Forces of Modernity

James W. Sire in his book, Chris Chrisman Goes to College, examines the forces of modernity that affect our Christian faith. He does it my mixing commentary with a novel about fictional Chris Chrisman going to a state college, and the challenges to his faith that he faces there. But these forces of modernity affect all of us and not just college students.

Individualism. Individualism has roots in Christian faith. After all, we believe that individuals are created in the image of God and are unique and valuable. We believe that salvation is an individual matter. Modern individualism however goes to some extremes. It desires to be totally autonomous from God. It believes that the individual is self-sufficient and can define himself anyway he wants.

Pluralism. Pluralism can be defined in several ways. On one level, it is simply the getting along of many religious, ethnic and cultural beliefs in one society. No one can argue with the need to coexist with our differences. But pluralism is also used with a philosophical meaning maintaining that no one explanation for life is true. In a situation where many religions exist, the influence of pluralism is to see all of them as viable. To raise the question whether one of them is true is to violate social mores.

Relativism. Faced with pluralism, relativism refuses to question the truth of any philosophical or religious position. The response is: “It’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.” Ethical values are treated in the same way. Everything is subjective and relative.

Privatization. Privatization is the tendency to split social reality into two sectors: public and private. The public sector has to do with government, politics, business, economics, production, technology, and science. The private sector involves religion, morality, leisure, and consumption. The tendency in our culture is to want to keep these two sectors separate.

The danger to a college student or anyone else is that if we obey the forces of modernity our faith dies. Christianity demands to be defended as true in opposition to other views. Granted that this defense should be made with gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15-16), but it should still be made. Christianity demands our whole life, both public and private. The forces of modernity give us a choice: (1) the erosion of our faith or (2) choosing to be out of step with the times.

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