CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Are We Christians Or Secular Humanists?

Jun 28, 2020

More evidence that too many Christians think and act like pagans:

Christians are in the world to have an impact and an influence on non-Christians. At least that is how it is supposed to work. But more often than not, it is the world that is having an impact and an influence on Christians. Instead of Christians being salt and light in a dark and needy world, we are allowing the world’s beliefs and values to rub off on us.

Obviously, this ought not to be. Christians are commanded to be world-transformers, not world-imitators. As the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Or as the J. B. Phillips New Testament famously put it: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”

Sadly, most Christians seem to have rejected this command of Paul – and others like it. They far too much think like pagans, act like pagans, and share the same values as pagans. It is pretty hard for non-Christians to become attracted to Christ if his followers are almost indistinguishable from the world. No wonder the church in the West is having so little impact.

I have provided plenty of examples of this over the years. We see it all around us. But there are other ways to measure this. One is an annual survey put out by American Christian researcher Dr. George Barna, along with the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University.

They have just released their seventh American Worldview Inventory 2020 which seeks to ascertain how many adults have a biblical worldview. And the results are not very reassuring. You can see for yourself what the findings are in their five-page statement: www.arizonachristian.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/AWVI-2020-Release-07-Perceptions-of-Value-of-Life.pdf

Let me offer the opening paragraphs of this report:

As our nation’s biblical foundations continue to erode, Americans’ understanding of the fundamental nature of humanity and the value of human life is shifting significantly—with a large majority of Americans today believing that human beings are “basically good,” and less than 40% seeing human life as having intrinsic value or as being “sacred.” Although they conflict with traditional biblical teaching, these views increasingly have permeated well beyond the secular culture to all but the most conservative, deeply religious segments of American society.

According to new research from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, the majority of Americans no longer believe that human life has intrinsic value, with six out of ten rejecting the idea that “human life is sacred.” Only 39% of Americans today view human life as “sacred,” or as having unconditional, intrinsic worth.

Only a few conservative, deeply religious groups continue to claim a majority who view human life to be “sacred.” These include adults with a biblical worldview (93%); those attending an evangelical church (60%); born-again Christians (60%); political conservatives (57%); people 50 or older (53%); and Republicans (53%). Some religious groups had only a minority who viewed life as sacred, including those attending Pentecostal (46%), mainline Protestant (45%), or Catholic (43%) churches.

The research also shows that almost seven out of ten—a whopping 69%—of Americans see human beings as “basically good.” This view is so pervasive that a majority of every population subgroup examined adopted that view, ranging from just over half to more than three-quarters of those groups. The segment least likely to say “people are basically good” are people with a biblical worldview (52%).

That non-Christians would think so non-biblically should not surprise us. They are simply doing what pagans do. But that those claiming to be Christians would also have such substandard understandings of basic biblical truths is a real worry indeed.

As to the issue of mankind being basically good, that is the stuff of secular humanism and related worldviews, but not the deductions of the biblical testimony. Most of these non-Christian ideologies and philosophies teach us that man is fundamentally good, but it is external factors like ‘society’ that corrupt and dehumanise us.

It is an optimistic view of man which believes we are continuously improving. As one French psychologist put it a century ago, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” This goes back to Enlightenment thought in which a profound belief in progress coupled with scientific advancement led many to believe that we were all heading for a coming utopia.

The theocentric worldview of the pre-modern period was replaced by an anthropocentric worldview of modernism. Man was seen as the measure of all things. Man by himself, guided by human reason alone, would scale every mountain and solve every mystery.

Consider a few quotes on this. Enlightenment essayist Alexander Pope said, “Know then thyself. Seek not God to scan. The proper study of mankind is man.” Education, knowledge, and especially science, would save the day. Pope again: “Nature and nature’s laws lay wrapped in night. God said ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”

The French Enlightenment humanist Condorcet proudly put it this way: “No bounds have been fixed to the improvement of the human race. The perfectibility of man is absolutely infinite.” Or as Francis Bacon put it, “Conquer nature, relieve man’s estate.”

But all this runs against the real world, and against biblical realism. While we are all made in the image of God (which explains our inherent worth and dignity), we are also all fallen. We are all sinners who exist for self, and not for God and others.

The biblical record on our sinful, selfish state is clear, as is the need for outside help. We are lost sinners who cannot save ourselves. That is why Christ came. As the late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias put it, “Jesus did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came into this world to make dead people live. Those who were dead to God were to be made alive to Him through the work of the Holy Spirit.”

But far too many folks, including far too many Christians, think otherwise. For more on the biblical data concerning our wretched condition apart from Christ, see this for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/11/24/our-spiritual-human-slavery/

Image of How Now Shall We Live?
How Now Shall We Live? by Array Amazon logo

It is the same when it comes to the sanctity of human life. The Bible is clear on this, yet how many Christians actually have no problems with things like abortion and euthanasia? They are not thinking like Christians, but like those of the surrounding culture.

I cannot here go into the full biblical case for the sanctity of human life, especially in relation to the two ethical hot potato issues just mentioned. But for those who want more on this my two books on these matters can be consulted:

The Challenge of Abortion (2015)
The Challenge of Euthanasia (2016)

So this recent survey is just another sad indication of how far those claiming to be Christians have fallen from biblical truth into worldly relativism. The biblical worldview is almost non-existent among far too many professing believers today. And we are all paying a hefty price for this.

To conclude, what Charles Colson said in the introduction to his superb 1999 volume, How Now Shall We Live? is well worth sharing here:

The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence. This failure has been crippling in many ways. For one thing, we cannot answer the questions our children bring home from school, so we are incapable of preparing them to answer the challenges they face. For ourselves, we cannot explain to our friends and neighbours why we believe, and we often cannot defend our faith. And we do not know how to organize our lives correctly, allowing our choices to be shaped by the world around us. What’s more, by failing to see Christian truth in every aspect of life, we miss great depths of beauty and meaning: the thrill of seeing God’s splendor in the intricacies of nature or hearing his voice in the performance of a great symphony or detecting his character in the harmony of a well-ordered community.

Most of all, our failure to see Christianity as a comprehensive framework of truth has crippled our efforts to have a redemptive effect on the surrounding culture. At its most fundamental level, the so-called culture war is a clash of belief systems. It is, as Kuyper put it, a clash of principle against principle, of worldview against worldview. Only when we see this can we effectively evangelize a post-Christian culture, bringing God’s righteousness to bear in the world around us.

 [1481 words]

11 Responses to Are We Christians Or Secular Humanists?

  • A synonym would be “Practical Atheist”, which Craig Groeschel has written about.
    Sorry, mankind IS NOT getting better, as evidenced with what has been seen lately,

  • Thanks Stephen. Yes I have his The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist. I just now pulled it off my shelves, and will give it another read.

    And I did a review of it when it first appeared a decade ago: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/11/06/a-review-of-the-christian-atheist-by-craig-groeschel/

  • Hi Bill, Such a timely and relevant piece. The quotes from the enlightenment writers you provided are especially revealing and predictive- considering the issues in the world today.
    And the comment of Charles Colson , especially the last paragraph where it mentions ‘ Christianity as a comprehensive framework of truth’ is just so true.
    Thank you for another enlightening and thought provoking article.
    David West

  • This is my favorite quote from Chuck Colson and should be repeated over and over again in the day we live right now.

    Where is the hope? I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us. Where is the hope? The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that’s where our hope is in life.

  • True if all we offer is the same thing as the world but with Christ added why should they change??? Easier for them to keep what they have without having to add Christ then keep what they have and add Christ. “You can stay the same just add vitamin J”.

    Business growth model: be like the world only bigger (i.e. Out world the world)
    Christ’s growth model: be different than the world (i.e. Offer them something the world doesn’t)

    For at least 75 years we have been following the former, especially with music, after so many years of following the latter.

  • Another big problem education. We typically spend about 1hour in church every Sunday and then the kiddos get an hour of Sunday school every Sunday. Two hours a week of biblical instruction. While at public schools, and most Christians send their kids to public schools, they get 35 hours a week of secular or even biblically hostle instruction. That is 17 times more. It quickly adds up.

    Too many don’t offer anything during the week to kids in the way of activities that compete with the world’s activities and have youth groups that are pathetic. We need to offer something different yes but something that also will compete with what the world offers. “You can play baseball, basketball, football, etc OR you can come here and sing silly songs and make stupid crafts”. It isn’t hard to see which a young person would choose. (I say silly songs because most children’s song sung in churches ARE silly with no biblical merit and only a handful of biblical words. And a lot of crafts are low on biblical soundness and most busy work and something cute for mom and dad.)

    When they grow up in this environment is it any wonder they take on the world’s values and beliefs???

  • This is so good! It fits with so many things I’ve been thinking of lately.

    Love that Colson quote–I think the difficulty with most churches today is that the conservative churches see themselves as looking after individual piety – but woe betide anyone who raise social or political or everyday issues – and liberal churches see themselves as the answer to social problems – but dare ye not take a stand on any ‘thou shalt nots’ lest you be shown to have values.

    Do we need a ‘Bible TAFE’, which might make those connections between the theory and practice – e.g. you have the electrical engineers trained at College/Uni level, but it’s the electricians – trained at TAFE/Vocational school/via apprenticeships – that most people need day to day? Those who take the theory and can put it into practice to actually affect our lives.

  • Condorcet was practicing to be a comedian, but very few laughed.
    “The perfectibility of man is absolutely infinite.”, even he didn’t see the irony.
    Man has never wanted to be perfect, not even a little bit, let alone infinitely.
    We want to be just good enough to get away with our sin.

  • Dear Bill, Thank you for the interesting article. I was glad to see a US Bishop speaking out on U – Tube against the desecration of the statue of the missionary in the US. He exorcised the site and condemned the sacrilege amongst a gathered crowd. He did not mince his words when he said the act was satanic Another priest dressed in a cassock and a clerical collar was shown being heckled by a crowd as he defended the missionary. Unfortunately the Catholic Church needs more clerics with this sort of courage because they could easily have been attacked. That does not mean to say lay people must remain silent They have to speak out as well whenever the opportunity arises.

  • I agree Bill, born again Christians seem to be thin on the ground, a persecuted little flock. Many who say they are Christian are lukewarm or champion the compassion of socialism without the need for a god. Then at the extreme are followers of Lucifer, The Adversary, who are viscerally hostile to Christian belief more so than other beliefs. Luciferianism is identical with Ancient Mysteries. We can choose our path.

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