The Pattern of This AgeRomans 12:1-2Theme: “Isms.”This week’s lessons teach us about the dangers of secularism, humanism, relativism, and materialism. LessonIf worldliness isn’t smoking, drinking, dancing, and playing cards, what is it? If it is a way of thinking, what is a worldly “worldview”? This is something we need to approach in a variety of ways, since there is no single word that is perfectly descriptive of how the world thinks. On the other hand, if there is a word that describes the world’s way of thinking more than others, it is secularism. Secularism is an umbrella term that covers a number of other “isms,” like humanism, relativism, pragmatism, pluralism, hedonism, and materialism. But it, more than any other single word, aptly describes the mental framework and value structure of the people of our time.
The word secular also comes closest to what Paul actually says when he refers to “the pattern of this world.” Secular is derived from the Latin word saeculum, which means “age.” And the word found in Paul’s phrase in verse 2 is the exact Greek equivalent. Our version uses the word “world,” but the Greek actually says, “Do not be conformed to this age.” In other words, “Do not be ‘secularist’ in your worldview.”
There is a right way to be secular, of course. Christians live in the world and are therefore rightly concerned about the world’s affairs. We legitimately have secular concerns. But secularism (note the “ism”) is more than this. It is a philosophy that does not look beyond this world but instead operates as if this age is all there is.
The best single statement of secularism I know is something Carl Sagan said in the television series Cosmos. He was pictured standing before a spectacular view of the heavens with its many swirling galaxies, saying in a hushed, almost reverential tone of voice, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” That’s secularism in your face. It is bound up entirely by the limits of the material universe, by what we can see and touch and weigh and measure. If we think in terms of our existence here, it means operating within the limits of life on earth. If we are thinking of time, it means disregarding the eternal and thinking only of the “now.”
Yet that is the outlook to which we must refuse to be conformed. Instead of being conformed to this world, as if that is all there is, we are to see all things as relating to God and to eternity. Here is the contrast, as expressed by Harry Blamires: “To think secularly is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth; it is to keep one’s calculations rooted in this-worldly criteria. To think Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.”1
1 Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books, 1963), p. 44.
What is the difference between “secular” and “secularism”?
In what way is it legitimate for a believer to be concerned about secular things?
Why is secularism a weak viewpoint?
How can you resist secularism?
Further StudyContrast secularism with a Christian worldview. How would a secularist’s understanding differ from the Christian’s with regard to suffering? to divorce? to wealth?