N. T. Wright on the Ancient Modern Secular Worldview

How “modern” is our modern and prevalent secular worldview? In The Case for the Psalms, N. T. Wright says it’s not very modern at all:

The main difference between the worldview of the first Christians and the worldview of most modern Western persons has nothing to do with “ancient” and “modern.” It has almost nothing to do, except at a tangent, with the development of modern science. The main difference is that the first Christians, being first-century Jews who believed that Israel’s God had fulfilled his ancient promises in Jesus of Nazareth, were what I and others call “creational monotheists”….The ancient Jews who shaped this belief in creational monotheism, and the early Christians who developed it in this startling new way, were doing so in a world of many philosophies and worldviews (17).

What kinds of ancient worldviews is Wright referring to? Ones like Epicureanism. The philosophy…proposed that the world was not created by a god or the gods and that if such beings existed, they were remote from the world of humans. Our world and our own lives were simply part of an ongoing self-developing cosmos in which change, development, decay, and death itself operated entirely under their own steam. At a stroke, this philosophy offered liberation from any fear of the gods or of what terrors might be in store for people after their deaths. But by the same stroke, it cut off any long-term or ultimate hope. At a popular level, the message was this: shrug your shoulders and enjoy life as best you can. Sounds familiar? This is the philosophy that our modern Western world has largely adopted as the norm (17-18).

The problem with twenty-first century secularists, then, is not their rejection of the Bible’s ancient worldview for an embrace of a new and fresh and enlightened way of seeing reality. Epicureanism is an ancient worldview as well, but it has been retrieved in Western modernity as though it were a new thing (19).

There’s nothing new under the sun.

The important news in all this? Creational and covenantal monotheism is likewise both ancient and modern, rooted in God’s covenant with Abraham as described in the book of Genesis, elaborated in the great covenantal writings of the first five books of the Bible, developed in the traditions we find throughout the Old Testament, and still thriving where the followers of Jesus learn to pray and live his Psalm-soaked gospel….The biblical worldview, I will suggest, is both far more ancient than Epicureanism and also far more up-to-date (19-20).

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