Theocentrism vs. Anthropocentrism

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth – men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

The fundamental trait of these non-Christians, whether we are talking about their doctrine or character, is that they are “lovers of themselves” and “lovers of pleasures” rather than “lovers of God.” This is similar to what we mean when we say that Christian doctrines and ethics are God-centered, while non-Christian doctrines and ethics are man-centered. We call one theocentric thinking, and the other anthropocentric thinking.

Anthropocentric thinking places man at the center of a worldview, and posits certain assumptions about man that is considered essential and nonnegotiable. These assumptions are considered essential and nonnegotiable not because they are rationally necessary, but because they are desirable to and consistent with the wicked inclinations of the unregenerate. They are rationally arbitrary and unjustified. Once these assumptions are in place, all other things are categorized, prioritized, and interpreted by relating them to this central concern, man, in a manner that is consistent with and controlled by these essential and nonnegotiable assumptions.

For example, if it is considered important for man to possess free will, then this is a basic assumption by which even the nature and action of God are interpreted. Christians are often unable to break free from man-centered thinking, so that they introduce man-centered concerns into their theological constructions. Thus we have heresies such as Arminianism and Open Theism. A more subtle example would be a misleading doctrine like compatibilism. A God-centered theology would attribute all power, all cause, and all freedom to God, and deny that man has free will. The foundation of moral responsibility would rest solely on God’s sovereignty, and not any freedom or choice in man.

The nature of the center, or foundation, of a worldview determines the rest of one’s system of thought. For example, a man-centered system may assume the reliability of human sensation instead of the reliability of divine revelation, and following from this, the system may also depend on the fallacious method of scientific experimentation. Christians who remain captive to man-centered thinking even makes the reliability of sensation a precondition for any reliance on divine revelation. This places man himself as the center of all knowledge. There is a school of thought that does this, but at the same time is famous for claiming that God is the presupposition or precondition of all knowledge! As Paul writes, “impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” It is God-centered in appearance, as least to those who are misled by its claims, but it is man-centered in reality.

Then, when it comes to man-centered ethics, right and wrong are not defined by divine commands, but by the relation of a given action to the basic assumptions about man. So, because the dignity and welfare of man is paramount, an action might be considered morally acceptable simply because, in the opinion of man-centered thinkers, it does not harm the welfare of any man. It is completely irrelevant as to whether the action is consistent with the command of God or whether it honors him. Thus, for example, some non-Christians argue that homosexuality is morally acceptable because it inflicts no harm to others. But why is this the standard of moral judgment? And how is harm defined? It can be argued that homosexuality is harmful in some sense even when evaluated by a man-centered standard.

An example of Christian compromise in the area of ethics is graded absolutism. In this prevalent system of ethics, first, God’s commands are prioritized, often not according to revelation but according to man’s opinion. Second, many situations are said to present dilemmas, according to man’s judgment, in which two divine commands (or at least two) seem to apply, but a person must violate one of them in order to obey the rest. Third, the command that is regarded to be the higher one is obeyed, and the other one is broken, while the breaking of it is, without biblical warrant for saying so, not regarded as sin. Graded absolutism is in reality guided relativism.

The rebellion is quite explicit, but the blasphemy is implied. That is, when God gave the commandments, he did not have the intelligence or the foresight to realize that they would generate ethical dilemmas in so many situations, in which it would be impossible to obey all relevant commandments. But it appears that man detects these dilemmas rather easily. We may not be able to kill God, but we can at least work around him. So we prioritize his commandments, sometimes according to his revelation, sometimes according to our own judgment, and decide to obey only those that we consider feasible in any situation.

Can he expect more from us? What, total obedience to every command in every situation? Does God really think that he is God? What if someone knocks on the door and demands to know the location of a friend so that he may murder him? This is the classic test case. Is it not more important to protect a man’s life, than to tell the truth, although truth is the principle by which God functions, by which he establishes the value of life, and by which he testifies to us the gospel of grace? But there is no way to obey both commands, is there? What did you say? We should attempt to subdue the attacker, or refuse to disclose the information and risk suffering torture, or even sacrifice our own life to save the friend? You must be joking. We only gave you two options to choose from. Man-centered thinking cannot process selfless courage and sacrifice. Stop confusing us.

Consider what this means for Jesus Christ. Scripture says that he was tempted, but he never sinned. What would this mean according to the proponents of graded absolutism? They say that divine commands often contradict due to the circumstances in which they apply, and when they contradict, the right thing to do is to obey the higher command, whereas to disobey the lower command does not count as sin. This means that, in their view, Jesus could have killed hundreds of thousands of people with his bare hands – men, women, and children – but as long as he was obeying a higher command in each case, he never sinned or murdered anyone. Or, he could have committed fornication, even homosexual acts, hundreds of thousands of times. He could have raped thousands of women and children. He could have stolen hundreds of thousands of times, and lied hundreds of thousands of times. If he was compelled to do so in each case in order to follow a higher command, then he did not sin.

At least by implication, this is their idea of the sinlessness of Christ. If they do not abandon graded absolutism after this has been clearly and repeatedly explained to them, then they should be tried before the church and excommunicated. People who know that their doctrine implies this blasphemy about Christ and still insist on it cannot be considered Christians. And all those who spare them share in their sin. The only correct view is to acknowledge that God’s commands never contradict one another, and that it is always logically possible to obey all of them.

In light of the above material on anthropocentric thinking, theocentric thinking needs only a brief explanation. Instead of placing man, and what is considered his inherent ability to discover information, at the center of a system of thought, it places God and his revelation at the center of the system. The basic assumptions pertain to the attributes of God – that he is creator, sustainer, ruler, and eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, holy, righteous, merciful, and so on – and the attributes of Scripture – that it is inspired, true, complete, rational, consistent, authoritative, and so on. These assumptions are essential and nonnegotiable. And once they are in place, all other things are categorized, prioritized, and interpreted by relating them to this central concern, God, in a manner consistent with and controlled by these essential and nonnegotiable assumptions.

Accordingly, the rest of the system is also very different from a man-centered worldview. When it comes to doctrines, God’s majesty and sovereignty are determinative, and not man’s dignity and freedom. Whether we are talking about metaphysics or soteriology, the correct conclusions will agree with this principle. And when it comes to ethics, the central concern is not man’s comfort and welfare, but God’s honor. God’s commands define right and wrong, and all his commands are to be obeyed in every situation. There is no situation in which the circumstances require a person to disobey a divine command. Perhaps he will disobey because of defects in his intelligence and character, but no situation makes it a logical impossibility to render complete obedience to all divine commands.

It is evident that these two ways of thinking and these two kinds of systems are not only radically different, but even the basic principles are in conflict. The two systems can never truly agree on anything. One cannot retain the same foundation and modify only the details. For this reason, for a non-Christian to come to agreement with God, he must abandon his man-centered principles and embrace God-centered principles. Therefore, a person who comes to faith in Jesus Christ does not only add one piece of information to his existing man-centered philosophy. Rather, he renounces all of his old worldview, and adopts a new foundation, a new way of thinking, a new intellectual structure and system.

No persuasion on the basis of man-centered assumptions can accomplish this, because man-centered assumptions cannot lead to God-centered conclusions, and the end is for him to adopt a whole new set of God-centered principles. Thus, whether it is done on the occasion of a presentation of arguments, this event occurs in a person when God changes him by a direct action in the soul. This is what we call conversion. The product is a person who not only exhibits a form of godliness, but also possesses its power.