Boldness In A Relativistic Age

by CWK

“Remember the speeches we spoke over mead, when we our boast won the bench raised: heroes in hall about hard fight. Now, may the man who is bold prove that he is so! – Aelfwine in The Battle of Maldon, when he saw men deserting their posts.
A definition: BOLDNESS comes from embracing definite/clear/exclusive/ authoritative truth in the heart, and results in proclaiming and defending such truth with fearless freedom.
J.A. Alexander has defined boldness as, “freedom and plainness of speech as opposed not only to a timid reserve, but to a partial and obscure exhibition of the truth.” John Stott (based on the NT word parrasia) defines boldness as, “…speech which is candid (with no concealment of truth), clear (with no obscurity of expression), and confident (with no fear of consequences).” The apostles prayed for it (Acts 4.20-31), and the apostle Paul considered it essential for the full proof of his ministry (Eph. 6.19-20; Phil. 1.20; 1 Thess. 2.2).

If you are reading this, then I take for granted that you are interested in pursuing boldness. First, know this: if you are an American in 2012, you live in a relativistic age: truth is relative; nothing is worth dying for; everything is everything; everything is relative. There are no big T TRUTHS: truths which cover everything and everyone; there is only your truth, or my truth. Even the most illogical and immoral positions may be excused by reference to “personal truth.”

The modern habit of saying, “This is my opinion, but I may be wrong” is entirely irrational. If I say that it may be wrong, I say that is not my opinion. The modern habit of saying “Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me” – the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.

– G.K. Chesterton, Introduction to the Book of Job.

 

My truth; your truth. Upon such a philosophy you were nurtured from infancy. It is the spirit of the age. Such a position is untenable (see Leslie Newbigen’s, The Gospel In A Pluralist Society). Such a position also saps the lifeblood of boldness. Such a position makes us timid: men without chests.

The relativism which is not willing to speak about truth but only about ‘what is true for me’ is an evasion of the serious business of living. It is the mark of a tragic loss of nerve in our contemporary culture. It is a preliminary symptom of death. There is an appearance of humility in the protestation that the truth is much greater than any one of us can grasp, but if this is used to invalidate all claims to discern the truth it is in fact an arrogant claim to a kind of knowledge which is superior to [all others]…We have to ask: ‘What is the [absolute] vantage ground from which you claim to be able to relativize all the absolute claims these different scriptures make?” ― Lesslie Newbigen, The Gospel In A Pluralist Society.

One consequence of uncontrolled relativism is an apologetic, weasel-y, cowardly, diffident, and timid demeanor: a non-boldness. After all, if there are no grand truths worth dying for, then there are no truths worth being bold about. When relativism reigns, men are left without grand reasons-to-be, without chests, and without courage to speak up.

 The man who called the cataract sublime was not intending simply to describe his own emotions about it: he was also claiming that the object was one which merited those emotions. But for this claim there would be nothing to agree or disagree about. ….  The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. ….And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive,’ or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity.’ In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

— C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

Men without chests have a particular communication style. Their voices are mild, just above a whisper; their octaves are high, just above a whine. They often resort to vague metaphors, “It’s kind of like… almost… sort of…” They pile up similes like bricks, into high walls: not in defense of truth, but in defense from truth. Their speech is full of groping uncertainty, “maybe; perhaps; possibly.” They employ outrageous oxymorons like, “it seems certain.” Seems – certain? They are prolific in qualifying adjectives, but impoverished in action verbs. They wander indecisively along dark streets of meandering prose toward cloudy ‘ideas,’ or, ‘theories.’ They defer decision. They avoid definite assertions; they avoid anything which might offend. Instead, they ask a slew of rhetorical questions with sheepish shyness. They are fond of ‘personal theories,’ and conspiracy theories. Sometimes, they taste a crumb of the truth – and being starved for truth – this crumb nurtures them day and night. From the crumbs of truth, they build vast intellectual empires. And so, “the key to everything,” or, “the secret of life,” revolves around trivialities about, “finding oneself.” Formerly, wise men explained one thing by everything; these wise men explain everything by one thing.

Just as it is the latest fad [of Freudian psychoanalysis] to prove that everything is sexual, so it was the last fad [of Marxism] to prove that everything was economic.  . . .  It is a character of all these manias [from Darwin, Marx, and Freud] that they cannot really convince the mind, but they do cloud it.  Above all, they do darken it.  All these tremendous and rather temporary discoveries have had the singular fascination that they were not merely degrading, but were also depressing.  Each in turn leaves no trace on the true and serious conclusions of the world.  But each in turn may leave very deep and disastrous wounds and dislocations in the mentality of the individual man.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Game of Psychoanalysis”, Century Magazine, May 1923, quoted in Dale Ahlquist, Common Sense 101, pg. 110.

 

The absence of boldness in public life, or in an individual’s life, can be traced back to the philosophy of relativism. Relativism is a wishy-washy perspective; it makes men wishy-washy in practice. The root of boldness is the seeing of and commitment to authoritative truth in the heart. Where there’s no authoritative truth, there can be no boldness. It is common in our present culture (i.e., relativistic America) to hear writers and teachers use soft language, “perhaps, maybe, sort of, almost, kind of.” Teachers and even Christian preachers are nervous about saying things in a definite and exclusive way. They want to be inclusive, subtle, and politically correct. Fair enough. But such a disposition is the opposite of boldness. If a man disavows clear defined truth, he will, as the daylight follows dawn, veer toward timidity. The way to be bold is not, first of all, to learn to speak in a grand and fiery manner. The way to be bold is to take hold of some grand and fiery truth. Possession of truth will make you bold. A bold man does not make a thing true. Rather, truth makes a man bold. 

Truth, clear and definite, makes men bold; truth, universal and exclusive, makes men courageous. Truth is by definition exclusive; contradiction of such truth is falsehood.

What success I have had results from the fact that I have always been certain that my military reactions were correct. Many people do not agree with me; they are wrong. The unerring jury of history written long after both of us are dead will prove me correct.

— George Patton,  qtd. in Posterity Letters, Dorie McCullough Lawson, (Double Day, 2004) pg. 100.

– such is the conviction and boldness  of a man who has got hold of TRUTH. I am right! You are wrong! Relativistic ears hate to call anyone wrong, but if an individual desires to be bold, they are going to have to see that on many, many issues, there is such thing as black/white. On many, many issues, there is no such thing as a grey area.

In a relativistic age, many truths die the death of a thousand qualifications. We feel the need to hem in every statement, and make excuses for bolder words. The bold man is willing to make a statement, and let it live: to free a truth, and let it stand on its own two feet before the stunned world. The bold man, confident in the truth of his case and cause, is willing to throw his cards down, and let the chips fall where they may. In the annals of history, no one possessed more bold energy than Jesus Christ. He words, like his deeds, are miracles: they come with sudden and bracing light. They fly like bullets, and cut like a knife. Jesus was not shy about saying, “If you do not repent, you will all likewise perish (Lk. 13.5).” He didn’t qualify the word “all.” He let the word “all” stand. Consider his use of strong terminology, “If anyone comes after me and does not hate your father, mother…even your own, life you cannot be my disciple (Mt. 10.37).” Jesus was not afraid to use all-encompassing strong language. Yes, there is a time to be gentle. But that time is not, “all the time.” If we are gentle all the time, then the whole value of gentleness is gone. There is also a time and place to be private, but the gospel is not a private, nor a personal, matter. It is a public truth in the same way that the multiplication tables are public truths.

…the gospel cannot be accommodated as one element in a society which has pluralism as its reigning ideology.  The Church cannot accept as its role simply the winning of individuals to a kind of Christian discipleship which concerns only the private and domestic aspects of life.  To be faithful to a message which concerns the kingdom of God, his rule over all things and peoples, the Church has to claim the high ground of public truth.

— Newbigen, The Gospel In A Pluralist Society.

So, clear and definite and exclusive truth makes for boldness – but such truth must be embraced in our hearts. In other words, we must believe; we must hold the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Tim. 3.9). With a sense of purpose and deliberation, we must set our hearts upon the truth.

We must also develop, by God’s grace, what Jonathan Edwards referred to as “religious affections.” This means learning to love the right things in the right order. We are to love true, and noble, right, purse, and admirable things. And we must love the best things best. A great hindrance to boldness is a disordered set of affections. For example, if we prefer peace over purity, we will never be bold. Why? Because our sense the value of things is disorderly: James counsels us to FIRST pursue purity, and then peace (James 3.17). Or, as Martin Luther put it, “Peace if possible; truth at all costs.” We may also wrongly prefer (prefer = regard with greater love) peace over persecution; again, this is disorderly love, and contrary to Jesus’ warning, “Do not fear him who can kill the body; fear him who can throw you, body and soul, into hell (Lk. 12.5).”

One great hindrance to boldness is the fear of man. Or, rather, fearing man more than God. The only way to be free of illegitimate fear is to cultivate godly fear. When Jesus urges us not to fear man, he points us to the proper fear of God, “Do not fear him… fear HIM… (Lk. 12.5).” We might also consider what a silly thing it is to fear weak and ineffectual man. After all, hat can man do to me (Heb. 13.6)?

Francis Schaeffer conquered the fear of man by grasping, on the one hand,  the greatness of God, and on the other hand, and the smallness of man. In 1951, while living in Champery Switzerland, he wrote:

I thought how our dear Lord comes into more proper perspective in our thinking in such a place as this- for the higher the mountains, the more understandable is the glory of him who made them and who holds them in his hand. But the other side is also true: man also comes into his proper place. As the Lord gains in greatness in comparison to the mountains, so man diminishes. As it is with space, it is also true of time. My letters from here go to so many countries, and in the last few years I have found friends in many of them. As I have learned the history of these lands from those who tell the history from their hearts, time has come to mean something different to me than it ever did before, when time was measured only by the short scope of the hurrying clock or cold dates on a page of the history book. But as time falls into its proper place, again God seems to grow greater by comparison, and again it has the opposite effect on man. As the mountains shrink him down to size, so also does time…the rectifying process of space and time (has) caused my view of the Lord to grow greater , and my view of man and his works and judgments to grow proportionately smaller… The mountains are too high, history is too long, and eternity is longer. God is too great, man is too small…and if one man and a small group of men do not approve of where I am and what I do, does it prove I have missed success? No; only one thing will determine that – whether this day I’m where the King of Kings and Lord of Lords wants me to be.

— Francis Schaeffer, The Letters of Francis Schaeffer (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books), 1985.

                                                                       

As a closing word, boldness does not mean that we are arrogant, or self-important. Genuine godly boldness begins with humility. Humility, first of all, as we bow before the truth. Humility, second of all, because we understand that boldness, like all issues of spiritual strength, depends first on God’s strength. So, with a sense of need, we walk humbly with God, living in his grace, depending on resources. And we pray,

Acts 4.29, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”

 

But if the biblical story is true, the kind of certainty proper to a human being will be one which rests on the fidelity of God, not upon the competence of the human knower. It will be a kind of certainty which is inseparable from gratitude and trust.
― 
Lesslie NewbiginProper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship.

QUOTES AND RESOURCES ON BOLDNESS

*with hyperlinks.

                                                                         

Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor:

See that the work of saving grace has really and truly been accomplished in your OWN souls…take heed to yourself lest you perish while you are calling others to take heed of perishing…many have warned others that they come not to the place of torment while they rushed to it themselves…Can any reasonable man imagine that God would save a man for offering salvation to others while they neglect it themselves.

J.C. Ryle, Only One Way – Christ!:

Do not be content with hearing, and approving, and assenting to the truth, and going no further.  Seek to have a personal interest in this salvation: lay hold by faith for your own soul; do not rest till you know and feel that you have gotten actual possession of that peace with God which Jesus offers, and that Christ is yours, and you are Christ’s.  If there were two, or three, or more ways of getting to heaven, there would be no necessity for pressing this matter upon you.  But if there is only one way, you will hardly wonder that I say, “Make sure that you are in it.”

Great words in reproving an error or sin, but weak arguments, produce laughter oftener than tears…. Let the reproof be as sharp as thou wilt; but the spirit must be meek. Passion raiseth the blood of him that is reproved; but compassion breaks his heart. We must not denounce wrath in wrath, lest sinners think we wish their misery; but rather with such tenderness, that they may see it is no pleasing work to us, but we do it that we might not, be a cruel silence, be accessory to their ruin, which we desire to prevent… A humble boldness, such a boldness as is raised from a confidence in God, and not from ourselves, or own gifts or ability, courage or stoutness… Some helps to produce this boldness. First, a holy fear of God. We fear man so much because we fear God so little. One fear cures another; When man’s terrors scare you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God; this is the way Jeremiah was cured of his aguish distemper, fearing man: Jer. 1.17… Third, keep a clear conscience: he cannot be a bold reprover, that is not a conscientious liver; such a one must speak softly, for fear of walking on his own guilty conscience… Unholiness in a preacher’s life will either stop his mouth from reproving, or the people’s ears from receiving. O how harsh a sound does such a cracked bell make in the ears of his audience!…consider if thou be not now bold for Christ in the ministry, thou canst not be bold before Christ at his judgment; he that is afraid to speak for Christ will certainly be ashamed to look on his face then. ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ’ 2 Cor. 5:10. Now what use doth Paul make of this solemn meditation? ‘Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men’… It is a very small thing to be judged by men now for our boldness, but dismal to be condemned by Christ for our cowardice… pray for this holy boldness… it was the child of prayer (Acts 4.29ff)… Mark, they do not pray to be excused the battle, but to be armed with courage to stand in it; they had rather be lifted above the fear of suffering, than have immunity from the suffering… If this be thy sincere request, God will not deny it.

Wherein do evangelical Churchmen fall short of their great predecessors? Let us look this question fairly in the face. Let us come to particulars. They fall short in doctrine. They are neither so full nor so distinct, nor so bold, nor so uncompromising. They are afraid of strong statements. They are too ready to fence, and guard, and qualify all their teaching, as if Christ’s gospel was a little baby, and could not be trusted to walk alone. They fall short as preachers. They have neither the fervor, nor fire, nor thought, nor illustration, nor directness, nor boldness, nor grand simplicity of language which characterized the last century. Above all, they fall short in life. They are not men of one thing, separate from the world, unmistakable men of God, ministers of Christ everywhere, indifferent to man’s opinion, regardless of who is offended, if they only preach the truth. They do not make the world feel that a prophet is among them, and carry about with them their Master’s presence, as Moses when he came down from the mount… Ease and popularity, and the absence of persecution, are ruinous to some. An extravagant and excessive attention to petty details withers up the ministry of others. An absurd straining after the reputation of being “intellectual” and original is the curse of others. A desire to seem charitable and liberal, and keep in with everybody, paralyzes the ministry of others.

Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, pg. 16-17: 

(Why is it that bible believing Christian colleges, seminaries, and even whole denominations abandon ‘the faith?) There are several different reasons, of course. But giving in to cultural pressure is often a significant factor. In every generation there are popular views in the culture that contradict what the Bible says, and it is so easy to compromise on one point or another… Almost nobody wants to tackle the subject (of evangelical feminism)! It is “too controversial,” which means it will stir up objections and many people will be upset. It is not easy to stand against the culture. It is much easier to give in and say women can do whatever men can do in the church and in the home.

Luther to Erasmus, Bondage of the Will, pg. 66-70:

Now, lest we be misled by words let me say here that by ‘assertion’ I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it, and persevering in it unvanquished… And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures. Outside this we do not need Erasmus or any other teacher to tell us that over matters which are doubtful, or unprofitable and unnecessary, assertions and contentions are not merely stupid, but positively impious; Paul condemns them often enough! …What Christian can endure the idea that we should deprecate all assertions? That would be denying all religion and piety in one breath – asserting that religion and piety and all dogmas are just nothing at all…Woe to the Christian who doubts the truth of what is commanded him and does not follow it! – for how can he believe what he does not follow… In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace; you would be happy for anyone whose life, reputation, welfare or influence was at stake to emulate him who said ‘if they affirm, I affirm; if they deny, so do I (Ter., Eun),. II. 2.21); and you would encourage him to treat Christian doctrines as no better than the views of human philosophers – about which, of course, it is stupid to wrangle and fight and assert, since nothing results but bad feeling and breaches of outward peace… Fear the Spirit of God, who searches the reins and heart, and is not deceived by stupid speeches… The Holy Spirit is no Skeptic; and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions – surer and more certain than sense and life itself.

Strunk and White, Elements of Style, 3rd edition:

 Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.. This is true not only in narrative principally concerned with action, but in writing of any kind. Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice… Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract… If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is on this: the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is to be specific, definite, and concrete.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles: The Green Stick, pg. 171: 

It is painful to me now to reflect on the ease with which I got into the way of using this non-language; these drooling non-sentences conveying non-thoughts, propounding non-fears and offering non-hopes. Words are as beautiful as love, and as easily betrayed. I am more penitent for my false words – for the most part, mercifully lost forever in the Media’s great slag-heaps – than for false deeds.

“Where two or three are gathered in my name” –  the imagery “in my name” comes from the Old Testament (1 Kings 8:29).  The name of God becomes resident in the temple. Jesus is referring to the “name theology” of the OT. The name of God goes with the temple of God. In the NT, the church is the temple; wherever the church goes, the name goes. “In my name” is temple talk. The temple was royal: it was God’s palace. When we are gathered in church, “in the name,” it is a royal image – the preacher is the royal herald. The preacher receives the message from the great king of heaven and has the objective of giving the message to the people of God. This is a far cry from the greeter, therapist, politician or teacher. A herald of God must be a holy herald. This is not an ordinary event. Not all things are holy as this is. Also, no herald in the ancient world would have dared to say anything different from what the king said. A royal herald says what the king says, no matter what. Heralds had authority. When preaching is true to the word, it is the word, and thus the people of God are to hear it.

Also for preachers, see The Second Helveltic Confession, Chapter 1:

The Preaching of the Word of God Is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.  Neither do we think that therefore the outward preaching is to be thought as fruitless because the instruction in true religion depends on the inward illumination of the Spirit, or because it is written And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor . . ., for they shall all know me (Jer. 31:34), and Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (I Cor. 3:7). For although no one can come to Christ unless he be drawn by the Father (John 6:44), and unless the Holy Spirit inwardly illumines him, yet we know that it is surely the will of God that his Word should be preached outwardly also. God could indeed, by his Holy Spirit, or by the ministry of an angel, without the ministry of St. Peter, have taught Cornelius in the Acts; but, nevertheless, he refers him to Peter, of whom the angel speaking says, He shall tell you what you ought to do (Acts 10:6).

 Charles Spurgeon, The Evils Of The Present Time:

The next thing necessary for the present time is that we should have more faith. We need to believe more intensely in God, so as to trust Him more practically and more unquestioningly. The things which we believe must become more real to us. I fear we often use words without feeling their true meaning. This is terrible. It is a sort of willful murder to expel the soul from pious phrases, and still to use them. Let us be honest about the things of God; let us mean all that we say, and say only what we mean. It is a shocking thing for a man to talk all manner of Evangelical, gracious, and sanctifying things, and yet to mean nothing by them. I fear our pulpits are not free from such word-mongers. Let us not hold forth shadows before the people… To us Christ is a real Christ; and the Holy Ghost within a man brings real life from the dead. If we do not preach realities, I pray God we may be driven out of the ministry, in which we are only treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. 

Augustine on The Aim of The Orator:

Neither is it a necessity to give pleasure; for when, in the course of an address, the truth is clearly pointed out (and this is the true function of teaching), it is not the fact, nor is it the intention, that the style of speech should make the truth pleasing, or that the style should of itself give pleasure; but the truth itself, when exhibited in its naked simplicity, gives pleasure, because it is the truth.  And hence even falsities are frequently a source of pleasure when they are brought to light and exposed.  It is not, of course, their falsity that gives pleasure; but as it is true that they are false, the speech which shows this to be true gives pleasure.

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