Pattern of this Age

Tuesday: The Secular Worldview

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.
The Secular Worldview

If 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.” The word 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 have legitimately 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

1Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1963), 44.

Study Questions
  1. What is the difference between the word “secular” and “secularism”?
  2. In what way is it legitimate for a believer to be concerned about secular things?
  3. Why is secularism a popular and yet unsatisfying worldview?

Reflection: Explain how a secularist’s understanding would differ from that of a Christian in the following areas: suffering, divorce, wealth, death, and happiness.

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.)

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