A number of years ago I read a book entitled Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power by J.P. Moreland. In it, Moreland explains five shifts in the way our culture thinks that have greatly affected our collective worldview, especially in terms of how we view faith, and those shifts explain the trajectory of our culture.
These are shifts that, as Christians, we need to understand if we are going to effectively engage our culture. Also, we need to do some self-reflection to discern whether or not we’ve fallen prey to these shifts as well.
Shift #1 – From Knowledge to Faith
Basically, religion is no longer in the realm of knowledge. The only knowledge that exists is that of a material world. There is no nonempirical knowledge and no objective immaterial world. Religious claims are not to be considered factual either. Because their religion is not a domain of fact and knowledge there are no experts. This is why many people are just as apt to turn to Oprah for spiritual advice as they are Billy Graham.
Moreland points out this shift is even seen in Christian schools and Universities:
Note the ubiquitous language used to describe the integrative endeavor (integrating Scripture and theology with other fields of study to help students form a Christian worldview): the integration of faith and learning. What does that communicate? It implies that insights gained from various disciplines from chemistry to literature deserve the cognitive label “learning,” while biblical assertions are named “faith.” When push comes to shove and there are tensions between “faith” and “learning,” guess who wins? The academic discipline in question will carry greater cognitive authority than biblical teaching, which, conveniently, will be placed in some complementary upper story of meaning and value, while factual, intellectual labor will come from the academic disciple.
Theistic evolution is a product of that academic approach. So religion is regulated to the arena of feelings and is thought to have no factual basis. So my feelings about Christianity is just as “valid” as the person who visits Graceland eagerly awaiting the return of the king (Elvis, not Jesus).
Shift #2 – From Human Flourishing to Satisfaction of Desire
A shift of how we view happiness has occured. When the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, talked about “life, liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” they meant something entirely different than what is thought today.
Moreland explains that in the ancient world to the beginnings of our nation that when people thought of the “good life” it was widely understood to mean a life of human flourishing constituted by intellectual and moral virtue. Moreland writes that the good life “is the life of ideal human functioning according to the nature that God himself gave to us.” I would assume Moreland means our nature before the Fall.
So happiness was understood as a life of virtue. The successful person, Moreland says, “was the person who knew how to live life well according to what we are by nature because of the creative design of God.”
Things have changed. A recent definition of happiness is “a sense of pleasurable satisfaction.” So now happiness is a feeling, and its essence is the satisfaction of desire. This has moved our culture toward greater self-centeredness and shallow lives.
Shift #3 – From Duty and Virtue to Minimalist Ethics
The loss of moral knowledge, since all knowledge is empirical – regulated to the natural world, means a shift has occurred in how the moral life is viewed. Duties and virtue are central to a moral life. But there must be moral knowledge to know what duties and virtues are correct. Moreland writes that “moral rules without knowledge degenerate into customs… and customs are too trivial to marshal the courage and effort needed to life by and internalize them.”
The impact of the shift to minimalist ethics is disastrous. This view can be expressed like this, “One may morally act in any way one chooses so long as one does not do harm to others.” The leaves the floodgates wide open.
Shift #4 – From Classic Freedom to Contemporary Freedom
Freedom in the classical sense mean that we had the power to do what we ought to do. It is liberating. This is the type of freedom that the Bible describes. Freedom not to sin. Freedom to follow Christ and to honor Him with our lives. We are no longer enslaved by our sin. Absent moral knowledge, freedom is now understood to mean “the right to do what one wants to do.” A major difference, and we have seen how these shifts so far have affected our society.
Shift #5 From Classic Tolerance to Contemporary Tolerance
Moreland says, that intuitively we sense that tolerance is a good thing, but we also sense that something is wrong with the way it is applied today. We see this shift largely in what we call moral relativism which holds “that everyone out to act in accordance with the agent’s own society’s code (or, perhaps, with the agent’s own personal code). What is right for one society is not necessarily right for another society.”
It implies that moral propositions are not simply true or false. Instead whether something is true or false (in the moral realm or religious realm) is relative to the beliefs of a given culture or individual. In the application of truth we can certainly see that, but relativism says that the truth values are relative to a given culture.
So when it comes to the shift in how we view tolerance. The classical view is that one tolerates people, not ideas. It is an absolutist position, and Moreland states is inconsistent with relativism. Because if we don’t hold the other position to be morally false what is there to tolerate?
The new version of tolerance claims that we should not even judge that another’s viewpoint is wrong. So if I believe homosexuality is morally wrong, I’m viewed as intolerant.
Moreland wraps up illustrates what these shifts can and will lead to in a culture that lacks the resources to stop such a descent:
Men are empty selves gorged on and dulled by seeking happiness and, as a result, are individualistic, narcissistic, infantile people who approach others as objects that exist merely to make them happy.
Not a pretty picture.