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Thursday, December 3, 2020

What is the Single Greatest Cause of Atheism?

To Understand an Issue We Must See Its End

We are going to take a flyover look (while landing in a few specific spots) of the Libertine view of the root cause of atheism. One thing we must be careful not to do is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. While I believe there are serious errors and a danger to the foundations of the faith in a Libertine view of Christianity, that does not mean that every point made by a Libertine is necessarily wrong. Of course not. 

I may seem to be contradicting myself. How could something which is a danger to the foundations of the faith have any value? I'm not arguing that we look for the valuable. What I am arguing is that we don't let the valuable dim us to the greater danger. What Satan quoted the Lord from scripture in Matthew was true, but it does not exonerate Satan. A Libertine may say something which is complimentary of the doctrine of grace, for example, but that does not exonerate his entire ministry. We lure the mouse into the trap with perfectly good cheese, but no matter how good the cheese, the trap still kills.

A mistake some watchmen make is to try to convince those within the wall that everything the false prophet says is wrong. Often that is not the case. As watchmen, we need to expose the deadly trap and rescue the cheese. If we try to say to a starry-eyed follower of a charlatan that EVERYTHING he says is evil, he will surely find something which is not.

The Catholic Church teaches the Trinity, the Jehovah's Witnesses teach the destruction of the unbeliever. Both are true, yet each of these groups denies the finality of the work of Christ. I would not ask the Catholic to denounce everything in his catechism let I require him to deny the eternal deity of Christ. What I can do is to point him to the doctrines which deny what Christ has accomplished, alone.

Wholesale condemnation of everything a group or teacher says is thus unconvincing. Yet when we are warning our brothers and sisters, we need to get beyond the outer shell (no matter how attractive it may be) to expose the trap.  In the case of the cause of atheism (and the legitimacy of certain lifestyle choices), some statements may sound honoring to Christ and to grace, but they contain dangerous traps. 

So when the Libertine self-flagellates and attacks the "church" for not loving enough (and similar), it is useless to try and argue against the point. None of us loves enough. But at the end of the day, is that the root cause of atheism? If it were, none of would have ever believed. Christendom has always been replete with hypocrisy. Always. Yet somehow we believe. 

The outer shell may appear to be humble, but underneath is often a disgust for the core claims of Christianity built on a sense of righteous indignation. Look at some of the words of the Casting Crowns song "Start Right Here."  

I'm like the brother of the prodigal
Who turned his nose and puffed his chest
He didn't run off like his brother
But his soul was just as dead
What if the church on Sunday
Was still the church on Monday too
What if we came down from our towers
And walked a mile in someone's shoes

We can all feel good about self-flagellating ourselves. Same old "the church sucks" shtick which always gets the praise of men. None of it brings us closer to the supposed idea behind the lyrics. "We're supposed to be telling the world about Christ so they can find forgiveness of sin, but we suck!" We never quite get around to telling the world about the sin thing. it's easy to say, "God is not pleased with me!" It's a far more difficult task to tell people "God is not pleased with you." Yeah, we must be humble, but telling the truth doesn't stop there.

Taking my own advise, I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Sure, as Christians, we need to get past the fancy worship services and walk worthy of the calling to which we've been called. I have two series of posts dedicated to a holy walk. But whether we do that or not doesn't exonerate anyone. Too many of these songs never get to the latter point, man's separation from God by his unbelief and desire to stay in the dark. 

Why Do People Reject Christ?

Obviously, this blog entry cannot be an exhaustive study of Libertine view on Christianity and atheism. We use as our starting point a particular quote from Libertine Brennan Manning in light of the man's influence on many contemporary Christian artists. My jumping off point the is the introduction to DC Talk's song "What If I Stumble?" wherein they play a clip of this Manning quote:


The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable

We must first note the words "greatest single cause." Well, that is his opinion. He is welcome to it. Unfortunately, I find it devoid of biblical evidence (or any other kind of evidence). It is presented to mass audiences (via his influence and the artists who promote his words) as an established fact. In the spiritual realm (not trusting our carnal natures), we should turn to the Word of God to inform our experience. As we shall see, Manning's experience with atheists was apparently different than mine. And when I ponder my exchanges with atheists, and I turn to the Word of God to help me understand, I come to a very different conclusion than did he or do the Libertines.

[I do want to pause here and interject that, obviously, not everything Brennan Manning (or any other Libertine) said is necessarily wrong. The problem centers on doctrines that strike at the foundations of the faith. Even Atheists can say something which is true, but that clearly doesn't exonerate all their beliefs (and it certainly doesn't make them Christians). In this and following studies we will examine my concerns with Libertines and with Grace-Denying Fundamentalists. As the old saying goes, rat poison is 99% nutritious.  We want to focus on the 1% which strikes at the essentials.]

I'm always wary of lack of specificity. I have had a number of exchanges with atheists over the years (a few I've captured from online discussions). Whereas my experiences are just as anecdotal as Manning's, I, at least, have a few specific examples to which I can apply what I see in scripture. To be fair, scripture may offer a number of reasons for any particular experience we may have, but whatever we think we think, we must let scripture inform the conscience. We must offer specificity (when appropriate) and we must offer a biblical cause for our conclusions (or even our guesses). 

Biblically, the Lord Jesus is very specific as to why men refuse to come into the Light of the truth. We looked at this passage as part of our study on Evil HERE, but we don't need a lot of explanation to understand its basic premise:

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

-John 3:18-20

Whereas the Christian Libertine may acknowledge the truth of what condemns humanity (not believing on the only resurrected Son of God), they are not willing to follow the explanation for the lack of faith. To wit, men love darkness and evil. 

The great act of love of God in the offering of Christ for the sin of the world is rejected because people do not want to see themselves as evil in need of a sacrifice. That's the greatest single cause of not only atheism, but of every self-righteous, self-saving religion in the world (including Manning's). As we shall see, he has no pause in offering the description "spiritual terror" in regard to legalists (and I am not disputing his point in its entirety), but he seems very hesitant to call sin "sin" (as we shall also see).  I leave as an open question: why the vigor in the first and the hesitance in the second?

I Rejected Christ Because of Self-Righteousness

God had to teach me the meaning of grace by revealing to me how wicked I am. In the eyes of men I may not have appeared wicked, but in light of God's word, I was undone. The majority of professing Christians I knew at the time were not living lives in light of the gospel of God's grace, yet God's grace found me. The shadow of televangelist sex scandals was still hanging over Christianity. That weighed nothing in light of my conviction before a thrice holy God. I could hang on to my religion and scoff at the foibles of men, but I could not deny the claims of scripture.

Despite the damage Evangelical Christianity had taken in culture, despite the mockery in music, movies, and pop culture, I sought out true Christians. I sought out those who tried to live by the tenets of scripture because I needed remedy for my evil. If someone wants to find hypocrites, he is not looking for an answer for his sin, but often an excuse. Even if some claim, as Manning asserts, their atheism springs from Christian hypocrisy, we should see that as a crutch, not a reasonable or defensible conclusion. I used the "hypocrisy" dodge myself one time when I was losing an argument with an street preacher. It's convenient, but not pure.

Now, I will concede, that if all someone knows of Christians who are Sunday part-timers who have no use for scripture or the sanctifying work of God in their lives, he may not be drawn. But that is a different matter than seeking remedy for a recognized need of salvation from one's sins. The part-timers provide an excuse, but that is all. No one with a conviction of his own wickedness (allowing the light to shine on his life) would seek excuse from finding the remedy.

Light has come into the world, but people love darkness more than light because light shines on their lives and exposes their evil deeds. That is the "single greatest cause" of atheism.

They Only Arbiter of What Is Evil Is God's Word

Focusing in on atheism (if Manning is going to speak based on his personal experiences) let me share my opinion as to the thinking of the atheists I have known. This is specific to atheists. I've known every stripe of religious adherents and their objections to finished-work Christianity are similar, but the atheist excuse, in my experience, seems to come down on one thing.

This is somewhat of a cheap shot, but I'll start with this joke. I can sum up what atheists seem to be saying in my experience, "There is no God (and I hate him)!" In fact, a comment from an atheist on the DC Talk YouTube page for "What If I Stumble?" has an atheist stating he is an atheist because of all the babies God kills in the Bible. Yeah. He just hates God. He'll gladly take Manning's attack on other Christians, but, yeah, he just hates God (while claiming he doesn't believe in him). Anecdotal, but certainly that's one more example than Manning gives for his sweeping assertion. The atheist commenter hates the light, as the Lord Jesus Christ taught. So, he mocks a God he says he does not believe exists. He has zero interest in his own sin. He found his out. He'll grasp onto it to the grave. Similarly, so will the atheist who plays the "hypocrisy" card.

Unironically, atheists often point to subjective measures of morality (as did the commenter in my example above who has no basis for saying babies dying is "bad"). If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the world? Why are people born with defects? (You get the picture.) These questions and their children are comical in light of people who (a) worship natural processes and (b) believe there is no authority to decide what is good or bad (or any objective way to decide what is good or bad even mean).

I would simply say, atheists don't believe in morality (nor can they), but there is an illogical movement in atheism which pretends atheists can hold to moral principles. That's nonsense. Believing there is nothing beyond the natural and that all things must be explained by accidental stimulus-response chemical reactions (with no purpose), they can't defend the idea that any given thought is independent of a those natural (accidental) causes. That being the case, "thought" is meaningless. What one "thinks" is good or bad is (a) wholly subjective and (b) simply an unreliable chemical response to stimuli.

If we acknowledge that a mind in dementia cannot be trusted to make rational decisions, how do we determine that any mind is capable? If everything must be the result of natural reactions, then everything, including thought, is random. No thought is any different from any other thought.

Well, before we get too far down that road, let me sum by saying that their objections to "evil" in the world are logically indefensible. Regardless, atheists certainly do not choose atheism because they see "Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle." Atheists pride themselves on their supposed reliance on "science." Manning's argument is a lie. He seems eager to accept anecdotal excuses he may have heard. To do so, he has to (a) ignore Christ's own words and (b) be predisposed to accusing Christians. 

Atheists know Christ's claims are independent of what anyone does with them. He was crucified for the sin of others. He rose again to offer an escape from death. Atheists do not reject the followers of Christ, they reject Christ himself. They see no need of a Savior. And all of this brings us back to the words of the Lord:

"he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."

Another irony, as we shall see, is Manning's insistence that we accept a large group of sexual sins in Christianity (so when he says "lifestyle" in his quote he is judging only those lifestyles that involve particular sins of which he disapproves) teaches us that he isn't really concerned with Christians who "walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle." If an atheist knows a professed Christian who is a prostitute or an adulterer, he has no excuse not to become a Christian. But if he knows a greedy Christian! He's off the hook!

Listen to the focus of the DC Talk song. They are worried they might "stumble" into sin which brings shame to the faith. Better check with Manning. Apparently, only certain sins (of his choosing) bring discredit to the faith. Being mean = carte blanche for atheists. Having an abortion and encouraging abortions = overlook, thou shalt not judge!

The Only Arbiter of the Christian Lifestyle Is God's Word

Lastly, let's stick with  Manning's word "lifestyle." Again, he is relying on his subjective measure. This blog has many entries on the call of the Christian to walk worthy of the calling to which he has been called. We have looked at what it means to walk in the new nature. We have examined the works of the flesh. Manning uses the word "lifestyle" and leaves it to be defined by what the world expects of the Christian, not what God expects.

The true Christian lifestyle will result in being hated. This was the experience of the Lord himself and reflects the very words of Christ (again). If people reject me and will not listen to me because I'm a loud-mouthed schnook or I'm a self-righteous, proud and arrogant person, then that is my responsibility, but the atheist does not reject Christ because every single Christian is obnoxious (objectively ridiculous), but because he hates Christ and hates the light because his deeds are evil. That is both my experience and the witness of Christ himself.

Be like Jesus because unbelievers loved him so much, he converted a nation and no one ever dare abandon him? No, they crucified him. Many followed him for the free stuff. It was the "hard sayings" that drove many away. We shouldn't drive people away by our "self-righteous" hard sayings. And there is an awful doctrine surround the word "repentance" which plagues Christianity, but the answer is not Libertine Christianity. That's just trading some sins for others. 

The world shouldn't hate us because we're jerks, but it will hate us if we're faithful. The atheist will use the former as his excuse, but he hates the latter as well. Being hated for our legalism is bad, but being loved for being a Libertine is as bad (or worse).

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

-John 15: 17-19


Early in my Christian experience, I was visited by two friends of mine from my former life as a Catholic. Both were shocked to one degree or another to discover that I am now a Bible-believing Christian. I was having a very pleasant lunch with one of my friends, until I shared my new faith. She quickly changed the subject, excused herself, and I haven't spoken with her since.

That is not my experience with every old friend. The point is that rejection of the finished work had nothing to do with me being a jerk. Simply put, their opinions of me changed dramatically upon simply telling them of my new faith. Of course, some people interpret a commitment to the foundational truths of the faith with being a "jerk." But we must see through that accusation. 

I was guilty of accusing Christians of being intolerant jerks when I was a devout Catholic (missing the irony of centuries of persecution by the Catholic Church of any dissent). It's a convenient dodge and we should not take the bait. Manning or DC Talk know in their hearts that all they will receive from the world for beating up Christianity is glory. It's hardly a brave thing to do. 

Back to Manning's use of "lifestyle" in a Christian context. 

Readers of this blog know I believe Christians are capable of following the flesh (old nature) and falling into all sorts of wickedness. What I do not believe is that if a Christian does fall into sin we have no place to say anything to him/her. In fact, to not say anything is cruel and unbiblical . If we believe that Christians will face a judgment for our "lifestyle" choices, it is incumbent upon us to reprove, rebuke, and exhort such a one in love.

There are a number of scriptures we could quote here, I have chosen two representative.

My spiritual brothers and sisters, if one of our faithful has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, don’t stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare.

-Gal 6:1 (The Voice)


Bring any believers who persist in sinning before the community and publicly scold them so that all the rest will know to fear sin and its consequences.

-1 Tim 5:20 (The Voice)

But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?

-1 Cor 5:11-12 (NKJV)

Some Progressive Christians use scriptures about compassion to argue that we have no place to ever rebuke any sin of any kind (well, except those they disapprove of such as greed). The nonsensical argument that since we're all sinners, we must therefore accept all sin is monstrous and will only lead to destroyed lives. "Accept" may seem a harsh descriptor, but it is certainly the practical implication if we refuse to profess standards scripture present. And, as we always see with these things, Libertines have no problem shooting bullets at Christians for things like "greed" or "a Pharisaical attitude" as they accuse others of shooting bullets if we hold to scriptural standards when it comes to the deeds of the flesh. 

I hold that the warning of 1 Cor 6 is for Christians (I don't see any other way to interpret it in light of its context). Paul argues that Christians should not fall back into the sins of the Gentile (pagan) world; sins many of them used to commit (a silly warning if it is not possible). Part of Paul's argument is in regard to taking fellow believers before unbelievers in court. But the warning extends to our own behaviors and judgment in the assembly of believers.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
1 Corinthians 6:9-15

We Do Not Feed the Flesh, We Feed the Spirit (New Nature)

If we reject covetousness (greed), and we do, we must reject all the  other deeds of the flesh. Would we argue that we need to welcome in and leave unaddressed a drunkard who extorts money from fellow believers? A whoremonger involved in adultery? Is ignoring the deeds of the flesh a form of love? Can I say, "greed is a horrible sin!" as I argue, "we have no right to rebuke the adulterer or homosexual" believer? Remember, the world is another matter. The world will do what it wants to do, our context here is believers.

Now the works of the flesh [old nature] are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 
-Galatians 5:19-21

Paul is warning Galatian believers to not walk in the flesh. He doesn't argue, "Jesus said let them all grow together and he'll sort it out at the the end" as Manning suggests in his book "Abba's Child." And if he really believed in that standard, he would have to accept ALL "lifestyles." He would have no room to say anyone could "deny him by their lifestyle."  Do you see the fatal flaw in his argument? If we are to leave all things until the sorting (a terrible application of that parable) then he MUST agree that it applies to ALL things, including greed and self-righteousness and "spiritual terror."

Scripture in regard to the believer teaches us to warn fellow believers of the judgment to come. Scripture in regard to the unbeliever teaches us that they have no interest in the Light because they prefer their Darkness. Yet some Christians want to comfort the Christian in certain sexual sins as they attack other Christians for sins they deem "unloving." The atheist, loving his Darkness, cheers this approach. It wounds believers and leaves their consciences in delusion.  

In his writings, Manning singles out the Christian "Pharisee." His description is generic and subjective (he teaches they view the Bible as "a manual of directions instead of a love story," etc.). He calls the "Pharisee" a sort of “spiritual terrorist." Manning's two signs of a Pharisee are: 

(1) He admires himself
(2) He despises others

Since we're being subjective here, I find this a rather apt description of Red-Letter Christianity. They lash out at "Pharisees" (as they define the term) in what can be said to be a form of "despising" them as they admire the works of their own hands. In my experience noted in our previous study, the listing of good works by a Red-Letter leader was cheered by the crowd (myself included) as were the assaults on faceless and nameless scoffers. I honestly don't know any Christian who opposes feeding and clothing people. No one criticized feeding the poor, the criticism was in is refusal to clarify the gospel. That detail was reframed as people "hating" the work and "hating" the workers. It was a convenient charge and one I cheered in my ignorance and my desire to tilt at convenient windmills.

I was not a believer at the time, but I had been under conviction a number of times over the two years before that message. I channeled my conviction away from my need for Light and into self-righteous indignation at an unseen "unloving" Christianity which was asking me to commit to Christ alone. But since I loved soup kitchens, I was off the hook! Thank God he didn't leave me in that delusion. 

As a false professor, I would have gladly agreed to Manning's statement. "He's right. Those Evangelicals talk a good game, but their not about love and feeding the poor!" My version of the convenient out used by atheists. And all Manning (and DC Talk and the other proponents of the Ragamuffin Gospel) did was give atheists an out.

The Red-Letter hero was putting himself on a cross of his own making. He was the one on the witch-hunt. He is Don Quixote  looking for another windmill to attack. He spewed vitriol on his perceived foes as he simultaneously chastised them for being "Pharisees." The problem was never his ministry to carnal needs, but its place ahead of the truths of Christ. The Lord, again, gives us the priority.

After he feeds the 5000, the crowd comes back to him. Note where the Lord takes us in this passage. He refused to continue to feed them, because he knew they wanted full bellies, not the true Light.

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Don’t work for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal of approval on Him.” “What can we do to perform the works of God?” they asked. Jesus replied, “This is the work of God—that you believe in the One He has sent.” “What sign then are You going to do so we may see and believe You?” they asked. “What are You going to perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said, “Sir, give us this bread always!” “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again. But as I told you, you’ve seen Me, and yet you do not believe.

-John 6:24-36

I visited Pacific Garden Mission while on a business trip in Chicago in the 90s. Yes, they feed the poor and clothe and care for the homeless, but the condition is that those who seek help must listen to a presentation of Christ. As the Lord said, the only remedy for true hunger is faith in the Son of God. If the hungry atheist objects to the presentation of the gospel with his meal, it is because he loves darkness more than the Light. 

The Ragamuffin Invasion Versus True Love

In "Ragamuffin Gospel" Manning excuses a prostitute, a homosexual, and a woman who had an abortion, none of whom had any remorse. Again, the concept is that all sin is essentially the same and "who are we to judge?" That approach is neither loving nor biblical. Just as with food, we can have compassion, but the compassion is a package deal with truth.

We are taught we cannot warn that a lifestyle of homosexuality, adultery, fornication (Manning seems to excuse only sexual sins) is both self-destructive and soul-destroying, but we can warn people (and condemn them) based on some generic "unloving" lifestyle? While it is legitimate to criticize how some go about warning people (without humility and fear, for example), we have no room to criticize the warning itself. The warnings are biblical and consistent with the Lord's own method.

For all the talk about the love of the Lord (and it is beyond comprehension and culminated in the greatest act of self-sacrifice possible), we are told only once in his life's account that he directly lived anyone. The crowd notes how the Lord "loved" Lazarus, but only in Mark do we see anything like this:

Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him 
-Mark 10:21a

This is the telling of the story of the rich, young ruler. Note the context. The Lord looked on him with compassion and love, so he told him the truth.

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One—God. You know the commandments:

Do not murder;
do not commit adultery;
do not steal;
do not bear false witness;
do not defraud;
honor your father and mother.”

He said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.” Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Perhaps this story is not put to the standard of the Ragamuffin because the man was rich. As an aside, at least one site lists Tony Campolo's net worth t $4 million an another lists him as the 38th richest pastor in the world (ironically, in the "lifestyle" section). Regardless, the Lord loved a man to whom he had just quoted six commandments (including a prohibition against a sexual sin). He then adds another action the man needed to take. (There is an analysis of the parallel passage in Luke HERE for those interested.) 

Whether it's the hungry crowd or the individual rich man, the Lord requires obedience and faith. Truth and the will of God is at the center of all of his actions and intentions. And the will of the God is that we believe on the Son. The will of God is that people abandon any hope in themselves and surrender to faith in the Son of God. John tells us the purpose for his gospel:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. 
-John 20:30-31

If the Foundation is not Secure, The Structure Is Meaningless

Perhaps the key to his lack of discernment in this area is found in Manning's "profession of faith" in his biography:

In February 1956, while Brennan was meditating on the Stations of the Cross, a powerful experience of the personal love of Jesus Christ sealed the call of God on his life.

Manning famously publicly shared his battle with alcohol. But while we are careful not to be conclusive (I've never spoke with him, but we do have his writings and recordings), we have to wonder if "powerful experience" meant he fully recognized his absolutely desperate and devoid of hope situation was without the full light of the revelation of God.

If one publicly expresses that he has sins, but deems it an act of hate to help others acknowledge their own lost state in sin, does he really understand the cross? Does he truly understand that there is a gospel of the grace of God and them the required walk? Does he understand the call to maturity in both study and purity? Knowing, even as a devoutly religious man, my desperately lost condition without Christ (and the necessity of accepting the finality of his work on my behalf), I can't imagine telling anyone that God is not interested in their sin. As we have seen, to ignore sin is an act of hatred towards both believers and unbelievers.  

Sounds like Manning doesn't understand his need of a Savior. He claims he relies on the Savior, then excuses sin (through acceptance of sin in others). We have looked at just some of the "red letters of Jesus" in this study. The Lord is clear about darkness and light. He is clear that God has standards. He is clear of the concept that there is no hope outside of himself alone. I have not researched Manning's position on Christ-denying systems and faiths (even within Christendom), but exalted men like Campolo and John Paul II refused to tell unbelievers (such a s Muslims) the error of their system.

It is my contention, they didn't fail in this call as Christians, as I believe both men deny the foundational and distinctive beliefs of saving faith. But if we do believe these men are true believers, why do not rebuke them for their compromise on the very work of the Savior?

Manning said he had an "experience of the personal love of Jesus Christ" in the Stations of the Cross. What does the love of God do and how do we understand it? We've seen how the Lord defined it in John. Is that what Manning found? For those unfamiliar, the Stations of the Cross glorify more than just the Lord and they do not include the resurrection. Of the 14 stations, 5 are apocryphal. The devotion is more than just thinking on the suffering of the Lord (suffering he gladly accepted for the joy that was set before him). It is fully ritualized and, again, devoid of the resurrection. The resurrection is at the heart of the gospel of the grace of God.

Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scripture

and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith. In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ—whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

-1 Cor 15:1-4, 14-19

Having been an altar boy and an acolyte I was required to partake in many of these devotions. While in school, we were required to attend every week during Lent as well. It's emotional. It's religious. It's also unscriptural. But appeals to the flesh are what constitute much of Christendom today (and throughout the last 2000 years). And by "appeals to the flesh," I am referring to religious ordinances not meant for this age (biblical or not).

Our Responsibility to Our Brothers and Sisters 

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

-1 John 3:16

Note the focus of our dedication: "for the brethren." This is the same reason we confront sin, "for the brethren." We don't confront sin to insult and demean, we do it for the sake of the one in slavery to his sin (Gal 6:1). Failing to confront sin in fellow believers is itself sin. It is a failure to obey the Lord. Of course, since I see nothing in Manning's profession of faith which gives me any hope that he has Life, I guess it's kind of a moot point... except that Manning and his brand of Christianity has permeated contemporary Christian music and many corners of the modern church.

To sum: I can condemn both David Cloud's misuse of the warnings of scripture concerning sexual sins while simultaneously condemning Manning's (Campolo's etc.) failure to scripturally warn people. And we note again, they have no problem warning people about "greed" or a perceived callousness, it's just warning folks about sexual sins and Christ-denying doctrines they oppose. 

In a coming post, we are going to take Cloud's views on homosexuality to see where he has abandoned scripture as well (as we've done previously with Cloud and Way of Life Literature). You see, I'm not interested in defending "fundamentalists," I am interested in trying to understand scripture in its context for the age in which I live. Cloud's errors are as serious as Manning's. Both the Anti-Grace Moralist and the Libertine drive people from either grace or reward (or both).

Do I have everything figured out? Nope. But that's the point of this blog. Too many people never go on to maturity. They get hung up on their islands of self-righteous religion; feet set in cement. Manning's self-righteous attack on Christians he calls by application "spiritual terrorists" and Cloud's arbitrary application of Bible passages and others who take positions such as the indefensible worship of the KJV which dulls the ability to study.  I've been wrong. A LOT. I keep discovering deeper truths. I keep adjusting and correcting my beliefs (apart from the foundation). Whichever camp a Christian finds himself of the two noted, I can almost assure you there is no growth.

Everybody loves a holy war
Draw the line and claim divine assistance
Slay the ones who show the most resistance
Everybody loves a holy war

The soup kitchen Christian who hates "greed" and finds his faith starts and ends with good works will never leave the soup kitchen. And the Christian who clings to the KJV or thinks the hymn book is the 67th book of the Bible will never get out of the choir loft.

Go read the writings of either camp. Nothing will change over 5, 10, 20, 50 years. They'll use their extra-biblical doctrines, practice, and issues and hide behind them. I've named several men in this post. I do so with great trepidation as I do not know them, but we do have their works. And how much we might think the "love the Lord," that is not for us to judge (for such a thing is impossible), but can and must judge their fruit (which includes their doctrines).


But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh

Jude 20-22

Grabbing Any Verse From Anywhere (But Only the Ones We Want)

We see in our examples in this post, some of the failings of Evangelical Christianity that we looked at in a previous study (although he was not an Evangelical in his foundational beliefs); he wantonly grabs from anywhere in scripture with no regard to context. As Stuart Allen so accurately put it:

Another stumbling block is for Christians to approach the Bible from the wrong end, so to speak. Instead of first of all seeking an understanding of the purpose of the ages in the large and seeing it as a whole, and then finding the place in it that God's Love and Redemption has secured for them, they approach the other way round and become so taken up with themselves and their own needs that many of them never advance beyond this point. Consequently they know little or nothing of other callings and imagine that God's plans revolve solely around themselves. This is a species of slavery to self that we all need to be delivered from. One result of this is to see a part of the revelation of God and imagine that it is the whole. There are those who can only see God's purposes for a Kingdom on this earth. Others deny this and see only a spiritual fulfilment and going to Heaven after death. Both are only half truths, and like all half truths, are thoroughly misleading.

-Stuart Allen (Excerpt: The Unfolding Purpose of God)

Of course, I would contend Manning was not a Christian. I base this on his own words, but, again, I never spoke with him, so I leave it as a contention. Regardless, there are many professed Christians who have adopted his approach to scripture and the Christian life. 

So why would professed Christians and Christian artists so readily bow before one who never made a clear profession of his faith in the finished work? Why would so many (almost boastfully) call themselves "Ragamuffins" and similar? Why would so many want to be seen as excusing all sins (except those seen by the world as sin) in the name of some generic "love?" I tread lightly again, but I believe the answer in is the concept of self-righteousness found in Manning's own guidelines: 

(1) He admires himself
(2) He despises others


The world will applaud you for feeding the poor and refusing to preach the finished work. In fact, they'll love you and even excuse your hypocrisy. Just as elite and filthy rich entertainers pretend to care about the poor and mock the middle class who see the world differently than they, so these also exalt Christian hypocrisy if it fits their utopian views.  But the praise of men is a dangerous drug. I tasted that drug, but fortunately, God finally sent me conviction.

I quote from my post on God's Plan for the Future Restoration

Note that the outward ordinances [referenced in Colossians 2] have a "reputation for wisdom." Society worships those who display outward piety. Mother Teresa is revered in many Christian circles, yet this woman denied the finished work of the Savior. On at least one occasion she refused to send her Sisters of Charity to an impoverished area because there was no priest. Without a priest, she deemed their work useless.

In her hospitals, patients were sometimes denied pain-relieving medicine. In the throes of agony these poor creatures were encouraged to "offer up" their suffering for their sins. Those of us who grew up in Catholicism are familiar with this. Step on a nail? Offer up your pain for your sins. It felt holy, but it was a direct insult to finished work of the Savior.

All of these practices, no matter how pious or religious they may appear, display a dissatisfaction with Christ, a failure to keep him as the Head of the Body, and a rejection of the heavenly calling (some rejecting the very work of the Savior).


I'm uncomfortable using Manning's convenient and subjective standards, but since they are his, I turn them back on his adherents. In the musical, "Hair," there is a particularly powerful song ("Easy to be Hard") about a "peace, love, brotherhood" hippie who has abandoned his son and the mother of his son (in the movie adaptation). 

How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard, Easy to be cold 
How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be proud, Easy to say no 
Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd
How about a needing friend
I need a friend

Surely, the universal application is not that people who care about "social justice" are all unfeeling in their personal relations, but some are. In the end, it is the latter that exposes character, not the public acts. John Lennon, the great champion of peace and love, cheated on both his wives, abandoned his first son, and left England's Socialist taxes to amass a fortune in the United States. To his credit, he came to understand his failings, but that does not stop his deification on the Left.

And I cannot stress enough, all of it is worthless, no matter the practitioner, if the works are not built on belief in and the proclamation of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

We Fear Men When We Should Fear God

The fear of the opinions of men is one of the greatest dangers to the Christian life. I guarantee you this, in 2020, if you put certain generic (and meaningless) signs in your yard like "End Racism," you will only receive the praise of men. You risk nothing.

I was in an online group with people from one of the most affluent neighborhoods in my city. A thread was started with a lot of self-flagellation over "white privilege."  The more you accused yourself, the more "likes" you would get. But when I entered and asked how many who believe they've benefitted from their privilege were willing to give up property, wealth, income, or employment to those who suffered from their privilege... all I received was derision. Not one "hero" was willing to do anything tangible.

In many circles, if you carry the right "social justice" card, many evils are excused and the conscience is dulled. Wicked eugenicist and racist Margaret Sanger is the hero of many in Hollywood and Washington. Why? She is the founder of Planned Parenthood. Ironically, many in the "Progressive Christian" movement admire Planned Parenthood (an organization exposed as selling baby parts for profit after torturing and slaughtering them). If you can condemn "greed" in no uncertain terms, surely you can condemn Planned Parenthood! 

DC Talk included Manning's quote, not because it would cause people to look for Christ, but because they knew it would be applauded by the enemies of Christ. Yeah, that's my opinion, but whether they thought of it specifically that way or not, the result is the same. The quote gives fodder to the enemy. And by just perusing the comments under the song on YouTube, I have some reason to feel my opinion has, at least, a kernel of truth in it.

In some circles, the desire for such approval is strong. One can criticize what he sees in Christendom which is dangerous to the faith, but, in the end, the absolute truth of the foundations of the faith must be exalted. 

This is the foundation of the faith (not soup kitchens and getting angry at windmills):

  • the full deity of Christ
  • the absolute finality of his sacrificial work
  • the glory of his bodily resurrection
  • the free gift of resurrection life by grace alone through faith alone
  • the sufficiency of scripture, and his eventual return

I promise you, if you run around screaming Manning's words, the world will love you... unless you insist on these 5 absolutes. Then you will be hated by all. This is why so many choose to stick to attacking believers while refusing to defend the faith. The former brings glory while the latter will bring rejection.

In my autobiography I tell the story of how I confronted a street preacher in the brickyard while I was a student at NC State. By the end of the interchange (wherein I quoted the verses about loving and not judging), I was being patted on the back and celebrated by the small crowd that gathered. But I went back to my dorm room empty. I was the champion of the unbeliever.

The world was patting me on the back as they poured hatred and disdain on the street preacher. I'm ashamed to this day. I was doing Satan's work that day.

This is no license to be rude or cruel or unfeeling or unloving. But all true expressions of love must come back to the foundations of the faith. If you want the praise of men, criticize Christians, but never get to the foundations of the faith; never get to the problem of sin and death. But if you do get there, no matter what you've said before will mollify the world. They will hate you because they hate him.

We Start and End with the Light (Being Like Christ)

If Manning wants us to be like Christ, let us see how that is described in scripture. We recently looked at the two sides of being like Christ. First, we are to be humble as he was in his humiliation (taking on the form of a man) and secondly by shunning evil.

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 
-Ephesian 5:1-13


Here we see clearly the balance of being an imitator of God. We must "walk in love." This is where Manning and Campolo and their ilk want us to stop. But scripture, once again, gives us the balance. As we walk in love, we are to reject a number of things in our lives including, "fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness." 

As we saw in Galatians and 1 Corinthians, those who act wickedly have no inheritance. Manning ignores "because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." 

We see that part of walking in love is walking in love toward God. To do so, we mortify the deeds of our own flesh and expose them so others may walk uprightly. Just as Paul exhorted Timothy to use scripture to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" he instructs here, "Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them."

We can love the prostitute, the homosexual, and the woman who had an abortion of Manning's book, but to leave them unreproved and unwarned is an act of a different sort of love. It is an act of self-love. The failure to warn those walking in darkness (whether believers or not) in the name of love will bring accolades from the world and a sense of self-glory. But is an act of hate to leave people in darkness in fear of offending them and an act of hate towards the testimony of scripture. 

Those who practice this sort of love risk nothing. It is the height of pride.

Would Manning rebuke the Lord as unloving for clearing the Temple of the money-changers? Of course not. He still recognizes the sins he chooses to recognize. He has placed himself on the throne of God and has declared himself the arbiter of truth. This takes right back to where we started: Manning and DC Talk have no problem lashing out at Christians, as they refuse to even mildly rebuke those who choose to walk in the darkness of sexual sin or infanticide. 

Next time, we'll look at the excuse that is allowing these teachers into the fold.


Food for thought...