Christian author Russell Reno recently wrote, regarding the incipient ethos of our age, “In the place of traditional culture, the globalized future will be governed by the hearth gods of health, wealth, and pleasure. Our high priests will be medical experts, central bankers, and celebrity chefs.”
His reference to “hearth gods” is an allusion to the pagan house gods of the average Roman citizen prior to Christianity. After Rome fell, and with it formalized Christianity, these hearth gods reemerged, with many homes having little altars dedicated to these gods.
As Christianity has weakened in our time, our culture has increasingly replaced the traditional biblical God with new gods, though, admittedly, there’s really nothing new about the pursuit of health, wealth, and pleasure.
Reno’s argument is that, in general, the West, since the end of WWII, has consciously sought to weaken its ties to particular, specific truths and traditions. After the horrors of the first half of the 20th century, the West, he says, has sought “disenchantment” from these things, perhaps especially the church and its deep-seated loyalties.
“If there are no strong truths,” or so the argument goes, “nobody will judge others or limit their freedom. If nothing is worth fighting for, nobody will fight.”
This seemed to make sense in the aftermath of the wholesale slaughter born of the two world wars in Europe and elsewhere, but, as is often the case, the natural human response was and is to lurch toward the opposite extreme. Now no one is to stand for any declared set of principles or truths, much less a sovereign, providential God as found in the Old and New Testaments.
Human beings, however, never operate in a vacuum. Others gods inevitably and reliably fill whatever space has been vacated. In the absence of the substantive God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, what other gods shall fill the vacuum?
The question, finally, is not whether or not we should hold onto certain values and truths, but which values and truths. In the same vein, the question is not whether or not we should worship gods, but which one(s).
Richard Foster once said that most people worry that those who take their Christianity seriously have “gone off the deep end.” The greater danger, he says, is that we Christians will “go off the shallow end!”
To pursue Christianity with great passion, as the gospel requires, means that we are to worship and obey a God who instills within us humility, gentleness, kindness, selflessness, charity, forgiveness, godly truth, and love. (No doubt I’ve left a number of things out!)
To not pursue these things hardly benefits anyone.
To repeat, it’s not whether we should or shouldn’t worship God or hold onto certain truths, but whether the things we worship and obey are worthy.
Many have suggested that the church needs to become “relevant” to the culture. My view, however, is that the church instead needs to become more the church, to reclaim its historic mandate to worthily and passionately worship the God revealed in Jesus Christ.