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Moral Realism in an Age of Idolatry

Paul's age and ours.

“Our intention is merely to examine the social progress of folly as Paul in Romans understands it, then to think about Paul’s analysis of pagan culture in the first century CE from our own twenty-first century perspective as creatures in an evidently faltering society with many of the same characteristics.”

So write David Lyle Jeffrey and Jeff Levin in an important article in the Fall 2022 issue of Christian Scholar’s Review (“The Romans 1 File: Moral Realism and the Christian Scholar”). The authors overlay Paul’s observation of his times on to our own, demonstrating striking similarities of moral decline and drawing the same conclusion as Paul, that God’s wrath is being poured out upon the world.

The present decline of moral standards throughout the world is the result of turning in ingratitude from the God all people know. The subsequent progress of sin brings with it intellectual degradation and decline, leading to yet more sin and more of the wrath of God. Ours is an age of widespread, rampant, and varied idolatry, which provokes God to give people up to their folly and the sad consequences that entails.

The authors show, a la C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, that various religious traditions around the world hold to the same morally realistic ethical standards Christianity prescribes and which are increasingly anathema to our idolatrous age. They add, “We suggest that a reversion to the habitual vices Paul ascribes to ancient Roman culture is no more apparent than in the world of our elites – politicians, celebrities, corporate advertisers, and certainly educators.” They offer five principles for Christian scholars to adopt as they pursue their callings in a world under the wrath of God: (1) Be clear and consistent about your Christian convictions. (2) Don’t let the tumult get you down. (3) Make good use of all of Scripture in your life and work. (4) Don’t think that intellectual life is ever going to be easy. And (5) Continue to look to Paul in Romans for counsel on how to flourish in idolatrous times.

This article, while aimed at those working in the field of Christian scholarship, can be of much value to preachers, teachers, and Christian students as well.

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