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War of Worldviews

by J. Aaron White

Meet Mr. Mindless. He is a unique creature insomuch that he is completely objective. He is not influenced by anything, and he wakes up each morning and makes decisions in the moment. He doesn’t know what is right or wrong, and he doesn’t spend any time thinking about such abstract and annoying things. Mr. Mindless is wonderfully unencumbered; he blunders his way through his life without the slightest hint of conviction, passion, concern, or forethought. When a gunman demanded to have his wallet at the bus stop, Mindless reached into his back pocket, produced the wallet, and stood emotionless, groping to ascertain if he should call the cops or pick lilies. He entertained the idea of buying an ice cream cone…until he remembered that he was newly broke. Facts are pesky little monsters.

Mr. Mindless is as mythical a creature as a unicorn that shoots bubbles out of its head. No one in the world wakes up in the morning without a set of beliefs, a worldview. The late philosophy professor of Reformed Theological Seminary, Dr. Ronald Nash, defined a worldview as “a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life.”[1] Every human being on the planet has a worldview, and Nash’s definition is equally simple and accurate. Actions don’t occur in a mindless vacuum. They are the fruits, bitter or sweet, of one’s worldview.

Zeroing in on the Zeitgeist

So, what is the prevailing worldview of our day? In his recent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman argues compellingly that it is expressive individualism. According to Trueman, a first-rate theologian and conservative scholar, the zeitgeist (i.e., prevailing spirit or mood) of today is shaped by a commitment to personal autonomy, freedom to be oneself in whatever form or shape it takes. Humans go astray because of outside pressure to conform. Left to themselves, they are noble savages, and will (almost) always do what is right (at least in their own eyes). The blame for aberrant behavior largely falls on external pressures such as societal regulations, community norms, monetary or political oppression, and (of course) religion. Here is a dreary, small sampling of the suspects who helped shape the spirit of our age:

  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) – “That God became man indicates only this: that man should not seek his salvation in eternity, but rather establish his [own] heaven on earth.”

  • Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) - “Primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct. To counterbalance this, his prospects of enjoying this happiness for any length of time were very slender. Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities of happiness [primarily through sexual satisfaction] for a portion of security.”

  • Karl Marx (1818-1883) – “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”

Jesus Flips the Script

The idolatry of expressive individualism that is the predominant worldview of our day has been fed by a thousand ideological tributaries. We didn’t get here overnight. For centuries, external sources have been blamed for mankind’s woes and wants (e.g., religion, sexual repression, political and economic oppression, etc.). But the greatest thinker, the Lord Jesus Christ, exercised his sovereign prerogative and declared unambiguously what the root of all the trouble truly is:

There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him…What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person (Mark 7:15, 20-23).

Jesus’ words were as offensive to his original hearers as they are today—and they remain as potent and relevant. The spirit of our age, shaped by voices from the past (through various ideologies and hypotheses), calls for unfettered individual expression. A human utopia is within reach if we can finally dispense with all forms of (external) oppression and allow everyone to realize their full potential, to be themselves as they define it. But Jesus flips the script on its philosophical head. The Lord tells us that our inner self is the primary issue. We are all sinners (Eph. 2:1-3), and we do evil things precisely because of who we are. The bold witness of Scripture is not that we need to express ourselves, but rather that we need to die to ourselves and put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20). Throwing off constraint is not the answer to our woes. Coming under the strong yet tender Lordship of King Jesus is where true wholeness and peace is found.

Mercy for Mr. Mindless

Everyone has a worldview. Even Mr. Mindless has had his thinking shaped, directly and indirectly, by the spirit of the age. Most of us are unfamiliar with the inner workings of Nietzsche’s philosophy of the ubermensch or Freud’s pontificating about the harm of sexual repression and chastity. However, we are all in danger of absorbing the air permeated by the lust for expressive individualism. We are all tempted to blame our problems on external constraints rather than cry, “Mea culpa! I’m guilty!” We are all in need of Jesus’ diagnosis—evil comes from within. The only hope we have of utopia is found in joyfully submitting ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, receiving mercy and pardon from his nail-scarred hands. Every evil that Jesus lists in Mark 7 can be forgiven if we come to him in repentance and faith (Jn. 3:16). The cross of Christ shows us the magnitude of our sin—and it beckons us to come and receive free pardon for our sins (Rom. 3:21-26). Eternal joy is not found in expressive individualism. It is found in explosive Christocentrism. The modern war of worldviews is not waged between external oppression and internal goodness. It is a spiritual warfare between God’s law and man’s lawlessness. The white flag will only be waved when the gospel triumphs—in our hearts, in our homes, in our cities, and in the world.

[1] Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 16.

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