Charles Hodge rightly said, “History in all its details, even the most minute, is but the evolution of the eternal purposes of God.” Hodge understood the biblical reality that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Yet, we live in an eroding culture; one that is hostile to this fundamental truth. We live in a culture where God is discounted, his truths are marginalized, and human autonomy appears to triumph.
One worldview that is diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview is deism. This worldview held a dominant position in France and England from the late seventeenth century to the first half of the 18th century. But make no mistake. Deism is still alive. It has yet to go the way of the dinosaur.
Noah Webster defines deism: “The belief that God exists and created the world but thereafter assume no control over it or the lives of people.” The Enlightenment (1660-1798) provided the philosophical soil for deism to flourish. Adherents of the Enlightenment rejected the belief that faith depends on received or religious doctrines. They did not emphasize a personal relationship with God. Rather they believed in an impersonal Creator and embraced the idea that nature tells us everything we need to know about him.
Notice a few components of deism. First, the deist maintains that God is not involved with creation. The God of deism is seen as one who creates but is only a “clockmaker” who steps aside after his creative work. Walter Isaacson describes the modified deism of Benjamin Franklin: “He no longer believed in the received dogmas of his Puritan upbringing, which taught that man could achieve salvation only through God’s grace rather than through good works.”
Second, deism elevates the role of reason. Whenever reason is elevated, there is a danger of neglecting revelation, which is precisely what occurs in a deistic worldview. A writer representing this view says, “In deism, there is no need for a preacher, priest, or rabbi. All one needs in deism is their own common sense and the creation to contemplate.” In this scheme, propositional truth is either downplayed or discarded because reason is seen as the superior way to know God; albeit a God who is not personal. Consequently, “Nature is a closed system,” writes W. Andrew Hoffecker, “and humans cannot know anything beyond the natural realm.”
Third, it follows that deism rejects special revelation. Herein lies the reason for Thomas Jefferson’s irresponsible act of taking a razor blade to all the New Testament references to Jesus’ miracles, his Virgin birth, and any reference to deity.
But for now, ask yourself where deism emerges in our culture. Ask if you have subtlety succumbed to this pernicious worldview. For when we discount the miraculous, we become practical deists. When reason replaces revelation, we become practical deists. When general revelation replaces special revelation, we become practical deists.
Hodge was right on target. “History in all its details, even the most minute, is but the evolution of the eternal purposes of God.” May we pay careful attention to Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “… Guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21). May our thinking and affections be aligned to God’s Word and may we passionately plead with culture to turn their attention to the all-wise work of God!
A deistic worldview essentially presents a neutralized deity. He is stripped bare of his attributes. Jesus is rendered useless and powerless. The cross becomes unnecessary. Prayer becomes random and meaningless. The net result of deism is a caricature of the Christian faith that fails to honor God and refuses to give him the glory he rightly deserves. See if you can detect the deism that emerges in Albert Einstein’s worldview:
- “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”
Deism poses significant problems for people:
In a Deistic Worldview, People are Unable to Make Significant Decisions
James Sire writes, “Human beings are what they are; they have little hope of becoming anything different or anything more.” Since deism maintains that God has not revealed himself, it follows that an ethical framework is untenable. Meaningful decisions are rendered void.
In a Deistic Worldview, Humans are Merely a Part of Nature
W. Andrew Hoffecker adds, “Unlike Christian thought, which teaches that man is specially made in the image of his creator and is thereby capable of a unique, personal relationship with God, deists conclude that man is simply locked into the closed system of nature. People cannot have a direct relationship with God … Man and God are thus essentially disengaged.”
In a Deistic Worldview, Humans Have No Hope, No Help, and No Purpose
Deism is, in the final analysis a hopeless worldview where salvation is not only impossible; it is entirely unnecessary.
The verdict concerning deism is in. God is personal (Isa. 40:10-11; 41:8-10). God is immanent (Isa. 57:15). God has spoken (Heb. 1:1-2). And God is intimately involved with the affairs of people and nations. Spurgeon helps us understand God’s meticulous Providence: “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of … leaves from a popular is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”
May we constantly turn our affections to God who has revealed himself in nature (Ps. 19:1-6), in his Son (Heb.1:1-2), and in Scripture (Ps. 19:7-11; John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16). And let us remember the admonition that Paul gave Timothy as we contend for the truth in a culture that is hostile to the gospel: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (2 Tim. 6:20-21).
Soli Deo Gloria!