Theme: The World’s Wisdom
In this week’s lessons, we see how the church can fall into becoming like the world, and so lose sight of thinking and acting the way God has laid out in Scripture.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Cox puts all those things together about what he believes the Old Testament is really teaching, and he concludes, “What we have in the secular city is people freed up to be themselves by technology, that is, by a mechanical handling of nature, given privacy to do within their own private environment what they want to do and all of this in good terms without any ultimate responsibility toward a transcendent God. And furthermore this is what Christians are called upon to embrace, to encourage, to rejoice in, because this is the way the biblical material has led us.”
It would be one thing if in Cox’s book what he did was simply appeal to the masses by an approach to living that gives people freedom to do what they want to do. The public is sometimes swept up with a book marked by this kind of sensationalism. But it does not, I believe, explain the popularity with which this book burst upon the theological scene at the time of its publication in 1965.
The reason why his book received such popular acclaim was that the secular mindset was already there in the organizational church. When Cox’s book appeared, not at all an original work, but merely a reflection of the kind of things that people had been saying for a decade, it was received as that which gave popular justification to the lifestyle and the processes within the organized church that many of its leaders were already endorsing.
What we have is a secular church, one that may use the terminology that has been characteristic of Christendom, but which does not mean the same things by the terminology. A secular church is a worldly church, and the aspects of its worldliness are these: the world’s wisdom, the world’s theology, the world’s agenda, and the world’s methods.
1. The world’s wisdom. What was the wisdom of the church before secularism took hold? Well, the wisdom of the church in past ages has always been understood by Christian people to be the wisdom of the Word of God. Christian people would come to the Scriptures acknowledging their own ignorance in spiritual things and would even acknowledge that they’re unable to understand spiritual things except by the work of the Holy Spirit who opens our minds to that truth. If wisdom is to be found, if guidance from God is to exist, it had to be found in the Bible. Although Christian people did not always understand fully what they read, they did determine to live by what they read so far as they were able to understand it.
Today, we no longer have such a thing and the revelation of God has been cast aside as having no more ultimate value than any other human production. I have said before, by way of illustration, that on one occasion I was speaking at a conference, and when I had finished there was a question period. One professor from a well-known theological seminary voiced his opinion, and it was a refutation of everything I said. He went on for a very long time because I had said a great deal. One of the things he said was this: “You’ve spoken of the historical Jesus, but let’s understand there’s no such thing as the historical Jesus. The historical Jesus is only something you talk about. But what we have to get into our minds is that each of the Gospels was written to contradict the other gospels, and so we don’t know what Jesus said or did.” Then I mentioned the return of Christ and the professor added these words: “We have to get it into our minds that the Lord Jesus Christ is never coming back and things are going to continue as they are indefinitely.”
On another occasion, a friend of mine was speaking in a church gathering, and afterwards a man with liberal theological views came up to him and said, “Why are you always quoting the Bible when you stand to argue a point? Don’t you understand that nobody believes the Bible anymore?” This is the kind of thing that characterizes the secular church, and it is far more common than many realize.
Why was Cox’s book well received by people within the church?
What was the source of the church’s wisdom in the past? What has replaced it in the minds of some professing Christians?
Application: Do you know anyone who may be a faithful church member, but who has a secular view of Scripture? What steps will you take to try to talk with them about this? What approach might be best to open up a door of conversation to help them better understand Christian truth?
Prayer: Pray for your own church, and even your entire denomination, that they would remain steadfast in their commitment to the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God.