We just can’t escape the modern worldview. The term “worldview” is itself a product of the modern worldview.
The modern worldview sees the world in terms of clear boundaries between categories. Well, one of the most cherished categorical distinctions is between subject and object. Implicit in the term worldview is the division between the object, the world, and the subject, the viewer.
But it all evens out because a person who deliberately rejects the Christian worldview can’t escape it either.
Judeo-Christian Roots of Secular Modernism
Those who claim they have a secular-Modern worldview, don’t really. Their understanding of the world and themselves is unavoidably infused with the Judeo-Christian worldview out of which it grew.
The concept of “secular” is itself rooted in the Judeo-Christian past. A linear understanding of history, the importance of human rights and freedoms, are two tenets of Modernism that are basic to Judeo-Christianity. Science flourished in the west because the universe was understood to be ordered–“In the beginning was the Logos. Ordered means predictable and this is the basis of the scientific method.
These are just a few of many examples where the modern “secular” worldview is not truly secular.
Just as the secular worldview isn’t purely secular, the so-called “Christian worldview” of our day has been influenced by modern secular ideas.
The Influence of Modern Secularism on Western Christianity
- First, there are many Christians that accept the modern reductionist understanding of “truth.” They are trapped within this syllogism: Truth is rational and empirical; The Bible is true; therefore, the Bible is rational and empirical. At a popular level, this idea leads to two common errors: that the Bible is true like an encyclopedia is true, or that it’s not true at all. Since this reductionist view of truth is so recent and so limited, it is neither appropriate nor useful to hold the Bible to this narrow understanding of truth.
- Another way the modern worldview has infiltrated our churches is the valuing of reason over emotion. This is the one I need to own up to. I like the rational bits of the worship service–the sermon–far more than the more emotional components–the singing. And you notice that even by classifying the elements of the church service as emotional and rational I am being very modern.
- Third, we have a tendency to be individualistic and we put more emphasis on the individual autonomy than in preceding centuries. We speak of having a “personal relationship with Jesus” and we sing songs like “I have decided to follow Jesus.” OK, we don’t sing that song anymore, but we sing a lot of songs that are essentially personal reflections. There is, obviously, an important personal or individual dimension to Christian faith, but modernism has lead us to put an unbalanced emphasis on the importance of the individual.
- Modernism considers faith a private affair that ought to be kept out of the public arena. Some in the church find it handy to live within this false dichotomy. In these cases, one’s public life has nothing to do with one’s religious life. This makes it possible to not claim some income on your tax forms, or to underpay employees, or cheat customers, or pollute the environment, or fail to adequately tip servers in restaurants, etc. These behaviors do not really touch upon one’s conscience because “business is business.” In other words, the demands of the Bible are separated from one’s public activity.
- A related dichotomy, equally false, divides the world into sacred and secular spheres. There are many examples of this kind of thinking. When I was a teenager, there was much debate as to whether or not Christian young people ought to listen to “secular” music. For many, it was clear that Christians ought not to do so, and no consideration was given to whether or not the “Christian” music was true, or even good. Some Christian schools are based on the sacred/secular dichotomy. The problem with the idea of the secular, as we understand it today, is it suggests there are areas of creation over which Jesus is not Lord. This idea is completely incompatible with scripture.
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It is no easy thing, purging modernism from our minds and if we could ever completely succeed in doing so, we’d then have to purge our minds of post-modernism. I really don’t believe we can ever avoid being a product of our times. But reading the Bible helps a lot. It also helps a great deal to read history and non-western literature–the Bible nicely fits into these categories as well. These help us to provide a context for the idolatrous worldviews out of which we live.