If you tell someone he can’t do something, in most cases that person will stop before he even tries. Of course, there are some people who take the impossible as a challenge and use the impossible as an incentive to work hard to disprove the critics. Many of the advances in science, technology, and everyday life are the result of people who fought against impossible odds.
Life is full of impossible challenges until someone comes along and defies the detractors. I wonder how many people in 1903 — when the Wright Brothers took to the air for the first time in their heavier-than-air flying machine — ever conceived that in 1969 two men would land and walk on the moon.
With this short background, I want to discuss a statement that John MacArthur made in he preached on Mark 13:14-23. He had already dealt with verses 1–13 in previous messages:
It ought to be obvious to all of you now. I think it will be when I say this, that there is no hope for a better world. Are you pretty well settled in on that? Yeah, the world is not getting better, is it? More scary, more threatening, more dangerous, more deadly, more hopeless.
Humanity is not headed toward a humanly engineered utopia. Folks, there is no Age of Aquarius. There is no coming time of world peace. This is a cursed planet and it exists under the effects of sin and divine cursing. Not only does all creation groan because it is cursed, but sinners live in this creation are also cursed and so it is a compounded curse that makes life so difficult.
The environment feels the effects of sin. The population feels the effects of sin. And collectively, mankind with all of his ingenious abilities and all of his mental powers, and all of his determination cannot restrain the deadly influences that are in the very DNA of this creation. The earth and its environment and its inhabitants make survival difficult. We live on a dangerous planet and it is becoming more dangerous as it nears its final end. The second law of [thermodynamics] — entropy — the law that tells us all things are breaking down, tending toward disorder, is at work at every level.
Since MacArthur is basing his above remarks on Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse, we have to ask this question: Where would we be in this period of history if ministers of the gospel had preached on the same text 1900 years ago telling new Christians “that there is no hope for a better world”? This would include advances in technology, science, hygiene, medicine, dentistry, food production, disease prevention, infant mortality, communication, transportation, to name a few advances that are the result of worldview Christianity.
It’s obvious that a lot of things are better today than they were just 100 year ago. The building where John MacArthur preached this message is a wonder of technology and comfort that can be attributed to a biblical view of the world.
Consider science. If we are to believe secularists, religion has been the enemy of science. In reality, “it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.”(1) Before science could get started in proposing theories, certain assumptions about the way the world works had to be assumed to be valid and operationally consistent. Isaac Newton’s encounter with a falling apple and the theories that followed did not immediately change the way people lived. Everyone knew the effect of gravity, even though they did not always understand all of its characteristics and functions or give the “scientific law” a name. When people stepped outside, they never considered that they would float away. Rain always fell down from a cloud-filled sky, and sailors knew the daily change in the tides. Water was wet, and when it got cold enough, it froze, even if no one knew its precise freezing point.
For millennia people from around the globe operated in terms of these assumptions even though they did not always comprehend them theoretically or scientifically. They came to be designated “natural laws,” the “laws of nature,” or the “laws of Nature’s God,” critical assumptions about the way the world worked that did not exist in India, China, or among the Islamic nations. These universal laws operated predictably because the majority of people–scientists included — accepted that they were God’s laws, established and upheld by Him.
It has even been suggested that such a view played a key role in the successful development of science in the Western cultures, and did so because they were influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition which fostered faith in the underlying rationality and orderliness of Nature during periods of history when human ideas were inbred by all manner of magical and occult notions.(2)
Life is predictable because God is predictable. Even those who did not embrace a biblical worldview knew that they could not develop an ordered world without the shared belief that God was necessary to make it happen.
In cultures where progress was made in mathematics, science, medicine, political theory, and law, people assumed that the world was not an illusion, that truth mattered, and man was a rational being created by a rational God even though at times man behaved irrationally and believed irrational things.
Cultures that believed that spirits inhabited trees, rocks, and animals made very little progress culturally and scientifically because they never knew what the spirits might do. There was never a guarantee that what people did one day could be repeated on another day. They were at the mercy of what they believed were impersonal forces controlled by capricious gods who were always changing the rules.
Pagan religions are typically animistic or pantheistic, treating the natural world either as the abode of the divine or as an emanation of God’s own essence. The most familiar form of animism holds that spirits or gods reside in nature. In the words of Harvey Cox, a Baptist theologian, pagan man “lives in an enchanted forest.” Glens and groves, rocks and streams are alive with spirits, sprites, demons. Nature teems with sun gods, river goddesses, astral deities.(3)
These false operational assumptions meant that the world could not be studied in a reliable and systematic way. “As long as nature commands religious worship, dissecting her is judged impious. As long as the world is charged with divine beings and powers, the only appropriate response is to supplicate them or ward them off.”(4) As James B. Jordan writes:
Technology is a purely Christian thing. It is impossible to take a technological view of the world in a pagan culture, partly because the world is seen as inhabited by spirits who will be offended if we manipulate the world, and partly because the means of manipulation is seen as magical, the use of mental and/or ritual occult powers.
It is Christian faith which pronounces the world free of demons and spirits, and which encourages men to manipulate it. It is Christian faith which says that men cannot and must not try to play god (via magic), and which directs men to the use of tools (technology) as a means of dominion. In fine, the development of tools (technology) is exclusively Christian, and has happened beyond a very marginal degree only in the West. Indeed, the two great eras for technological development were the Christian Middle Ages, and the protestant industrial Revolution.(5)
Some will counter that the world is a dangerous and immoral place. So what’s new about that? The world wasn’t an immoral place in Jesus’ day? The apostle Paul addressed the issue of “ungodliness,” worship of the creation rather than the Creator, and general lawlessness that included homosexuality (Rom. 1:18–32; also see 1 Cor. 6:1–11; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). His epistles are filled with admonition against the moral decline of his day.
There were persecutions, martyrdom, “wars and rumors of wars,” “famines,” one of which was said to be over the entire Roman Empire (Acts 11:28) in the period just after Jesus’ ministry. What would have happened if a minister of the gospel had gone about the Roman Empire telling new Christians “there is no hope for a better world”?
There’s a great deal more to say on this issue and MacArthur’s later claim that society “does not advance morally. It does not advance spiritually. And it does not advance socially.”
- Loren Eisely, Darwin’s Century (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958), 62. Quoted in Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 18.(↩)
- John D. Barrow, The World Within the World (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1988), 23.(↩)
- Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 23–24.(↩)
- Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 24.(↩)
- James B. Jordan, “Popular Fictional Literature,” The Geneva Review (April 1984), 2.(↩)