Advent is a season of expectation, and therefore also a season of proclamation: light has come, and all may draw near to the Light of the world, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. This is a message of joy and hope, the gracious gift of God, “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk. 2:10, ESV). But, of course, even the joyful message of light meets resistance by a world of darkness; “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn. 3:19). Our challenge is particularly pointed because we live in a culture than has, in many ways, rejected the light. That is why our society is so saturated with absurdity, death, and despair. Rejecting Christ, you will have chaos.
Consider this opinion article on RNS, written by Simran Jeet Singh, lamenting the closure of religion studies programs at various secular universities. On one level, it’s not hard to sympathize with his basic contention: learning about world religions ought to be part of higher education. It is good to understand what other people believe, and why, and how that affects the way they live their lives. But, while that argument is all well and good, Singh’s opinion also showcases the basic and crippling flaw in secular education—i.e., the fact that it is secular.
Singh assumes that higher education should “shape our moral and ethical outlooks”, yet he thinks that shaping ought happen precisely through the lens of pluralism, which is a little like saying that giving people a number of perspectives on whether or not it is good to steal is the best way to teach them not to steal.
His experience with education was one of embracing relativism, framed as humility: “What expanded my mind in college, more than anything else, was coming to terms with the reality that my way wasn’t the only way, or the best way. Learning about others’ faiths and cultures challenges our self-centered chauvinism and helps us meet others where they are.” Well, that is a reasonable statement in a secular world, where there is no real spiritual truth; but it fares rather poorly in a world where there is one true God and one true way of salvation, the worldview of Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:16).
A fundamental relativism lies at the heart of Singh’s concept of religious studies, and I suspect he is right in his evaluation of secular religious studies across the board. “While many worry about being accused of proselytizing, religion scholars aim to understand historical developments in context. We’re scholars with an interest in religion; not in imposing our views on religion.” Here is the secular view of proclaiming religious truth: “proselytizing”, “imposing our views on religion”; these derogatory descriptions seem to be, in Singh’s mind, the same thing as when he says “I’m not in it to seek conversions”.
Such an approach is inconsistent with a world in which there is real spiritual truth. Imagine if the geology department taught a variety of views, incorporated flat earth studies into the curriculum, and operated with a decided attitude against proselytizing their round earth views! They don’t, because they’re interested in teaching the truth. They may respectfully acknowledge that there are people who believe the earth is flat, and even offer some understanding of why they believe that, but, in the end, they want all their students to understand that the world is round. They want to do this because they have a basic commitment against propagating lies, and because the consequences of believing things that are not true can sometimes be rather significant.
Our secular universities, at the point at which they became secular, have operated with a basic framework that denies spiritual truth. The consequences have been severe. Denying the knowledge of God, we have lost knowledge of mankind; refusing to tell the truth about God, they now tell a variety of lies about humanity.
But let us come back to Christmas. The solution is the Light of the world. God sent His Son so that we may know the truth and be saved. In a culture that has rejected the light, we proclaim it anew. A Savior has been born for us, who walked among us and died in our place and rose to bring us life, who Himself declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).
The promise remains, the offer of hope, the gift of Christmas—that we may turn to Christ, receive the light, and be saved.