(Reprinted from Roots of Reconstruction [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991] 328-332)
Not all errors and heresies are clearly labeled as such. Some pass as virtues. Titanism is one of them.
The name Titanism comes from Greek religion. The Greek gods were deified men; for example, more than a few cities boasted of their association with Zeus before his death, when he took his place as a spirit god in the upper world. The twelve Titans, six males and six females, were the sons and daughters of Uranus and Gaea. The Titans, led by Cronus, deposed their father and ruled the universe. The Titans were later deposed by Zeus and condemned to Tartarus. Some of the descendants of the Titans have familiar names: Prometheus, Atlas, Hecate, Selene, and Helios. Especially with the Romantic movement, the Titans and their children came to symbolize man’s heroic efforts against fate and the gods. Shelley, who said he had “a passion for reforming the world,” turned to Prometheus as hero. His Prometheus Unbound is full of idealistic bombast against the heavens and glorifies attempts to storm the heavens and defy fate. Titanism thus means glorifying as a virtue all attempts to do the impossible.
Titanism has many faces in the modern world, within the church, in humanistic circles, and among revolutionary youth. It is a continuing source of “cannon fodder.”
Our concern is the presence of Titanism within the church. Our Lord places strict limits on what we are to do. We are very clearly told that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26); we are also told that, while faith can move mountains (Matt. 21:21), there are definite limits to what we are allowed to pray for (1 John 5:16). We are forbidden to receive church leaders who teach false doctrine, for to do so makes us partakers of their evil deeds (2 John 9–11). We are commanded to avoid all who “cause divisions, and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” (Rom. 16:17).
But this is not all. Our Lord forbids us to waste our time on those who will not hear, and on places where no results are forthcoming. We are to shake the dust off our feet and move on to a place which is more receptive to the gospel (Matt. 10:11–15). This does not mean that God may not convert that person, place, city, or country in His own good time, but it does mean that we ourselves are forbidden to waste time on futile or sterile efforts. We need to remember that while God is omnipotent, we are not. God, in His work, has no limitation of time; we do. God is able “to raise up children unto Abraham” out of the stones of the field (Matt. 3:9), but we cannot regenerate a single man.
To go against God’s Word in these things, as all too many do, is Titanism. It may be “baptized” Titanism, but it is still sin. There are limits on what man may do, and can do, and we had better know it.
Some years ago, a very fine missionary worked for many years in a country, now communist, without results. A brilliant Christian businessman, the missionary’s friend, commanded him in Christ’s name to come home. To labor in vain, he said, is wrong. Christ commands us to move on, and he cited some of the verses, such as Matthew 10:11–15, that required this. The missionary, a man ready to learn, came home.
Not all are as apt to hear. Last year, a woman told me to give her a list of all the public school textbook publishers whose books are humanistic. She declared that she “always” succeeded in converting anyone she witnessed to. Her plan was to visit each publisher, convert them to Christ, have Christian textbooks, and “solve” the public school crisis! This is Titanism; it is also kind of a moral insanity, whether in the poet Shelley or in this woman. I have had people tell me of their mission to save homosexuals, and I have heard their glowing tales of how many they have “saved.” When I ask how many ceased being homosexuals, I get another story and am accused of legalism!
In other instances, where people of incredible evil are involved, I have seen like cases of Titanism. People will say, of some moral monster, “I am going to pray him into heaven.” At the same time, their children may be on the road to hell, people around them in need, and their mother in a rest home, but these people want no simple everyday responsibilities, only titanic causes. They assume that, because they have assumed so great a prayer burden, this fact somehow makes them great also! They are ready to indulge in pious gush about how heroic their prayer life is, but they are failures in routine responsibilities.
There is no modesty about Titanism. As one woman once told me, “The Lord and I have such a sweet fellowship, and together we have seen such miracles take place.” Her speech was always sugar-coated, and never humble. Because of her supposedly “intimate” walk with the Lord, this Titaness had felt it her duty to rebuke “sweetly” a whole succession of pastors. (One thing which Titanism is never converted to is common sense! Whether in the church or out of it, Titanism feels that it has a special calling to defy common sense.)
In this life, the Christian is still not fully sanctified. He shows the habits and failings of the old Adam, however great his growth in grace. Many years ago, I was told of an elderly priest who remarked to his congregation one Sunday that, in his many years of hearing confession, he had never heard anyone confess to being stingy, whereas experience had taught him that this was a failing common to almost all of them!
His point was well taken. No doubt, all the stingy people in his parish and others could describe their stinginess as prudence, providential money management, and so on, in any number of flattering ways. Likewise, the extravagant ones who waste their money have “good” reason for everything they do. Every man marshals more “good” reasons for his sins than he does for his virtues!
Titanism among humanists calls itself a passion for justice, social reform, peace, and so on. Sin loves to cover itself with noble causes. Basic to Titanism, however, is the desire to play god, to be the determiner of things and to take the government out of God’s hands (Gen. 3:5). The Greeks called it hubris, pride; they both feared it and idealized it; when successful, it made one a god, when a failure, as with the Titans, it was still heroic.
Christians very early saw it as a deadly sin. Whenever and wherever it occurred, they saw it as an evil and as a deadly, corrupting force. With the Romantic movement, Titanism became romantic, heroic, and the indication of superiority. Thus, Lord Byron’s Manfred rejected both Christian counsel and patience, declaring:
Patience and Patience! Hence—that word was made
For brutes of burden, not for birds of prey:
Preach it to mortals of a dust like thine—
I am not of thine order.
Manfred saw himself as semi-divine and above all moral order, as a bird of prey. He despised “the herd” of common men and saw himself as a lion, or the head of wolves. Facing death, Manfred denied punishment in any future life, for that would be a crime, to punish crime by crime! Byron, Shelley, and the other humanistic practitioners of Titanism had a knack for being losers, victims, and injured. Their failures proved to them that they were so far above the common herd of humanity that few could appreciate their greatness.
Romantic Titanism has since then been endemic in Western civilization, most of all among the intellectuals, college students, and liberal politicians. It is a fine recipe for losers, because of the very fact that defeat and frustration are seen as “proof” that one is a Titan, a visionary whose greatness and cause go unappreciated. For Byron, Lucifer and Cain were heroes, and his Cain declares, “Cursed be He that invented life that leads to death!” For life to be good for humanistic Titanism, it must be on the Titan’s terms, not God’s.
In philosophy, of course, Titanism has held full sway. Nietzsche, with his vision of life beyond good and evil by supermen, was most vocal about it, but it has been no less prevalent in men like Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, and others. It has been implicit in philosophy since Descartes and his starting point, “I think, therefore I am.” In the United States, the Transcendentalist-Unitarian pastor, Theodore Parker, drew a logical conclusion: “I am, therefore God is.” A modestly phrased but strong Titanism was popularized by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
All of this had its influence in theological circles also, and evangelicals absorbed elements of Titanism. Instead of exalting God’s sovereign grace in salvation, many began to exalt man’s sovereign choice. The order of determination in the universe was reversed, and man was given priority in the order of salvation.
The effect on prayer was dramatic. Recently, I heard one evangelical pastor describe much current praying as “giving God His instructions for the day.” Such praying is blasphemy. Prayer is access to the throne of grace, the government center of all creation. The ancient Persians understood the meaning of sovereignty, although they wrongly ascribed it to human monarchs. Prayers to the sovereign could have penalties. As Esther said to Mordecai, “All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such as to whom the king shall hold out the golden scepter, that he may live” (Esther 4:11, emphasis added). As Christians, we are called into the King’s presence, but our requests must be in His name and according to His law-word. We are forbidden to make a show of prayer, or to use vain repetitions (Matt. 6:2–7), and we are also forbidden to waste our lives and time in vain or futile work (Matt. 10:14). We are not our own; we have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), Christ’s atoning death, and hence we cannot waste our lives and time in a parade of “heroic” effort that results in little or nothing. Our calling is not to Titanism but to service. (June, 1986)