The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge—And It’s Recovery by Christ Followers!
Notes for a presentation at the Association of Christian Character Development in 2012.
(1). Any Association of Christian Character Development (ACCD) will be environed by a world of people that do not have the character of Christ—many of whom are professing Christians, with a long history as such, but little or no progress toward the character and power of Christ. One might think that the Christian churches would be ACCDs of the highest order.
(2). Dysfunctional human lives arise out of (A) the destructive patterns (‘sin’) of feeling and action into which children are born and formed, and (B) the “wisdom” (the dominant idea system) that justifies or explains “life as usual” for broken people in a broken world.
(3). This “wisdom” is promoted under the authority of academic, intellectual, and artistic institutions—mainly what we call “higher education,” but also the professions and social and economic organizations. These institutions and organizations present a certain framework of human life as “reality,” and instruct and invest in research and creativity in how to live in that reality. A word for that is “secularism.” That reality is what the NEW TESTAMENT calls “the world.”
(4). The system of worldly wisdom produces second-level theories—theories about knowledge, belief, concepts and representations—which serve to secure the worldly wisdom as the only thing available to human beings. Reality and truth are scorned as something human beings have no access to. We can only float in a sea of opinions enforced by social or even governmental force. The system of worldly wisdom actually serves as an alternative to traditional wisdom and common sense. They undermine the authority of traditional and mainly religious teachings. Thus relativism, postmodernism, deconstruction: consider them not just in terms of what they are against, but what you and human beings generally are left with when they have done their work. (Fletcher’s “situation ethics” an early manifestation.)
(5). The “disappearance of moral knowledge” in our society—the failure of instructional institutions to provide KNOWLEDGE of good and evil, right and wrong—leaves people totally at the mercy of desire and power—of themselves, of others, or just of how “the world” works. For example, of how education or government or social institutions such as marriage work. Multitudes are already ruined by habits of thought, feeling, and action by the time they are beyond elementary grades, or even before that. “Home” often is little more than hell for the little ones. Then they go on to perpetrate what they have experienced. There is no alternative reality and knowledge available for them as they mature.
(6). Traditional Christian teaching is that there is an alternative reality and knowledge—that one way destroys human existence, and the other way elevates and secures it. Psalm One is among of the clearest presentations of this on record. Most religions have some analogue to this. The “two ways” is all a part of the traditional wisdom that is now ridiculed in the name of elite theories. The teachings of Jesus also sharply present two radically different ways of life. (Matt. 7:13-27) The Way he brings is a way of verifiable knowledge, open for anyone who really wants to know and is prepared to be thorough and fair. (John 8:31-32)
(7). Secular institutions cannot recover moral knowledge in a humanly adequate form because they are set to exalt humanity. With individual variations, their response is exactly the one those who initially heard these words of Jesus gave: “We’re okay Jack” (‘children of Abraham’), “and have never yet been enslaved to anyone.” (8:33) Except to self obsession, maybe some drugs or alcohol, and to making the lives of others miserable! Knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, depends upon willingness to repent.
(8). It is the people of Christ—not just “professors” but possessors—who can restore moral knowledge to the public arena. That would be done in the practices of such individuals in their communities, guided by appropriate teaching and proclamation. Knowledge is made real to people in general only by living it out in reality, and then, of course, it has to be interpreted and explained. This is how the ‘church’ initially brought a moral understanding to the world that, until a century or so ago, was understood to be the best knowledge possible on how to live. But the ‘church’ was beguiled into saying that they had faith, not knowledge, and lost the right to teach.
(9). Now it is for the people of Christ to be genuine followers of Christ—that is, those who do, and learn and teach how to do, what he said. Of course non-Christians standardly expect Christians to do that—but Christians themselves do not. They even develop theologies that explain why they don’t, and don’t need to, do that. This is now standard ‘Christianity’. Just look around. So who is to do it? Well, as many as possible of course. Possibly an ACCD? Any group will have faults and failures if they try this. That has always been true of the Church at its very best. But what is the intent of our churches and groups, and is there an openness and humility to learn?
(10). So let us humbly and resolutely say that a good person is one pressing onward to fullness of agape love, drawn and upheld by the constant hand of God’s grace and the presence of the person of Christ in their lives: “completing holiness in awe of the Lord.” (2 Cor.7:1) Such a person is intelligently and relentlessly devoted to the accomplishment of all the good in their power. And let us present this as PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE of moral truth and reality. Let this be our constant VISION and INTENTION as we live as students and apprentices of Jesus in Kingdom Living in all aspects of life.
(11). The remaining task is to find ways of making the intention effective and the vision reality. This, as I understand it, is the work of the Association of Christian Character Development. It is not to install another vision, nor does it make disciples of itself, but it finds and implements ways of developing disciples of Jesus into people who routinely and easily do the things Christ did and said. They are like that because the character of his inner life has come to be the overriding factor of their own. They therefore bring the presence of the Kingdom of God into every place they are and to all they touch. They make tangibly present the alternative to “the world” and its “wisdom.”