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Ungodly Culture? We’ve Been Here Before

In this series we are exploring how to share and live out the gospel in a post post-modern and post-Christian culture. So far, we’ve walked through how, as a culture, we got to where we are now; tracking a path from modernism to post-modernism to what many regard as the current era of post post-modernism. We also looked at what it means to be a post-Christian culture. Now that we have a sense of where we are, we will begin looking at how we should respond. Where do we go from here?.

“And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him…” – Acts 17:18

What does today’s culture look like to a Christian?  We might be tempted to say it is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. But I would argue that déjà vu is the more accurate response. Or at least it would be if the Christian we are talking about was 2,000 years old and could recall those knotty days when this whole thing first got started.

The 2,000 year-old Christian would have a perspective we young ‘uns lack; the perspective of history. Given that, he or she would likely say, “Hey folks, relax! We’ve been here before.”  Or, to put a biblical slant on the matter, “what has been, it is what will be. And what has been done, it is what will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”  – Eccl. 1:9 (NASB)

So as we begin the process of charting our witness in what seems like uncharted waters, it might be helpful to reflect on the fact that the church has survived – and indeed thrived – in times pretty similar to these. This is a time to prepare, not a time to despair.

Consider, for instance, Paul’s visit to Athens, and what that culture looked like. As he walked about the city, Luke tells us “his spirit was provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” Acts 17:16 (NASB)  Next time you are in the city, or just about anywhere in America, take a look around you and count the idols to other gods you see. Trust me, they are there.

For instance, it won’t take long before you see tiny cylindrical altars in people’s hands bearing the image of the twin-tailed siren.  Of course, they are paying homage to coffee, rather than some mythical mermaid. But they are there – everywhere it seems.

If Starbucks coffee isn’t your idol, look around some more. You might see an image of Medusa representing another idol – fashion, or Versace in particular. Oh and look there! She’s right next to Hermes, once the Greek god of trade, now the god of expensive leather clutches.

And, wait! Don’t look now, but over there is the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. Also the goddess of pumped up kicks, apparently.

Humor aside, if we take a stroll through our culture today, we’re going to see just what Paul saw – idols everywhere. What we idolize may be different, for sure. But it’s not the form of the idol that matters; it’s the mere presence of the idol. Anything, no matter what it is, that we elevate above God is an idol. Sure it can be a purse, a pair of basketball shoes, or even a cup of coffee. But more likely, it’s a career, a home, or perhaps even a child or spouse.  Yes, those count too. That said, my intent here is not to shame you into making an inventory of the idols you need to deal with (though it’s not a bad idea).  My intent is merely to state the obvious. Which is that the idolatry so prevalent in our culture today is nothing new, and surely won’t overcome the work of the Spirit-driven church.

And idols weren’t the only things Paul faced during his time in Athens that might resonate with us today.  He also faced errant philosophies and world views not dissimilar to those we’ve spent that last four posts discussing. Luke notes, for instance, that “some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him.” Acts 17:18 (NASB) Who were these?

Richard Longenecker observes that “Epicureanism and Stoicism represented the popular Gentile alternatives for dealing with the plight of humanity and for coming to terms with life apart from biblical revelation and God’s salvific work in Jesus Christ.”[1]

Ah, yes. Alternatives to biblical truth. Sound familiar? Wait, there’s more.

Warren Wiersbe describes Stoics as “pantheists” who emphasized “personal discipline and self-control.” He adds that for the Stoic, “[p]leasure was not good and pain was not evil. The most important thing in life was to follow one’s reason and be self-sufficient, unmoved by inner feelings or outward circumstances.”[2] Longenecker notes that Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, “focused on living harmoniously with nature and emphasized humanity’s rational abilities and individual self-sufficiency.”

Again, sound familiar? Take Stoicism, extract pantheism, insert atheism, and you voila you have modernism. It’s not an exact match, but the emphasis on rational human ability and the significance of the individual we see in modernism is nothing new.

Like modernism, Stoicism had its rival. Epicureanism, according to Longenecker, “held that pleasure was the chief goal of life, with the pleasure most worth enjoying being a life of tranquility free from pain, disturbing passions, superstitious fears, and anxiety about death.” Epicurus didn’t deny that gods exist, he simply believed they were deistic and had no real interest in humanity.

Once again, sound familiar? Why worry about who or what God is? You can never know anyway, so just have fun. Let pleasure be your goal in life. You only go around once, right? That seems to capture everything after modernism. Whether its post-modernism’s rejection of absolute truth, or post post-modernism’s rejection of everything but “my truth”, today’s popular philosophies are not premised on anything new.

Paul saw all of this in Athens nearly 2,000 years ago, and he wasn’t fazed by it.  In our next post, we will take a closer look at that. But for now, as we set our instruments and begin charting a course for sharing the gospel in these seemingly strange and hostile times, we should be confident. We have reason for letting go of fear and vanquishing anxiety. We have reason to lay hold of hope and step forth with courage. God’s church has seen times like these before, and He has always led her through them. We must remember our past and recall His faithfulness. That’s step one.

Thank you, God, that nothing is new to You. You are never taken by surprise, and You have already made a way for Your church.  Help us, Lord, to lean into Your truth with steadfast resolve as we seek carry Your light into a world that seems darker and darker. May You be glorified. Amen.

[1] Richard N. Longenecker, “Acts,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 981.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 472.

Leaving God: Is Our Culture Post-Christian?

This is the fourth in a series of posts in which we are looking at sharing and living out the gospel in a post post-modern and post-Christian culture. To begin this journey, we started exploring two questions.  Where are we now? And where are we going?  So far we have looked at the journey our culture has taken from modernism to post-modernism to what some call a current era of post post-modernism. In our final post addressing these question, we will look at what it means to be post-Christian.  From there, we will shift to answering the question what should Christians do now that we see where we are?

Are Americans living in a post-Christian culture?  That seems to be both the prevailing conclusion and the prevailing source of anxiety for many Christians. But what do the facts tell us? Or at least the surveys?   In a recent Pew Research Poll of 2000 people, 65 percent of those surveyed identified as Christian.[1]  Although one poll is hardly conclusive, one might be tempted to believe from this that Christians are solidly in the majority. 

I mean, if this were Congress Christians would nearly be veto-proof.

But here is the problem, or at least the first one. When that same poll was conducted in 2014, 71 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Christian. In 2007, 77 percent did. Thus, the number claiming Christianity has been steadily going down – failing 12 percentage points since 2007. By comparison, the number of people identifying themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” climbed 10 percentage points, from 16 percent in 2007 to 26 percent in 2019.  So while the numbers, if representative, still indicate a solid majority of the nation identifies as Christian, the trend also indicates that it won’t for long.

A second problem is that just because someone identifies as Christian does not necessarily mean they hold to Christian beliefs. In fact, another survey of 2000 adults, this one by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, indicates the in-name-only Christian problem may be bigger than we think.

Consider, for instance, that of those surveyed, 75 percent of evangelicals and 81 percent of mainline Protestants rejected the teaching that people are not basically good, but rather sinners.[2]  In addition, 62 percent of evangelicals and 71 percent of mainline Christians rejected the belief that which faith one embraces matters as much or more than simply having some faith. A majority in both groups also rejected the idea that one cannot earn his or her way into heaven by good works, and that there are absolute moral truths that apply to everyone all the time.

While surveys such as these are not determinative of the state of Christianity in America, they do seem to reflect a palpable movement away from Christianity as the dominant religion. Indeed, if we accept the Merriam-Webster definition of “post-Christian” as “a period or state following the decline of Christianity as a majority religion”[3], it seems we may be there or at least are rapidly heading there. 

That said, columnist John O’Sullivan reminds us of the significance of being “post-Christian”, as opposed to pre-Christian or simply just not Christian at all. Being post-Christian means that we once were Christian.

O’Sullivan notes: “A post-Christian society is not merely a society in which agnosticism or atheism is the prevailing fundamental belief. It is a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been either rejected or, worse, forgotten.”[4]  

In this sense, Judeo-Christian beliefs, which were once more foundational to our culture, are still woven into its fabric. “But there are consequences to forgetting truths,” O’Sullivan adds “One consequence is that while we instinctively want to preserve the morals and manners of Christian tradition, we cannot quite explain or defend them intellectually. So we find ourselves seeking more contemporary (i.e., in practice, secular) reasons for preserving them or, when they decay completely, inventing regulations to mimic them.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, meanwhile, questions whether we should conclude that America was “Christian” in the first place.[5] “The idea of America as ‘Christian’ requires a concept of the nation as in covenant with God.” Moore writes, adding that this “entails applying the promises made to Israel to the United States… and yet, Israel’s promises had a goal – and this goal is not the United States of America.”  The result of such thinking, Moore argues, is a “sort of freaked-out nostalgia” regarding what we perceive used to be.

“We identify our focal point in some made-up past – whether the founding era, or the 1950s or the 1980s or whenever,” Moore writes. “That makes us all the more frantic when we see the moral chaos around us. We see it in the terms of ‘moral decline’ instead of seeing it the way the Bible does, in terms of not decline but of Fall.”

Maybe Moore has a point. Perhaps, rather than focusing so much on Christianity’s lost position in American, we should be simply focusing on the position of the lost in America.

Former missionary and author Elliot Clark, in his book Evangelism As Exiles, similarly warns that as Christians we may be undermining our witness through our lament over the state of faith in our culture.

“[W]hen we suffer, if our collective Christian tone is complaint, if we constantly lament our loss of cultural influence or social standing, if we weep and mourn as if Jerusalem has fallen when our chosen political agenda is overlooked, then we expose our true values.  Those troubling circumstances have a way of unmasking our highest hopes. Sadly, far too often they reveal our hopes have actually been in this present age and not in the one to come.”[6]

Whether we are post-Christian or never were Christian in the first place, we can probably agree that as disciple makers in America, we have our work cut out for us. Further, the work we have to do is in a seemingly post-everything-that-was-before culture; a culture that doesn’t recognize its own desperation for the one true narrative that forever stands the test of time, and indeed will remain after time ends.  From here, we’ll explore how we might go about telling that story where we are and when we are now.

By Alec Zacaroli

[1] Pew Research Center, Oct. 17, 2019. “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at a Rapid Pace.”

[2] American Worldview Inventory 2020, Cultural Research Center, Arizona Christian University., accessed March 3, 2021.

[3] Merriam-Webster,

[4] John O’Sullivan, “Christianity, Post-Christianity, and the Future of the West.” National Review, Dec. 14, 2013.

[5] Russell Moore, “Is American Post Christian,” May 26, 2016, (accessed March 3, 2021).

[6] Elliot Clark, Evangelism As Exiles: Life on Mission As Strangers in Our Own Land (Denmark: The Gospel Coalition, 2019) p. 37.

Leaving Hope: What’s After Post-Modernism?

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This is the second in a series of posts in which we will look at sharing and living out the gospel in a post post-modern and post-Christian culture. In our last two posts, we began exploring two questions.  Where are we now? And where are we going?  So far we have looked at modernism and post-modernism. In this post we will consider what may be coming next.

Is post-modernism dead? That’s our question for today. And though I am not sure we have a definitive answer, it seems at a minimum that the post-modernist prediction of the death of the metanarrative (see the past post) was premature and perhaps exaggerated. As we will see, metanarratives are back, and they are angry. In fact, what may slipping away is post-modernism itself, or at least its grip as a dominant worldview in our culture.

As early as 2006, author and philosopher Alan Kirby was predicting the demise of post-modernism. In his article “the Death of Postmodernism and Beyond” he writes that the passing of this brand of philosophy is best evidenced “by looking outside the academy at current cultural production.”[1] In other words, what culture creates or generates is a better indicator of the current philosophical mindset than that of ivory-tower academics.  And when it comes to looking at cultural production, Kirby observes a dramatic shift away from postmodernism’s “emphasis on the elusiveness of meaning and knowledge.”

“The terms by which authority, knowledge, selfhood, reality and time are conceived have been altered, suddenly and forever,” Kirby notes.  This is the result of new technologies, which have “re-structured, violently and forever, the nature of the author, reader and the text, and the relationships between them.”  Kirby labels postmodernism’s replacement “pseudo-modernism”, a philosophical era in which “cultural products cannot and do not exist unless the individual intervenes physically in them.” Rather than being fed content from an author, the pseudo-modernist creates content himself or herself by participating in its making.

The flourishing of social media engagement, from Tweets to Tik-Toks to You-Tubers, seems to support Kirby’s observations. We have no shortage of people eager to create reality, seeking purpose in being “influencers.” Moreover, that the interaction within such forums seems to result in a created reality may be best evidenced by the onslaught of conspiracy theories that surface more readily and consistently these days than the crabgrass in my yard.

Kirby also makes a case that geopolitical forces have shaped the mindset of the pseudo-modernist, whose “typical intellectual states are ignorance, fanaticism and anxiety.”  He writes that “pseudo-modernism was not born on 11 September 2001, but postmodernism was interred in its rubble.” Indeed, one can hardly deny the power of metanarratives based the events of that day, and the perpetual anxiety that emerged from their clashing. For the pseudo-modernist, however, Kirby notes “this fatalistic anxiety extends far beyond geopolitics, into every aspect of contemporary life; from a general fear of social breakdown and identity loss, too deep unease about diet and health; from anguish about the destructiveness of climate change, to the effects of a new personal ineptitude and helplessness…”

Thaddeus Williams, of Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, similarly believes that we have moved into a new post-postmodernism era. He observes, in Talbot’s The Good Book blog, an emerging trend of “legislating morality”, something that “has moved from being strictly verboten in the postmodern mileau (at least in principle) to becoming the ‘new normal.’”[2] In addition, Williams sees “a related shift from ‘trashing’ to the triumph of metanarrative.” While postmodernists “were adept at exposing metanarratives as power-plays,” Williams writes, “post-postmoderns, by contrast, are perfectly happy to compose morally charged metanarratives and use them in precisely the power-seeking ways that the postmodern found so disingenuous and oppressive.”

If both Kirby and Williams are correct, what seems to be emerging is a new philosophy that re-engages metanarrative.  However, the metanarratives that emerge are volatile, frenzied, and based on the subjective whims of individuals reacting to one another. More and more, they are created in virtual reality rather than grounded in objective truth. As a result of many factors – of which technology and social media may be the predominant – my concern is that we now operate according to metanarratives that are drawn from mob mentality. Worse yet, these metanarratives are more than just expressed; they are enforced, primarily through shame.

What is equally disconcerting is that the post post-modern era seems to be grounded in conflict and anxiety, rather than love and hope. While pockets of unity appear, they are held together by the thin and fraying thread of perceived common enemies, when in reality, the enemy is only common to us because it is one another. We have given up our sense of a common humanity, trading it for a view that we are only common to one another to the extent you affirm my Tweeted position on whatever issue I deem most important.  Divergent metanarratives that are woven in cyberspace sadly are made manifest on the streets of Portland and the grounds of the Capitol. And after the flames subside and the dust settles, what remains is an oppressive sense of despair.

So, are we leaving hope?  I think we are. But can we get it back?  I know we can. But we’re going to have to look for a story that is beyond ourselves to do that.  We are going to have to return to the only metanarrative that has consistently held fast throughout time. It is not a metanarrative we create. But it is a metanarrative about how we are created. And it begins with the words “image of God.”

By Alec Zacaroli

[1] Alan Kirby, “The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond.” Philosophy Now, Issue 58, November/December 2006. (accessed Feb. 23.)

[2] Thaddeus Williams, “Post-Postmodernism: Engaging the New Spirit of the Age with Clarity, Conviction, and Compassion.” (accessed Feb. 22, 2021).

Leaving Absolute Truth: Post-Modernism

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This is the second in a series of posts in which we will look at sharing and living out the gospel in a post post-modern and post-Christian culture.

In our last post, we noted that our exploration of faith and culture in today’s world begins with answering two questions.  Where are we now? And where are we going?  In that post, we looked at modernism in order to form a basis for understanding of what it means to be post-modern, at least as it related to faith. In this post, we will look at the post-modern view that emerged next.

The term “post-modern” is credited to French philosopher Jean Franҫois Lyotard, who coined it in his 1979 work “The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.”  In fact, in that work Lyotard notes “[s]imply put, I define post-modern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”[1] Of course, post-modernism is more than that. It has been the subject of tomes, and even Lyotard’s introductory work contains more than 130 pages of lengthy and complex examination of the subject.  But for our purposes here, I believe Lyotard’s succinct description provides all the insight we need.

So the post-modernist is incredulous – that is either unwilling or unable to believe in – metanarratives. What then do we mean by “metanarratives”? A metanarrative, as Oxford Learner’s Dictionary puts it, is “an overall account of things that enables people to find belief, pattern and meaning on their experiences.”[2] If you prefer another definition, Colllins Online defines metanarrative as “(in postmodernist literary history) a narrative about a narrative or narratives.”[3] Hmmm.  Perhaps a few examples will help.

In one sense, the whole of Christian faith is a metanarrative.  That is, the biblical narrative of our creation, fall, need for redemption and access to redemption through Christ is a series of narratives tied together to reveal to us the source of truth.  There’s more on that to come, but the important thing is that Christians have and believe in a metanarrative. Modernism, drawing upon the Enlightenment, has its own metanarrative. As the New World Encyclopedia puts it, this metanarrative is “that rational thought, allied to scientific reasoning, would lead inevitably toward moral, social and ethical progress.”[4]  And it is this metanarrative that helps us understand the post-modern aversion to metanarratives. Why? Well, one reason may be because it hasn’t seemed to work out as predicted.

Recall from our last post that Karl Marx believed that our need for supernatural relief from our miserable state will be obviated when science and reason, in time, reveal and supply the cures for our misery.  The problem is that science has not proven to be the cure for all forms of misery, and in some cases has had negative consequences. For instance, while it brought medicine to save lives, it also brought technology capable of wiping out all life, indeed the entire planet, several times over.  One might say “give it time”, or as Philosopher Jürgen Habermas put it, modernism is an “unfinished project.”  Perhaps. And yet even given time, there are things science can’t solve, like mortality. So while the bedrock of modernism is progress, I would argue that post-modern observers are not buying the narrative that through science things are necessarily getting progressively better.

Another pillar of modernism, as highlighted by Auguste Comte (see last post) is that our need for supernatural wisdom, or a supernatural source of truth, will be obviated as science and reason reveal a truth that is both universal and absolute. Here again, however, science is limited. While it may be able to explain how something exists physically, it can’t fully explain why (for what fully-orbed purpose) something is and certainly can’t be used to explain why someone should act in a particular way. That is to say, it can’t supply moral or ethical truth.  Lyotard notes that from the scientific point of view “the right to decide what is true is not independent of the right to decide what is just, even if the statements consigned to these two authorities differ in nature.”[5]

Lyotard raises another point regarding science and knowledge that troubles the post-modern mind. He notes that modern science “leaves behind the metaphysical search for a first proof or transcendental authority as a response to the question: ‘How do you prove the proof?’ or, more generally, ‘Who decides the conditions of truth?’” He writes that the “conditions of truth” or “rules of the game of science… can only be established within the bonds of a debate that is already scientific in nature.”[6] Modernism, in rejecting non-scientific narratives, concludes that the only legitimate proof of truth (which includes what science is) is science itself. It is the totality of knowledge, or at least is the only process by which the totality of knowledge can be known. But can it really be the only source of knowledge? The post-modernist does not think so.

So where does that leave us? Again, a few observations captured in a handful of paragraphs cannot do justice to the post-modern view. But as noted above, we can draw one important general conclusion here, which is that post-modernism, in rejecting modernism’s metanarrative, has thrown the metanarrative baby out with the bathwater. There is no grand scheme. Or put another way, no one metanarrative can be used to judge what is true. Different people or different cultures have different approaches to judge what is true, and none can be proven as the absolute truth. Thus, any claim to absolute truth is stating an impossibility. Truth, then, is whatever you or I judge it to be.

One can see, then, how Christian faith – which is based on absolute truth – is met with the same skepticism as science and reason in the post-modern mind. What is more alarming is that these elements of post-modern thought are not just rejecting Christianity, they are even creeping into it.  A 2017 Barna study, for instance, found that 19 percent of Christians surveyed strongly agreed with the statement “no one can know for certain what meaning and purpose there is to life.” Another 23 percent strongly agreed with the statement “what is morally right or wrong depends on what an individual believes.”[7] That does not exactly align with John 14:6, now does it? And yet, these are individuals claiming to be Christian.

In conclusion, let’s summarize where we are to this point. Prior to the advent of modernism, our faith played a big role in helping us determine who we are and why we are. But modernism left faith behind, advancing reason and science as determinative of these questions.  In response to modernism, post-modernism rejects the modernist metanarrative, and metanarratives in general, in essence leaving claims of absolute truth behind.  What emerges next? We will look at that next time.

By Alec Zacaroli

[1] Jean Franҫois Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984, xxiv.



[4] New World Encyclopedia,

[5] Lyotard, Post Modern Condition, 8.

[6] Lyotard, Post Modern Condition, 29.

[7] Barna Research, “Competing Worldviews Influence Today’s Christians,” May 19 2017.

Leaving Faith: A Look at Modernity

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This is the second in a series of posts in which we will look at sharing and living out the gospel in a post post-modern and post-Christian culture.

As noted in our introduction, this series of posts is essentially about answering two questions relevant to the intersection of faith and culture.  Where are we now? And where are we going?  In this and the next few posts, we will focus on the first question, beginning with the philosophy we’ve come to know as “modernity” or “modernism.” To know what it means to be “post-modern” or even “post post-modern” we need a reminder of what modernism is all about.

Obviously, we cannot go into an in-depth analysis of the philosophy of modernism, which would take volumes. But what we can do (or at least try to do) is form a basic picture of modernism that will frame-up the rest of our discussions, in particular with respect to how it intersects with faith and religion. While I realize I am presenting an oversimplified view of a complex topic, I would frame up the relevant aspects of modernism for our purposes as follows.

Growing out of the Enlightenment movement that began in the 17th Century with René Descartes, modernism emerged as a philosophy grounded in rationalism, reason and ultimately science. I would describe the central tenet of modernism as this; that reason and science provide the only reliable and objective foundation for knowledge. One can thus reason through all challenges, conflicts or unknowns and theoretically arrive at answers and solutions. Reason and science also eliminate the need for consideration other worldviews because they supply truths that are both universal and absolute. In other words, the truths reasons and science provide disprove, or will disprove, all other world views; they are all we really need.

In terms of faith, a critical feature of modernism is its desire to push society toward secularism.  Secularism, meanwhile, is grounded in a belief championed by 18th Century philosopher Georg Hegel that through science and reason we are constantly progressing. Princeton University Professor Dr. Gordon Graham, in a piece expounding on religion, secularization and the modern era, provides helpful direction here. He notes “for Hegel the development of history is progressive; it is a dialectical process in which better social forms, whose denizens have a higher level of self-understanding, emerge from less good ones.”[1]

Graham notes that other famous philosophers built on Hegel’s foundation to further erode confidence in religion and advance secularization. He notes that Karl Marx, who declared religion to be the “opiate of the masses”, claimed religion was a false paradigm designed to take our attention off of the suffering of this world by redirecting it to another. Marx believed that as science and technology advances and ameliorates suffering, people will wake up to the realization they don’t need religion. As Gordon notes of Marx’s thinking: “Technology renders prayer redundant, and as a post-capitalist society emerges, religion, no less than the state, will whither away.”[2]   

Graham also notes the contribution of another philosopher, Auguste Comte, to the advance of secularism. Comte argued that science would eventually replace religion as the basis for our ontology – our understanding of why things are.  As Graham explains it, Comte argued that history has emerged in stages, with the first being theological (based on animated spirits), the next being metaphysical (based on rationalism), and the final being the scientific era, “when we demand natural explanations and empirical evidence such as found in physical science.”[3]

The outcome of these modernistic views is an increasingly secular worldview with two important features, according to Graham. “First, the decline of religion is inevitable – it is a phase through which human beings have passed and which they have outgrown. Secondly, the decline of religion is desirable – in leaving religion behind we discard more primitive beliefs and practices and move to more enlightened ones. To these two features we may add a third, that the decline of religion is evident.”  In his piece, Graham goes on to argue that the decline of religion is neither evident nor desirable. For our purposes here, however, I have focused on his explanation of the intersection of modernism and religion, as I think it is helpful in seeing how and why a post-modern era arose.

Given that foundation, let’s reflect on two themes that arise from the thinking of philosophers like Marx and Comte, at least as I see them.  Simply put, I would describe these as (1) science will make everything better and (2) science will reveal everything. Thus we don’t need supernatural provision or explanation of anything – whether through any one religion or otherwise. 

If Marx is right, for instance, than our need for supernatural relief from our miserable state will be obviated when science and reason, in time, reveal and supply the cures for our misery.  Science and reason are leading us on a progressive march, presumably toward a final state of perfect knowledge and being.  If Comte is right, meanwhile, than our need for supernatural wisdom, or a supernatural source of truth, will be obviated as science and reason reveal a truth that is both universal and absolute. This truth is grounded in what is discoverable, or natural, and not in faith, or the supernatural. The problem with these views, however, is that science and reason have had both limitations and unexpected outcomes.  In our next post, we will explore those and how they led to the emergence of a post-modern mindset.

But as we leave this very brief and limited look at modernism, I want to be clear about two things. First, although a “post-modern” era has emerged, modernism is far from dead – and we shouldn’t think of it this way. Post-modern thought did not replace modernism entirely, but rather just started taking up more space on the stage. Christians, in their witness, must still be prepared to answer to some of the very real questions that emerged out of the modernity and continue to circulate today. Second, and hopefully this is obvious, science and reason are not bad things.  Our current pandemic, in fact, is as clear an example as one can have of how important science is to us. Both science and reason are amazing gifts from God that can both improve our lives and further our understanding of the universe He made. They become problematic when we ask the wrong things of them; that is when we employ them in an effort to disprove their source.

By Alec Zacaroli

[1] Graham, Gordon. “Religion, Secularization and Modernity.” Philosophy 67, no. 260 (1992): 184. Accessed February 3, 2021.

[2] Graham, “Religion, Secularization and Modernity.” 184-85.

[3] Graham, “Religion, Secularization and Modernity.” 185.

Leaving It All In A Left-It-All Culture

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This is the first in a series of blog posts in which we will look at sharing and living out the gospel in a post post-modern and post-Christian culture.

“When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” – Luke 5:11

Let’s face it, folks. We like leaving stuff. Metaphorically speaking, we are like a teenage girl, moving on from one outfit to another in search of the ultimate (yet unattainable) look. We were once modern, but that got old.  So we became post-modern. It appears the bloom is now off that short-lived rose, so we’re moving on to post post-modern. Once we figure out exactly what that is, we’ll probably leave it too. We’re post-Christian, post-religion, post-race, post-gender, post-family, post-marriage… you name it, we’ve moved on from it.

Maybe we’re really just post-commitment.

Whatever we call our condition, the truth is whenever one moves on from one position, one moves into another.  You can’t go from somewhere to nowhere, some place to no place, or something to nothing. In that case, you still would be moving into something. It’s called Zen Buddhism. But I digress. The point for believers is that we need to understand the times we are in and what that means for our faith and witness. And for non-believers, I think the time has come to settle the question of where you will park your life. Because you can’t just circle the lot forever.

So we live in a post-everything world. Where does that leave us? Well for one thing, luckily, for those are believers in Jesus Christ there is no such thing as “post-belief.” He told us: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:27-28 (NASB) Thus once you have placed your faith in Jesus, you can’t just move on from Him. Though many may try, believers cannot simply purge themselves of the Holy Spirit once He has come into them. This is important, because it means you are never lost in a sea of confusion without any mooring. The issue, in a time when everything is always in question, is how do you lay hold of that anchor? Put another way, how do Christians live out the gospel and share its remarkable and undeniable good news in a post-everything culture?

In this series, we are going to explore this question by delving into a series of other questions. Questions like what did it mean to be modern? Or how do we understand the concept of modernity?  In turn, what does it mean to be post-modern?  And what are the characteristics of the post-modern culture that replaced modernity? And now that it appears we’re done with that experiment, what does it now mean to be “post post-modern”, as some are calling our current age?  In all of this cultural exegesis, we will also look at what is means to be a “post-Christian” culture.

But we won’t stop there. Because where we’ve been and where we are doesn’t necessarily tell us where we are going.  And as author Lewis Carroll wrote, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” So we need to find the right road. Once we have arrived at some understanding of where we are, we will see why the only true road is the road to the cross. We will look at why the gospel provides the only sure footing we have, and the only sure footing we need, in a turbulent age. And we will explore how we both live out and share the gospel during these strange and increasingly antagonistic times.  Not to be a spoiler, but just as the first disciples found, we will see that leaving everything is not such a bad idea. The critical thing is not what we are leaving things for, but Who

Thanks for joining us on this journey. I hope it will bless and encourage you in your faith. And if you lack faith, I will pray that on this road, or whatever road you may be on or choose to take, you will meet the One who is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life.

by Alec Zacaroli

The First Sacrifice: A Pathway to Glory

By Alec Zacaroli

This is the final in a series of reflections on the significance of the incarnation. The purpose of this series is to help us reflect on our Savior’s birth, and what that meant for us. To do this we are drawing upon Paul’s letter to the Philippians, specifically Philippians 2:5-11. So far, we have considered verses 2:5-6 and the significance of Jesus not laying hold of His “equality with God,” v. 2:7 and what it means that Jesus emptied Himself for us, and v. 2:8 considering how Jesus voluntarily humbled Himself for our salvation. In this post, we’ll consider the results of Jesus sacrificial act of incarnation.

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

There is a sad pattern in the human experience; an unfortunate broken record that goes something like this. A man or a woman, through hard work, perseverance or just God-given talent, reaches what seems to be the pinnacle of his or her calling. And in so doing, that person becomes highly esteemed and revered – a true example for others to follow. But then, as a result of the broken human condition, the person gives in to sin, resulting in a grave moral failing, shame, and often banishment. In other words, they go from the height of human glory to the depth of human humility.

History is littered with such people; indeed we read about them all the time. And sadly, the church is not without its own. This year, we’ve witnessed the moral failings of Jerry Falwell Jr. And now, even more recently, we sadly read of those of Ravi Zacharias, a man I personally have held in high esteem. It leads one to ask, is there not one who is truly righteous among us? I believe there are in fact a great many, but that is for another blog.  The point I want to capture here is that humanity has a way, through sin, of taking hold of glory and reducing it to humility. God, however, takes he who is humbled and exalts him to glory. This is how our story ends, and we should praise God for it.

Philippians 2:9 begins with that familiar Greek word διο, which can be translated “therefore” or “for this reason.”  It indicates that which results from earlier action, and in the case of these verses, the earlier actions were three-fold: (1) Jesus emptied Himself of His position on the throne (v. 2:7), (2) He took on human form – or was found in appearance as a man (v. 2:8), and (3) He “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (v.2:9). As we looked at last week, that form of death – that particular manner of execution – was a most humiliating way for a man to die.

Yet we now read that it was for this reason, it was because Jesus did these things, that “God highly exalted Him.” The word translated highly exalted is actually an understatement. The Greek word hyperypsoō (υπερυψοω) actually means “to raise someone to the loftiest height.”[1] Jesus is not just lifted up, but lifted up above all else. Indeed, God “bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,” a possible reference to Isaiah 42:8, in which the Lord states “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.” God the Father bestows upon the Son the highest name; His name! And in doing so, He grants Jesus’ request in His high priestly prayer: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5.  Though man sought to humiliate Him through powers of this world, by the power of God He is restored to glory. But note that Jesus prayed His prayer before the cross, while the Father accomplished it fully after the cross. Jesus was not spared humiliation and suffering (Mt. 26:39), but rather subjected Himself to a death so cruel and humiliating it was considered below most of humanity. If we want to be glorified with Jesus in heaven, we should be prepared for humility as He experienced on earth. John 15:20.

But the Father does not glorify the Son merely to make Him a figurehead. Verse 2:10 says He does this “so that” – i.e. for the purpose that – “every knee should bow in heaven and on the earth and beneath the earth.”  Thus all that is, whether the angels and saved in heaven, the human powers on earth, or the demons and unsaved in hell, will one day bow to Jesus.  Further, God exalts Jesus so that “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:11.  We see in these verses both an act of professing in the kneeling, and a declared profession from the tongue of all that exists. This is not salvific confession, mind you, but that which comes when – upon Jesus’ return – by witness and not faith all see He is who He said He is, the great “I am.” Ex. 3:14, John 8:58, Rev. 5:13.

There will be a time when God’s great reversal of human wisdom and failings – His glorifying the humble before a world in which sin humiliates the glorified – will reverse the very course of sin and death itself. There will be a time when the power of Jesus, whom we remember this time of year as a once helpless human infant, will completely displace the power of sin and vanquish death to its place in oblivion. That, the glorious gift of eternity with God, is what we celebrate at Christmas time. If you don’t know that gift, if you haven’t accepted what Jesus freely holds out to you, well then you haven’t really experienced Christmas at all.  Let this be the year you finally accept that gift, open it and lay hold of it.

But we can’t leave these verses just yet, for good hermeneutics demands we pay attention to context, and the context here includes Paul’s admonition that we “have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 2:5.  In other words, Paul’s whole point in these verses is to point us toward being like Jesus; to have us take on this character of Jesus, which is the character of humility and service to others.  How do we do this?  We take up our cross daily by pouring the hope of Christ into those around us through acts of love and kindness, and by sharing the reason that we engage in them; because He did so for us.

In Mt. 28:5, when the two Mary’s behold the angel before Jesus’ empty tomb, the angel tells them not to be afraid because he knows that they are seeking “Jesus who has been crucified.”  He does not say “Jesus who is the Messiah” or “Jesus who is King of the Jews”, but rather identifies Jesus with His crucifixion. Moreover, the word for crucified is in the perfect tense, which in Greek signifies not just a past action, but a past action with ongoing results, or a fixed state.  Jesus didn’t just humble Himself for a time, He humbled Himself for all time, so that His act of humility would reverberate forever. If He is forever humble and obedient, we should be all the more. If we seek glory in heaven and not on earth, we seek a glory that no person or thing on earth can humiliate. But more to the point, if we confess Jesus as Lord as the basis for our humility and obedience, we put the glory right where it should be – with Him.

This Christmas, may God bless you, may His face shine upon you, may He give you His peace, and may you give Him the glory.

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1034.

The First Sacrifice: Humbled

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By Alec Zacaroli

This is a third in a series of reflections on the significance of the incarnation. The purpose of this series is to help us prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth. To do this we are drawing upon Paul’s letter to the Philippians, specifically Philippians 2:5-11. So far, we have considered verses 2:5-6 and the significance of Jesus not laying hold of His “equality with God,” and v. 2:7, and what it means that Jesus emptied Himself for us. This week we look at the unfathomable way in which Jesus voluntarily humbled Himself for our salvation.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil 2:8

When I reflect on some of the more humiliating times in my life, I come to realize that humility is less something we achieve than something we endure. It’s less a way of being than it is a place of being, a set of circumstances that reduce us. I’ve had plenty of those. Wetting my pants in second grade because I was too afraid of the teacher to ask if I could go to the bathroom comes to mind. (In my defense, she was an older Afrikaans woman with the disposition of a badger with a tooth ache.) But if I am honest, I can’t say there were many, if any, times I purposely sought out humility. It tends to be a space we avoid rather than purposefully occupy.

Another side of humility is that it tends to grow out of our flaws (or sin), not our perfections. God has a way, when our prideful “I-love-me” stride gets a little too cocky, to humble us with a purposefully placed glass door that opens in the opposite direction than we expect. Face-plant humility – we’ve all experienced it. And when we do, we move immediately to that place of self-preservation. As in, “I meant to do that.”  Humility in this light seems quite familiar. But what about humility that arises from the opposite of these circumstances? What about humility that is purposefully sought by a flawless person for the preservation of others?

“He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”This, humility is entirely different. Jesus, the perfect sinless man, voluntarily humbled Himself.  The Greek verb for “humble” here (ταπεινοω) means “to cause someone to lose prestige or status, humble, humiliate, abase,” and is most often used to describe that which is done to slaves.[1] In other words, Jesus took on a form of humility reserved for the lowest of the low in society.   Further, Jesus abased Himself to the point of death, “even death on a cross.” Paul’s point here is to emphasize that the method of death Jesus experienced was the most debasing form of execution there was. Commenter David Garland notes: “This death was particularly revolting to Romans. Cicero said, ‘the very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears’ and that to crucify someone was to ‘hang him to the tree of shame.’”[2]

And yet death on the cross was by no means the only humility Jesus endured on his journey to Calvary. It began with the Chief Priests, who following His sham trial, “spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him.” Mt. 26:67. It carried on with the Romans who, following his brutal flogging, stripped Him, cloaked Him in a scarlet robe, fitted a crown of thorns on His head “and mocked Him, saying ‘Hail, King of the Jews.’” Mt. 27:29. After this, “they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head.” Mt. 27:30.  And as He hung on that cross of shame, even “those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself.” Mt. 27:40.   There was almost no moment from the time Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane to the time He breathed His last breath in which He was not both tortured and mocked. I can think of no greater humiliation faced by man than that which Jesus endured.

And He did it while still in a state of sinless perfection. 

And He did it voluntarily.

Garland writes: “All human speculation about God stumbles at the foot of the cross.”[3] Indeed, it does. For human wisdom anticipates a God who, being perfect, would never voluntarily abase Himself by subjecting Himself to this kind of ridicule, mockery and cruelty.  But why did He do this?  The answer is deceptively simple.  He did it because He loves you and me that much.  Jesus Christ redefined being humble by turning it from a state to be avoided to an act of love. It began with His incarnation in Bethlehem, and ended with His death on the cross.  Everything Jesus did was colored by His voluntarily assumption of humility as a means of demonstrating His love for us, a love we don’t deserve, but a love we have through His abundant grace nonetheless.

As we draw close to the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ first incarnational act of humility – His taking on human form to dwell among us – let’s reflect on how His divine humility might shine forth in our lives.  As we have said before, Paul gives us these verses not only as an exposition on the servant life of the incarnated Jesus, but all the more so as an example for our own lives. Phil. 2:5 What might this look like? We might begin by not trying to cover-up our flaws with false images of perfection; by not trying to pretend we are something better than broken human beings in need of help. Indeed, humility begins with an understanding and accepting of the depth of our need for a perfect Savior.  Next, we might also consider our willingness to voluntarily step into humiliation for our Lord, just as He did for us. This might mean never failing to publicly and openly confess Him as Lord. Luke 12:8-9. It also may mean allowing ourselves to enter into challenging situations, where we may be ridiculed, humbled or even threatened, if it means we can show the love of Jesus to another. If nothing else, it means that we put His glory above our own.

Lord Jesus, might my life be awash with the form of humility You so graciously poured out for me. May I truly be made less that You would be glorified more. And may a broken prideful world come to know that reality of a perfect humble Savior. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you. Amen.

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 990.

[2] David E. Garland, “Philippians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 221.

[3] David E. Garland, “Philippians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 221.

The First Sacrifice: The Meaning of Empty

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by Alec Zacaroli

Last week we began a series of reflections on the significance of the incarnation. The purpose of this series is to help us prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth. To do this we are drawing upon Paul’s letter to the Philippians, specifically Philippians 2:5-11. Last week we considered verses 2:5-6 and the significance of Jesus not laying hold of His “equality with God.” This week we will look at v. 2:7, and what it means that Jesus emptied Himself for us.

Christ Jesus “… emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” – Phil. 2:7

In all the years running up to 2020, I can’t say I ever lived in fear of running out of toilet paper. Like many this year, it was a foreign and strange experience. But week after week of turning the corner of the aisle, still whispering prayers, and finding myself gazing upon yet another empty shelf, I experienced time and again no-TP-phobia (yes, I made that up).  Of course, I wasn’t alone. At the beginning of the hoarding, before stores had to impose limits to cabin the irrationality of the human psyche, a friend told me of an encounter with a friend at Costco, who had filled a shopping cart with the stuff.  My friend asked, “what on earth do you need that much toilet paper for?”  The response: “Well, I have a lot of bathrooms.” Hmmm.

The great toilet-paper run was truly irrational, and like all irrationality, was grounded in fear.  Fear of running out. Fear of being empty. We hate emptiness when it comes to our shelves, our gas tanks, our bank accounts, our sources of comfort or security. So we avoid it at all costs. But fear also drives us toward emptiness – to seek it aggressively. Fear of what is uncomfortable or even just downright bad for us. Whether it’s excess weight, addiction, cancer, or just bad habits, we look to rid ourselves of these things; to be emptied of them.  In other words, our inclination is to avoid empting ourselves of what is good and beneficial, while endeavoring to empty ourselves of what is bad or harmful. We avoid being emptied of strength, and strive to be emptied of weakness. And it is this natural human tendency that renders the word kenosis so strange to us.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, tells us Jesus “emptied Himself.” The verb in Greek is κενοω (kenoō), and can mean “to cause to be without result or effect, destroy, render void or of no effect” or “to make empty, to empty.” In the context of Phil. 2:7, the latter meaning takes hold, or more specifically, to make empty by means of “divestiture of position or prestige.”[1] It led to the English word “kenosis”, which refers specifically to “the relinquishment of divine attributes by Jesus Christ in becoming human.”[2]

Theologians have drained many a pen and ink cartridge on what exactly Jesus emptied Himself of in this passage. The clause that follows gives us a good clue – He emptied Himself by “taking on the form of a bond-servant.” In the previous verse, Jesus “existed in the form of God.”  He now empties Himself by taking on the form of servant or slave, by divesting Himself not of His divine nature, but of the glory and power that comes with it, and taking on the lowest position in society. And in doing so, He became “made in the likeness of men.” This is to say Jesus became fully human, but remained fully God. With the exception of sin (and a critically important exception that obviously is), He took on all aspects of the human condition. He took on sorrow (John 11:35); hunger (Mark 11:12); thirst (John 19:28); agony and distress (Mark 14:32-33), weakness (Mark 14:21); pain and suffering (1 Pet. 4:1) and of course death (Mt. 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).  As the writer of Hebrews put it: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Heb. 4:15.

What we see in Philippians 4:7 is a form of emptiness that is antithetical to us.  Unlike our inclination, Jesus emptied Himself of what is good, the position, power and glory of His divine nature.  He set it all aside. And again unlike us, He took on much of the bad of the human condition; that is all of the negative consequences that come with it. But why? Well in one sense, so we could get exactly what we want – to be emptied of what is the worst thing in us – our sin, and be filled with the One who is the best thing for us, the Holy Spirit.  He emptied Himself of immortality, by dying on a cross, to save us from our mortal state.

But He didn’t do it so we could have lives on earth colored by self-preservation. He didn’t do it so we could horde toilet paper, build-up wealth, or live in perpetual fear of disease. He did it for quite the opposite reason, that we might live free of fear in Him.

Last week we were reminded that these verses in Philippians were not intended by Paul to be a mere exposition of the incarnation of Christ. He begins the long sentence that leads to this verse with the words “have this attitude in yourselves.” Phil. 2:5.  Which means “be like this.”  In this case, we are called to be like Jesus by setting aside or not laying hold to power, position, or privilege. We are called to be like Jesus by shedding our inclination toward self-preservation, and putting on the cloak of righteousness and love that cares for others above ourselves. I cannot think of a time when our world needed this more. I cannot fathom an hour when it was ever more critical for us to step up to the plate and be like Jesus.

The true meaning of Christmas is that Jesus gave up the very best of what He had to save us from the very worst of who we are.  My prayer this Christmas is that we might reflect His attitude and truly empty ourselves of what is good (or what we value), be it our money, our time, our energy, or our space. And that we do so to help someone else empty themselves of what is bad; be it hunger, thirst, illness, nakedness, imprisonment, loneliness, or whatever other form of suffering God places before us.  We obviously lack the divine nature required for true kenosis, but we do have the gift and opportunity to reflect it. This Christmas, and every day that follows, may it be.

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 539.

[2] Dictionary, s.v. “kenosis,” accessed December 12, 2020,

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