We are captives, POW's, from a series of battles that was won decades ago by an enemy that is at once both hidden and obvious. It is obvious, because we can see its affects all around us. It is hidden because we all have patterns of thought influenced by this enemy that we don't even realize.
Worst of all, we have allowed this enemy to overtake us. In a sort of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, we have come to admire and adore this enemy that has no good plans for the Church.
We have not been vigilant and have ignored Paul's admonition to play defense in Colossians (2:8) by not being taken captive by deceptive philosophy. In another passage Paul switches from defense to offense, still using this key word, "captive." In 2 Cor 10:3-5, he tells us to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (As an aside, this verse is usually taken out of context to mean we should capture impure thoughts, etc., but in context it is clear that Paul is referring to arguments, speculations, and cultural strongholds that hold sway over people's minds)
From this moment on I am hereby declaring war on this enemy that has infiltrated our ranks in the Church and in our culture.
We have been overrun by naturalism and materialism - the idea that the only thing that exists is the physical universe and no such person as the Christian God exists. (Materialism does not mean too much shopping, but that the world is only made of material with no spiritual aspects)
Now, I said before that this enemy is both hidden and obvious. The obvious aspects are, well, obvious. All of the major influential organs of our culture are committed to this worldview: the universities, Hollywood, major media outlets, legal system. We hear the message in a thousand different ways that all we are is body without soul. My purpose in this post is not outline all of the various and sundry ways that the overriding philosophy of our culture is naturalistic.
What I want us to see is the more hidden aspect of materialism and naturalism, for many of you have already turned me off. For you may be thinking: I go to church. I haven't bought into this naturalism stuff. I believe in God. He's real! Well, let me ask you - a representative of Western Christianity - a few rhetorical questions (meaning I don't expect an answer - you're welcome to, but it's unlikely I'll hear you...or put them in the comments below):
- What is your view of the universe? Is it a system that runs efficiently, sort of like a machine? Did God set it up at the beginning and then just let it run?
- Do you think in categories of natural vs supernatural?
- When you pray about a particular topic weighing on your heart do you secretly expect that nothing will really happen?
- Is science the study of the natural world and physical processes within the world only?
- Do you, or your denomination, see the Scriptures as perhaps true with regards to spiritual things, but maybe not in historical or scientific aspects?
- Do you think that all of your thoughts are generated in your brain?
- When Jesus promises us things like he does in John 1:7, does the promise die a death of a thousand qualifications?
- When you think of miracles in the Bible, such as the parting of the Red Sea or the Burning Bush, do you tend to think of natural processes that could have caused this to happen?
- If you believe in God as Creator, do perhaps think of God doing it strictly through secondary causes or indirect means?
- Do you listen to neuroscientists ("brain scientists") to tell you what you "really" are?
- Do you tend to see sin as a product of bad environment or poor education or possibly as an unhealthy psyche?
- Are psychiatrists and psychologists the key to our "sin problem?"
- Is the presence of natural evil (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes) just due to the natural forces at work in the physical world?
Most of us Western Christians have been trained to answer the above questions with a yes! The problem is that the answer from the Christian worldview to all of them is no! Maybe you only answered yes to a few of these. Even if you answered yes to only one question, then to some extent you have bought into materialism/naturalism, a hollow and deceptive philosophy.
The Bible knows nothing of this separation between natural and supernatural. Biblical categories are human vs superhuman (see the Introduction to Craig Keener's excellent work, Miracles). Because of naturalism we tend to devalue the work of God. Oh, we say that we believe that God is a miracle worker and that he created the universe, but what did he really do? Do we believe in a passive God who somehow only operates hands-off, by letting other things do his dirty work?
You see, in the Bible God takes all of the credit. He causes the grass to grow and waters the earth (Ps 104). He alone created the heavens (Is 40:26). God is the one who works wonders (Ps 77:14). He even creates natural disasters (Is 45:7).
Our acceptance of naturalism, even though we may not realize it, has caused us to take glory away from God. Contrary to what our culture teaches, Scripture tells us that he is the initiator and sustainer of the entire created order (Gen 1, John 1, Col 1:15-17). He is responsible. The buck stops with him, not with natural laws or created things.
So, my challenge to you is to be open to the ways in which we have been taken captive by a hollow and deceptive philosophy. Naturalism has nothing to offer us. It is completely bankrupt as a philosophy. It makes us think less of ourselves, less of others, less of creation, and less of God. Much moral evil has resulted from the acceptance of this insidious idea. For this reason I am declaring war on naturalism and materialism, and this will continue to be a theme on my blog.
We have been overrun. Let's take back our camp for the glory of God.