Good without God?
I read two interesting articles this week… one about Greg Epstein- the new Chief of Chaplains at Harvard University and the other about a German biblical theologian- Ernst Lohmeyer, who died at the hands of the East German communist government. At first glance, these two articles do not seem to have any connection to one another. Yet, God has a way of showing the intersection of thought that can shine a bright and often uncomfortable light on reality.
First, let me introduce Greg Epstein. He is an avowed atheist. He identifies as a “humanist”, who declared: “We don’t look to a god for answers anymore, we are each other’s answers.” Epstein authored Good without God, that espouses a world view that centers on people’s relationships with one another instead of with God. He focuses on what it means to be “a good human and live an ethical life.” Epstein’s election to his new post reflects a broader trend among young people who increasingly identify as “spiritual” but not “religious.” The Pew Research Center has found that more than 20% of the country identifies as atheist, agnostic or nonreligious- called the ‘nones’. Among the millennial generation, four in ten count themselves as part of the ‘nones’. A Harvard Crimson survey of the class of 2019 found that Harvard students were two times more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic than their peers in the general population. Epstein’s selection as Chief of Chaplains highlights not only the significant slide by our younger generation into a godless worldview, but also the institutional support given to that slide.
What a change from the founding principles of Harvard. The Puritan colonists who settled in New England in the 1630’s had a nagging concern about the churches they were building: How would they ensure that the clergymen would be literate? Their answer was Harvard University, a school that was established to educate ministers. Their adopted motto was: “Truth for Christ and the Church.” Other universities were likewise established: Princeton, Yale, Drew… each with the purpose of raising up an educated clergy so that the church would have solid teaching. Harvard was named after a pastor, John Harvard, and for the next 70 years Harvard would be led by a clergyman president. Now, nearly four centuries later, Harvard has raised up an atheist as the leader of their Chaplains. Harvard has abandoned the search for the “truth of Christ” that was their founding principle, for the sake of a diversity of thought espoused by Epstein.
And now let me introduce Ernst Lohmeyer, a German theologian from the 1940’s. In 1946, Lohmeyer was selected to be the president of Greifswald University in Germany. A New Testament scholar and theologian, an expert on the Gospel of Mark, he resisted the rise of Nazi fascism as a member of the Confessing Church movement. Most of the signatories of the Barmen Confession, written by the leaders of the Confessing Church movement, lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was among that group. But Lohmeyer survived, until the Soviet occupation of Germany that divided his country. On February 15, 1946 the Soviet NKVD raided his home, imprisoned and silenced Lohmeyer. His work in the Gospel of Mark survived, but only in obscurity. The Soviets were intent on silencing the truth of Jesus Christ behind the Iron Curtain. Their efforts were largely successful for many years, leaving a modern-day Germany with an anemic Christian witness.
Do you see the parallel between the violent suppression of gospel truth by the Soviets in 1946, and the quiet silencing of the truth of Jesus Christ by Harvard in 2021? One done behind the veil of the Iron Curtain so that the world was left unaware. One done in the bright light of day but ignored as an insignificant decision of an Ivy League school in New England. Yet, both achieve the same outcome- the suppression of faith in Jesus Christ. But today I am wondering even more about the contrast between the brave, determined witness of Lohmeyer, in the face of the Nazis fascism and the Soviet communism, and our acceptance of the general decline in faith all around us. Where are the Lohmeyers in our midst, willing to sacrifice everything to declare the truth of Jesus Christ? Are we taking the risk to speak that gospel truth to our children and grandchildren? Are we bearing witness with our friends? Do we live a bold witness of grace and sacrifice in the name of Jesus, so that the world will come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior? Are we supporting a bold witness from Lenape Valley so that our neighbors would know the truth of Jesus Christ? Or are we part of the quiet silencing of faith that is happening in our society, keeping the truth of Jesus as our personal, private secret? God is challenging my heart today. I invite you to join me in hearing that challenging call to be the mission of Jesus Christ to the world God so loves.
With you on the mission field,
Posted in From The Pastor