The Decline of Certitude
by Dennis Michelson
The Look of Certainty
Introduction: Certitude means the freedom of doubt in matters of opinion. The term is often used in matters of faith also. We appear to now live in a society obsessed with the certainty that no one can be certain about anything. Professor Allan Bloom predicted as much in 1987 when he said, "There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students' reaction: they will be uncomprehending."
It appears that Dr. Bloom does better with his predictions than Harold Camping. I smile a bit now when I muse about the great push toward a Christian liberal arts education in a former generation. The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration.
Much of the so-called Christian liberal arts education protocol will not countenance "alternate answers" and does not view with favor those who resist the preferred answers. A university was meant to be an island of intellectual freedom where all views were investigated without restriction.
Since this was not done in many Christian universities, we now have a host of graduates who have rejected the preferred answers for many of the alternate answers. In some cases, this is a positive development, while in others it has led to spiritual shipwrecks.
It is said that modern antagonists no longer listen to one another because they appear to be more concerned with being right than being righteous. As a result we - at least as a society - fear intolerance more than we fear error. Therefore the real enemy in this new world order is the man or woman who is not open to everything.
This is why there has been such a concentrated attack on the founding principles of America. If one can prove that the beginnings were flawed then it justifies more "openness" to the new and improved social order. Down with the morals and up with the mores. Therefore, right and wrong can be re-defined in four-year cycles and consequently the greatest enemy of all is Truth.
The prophet Isaiah addressed this issue in the text before us. The primary intention of the text (if I may venture into some certainty) was to warn Israel of impending judgment due to their impiety and injustice. There is definitely (there I go being certain again) a secondary application of these principles for America on a national level and professing believers on a personal level.
The key point - as it relates to this message - is found in verse 20 - Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for drakness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
THEIR PRIVILEGES (5:1-2)
Some older expositors believe that this may be the very song Jesus sang or recited when He looked out over Jersulem toward the end of His earthly ministry. He bemoans their -
1. Position (1) on a very fruitful hill
2. Protection (2) the text suggests that he had made a fence around them by using the same stones that were hindering them from being fruitful
3. Preservation (2) God had removed all of the stumblingblocks that served as obstacles to their fruitfulness
4. Privilege (2) the choicest vine emphasizes how the Lord had provided the very best of everything in order to ensure the maximum fruitfulness of Israel
5. Product (2) wild grapes instead of good grapes. This is also a fairly accurate description of what God finds in the contemporary Church.
HIS PLEA (5:4)
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
HIS PRONOUNCEMENTS (5:8-24) Series of Woes
1. Development driven by greed (5:8-10)
2. Disregard driven by self-centeredness (5:11-12)
3. Defiance driven by unbelief (5:18-19)
4. Distinctions driven by humanism (5:20)
5. Debate driven by relativism (5:21)
6. Debauchery driven by fear (5:22-23)
THE PRINCIPLE (5:24)
. . .because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Conclusion: The decline of certitude may not be all bad. Some see it as compromise while others view it as growth. Please allow me to conclude with three observations.
THE CAUSES OF THE DECLINE OF CERTITUDE
1. Traditions had become elevated to the status of Truth. Those who are now making distinctions between man's traditions and the truth of God are finding certitude of the best kind. It is better to be certain about the Truth and not quite so certain about the "traditions."
2. Preferences had become elevated to the level of convictions. Genuine certitude allows for no doubt. One should not doubt his true convictions but there cannot be the same level of certainty about preferences. You are willing to live and die by your convictions. With preferences, you need to learn to "live and let live." Transforming personal preferences into convictions is what so many Christian "university" students are running away from today.
3. Experience had replaced exegesis. You know - my mind is made up so don't confuse me with the facts.
4. Hymnology had replaced theology
5. Leaders were "right" in their preaching but not "righteous" in their living. We forgot that the man of God is still a man. Being a great preacher does not exempt you from being a good Christian.
6. Believers were looking for "leaders" and not "feeders." Sadly, some followed leaders and not the Lord.
THE CONCERNS/CAUTIONS OVER THE DECLINE IN CERTITUDE
1. I am concerned that the Church will become certain of uncertainty.
2. I am concerned that broadcasters and authors will become the new false gods and high places for believers who are disenchanted with local church leadership.
3. I am concerned that many ancient landmarks may be removed without ever really knowing why they were there in the first place
4. I am concerned that in our move away from Pharisaism we will let the pendulum swing all the way over to the Philistines. In the former they used the truth to kill the Truth while in the latter they simply rejected the Truth in favor of tradition. In both instances, the Truth was obscured.
THE COMFORT IN THE DECLINE OF CERTITUDE
1. Many believers who were told "what" to believe are finally (and gladly) delving into "why" they believe.
2. Many believers are reading a lot about biblical subjects. Hopefully this will translate into more reading of the Bible.
3. Many believers are finding that the fruit of the Spirit carries as much weight with a lost and dying world as the Sword of the Spirit. Salty Christians make a thirsty world. Not to be confused with rubbing salt into open wounds. Remember, there is a balm in Gilead.
I have been blessed with the responsibility of teaching and training many students. At this point in my life I have come to realize that the best lessons are caught, not taught. In a way, I would love to get all of my former students together and apologize to them for too much certitude regarding issues of no real consequence.
Thankfully, it seems that many of them are doing just fine with the Spirit of God as their teacher. I remain certain that He who has begun a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.