We can only offer an attractive and coherent alternative to pagan secularism if we live out and teach a vision of God’s sovereign government of all things.
As Christians observe and lament the rapid advance of pagan secularism, it has become popular to speak of our culture as a post-Christian one. But the reality is, we cannot fully undo the profound transformation that the influence of the gospel exerted upon the West over the past two millennia. Biblical faith is deeply embedded in our language, literature, music, architecture, structures of government and social life, laws and art, and cannot simply be flushed away by contemporary intellectuals – culture is more complex than that. Most modern political theory itself in the West has been an attempt to secularize Christian theological themes, so even as Christianity is rejected, our modern pagan secularity is invariably parasitic upon it.
This means our secular paganism is qualitatively different from pre-Christian paganism and carries greater culpability. What we can say is that we are increasingly non-Christian or de-Christianizing. And we should be in no doubt about how serious a matter that is. Today’s pagan secularism is probably the greatest crisis that Western Christianity has yet encountered.
Secularism’s invasion of the church in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the form of rationalistic modernism decimated the mainline churches by requiring God’s revelation to submit to man’s reason. Those denominations who surrendered to modernist secularity are now on life support, closing dying churches weekly. In its irrationalist (existential and postmodern) outfit, pagan secularity is now found deep inside the walls of contemporary evangelicalism where the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of God and creation, and a scriptural view of human identity and sexuality are under serious assault. And, in the face of what appears to be the colossus of a growing neo-pagan vision of a secular statist religion, we are confronted with the grave temptation to various forms of escapism and to a despairing pessimism about the Christian gospel and our life in the world. Naturally many Christians are asking themselves, what are we to do?
The first critical thing Christians must do is resolutely reject the relativism of pagan secularism with its denial of the truth in Christ and his law-word for all creation. Secular relativism is self-refuting because it obviously has absolute intent – to control the whole playing field and assert its own absolute truth. We must expose secularism’s self-deception and present our culture with biblical truth and a coherent scriptural worldview with clarity, grace and conviction. The scriptures affirm four critical and foundational realities that confront all people:
1. The Triune God
2. His creation
3. His redemptive purposes
4. His law-Word, which gives direction to the totality of created reality and cannot be finally overturned by man’s self-creating illusions.
In this biblical view, creation is meaning because it is totally dependent, at all times and in every part, on the powerful Word of God which governs all things and relates each aspect of reality to every other aspect in terms of His design and purpose. As such, no ‘resting point,’ or final explanation for reality can be found within creation itself. In part and as a whole a dependent cosmos points us back to God as the Creator. Consequently, life is meaning-full, because creation is meaning.
Second, Christians must resist the inward turn that would privatize our faith. It is not sufficient to simply affirm a personal faith in Christ existing between one’s ears. We must take an open, public and uncompromising stand with Christ and the truth of the gospel which compels us to openly worship (in thought, word and deed) the living God and reject all false worldviews with our heart, mind, soul and strength. This requires refusing a pietistic reaction to the direction of culture which resigns itself to the status quo. A pietistic response implicitly accepts secularism’s false division of reality into public and private, secular and sacred, reason or science and faith, and thereby acquiesces to a radically limited role in the world for Christ and the gospel.
To simply affirm biblical truths regarding personal salvation, regularly meet in the church building, and do professional theology is not a sufficient response to the lie seeking to alienate creation from its Maker; this is the lie undermining and threatening our culture. We must confront systematic unbelief with systematic belief, expounding and living out a Christian world-and-life view, grounded in the scriptures, one that unveils the beauty of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ. And we must do so not simply in private, but in every area of our lives. Biblical faith and life in Christ are not simply a private belief, or an autobiographical comment on subjective experience; they are the truth in Jesus Christ declared to all men and nations which is self-attesting through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Third, we must reject and attack the false dualism of secularity. I have pointed out that Christianity, in the form of a nature/grace dualism, adopted elements of Greek thought, with its own secular-sacred divide; a culture which by the time of the classical Greeks held philosophic secular thought in highest esteem. I argued that from the Renaissance onward, the secular domain began emancipating itself from the sacred domain. Now, the secular not only totally dominates the sacred, but has arrogated to itself a certain sacred character. It demands the radical privatization of all faith except its own. By and large believers fail to see the spiritual significance of this. When people – including Christians – effectively deny that demonic spiritual powers are at work in the idea of a ‘secular’ worldview, by endorsing and supporting secularization in culture, they become blind to the presence of those powers.
We have seen that secularism is, in a certain sense, the unplanned child of a deformed Christianity that is now betraying its mother and must be corrected to avert disaster. The only way to overcome pagan secularism is to go right to its root and challenge the validity of a religious worldview that thinks God and His Word can be safely pushed out of the real world or corralled into the privacy of the mind alone. We can no longer settle for a synthesized culture, where Christianity is blended with secularism and we are content to live next to pagan secular culture rather than reforming it. In the spirit of the Reformation we must reject this synthesizing mentality.
The Bible recognizes no dualism in creation but only an integral life of love and service to God and neighbor. All of life is religion, not merely one narrow aspect of it. Central to our faith is the unity of God’s revelation of the kingdom of God – creation, our fall into sin, our redemption in Christ by the power of the Spirit and the consummation of God’s restorative purposes in the renewed creation. There are no isolated ‘parts’ here, one lesser than the other, no sealed domains impervious to the redemptive power of the gospel. There is no ‘secular arena’ with diplomatic immunity from the rule of Christ and His Word.
A failure to reject false dualisms and recover an integral scriptural world-and-life-view in our time will make the situation we are facing gravely worse than it already is because, as Zuidema points out:
The more the church becomes ecclesiasticized, the more it will profane life outside of the church and abandon it to profanation.…This is a problem which, unless it leads man to retrace his steps in this emancipation, will irretrievably abandon us to nihilism and the destruction of every last human worth, human honor, human value and human responsibility
Those are the stakes in our era. If we do not challenge this false dualism at its root, even in the church, then not only will political idols know no limits and all government be abandoned to godlessness, but the church will go down to destruction in the name of saving its hide.
Fourth, we must apply the gospel to culture in concrete ways. The rejection of pagan secularism must become practical. The truth of God’s law-Word must be applied to all areas of life – from the family, to education, law, politics, business, medicine, science and arts, all for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. Since all of life is religion, there is a Christian and scriptural way to think and live in all the diverse aspects of created reality, in terms of God’s law and norms – a liturgy of life grounded in Christ’s redemptive life and purpose.
To be effective in our task and calling we need insight into God’s law-Word in Scripture and His norms, laws and ordinances in creation for every given area and discipline. We cannot be involved in business and economics as Christians without insight into God’s norms and laws for economics; or agriculture without insight into God’s law and norms for farming; or government without insight into God’s law and norms for political life. Digging out these treasures takes effort. The pagan secularists have been hard at work in all of these fields, working out the implications of their religious view for them – marriage, sexuality and identity, economics, education, law and arts and sciences. They have indoctrinated three generations with these ideas and the result has been radical cultural change. What have we Christians been doing?
Clearly, if we are to respond effectively to pagan secularism we need to take the time to learn what it means to be faithful servants of God in these varied aspects of life. That is the excitement and thrill of the kingdom of God. We are called to a task and we are to do everything with all our might to the glory of God. We can only offer an attractive and coherent alternative to pagan secularism if we live out and teach a vision of God’s sovereign government of all things that conforms to the Word of God.
In addition, to see this government of God manifest in the various spheres of life we must develop numerous Christian organizations and institutions: hospitals, guilds, arts initiatives, unions, charities, schools, courts of arbitration, political parties, businesses, film studios, universities, research programs, news media and journalism platforms, Internet search engines and much more. We should be deeply involved in all the domains of life outside the institutional church in a distinctly Christian way if we are to challenge pagan secularism. The institutional church is one important aspect of God’s kingdom, but the Christian life is not restricted to the life of the church.
The pagan secularists carefully select, use and focus on particular cultural gateways to inculcate and disseminate their worldview and message. Faithful Christians need to be equally organized and focused in utilizing and developing the various organs of cultural life in distinctly Christian and biblical ways, to make known all the laws, norms and ordinances of our sovereign Lord and the redemptive life of the gospel, disseminating a Christian world-and-life view that redirects us in all these things toward true worship and service for the flourishing of life under the government of God.
We need not only Christian lawyers, but a Christian approach to law; not just Christian artists, but art rooted in a scriptural world-and-life view; not merely Christian doctors, but a Christian philosophy of medicine; not only teachers who are Christian, but a truly Christian curriculum; not just Christians in politics, but a scriptural political philosophy. In other words, we must apply our faith and organize against pagan secularism.
Finally, we must affirm that the government of Jesus Christ over all of life applies not to some things, but to all things, not only to some people, but to all people. This simply means recognizing the true jurisdiction of Christ and the gospel of the kingdom over the totality of creation. Abraham Kuyper argued powerfully:
Religion concerns the whole of our human race. This race is the product of God’s creation. It is his wonderful workmanship, his absolute possession. Therefore, the whole of mankind must be imbued with the fear of God…for not only did God create all men, not only is he for all men, but his grace also extends itself, not only as a special grace, to the elect, but also as a common grace to all mankind.… All partial religion drives the wedges of dualism into life, but…one supreme calling must impress the stamp of one-ness upon all human life, because one God upholds and preserves it, just as he created it all.
If we want to breach the wall of the secular pagan lie, we must use the battering ram of a scriptural world-and-life-view that shatters all false dualisms and reclaims all of creation for the glory and government of God, freeing life in all its aspects to be all that Christ intends it to be. As Herman Bavinck writes:
Spiritual life does not exclude family and social life, business and politics, art and science … rather it is the power that enables us to faithfully fulfill our earthly calling, stamping all of life as service to God. The kingdom of God is, to be sure, like a pearl more precious than the whole world, but it is also like a leaven that leavens the entire dough. Faith isn’t only the way of salvation, it also involves overcoming the world.