Swimming upstream is not easy—just ask a salmon. Why not just lazily drift along with the current? “Going with the flow” looks much more attractive and is certainly much more popular. Why struggle so much? That’s an important question for a salmon, who must battle its way sometimes hundreds of miles against strong currents in order to reach its spawning grounds.
Is it ever wrong to just “go with the flow” and fail to act? Do we sometimes have a moral obligation to take action, even if it means swimming against the prevailing current?
Yes. Otherwise, we may be guilty of what is known as “culpable passivity,” because in certain circumstances the failure to act is inexcusably wrong, both legally and morally. In legal matters, culpable passivity mostly involves wronging the rights of others. But for Christians, in matters involving the character and revelation of God, culpable passivity can involve directly wronging the rights of God Himself.
Biblical apologetics is all about swimming upstream, challenging the status quo that routinely denigrates God and His Word. Unbiblical teachings about God’s relationship to His creation are both aggressive and ubiquitous. Christians around the world who resolutely honor the Word of God are frequently put on trial for their unwavering faith. How their courage shames those who would prefer to simply “go with the flow” and listen to the voices of “experts” who boisterously brag of their “science” (falsely so-called) as they refuse to honor God as Creator.
This problem of culpable passivity is demonstrated by examples from the legal world and from the arena of apologetics, along with relevant insights from the Old and New Testaments.
Culpable Passivity in Bankruptcy Court—A Losing Strategy
When a bankruptcy petition is filed in federal bankruptcy court, a creditor’s decision to passively “do nothing” can be both troublesome and expensive. This fact is illustrated in In re Thompson, Debtor,1 an automobile repossession scenario, where the debtor-creditor relationship was statutorily (and instantly) rearranged upon the filing of the bankruptcy petition. In this case, an incorrect belief of what was “legal” did not insulate the repo creditor. What was legally permissible before the bankruptcy was filed is quite different from what was legally permissible thereafter.
When GMAC repossessed the debtor’s car before bankruptcy was filed by Thompson, it was legally permissible for GMAC to do so. But as soon as Thompson filed bankruptcy, it became illegal for GMAC (upon notice of the bankruptcy filing) to fail to return that car to Thompson. Retaining the car, post-bankruptcy, became a form of culpable passivity.
Culpable Passivity in the Classroom—A Lesson Learned Too Late
A teacher’s failure to intervene when students are fighting in her classroom can also be both troublesome and expensive. This fact is illustrated in a classroom misconduct scenario where the teacher repeatedly chose to remain passive—failing to physically intervene and break up a fight. Her failure to get involved might be legally unobjectionable in some contexts, but not so in a classroom.
This fact is illustrated in Dallas I.S.D. v. Edwards,2 where a public schoolteacher’s employment contract was put in issue due in large part to her failure to physically intervene when boys were fighting in her classroom. The teacher tried to excuse her culpable passivity, saying in effect: “I didn’t try to stop the bullying because I didn’t want to risk getting kicked.” The presiding judicial officer summarized the legal problem in these words:
[The teacher]’s facial expressions, during the two days of trial, buttress many of the [culpable passivity] inferences herein, e.g., when injuries to and safety fears of her first-grade students were discussed she displayed a cold and callous disregard for such, yet when her salary was discussed she appeared intensely interested.…Why didn’t [the teacher]’s face ever demonstrate any compassion or sympathy—during testimony about the sufferings of her little first-graders (or for their parents)? [The teacher]’s first-grade students were frequently kicked, scratched, jumped from the back, had [their] books thrown into the toilet by bullies, had their hair pulled, suffered risk [from other students] with scissors….[The teacher] didn’t have the professional guts [to] protect the wee victims of bullying in her first-grade classroom....Rather, [the teacher] unjustly and unjustifiably faulted the victims of such bullying abuses as being themselves bothersome “tattle-tales.”3
In the Edwards case, the teacher’s culpable passivity justified terminating her job as a public schoolteacher. In doing so, the presiding judicial officer assumed that her culpable passivity was due, at least in part, to a selfish cowardice he called “wimpiness.”
In many cases today involving the Bible, theological “wimpiness” is the most credible explanation for what motivates evolutionary compromise with the Bible’s teachings about Genesis and creation.
Culpable Passivity in Christian Higher Education—An Embarrassing Compromise
Christian professor William Lane Craig—who teaches at an “evangelical” college and claims to support the inerrancy of the Bible—was caught in an admission of culpable passivity regarding the Bible and science on Canada’s Michael Coren Show, as pointed out in a previous issue of Acts & Facts:
Mr. Coren’s guest was a prominent evangelical Christian philosopher from a California school of theology who appeared to defend the existence of God and the need for a personal relationship with God. However, when asked “How old is the world?” this brilliant Christian scholar confidently stated, “The best estimates today are around 13.7 billion years.” Mr. Coren was thrilled. “This is a position I can embrace because there are people who will sit here and say that it’s six and a half thousand years old.” The philosopher seemed amused, but concluded that such a position is not plausible.
“The arguments that I give are right in line with mainstream science,” he said. “I’m not bucking up against mainstream science…I’m going with the flow with what contemporary cosmology and astrophysics supports.” What about dinosaurs and man
co-existing? “There are some ‘creationists’—they typically style themselves ‘young earth creationists’—who believe that,” he stated, obviously disagreeing. The Bible, he said, gives no evidence for dinosaurs and men living together or for the young age of the earth. He’s just “going with the flow.”
I don’t recall anywhere in Scripture where the concept of “going with the flow” was a good decision. For example, all mankind, save eight individuals, literally “went with the flow” and drowned because they refused to heed God’s specific revelation. Mainstream scientists of Noah’s day would likely have stated the impossibility of a global flood. No doubt Noah was considered a fool for building a big boat that, according to the experts, would be unnecessary. But Noah’s “foolish” obedience to the Word of God “condemned the world” (Hebrews 11:7).
Jesus spoke about “going with the flow” in Matthew 7:13-14, and it’s clear the “mainstream” He spoke of was headed the wrong way.4
If Dr. Craig had carefully read Genesis 1-12, with attention to the quantitative data provided by God, he would have plenty of data from which to learn that the age of the earth is thousands of years old, not billions.5
Culpable Passivity in Theology’s Ivory Tower—Placing Science Over Scripture
Baptist seminary professor Dr. William Dembski demonstrated how he has “gone with the flow” of evolutionary anthropology mythologies by selectively transmogrifying biblical data to force them into evolutionary scenarios (e.g., hominids-to-human evolution), as if those evolutionary imaginations could be legitimately blended with the account of man’s creation in Genesis:
For the theodicy I am proposing to be compatible with [i.e., to sufficiently accommodate] evolution, God must not merely introduce existing human-like [sic] beings from outside the Garden [of Eden]. In addition, when they enter the Garden, God must transform their consciousness so that they become rational moral agents made in God’s image.…Moreover, once God breathes the breath of life into them, we may assume that the first humans experienced an amnesia of their former animal life.6
Why does Dr. Dembski feel the need to mend and make over the Genesis record, even to the extreme of arbitrarily inventing an Edenic “amnesia” for his imagined animals who became humans?
A young earth seems to be required to maintain the traditional [i.e., biblical] understanding of the Fall. And yet a young earth clashes sharply with mainstream science.7…Dating methods, in my view, provide strong evidence for rejecting this face-value chronological reading of Genesis 4-11.8
Why does Dembski reject a plain reading of Genesis and of Romans 5:12? Because simply reading the Bible as it was written clashes with evolutionary assumptions and the conclusions of “mainstream” academics. This is hardly the Sola Scriptura epistemology of the Reformers.9
The Inexcusability of Culpable Passivity
The Bible records God’s moral judgments regarding the failure of humans to properly worship and glorify Him as the Creator. It is a drastic sin.10
In other words, God is quite judgmental—and He should be—about how people react to the clear revelation of His identity as Lord, Creator, Judge, and Redeemer. God’s condemnation of sin applies to both active and passive disobedience; passively serving substitutes for God is just as idolatrous as actively serving counterfeit “creators.”11
Our moral obligation is to recognize and worship the true God for who He really is—our Creator and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Putting any thing or person in God’s place, even passively, robs Him of the glory due His name.
Salmon swim upstream because generations of salmon to come depend on their struggle to overcome the fiercest currents. Why should we, who have been given the gift of the Son and His Word, do any less?
- In re Thompson, Debtor, 426 B.R. 759 (Bkrtcy., N.D. Ill.-E.Div. 2010), following Thompsom v. GMAC, 566 F.3d 699 (7th Cir. 2009).
- Dallas I.S.D. v. Edwards, TEA Docket # 008-LH-900 (Dec. 1, 2000), posted on the Texas Education Agency website (under “local hearing decisions”).
- Edwards, quoting footnote 4, pages 5-6.
- Ford, L. 2010. Going with the Flow. Acts & Facts. 39 (5): 3.
- See, e.g., Johnson, J. J. S. 2008. How Young Is the Earth? Applying Simple Math to Data Provided in Genesis. Acts & Facts. 37 (10): 4-5, with special attention to endnote 4.
- Dembski, W. 2009. The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Academic, 154-155, as quoted and cited in Ham, K. and G. Hall. 2011. Already Compromised. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 173, and endnotes 3 and 4 on 202.
- Dembski, 77, as quoted and cited in Ham and Hall, 174, and endnotes 3 and 6 on 202.
- Dembski, “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science” paper (n.d.), as quoted in Ham and Hall, 174, and endnotes 3 and 7 on 202.
- See Johnson, J. J. S. Shades of the Enlightenment! How the Neo-Deist ‘Intelligent Design Movement’ Recycles the Enlightenment’s Methodology of ‘Reason’ as a Humanistic Substitute for Biblical Creationism’s Revelation-verified Epistemology. Presented to the Evangelical Theological Society Southwest Regional Meeting, Fort Worth, Texas, March 24, 2007, available on icr.org.
- See Romans 1:21: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” Note that Adam’s race has a moral duty to glorify God, and the failure to do so (even if that failure is committed passively) is itself a huge sin. The passive failure to glorify God as Creator is compounded by a “twin sin,” the failure to give thanks to God for creating as He has. These two failures, even if committed passively, are wrongdoing for which there is “no excuse” (Romans 1:20). Thus, it is no excuse for someone to rationalize those failures with the phrase “I was just going with the flow of mainstream science.” A plea of “mainstream science,” when that body of human opinions contradicts the text of God’s written Word, is exposed for what it really is: “science falsely so-called.” Thus, to evade an unpopular message of Scripture, in order to relax with the Bible-contradicting downstream “flow,” is apologetically inexcusable. Such evasion is the opposite of “earnestly contending for the faith”: It is a theological wimp-out, likely coerced by worldly peer pressure.
- See 1 John 5:20-21. Interestingly, the prohibitions against idolatry in Exodus 20:4-5 include Hebrews verbs that are both active (qal), active-passive (hithpael), and passive (hophal). So idolatry can be committed actively or passively. In the creation-versus-evolution controversy, one example of passively accrediting God’s glory to “nature” could be the accommodationist usage of the evolutionary jargon “natural selection,” because the only selector who “selected” animals to be “fit” for survival in earth’s habitats is their Creator, who providentially programmed them with genotypes to enable their phenotypic traits to survive (and thrive) in various habitats, so that they could “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.”
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the School of Biblical Apologetics.
Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2011. Culpable Passivity: The Failure of Going with the Flow. Acts & Facts. 40 (7): 8-10.