The modern age has seen religion in general marginalized into a sub-category of human activity. Because of its prominence in the West, Christianity has been singled out for attack.
The West was once called Christendom. Its focus was on God, however imperfectly. The Renaissance (14th –17th centuries) was a conscious attempt to revive the humanistic thought of ancient Greece and Rome. In doing so, it adopted Greek dualism, which divided reality into matter and form or, to use more contemporary terminology, material and spiritual realms. The humanism of the Renaissance was resisted by the Reformation (16th century) before yet another revival of humanism arose in the Enlightenment (17th – 18th centuries). Western humanism has continued to develop since then, but within the dualistic parameters of the Enlightenment.
Modern humanistic thought sees the world naturalistically, with the spiritual as an entirely different realm. The physical, material world is seen as man’s domain; God is limited to the spiritual realm. By means of Greek dualistic thought structure, the realm of religion was marginalized by definition. It was a spiritual, subjectively understood area and was hence personal. Whatever its value, it was in a realm unrelated to the “real” world.
The Enlightenment sought out natural law and understood it in terms of man’s reason. Revelation, since it related to a supernatural being was defined as an illegitimate intrusion into the natural world. It could no longer be the basis of man’s public life, certainly not his laws. This broad area was now viewed as man’s domain; God and religion were boxed into a sub-category of subjective spirituality.
Morality was increasingly separated from the realm of religion as well, at least as it controlled public life. Morality after the Enlightenment had two sources. Religion could provide an ethic based on personal, spiritual belief, but such ethics were increasingly ruled an intrusion into public life. Public morality was, after the Enlightenment, increasingly viewed as a compliance with civil legislation, social conventions, and public opinion. Public morality was democratic and governed by man and his reason. The validity of religiously based morality was limited to the spiritual realm and was personally, but not socially, valid.
Pietism was a religious movement that began in the 17th century. It rightly emphasized the need for a personal application of Christianity but wrongly did so in terms of the revived Greek dualism of Renaissance and Enlightenment thought. Pietism was an emphasis on piety understood in a dualistic sense, so it quickly tended to subjective and even antinomian (anti-nomos, or anti-God’s law) holiness. Pietism defined Christianity in terms of “spiritual” otherworldliness and saw it in opposition to the worldliness of day-to-day human activity. Pietism, in fact, saw Christianity as a retreat from earthly, worldly concerns, which it increasingly abandoned.
The Protestant Reformation had emphasized man’s moral status before God and his moral life in society. It emphasized both justification and regeneration. Justification is God’s legal declaration that the believer was righteous because Christ’s righteousness was put to his account. Regeneration is the empowerment God puts into the believer to make him a “new man.” Justification is man’s new legal status, says the Reformed tradition, while regeneration was his new moral status. There was no division of public and private, social and personal, morality.
After the Enlightenment and its entrance into the church through Pietism, the emphasis on the Kingdom of God disappeared. Pietism’s new emphasis was the inner man, not the sanctified life of the new man. Pietism, having accepted a spiritualized view of Christianity, also tended toward the view of private morality as an area of subjective spiritual leadings. Not only was the material world left to secularization, the Bible itself was seen as legalistic when it delved into specifics of behavior. Pietism’s dualistic, spiritualized view of Christianity separated public and private morality. This Pietistic trend was also then applied to the Bible. Those laws seen as mundane or worldly were dismissed as Hebrew “civil” law and seen by Pietists as of no value to “spiritual” Christians.
Humanism is “human-centered” thought, man-centered to the core. It separates religion to another realm, one deemed largely irrelevant to much of life. It puts religion (especially Christianity) into a religious, spiritual box and claims secular man is violated should any form of it be taken out of that box.
The claims of God are total, however. Neither God, His people, nor His Word are ever to be regulated to a sub-category of being or relevance. We must present the transcendent, authoritative God and His law-word to the world. To do so, we must begin with presenting Him to the church that continues to hide within the box to which humanistic thought has sentenced it.