The Pattern of This AgeRomans 12:1-2Theme: “Isms.”This week’s lessons teach us about the dangers of secularism, humanism, relativism, and materialism. LessonSince we’ve been talking about humanism this week, we also have to talk briefly about relativism because if man is the focal point of everything, then there are no absolutes in any area of life and everything is up for grabs. Some years ago Professor Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago wrote a book called The Closing of the American Mind, in which he said on the very first page, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”1
What that book set out to prove is that education is impossible in such a climate. People can learn skills, of course. You can learn to drive a truck, work a computer, handle financial transactions, and do scores of other things. But real education, which means learning to sift through error to discover what is true, good, and beautiful, is impossible, because the goals of real education – truth, goodness, and beauty – do not exist.
Is it any wonder that with such an underlying destructive philosophy as relativism, not to mention secularism and humanism, America is experiencing what Time magazine called “a moral morass” and “a values vacuum”?2
The final “ism” I want to discuss as a part of the “pattern of this world” to which Christians are not to be conformed is materialism. This takes us back to secularism, since it is a part of it. If “the cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be,” then nothing exists but what is material or measurable, and if there is any value to be found in life, it must be in material terms. Be as healthy as you can. Live as long as you can. Get as rich as you can.
Who are the heroes of our day? When today’s young people are asked who are their heroes or heroines, what comes out rather quickly is that they have no people they actually look up to except possibly the rich and the famous – people like Michael Jackson and Madonna. And speaking of Madonna, isn’t it interesting that she is referred to most often not as a singer or entertainer or even a sex symbol but as “the material girl.” That is, she represents the material things of this world, clothes (or the lack of them), money, fame, and, above all, pleasure. And this is what today’s young people want to be like! They want to be rich and famous and have things and enjoy them. They want to be like Madonna.
How different the Lord Jesus Christ! He was born into a poor family, was laid in a borrowed manger for a cradle at his birth, never had a home or a bank account or a family of his own. He said of himself, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).
At his trial before Pilate he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest… my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
If there was ever an individual who operated on the basis of values above and beyond the world in which we live, it was Jesus Christ. He was the polar opposite of “the material girl.” But at the same time no one has ever affected this world for good as much as the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is into his image that we are to be transformed rather than being forced into the mold of this world’s sinful and destructive “isms.”
1 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 25.
2 Time, May 25, 1987, p. 14.
Study Questions

What is relativism?
What is the definition of real education?
Why is real education impossible for the relativist?
What does it mean to live in a “values vacuum”?
What is materialism?
Give examples of Jesus’ non-material values.

PrayerBring the things that are most precious to you (goals, hopes and dreams, relationships, etc.) before God today and ask him to renew your mind so that you can discern those things that are material and temporary. Pray for a deeper desire for the eternal and for a renewed mind to identify the areas where the world is pressing you into its mold.

Study Questions
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