Meeting the Hard Cases
Isaac Asimov was a nice guy with dramatic muttonchop whiskers. Once a month this Russian-born (but as he said "Brooklyn-bred") author of more than four hundred books indulged in his secret passion: He sung comic opera with his pals in New York's Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
Asimov was a charming walking encyclopedia. His simple language, humor and warmth delighted audiences. He was a man interested in the common good: He was concerned with world hunger, overpopulation and the destruction of the ozone layer.
Asimov was also a secularist, by which I mean someone who seeks to approach life without "the hindrance of religion." He thought belief in God was at the least irrelevant, and perhaps even harmful. Secularists often refer to themselves as humanists, and this is true of Asimov. As a signer of the Humanist Manifesto II he was convinced that "no deity would save us; we must save ourselves.
Asimov was past president of the American Humanist Association. During his presidency he constantly opposed evangelical Christianity. For Asimov, all evangelicals were "fundamentalists"—narrow-minded, Bible-toting bigots, responsible for most of the world's ills. Asimov dismissed evangelicals as anti-intellectual and dangerous. He likened them to Omar, the Muslim calif, who burned the library of Alexandria saying, "If the books [therein] agree with the Koran, they are not necessary and may be burned; if they disagree with the Koran, they are pernicious and must> be burned." Evangelicals "think that all of knowledge will fit into one book called the Bible and refuse to allow that there is even the conceivability of an error in there" (The Humanist, January/February 1989).
When men die, Asimov said, they go to neither heaven nor hell. There is only nothingness. His fundamental theory is materialistic: The universe is nothing but matter and matter in motion; no spiritual dimension exists; no super-intellect is behind creation.
Isaac Asimov was what I call a hard case. He was difficult to approach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ because as with all hard cases, he was separated from God by religious or philosophical systems that are alternatives to the message of personal salvation.
Shirley MacLaine is another hard case, but of a different kind. She is probably the last person in the world with whom Isaac Asimov would have wanted to be identified. MacLaine represents everything Asimov despised: all that is unscientific, irrational and spooky-spiritual. Yet MacLaine and Asimov are both effectively isolated from the truth about God by philosophical alternatives to the Gospel.
MacLaine is an occultist, a leader in what we have come to call the New Age movement. Unlike Asimov she does not doubt God's existence. She is very much "into" God. For MacLaine, everything is spiritual. While Asimov denied the existence of the spiritual world, MacLaine doubts the existence of the physical world. MacLain's philosophy stems from the concept of monism: Everything is one spiritual reality; only God exists. The physical universe is an illusion. Our job is to escape the world of illusion—the physical—andbecome one with the true spiritual world, at which point we ourselves become God.
MacLaine, a New Age guru, has written several books detailing her spiritual experiences. Her one-day "Higher Consciousness Seminars" (whichNewsweek, July 27, 1987, calls "part pep-rally, part seance-in-a-circus-tent") attract thousands of people at $300 a head. She is fascinated with all things psychic and recently praised the metaphysical advances of the Soviet Union. She calls the Russian occult movement "very, very evolved."
For all their differences, MacLaine and Asimov shared at least one thing in common: scorn for "fundamentalist" Christians. MacLaine has some room for a mystical brand of Christianity, however, because she senses some Christians "resonate to the highest octave of.. . positive love capacity."
Isaac Asimov believed there is no God; MacLaine believeseverything is God. Asimov was an atheist, a material monist who believed everything is material. MacLaine is a spiritual monist who believes everything is spirit. These two ideas challenge classic Christianity from opposite poles. They represent two of the three hard case challenges to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The third comes from groups Christians refer to as cults. These are groups that claim a biblical heritage, yet have departed from orthodox Christianity.
Cults have always plagued Christianity. Throughout history thousands of groups have broken away from the Church claiming it has fallen from true faith and that they are the only true Christians. Cults typically retain much of the terminology and doctrine of orthodox Christianity, but redefine the nature and purpose of Jesus Christ.
An example of this counterfeit Christianity is the cult of Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. Moon was born to Presbyterian parents in Korea in 1920. He claimed to have had a vision in which Jesus told him to restore true Christianity to the earth. Moon was to finish the job Jesus failed to accomplish. The problem, according to Moon, was that while Jesus won mankind's spiritual redemption, He was crucified before He could marry and have children. As a result, He failed to purify the human race physically. Moon supposedly accomplished that task with his marriage to his fourth wife, Jak Ja Han, in 1960. Though Moon's religion contains occult elements, it is a non-Christian cult because it departs from orthodox Christian teaching.
The Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, founded Mormonism after a vision in which he, too, was told the Church had fallen and God was calling him to restore it. Mormonism is another example of cultism.
Hard Cases Are Everywhere
Asimov's secularism, MacLaine's occultism and Moon's cultism are examples of hard case philosophies. These alternatives to the Gospel are not, I am quite sure, philosophical accidents. I believe they are purposed, sophisticated and malicious attacks upon scriptural truth about God and man. I am convinced the devil has set himself to pervert the Gospel message through philosophical and religious misunderstanding.
At this point, I want to pause for a moment to describe a problem I face in writing this book. The problem has to do with the use of Scripture in addressing hard cases. We must be careful in our use of the Bible in witnessing. As I have pointed out, secularists scoff at the thought that the Bible is the Word of God. Occultists ridicule the idea that the Bible occupies a unique place among the scores of religious writings found throughout the world. Only the cultist has a regard for the Bible as unique Scripture, but he often thinks that our Bible needs to be rewritten or otherwise edited. We must bear this in mind as we approach these three hard case categories. It would be futile, for example, to refute Asimov and MacLaine with quotes from Scripture.
The Bible tells us Satan comes only to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Asimov and MacLaine, however, are unaware that they are deceived. Christians realize that such people are victims of the devil's lies. Millions of people have been robbed of fellowship with God because the devil has thrown them a curve. Though they may be idealistic and have a desire to live honest, righteous lives, they have been spiritually duped. If they are not rescued they face eternal separation from God.
The United States once was a theistic nation. People generally believed that God existed and that man was morally responsible to His laws. This has changed dramatically. Secularism has come to dominate the United States, indeed the entire Western world. Science has become God for many people. By the 1950s intellectuals were glibly declaring "God is dead!"
Nowhere is secularism more observable than on the college campus. My friend Tim's experience is typical. His physics professor, a dyed-in-the-wool secularist, challenged Christianity from the lectern regularly. Like so many young Christians, Tim was not prepared for his teacher's blatant secularism. "Nothing exists," the professor told his class, "except matter and matter in motion. There is no God, no absolute morality, no reason behind the way things are. Man is but the evolutionary product of numberless chance mutations."
Tim, frustrated that a man he highly respected was so devoid of spiritual insight, boldly asked the professor what he lived for if he had no hope for life beyond death. The professor said, "I guess I live from one sexual climax to another."
In the last twenty years secularism has had to compete with occultism for equal time on campuses. In the last ten years we have experienced an explosion of the occult. Schools and churches tout Eastern mystical philosophy; the yellow pages are full of New Age counselors; witchcraft— and even Satanism—is widespread. Evangelical Christians were shocked to learn that President Reagan's appointment schedule was cleared through his wife's astrologer.
The dramatic rise of the occult in America was, in large part, a backlash from the materialistic lifestyle of America following World War II. Idealistic young people who had not experienced the rigors of the Depression and war years were quick to point out inequities and shallowness in American society. They were discouraged by the Vietnam War. They opened their arms to the hippie/drug movement and followed Timothy Leary's suggestion to "tune in, turn on and drop out." Eastern religious philosophy permeated the hippie movement.
Finally, non-Christian cults flourish. Mormonism has baptized five million converts in the last twenty years; Jehovah's Witnesses are at our doors; new aberrant groups spin off from the Church continually under the leadership of earnest but misguided leaders.
Hard cases are not easily won to Christ. The sad fact is, Christians are not reaching them. It is my observation that if a person in America has not heard and accepted the Gospel message by age eighteen, he or she has heard and accepted an alternative to it.
Many Christians are not prepared to win hard cases. We are too often ignorant of what hard cases believe, intimidated by their polished responses and grossly unprepared in our own Christianity.
Nevertheless, hard cases can be won. I have had the privilege of leading Mormons, New Agers and atheists to Christ. I have heard hundreds of testimonies of former secularists, occultists and cultists. In giving us the Great Commission, Jesus did not give us "Mission Impossible."
The Gospel is still "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" it (Romans 1:16). We must rise to the challenge of reaching the hard cases. To do that we must equip ourselves for the battle.
Equipping is both spiritual and intellectual. It is necessary to understand how the devil poisons those he has marked for destruction, to know the antidote for the poison and to know how to administer the antidote. As God has revealed Himself to mankind, the devil has opposed that revelation with alternative ideas. We will be tracing that interaction—illustrated on the two charts, Chart A and Chart B—in later chapters. For now keep in mind the two principles that must be balanced constantly by the wise evangelist: truth and love. He must be loving be cause the truth without love is too hard. He must be tough, on the other hand, because love without the truth is too soft. The Holy Spirit can use a combination of truth and love to win hard cases—"impossibles"—for Christ.