The Law of Life
“It need not further be denied,” argued James Orr, “that between this view of the world involved in Christianity, and what is sometimes called ‘the modern view of the world’ there exists a deep and radical antagonism.” James Orr observed this “deep and radical antagonism” over a century ago. Can we possibly fail to see it now?
As Christians, we are unavoidably engaged in a great battle of worldviews — a conflict over the most basic issues of truth and meaning. A worldview that starts with the existence and sovereign authority of the self-revealing God of the Bible will be diametrically opposed to worldviews that deny God or engage in what we might call “defining divinity down.”
That said, there is probably no more illustrative focus of this worldview conflict than debate over the Pentateuch. The devout Christian sees the Pentateuch as the very foundation of biblical faith, while the secularist cannot even abide the thought of the Pentateuch, and the theological liberal breaks out in hives whenever the first five books of the Bible are mentioned.
If the old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is true, nothing less than an explosion occurs at the intersection of the Pentateuch and the modern mind. The reason for this is simple — the first five books of the Bible present us with a non-negotiable presentation of God’s existence, power, character, authority, and purpose. It’s all there — the foundations of biblical faith set out in five inspired books that instruct us about everything from the perfection of creation to the reality of the Fall; from God’s election of His covenant people to the handing down of the Law. From beginning to end, the Pentateuch undermines the modern secular worldview at its very foundation.
Those first four words land like nitroglycerin on the modern mind: “In the beginning, God ….” From that point onward, everything flows from the fundamental reality of God’s existence, power, and purpose. Creation itself is explained as the theater for God’s own glory, even as human beings, male and female, are created in God’s image. The institution of marriage is shown to be God’s gift and command, not a sociological adaptation to prevailing cultural conditions. Humans are given responsibility as both stewards and rulers of the earth, ordered to subdue the earth to the Creator’s glory.
Of course, to the postmodern mind, Genesis is hopelessly “speciesist” even as (to use their language) it presents a “totalizing metanarrative of hegemonistic authoritarianism.” In other words, it tells us in no uncertain terms that God is God and we are not, even as it reveals that humanity fulfills a special purpose for God’s glory.
The Pentateuch — all five books — presents an unvarnished picture of humanity’s sin and its consequences. To a culture deeply committed to a therapeutic worldview, this is just too much. Now that sin has been banished from our moral vocabulary, what are postmodern Americans to do with the Fall, the giving of the Law, the sacrificial system and blood atonement?
The Law is another stone of stumbling for the modern mind. Moral relativism rules the field of postmodern ethics, with laws seen as socially constructed and needlessly oppressive instruments of subjugation. In many law schools, a movement known as “critical legal theory” claims that laws generally reveal hidden claims of manipulative power that should be de-constructed for the betterment of all humankind. Thus, consistent with the postmodernist’s complete embrace of subjectivity, laws exist to be endlessly renegotiated and reinterpreted.
Of course, one of the most cherished maxims of the postmodern mind is the so-called “death of the author.” The reader, not the author of a text is the ruling authority. Put simply, the postmodernist believes that the text means what the reader says it means, not what the author intended. Jump from that to this: “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it might go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deut. 5:32–33). So much for subjectivity, reinterpretation, and renegotiation! The postmodernist demands a hermeneutic of suspicion, demanding that the text meet his expectations. The Pentateuch sets down a hermeneutic of submission as God demands obedience from His people — nothing less.
The Lord does not invite His covenant people to speculate about His character, His power, or His purpose. He demands total obedience, even as He reveals His saving purpose and sets down His covenant. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me. (Ex. 20:2−3).
The choice is clear — it’s postmodernism or the Pentateuch. Or, as God spoke through Moses: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you … may live” (Deut. 30:19).