Pattern of this Age

Thursday: Relativism and Materialism

Romans 12:2 The world pressures us to conform to its way of thinking, but as Christians we are to be dramatically changed from within as we become more and more like Christ.
Relativism and Materialism

Since 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….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.” 

1Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 25. 

2Time, May 25, 1987, 14.

Study Questions
  1. What is relativism?
  2. What is the definition of real education? Why is real education impossible for the relativist?
  3. What does it mean to live in a “values vacuum”?
  4. What is materialism? How do we see it evidenced today?

Application: Give examples of Jesus’ non-material values. How are you living those out?

Prayer: Make a list of the things that are most precious to you (such as your goals, hopes, relationships, etc.). Bring them before God today and ask Him to renew your mind so that you can clearly see the things that are material and temporary. Pray for a deeper desire for the eternal and for a renewed mind which will see clearly the areas where the world is pressing you into its mold.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s messages, “Motes, Beams, and Hypocrites” and “Spiritual Discernment.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

Tagged under
More Resources from James Montgomery Boice

Subscribe to the Think & Act Biblically Devotional

Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals

About the Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of believers who hold to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church.

Canadian Donors

Canadian Committee of The Bible Study Hour
PO Box 24087, RPO Josephine
North Bay, ON, P1B 0C7