by Mark Mayberry
Synopsis: This issue of Truth Magazine focuses on "Current Isms" that confront the culture, and by extension, Christians. How should believers respond to the various schools of thought, or philosophical systems, that dominate the modern era?
What is a worldview? The American Heritage Dictionary says it is "the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world" or "a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group." There are two (or three) distinct possibilities: we can either hold to a God-centered worldview, a man-centered worldview, or perhaps a nature-centered worldview. The first affirms that God is the center of all things. The second affirms that man is the center of all things. The third affirms that nature is the center of all things.
The first words of the Bible affirm, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). This concise declaration of divine supremacy can be stated even more concisely: In the beginning… GOD! The Lord God of Sacred Scripture existed before time: "Even from eternity I am He" (Isa. 43:13). YHWH, the most sacred name of God, affirms His divine self-existence (Exod. 3:13-14; cf. John 8:56-59). He was and is and is to come (Rev. 1:8; 4:8). Before the foundation of the world, our heavenly Father formulated a plan to save humanity (John 17:24; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20-21). He is lofty and exalted (Isa. 6:1-3). He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent (Gen. 17:1-2; Ps. 139:7-12).
After crossing the Red Sea, Moses said, "Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?" (Exod. 15:11). Psalm 95, an unattributed psalm that praises the Lord and offers a warning against unbelief, affirms "The Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods…" (vv. 1-6). At the dedication of the temple, King Solomon said "O Lord, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth…" (2 Chron. 6:14-15).
After offering Himself as a sacrifice for sins, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is now seated at the Father's right hand (Mark 16:19). Having been granted all authority (Matt. 28:18-20), He is the head of the body, the church. He is above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Eph. 1:18-23). As the active agent of creation, God's Son upholds all things by the word of His power (Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-4).
From a biblical worldview, the Lord God holds a position of supreme authority: He is our Father, we are His children; He is the potter, we are the clay; He is the molder, we are the molded (Isa. 64:8; Rom. 9:19-21). Therefore, we must follow His word and obey His will: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). While man is subservient to God, he is granted dominion over nature with the expectation that he will act as a good steward (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:1-4).
What is humanism? The answer depends upon the context. The Collins English Dictionary offers the following variations. From a philosophical standpoint, humanism is "the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favor of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts." From a literary and cultural standpoint, it is associated with the Renaissance, a humanistic revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning that originated in Italy in the 14th century and later spread throughout Europe. Finally, it reflects a concern for human rights, i.e., an interest in the welfare of people, i.e., humanity.
Herein, we focus—not upon the study of the humanities, or the principles that guided the Renaissance, but rather on modern systems of thought that exalt human reason and wisdom, while depreciating faith in God and rejecting the authority of divine revelation.
Humanism grants man the freedom of defining (or redefining) truth for himself. Yet, it also robs man of stability. Whatever is accepted today may be rejected tomorrow. Everything is in a state of flux. Nothing is fixed. Everything is relative.
In some ways, the first and most concise expression of the underlying philosophy of humanism came from the ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras (ca. 480-421 BC), who famously said, "Man is the measure of all things." This statement is usually interpreted to mean that the individual human being, rather than God (or a god) or unchanging moral law, is the ultimate source of value. Many, including Plato, took it to mean that there is no absolute truth, but that which individuals deem to be the truth (Wikipedia).
From the standpoint of secular humanism, man holds a position of supreme authority: God is a human construct, a fabrication of man's superstitious mind. In other words, "You thought that I was just like you" (Ps. 50:16-23, esp. v. 21). Such an approach is imprudent: The fool has said, "There is no God" (Ps. 10:3-4; 14:1-3; 53:1-3). Woe to mortal man who thus quarrels with his Maker (Isa. 29:15-16; 45:9-10).
The worship of false gods was pandemic during ancient times, especially in the pagan cultures of Mesopotamia, Canaan, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. People worshiped representative idols, i.e., graven images; yet, the children of Israel were explicitly forbidden from pursuing such a path (Exod. 20:1-6; Deut. 4:15-20).
The inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Canaan often worshiped the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars), natural phenomena (rain and storms, thunder and lightning), and the natural cycles of fertility on earth (crops and vineyards, flocks and herds, human sexuality and childbirth).
The Greeks/Romans glorified and deified various human characteristics. They considered the gods to be like man, only more so.
In other words, the gods of the Greeks and Romans were just like us, only more so. Think of them as characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron Man, Thor, the Scarlet Witch and the Black Widow, etc.). They were a bunch of super-powered misfits. "You thought that I was just like you" (Ps. 50:16-23, esp. v. 21).
The Lord God of Sacred Scripture says, "See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand" (Deut. 32:39). Once again, we are faced with two choices: "Now consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver. He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright, I shall show the salvation of God" (Ps. 50:22-23).
In Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave, the late David Breese presents a summary of seven men from the past whose philosophies continue to shape the ideas and movements of the present day.
With time, some of these great thinkers have been superseded by others; yet, they or their successors have shaped the modern world. Collectively, they represent a humanistic, man-centered approach rather than a biblically-centered worldview.
The following "Isms" are interconnected expressions of rebellious men who deny the reality of God and the authority of His inspired word: Atheism denies the very existence of God. Darwinianism and uniformitarianism are denials of divine creation. Determinism is a denial of man's accountability and responsibility. Hedonism is a denial of divine morality. Humanism is a denial of divine authority over humanity. Radical environmentalism denies man's dominion over nature. Even the political "isms" that have dominated the modern world potentially deny individual worth (communism/fascism/socialism/totalitarianism) or place an overemphasis on materialism (unfettered capitalism).
In Psalm 2, David asks and answers, "Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?" The answer is troubling: "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, 'Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!'" (vv. 1-3). In other words, sinful humanity remains in a perpetual state of rebellion against God: Asaph addresses "the uproar of those who rise against You which ascends continually" (Ps. 74:23). Yet, God is in control—He has installed Jesus Christ, the King, upon His throne. Humanity has but two choices: Honor God, or face His wrath. "Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (Ps. 2:12).
Having accepted the tenets of radical environmentalism, many today have made a god of nature, either literally or symbolically. The same error occurred in antiquity. The Babylonians worshiped gods of heaven, air, and earth. In like manner, the Egyptians worshiped a variety of gods that combined the characteristics of man and beasts. The Lord God demonstrated His supremacy over the gods of Egypt by delivering the Israelites from Egyptian captivity: "Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord" (Exod. 12:12; Num. 33:3-4). Today, many neo-pagans worship Gaia, the primordial Greek goddess who is the personification of the earth. According to Wikipedia, "Beliefs regarding Gaia vary, ranging from the belief that Gaia is the Earth to the belief that she is the spiritual embodiment of the earth, or the Goddess of the Earth."
According to this worldview, the needs of nature outweigh those of men, and the will of God is discounted entirely. What saith the Scripture? God created the natural realm (Isa. 45:18), and the whole creation praises Him (Ps. 148:7-12). God provides for the animals, giving them their food in due season (Ps. 104:14, 24-28; 147:7-9). God cares about their well-being. Gently rebuking Jonah for his callous disregard for life, He said, "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:9-11, esp. v. 11). Even though animal sacrifices were required of Israel, not because they satisfied God's need, as if He were hungry; rather, they helped man understand the consequences of sin, and the importance of willing service (Ps. 50:7-15). God's concern for animals is communicated through many deeper, spiritual messages. King David was restored to grace through Nathan's touching story of a little ewe lamb (2 Sam. 12:1-6). Jesus' parable of the lost sheep is predicated upon a shepherd's compassionate care (Luke 15:3-7).
Since man is made in God's image, he is of greater value than the lower creation (Matt. 6:25-26; 10:28-31; 12:9-14; 1 Cor. 9:9-10). Furthermore, God has placed him in a position of dominance over all the earth (Ps. 8:4-9). With rule comes responsibility. The Lord God ordered Adam to cultivate and keep the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). Stewardship calls for sensible and sacrificial service (Matt. 24:45-46; Luke 12:42-43).
The worship of nature is an expression of pagan idolatry. Throughout the pages of the Bible, the worship of graven images is strictly prohibited (Exod. 20:2-6). The first chapter of Romans condemns both ancient and modern paganism, which dethrones the Lord God, exalts the creature over the Creator (Rom. 1:18-23), but ultimately debases everything (Rom. 1:26-32).
What is your worldview? Do you consider God, man or nature to be the measure of all things? Modern man imagines himself enlightened and free from the shackles of religion. In reality, he stumbles in darkness and is enslaved by sin. Our materialistic and secular age is much like ancient Athens—educated in human philosophies, but ignorant of the One True God, pretentious as Greek philosophers, but moral and spiritual paupers. We need the same saving message that the apostle Paul spoke from the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31). May God help us hear and heed heaven's message.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.
Breese, David. Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave. Moody Publishers, 1992. ISBN 978-0-802-48448-2.
"Gaia." Wikipedia. October 23, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia. The quotation is taken from Sarah M. Pike, New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. Columbia University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-231-50838-4.
"Humanism." Collins English Dictionary—Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.
"Man Is the Measure of All Things." Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/man-is-the-measure-of-all-things. The quotation is taken from The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2005.
"Protagoras." Wikipedia. July 30, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protagoras.
Author Bio: Mark and Sherelyn have labored with the Adoue Street church of Christ in Alvin, TX since 1998, where he serves as the evangelist and an elder. The church website is ascoc.org. His Bible study website is markmayberry.net. He can be reached at email@example.com.