“And do not be conformed to this world…”
As we noticed in the last post, we could paraphrase this clause like this: “Do not fall for the foolish schemes of this age.” So I thought I would take a minute to identify some of those foolish schemes.
Sometimes we call this the scientific age. The world teaches itself that the physical universe is all that there is, and that everything we see is just a conglomeration of stuff randomly bouncing off of other stuff, and that humanity is just the product of time and chance. But Christians know that the universe is the purposeful creation of a personal God, and that his personality is reflected in his work, especially in his creation of humanity in his own image. If we buy the worldly scheme of scientism, we have no God to be available to. We make his creation out to be something less than it is, and we make ourselves out to be something less than we are.
Sometimes we call this the modern age, and we adopt the Cartesian proverb, “I think; therefore, I am.” Under this scheme, I am my own and I can do with me as I please. I live by the principle, “To thine own self, be true.” This leads to deep-seated individualism and libertarianism. If I fall for this, then God exists to serve me and my needs. But the Bible calls me to serve God, not the other way around.
Sometimes we call this the democratic age, and we fall for the idea that the great problems of human existence will be solved if we just get everyone the vote. Our own Declaration of Independence asserts that the authority of government flows from the consent of the governed, but Jesus claims that all authority has been given to him (Matthew 28:18), and Romans 13:1 declares that human governors receive their authority from God. When Jesus imposes his kingdom on this world, there won’t be any voting. We have seen repeatedly that when we Christians adopt the worldly scheme of democratic idealism, we end up making ourselves available to clever politicians rather than to God.
Sometimes we call this the information age, and we think that life consists in the compilation of facts and the dissemination of news. But the Bible teaches me that knowledge is more that the compilation of facts, that knowledge is a deep personal engagement with God’s creation and with other people. If we fall for the information scheme, we will find ourselves living in a virtual world of MySpace personalities, and forget about the importance of real in-person relationships. We will know more about the cell phone business in Zimbabwe than we know about our next door neighbors. Our information technologies can be great tools, but living for Christ is something designed to be passed along by face-to-face examples.
This is also the age of free market economies, but if we define human well-being solely in terms of temporal wealth, we become slaves to the marketplace—unavailable to God. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
The world has many schemes: hedonism and stoicism, moral relativism and strict religious moralism, religious pluralism and religious fundamentalism, democracy and totalitarianism, capitalism and communism, Freudianism, Jungianism, and behaviorism… The world never runs out of schemes. When old ones die, new ones are thought up.
Paul says, “Don’t fall for this nonsense!” Do not let yourself adopt the schemes of this age. This requires active resistance, because these schemes are always trying to get themselves adopted. But we must remain radically available to God, so we must not be available to the world.
Now I think I need a little disclaimer at the end of this post. One might think by reading this that I’m against science or computer technology or democracy, or even well-grounded reason. Just to be clear, I’m not against any of these things; in fact, I think they’re all great. The problem arises when we try to apply them as worldviews. As such, they all leave out the one thing that is the source and goal of all things, the person of God revealed in Christ. Because they leave Christ out, all of these schemes of our age are reductionistic. Because they leave Christ out, adopting any one of them (conforming to this world) will leave Christ out of one’s life. In this way, adopting any of the world’s schemes is a subtle form of idolatry.