follow the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as
our map of morality, but many who cheered rather than mourned
the events of September 11—Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda
network, for example—claim to follow a different scriptural map
of their own.

God Said It; That Settles It


Some people, like a confident teacher at the Christian educators’
convention, assert confidently that what makes right “right” and
wrong “wrong” is not simply that “the Bible tells me so” but
because “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

117
In other words, it’s not the Bible itself that delineates
right from wrong but the words, the declarations, of God.
Bible-believing Christians affirm—as do many who are only
nominally Christian—that when God speaks, he establishes
moral truth.
But, once again, what do we make of the fact that Mohamed
Atta and the other pilots and hijackers who caused the devastation
of September 11 believed that they were obeying the words and
will of Allah? Mohamed Atta, in a letter apparently written to the
terrorist teams the night before the attacks, urged his comrades to
take courage from the words of God: “As God says, strike above
the necks and strike from everywhere . . . and then you will know
all the heavens are decorated in the best way to meet you.”38 The
apparent ringleader of the terrorists seemed to sincerely believe,
“Allah said it; that settles it.”

The True Standard


In the town of Sevres, a suburb of Paris, is the headquarters of the
International Bureau of Weights and Measures, an organization
that standardizes units of measure. The bureau establishes
standards for metric measurements and ensures a reliable standard
for physical measurements around the world.
If I wanted to obtain the most precise measurement possible, I
would refer to the standard they maintain. If I wanted to be
absolutely certain that the millimeter divisions on my ruler are
accurate, I would compare them against the bureau’s standards. If I
wanted to know whether the bottle of Diet Mountain Dew in my

38
Lenny Savino, “Suspect’s Letter Gives Hijackers Instructions,” The Akron
Beacon-Journal, 29 September 2001.

118
refrigerator contained exactly two liters of liquid, I could check it
against the bureau’s measurements.
Now, suppose you and I had a dispute about a length of wood I
had cut for you. I measured it and told you it was one meter long;
you measured it with your own meter stick and pronounced that it
was less than one meter. How could we determine who was right?
We could appeal to the standard; an objective and universal
standard has been determined in Sevres, France. To determine the
validity of our individual measurements, we need only refer to the
original.
That is just what we need. We need to be convinced that a
standard exists for settling claims about moral knowledge, a
standard for right and wrong, a standard that exists outside, above,
and beyond ourselves. Webster’s dictionary defines truth as
“fidelity to an original or to a standard.” When we try to discern
right from wrong, when we try to determine moral truth, we must
do the same thing we do when we measure meters. We must ask,
How does it compare to the original? The next logical question is,
of course, what—or who—is the original?

God on the Stage


Back in the days of Julius Caesar, the Roman poet and playwright
Horace criticized the laziness of many playwrights of his day. He
strongly criticized those writers who, every time a problem
occurred in the plot of their play, brought in one of the many
Roman gods to solve it. Horace instructed, “Do not bring a god on

119
to the stage unless the problem is one that deserves a god to solve
it.”39
The challenge of distinguishing right from wrong is one that
deserves—in fact, demands—a God to solve it. It is impossible to
arrive at an objective, universal, and constant standard of truth and
morality without bringing God onto the stage. If an objective
standard of truth and morality exists, it cannot be the product of the
human mind (or it will not be objective); it must be the product of
another Mind. If a constant and unchanging truth exists, it must
reach beyond human time lines (or it would not be constant); it
must be eternal. If a universal rule of right and wrong exists, it
must transcend individual experience (or it will not be universal); it
must be above us all (universal). Yet, absolute truth must be
something—or Someone—that is common to all humanity, to all
Creation.
Those things—those requirements for a standard of truth and
morality—are found only in one person: God. God is the source of
all truth. As Moses said, “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: . . . a
God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he”
(Deuteronomy 32:4, KJV). You see, it is God’s nature and character
that defines truth. He defines what is right for all people, for all
times, in all places. But truth is not something he decides; it is
something he is.
The basis of everything we call moral, the source of every good
thing, is the eternal God who is outside us, above us, and beyond
us. The apostle James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from
above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who
does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NIV). The

39
Horace, Horace’s Satires and Epistles, trans. Jacob Fuchs (New York: W. W.
Norton, 1977), 89.

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reason some things are right and some things are wrong is
because there exists a Creator, Yahweh God, and he is a righteous
God.
The reason we think that there are such things as “fair” and
“unfair” is because our Maker is a just God.
The reason love is a virtue and hatred a vice is because the God
who formed us is a God of love.
The reason honesty is right and deceit is wrong is because God
is true.
The reason chastity is moral and promiscuity is immoral is
because God is pure.
Thus, it is futile to measure right and wrong by our own ideas
instead of by God’s character. It’s not a matter of conditioning or
consensus. It doesn’t matter what I think or what you think. It is
only—and always—who God is that makes a thing morally right or
wrong. It is God and God alone who determines absolute truth.
Truth is objective because God exists outside ourselves. Truth is
universal because God is above all. Truth is constant because God
is eternal. Absolute truth is absolute because it originates from the
original.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, God reveals himself as the
source of absolute truth. He disclosed himself to Noah as a
righteous God who rewards righteousness and punishes
wickedness. He proved himself to Abraham as a trustworthy God
who keeps promises. He showed himself to David as a God of
mercy. And through Jesus Christ, God proved supremely that he
was a personal God of transcending love.
The revelation of God—in the Bible, in the Incarnation, and
sometimes even through his body, the church—reveals him as the
fountain of truth, the origin of morality.

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The Ten Commandments, which were given by God to Moses
on Mount Sinai, represent the most famous codification of absolute
truth in the history of humanity. But it’s important to recognize
that God didn’t just invent the Ten Commandments because he
was all alone on a secluded mountain with nothing else to do or
because he just had a sudden urge to write. The Ten
Commandments were given not only to the newborn nation of
Israel but to all humanity to reveal God’s nature and help them
enjoy the benefits of moral behavior.
God commanded the Israelites to worship only him because he
knew the truth: “The gods of other nations are merely idols, but the
Lord made the heavens!” (Psalm 96:5). He instructed his people
not to murder because he is the author, preserver, and governor of
life (see Acts 3:15). He forbade lying because he is a God of truth,
“and he cannot lie” (Titus 1:2).
The commandments of God are given to provide us practical
knowledge of the character and nature of God and instructions for
living in relationship to him. His precepts point to his nature and in
turn point to truth that is true for all people, for all times, in all
places. The laws he gives flow out of who he is.
It is my desire as a father not to take my children to the
commandments of the Scriptures to discern right from wrong, good
from evil, but to take them to the God of the Bible. Every
commandment in the Bible is a direct reflection of the person,
character, and nature of God himself. As a result, children (and
adults) can respond to moral issues out of a personal relationship
with their Creator and not just the codification of morality.

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Precept
Your first days in school may have been occupied with such
mathematical concepts as 1+1=2, 2+2=4, and so on. Those were
your “baby steps” in mathematics. Your five- or six-year-old mind
may have been proud of your newfound ability to understand such
quantities. Little did you know, of course, that you were not
dealing in quantities; you were learning to express quantities
through the use of numbers.
Similarly, few people realize that learning the precepts—the
rules, regulations, codes, and requirements of Scripture—is but the
first step in understanding basic morality. God said, “You shall not
murder,” “You shall not covet,” and even, “Do not curse the deaf
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind” (Exodus 20:13, 17;
Leviticus 19:14, NIV). He issued specific commands, like a parent
telling a child not to touch the hot stove, in order to provide
concrete boundaries for human conduct.
But the precepts of the Lord not only serve as a long list of do’s
and don’ts that define right and wrong in explicit terms; they also
point to larger moral principles. The Bible tells us that the law
leads us by the hand, like a child going to school, to learn deeper
lessons.
The apostle Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, “The Law
has become our tutor [literally, child-conductor] to lead us to
Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24, NASB). In
the Greek-speaking world of Paul’s day, there was a type of
household servant called the paidagogos (the root of our word
pedagogue). He was in charge of the child’s moral welfare; it was
his duty to oversee the child’s character development. One of his
responsibilities was also to take the child to school each day. He

123
was not the child’s teacher, but he was responsible to see that the
child was, in fact, under the teacher’s care.
Paul borrows this picture from the culture of his day and says,
in effect, that the law has the same function. The commandments
and precepts of Scripture are designed not only to say “Do this”
and “Don’t do that” but also to lead us beyond the precepts to a
universal principle (one that applies to everyone) and, ultimately,
to the God who expresses himself through precepts.

Principle
If all of God’s commands are the first step toward knowing him
and distinguishing right from wrong, principles are the
intermediate step on the stairway leading us from precepts to the
person of God.
God began his revelation of right and wrong with a single
command: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil” (Genesis 2:17, NIV). In giving it, he also warned his
creation, “If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die” (NLT).
Therefore he established the most basic principle governing human
conduct: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Behind each specific command or precept, God gives us a
principle. A principle is a norm or standard that may be applied to
more than one type of situation. Principles express the fundamental
truth on which a precept is based; they help explain the why behind
a command. For example, a concern for safety is one of the
principles behind a mother’s command for her children to look
both ways before they cross the street. Reverence for life is the
principle behind the command “You shall not kill.” A principle

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behind the command “You shall not give false testimony” is
honesty.
God’s commands—his precepts—point to universal moral
principles, which, in turn, spring from the very person of God
himself.

Person
Nearly twenty centuries ago a high government official trained in
politics and the law asked a question that has echoed all the way
into the latter years of the twentieth century. The official’s name
was Pontius Pilate; he stood in his elaborate palace, bedecked in
his regal clothes, and asked, “What is truth?”
Ironically, Pilate was not just discussing the truth in his
Jerusalem palace the day he met Jesus; he was literally looking at
it. Truth was standing before him, clothed in human flesh! Jesus
Christ, “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” who
said of himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” is the
very embodiment and essence of absolute truth itself (John 1:14;
14:6, NIV).
You see, absolute truth is far more than a concept; it is a
person. Absolute truth isn’t so much something we believe as it is
someone we relate to. Absolute truth has flesh. And, thus, truth is
not just conceptual; it is intrinsically relational.
To know what we believe about God’s precepts (and even the
principles of truth that lie behind those precepts) and not know the
person from whom they derive is worthless. Too many times we
focus on God’s law and never see its extensions—what it teaches
us about the character of God. The ultimate purpose of God in
every precept is to bring people to the knowledge of himself.

125
Moses, who received the law on Mount Sinai, apparently
understood this progression of precept-principle-person. The Bible
says that after God spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks
with his friend,” Moses prayed, “If you are pleased with me, teach
me your ways so I may know you” (Exodus 33:11,13, NIV,
emphasis added). Moses recognized that learning God’s ways—
understanding his precepts and the principles behind them—would
acquaint him with the person of God himself.
Many Bible readers are tempted to skip over the chapters in
Exodus and Leviticus that detail thousands of regulations
concerning dress, food preparation and consumption, construction
of the tabernacle, the forms of worship, and so on. Altars and
acacia wood and cubits and blended fabrics seem totally irrelevant
to us. But such prescriptions, instructions, and codes reveal the
character of God. The purpose of those laws was to give Israel a
lesson in purity, separating good from bad, clean from unclean.
The principle behind the law—purity of life—flowed from the
character of God himself. Specific laws prohibiting mixing threads
in the same garment or hitching different types of animals to the
same yoke were tangible lessons in the character of God. His
commands were intended not only to benefit his people but also to
help them understand what he is like, that he is a God who did not
tolerate sin. Their obedience to those laws was to point them to the
perfect model of God’s holiness.
God’s law is not an end in itself. Some of his commands were
illustrative, others were practical, but all were—and are—an
expression of his character. King David acknowledged,
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

126
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous. (Psalm 19:7-9, NIV)

Note carefully the words David used to describe God’s law:


perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure, and righteous. Why
do you think the law possesses those qualities? Because they are
qualities that belong to the Lawgiver, God himself. You see,
ultimately, moral authority does not reside in the commands; it
resides in God. The truth would not cease being true if the law
were to disappear from the face of the earth; the truth would not
cease being true if there were no humans to discern the principle—
because the truth resides in the person of God himself, who is
eternal.
The only reliable measure of truth and morality, of right and
wrong, is the nature and character of God himself. His truth, which
flows out of the nature of God into his laws, is right for all people,
for all times, in all places.40
This is why I propose the following formula or steps to help
people make right, moral choices that reflect the very nature of
God and his love for his creation:

40
For a more complete development of this thesis, see Josh McDowell and Bob
Hostetler, Right from Wrong (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994).

127
1. Consider the choice.
2. Compare it to God.
3. Commit to God’s way.
4. Count on his blessings.

But that’s not all there is to that. There is still a problem—a big
problem—we must confront.

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4
The Door to the Truth

On September 11, 2001, a young man rose before sunrise and


slowly, methodically, washed and dressed before turning to prayer.
He prayed every day about this time, and today was no different.
He knew that many people—millions, even—didn’t pray every
day, and some never prayed at all. But he didn’t understand those
people. He couldn’t imagine a day without prayer, any more than
he could imagine a life without Allah.
Sometimes standing, sometimes kneeling, he poured out his
prayers and petitions, frequently using the words of the holy book,
as familiar to him as his own name.
“Glory be to my Lord, the greatest!” he said, adding a moment
later, “Our Lord is worthy of all praise. Glory be to my Lord, the
highest!”
He finished his impassioned praying in a seated position, as he
always did, praying that Allah would accept his prayer and forgive
him, his parents, and all believers. He rose from his time of prayer
feeling confident that Allah had heard him and would provide
strength for the battle that lay ahead of him.
He finished packing his bags for his early morning flight just as
his friend, who had slept in the hotel room next to his, knocked on
the door. Before answering the door, he checked the pocket of his
carry-on bag; the box-cutter knife was there. He opened the door,
greeted his friend in Arabic, and they went together to meet the

129
other three members of their party, who were waiting in a rental
car for the ride to the airport.
In just a few more hours they would be on the last flight of
their lives, a flight they would hijack and, if Allah gave them
strength as they had each prayed that morning, fly into a building
with tons of fuel, killing thousands of men, women, and children.
I stated in the last chapter that the only reliable measure of
truth and morality, of right and wrong, is the nature and character
of God himself; his nature and character defines what is right (or
wrong) for all people, for all times, and in all places.
But, as we are reminded by the paragraphs above, which
imagines a scene that might have happened in the early morning
hours of September 11, 2001, the nineteen men who attacked
America that day were all religious men. Judging from all we’ve
heard and read, they were fervent believers in Allah. Many—if not
all—of them most likely prayed five times a day. And there’s
every indication that they believed they were doing Allah’s will.
For example, we need only to compare the statements made by
President George W. Bush and the Al-Qaeda mastermind, Osama
bin Laden, to see that each man not only believed in God but
believed that his words and actions were a reflection of God’s
moral truth.
President Bush, in his September 20 address before a joint
session of Congress, said: “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty,
have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral
between them. Fellow citizens, we’ll meet violence with patient
justice, assured of the rightness of our cause and confident of the

130
victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us
wisdom and may he watch over the United States of America.”1
Just over two weeks later, Osama bin Laden made a videotaped
statement that was aired on nearly every major news network in
the world the day American troops initiated air strikes against
Taliban and Al-Qaeda strongholds. Osama bin Laden said:

I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that


Muhammad is his messenger.
There is America, hit by God in one of its softest spots.
Its greatest buildings were destroyed, thank God for that.
There is America, full of fear from its north to its south,
from its west to its east. Thank God for that.
When God blessed one of the groups of Islam,
vanguards of Islam, they destroyed America. I pray to God
to elevate their status and bless them. . . .
These events have divided the whole world into two
sides: the side of believers and the side of infidels, may
God keep you away from them. Every Muslim has to rush
to make his religion victorious. The winds of faith have
come. The winds of change have come to eradicate
oppression from the island of Muhammad, peace be upon
him.
To America, I say only a few words to it and its people.
I swear by God, who has elevated the skies without pillars,
neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of
security before we live it in Palestine, and not before all the

1
Address to Joint Session of Congress, September 20, 2001;
<www.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/>, emphasis added.

131
infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad, peace be
upon him.
God is great, may pride be with Islam. May peace and
God’s mercy be upon you.2

Both statements—that of President Bush and that of Osama bin


Laden—refer to God as the standard of righteousness, the
“original” against which human actions and attitudes must be
compared. And yet each beseeches God for protection from—and
justice against—the other.
Who’s right? Saying that God is the only objective, universal,
and constant standard of truth still leaves one question
unanswered: Who is God? In our quest for a “final appeal to judge
between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict,”
have we come to the point theologian and apologist Francis
Schaeffer predicted, where we “are merely left with conflicting
opinions,” only this time about who is God and is he the absolute
standard of good and evil?3
I believe the only way to determine who God is, is by a careful,
open-minded consideration of the evidence.
John W. Montgomery, former professor of law and humanities
at the University of Luton, England, says, “Without an objective
criterion, one is at a loss to make a meaningful choice among a
prioris” (that is, claims based on presuppositions).4 When faced

2
Osama bin Laden, videotaped remarks translated from Arabic in The (Akron)
Beacon-Journal, 8 October 2001.
3
Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H.
Revell, 1976), 145.
4
John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards
Brothers, 1962), 141.

132
with such competing claims, the careful observer must weigh the
claims according to the evidence for each.
For example, if I were to claim that the moon is made of green
cheese and if you claimed that it is comprised largely of rocks and
dust, how would we make a meaningful choice? We would, quite
naturally, seek objective criteria. You might call NASA and corral
the evidence supporting your view; I might assemble as many story
books and nursery rhymes as possible to support my claim. In the
end, you might not convince me, but there would probably be
enough evidence to sway most open-minded people.
Now, I’ve chosen a rather lighthearted example, of course, but
the task of differentiating right from wrong based on the absolute
person of God—the God whose nature and character define truth—
is not much different. The only way to arrive at a meaningful
conclusion on the subject is by investigation. The only way to
proceed beyond the a priori assumptions, say, of President Bush
and Osama bin Laden is to weigh the evidence for those two
contrasting visions of God.
The central question, then, is this: Has the one true God, who is
the source of the universe, the Creator of all, revealed himself?
And if so, how? where? in what way? In order to come to any
meaningful conclusions about right and wrong, good and evil, we
must—now more than ever—examine the evidences for the
reliability of the Bible and the veracity of its claims about Christ’s
being the Son of the one true God.
Anyone who does that can well discover that the claims of
Christ are uniquely refutable—or verifiable—because they are
based on facts of history that are clearly recognizable by and
accessible to everyone. If Christianity were merely a philosophy or
a system of ethical teachings, it would be different; even Jesus

133
Christ’s teachings—great as they are—are not the centerpiece of
the Christian faith. Similarly, it would be a totally different matter
if Christianity posited a set of “spiritual truths” alone. If, for
example, Christianity relied on a “mystical” revelation or a
“spiritual” resurrection, it would be irrelevant and impossible to
examine any “objective criterion” for its validity.
But Christianity, D. E. Jenkins would say, “is based on
indisputable facts.”5 Many of the contrasting visions of God that
exist in the world today rely on an external following of the truth—
obeying commands, chanting mantras, or channeling positive
energy—to achieve some level of being, increased consciousness,
goodness, or heaven. By contrast, Christianity does not revolve
around a list of rules or spiritual practices but around a core of
verifiable—or refutable—historical facts about a person and his
claims to be God:

· Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin and lived on earth as a


man.
· Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and performed miracles as
signs to buttress his claim.
· Jesus was crucified, suffering a cruel death as payment for
human sin.
· Jesus rose from the dead and appeared alive to more than five
hundred eyewitnesses.
· Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives.

As Clark Pinnock, professor of systematic theology at


McMaster Divinity College, asserts, “The facts backing the

5
J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (Downers Grove, Ill.:
InterVarsity Press, 1970), 10.

134
Christian claim are not a special kind of religious fact. They are
the cognitive, informational facts upon which all historical, legal,
and ordinary decisions are based.”6

One Man’s Quest for Truth


As I discovered when I set out as a young man to refute
Christianity and the Bible, those facts can be investigated—and
verified. And those facts, those objective criteria, represent our
best hope for coming to a meaningful conclusion about right and
wrong, good and evil, as they point us to God and his Son, Jesus,
whose nature and character define truth.
Thomas Aquinas wrote, “There is within every soul a thirst for
happiness and meaning.” As a teenager, I exemplified that
statement. I wanted to be happy and to find meaning for my life. I
wanted the answers to three basic questions: Who am I? Why am I
here? Where am I going? These are life’s tough questions. I would
estimate that 90 percent of people age forty and younger cannot
answer those three questions. But I was thirsty to know what life
was about. So as a young student, I started looking for answers.
Where I was brought up, everyone seemed to be religious. I
thought maybe I would find my answers in being religious, so I
started attending church. I got into it 150 percent. I went to church
morning, afternoon, and evening. But I guess I got into the wrong
one because I felt worse inside church than I did outside. About the
only thing I got out of my religious experience was seventy-five
cents a week. I would put a quarter into the offering plate and take
out a dollar so I could buy a milkshake! I was brought up on a farm
in Michigan, and most farmers are very practical. My dad, who

6
Clark H. Pinnock, Set Forth Your Case (Nutley, N.J.: The Craig Press, 1967), 6–7.

135
was a farmer, taught me, “If something doesn’t work, chuck it.”
So I chucked religion.
Then I thought that education might have the answers to my
quest for happiness and meaning. So I enrolled in the university.
What a disappointment! You can find a lot of things in the
university, but enrolling there to find truth and meaning in life is
virtually a lost cause.
I was by far the most unpopular student among the faculty of
the first university I attended. I used to buttonhole professors in
their offices, seeking the answers to my questions. When they saw
me coming, they would turn out the lights, pull down the shades,
and lock the door so they wouldn’t have to talk to me. I soon
realized that the university didn’t have the answers I was seeking.
Faculty members and my fellow students had just as many
problems, frustrations, and unanswered questions about life as I
did. A few years ago I saw a student walking around campus with
a sign on his back: “Don’t follow me, I’m lost.” That was how
everyone in the university seemed to me. Education was not the
answer.
Prestige must be the way to go, I decided. It just seemed right
to find a noble cause, give yourself to it, and become well known.
The people with the most prestige in the university were the
student leaders, who also controlled the purse strings. So I ran for
various student offices and got elected. It was great to know
everyone on campus, make important decisions, and spend the
university’s money doing what I wanted to do. But the thrill soon
wore off like everything else I had tried.
Every Monday morning I woke with a headache because of the
night before. My attitude was, Here we go again, another five
boring days. Happiness for me revolved around my three party

136
nights: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Then the whole boring
cycle started over again. I felt so frustrated, even desperate. My
goal was to find my identity and purpose in life. But everything I
tried left me empty, without answers.
About that time I noticed a small group of people on campus—
eight students and two faculty members—and there was something
different about them. They seemed to know where they were going
in life. And they had a quality I deeply admire in people:
conviction. There is a certain dynamic in the lives of people with
deep convictions, and I enjoy that dynamic.
But there was something more about this group that caught my
attention. It was love. These students and professors not only loved
each other, they also loved and cared for people outside their
group. They didn’t just talk about love; they got involved in loving
others. It was something totally foreign to me, and I wanted it. So I
decided to make friends with this group of people.
About two weeks later I was sitting at a table in the student
union, talking with some members of this group. Soon the
conversation got around to the topic of God. I was pretty insecure
about this subject, so I put on a big front to cover it up. I leaned
back in my chair, acting as if I couldn’t care less. “Christianity,
ha!” I blustered. “That’s for the weaklings, not the intellectuals.”
Down deep, I really wanted what they had. But with my pride and
my position in the university, I didn’t want them to know that I
wanted what they had. Then I turned to one of the young women in
the group and said, “Tell me, what changed your lives? Why are
you so different from the other students and faculty?”
She looked me straight in the eye and said two words I never
expected to hear in an intelligent discussion on a university
campus: “Jesus Christ.”

137
“Jesus Christ?” I snapped. “Don’t give me that kind of
garbage. I’m fed up with religion, the Bible, and the church.”
She quickly shot back, “Mister, I didn’t say ‘religion.’ I said
‘Jesus Christ.’”
Taken aback by the woman’s courage, conviction, and
forthrightness, I apologized for my attitude. “But I’m sick and tired
of religion and religious people,” I added. “I don’t want anything
to do with it.”
Then my new friends issued a challenge I couldn’t believe.
They challenged me, a pre-law student, to examine intellectually
the truth claim that Jesus Christ is God’s Son. I thought it was a
joke. These Christians were so dumb. How could something as
flimsy as Christianity stand up to an intellectual examination? So I
scoffed at their challenge.
But they didn’t let up. They kept challenging me day after day,
and finally they backed me into the corner. I became so irritated at
their insistence that I finally accepted their challenge, not to prove
anything, but to refute them. I decided to write a book that would
make an intellectual joke of Christianity. So I left the university
and traveled throughout the United States and Europe to seek the
evidence that Christianity was a sham.
One day I was sitting in a library in London, England, and I
sensed a voice within me say, “Josh, you don’t have a leg to stand
on.” I immediately suppressed it. But just about every day after
that I heard that inner voice. The more I researched, the more I
heard that voice. I returned to the United States and to the
university, but I couldn’t sleep at night. I would go to bed at ten
o’clock and lie awake until four in the morning trying to refute the
overwhelming evidence of the three pillars of the Christian faith:

138
1. Jesus Christ is God’s Son.
2. The Bible is God’s personal revelation and is accurate and
trustworthy.
3. The resurrection of Christ on the third day was a true historic
fact.

I began to realize that I was being intellectually dishonest. My


mind told me that the claims about Christ, the Bible and the
Resurrection were indeed true, but my will was being pulled
another direction.7 I had placed so much emphasis on finding the
truth that I wasn’t willing to follow it once I saw it. I had sensed
Christ’s personal challenge to me in Revelation 3:20: “Here I am! I
stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens
the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (NIV).
But becoming a Christian seemed so ego-shattering to me. I
couldn’t think of a faster way to ruin all my good times.
I knew I had to resolve this inner conflict because it was
driving me crazy. I had always considered myself an open-minded
person, so I decided to put Christ’s claims to the supreme test. One
night at home in Union City, Michigan, at the end of my second
year at the university, I became a Christian. Someone may say,
“How do you know you became a Christian?” I was there! I got
alone with a Christian friend, and I prayed four things in response
to God’s invitation for me to trust him. In doing that, I established
my relationship with God.
First, I said, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for
me.” I realized that if I were the only person on earth, Christ would

7
Part of the investigation that eventually influenced my personal decision to trust
Jesus as the Savior and Lord is described in The New Evidence That Demands a
Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999).

139
have still died for me. You may think it was the irrefutable
intellectual evidence that brought me to Christ. No, the evidence
was only God’s way of getting his foot in the door of my life, of
getting my attention. After being convinced that Jesus is God’s
Son, that the Bible is true and trustworthy, and that the
Resurrection actually happened, what brought me to Christ was the
realization that he loved me enough to die for me.
Second, I said, “I confess that I am a sinner.” No one had to tell
me that. I knew I was doing things that were incompatible with a
holy, just, righteous God. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us
from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV). So I said, “Lord,
forgive me.”
Third, I said, “Right now, in the best way I know how, I open
the door of my life, and I place my trust in you as Savior and Lord.
Take over the control of my life. Change me from the inside out.
Make me the type of person you created me to be.”
The last thing I prayed was, “Thank you for coming into my
life.”
After I prayed, nothing happened. There was no bolt of
lightning. I didn’t sprout angel’s wings. If anything, I actually felt
worse after I prayed, almost physically sick. I was afraid I had
made an emotional decision I would later regret intellectually. But
more than that, I was afraid of what my friends would say when
they found out. I really felt I had gone off the deep end.
But over the next eighteen months, my entire life changed. One
of the biggest changes occurred in how I viewed people. At the
university I had mapped out the next twenty-five years of my life.
My ultimate goal was to become governor of Michigan. I planned
to accomplish my goal by using people in order to climb the ladder

140
of political success because I figured people were to be used. But
after I placed my trust in Christ, my thinking changed. Instead of
using others to serve me, I wanted to be used to serve others.
Becoming other-centered instead of self-centered was a dramatic
change in my life.
Another area that started to change was my bad temper. I used
to blow my stack if somebody just looked at me wrong. I still have
the scars from almost killing a man during my first year in the
university. My bad temper was so ingrained that I didn’t
consciously seek to change it. Then one day I was faced with a
crisis that ordinarily would have set me off, but my bad temper
was gone. I’m not perfect in this area, but the change in my life has
been significant and dramatic.
Perhaps the most significant change has been in the area of
hatred and bitterness. I grew up filled with hatred, primarily aimed
at one man whom I hated more than anyone else on the face of the
earth. I despised everything that this man stood for. I can
remember as a young boy lying in bed at night plotting how I
could kill this man without being caught by the police. That man
was my father.
When I was growing up, my father was the town drunk. I
hardly ever knew him sober. My friends at school joked about my
dad’s lying in the gutter downtown, making a fool of himself.
Their jokes hurt me deeply, but I never let anyone know. I laughed
along with them. It was a very secret pain.
I would sometimes find my mother in the barn, lying in the
manure behind the cows, where my dad had beaten her with a hose
until she couldn’t get up. My hatred seethed as I vowed to myself,
“When I am strong enough, I’m going to kill him.” When Dad was
drunk and visitors were coming over, I would grab him around the

141
neck, pull him out to the barn, and tie him up. Then I would park
his truck behind the silo and tell everyone he had gone to a
meeting so we wouldn’t be embarrassed as a family. When I tied
up his hands and feet, I looped part of the rope around his neck. I
just hoped he would try to get away and choke himself.
Two months before I graduated from high school, I walked into
the house after a date to hear my mother sobbing. I ran into her
room, and she sat up in bed. “Son, your father has broken my
heart,” she said. Then she put her arms around me and pulled me
close. “I have lost the will to live. All I want to do is live until you
graduate, then I want to die.”
I graduated two months later, and the next Friday my mother
died. I believe she died of a broken heart. I hated my father for
that. Had I not left home a few months after the funeral to attend
college, I might have killed him.
But after I made a decision to place my trust in Jesus as Savior
and Lord, the love of God inundated my life. God took my hatred
for my father and turned it upside down. Five months after
becoming a Christian, I found myself looking my dad right in the
eye and saying, “Dad, I love you.” I did not want to love that man,
but I did. God’s love had changed my heart.
After I transferred to Wheaton College, I was in a serious car
accident, the victim of a drunk driver. I was moved home from the
hospital to recover, and my father came to see me. Remarkably, he
was sober that day. He seemed uneasy, pacing in my room. Then
he blurted out, “How can you love a father like me?”
I said, “Dad, six months ago I hated you; I despised you. But I
have put my trust in Jesus Christ, received God’s forgiveness, and
he has changed my life. I can’t explain it all, Dad, but God has
taken away my hatred for you and replaced it with love.”

142
We talked for nearly an hour, then he said, “Son, if God can
do in my life what I’ve seen him do in yours, then I want to give
him the opportunity.” He prayed, “God, if you’re really God and
Jesus died on the cross to forgive me for what I’ve done to my
family, I need you. If Jesus can do in my life what I’ve seen him
do in the life of my son, then I want to trust him as Savior and
Lord.” Hearing my dad pray that prayer from his heart was one of
the greatest joys of my life.
After I trusted Christ, my life was basically changed in six to
eighteen months. But my father’s life was changed right before my
eyes. It was as if someone reached down and switched on a light
inside him. He touched alcohol only once after that. He got the
drink as far as his lips, and that was it—after forty years of
drinking! He didn’t need it anymore. Fourteen months later, he
died from complications of his alcoholism. But in that fourteen-
month period, more than a hundred people in the area around my
tiny hometown committed their lives to Jesus Christ because of the
change they saw in the town drunk, my dad.
You can laugh at Christianity. You can mock and ridicule it.
But it works. If you personally trust Christ, start watching your
attitudes and actions because Jesus Christ is in the business of
changing lives.
But Christianity is not something to be shoved down your
throat or forced on you. You have your life to live, and I have
mine. All I can do is tell you what I have learned and experienced.
After that, what you do with Christ is your decision.
Here are four principles that clearly explain the gospel message
and the truth of what God has done through his Son, Jesus Christ,
for every human being.

143
1. God loves you personally and created you to know him
personally. While the Bible is filled with assurances of God’s
love, perhaps the most telling verse is John 3:16: “For God so
loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV).
God not only loves each of us enough to give his only Son for
us, but he also desires that we come to know him personally: “Now
this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and
Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NIV).
What, then, prevents us from knowing God personally?

2. Men and women are sinful and separated from God, so we


cannot know him personally or experience his love. We were all
created to have fellowship with God; but because of our stubborn
self-will, we chose to go our own independent way, and fellowship
with God was broken. This self-will, characterized by an attitude
of active rebellion or passive indifference, is evidence of what the
Bible calls sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God” (Romans 3:23, NIV).
The Bible also tells us that “the wages of sin is death,” or
spiritual separation from God (Romans 6:23, NIV). When we are in
this state, a great gulf separates us from God because he cannot
tolerate sin. People often try to bridge the gulf by doing good
works or devoting themselves to religious practices, but the Bible
clearly teaches that there is only one way to bridge this gulf.

3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin; through


him alone we can know God personally and experience his
love. God’s Word records three important facts to verify this
principle:

144
1. Jesus Christ died in our place: “But God demonstrates his
own love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ
died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).
2. Jesus Christ rose from the dead: “Christ died for our sins, . . .
he was buried, . . . he was raised on the third day according to
the Scriptures, and . . . he appeared to Peter and then to the
Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred” (1
Corinthians 15:3-6, NIV).
3. He is our only way to God: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me”
(John 14:6).

Thus, God has taken the loving initiative to bridge the gulf that
separates us from him by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on
the cross in our place to pay the penalty for our sin. But it is not
enough just to know these truths.

4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and


Lord; then we can know God personally and experience his
love.The Gospel of John reminds us: “To all who received him, to
those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become
children of God” (John 1:12, NIV).
What does it mean to “receive Christ”? The Scriptures tell us
that we receive Christ through faith, not through “good works” or
religious endeavors: “For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).
We’re also told that receiving Christ means to personally invite
him into our lives. Jesus says, “Look! Here I stand at the door and
knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in,
and we will share a meal as friends” (Revelation 3:20).

145
Thus, receiving Christ involves turning to God from self and
trusting Christ to come into our lives to forgive our sins and to
make us the kind of people he wants us to be.
If you are not sure whether you have ever committed your life
to Jesus Christ, I encourage you to do so today!
Perhaps the prayer similar to what I prayed would help you:
“Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for me.
Forgive me and cleanse me. Right this moment I trust you as
Savior and Lord. Make me the type of person you created me to
be. In Christ’s name, amen.”
If this prayer expresses the desire of your heart, why not pray it
now? If you mean it sincerely, Jesus Christ will come into your
life, just as he promised in Revelation 3:20. He keeps his promises!
Write this key promise indelibly in your mind: “And this is
what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is
in his Son. So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not
have his Son does not have life. I write this to you who believe in
the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1
John 5:11-13, emphasis added).
That’s right. The man or woman who personally receives
Christ as Savior and Lord is assured of everlasting life with him in
heaven. And he or she will also discover that a relationship with
Jesus Christ gives life purpose and meaning.
For years I searched for the answer to the question, What will
bring happiness and meaning to my life? Who or what can answer
my questions about truth? Is there a God? Is he personal? Can I
know him? How can I know right from wrong, good from evil? I
thought I would find the answer in organized religion, education,
and prestige, but I always ended up disappointed and unfulfilled.
Ultimately, I discovered that the answer could only be found in the

146
Lord Jesus Christ. I trust that you will begin the journey to make
this discovery of truth in your own life.
And if today the truth became clear to you and you made the
decision to trust Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, let me be the
first to welcome you into the family of God! I heartily encourage
you to attend and participate in a church where the Lord Jesus
Christ is glorified, where the Holy Bible is honored and taught in a
practical way, and where believers love, encourage, and pray for
one another. Study God’s Word regularly, and apply it to your
daily life. Share his love with your family, friends, and neighbors.
And remember, when you received Christ by faith, as an act of
your will, many wonderful things happened:
1. Christ came into your life (Revelation 3:20; Colossians 1:27).
2. Your sins were forgiven (Colossians 1:14).
3. You became a child of God (John 1:12).
4. You received eternal life (John 5:24).
5. You began the great adventure for which God created you
(John 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We Need More Thomases


I’m convinced we need more Thomases in the world today. You
may remember Thomas as the “doubting” disciple. But I don’t
quite agree with those who suggest that Thomas did something
wrong when he insisted on seeing the evidence of Jesus’
resurrection. When he first heard reports that Jesus was alive,
Thomas responded, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds
in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the
wound in his side” (John 20:25).

147
Thomas wanted verification. He wanted to see the evidence
before he committed to that belief. Eight days later Jesus honored
Thomas’s request, appearing to him and the other disciples in the
midst of a locked room. Jesus showed Thomas his hands, saying,
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your hand into the
wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John
20:27). And Thomas acknowledged, “My Lord and my God” (John
20:27).
The Bible itself repeatedly invites examination. The apostle
John, who was there when Thomas saw the risen Christ, recorded
that event and added, “Jesus’ disciples saw him do many other
miraculous signs besides the ones recorded in this book. But these
are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the
Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life” (John
20:30-31). In other words, John recorded some of the evidences
that showed Jesus Christ to be the Son of the one true God so that
we, like Thomas, could put faithlessness behind us and believe the
objective truth with conviction.
Let me suggest several excellent books that can help you to
“check out” Jesus: The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict and
He Walked among Us (Josh D. McDowell); A Case for Faith and A
Case for Jesus (Lee Stroebel); Jesus (Ravi Zacharias); Scaling the
Secular City (J .P. Moreland); Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth
and Apologetics (William Lane Craig).
I believe we need today, more than ever, people who are
willing to conduct a careful, open-minded consideration of the
evidence. In many ways, the future of the church and even the
world depends on it. I believe such a willingness is crucial to the
survival of international law and order, justice, and peace. I believe
that without a certain and credible understanding of right and

148
wrong, good and evil, more and more of our fellow human beings
will suffer at the hands of evildoers, as we lose the consensus—and
the resolve—to oppose and resist evil.
That’s why I have partnered with many others to launch a ten-
year campaign we call Beyond Belief. It’s a multifaceted series of
events and resources designed to help us—and our young people—
move beyond mere belief . . . to convictions. I’m excited about
exposing both adults and young people to the evidences for the
Christian faith in new ways, ways that appeal not only to the head
but also to the heart. I call this new approach a “relational
apologetic”—rock-solid reasons to believe and a biblical blueprint
for living out those beliefs in relationship with others. I can’t think
of anything more needed in this age of moral confusion and
spiritual indecision.
This campaign is a critical answer to that urgent need. The key
book in that campaign—Beyond Belief to Convictions—gives us a
clear plan for grounding our youth in a solid relationship with
Christ and for unlocking the answers to the fundamental questions
of life itself: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? When
our kids embrace the Person of Truth, they will be fortified
spiritually, morally, and emotionally to stand strong in the face of
today’s culture.

149
APPENDIX

Is It Right for a Christian to Judge?

Many people say that it is not right for Christians to judge others.
After all, Jesus told his disciples, “Do not judge, or you too will be
judged” (Matthew 7:1, NIV). Taking Matthew 7:1 by itself, isolated
from the rest of Matthew’s Gospel (not to mention the rest of the
Bible), there is little doubt that Christians should not judge others.
But Matthew 7:1 is not an isolated passage of Scripture
unrelated to the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew 7:1 is part of
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). Rudolf
Schnackenburg, internationally recognized New Testament
scholar, provides a good direction, and a good caution, as we seek
to interpret this passage of Scripture: “With sayings of Jesus, we
must interpret them in his spirit, according to his intention. Thus
the Sermon on the Mount cannot be treated as an isolated
document; rather, one must take into account Jesus’ entire
proclamation and his own behavior. . . . We must attempt to
approach as nearly as possible Jesus’ original intention. Only then
will we not run the risk of imputing our own thoughts and wishes
to Jesus.”1
Unless we interpret Jesus’ prohibition against judging within
the original context in which we find it written, we will invariably
see Jesus’ words through our own preconceived beliefs. Instead,

1
Rudolf Schnackenburg, All Things Are Possible to Believers: Reflections on the
Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount, trans. James S. Currie (Louisville,
Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1995), 8.

150
we want to understand Jesus’ intention when he gave those
words, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. After we understand
Jesus’ words as he intended them, then we can apply his words in
our own culture and lives.

Immediate Context
The central topic of the Sermon on the Mount is God’s kingdom.2
John the Baptist proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom (Matthew
3:2), as did Jesus (Matthew 4:17). Jesus went everywhere
proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23). The
Sermon on the Mount begins with a statement about those who
enter the kingdom (Matthew 5:3). The kingdom is mentioned
explicitly throughout the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3, 10,
19; 6:10, 33; 7:21).
Given the immediate context, it is important that the entire
Sermon on the Mount or any portion of the Sermon on the Mount
be interpreted in accordance with Jesus’ kingdom message. Jesus is
not proclaiming a universal ethic that applies to all of humanity.3

2
D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: With the New
International Version of the Holy Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank Ely
Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 127. While the
term kingdom of God does not occur in Matthew’s Gospel until Matthew 12:28
and Matthew’s preferred term for the kingdom is the kingdom of heaven, there is
little doubt that a reference to the kingdom is a reference to God’s rule. There is
little reason to see a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of
heaven in Matthew, especially given the synoptic passages that use the “kingdom
of God” in place of the “kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 5:3, 10, among
others).
3
R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and
Commentary, ed. Leon Morris, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 106. “The Sermon thus makes no claim to
present an ethic for all men; indeed much of it would make no sense as a

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Instead, Jesus is providing instructions and guidelines that apply
to life in a kingdom context. Given the fact that Jesus is
proclaiming to people that are in various stages of relationship to
the kingdom (the crowd knows little about Jesus, his teachings, and
the kingdom of God), the Sermon on the Mount will proclaim
different messages to individuals with whom Jesus is speaking. To
some, they must prepare for the coming judgment unless they take
to heart the warnings that Jesus proclaims, for the kingdom of God
is ready to appear. To those who are contemplating Jesus and his
teachings, they must have the right attitude of submission to God
and openness to Jesus and his message. They must also pursue a
right relationship with those around them or be rejected from the
kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount describes true discipleship.4
God has an ethical code that is binding upon all those under his
rule.
Some may respond by saying that the kingdom of God is not
here on earth at this present time. After all, they say, where are the
blessings of the kingdom? Certainly the Old Testament
presentation of God’s kingdom is a more glorious time than we are
experiencing today. While it is true that the Old Testament
promises of the kingdom are more glorious than we experience
now, that does not mean that some aspects of God’s rule as
promised in the Old Testament are not currently in effect. The
King, Jesus Christ, has arrived. The King has and is calling
individuals to submit to his sovereign authority over their lives.
While not all the Old Testament promises are yet fulfilled, the

universal code. It is not concerned with ethics in general, but with discipleship,
with man in his obedience and devotion to God, not with a pattern for society.”
4
Ibid. France states well the theme of the Sermon on the Mount: “It deals with the
character, duties, attitudes, and dangers of the Christian disciple. It is a manifesto
setting out the nature of life in the kingdom of heaven.”

152
kingdom has come near in the person of the King. When the King
returns, the rule that has already begun will be completely visible,
worldwide, and in complete fulfillment of the Old Testament
promises.
What Jesus announced in the Sermon on the Mount is the ethic
that he expects his disciples to follow. This ethic must still be in
force since Jesus gave clear instruction to his disciples that they
were to teach others to obey everything he commanded them
(Matthew 28:20).5 It appears that the gospel message and the
gospel of the kingdom must be the same message since Paul and
other disciples proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 8:12;
14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). The main differences between the
statements found in the Sermon on the Mount and the later New
Testament writings concern timing; the Sermon on the Mount was
written before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Truths proclaimed by
the writers of the later New Testament, such as the indwelling of
the Holy Spirit and freedom from the law, are not present in the
Sermon on the Mount. Unless the chronological element is
acknowledged correctly, it is likely that the interpreter will do one
of two things: (1) dismiss the differences between the Sermon on
the Mount and the later New Testament teachings, or (2) dismiss
the Sermon on the Mount as not applicable to the life of the New
Testament church. The proper approach is to acknowledge the
importance of the Sermon on the Mount for the present age and yet
make allowance for the chronological development that occurred
following Jesus’ death and resurrection.

5
Ulrich Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew, ed. James D. G. Dunn, trans.
J. Bradford Robinson, New Testament Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995), 43. Luz suggests that the command in Matthew 28:20
refers primarily to the Sermon on the Mount.

153
Given the kingdom message in the Sermon on the Mount,
Matthew 7:1-6 must be interpreted in the context of Jesus’
kingdom message. To reduce Jesus’ teaching on judgment to a
universal ethic will undoubtedly distort the interpretation of Jesus’
words.

Exegesis of Matthew 7:1-6

Matthew 7:1-2—“Do Not Judge”


Jesus begins his instruction about judging by giving a strong
prohibition against it. In fact, the prohibition is an absolute
prohibition—Jesus’ disciples are not to judge at all.6 Robert
Gundry, professor of New Testament and Greek at Westmont
College, explains that Jesus “does not merely prohibit habitual
judging, as though occasional judging meets no disapproval.”
Jesus’ words “carry the force ‘Stop judging’ or ‘Don’t ever
judge.’”7
Jesus “leaves no room for harmonization attempts.”8 He makes
a strong prohibition. We must not soften the prohibition by
claiming that the prohibition is only against unfair judgment.9 (But

6
Georg Strecker, The Sermon on the Mount: An Exegetical Commentary, trans. O.
C. Dean Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988), 143.
7
Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church
under Persecution, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 120.
8
Strecker, The Sermon on the Mount, 143.
9
Contrary to Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, ed. David A. Hubbard, Glenn W.
Barker, and Ralph P. Martin, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33A (Dallas:
Word, 1993), 168–70. Hagner explains that “the meaning here, accordingly, is
that unfair or uncharitable judgments should be avoided.” He makes this assertion
based upon the following information: “The command mē krínete, lit. ‘do not
judge,’ should not be taken as a prohibition of all judging or discerning of right
and wrong, since elsewhere in Matthew’s record of the teaching of Jesus—indeed,
already in v. 6—the making of such judgments by disciples is presupposed (see

154
see the conclusions below, where we will see that judgment in
certain forms and in certain situations is necessary.) Also, there is
nothing in the immediate context to indicate that Jesus is only
describing the need to refrain from private judgment, without
prohibiting communal judgment.10 The prohibition against judging
refers to all of Jesus’ disciples, regardless of whether they are
acting alone or as a group.
The Greek verb krinō (“to judge”) can be used to describe
anything from the expression of an opinion to the exacting of
punishment.11 Where in that spectrum do the words of Jesus fit?
The parallel statement in Luke 6:37 provides a clue: “Do not judge,
and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be
condemned.”12 The imperative katadikázete (“condemn”) is

7:15-20; 10:11-15; 16:6, 12; 18:17-18). Furthermore, v. 2a assumes the making of


fair or charitable judgments and does not entail the avoidance of judgments
altogether.” While we will ultimately agree with Hagner’s conclusion that Jesus is
advocating proper judgment, we do not want to overturn the seriousness of the
prohibition through the qualifying phrase “unfairly.” First, who would ever think
they are judging unfairly? Unfair judgment is strengthened by community
pressure to judge, and so even the most unfair judgment becomes the accepted
(and expected) community standard. (We may think of the community pressure
that strengthened the Nazi persecution of the Jews, as well as the harsh judgments
in many legalistic churches.) Instead, it appears that Jesus provides a strong
prohibition that must be heeded, while expecting his disciples to carry out proper
judgment as needed (see, for example, 7:3-5 and 7:6). Another example where
both the strong prohibition against judging and the need to judge fit together is
Paul’s instruction in Romans 14. Second, we do not want to soften the prohibition
against judging because of the eschatological overtones of the prohibition.
10
Contrary to Gundry, Matthew, 120.
11
S.v. “krínō” in Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and
Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
2000), 567–69.
12
There are differences between Matthew 7:1-6 and Luke 6:37-42. Our appeal to
Luke is not to claim that Matthew and Luke are identical or even that they have
the same perspectives throughout these two parallel sections (they do not have the
same perspectives in all details). Luke has his theological perspective when he
writes about Jesus, as does Matthew. Neither Gospel is the key to unlocking the

155
parallel to and further explains the imperative krínete (“judge”).13
Jesus forbade condemnatory judgment, which was quick to
pronounce another guilty and eager to hand down a sentence.14
That Jesus is forbidding condemnatory judgment finds support
in Matthew’s Gospel, as well. The Sermon on the Mount addresses
issues of the kingdom of God. Since the kingdom is ready to
appear now that the King is present, the end-times judgments that
were proclaimed in the Old Testament and throughout the
intertestamental Jewish literature are ready to appear as well. The
God who will judge his people and the world is ready to begin his
reign. Jesus calls God’s people to be ready when God’s judgment
begins. Since God will make his judgment, for God’s people to
pronounce judgment is to usurp God’s role.15 Jesus did not come
on earth to establish an authoritative ruling body—he came to
establish God’s rule on earth.
Jesus not only forbade the act of condemning, but the life-
perspective that accompanies it. Present imperatives (such as “Do

meaning of the other Gospel. But we can use the Lukan parallel to lend weight to
an interpretation that appears to be present in Matthew, based on information that
is available in Matthew.
13
E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, ed. Matthew Black, 2d ed., New Century Bible
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 116; I. Howard Marshall, The
Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, ed. I. Howard Marshall and
W. Ward Gasque, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 266.
14
S.v. “katadikázō” in Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 516.
15
See Marius Reiser, Jesus and Judgment: The Eschatological Proclamation in Its
Jewish Context, trans. Linda M. Maloney (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 264.
Reiser, quoting Luz, explains that the prohibition against judging must take into
account the eschatological context—because of the proximity of the kingdom of
God, judgment must cease. Reiser also suggests that Luke 6:37 provides the same
perspective.

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not judge”) often prohibit an attitude that becomes a lifestyle.16
The picture, then, is that of a malicious person who continually
seeks opportunities to condemn others and hold them in a perpetual
state of guilt. Ultimately, such a person presumes to determine who
can and cannot be forgiven by God and thus usurps his rightful
position as Judge. In light of the above, we might say that the
prohibition “Do not judge” is a call to exercise mercy, but without
abandoning our moral sensibilities.

(c) God’s Judgment


If we judge wrongly, who will judge us? The passive verbs kríthēte
(“you will be judged”; v. 1), krithēsesthe (“you will be judged”; v.
2) and metrēthēsetai (“it will be measured” v. 2) strongly suggest
that God is the agent of judgment.17 Clear examples of the so-
called “divine passive” are found earlier in the Sermon on the
Mount.18 The passive verbs paraklēthēsontai (“they shall be
comforted”; 5:4), khortasthēsontai (“they shall be filled”; 5:6), and
eleēthēsontai (“they shall receive mercy”; 5:7) imply that God is
the agent. Later in the Sermon we read that God will forgive those

16
See, for example, Matthew 6:25; 10:28; 24:6; Mark 13:11, 21; 16:6; Luke 12:29;
John 5:28, 45; 10:37; 14:1; 20:27; Acts 10:15; 20:10; Romans 11:18; 12:16. On
the use of the present imperative with mh, to describe the prohibition of creating
a habit or lifestyle, see Richard A. Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek: A
Linguistic and Exegetical Approach (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994),
143.
17
France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 142; Gundry, Matthew, 120–21. The
divine passive not only fits the context of 7:1-6 and the Gospel as a whole, but
judgment is predominantly linked to divine retribution in the synoptics. This is
consistent with later Jewish literature, where the “measure for measure” proverb
referred to divine retribution (cf., e.g., m. Sotah 1:7).
18
For a brief discussion of the divine passive, see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek
Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 437–38. See also the excursus in Reiser, Jesus and
Judgment, 266–73.

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who forgive (6:14-15), so it is natural to assume that God will
also judge those who judge. The divine passive best fits the overall
context of Matthew, as well as the solemn tone of 7:1-6.19
A divine agent of judgment means that all judgment is
measured by a standard that transcends us. We are to exercise
judgment according to divine principle rather than personal
preference if we aspire to judge legitimately. If the standard we
apply in judging others is not consistent with the standard God
uses in judging us, we are using a faulty scale.

(d) Extra-Biblical Judgment Statements


Statements about judgment are not restricted to the Bible.
Extrabiblical Jewish writings contain warnings and instructions
about judgment as well. Hillel was a prominent Jewish teacher
who lived between 60 B.C. and A.D. 20.20 The Mishnah (written
about A.D. 200) reports Hillel as making the following statement
about judgment: “And do not judge your fellow until you are in his
place” (m. Avot 2:4).21 One difference between Hillel’s statement
and Jesus’ statement is that Hillel’s instruction does not indicate
God’s role as divine agent. While Hillel provides a prohibition
against judging, he is not opposed to judging. In the very next
verse he makes a judgment about a number of individuals, most
notably about the Am haarez (the “people of the land,” the

19
Carson, “Matthew,” 183.
20
James H. Charlesworth, “Hillel and Jesus: Why Comparisons Are Important,” in
Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders, ed.
James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 4.
21
Mishnah numbering and translation is from Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New
Translation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988). The Mishnah
naming conventions follow Patrick H. Alexander and others, The SBL Handbook
of Style: For Ancient near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies
(Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999).

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common Jewish people). It is reported of Hillel that “he would
say, (1) ‘A coarse person will never fear sin, (2) nor will an Am
haares ever be pious, (3) nor will a shy person learn, (4) nor will
an intolerant person teach, (5) nor will anyone too busy in business
get wise’” (m. Avot 2:5). This attitude against the Am haares is not
restricted to Hillel. The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day also
maintained a judgmental attitude against the common Jewish
people since the common person was not as skilled in the law as
were the Jewish leaders. See, for example, John 7:49, where the
Jewish leaders appeal to the ignorance of the people as an
argument that they are easily swayed to believe in Jesus: “No! But
this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on
them.”22 It is against statements like this that Jesus’ prohibition
against judging is most clearly directed. Ironically it was the
“ignorant” common people who recognized Jesus as the Messiah,
while the self-righteous Jewish leaders did not.

Matthew 7:3-5—“Remove the Beam, Remove the Speck”


That Jesus wanted to emphasize the absurdity of hypocritical
judgment is evidenced by the fact that he referred to the speck and
beam three times.23 Jesus was amazed by a person’s ability to spot
the tiniest speck in another’s eye, all the while oblivious to the

22
For other examples and further discussion of Jewish judgment statements, see D.
Flusser, “Hillel and Jesus: Two Ways of Self-Awareness,” in Hillel and Jesus, 83;
Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 169.
23
The phrase kai idou, in the second reference makes the point of hypocrisy even
more emphatic. See Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 169. The force of the phrase becomes
something like: “How can you say . . . when extraordinarily there is a beam . . .”
See Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 468. s.v. “idou.”

159
beam hanging from one’s own face.24 The beam to which Jesus
referred was no mere stake or plank. The term dókos (“beam”)
refers to a heavy construction beam such as that used to build a
roof.25 Jesus’ humorous point is solemnly clear: If the hypocritical
judge is a self-proclaimed expert in spotting the tiniest flaws in
others, then he should have no problem identifying the glaring
faults of his own. Of course, this assumes that such a person is
unaware of those faults. By including this illustration, it appears
that “Jesus is not directing disciples never to judge others but
stressing that their first responsibility is to purify themselves. They
have not been called to be moral or theological watchdogs over
others.”26
In giving this example, Jesus gives allowance for pointing out
the moral failures in others.27 It is not wrong to rebuke a brother
for sin.28 The problem arises when a person tries to rebuke others
but has the larger sin of self-righteousness. “Self-righteousness
makes the rebuke a hypocritical ‘act’ of showiness instead of a
genuine attempt to ensure the well-being of the sinning brother.”29
The word hupókrita (“hypocrite”) is derived from Greek theatrical

24
Kárphos referred to a particle of straw, chaff, wood, etc., and was later used to
describe anything minute. See Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament, 510–11.
25
S. v. “dókos” in James H. Moulton and George Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek
Testament (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997), 168.
26
David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on
the First Gospel, ed. Charles H. Talbert, Reading the New Testament Series (New
York: Crossroad, 1993), 85. Garland appeals to an apparent chiasm in 7:3-5 to
identify the main issue of these verses as the imperative of personal purification.
27
Such moral failures need not be glaring. The term kárphos in Matthew 7:3-5
represents the smallest of moral defects. See W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison,
The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, International Critical Commentary, 3
vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 1:671.
28
Gundry, Matthew, 122.
29
Ibid.

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terms that mean to “play a part.”30 Hypocrites pretend to be
something they are not; to portray one thing on the outside, while
being another on the inside (cf. the Pharisees in Matthew 6:2, 5,
16; 23:25, 27). That Jesus identified some of his hearers as
hypocritical judges implies that some form of deception was
involved in their judgment. In other words, they knew what they
were doing and were therefore without excuse.31
Proper judgment requires honest assessment, and honest
assessment requires accurate appraisal. That is why Jesus said
concerning the one who judges, “First take the plank out of your
own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from
your brother’s eye” (7:3, NIV, emphasis added). Once the beam is
removed and one can see clearly to make an accurate appraisal,
Jesus implies that he is quite free to address the problem with his
brother. This suggests that it is not wrong to judge, but rather it is
wrong to judge while hypocritically overlooking one’s own sin.
If a person can spot the speck in another’s eye, it indicates that
the person can see (blépeis). But if that same person removes the
beam in his own eye, he can then see clearly (diablépeis).32 This
has two significant implications. First, rightly identifying and
addressing our own faults makes us more charitable. Second, when
we judge more charitably, we are inclined to judge without a

30
S. v. “hupókritēs” in Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1038.
31
Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 139. Hagner explains that “the word hupókritēs in
Hellenistic Greek commonly meant ‘actor,’ i.e., one who performs in front of
others, pretending to be something he or she is not. In the NT it is used
consistently in a negative sense. Matthew captures the duplicity inherent in
hypocrisy when he juxtaposes the word with the quotation of Isa 29:13, ‘this
people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me?’ (15:8).”
32
S. v. “diablépō” in J. P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, 2d ed., 2 vols. (New York: United
Bible Societies, 1989), 1:281.

161
personal bias and thus more accurately. That is, we are more
likely to measure others according to divine principle rather than
personal preference.

Matthew 7:6—“Do Not Give Dogs What Is Sacred”


Matthew 7:6 provides a qualification to the prohibition against
judging in 7:1.33 “Whereas 7:1-5 totally prohibits condemning
others, 7:6 sets limits where discretion and discernment are
necessary.”34 Just as a person should not improperly condemn
another, he or she should not become lax in applying moral
discernment.35 The metaphor of “dogs” and “pigs” stands for those
who vigorously reject the truth of the gospel.36 We must learn to

33
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount we find black-and-white declarations
qualified by a seemingly contradictory statement. The statements are close
enough together that it is taken for granted the reader will make the implicit
connection, thus arriving at a balance between the two statements. This literary
balancing (known as parataxis) is common in contexts employing hyperbole and
overstatement, both of which are prevalent in Matthew 7:1-6. See G. B. Caird,
The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) 117–21.
34
Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding
(Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982), 353. Carson explains that “disciples exhorted to love
their enemies (5:43-47) and not to judge (v. 1) might fail to consider the subtleties
of the argument and become undiscerning simpletons. This verse guards against
such a possibility.” Carson, “Matthew,” 185.
35
The need for discernment and proper judgment is not a trivial matter, for the
“sacred” that is not to be cast to the “dogs” is the gospel of the kingdom. See
Carson, “Matthew,” 185; Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 171.
36
See Carson, “Matthew,” 185. Carson states that “the ‘pigs’ are not only unclean
animals but wild and vicious, capable of savage action against a person. ‘Dogs’
must not be thought of as household pets: in the Scriptures they are normally
wild, associated with what is unclean, despised. . . . The two animals serve
together as a picture of what is vicious, unclean, and abominable (cf. 2 Peter
2:22).” While Carson’s portrayal of dogs is accurate in this passage and Scripture
in general, this is not to say that dogs were never household pets in antiquity. For
a brief discussion and sources describing dogs as household pets, see Gerd
Theissen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic
Tradition, trans. Linda M. Maloney (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 62. To the

162
distinguish between those who walk in truth and those who
defiantly reject it. Failure to rightly discern in this area leads to the
incorrect notion that all people are alike, and it risks subjecting
God’s standards to unnecessary mockery. In other words, the
dignity of the message we preach depends on our ability to handle
the tension between avoiding improper judgment and rightly
discerning the moral character of our culture and the people in it.

Judgment Elsewhere in Matthew


Other places in Matthew’s Gospel indicate that Jesus sees the need
for his disciples to judge others. The table below offers examples
of judgment in Matthew:

Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus commands his disciples to make a


judgment about individuals who claim to
be God’s prophets.
Matthew 10:11-15 When Jesus sent his disciples on an
evangelistic mission, he instructed them to
make a judgment about the households in
the towns.
Matthew 16:6-12 Jesus tells his disciples to make a judgment
about the teachings of the Pharisees and
Sadducees and to beware of their teaching.
Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus instructed his disciples to take

Jews the dogs and pigs are Gentiles. But to Jesus’ disciples these terms would
take on different meanings, especially once the Gentile ministry began. For the
disciples, dogs and pigs refer to unbelievers, regardless if they are Jews or
Gentiles. For further discussion, see Gundry, Matthew, 123; Strecker, The Sermon
on the Mount, 146–47.

163
appropriate action when a disciple is
involved in sin. In order to carry out this
action, it is necessary to determine what
constitutes sin.

Judgment in the New Testament


Many places in the New Testament describe situations in which
making a judgment is presupposed, required, or discussed. Below
is a representative list of passages from various parts of the New
Testament.

John 7:24 Jesus tells the Jewish leaders to “stop judging


by mere appearances, and make a right
judgment” (NIV). Jesus did not forbid the act
of judging but rather insisted that it be
exercised without hypocrisy, based on
reality, and grounded in spiritual
discernment.
Acts 5:1-10 Peter makes a judgment against Ananias and
Sapphira.
Romans 2:1 Paul says we condemn ourselves if we pass
judgment on another for doing the same
things we do ourselves. Condemnation
results from judging hypocritically.
Romans 14 While Paul forbids believers to judge one
another concerning matters of Christian
liberty, he also exhorts believers to make
informed choices. This passage shows how
the prohibition against judgment and the

164
admonition to judge can exist
simultaneously.
1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul commanded the Corinthian church to
make a judgment concerning the sinning
believer.
Galatians 1:8-9 Paul makes a strong judgment against those
who distort the gospel message and asks the
Galatians to do the same.
Philippians 3:2 Paul instructs the Philippians to watch out for
evil men.
2 Thessalonians Paul instructs the Thessalonians to take
3:14 special note of undisciplined meddlers and
to avoid associating with them.
2 Timothy 3:1-9 Paul describes the wickedness of certain
people and instructs Timothy to have
nothing to do with them.
2 Timothy 4:2, Paul tells Timothy that his proclamation of
14-15 God’s Word must involve reproof. Paul
makes an implicit judgment in vv. 14-15,
where he identifies Alexander the
metalworker as being opposed to the gospel.
James 4:11 James 4:11 provides a prohibition against
judging that is very similar to Matthew 7:1.
It may, in fact, be dependent upon Jesus’
words given in the Sermon on the Mount.
2 Peter 3:16-17 Peter describes individuals who are ignorant
and unstable, and who distort the Scriptures
to their own destruction. These individuals

165
scoff at the Lord’s return and the coming
judgment.
1 John 4:1-3 John instructs the church to test whether a
prophet is true or false.
3 John 1:9-11 John addresses the pride and gossip of
Diotrephes and says that he will confront
Diotrephes when he arrives.
Jude Jude warns the church that there are godless,
immoral men who have slipped into the
church unawares. The church is to contend
for the faith and not allow such men to
corrupt the church with false teachings and
wicked practices.

Conclusion
It is possible to do a right thing the wrong way. Judging is one of
those things. When Jesus’ words “do not judge” are placed in their
proper context and compared with the teaching of the Bible as a
whole, it becomes clear that judging is quite permissible. What is
prohibited is judging the wrong way. We are not to judge
according to our own preferences, for it is God who ultimately
judges us all. We are to uphold his standards. We are not to judge
while hypocritically overlooking our own sins but to assess others
and ourselves with honesty. We are to see things as they really are.
We are not to become dull in our moral discernment, for not
everyone values the truth. We are to protect the dignity of the
message we preach. When we understand these things, we will
realize that proper judging is not only allowed; it is our obligation.

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Bibliography for Moral Relativism

Beckwith, Francis J., and Gregory Koukl. Relativism: Feet Firmly


Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. A popular-level
book offering a critique of relativism and examining its impact in
the realms of education and public policy.

Beilby, James, and David K. Clark. Why Bother with Truth:


Arriving at Knowledge in a Skeptical Society. Norcross, Ga.: Ravi
Zacharias International Ministries, 2000. A popular-level booklet
critiquing and answering postmodern skepticism.

Copan, Paul. Is Everything Really Relative: Examining the


Assumptions of Relativism and the Culture of Truth Decay.
Norcross, Ga.: Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, 1999. A
popular-level booklet demonstrating the self-contradictory nature
of relativism, the objectivity of truth, and ramifications for
morality, tolerance, and ethical judgment.

____. That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who


Challenge Your Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001. A popular-level
book addressing challenges related to truth, worldviews, and the
unique claims of Christianity.

_____. True for You, But Not for Me: Deflating the Slogans That
Leave Christians Speechless. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998.
A popular-level book answering the claims of relativism, showing
it to be hypocritically absolutist and exclusivistic.

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Carson, D. A. “The Taming of Truth.” In The Gagging of God:
Christianity Confronts Pluralism, 57–92. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1996. A good discussion on the history of postmodern
developments and their implications for hermeneutics.

_____. “The Hermeneutical Morass.” In The Gagging of God:


Christianity Confronts Pluralism, 93–137. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1996. Advocates a moderate response to
postmodernism, rejecting its more radical tenets and embracing a
few of its strengths.

Erickson, Millard. Postmodernizing the Faith. Grand Rapids:


Baker, 1998. A readable introduction to postmodernism,
containing essays by evangelical leaders on both sides of the
debate. Some authors argue for a total rejection of postmodernism,
while others argue for an assimilation of it.

Ganssle, Greg and John Hinkson. “Epistemology at the Core of


Postmodernism: Rorty, Foucault, and the Gospel.” In Telling the
Truth, ed. D. A. Carson, 68–89. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
Originally a paper given at the Postmodern Evangelism conference
at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. A good summary of Rorty
and Foucault, though the critique of Rorty is weak.

Groothuis, Douglas. “Postmodernism and Truth.” In Philosophia


Christi, 271–81. Vol. 2, no. 2. La Mirada, Calif.: Evangelical
Philosophical Society in cooperation with Biola University, 1999.
This is largely a summary of Groothuis’s book, Truth Decay (see
below).

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_____. “The Truth about Truth.” In Truth Decay, 83–110.
Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000. An outstanding, readable
work defending a correspondence theory of truth.

_____. “Ethic without Reality, Postmodernist Style.” In Truth


Decay, 187–210. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000. An
excellent discussion of postmodern epistemology’s implications
for morality. Primary attention is given to the writings of Rorty and
Foucault.

Harris, James F. Against Relativism. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court


Press, 1992. An outstanding philosophical work on
epistemological relativism, covering Quine, Hume, Kuhn, and
feminist ideology. The two chapters critiquing Quine are
particularly recommended.

McCallum, Dennis, ed. The Death of Truth. Minneapolis: Bethany


House, 1996. An excellent popular work critiquing postmodernism
and examining its effect on academic disciplines and the culture at
large.

Moser, Paul K., Dwayne H. Mulder, and J. D. Trout. The Theory of


Knowledge. New York: Oxford, 1998. An introduction to
epistemology. Chapter 4, “Truth,” is a great introduction to
relativism and related issues.

Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford, 1997. An


excellent philosophical work defending the objectivity of truth, a
traditional view of logic, and the knowability of science. Chapter
3, “Language,” is particularly recommended.

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Norris, Christopher. Against Relativism: Philosophy of Science,
Deconstruction, and Critical Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. An
excellent work by a preeminent philosopher. Chapter 2,
“Deconstruction and Epistemology,” is particularly salient.

_____. What’s Wrong with Postmodernism? Baltimore: Johns


Hopkins University, 1990. A technical work discussing textual
criticism and attacking deconstructionism.

Phillips, Timothy R., and Dennis L. Okholm, Christian


Apologetics in the Postmodern World. Downers Grove, Ill.:
InterVarsity, 1995. A series of essays advocating a variety of
apologetic approaches to postmodernism. Some authors advocate
an assimilation of relativism. Hence, “There’s No Such Thing as
Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing Too” by Kenneson, and
others attack it. William Lane Craig’s article, “Politically Incorrect
Salvation,” is outstanding.

Rescher, Nicholas. Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal


Reason. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1997. An
outstanding work refuting deconstructionism, epistemological
relativism, and moral relativism.

Willard, Dallas. “How Concepts Relate the Mind to Its Objects:


The ‘God’s Eye View’ Vindicated?” In Philosophia Christi, 5–20.
Vol. 1, no. 2. La Mirada, Calif.: Evangelical Philosophical Society
in cooperation with Biola University, 1999. An outstanding
technical article on the epistemological and linguistic foundations
of postmodernism.

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About the Author

Josh McDowell never intended to be a defender of the Christian


faith. In fact, his goal was just the opposite. As a skeptic at Kellogg
College in Michigan, he was challenged by a group of Christian
students to intellectually examine the claims of Christianity. He
accepted the challenge and set out to prove that Christ’s claims to
be God and the historical reliability of Scripture could be neither
trusted nor accurately verified. The evidence he discovered
changed the course of his life. He discovered that the Bible was the
most historically reliable document of all antiquity and that
Christ’s claim that he was God could be objectively verified. When
Josh was brought face-to-face with the objective and relevant truth
of Christ and his Word, he trusted in Christ as the Son of God and
his personal Savior.
Josh transferred to Wheaton College and completed a
bachelor’s degree in language. He went on to receive a master’s
degree in theology from Talbot Theological Seminary in
California. In 1964 he joined the staff of Campus Crusade for
Christ (CCC) and eventually became an international traveling
representative for CCC, focusing primarily on issues facing
today’s young people.
Josh McDowell has spoken to more than seven million young
people in 84 countries and on more than 700 university and college
campuses. He has authored or coauthored more than sixty books
and workbooks with more than 30 million in print worldwide.
Josh’s most popular works are The New Evidence That Demands a
Verdict, More Than a Carpenter, Why True Love Waits, the Right
from Wrong book, and the Right from Wrong workbook series.

171
Josh’s new Beyond Belief campaign offers the tools to correct
our young people’s distorted beliefs and lead them to deepened
convictions about God and his Word. In classic McDowell fashion,
he provides families and the church with a “relational
apologetic”—rock-solid reasons to believe and a biblical blueprint
for living out those beliefs in relationship with others.
Josh has been married to Dottie for more than thirty years and
has four children. Josh and Dottie live in Dallas, Texas.

172