Around academia I’ve heard it said that the definition of “tragedy” is when a beautiful theory is attacked by a brutal gang of facts. Many in the halls of higher education have cherished theories about how the world works. The intellectual starting point is often an assumed naturalism. Immeasurably pervasive is the assumption that there is no God and this material world is all there is. For decades, Western academia has come to the chalkboard assuming against the existence of a supernatural realm. Claims about God or faith are dismissed as purely matters of opinion.
Over the past 20 years, this mindset has really morphed into a militant secularism. Professors who do believe in God or who are Christians dare not “come out of the closet” for fear of losing tenure, being ostracized in their department, or being blackballed when it comes to budget allocations or grant money. Students who question certain tenets that academia has – for the moment – made matters of “doctrine” (such as Darwinian evolution, the legitimacy of homosexuality and transgenderism, or that climate change is definitely caused by human activity) pay a price. They may be shamed in class by instructors, harassed online by their peers, or even failed.
But isn’t education all about the search for truth, wherever that truth may lead? One would think so. But even when things like historical facts, unexpected scientific data, or present circumstances mitigate against widely held assumptions about reality … well, let’s just say that the power to influence culture (not to mention school budgets) is not given up willingly.
Of Christmas and Culture
So what might all of this have to do with our Christmas this year? Could the birth of a Jewish baby 2,000 years ago somehow relate to 21st century concerns in America and the West? The answer is yes! If Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be, and if the backstory about His life and mission is factually true, then He is the key to understanding realty. And I mean real reality: The way things truly are.
Regarding Jesus’ “backstory,” consider the implications of John’s Gospel, chapter 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Right there, atheism, naturalism and materialism are all nullified. The physical world, it turns out, is not all there is.
Verse 3 goes on to say, “Through Him were all things made. Without Him nothing was made that has been made.” The Scripture is not being redundant here. Because that Bethlehem babe was actually the eternal Creator taking on a human body, He is thus, Maker and Messiah. Our search for truth may then rule out undirected evolution and look seriously at creation. A powerful Being initiated a beginning (goodbye, eternal universe theories), and intentionally caused the world around us. The cosmos has purpose and is not all that there is.
John 1:4-5 speaks of this Word – Jesus – being “the light of all mankind,” promising that, “the darkness will not overcome the light.” Great! Nihilism (from the Latin word “nothing”) is therefore false, and I need not lose sleep over any yin/yang fatalism. Existence is not futility, truth and light will prevail, and my life does have purpose! The implication is that I am even personally known by God. This changes everything!
If the subject matter of John 1 corresponds to reality (and the case for the Bible’s absolute trustworthiness is compelling), then atheism, secularism, moral relativism and politically correct pluralism are all false. God is real, life has purpose, and yes, humans are accountable.
Students have related to me stories of professors who undermine God artfully and winsomely, and others who impose their unbelief with a sort of blunt-force trauma. But in light of Christ and John 1, so much of what we call education today is vapid, vacuous and moot.
If Jesus Christ came from heaven, is Himself Divine, and shows us the way to God and to everything good for which the human race longs—as I said, this changes everything—a culture that has tethered itself to godlessness (largely at the behest of secular academia) is investing itself in that which is false. And I think most would agree that is never a good idea to invest oneself in that which is wrong.
Because this season is so much about gift-giving (and in the spirit of Matthew 2:1-12, rightly so), let us be grateful for another benefit of Christmas. The gift of knowing what is true and being “in on the story” – that’s no small thing. God has shown us Who He is, how we may know Him and essentially what’s going on.
Do you seriously want to find ultimate truth? Make sure your journey winds through a little Middle Eastern town called Bethlehem.
Dr. Alex McFarland is a religion and culture expert, national talk show host, speaker and author of 18 books, including “Stand Strong America.” He also serves as Director for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at the Christian Worldview Center of North Greenville University in Greenville, S.C., and spent 20-plus years training teens and adults in the biblical worldview.