Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Changed World?

With the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, we were given another snap shot of the liberal agenda for America (and, we might add, Western civilization). Several commentators eulogized Senator Kennedy by saying he was working toward, "a new world," or a "new era." Without exaggerating the implications of these terms, liberalism in the modern West is built upon two assumptions: the benefit of progress and the pursuit of the ideal. Every liberal from the beginning of the Enlightenment has sought to create a "new" world.

Central to the Enlightenment worldview is/was belief in the inevitability of progress. Human history came to be interpreted as the story of human progress, whether in science, medicine, social policy, or education. At the horizon of the story stood a set of Utopian aims: the eradication of deadly diseases, the elimination of abject poverty, the end of war, ethnic equality, gender equality, and universal education. This is only a partial list of the grand goals of Western liberalism, but it reveals the two assumptions of progress and idealism.

No one would question these noble goals, the problem arises when we talk about execution. The Enlightenment takes credit for creating the modern world, but, in fact, it hasn't. The end of feudalism and the emergence of representative democracies are a product of the reformation, not the enlightenment. The Magna Carta, William of Orange and the ascent of British Parliament, and the founding of the American colonies were expressions of reformed theology being worked out in the larger society. In contrast, the enlightenment produced the French Revolution with its subsequent reign of terror and the attempt by Napoleon to create a global empire. In terms of its political impact, the Enlightenment inspired Utopian socialism and the great Marxist experiment in world communism. Max Weber, the famous sociologist, wrote a famous discussion of the origin of Western capitalism. He saw its connections to Protestantism and its subsequent work ethic. I would argue that it also flows out of the emphasis on individual liberty and the rights of man that arose because of the influence of Protestant theology during this period of history. Adam Smith may not have quoted Bible verses, but his understanding of the importance of private property and economic freedom come right out the works of Luther and Calvin. In other words, our freedoms come, not from the writings of Rousseau or Voltaire, but from the grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible that lies at the foundation of the Reformation.

How ironic that the great promise of a changed world came not from "modern" thought but from the much older "Good Book." The truths of the Gospel have the power to change lives, this has been shown to be true from the time of the Apostles all the way to our own day. The reason that this Gospel created a new world in the eighteenth century is because so many of the people of that day had been personally transformed by its message. So too in our day, God wants to make your world "new," and He will if you will put your trust in Him.

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)