Having a form of godliness but denying its power.
For observers with a firm footing in Christian orthodoxy, particularly Reformed and Evangelical Christians, secularism (and its very evil twin, cultural Marxism) has revealed it’s now ready to swallow whole all “normative” culture, including every mediating agency that serves to ground people in truth and moral absolutes, which most disturbingly, includes The Church.
Christians who recall a time when The Church influenced the culture through superior moral guidance are now disappearing. Their voices are being diminished. It is the way with modern societies: the mature and experienced, once revered and respected, are pushed to the margins. They are upsetting the program… because having seen the reality, they can spot the lie and the counterfeit. Like the dying character Deckard in “Blade Runner,” who says, “all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” It is these people, who more than most, understand the times we live in.
In A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor describes the arc of Western history to our current circumstances from the “historical perspective of three intellectual epochs: Pre-Enlightenment impossibility of unbelief; post Enlightenment possibility of unbelief; and late-modern impossibility of belief.”(1)
In the pre-Enlightenment era—before Voltaire, Rousseau, Locke, Kant, et all, it was impossible not to believe in a Devine Creator. The Bible, supernatural circumstances, miracles—all were considered the only way to explain the world at that time. There were no “honest” atheists to be found. Apart from heretics, almost no one refused to appeal to some form of theism. Most people referred to the Bible as their chief, if not sole guide in all affairs, including government, education, and religion.
The Age of Enlightenment, emerging from the brilliance of The Renaissance, began to offer alternatives to biblical and supernatural beliefs. Indeed, it could be said that this was the beginning of the long road to secularism as we might understand it today. The thinkers of the post-Enlightenment era began to reject the notion of the supernatural world view for the natural. Yet still, it was unlikely even then to outright reject belief, although certainly possible.
In this present age, described by Taylor as the “late-modern” era, (and some call post-Christian) absolute truth and binding authority are no longer observed, let alone valued. In this age, many churches, connected denominationally, find their gravitas in secularist tenets like social justice, liberalism, and something sociologist Christian Smith calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Devotees of this loose belief system acknowledge a god who exists, who created the world; but who, like an old softy dad, prefers congeniality and kindness. For these people, their chief goal in life is happiness and contentment.
In How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976), the late Francis Schaeffer writes:
- “Gradually, that which had become the basic thought form of modern people became the almost totally accepted viewpoint, an almost monolithic consensus. And as it came to the majority of people through art, music, drama, theology, and the mass media, values died. As the more Christian-dominated consensus weakened, the majority of people adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence.”
- “Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city—to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming and increasing prosperity—a life made up of things, things, and more things—a success judged by an ever higher level of material abundance.”
It is simply stunning to see how prescient Schaeffer was over 40 years ago when he wrote that. It is precisely this form of Christianity that the Apostle Paul describes:
- 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 such people.(2 Timothy 3:1-5, NIV)
Deists, Marxists, Social Justice Warriors, Liberal Christians—the whole panoply of substitutes for true confessing Christians, are a people who love themselves. In the end, the irony of course is they usually can’t even love this much, because they are filled with hatred, anger, and despair. They may live next door, but they are really not our neighbors. They are the strangers among us who have chosen this temporal world to establish their little kingdoms, and to treat religion as their hobby or like a parlor game.
Like the men of the tribe of Issachar who understood their times, true believers must choose the side that we know is right in this war on humanity. We must be identified by our faith and our convictions. Although we know that the next election will not determine our eternal destiny, it will signal either the demise, or the persistence of America’s primacy. Will God stay His execution? Will we be reprieved? Regardless, how will we serve the future He has given us?
Photo illustration credit: http://rhhs2palanpage.weebly.com/the-age-of-reason.html